Under the Copper Beech

I approach the garden with a certain amount of trepidation. The grass, which is usually trim, hasn’t been cut in a while. At the bottom of the garden there is a copper beech tree whose branches droop almost as far as the ground, creating a secluded canopied area underneath. 

“Through there”, she says pointing to the tree. I make my way in gingerly, pushing the branches aside with one hand and holding the spade with the other. The earth here is dry, unaffected it would seem by the recent diluvial weather. I examine the body: in surprisingly good condition considering it has probably been here for a week, when he was first reported missing. 

I half-heartedly begin to dig but this is not the kind of work that accommodates half-heartedness, and the arid ground refuses to yield. Why now, I think aggrieved by recent events. His stubbornness and refusal to respond to reason is quite exasperating. For someone who spent his entire life regularly exercising and eating healthily, why would he give up so easily? 

“I am my own doctor”, he had said, clearly irritated by our concerned badgering. People in their sixties, even their seventies, are not considered old anymore, and yet at the first sign of trouble he expects the worst. Confronted with the headlights of a potential death sentence delivered by a doctor decades his junior, he becomes paralysed by fear. 

“Doctors are young and would have no interest in treating someone my age. If I went into hospital, I probably wouldn’t come out alive”, he had said looking emaciated like a prisoner of war. His distrust of doctors seems to stem from his belief that they are directly responsible for his wife’s death nearly fourteen years ago, when she had slipped into a hepatic coma. The doctors, having given up on her, withheld food and water, which, although counterintuitive since the liver is an organ capable of regeneration, is apparently standard practice in England. 

I look up at her through the leaves. She is standing on the concrete path that surrounds the house, arms anxiously folded across her chest. I didn’t know her when her mother died. Despite her unflagging cheerfulness, I have often noticed a well concealed sadness in her eyes and an almost imperceptible quiver of the lips, disguised by a solemn look of remembrance, particularly whilst relating a recurring dream: in it her mother is still alive, having made a full recovery from her coma, and life has once again returned to normal. But her narrative ends there. She doesn’t speak of the pain that each time she awakes to realise it was only a dream must cause her. Now expecting her first child, our first child, this. I stab at the soil with renewed vigour, bitten again by the untimeliness of events. 

The hole looks deep enough (how deep is deep enough?) and I gently scoop the animal up. He is lying on his side in a languid stretch and disconcertingly has his eyes open, staring unseeingly ahead. It must have been one of those cases often told in cat-lore in which the poor animal, sensing his time was up, decided to make his way to a secluded spot to accept his fate. Apparently he was around fifteen years old. Had he shown signs of illness, I wonder? Even if he had, it is unlikely his owner would have taken him to a vet, no doubt worried that they might put the animal to sleep. 

My job here is done and I walk back across the long grass to where she is standing. In the distance the accusing whirr of a lawnmower is cranked into life as we leave the garden in a silent embrace.


21 Responses

  1. Firstly, condolences. It’s sad to lose a loved one.

    We had a cat that got eaten up by coyotes (so we conjectured).

    Afterwards, I thought I was glad to buy the ‘cat cam’ device I had seen advertised. You can watch the world your animal sees by watching tv (a little camera on your cat’s collar). Witnessing the carnage of coyote on cat would have been too disturbing.

  2. missed a strategic ‘not’ in my comment. I was glad to have NOT bought the cat-cam.

  3. Namaste, Edvard. Hug her for me, ok?

  4. that was sad but also sweet, sir ed. do write more for us, please.

  5. Welcome back, Edvard, we’ve missed your take on the world.

  6. there is an infinite sadness associated with the death of an much loved pet. Society expects that people will move on swiftly as if an animal can have less of a hold on our emotions than a human can. For animal lovers all deaths burn into our souls. For expectant mums, this I’m sure was especially hurtful.

    Rest in peace little friend.


  7. a sad yet beautifully written post, edvard. death is a part of life and yet when it happens it is never nice.


  8. A hole in the ground…
    A hole in one’s life…

  9. This was beautifully written. The parallels, the contrasts, the sadness… very nice.

  10. hello… I was waiting for you back. And here you go, so intricate. A copper beech must be a best place way to lie and die. Lovely, lovely writing, saying those small things that are big and mean so much. xxx

  11. You have conveyed sadness with poetic vision: I stood under the copper beech too. The ability to bring a reader into the written word/world is rare. Lovely writing.

  12. Peace EM.

    Touchingly written. I’ve missed you.

  13. Strange – my ex, back in Manchester, rang this morning in a terrible state to say that Elvis, the ex-stray moggy, had become gravely ill and that the vet recommended euthanasia. I keep bursting into tears, and the only thing that I’m hanging on to is that he had a great life while he was here, and it’s the humans left behind who suffer the most. Give your heart to an animal, and you’ll almost certainly get it broken eventually. Don’t give your heart to an animal, and you won’t have lived fully. Tricky one … Lovely post, even if it did make me cry yet again.

  14. Where there is death there is also life. . . beating right there in her tummy.

    Take care of her, and her father.

  15. Beautifully written Edvard.

  16. […] Sophie’s blog entry is here and she added a really touching comment to this post […]

  17. you write so movingly, without pathos or indulgence…lucky new born to be to have a father to be like you

  18. Beautifully written, as I remember you. Oh, good to be back here.

    Congratulations on the wonderful news. Wow. That’s big! When?

  19. Here I was feeling sorry for myself that you never write, you never call. But I see you are dealing with death, as well as life and pending life.

  20. edvard, your words are so exquisitely honed, so beautifully carved from the finest marble lexicon that … that … it makes me moist.

  21. […] in irritation during her visit the previous day, and regret that she hadn’t been able to persuade him to see a doctor. Watching her grieve in this way rips my heart open. I already know these are no mere lines in the […]

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