Chapter 1 - Mr. Pib
Florence, Oregon - May 28, 1997
Macy Eldridge knew something was terribly wrong even before she opened her eyes and saw Mr. Pib stone cold dead on the pillow beside her.
An odd sense of dread had prodded her into half-sleep consciousness and set her to shivering under the Pendleton blankets piled three high on the bed. Every muscle tense, eyes squeezed shut, she listened for any odd noise. Nothing but rain drops bouncing off the metal roof like a barrel of marbles dumped from the hands of some giant in the sky. Normal Oregon coast morning in May.
Maybe it was nothing more than the tacos she’d had for dinner, or coffee too close to bedtime. If she kept her eyes shut, and lay still, hopefully the creepy feeling would evaporate like a bad dream.
Not a chance. Fear coiled a little tighter around her heart. Lori? Julie? Chad? Grandkids? No. No phone calls.
Surely it couldn’t be the fact that it was her fiftieth birthday and she would spend it alone. That was nothing new. She had spent it alone even when sitting across the table from David watching him read the morning paper with the date right there, in black and white, at the top of the page.
Leave David alone. Remember what he did for you.
He never let me forget.
Stop the drama. It’s probably nothing.
What was she doing… not only talking to herself, but answering, too? Bad habit, one she needed to break… but then, why should she? Who else would she talk to?
Oh, for crying out loud, Macy, stop the pity party and get on with it.
She inhaled deeply and slowly opened her eyes to see Mr. Pib’s green eyes frozen open in a blank stare. The breath hissed out of Macy’s chest like air out of a fat balloon and her heart withered into a hard little fist, barely beating. She curled onto her side facing him, lay her palm on the side of his head, and let the flash flood of tears sweep away all thoughts except that Mr. Pib was gone.
Finally, she wiped her eyes and her drippy nose on her pajama sleeve. It’s just a damn cat, she told herself and burst into tears again. But he wasn’t just a cat. Mr. Pib—short for Pain in the Butt—first let Macy touch him sixteen years ago, on a sunny May day when the wild rhododendrons were in riotous bloom.
They were still living in the big house south of town with a view of Woahink Lake when she first saw the scrawny grey-striped tabby. He wasn’t much of a cat when he crawled from under the back deck. His fur was patchy, half an ear was missing and a yellowish pus filmed over one eye. She couldn’t tell how old he was for sure, but he was young and definitely feral.
Seduced by a three-month daily supply of premium cat food and treats, Mr Pib finally let Macy pet him. Then, a few days later, he rubbed against her leg and didn’t fuss when she picked him up. It was the day David was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and it was as if Mr. Pib knew she would need a friend.
The cat had been her constant companion ever since, a source of comfort during those long years of David’s decline. First, Parkinson’s, then a diagnosis of dementia, then congestive heart failure, and in the last year, colon cancer. It had taken David a long time to die.
But Mr. Pib was gone in an instant, without warning. Of course, he was old and he had been slowing down for some time, but somehow, his death was a shock. Macy wiped her eyes again as a nasty little thought sneaked out and sucker punched her right where it would do the most damage. You didn’t cry this much when David died.
No, she hadn’t. But then, zombies don’t cry. All the long years of David’s dying had, day by day, shriveled her humanity until, at the end, she was an empty shell of self-control and sheer will, doing what had to be done. Otherwise, she would have been sucked under the surface of his suffering, herself drowning in his slow death. So his death was a relief. That is what she tells no one.
Macy took a deep breath, threw back the covers, pulled herself out of bed, and slipped her feet into a pair of fur-lined slippers. She went to the bathroom, then dressed in jeans, a plaid flannel shirt and a pair of rain boots. Taking Mr. Pib’s favorite blanket off the end of the sofa, she carried it into the bedroom and carefully wrapped him in it.
The rain had settled into a light drizzle when she took a shovel from the storage shed and dug a hole at the far end of the backyard. Was a backyard cat burial against association rules? She didn’t know, but her yard was totally shielded by a mandatory natural greenbelt between the lots. Although her neighbors were only a few feet away, the screen of wild rhododendrons, huckleberries, azaleas, wax myrtle and other foliage was so effective she could only see the neighbor across the street from her front window, so who would know about the cat grave? Nobody but her.
The sandy soil was wet and heavy. Macy was perspiring under her rain jacket by the time she judged the hole to be the right size. She found a red metal tool box in the shed, dumped the tools on a work table and carried the container into the house. After padding the bottom with a towel, she gently laid Mr. Pib inside, covering his blanket-wrapped body with another small towel. She put the tool box in a large black plastic garbage bag, wrapped it snugly, and then repeated it with another garbage bag. The little metal container was as waterproof as she could make it.
She put the makeshift coffin into the hole, shoveled the sand back in and tamped it down. In a day or two she would visit Woodsman’s Native Nursery and buy a rhododendron to plant on his grave. Yellow for all the happiness he had given her. She sat on the wet ground and lay her palm on the small mound of sand. How could she leave him there, in that damp, dark hole, alone? Goodbye, cat, my good friend. Goodbye, Mr. Pib. Macy’s eyes stung, and her throbbing nose delivered a dull drum-beat headache to the middle of her forehead.
The rain dripped off her hat and ran down her jacket, pooling in a small lake under her bottom. Still she didn’t move until her legs cramped into pretzels under her. Bracing herself with the shovel, she stood and stamped her feet several times before trudging slowly back into the house.
After hanging her dripping rain coat and hat on a hook by the door, she turned up the heat in the pellet stove in the corner. Standing in its warmth, she quickly stripped down and changed into a pair of old sweats and slippers. Warm and dry, and fortified with a cup of coffee, she dropped heavily into a chair at the small table in front of the bay window. She gazed out at the asphalt street, glistening in the rain, dark and empty. Just like her.
Even while lying in bed earlier, the crushing pain of losing Mr. Pib almost squeezing the life out of her, Macy had known as surely as she knew her name that trouble was not through with her this day. Her hand trembled as she lifted the cup and took a sip of coffee, willing the hot liquid to warm her insides and push away the foreboding she still felt.
Maybe it was because all her life, her time and energy had been consumed doing what had to be done, but now there was nothing and no one that absolutely demanded her care or attention. Had that sudden vacancy of responsibility busted the secure padlock deep inside, opening the door to the shadowy chasm where she had locked away all the pain and hurt so many years ago?
She thought she had taken care of that business for good way back then, putting it away from her heart and mind so she could live out her life in relative peace. But now the cage door was rattling and she could hear the old fear and hurt calling her name.