Death Comes to Paradise

If only, when one heard that Old Age was coming
One could bolt the door, Answer "Not at home"
And refuse to meet him!

 -- Kokinshu (905 C.E.)

The orange kitty is dying. Peaches has lost about a third of her body weight during the past two months, so that now she looks like an orange rag draped over a small coat hanger. I hate this.

Death has come calling, and I am not prepared. After all, her littermate, Columbus, is a buff and rambunctious male. And because we've decided to put out wet food that is easier for Peaches to chew, Columbus has put on weight. I'm reminded of the old woman who took her cat to the vet complaining that the cat's head was shrinking. Columbus' head is smaller these days. I know, of course, that it is an optical illusion.

Something like the illusion that our town is really Paradise. That's what they call it--the locals and the visitors. Paradise. Because it is sunny and it is Santa Barbara and there is no weather, only a climate, so the flowers and shrubs bloom three times a year. And no one is ugly--except for the tenants in the halfway house across the street, who come out only at night. Plus, you can't find the graveyards in this town, either. They are hidden.

On the surface, this appears to be life-affirming, but beguiled by this myth of endless summer, I seem to have lost a structure that includes death.


Death has come calling, and I am not prepared.

When death's specter appears in the shape of the vet who makes a house call, he is like something conjured from my darkest self. He is aged and wan, sporting a leering grin replete with large yellow teeth. The visual is perfected by the audio as he accompanies himself with a dreadful rap. "I used to have a practice...for years, but then I got sick and I almost died." Cancer. Cancer of the adrenal glands. "Lost the practice. So, here I am at 67," he laughs ruefully, "not able to make a living." Delivered in one withering breath, the things I dread most echo grimly in the tiny sunroom. We are aging, too, and this year my husband and I both lost our high-paying jobs.

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Susan Stewart Potter
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