I’m a writer. I get paid almost nothing, at this point, for writing. Like most other writers in the world (the ones who have jobs at all), I have a crappy day job that barely pays the bills, and sometimes not even that.
On Thursday, after I had finally clocked out, I took my usual route home via the 210 West. My grandmother allows me to use her car for work purposes, so I am able to cut my travel time by more than 80%, something for which I’m continually grateful. I was taking the exit closest to my house when I saw a large, dead cat lying on the pavement in the right-hand part of the off ramp. It looked like a pretty cat—fluffy with grey and white stripes—except that it was lying there, obviously dead.
As I turned onto the surface streets, I thought about pulling over and going back, but what was I supposed to do? After I parked my grandmother’s car in front of the house, I went inside and asked my father if I should do something about the cat on the off ramp.
He looked dubious, asking, “What are you planning on doing?”
“I don’t know; just move it off into the bushes, I guess,” I responded, and he could tell it was really a half-question. I hadn’t really thought about what I was going to do, after all, only that I didn’t want the cat to lie out there until kingdom come.
He scrunched his nose up in distaste, as if I was asking him to go with me, but said nothing further. My grandmother, who loves cats, poo-pooed the person who’d kill a cat (even by accident) and not do something about it in good faith.
I decided privately that if the cat was still there when I went by again in the next couple of days, then I would do something about it. If not I, then who?
Unfortunately, I was called into work yesterday (Friday) to cover a closing shift for one of my coworkers. I’d completely forgotten about the cat, but when I drove past it on my way home, I pulled over immediately and put on the car’s hazard lights. I sat there for a minute while other cars sped by me in the dark.
Did I have anything with which to pick up this cat in order to move it? I searched around in the back seat and found tissues, some kind of store brand Kleenex. I frowned, waited until the coast was relatively clear, and opened the door into the lane so that I could go back to see what could be made of the situation.
I tried using the tissues to move the big cat—it was more than fifteen pounds, I figured—but the animal had been lying out there for more than 24 hours by that point, if not longer. It was stuck to the ground by its own dried blood and entrails.
I needed something more heavy duty. I drove the rest of the way home and called my dad as soon as I parked. He and my mother were out of town on some kind of fun thing that wasn’t really fun for my mom but she wanted to spend time with Dad so she was willing to put up with it.
“Do we have any shovels around?” I asked.
“Um… yeah, they’re in the shed in the backyard. Why? You digging a hole?”
“No,” I replied, “the cat’s still there. The one I mentioned yesterday.”
“Is…” he paused, “Is anyone going with you?”
“No. I mean, no one’s here. Grandma’s here, but I don’t think she’d be very helpful.”
He sounded wary. “All right, well, put on your hazard lights and be very careful.”
“I will, Dad. Thanks. Sorry for calling you so late.”
“It’s all right. Be careful.”
“Okay; talk to you later.”
I explained the situation to my grandmother, who seemed put out (again) that anyone would ever consider killing a cat, accidentally or otherwise. They’re her favorite animal—she’s most definitely a ‘cat person’—and she spent her time asking me what the cat looked like while I was searching around for a shovel.
I found a spade exactly where my dad had said the shovels would be and fit it awkwardly into the back seat of the car. Driving back down the main drag in order to get on the freeway in order to get off the freeway at the correct spot, I ruminated. Why hadn’t anyone done anything? The off ramp is well used; fifty cars had driven by me in the twenty minutes I’d been sitting there trying to figure out what to do the first time, and it had been nearly 10 PM by then.
As I pulled to the side of the road and flipped on the car’s hazard lights for the second time that night, I wondered whose cat it was that had been lying in the road for so long. Was anyone missing the poor beast? I pulled the spade out of the back seat and realised that it was 10:30 PM and I was wearing all black, head to toe. Great. Work clothes, but I hadn’t thought to change them and now I was essentially invisible, relying completely on my car to warn other drivers for me.
I stood next to the railing when I saw a car coming up the exit ramp, my car’s flashing lights between it and me. I was temporarily blinded by headlights, and then, so long as there wasn’t another car coming, I stood in the road and tried to move the cat with my shovel. It was slow going, and also I was squeamish. The cat didn’t feel like an animal should—it felt like heavy cooked spaghetti against the metal when I tried to move it. Most of its bones were broken, I figured, and that didn’t make me any more motivated to get the thing out off the pavement into the bushes. It felt… unnatural.
Finally, I pulled out my phone and called my best friend. When he picked up, he sounded concerned. (I never call him or anyone, nearly, because I have a phone phobia, but even I can get a handle on myself sometimes.)
“Hello?” he said.
“Have you ever buried anything?” I asked.
“Um… yes,” he answered slowly. “Why?”
“There’s this cat. On the road. On the freeway. I’m trying to move it into the bushes or something, but I—”
“I can’t get there at this moment.”
“Can you just tell me what to do, then?” The combination of the cars rushing by me, the smell of death in the air, and having to talk on the phone was making me panicky.
“Uh, you should probably call the sheriff. Wait a second; let me ask my dad. He’s the one who deals with dead things around here.”
He and his father had a conversation, of which I could only hear his side. I wasn’t listening; I was just trying with all my might not to freak out and hang up the phone immediately.
“Okay, call the non-emergency number for the sheriff.”
“Can you give me the number?”
“Yeah, one minute.”
“Can you text it to me?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said, just realising that I’d had the phone up to my ear for longer than I could really handle. “Yeah, sure. I’ll text it to you so you can get off the phone.”
“Thanks,” I said and hung up without waiting for anything more.
After a minute or two, the text message sounded on my phone, lighting up with the non-emergency phone number for the local sheriff. I dialed and put the phone back up to my ear.
“Sheriff’s office; how my I help you?”
“Uh, yeah,” I started, trying to focus. “I’m here with a dead cat on the 210 West, Ocean View off ramp. Should I just shovel it into the bushes or call animal control or…?”
“Yeah, you’re going to have to call animal control. Let me give you the number,” she said, rattling off another phone number from memory. I thanked her and hung up.
When I dialed animal control, there was a voice message that said the shelter was closed for the day, but if I needed emergency services to please press “0”. I pressed “0” and waited.
“Animal Control,” a man’s voice said. “What’s your emergency?”
“Uh, hi,” I said, repeating what I’d told the sheriff’s office. “Should I just shovel it into the bushes or what? It’s… um, it’s kind of stuck to the ground.”
The man made a disgusted sound. “Yeah, scraping a dead animal off the road isn’t something I’d ask you to do. Animal Control doesn’t actually deal with animals on the freeway, though, but I’ll put in a call to CalTrans. Is that all right?”
“Yes, that’s fine. Thank you. Sorry for calling the emergency line. I wasn’t sure what to do.”
“It’s fine, ma’am. Thanks for informing me. We’ll let CalTrans know the situation. Have a good night.”
“Thanks.” I hung up.
I shoved the spade back into the back seat of the car and hauled my butt home. I smelled like dead animal and coffee and I really wanted a shower more than anything in the world at that moment. I mentioned on Twitter, “So, um. Dead things have this particular smell. >_>” and my best friend—the friend whom I had originally called for help—texted me to say, “Yes, they do. It is best described as rancid.”
“I didn’t know there was a word for it,” I responded. “But I don’t think I knew what rancid smelled like, so… I don’t think I would make a good coroner.”
As I hopped into the shower shortly thereafter, I thought to myself, Thank all the gods there’s someone else who can deal with dead animals on the freeway.
And that’s why I don’t mind paying taxes.