Italy Update: The Circle of Life (Hamster Chapter), Part II

La Kayla lying in state in our common room, with her name plate from the corner office of Hamster Inc.

The kids ate their lunch and Jason tapped away on his keyboard while the hamster’s earthly remains reposed peacefully in her cage. I arrived home from church in a torrent of rain, having opted to lock up my bike next to the sanctuary to catch a ride from a generous friend. Jason texted me from his armchair. When should we tell them? he asked. Did she resuscitate? I responded. No.

I looked at Victor and Eleanor, happily chatting away at the kitchen table. I looked back at Jason, who was pointedly trying to not look at me. When he did he raised his eyebrows.

Kids, I announced. They looked up at the same time. It is in these moments that they most resemble a matched pair of golden retriever puppies from the same litter. I have some important news, I said. I took a breath. Kayla has taken her final hop across the rainbow bridge. Victor’s eyes widened. When? Sometime last night, I said. He looked down. Eleanor was silent. Her face crumpled. She pulled her knees up to her chin and began to bite them. I extracted her from the space between the dining bench and the table. She was crying fast and silent, the fat tears streaming down her cheeks. Hey eyebrows turned red; this always happens when her emotions arise in earnest. We sat on the other armchair while Jason made our postprandial espresso. After about ten minutes I handed off Eleanor for paternal comforting.

We looked around for an appropriate container in which to place Kayla. One was too big, another still had stuff in it. Jason finally found an old box of breath mints. We didn’t like that flavor anyway (licorice orange). We threw the candy away. I tore the cream-colored hamster shroud from L*U*S*H* in half. I think I’ll let you do this, Jason said. It looks like you have a plan.

I went back to the cage with a plastic sand shovel. Kayla was resting where I’d first seen her, six hours prior. I teased her gently from the white cotton fluff she had arranged around herself as a bed. Her thin legs and long nails caught in the fluff. I got a pencil to work her body from the other side, then picked her up carefully with the muslin cloth, and tucked her into the shroud with care and tact, folding it on all four sides. I placed her in the breath-mint box and closed the flap, and discreetly walked her back out to our common room in a one-person cortège. Victor did not notice. Eleanor was still seated on Jason’s lap, playing with his hair. The medical examiner has confirmed, I said quietly to Jason, that she is gone.

What are you going to do with her, Jason texted me. I’ll figure something out, I answered. Jason shrugged. How long do you think she’ll take to decompose, I asked. Six months? Less, he surmised. Three, tops. Thus did I resolve my course of action. The kids do not need to be present, he said. I heartily agreed.

Jason and Victor prepared to leave for the farewell + birthday party of Victor’s best friend for the past five years. It started to rain harder. We’ll wait for this to calm down before we leave, Jason said. Then the two south-facing windows below the broken palazzo gutter began to flood, as they do two or three times a year. This offered a welcome and harried distraction as we moved all the things that Should Not Get Wet to higher ground. Eleanor took out the mop and bucket. Jason threw a bunch of old t-shirts on the increasing puddle, now gathering steam on its sloping way to the stairs. The rain relented after a while, and after about half an hour, cleanup was under control. Jason and Victor left for the party out in Rifredi. Eleanor and I popped some corn and settled in to watch the pilot of “The Gilded Age” on my laptop. It was distracting and useful to my purpose.

The rain ceased. I slipped from the room, put on my shoes, and picked up the candy box. I cased the area for some time before settling on a distant, dry spot, under a laurel hedge and far from any foot traffic. I prayed that no one would note my hurried activity. I hollowed out a deep enough hole and rolled the hamster into it, a featherweight, barely any flesh. I patted the wet dirt on top of the furry tuft. I lay a few laurel twigs to honor the brief life of a memorable and much-loved mammal that we hosted for just under two years.

Upstairs, Eleanor did not even noticed my absence. I put the candy box back on the china hutch. The sun came out and shone through our windows and skylights, bright yellow for just a bit before the clouds moved in again and gave way to evening.

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