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by S A Hartwich

We went on separate vacations and during this time my old cat died, splayed on her favorite green recliner. When our house sitter called I’d been drinking Schnapps with an Australian on Maui. I told the house sitter to put the cat in the garage freezer, that I would deal with her when I returned.

I texted you the news and you said sorry, you knew how much that cat had meant to me, and I said thanks how is your vacation going and you said I have to go now. I kept drinking with the Australian and we eventually passed out on a black sand beach.

A few days later I came home but you’d been there first, clearing out your belongings and leaving a note. You can keep the stereo. I felt the note oddly short given our years together and mentally constructed versions with depth and compassion or vitriol or wistful memories. In the end I had the stereo and a house full of holes where your furniture had been.

I remembered the cat and went to the garage but when I saw her wrapped in a bath towel shrouded in fog I shut the door and said to myself later.

Days went by. Months went by. I extracted you from the apartment bit by bit. Books to Goodwill. Mismatching socks in the garbage. Your favorite coffee mug — buried behind an opaque pitcher — thrown high in the air then smashing against the asphalt. But the Elusives, I called them, were harder to ferret out. The tint of your auburn bangs. The way you bird-called when you came. The time I came home early and heard you having sex and instead of confrontation chose to leave. These Elusives clung to the walls and ranked the air, hovering like hummingbirds.

I teared up a few times but was not a crier and did not let loose until my cat came in a dream and rubbed against my legs and I remembered she was still in the freezer. Each wracking sob sent an Elusive fleeing until the apartment felt empty and shell-like.

I pulled my cat out of the freezer and set her next to the rhododendron and dug a hole but when I laid her in the hole she would not fit until I shoved harder and her frozen leg snapped and you were in the hole too, your glazed eyes staring up until the dirt fell against your face and fell and fell.

S A Hartwich lives outside of Bellingham, Washington, with a spouse, an elderly mutt, two cats, several hawks, one shy coyote, and countless voles. His fiction has appeared in such venues as Apeiron Review and Bird’s Thumb, and is upcoming in Orca: A Literary Journal. He is undoubtedly the worst practitioner of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu west of the Mississippi.