Suburban Soliloquy

139. Le Mort d'Jazzbender

In the early morning of the 11th April 2010, at 02:15 local time, Jazzbender the cat died peacefully while snuggled in my arms. I am not a cat person and this was the only cat I ever loved. He endeared himself to me. He wouldn't leave me alone, always needed to be in the same room. When I was writing, he would squeeze between my belly and the desk drawer. He would anticipate my coming to bed and be waiting there for me. If Ms Keogh and I tried to sleep facing each other, he would insert himself between us and bat her on the face. On whichever side I slept, he wanted to be curled in front of me. Should I sleep on my back, he would sleep on top of me. Even when I took a bath, he would climb on to my island belly. As the water rose, he would stay until the last comfortable moment, even allowing his tail to get soaked. This is a cat who saw me off at the door when I was leaving and was waiting for me at the door when I arrived home. He had been with us nineteen years.

The day our destinies converged, I had no inkling the significance Jazzbender was going to have for me. I didn’t even include the story in my notebooks so now must render it entirely from memory.

We were having coffee and dessert at the home of friends and found two kittens underfoot. One was grey, the other tan. They began life in another neighborhood, in the household of a drunk and belligerent man. This man decided one night he was fed up with their cat, who had recently had a litter. He took the mother and her kittens to the river and threw them in. He couldn’t carry them all at once, so his young daughter grabbed two, which was as many as she could hold, and ran with them, one in each hand, into the street dressed only in her nightgown crying and calling for help. I don’t recall how many hands they passed through, but eventually the daughter of the friends we were visiting brought them home. Our friends were only willing to allow their daughter to keep one. We were offered the other, our choice.

I said no. Ms Keogh, my more significant other, negotiated for the cat. Her father had recently died and she wheedled and whinged, saying that a kitten would somehow bring her consolation. I acquiesced, but then said it would have to be the grey, the color I preferred. She selected tan. The tan kitten was braver and more inquisitive. I was adamant about one last prerequisite, that I could name the cat. This she allowed. The name, Jazzbender, is yet another story.

I have been giving more thoughts to cats than ever before. Regarding my relationship to Jazzbender, in retrospect I realize there was more there than I would have expected. This does not mean I’ve turned into one of those loonies who think their cats can talk to them, that their cats have a sixth sense and can solve complex human problems, like murder scenes. Still, there is some interspecies communication that is genuinely affectionate. It is an authentic friendship marked by evident enthusiasms and sadness, loyalty and protection.

The night Jazzbender died, we wrapped him in a towel and placed him in a large Priority Mail box so he wouldn’t look cramped and we could feel comfortable. Later, after the sun arrived, I took the white coffin with its USPS logo to a corner of our property enclosed by trees and dug through the black soil to the red clay beneath.

There are actually two cats buried in the backyard. The other cat, Hashbrown, came with the Keogh clan, when I first met them. Although cats didn’t mean much to me, we gave him a decent burial because he meant so much to my stepson, who I regard my son. Marcus saw to it that Hashbrown was buried on a satin pillow, wrapped in a good towel. Marcus placed the brass medallion that he had won in a swimming contest on Hashbrown, to honor him. Swimming! For a cat? I was fascinated, from a sociological point of view, and charmed, proud of my son’s sensitivity, but I had little emotional investment in Hashbrown. Benita, my stepdaughter, who I consider my daughter, demonstrating her creativity, felt compelled to draw the Eye of Horus on to several sides of Hashbrown’s sarcophagus.

When Jazzbender had been gone little more than a week, a part of me could not understand why he wasn’t coming into the study to insert himself between me and the letter I was writing. A Hampden pocket watch is suspended inside a small bell jar on my desk. Several times while I was writing that letter, I looked up to find the time wrong, finally realizing the hands had stopped. I used to wind that watch daily after cleaning the litter box in the morning. I had not yet found a new mnemonic. I still haven’t.

Jazzbender continues to be missed every day. Ms Keogh puts on clothes and finds cat hairs. She used to complain. We both expect the familiar creak of the bedroom door  to be the arrival of his hoped-for ghost.

I dreamt about Jazzbender. It was a very realistic dream, perhaps a waking dream. Ms Keogh and I were in bed together and facing each other. I was seeing her out of my own eyes, which is why the dream was realistic. In the dream, I was waking and could feel Jazzbender curled in the bed at my feet. I forgot he was dead. Sensing I was awake, Jazzbender uncurled, stretched, and began his usual trek up through the valley between me and Ms Keogh. I could feel his weight by the pull of the blanket. Then I remembered Jazzbender was dead so this must be a ghost. I looked at Ms Keogh and saw her eyes open. First she was happy with the sight of Jazzbender, but then her eyes widened as she, too, realized it was a ghost. I was afraid she might panic and tried to assuage her by saying, yes, it’s a ghost, but that’s okay; he was a welcomed ghost. I think she was too frightened to move. Jazzbender, meanwhile, made his way past our faces, on to the part of the pillow above my head, and then down along my back. I could feel him stretch out along my spine and settle again into sleep. Since Ms Keogh could no longer see him, she grew calmer. I reassured her that he was behind me, pressed against me, and sleeping. I couldn’t care less that he was a ghost, I was glad to have him there.

I woke feeling comforted by the dream, glad for the mind’s trick, that it felt so real. Knowing there are no ghosts is disappointing. There are moments when we expect Jazzbender to appear on cue as was his habit. When he doesn’t, an uncomfortable cavity in space and time can be felt. His absence is palpable.

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any
comments or suggestions,
the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon,
as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"