On a curve of Lake Road lies a dead cat. I see her while driving to the elementary school in the morning. She is a bold calico, with clear patches of black and orange on white. The vehicle that killed her left her body mostly intact, but very, very still.
I say nothing on that first pass, allowing the kids’ music to fill the car. Adjusting our course to avoid hitting her, I press my lips together.
December astonishes us by imitating early November. Bare trees, bare ground tinged with leftover green-golds instead of white, and warmish air on our skin. Driving up the next rise, I tell the kids to look at the sky, where a rent in the pewter clouds seems to pour orange light onto a hill across the valley. No, Sam tells me. It looks like a fire, reaching up from the hill and burning a hole in the clouds. I agree. It goes both ways.
Returning from the school, I drive past the cat again. She is unmoved. I see animals die all the time. My throat constricts. I cannot face this single death; there is so much dying. So much being killed.
I chew on my thoughts, as I do too much these days. Lately, I drive past my usual turns, forget where I’m supposed to be going, put the milk in the cupboard, leave the grocery list at home and fumble through the store. I leave off household tasks, distracted by Stella wanting a story, Sam needing Lego help, Skip flopping on my feet, anybody needing to poop. I want to embrace each moment, then my mind flits around.
We arrive home to my coffee, canine exuberance, and sun on our own hill. I head out to our barn, where our birds greet me raucously. They spend nights in their spacious new coop. Now I open the coop door and step aside for the chickens and ducks to stampede comically for the barnyard, taking fast steps and gossiping amongst themselves. They lay their eggs where we can’t find them these days, crafty birds, but they dodge the big red-tailed hawk, too, so I appreciate their instincts—to hide, to keep safe.
When it’s time for preschool, Stella and I drive up Lake Road again. Few cars have passed the cat on the quiet road this morning. She remains.
This time I stop. This time, I have noticed a piece of her story. Beside her lies a mouse, equally dead, that she must have been carrying across the road. In the line of duty, comes to my mind. Going about her work. Blindsided. Coming down this road, I sometimes drive too fast, wielding the car around the curves.
Every day I ask myself what it means to live gently, but firmly. We can choose what we aim at. We choose who will receive our ammunition—money, bullets, words, food, shelter. Each of us is so powerful. Will we insist on destroying each other? Will we insist on love?
I bend over the cat. I tug her, stiff, into the roadside leaves. This small gesture means nothing, but strangely reassures me. I pause, then lift the mouse and nestle it under her shattered chin.