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The Hullabaloo of Grief

© Bruce Goodman 2005

According to Wilmot Harrison (she was called Wilmot, although her real name was Philomena), her mother had given her seven first names so as not to offend any of the relatives. Now Wilmot was all grown up, and had recently spent over seventy thousand dollars having her cat cloned.

She loved her original cat that much. It died of old age. Almost inevitably, you will be thinking, the cloned replacement will get run over by a truck before this story is over. You are correct. It shall get run over by a great big articulated truck with nineteen wheels (counting the spare). It'll be a tragedy. The kitten shall end its existence as nothing more than bloody patches of scattered genes squashed along the highway of life.

"Don't do it!" I hear some cry. "Not only is it cruel; it is a waste of money."

I'm sorry. These things happen, and in this particular case, Wilmot Harrison's cloned cat is going to get squished at the end. Before it does however, I wish to give a little background, so that not only will you be outraged, you will be grieved. Your heart will cry out for the poor little fluffy seventy-thousand-dollar kitten compacted into the potency of matter by the wheels of a vehicle. The heavy truck is setting out this very moment. It can't be stopped. We must give it time to arrive.

Wilmot Harrison was a spinster. She was old. She lived alone. With her cat. She wasn't an eccentric. Not at all. She had spent her life giving to others, first as a nurse to a doctor in private practice, and then as the local district nurse. She would travel the village in her little Volkswagen, stopping here and there to tend the dying and the too ill to personally visit the doctor. She never charged a cent. Everyone in the village could tell where Wilmot was: she always stopped her car in the middle of the road and left the door wide open. It was like putting a flag up. It was as if to say, "I'm the district nurse. I'm visiting the house just over from where I've stopped my car." The locals simply steered their own vehicle around Wilmot's and thought, "Dear Wilmot. Kind Wilmot. Funny Wilmot".

And indeed she was very funny. She was funny in the amusing sense, not in the slightly-bent-in-the-brain sense. She would say the wickedest things. People adored her. In the grocery store, if Wilmot was shopping, you could always tell which aisle Wilmot was in. Great bundles of laughter and happy chatter would waft over the shelves from the gaggle of locals gathered around Wilmot. Just the other day, I popped into the store to get some curry powder (it was midsummer and hot and sticky and sweaty even in the shop) and I heard Wilmot's voice saying, "I know the weather's hot, darling. I'm wearing three things, and two of them are shoes".

She called everyone darling, even her cat. It wasn't the slightest bit pretentious. It simply saved having to remember everybody's name. Her original cat had a name, but she still called it darling. Its real name wasn't particularly innovative. It was Blueberry Muffin. It was a tabby cat. It was old for a cat.

Wilmot was quite the opposite from her cat. Her cat was fat. Wilmot was tall and wiry. She was seventy-nine. Her hair was undyed grey and tied at the back in a bun. She had the look and interest and physic of one who had been active all her life, and she had no intention of stopping. She could shoot from the hip as well. Oh no! Don't ever say to Wilmot that someone had "passed on".

"They call it Death, darling," she would say.

I don't want you to get the wrong idea of her. Because she had squandered over seventy thousand dollars on getting her cat cloned, doesn't mean to say she was an affluent snob. Quite the opposite! She was lovely. Graceful. Charming. Witty. But practical to a tee. (Except for leaving her Volkswagen with the door open in the middle of the road). In fact, it was a shame she had no family of her own, for she was the epitome of a grandmother.

If the local community was doing something, she'd be in, boots and all. Not only for charitable fund-raising either. Guess who entered and won last year's annual village raft race? DESIGN MAKE CREW YOUR RAFT! the poster had said. And there was the then seventy-eight year old Wilmot in the river at the start line standing on her buoyant flamboyant creation, dressed as a pirate king. Some thought she was cheating. There's a fine line between a raft and a canoe. And it was observed that her one pole permitted for pushing the raft in a tight situation resembled more of a paddle. And was that some sort of little machine with a whirling rudder hidden underneath?

"Competition is the key to technological progress," retorted Wilmot in response to a friendly cry of protest. And she genuinely won the village raft race: through a mixture of cunning and skill and (the prudes of this world would call it) cheating. But cheating was an unwritten rule of the race. And who could begrudge her the winning title? For not a few hundred yards from the finish line, knock me down with a feather if Wilmot's raft didn't whish to the side of the river. Her pirate's hat was plopped on the head of the nine-year-old recently orphaned onlooker Jeremy Fletcher, and he jumped aboard and manoeuvred the raft to glorious victory!

"Well done, darling!" screamed Pirate Wilmot to Pirate Fletcher. "We won! We won!"

Young Fletcher got to keep the trophy, while Wilmot Harrison was unceremoniously tossed into the river by the losers for having (what the mayor called) an "over-crafty raft". Such sunny weather too! And such a happy climax to the raft race at the annual village picnic.

The crime rate in the village was zilch. The village didn't have as much as a policeman. (Perhaps I should tell you the village's name? It was Hamlet.) The crime rate was zero despite a few years earlier a gang of Hells Angels having moved into a house and surrounded it with a twelve-foot high fence complete with security cameras. Everyone in the village was terrified. The roar of Harley Davidson's shattered the peaceful village life as the bunch of hooligans set out on some nightly criminal mission.

It was Wilmot, at a public town council meeting, who defended them.

"I see absolutely no reason why they can't live here. It's a free world," she said.

And it was Wilmot who knocked on the twelve-foot high Hells Angels' fence gate and, greeted by four Doberman pinschers, made her way into the headquarters of the local gang. "Let me make one thing clear," said Wilmot to the slightly startled collection of criminals staring at the chocolate cake Wilmot had brought, "we don't lock our houses around here. We don't lock our cars. We leave our car keys in the ignition. We keep our unbanked money in tins on kitchen tables. This place is safe. I see no reason why you need to lock your gate. I want you to ensure that no one from outside Hamlet comes in the night and makes us change our way of life. It's your job to keep us carefree."

The Hells Angels took their commission seriously. Since that day, there has been only one instance of thievery in the village, and that was Wilmot's Volkswagen. It disappeared overnight. Wilmot stormed into the Hells Angels' unlocked compound.

"Find it!" she demanded.

The underground network works. The car came back, though in a different color (the colors of the rainbow), with custom wheels beloved by adolescents, and minus its muffler. Wilmot thought she liked her car even more now that it had been modified, and she thanked the Hells Angels.

"It wasn't us," they said. "We just stole it back."

"Well, thanks anyway," said Wilmot. "And thanks too for making the winning raft."

Wilmot's expertise in dealing with the criminal gang didn't spring from nowhere. She had spent three years overseas in her younger days nursing soldiers injured in the war. "I learned to tell the difference between a man and a woman," explained Wilmot.

It was during the war that she fell in love and became engaged to a soldier. He was shot. Dead. She wasn't a spinster in her old age because of mourning. She got over it. But no other man of the proper ilk ever came along. She got a cat instead.

Don't get me wrong about the cat. She wasn't one of those fluffy-wuffy my-cat-can-do-no-wrong sorts of people. She had a cat. That was all. Its name was Blueberry Muffin. She called it darling. It was tabby. It slept at the end of her bed. She fed it. She talked to it. It was company. She got it as a kitten. After seventeen years it died. She paid over seventy thousand dollars to have it cloned. Its replacement was exactly the same, except its name was Clonin the Barbarian. She called it darling. The nineteen-wheeled heavy truck is on its way.

The war-death of her fiancé had one known lasting benefit. It had made Wilmot comfortably rich. She didn't flaunt her riches, and in fact if the bank manager were to reveal the whole truth, she wasn't exactly oozing currency. But, yes, ‘comfortable' is the right word. Wilmot had set up a fund to pay for a nurse to care for the villagers of Hamlet once she passed on.

"They call it Death, darling."

Her Volkswagen was thirteen years old. Her house was more of a quaint cottage, with a cat. And she loved her flower garden. It was a sprawling, messy garden. It was filled with plants grown from cuttings from friends of friends of friends. She'd never bought a plant in her life.

"What is that very pretty flower?" a passer-by would ask.

"It's a blue thing," said Wilmot, pleased nonetheless.

When it came to the money to pay for her cat to be cloned, it might seem that Wilmot had more money than she knew what to do with. It wasn't like that at all. She was not one to squander selfishly. Not a miser at all either. If she wanted something she usually bought it (apart from plants). But the cloned cat was different. It was a science project. One day she had gone to the big city two hours drive away, and at the Medical Center, someone had mentioned how the local Science Research Department was strapped for cash. "Clone my cat," Wilmot had said, "and I'll pay for it."

So her Clonin the Barbarian was the result of a generous donation to scientific progress. She loved the new cat immensely. It was actually still a kitten. Wilmot had a screwed-up piece of paper tied to a long string, and she would spend hours dragging the paper around for the kitten to pounce.

Is that a truck I hear roaring in the distance?

If Wilmot had a fault it was her passion for garlic. She couldn't eat an apple without an accompanying clove of garlic. She had a garlic sandwich for lunch. She had garlic in her dinner. God knows if she had garlic for breakfast.

Well, one day she was out pruning the blue thing in the garden. The little cloned kitten ran onto the road.

"You can't run out there, darling," said Wilmot.

The great truck turned the corner and swerved to avoid Wilmot's Volkswagen parked with open door in the middle of the road. It hit Wilmot. It hit the cat. It killed Wilmot. It killed the cat.

The funeral cortege was more of a parade than a procession. Picture two coffins on the roof of a rainbow-painted Volkswagen with custom wheels beloved by adolescents, and minus its muffler. Picture six Hells Angels on Harley Davidson's. Picture a pageant led by the victorious raft-racer Jeremy Fletcher in a pirate's hat. Picture the balloons and the band and the crowd of clowns. Picture the hullabaloo of grief. Picture the entire Hamlet population in funereal party.

Would that Wilmot was there. She would have been her own orchestra at her passing.

They call it Death, darling.

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