Min was a bear of a cat, round at the bottom, with a thick mast of fur. He weighed close to thirty pounds and resembled an oversized, piebald Davy Crockett cap. Bounding and wild, Min lived in the woods for days at a time, returning with a small bird to deposit on the slate slab outside the mudroom.
We lived in the woods then, my parents and sisters and brother and I, tucked into the corner of a former commune. The town had annual square dances, a swimming hole, and clay tennis courts; the streets were narrow one-lane roads marked by speed bumps at fifteen-foot intervals. To order a pizza was to invite the deliveryman to a Bermuda Triangle of tastefully lit colonial homes, with no street lamps in sight.
My mother’s retreat from the world beyond our street had begun years earlier. A botched cosmetic procedure had healed badly, leaving the skin along her jawline the color of a bone in the sun. If she left the house, she did so covered in oversized sunglasses and a baseball cap, or with her hair blown into a bottle-blond helmet that obscured the place where her makeup met her scarf.
This is how I imagine my mother’s hair—calcified and crested above silk—when she found Min in the median of the Westport Turnpike, not more than fifty feet from the clay courts and the swimming hole, all fur twisted over fur. Later that night she returned home, her camel coat stained red and Min’s carcass wrapped in a Thermos bag in the trunk of her 1982 powder-blue Volvo. She opened a bottle of Prosecco, left over from Christmas, and explained that her diet would start tomorrow.
In “Why Look at Animals?” art historian John Berger lingers on the duality of the relationship between man and animal: “A peasant becomes fond of his pig and is glad to salt away his pork,” for example. Being close to an animal, by virtue of an its habits and physical capacities, is to be close to mortality. We live beside them, share beds and meals and homes with them, and then, with the erosion of age or through the swiftness of calamity, they are gone. Sometimes, we decide when and how they die; we often watch them do so. We watch the same great black eyes that we have stared into for so long go slack with sedatives, stay wide open even as the heart stops beating. Then, we are asked what we would like to do with the body.
In 2012, a Dutch artist named Bart Jansen took his recently deceased cat, Orville, and attached him to a series of propellers and wings, splicing the cat’s carcass—for an animal body is a carcass and a human body a corpse—into the actual frame of a small aircraft. At the time of its initial exhibition, at the KunstRAI art festival in Amsterdam, the Orvillecopter hovered a little more than ten feet off the ground and moved with a jerky hesitation, like an unwelcome bumblebee at a barbecue.