The Dead Cat Exhumation

It was a sunny summertime afternoon on the rolling prairie of southwestern Kansas. I was a ten year old day dreamer sitting at the piano with my teacher, Eileen, who was actually my Mom’s college friend. Eileen was showing me a 50-cent piece that she laid on the edge of the piano.“And if you practice every day this week and…” she paused for emphasis, “You can play all three of your pieces for me next week. I’ll give you this half-dollar.” Eileen finished with a smile and a nod. She seemed sure that I would respond to the bribe but I knew better. I looked wistfully at the silver coin sitting next to my dirt stained fingers resting on the keyboard of my Mom’s piano. I could hear the footsteps of my two brothers and Eileen’s two sons run by the window. I couldn’t wait for my piano lesson to end so I could be out playing too. I knew all too well that not only would I not practice unless my Mom forced me to, I wouldn’t be able to play my assigned musical pieces any better next week than I had played them today. For some reason I couldn’t concentrate on the complicated notes or the long stretch of white and black keys under my sticky fingers. I would rather daydream and pretend and contemplate. Or at least play with my dog and cat.After extracting a mumbled half-hearted promise of “I’ll try…” from me, Eileen picked up her half-dollar and folded up my piano book and handed it to me.“You can send Tim in.” Eileen said. I felt bad for Tim for a minute. Now he had to sit for 20 minutes of torture while I played outside with the boys. I ran out the door before my Mom could stop me and found my brothers and Eileen’s boys standing by one of Mom’s new gunny sacks that contained the carcass of Dan’s dead cat. We had found it dead earlier that morning.“Your turn!” I hollered at Tim as I came running up to them. “Whatcha’ doin’?” I asked. Nobody answered me. Tim stuck his hands in his jean’s pockets and began walking slowly towards the house with his head down. My older brother, Dan looked at me. Eileen’s boys were actually older than me. Kent was the oldest, older than Dan and Kenneth was younger than Dan but still older than me. Their little sister was my little sister’s age. The two girls were trying to put doll clothes on our surviving cats. I could hear the cat’s protesting.“Kent says if you bury a cat in the moonlight with a buckeye and dig it up in a fortnight the buckeye will turn into a piece of silver.” Dan said. I could tell he was thinking it over but wasn’t convinced.“It’s true.” Kent said.“What’s a buckeye?” I asked but nobody answered. “And what’s a fortnight?” “We could try it with one of these walnuts.” Kenneth said as he pulled a walnut out of his pocket. “But it’s not dark yet.” “The moon is in the sky,” Dan said looking up. “Even though it’s not actually night time.”“You got a shovel?” Kent asked.“Paul!” Dan hollered as I took off running. “The shovel!”“Be right back,” I said wondering what we were really doing but enjoying being outside as I ran to get Dad’s shovel. We took turns going to Kent and Kenneth’s house or them coming to ours for piano lessons and then our mother’s would visit while we played. Usually we didn’t do anything that fun. Kent and Kenneth never wanted to play baseball or basketball or football. And they didn’t like to climb trees and pretend we were Tarzan like Dan and Tim and I did. Usually we would find something mischievous to do that was usually Kent or Kenneth’s idea. Today we were burying a cat. I didn’t think that would get us into trouble. But ten year old boys never know.A week went by and I had forgotten all about the dead cat with the walnut that was supposed to turn into a piece of silver. I sat looking at the dirt under my fingernails as Eileen sighed. “I’m very disappointed in you, Paul. I was sure you wanted this half-dollar. But since you didn’t practice and you can’t play your pieces I guess I can’t give it to you.”I sighed and felt bad that I had disappointed Eileen. “I tell you what,” she said. “Do you promise to try and practice this week?” I nodded and Eileen smiled at me, her eyes softening. “If you promise to try really hard and practice then I’ll give you the half-dollar.” She started to hand it to me and I put out my grubby hand.She snatched the coin back. “Paul? Do you promise?”“Yes…” I said weakly. “I promise.” But I knew I wouldn’t. Eileen handed me the 50-cent piece and told me to send in Tim. I knew she had another half-dollar and I knew Tim had practiced and could play his songs. I felt guilty for taking the money but by the time I was outside and Tim was going inside I had forgotten the guilt.“What are you guys doing?” I asked Dan and Kent and Kenneth as I climbed up to our new tree house. Actually it was a plank we had nailed between some limbs of the cottonwood tree in the backyard. The plank slanted so you had to hold on to not slide out of the tree.“Do you think it’s been a fortnight yet?” Kenneth asked. “Since we buried the cat and the buckeye?”“It was a walnut.” Kent said. “But I think its gonna work.”“A fortnight is fourteen days,” Dan said with a sigh, “Two weeks. It’s only been one week.”“But it’d be really cool to dig up the cat.” Kent said. “You know if you bury a cat and wait a week and dig it up, it really smells!”“Cool!” Kenneth exclaimed. I wasn’t sure what ‘cool’ had to do with the stink of a dead cat. But I nodded at Kenneth so he wouldn’t know.Kent looked at me and actually condescended to speak to me. “Paul, you go get the shovel and we’ll let you dig up the cat. If the walnut turned to silver you can have it.” Kent grinned at me and I grinned back and looked at Dan.Dan looked at me as he considered the idea and then looked at Kent and shrugged.“Cool!” Kenneth yelled as I started to climb down the tree. “Paul’s gonna dig up the cat!”“Cool!” I hollered, wondering if I said it right as I ran for the shovel.“You guys go ahead and dig it up. But remember now, you’ll have to open the bag to see if the walnut turned into silver.” Kent said with authority. “Who’s going to open the bag?”Dan looked at me with a grimace. “I’ll dig, Paul,” he said, “You open the bag.” Since Dan was older he outranked me and I gave him the shovel. All four of us crowded close to the cat’s grave under one of the trees in the yard. After a few shovelfuls of dirt came up our anticipation began to mount.“I think I can smell it,” Kent said. “Me too!” Kenneth chimed in and the two brothers backed up. Dan uncovered the burlap sack as the smell of decaying cat hit us in the face. “Pull it up, Paul!” I reached into the hole and pulled on the burlap bag as gently as I could when part of it came out the dirt along with something soggy and smelly stuck to it. I started to wretch and turned to see Kent and Kenneth back a safe distance laughing uncontrollably behind me.“Drop it back, Paul!” Dan hollered and I did. Quickly Dan shoveled dirt back into the hole between his dry heaves. Kent and Kenneth continued to roar with laughter and I could see Dan’s face turning red with anger.“Boys!” Mom hollered at us from the house. “Come and wash. Time to eat!” Dan and I looked at each other queasily.“Man! That cat stank!” Kent said.“It was so cool!” Kenneth added.“And look!” I exclaimed holding out my dirt covered hand. “This is what the walnut turned into!”“A half-dollar?” Dan eyed me suspiciously.“Yep.” I held it up.“Wait a minute.” Kent said. “How could that…?”“Hey!” Kenneth said as we walked towards the house. “If it worked liked that we’ve got at least three cats we could bury at our house!”“Yeah!” I said as I smiled at Dan. “You guys go ahead. Don’t forget the buckeyes!”“Yeah,” Dan added. “Don’t forget the buckeyes!”As Dan and I washed our hands together in the bathroom I looked up at his reflection in the mirror.“Hey, Dan, what’s a buckeye?”