Dueber Avenue stretches from Navarre, Ohio to the center of downtown Canton. Our stretch of Dueber was on an incline, our house situated at the center of the hill. The hill plateaued half a mile south of our house, where semi-trucks would dump deliveries at the Marathon Petroleum factory. Traffic on Dueber was mostly semi-trucks chugging to the factory or pick-up trucks speeding back home from The Landmark, the local bar a few streets away. Dueber’s speed limit was 45 miles per hour, which semis never hit and which the pick-ups always went over.
Cassie, our family cat, died on Dueber, right outside my bedroom window. She was an indoor and an outdoor cat, mostly because my father didn’t ‘believe’ in keeping cats indoors. Something about restricting their true natures, about how we shouldn’t control them so much. Cassie was a calico, her markings patchy and perfect. Dad left for Nichol’s Bakery at odd times, especially when he was baking on the doughnut line. Cassie must have went outside with him when he left that morning before 4:30AM– good chance he was too hungover to see her dart between his feet in the dark.
My mother was alone when she discovered the cat’s fate. She was coming home after a particularly long midnights shift at the factory down the street and spotted Cassie’s flayed body on the side of the road, the whiteness of her tummy bright in the dawning light. Mom worked whatever shift my father wasn’t working. She stuck to midnights or afternoons so that they didn’t have to pay for childcare; my father tucked us in at night and my mother woke us up in the mornings. We were rarely left without one of my parents in childhood, even if one of them was so tired she couldn’t stand up without coffee, even if one of them was drunk or hungover but rarely sober. I remember my mother and father talking sometimes about schedules, about who, in the political world of the Bakery, had been awarded with the coveted day shift. Day shift, my parents would laugh, not for us.
Mom screamed when she tried moving Cassie’s body that morning. She didn’t want another car to hit Cassie, to turn this already tragic death into something gruesome. It was cruel enough that the cat we all loved so much was killed in her own front yard.
Rigor mortis had set in already. The stiffness shocked my mom. She was young and
already so tired from work, her hands already sore from the arthritis that would plague her in the next decade of her life. She dropped the cat’s stiff body and I can imagine the thud, the echo of dead weight meeting pavement—that thud, I wish, was powerful enough to shake every drinker who was at The Landmark the night before awake and into grief, into regret. Skip the hangover. We’re so sorry for your loss, the drinkers say. It was probably Dick, or maybe Howie- those fuckers drive too fast. Little Cassie, they sing in my imagination, she didn’t deserve to die.
I don’t remember my mother telling us the news. But she did, alone, on the brown carpet of our living room. I remember noticing the lack of coffee smell when I woke and thinking it odd that the red Folgers bucket wasn’t out on the counter like it always was. I don’t remember her words; just that my mother, brother, and I cried then, a lot, and that I sensed something big in the crying. I saw something I couldn’t place in the size of my mother’s pupils. She had to not only tell us that our beloved cat died, but that things died. That everything died. Death wasn’t an accident. There were accidents, like that time I’d found a shattered robin’s egg on the cement beneath its nest, the teal blue still striking even under fluids I didn’t understand, but death was guaranteed. I imagine my mother must have felt frightened of all of the deaths she’d have to share with us in the future, the ways she’d have to deliver the news. Our future griefs that she couldn’t protect.
On my parents’ day off that week, we buried Cassie. My father placed her body, indiscernible within the layers of thick trash bags, delicately in his rickety wheelbarrow. He used that wheelbarrow to weed the garden, to collect his daily harvests of corn and tomatoes, cabbage and peppers. He placed me in it when we went to pick blackberries in the woods behind our house, the sensation of feeling like I’d fall out the front always steadied by my father’s laughter behind me.
We buried Cassie on the hill behind our house. Dueber was a violent hill, but the one behind our house, obnoxiously green and lush every summer, was gentle. When snow came the hill became paradise, perfectly wide enough and steep enough for sledding, the kind of hill that made your stomach lurch, just enough. It was cold but lovely in that snow, and we played and explored just so we could stay warm enough, to stay existing in the quiet serenity of snowfall. Cassie was buried to the left of where we’d disembark our sleds and begin the arduous run back up the hill. We didn’t mark her grave but there was a tiny bit of the black Hefty bag sticking up out of the recently turned earth, a detail no one but me noticed. Her body, wrapped in a garbage bag. I knew where Cassie was. Worse, I knew where she wasn’t.