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Saying Goodbye to Whiskers

by Ron Van Sweringen

Fourteen-year old Willie Benson wasn’t sure the hole was big enough, but it was the best he could do. The shovel he’d borrowed from Mrs. Wilson was on the small size, but the only one she had.

A blister in the palm of his right hand was a testament to how hard he’d worked penetrating the frozen earth, making a resting place for Whiskers; the twelve-year old black and white tomcat who had dropped dead in the kitchen during dinner the night before.

“He had a long life,” Willie’s mother had said as they rolled Whiskers in an old sheet. “We can bury him in the woods tomorrow.”

“No,” Willie had answered quickly, “I’ll bury him by myself. I want to say goodbye.”

A small patch of woods behind the brick apartment building that Willie and his mother lived in was covered with fresh snow. It was beautiful, Willie thought, like a cemetery. The trees covered in white looked like statues. It made him feel a little better, knowing Whiskers was being buried there.

When it came time to place the wrapped sheet in the ground, Willie found tears in his eyes. Up to this point it hadn’t felt real, burying Whiskers, but now as he put the small stiff body into the ground, he began to cry. “I’ll miss you,” he said, wiping his eyes on the sleeve of his coat. “You were my best friend.”

It was then that Willie realized something terrible. His suspicion had been correct, Whiskers didn’t fit into the hole. Willie tried to bend the cat’s body, but it was frozen. Mother had insisted that they leave Whiskers on the back porch overnight.

Willie’s hands ached from the cold. He began to shiver as he picked the shovel up and tried chipping away at the frozen ground. It was useless: each time he slammed the shovel down, the blister in his palm burned with pain.

Suddenly, out of exasperation, Willie stamped down hard with his boot on the sheet covering Whiskers’ body. He heard a sharp crack. The sheet gave way in the middle and slid into the hole.

Willie felt sick to his stomach. As he shoveled the pieces of frozen earth into the opening, he knew that sound would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Copyright © 2014 by Ron Van Sweringen

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