mercredi 4 août 2010

Her grave

Thistles and field grass

My husband came home last evening from a day of work, followed by a night on duty and another day of work and asked had I buried the cane. "Cane", pronounced (to Anglo-Saxon ears) like the city of red carpet on the Mediterranean where the champagne flows and some girls in gowns tread those red fibers on the arms of men whose careers, and nothing of their own accomplishments, set them there. I had not.

"Où est elle?" he asked, curious. He knows me enough to be a little worried, too.

"Dans un sac en plastique dans la courette,"I answered, not surprised by his look of distaste. I sometimes leave dead things I am not ready to bury lying about until I know what to do. "Je ne sais pas où l'enterrer, ou si je veux juste l'amener à la Seine."

"Mets-la dans la poubelle," my husband said, perfunctorily, without a real thought that I would do that. I went on to tell him that I had slept badly again, watching over the cane -- a Colbert, as it is called here, or a Mallard as the English-speaking know them (which could give a whole other understanding to the name of that storied Paris brasserie) -- and having bad dreams.

I had been awakened after I last sat her down in the cat travel cage (it has many grills and air holes, being only a little less open than closed) at 4:30 am, knowing I had to remove her from my chest, where she seemed to do best, and try to get some sleep, at 7:15 am by the alarm clock I had forgotten to turn off, again a little later by my own cries from another nightmare, and finally by the sounds of Rapide moving around, whining a bit, reminding me it was past time to take her out and feed her breakfast.

"La cane, elle a dormi sur toi?" he asked, looking like he'd like nothing better in all the world than for me to assure him that there had not been a duck in our bedroom, much less in our bed. I could not. He knew that.

I nodded. He held peace.

"Elle était si faible, et tu aurais-du la voir. C'est comme si elle voulait le contacte, la chaleur humaine. Je me demande d'où elle venait, cette cane." I fell off, wondering less about her seeming wish for human contact and whether ducks nestle together in their nests in the wild for comfort, than about from where she had come to arrive in our closed garden, already injured or injured after. "Je n'aurais pas du la remettre dans la cage," I picked up after a moment, "Elle aurait peut-être survécue la nuit, peut-être." I was already asking myself, And the next day then? "Je ne pouvais rien remarqué pour expliquer le fait qu'elle ne put ni marcher ni voler mais seulement nager. Il n'y a eu aucunes traces sur elle, rien d'évidemment cassé."

I could not, I explained to him, see any evidence of an injury, an attack, anything to explain why she could neither walk nor fly, only swim for a time before seeking the "nest" she discovered and made of the skimmer basket.

"Elle a probablement fait une hémoraggie interne, si elle était si faible," said the doctor sitting en face, my husband. I nodded again.


I felt relieved. If it had been an internal hemorraghe, there was truly nothing I could have done to help her. I could have held her until she died, but I had to sleep. And my husband would have been pretty upset had he ever learned from my inability to keep anything from him that she had poohed in our bed.

This afternoon, I finished lunch and I decided to bury her. Sam had spent his first night in his first place of his own, his really tiny chambre de bonne in Paris, and would fly later to Barcelona. Audouin was at work. I had spent the morning reading Daniel Deronda, and now I knew where I would bury her. I would not take her to the Seine and let events do as they would with her beautiful limp body and fragile neck, her closed serene dark eyes, and I would not bury her in our garden, where she might get unburied by a future gardener with no foul intent -- how dare I a pun at this moment? No, I would bury her alongside the field down across from the lower gate and the pool, by the fence that separates it from the pasture where someone here grows hay for their horses.

I went and donned my gardening hat and gloves, picked up the square-nosed shovel for breaking into the ground and the cane in one of the miserable Carrefour plastic shopping bags I use for garbage, and I headed down to the gate. Rapide was not behind me when I closed it. I did not want her company. She had already shown enough interest in the duck when it was alive; were she to know where it was buried, I risked never seeing an end of the desecration of the poor thing.

I tried to break the ground in several places, and found it hard, full of stones. I couldn't bury her too close to the field, or the tractor would uncover her when next they till. They had just harvested the wheat they planted this year. Some years it is corn. Those are the years we like least, preferring the grassier grains that flow in the wind and turn from emerald to gold with the seasons. I arrived at a tuft of wild grass and brought the edge of the shovel down. It gave. I shoved my foot in my rubber gardening clogs down onto the top of the shovel and felt both my sole and the ground give a little. I could dig a hole here, enough of a hole, while she waited at the edge of the gravel lane.

I left a clump of field grass dangling by its untorn roots at the edge of the hole and used the sharp edge of the shovel to cut away blades from a clump nearby. These, I placed across the bottom of her hole. I would make her a last nest to protect her from the dirt. Remembering they take feathers from their own chests to line their nests, I took thistles gone to seed to line hers, and added some that were still light purple to give it color, like the bands on the wings of her light-brown body. I added Queen Ann's Lace and went and got her to lay her down.

I regretted the flies that had gotten into the bag and tried to sit on her eyes.

Her body was still soft, and her neck fell from the position in which she had arranged it to sleep, or to die. It fell limp as I removed her, and I caught it, trying with one had to hold it where she had placed it and lower her onto the grass and tufts of thistle seed.

I crossed the field again and went for my pruning sheers. I would give her a rose from our garden to which she had somehow come, although something from the pool made more sense, and I returned with a pink bud, placing it in the curve of her neck on the swelling of her chest.

There were spikes of the recently harvested wheat lying about and piles of the seed hulks the harvester left behind. I covered her with these, thinking of the local men who own and the others who work these fields and purchase the fowl to shoot. They were not responsible for her, I did not think. And then, I covered the wheat with the dirt I had removed, setting handfuls of wild grass I had torn up from along the lane over her, patting the clumps of hard soil around any roots that might be able to take hold in it.

I thought, while I worked, of Baccarat. It is consoling to create a grave, I thought. To add the things that comfort its maker. I thought about burying Chloé and how I had had to walk away and sob three times before I could finish, and how much better I had felt when it was done by my own hands. I had had no choice for Baccarat, and having her ashes to take to a favorite place, perhaps some to keep or to bury when I know what to do with them, was alright. It seemed that it would be alright for me one day, too.

"Je m'en fou de ce qu'on fait de moi," my husband had said when we talked about it last week. That's what he always says. He doesn't care what becomes of his body when he is gone. That is for those who remain to decide as best comforts them, he adds.

"Je me rends compte à quel point c'est personnel," I had said. "Et ce ne serait pas forcément pareil pour chaque animal, ou personne," I had added, musing more than speaking out loud. It was occurring to me that death is as personal as it is universal.

I told the cane that I had done the best I could by her. I asked her to give my love to Baccarat should she see her, and the tears came again, standing in that field, seeing Baccarat with her gold Christmas ribbon on the shorn gold field on which she ran.

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