Do you remember the time we tried to save that little kitten we found in the alley? It was behind the dumpster, mewling softly. You looked for its mother, up and down the street while I took it back to my house. I folded down the edges of a cardboard box and lined the bottom with 4 of my T-shirts. So small and black at the bottom, it was pitiful. 40 years later, I know it was sick and left behind but then, we thought we were saving the world, one dying kitten at a time. You never found the mother, probably for the best. We stood in my garage after school, trying to figure out what to do. I already had a cat. Your father, never short on anger, wouldn’t allow it. I went in to get some milk in a saucer. The kitten just cried when I set the saucer in the box. He was old enough to drink it but we couldn’t get him to participate in our saving games. You couldn’t take the chance of taking him home. Your dad had killed the cat before. We decided that I should keep him in my room, on the west side of my bed by the bookshelf. My parents never walked over there.
We took the box inside and set it beside the bed. The kitten just lay there. He stopped crying and seemed to sleep. You had to go home so I sat on the edge of my bed watching him. My parents came home, time for dinner. I left my room, closing the door, hoping the kitten wouldn’t meow loud enough to warrant attention. After dinner, I said I had homework and went to my room. Laying in bed, reading London’s To Build A Fire, I would turn occasionally to the box, expecting the kitten to be dead. But he lived for that first night.
I woke in the morning to find a mess in the box. The kitten hadn’t touched the milk but whatever sickness he suffered from had loosened his bowels in the night. I ran to get a wet towel. I picked him out of the box, cleaned him up as best I could and set him on the bed. He couldn’t stand. Laying there, looking at me without real fear. He was a kitten and I was saving the world. I took the t-shirts out and this time, stole yesterdays paper from my parents’ bathroom when they were at breakfast to line his box. Back in he went and I left for school.
We met at lunch and I told you how I had watched him last night, about his health, his sad little eyes. No, he hasn’t eaten, he doesn’t seem to want to, I told you. Yes, I cleaned him up and put new paper in the box for him today. You said you’d come over right after school to help. I think I loved you as much as I loved the kitten. But your father had other plans. He made you wash the car after school and you didn’t come. I watched the kitten, quieter now, in the corner of the box. I picked him up occasionally, scratching him around the ears. He meowed a little then but didn’t purr. My cat seemed to treat him with disdain and I was thankful for that.
The second morning, he was still alive but weakening. I changed the papers in the box again. At school, you said you’d come over to see him after school but cheerleading practice got in the way. I tended to him again. He drank some milk that night and I was sure I was making him better. He had such soft fur. After he drank the milk, I put him back in his box, this time with a T-shirt on top of the paper in the corner so that it was softer for him to sleep on. I went to sleep thinking of what I would name him.
In the morning, he was dead. I had decided to name him Max. You and I buried Max that day after school when you finally could help. We wrapped his tiny body in the t-shirt from the box and buried him at the park down the street. I wonder what we looked like, marching down the street with a small garden shovel and a dead kitten wrapped in a t-shirt. No one stopped us so it must have not been too odd. We dug a small hole along the fence where no one walked. As I laid Max in it, you said a small prayer.
“Jesus, thank you for letting us take care of Max for a few days. He’s with you now and we hope you enjoy his company. He was a good cat. He likes milk but didn’t drink much with us. “
I put the soil back into the hole over Max. When I hugged you, you cried a little. I took your hand as we walked home in silence from our little kitten’s funeral. We hadn’t saved him but I think we still wanted to save the world.