I felt the need to buy you a tin. I chose a vintage pattern, a cheap Orla Kiely copy: cream, flowers with brown stems and green heads. Its lid was mint green. There was a moment when I told myself it’s what you would have picked, that you’d like the flowers. I quickly quelled this lie. You didn’t have opinions on patterns or prints. The alternative had rabbits on, and deer. A joyful nature scene. It seemed unfair to bring other animals into this moment, even fake ones.
You are the first love that my boy has lost. I told him I was taking you to the vet, that you were unlikely to return home alive. I gave him the chance to say goodbye. He sat and held you close, fed you cheese.
All he asked was that we bury you in the garden. My chest ached. I’ll never forget the look of nervous hope when I collected him from school that day. Or how his heart sunk, his head sunk, his tears sunk, when I told him you were gone.
We sat on the couch and he held you in the tin, felt the weight of you. I let him peek inside, so he knew death was a solid thing. He asked if you would rot in the ground. I did not deny this, but the word rot was sour and sharp. There must be a kinder word, I thought, one less bound up with death. You would return to the earth, I said. Everything returns to the earth, eventually.
We had a little ceremony: there was music, we said kind words. We buried you with cheese and crisps, in the tin – lidless, so you could return to the earth. We ate cheese and crisps to rejoice in you.
That night my boy asked if there was a heaven. I wanted to give him a yes that he could cling to, but I could not. I told him that many people believed in heaven, but that I didn’t. I gave him the truth, which is all I had to give. I told him you were tired and your body ached, that your bones were slipping away from each other. I told him you were better off without breath, without your amber eyes open. I told him of your happy life, filled with love, and that death came when you were ready.
This morning, my boy distilled this letter to one line. I’ll miss Ruby, he said, she was so beautiful.
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