I didn’t know if the cat was anyone’s cat. There was no collar, and there were no close houses.
I knew that whatever it is that happens to us when death happens was not much distant because even through my winter gloves I could feel some warmth or imagined I could, and because fluid was still leaking out onto the pavement, and because the forelegs hung floppy off the edges of my scooped joined palms as I walked over to the yellow brushy bank.
I was riding with a friend once, JT, years and years ago, maybe almost two full decades, and we had just gotten to the first nice sinuous section of the loop when we passed a dead cat, and we went right by, not wanting to waste the road. And JT turned around. He set his bike to the side, just like I had today, and he went to the cat and he picked it up and carried it off the road and crouched and set it in a ditch then rose and stood looking down at it, and by then I had come back around and come back around again, circling, and JT stood and looked at the cat. I remember that I never even clipped out.
I’ve stopped since then, mostly. Whenever I’m alone, always. I would like to think I usually stop when I’m with a small group, but the truth is I probably only sometimes do. Once I let a big ride go, and as much as I would like to report that I feel only good about that, the day was ruined for me a little.
I set the cat up on a flat part of the bank, where someone might see it if they came looking. I figured no one would, though. The cat had that look, even now, some intimation of feral pride and some sense inherent in its body, even empty of all energy, that that it had known freedom so long and so fully it never had to appreciate or prize the quality. Still, someone must have petted it now and then, or fed it off a porch or made a pile of straw in some sheltered corner.
I keep a few lines handy. I did not say them out loud, but I thought them:
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love.
If you want me again look for me under your boot soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean.
There’s more, but I can never remember the end, which I like and wish I could. I got my bike and clipped in and rode on, and when I got to the climb that is not Acorn but we call Acorn because we first climbed it from the side Acorn Road is on, I tried to remember the last lines, which are about being searched for by those we left behind and stopping to wait for them. I couldn’t get them. I climbed past the first steep section and I didn’t sit down like I usually do. I just shifted and went faster and went into the second and harder section and I couldn’t get the lines but it was okay because I was starting to not get anything anymore, and I shifted and went faster and I did all there really is to ever do when something or someone must be left behind, which is to go on up the road but keep them with you however you might.
Originally published in The Selection, March 1, 2013