This has been an unusually hot, dry summer in Northeast, Ohio, which has given us the excuse of leaving the two cats outside most of the time rather than festering in the basement, hairing the place up, stinking up the cat boxes.
As a result of their extended freedom and our large, partially-forested yard at the far edge of suburbia, just about every morning I get to remove one-or-more whole-or-partial corpses (mice, birds, frogs, the occasional chipmunk) from the back porch with the “death shovel,” and toss said remains into the oblivion of the tall grass in the woods.
I’m used to being the undertaker by now, but I had a particularly unpleasant episode last March when my mother’s large-scale goldfish — at least ten years old — finally gave up the ghost. My office is in my parent’s house so I get to take care of their gross tasks as well.
Why is it that dead fish bought at the store, or caught in a stream don’t have nearly the same yuck factor as a dead pet? I imagine it has something to do with their respective purposes and our resultant expectations.
The purpose of a fish bought at the store is to be dead, and to be cut up and eaten. It’s just food. But a pet’s purpose is to be alive, and swim around, and eat smelly flakes, and poop out little weird squiggles – not to lay there inert and utterly out of context.
What is more absurd than a huge fish tank, filters purring, gravel sparkling, filled to the top with water, with a big dead off-white thing mocking its surroundings by laying there on the bottom, staring at nothing, thinking no fishy thoughts? It’s obscene, it’s ridiculous and you just want it gone. When pets die, why can’t they just melt like the Wicked Witch of the West? Aw, even that would leave a mess you’d have to clean up.
So anyway, I reached way down into the huge tank with my hand inside a plastic grocery bag to retrieve the recalcitrant corpse, the death-tainted water defiling my arm almost all the way up to my elbow (very high yuck factor), then swept former-fishy into the bag, poked a hole in it to drain the excess water back into the tank, tied the bag handles into a very secure knot, pinched the bag between my forefinger and thumb to achieve minimal contact, and, dripping death-water all the way, hurried out to the trash. My parents have one of those plastic sheds for two trash cans – I opened the top of that, then took the top off a can and threw the mess in with a resounding thunk.
That was on a Wednesday and the trash pickup wasn’t until Monday morning. We had a few days of unseasonably warm weather, causing me to give the trash-shed some extra space on my way to and from the office.
Atmospheric conditions then improved vis-à-vis putrefaction: the temperature dropped into the teens and 20’s for a couple of days, and stayed below freezing into Monday morning. I picked up the already dumped cans with relief upon my arrival bright and early that Monday, but then I noticed that a blue plastic grocery bag was frozen to the bottom of the can, and had refused to be dumped. The remains remained!!
In disgust and horror I clamped the lid on the can and hauled it back to its shed. It stayed cold a few more days then hit 60, then almost 70 by the end of the week. I absentmindedly took a trash bag out to the shed, lifted the lid on the can, and was pummeled about the face and head by the hideous aroma of rotting pet fish flesh.
I would never make it as a vulture.
I hurriedly stuffed the trash bag into the offending can feeling cursed. Would the dead fish never leave? I should have buried it. I should have fed it to my parent’s cat: that would have been much more holistic.
I counted the hours until the trashmen returned the following Monday morning to rid me of this plague, this tell-tale heart, this vivid reminder of mortality.