By David N. McIlvaney
(With apologies to Eugene O’Neill.)
I, Pellburn Betula Birch, known affectionately as Birch or Bee, recognizing that my physical burden is too much to bear and my time is nigh, do hereby declare this to be my last will and testament. Being a cat, I will just leave it inside this vintage teapot teetering on the edge of the table where I’m sure it will fall with a tremendously wonderful crash.
As all my needs were catered to in my long life, I have no material goods and therefore little to leave. You could say that is our great strength—we cats live in the moment and do not fret yesterday’s mistake or tomorrow dream, so have little need for the material measure of each. Actually, our other great strength is convincing humans to pick up our poops. Seriously, people … what’s wrong with you?
Nevertheless, I do bequeath my favourite sunny spot with whom I played follow-the-leader all day; a lumpen pillow in front of the wood stove that warmed my belly nicely; and the desiccated body of a mouse tucked under the fridge. I leave these freely to the humans who knew and loved me best in the hopes it will help with their loneliness. I ask that they remember me but not grieve for too long. Their hearts need room for the one to come after me and he/she/they should have a fair shot.
I have had, as the saying goes, a good life. Born of a rarified line in an exotic land called New Brunswick, I travelled to an even more magical land called New Jersey. And finally, New York City. None of those “old” places will do for such a fine feline as myself. From my penthouse perch in NYC, I looked out over the city to watch the lights twinkle each evening like candlelight in so many cats’ eyes. It was glorious.
Along the way, I had the good fortune to meet a venerable cat named Maximillian, whose many years afforded him great wisdom—he knew all the best sunny spots. He left me with this, “these are kind people. Don’t abuse them too much.” I don’t think I did and do sincerely apologize for the three phones I pushed off the counter. Max died shortly after we met and now chases fat three-legged mice among the stars.
One day last year, after much nervous conversation and furious packing of suitcases, we fled the great city for what my humans called a cabin. Boy, talk about your Green Acres scenario – “Darling, I love you but give me Park Avenue!” As a big-city cat, I was a little put off by these rustic digs—they left the caviar at home!—but after the feeling of the grass on my paws, the wind in my whiskers, and making friends with the frogs and bees, flowers and trees, I quickly stretched out my claws in this wonderful new place. And then I saw the mice. Big country mice.
They were everywhere, which for me simply wouldn’t do. Guided by five thousand years of ancestors, I stalked the garden and pounced and killed. And each time I brought my prize home, I would be praised. Of course, being too cool, I would just lick my paws and play indifferent. But I appreciated the gesture.
I would say to my humans, thank you. For showing me the world, the good food, the year in the woods where the mice feared my claw and fang. For always adjusting my pillow to be closer to the stove and the games of laser tag. Thanks to the taller one who grew a beard just so I could scratch my cheeks upon it, and to the smaller for singing “good morning” to me every day. And thanks for ending me while I was still more cat than disease.
I have become slower and my fangs weak. I believe the mice may even be laughing at me. Say what you will about us cats, we do have our dignity. I do not fear death, for what is there to fear in one who only knows the moment, but I regret the pain it will cause the humans. I ask them with a quiet purr, remember me always, but grieve for only a little while. I was loved and in turn did love, and it is a sorrow to leave you, dear humans, but not to die. For I am off to join Max and chase fat mice across the stars. And maybe nudge a phone or two off the counter.
No cat has had a better life.
—David N. McIlvaney is an angler, hunter, writer and sentimentalist living in the Catskill mountains. @the_real_dnm