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Sheldon Lee Compton: The Supplemental Details

Image: Unsplash, downloaded ( 28.11.2021.

The Shillourokambos Burial

In the books about Neolithic farmers, in lectures, in conversation they’ll say a lot of things about African cats, particularly one African cat that was found buried with the presumed owner. The grave dated back to 7500 BC. They’ll tell you those Neolithic farmers domesticated cats, made friends, because of their knack for locating and killing animals smaller than them, such as mice.


The first time I stayed with someone dying it was with a cat named Gorey. She had repeated seizures for just over an hour. Later on the vet tried to make me feel better by saying these were reflexive seizures and that Gorey hadn’t truly been aware of them. That was the day I learned that vets can be useless and also liars. That people could be nothing more than forms emerging through smoke, all silhouette and outline with no real substance. A stinging for the eyes.


We create blind spots in order to convince ourselves that our cats are as loyal as our dogs. When a cat rubs against you, they are not transferring their love for you through the act; they satisfy a desire of their own. And cats find no reason for being ashamed of this self-centeredness. This is a trait one finds either enduring or reprehensible. Not very many other shades of thought on it for most people.


The math is simple: rodents were drawn to farms for the food, cats were drawn to farms for the rodents. Farmers and cats, therefore, spent a lot of time side by side. In fact, new studies show that cats lived alongside humans for thousands of years before becoming domesticated. There were mutual benefits and all was well. Still, it cannot be proven or, conversely, cannot be disputed that should a cat’s owner ever shrink to the size of a quarter, their cat would simply torture them by batting them around until they grew bored and eventually devoured them. Regardless, this is a risk worth taking.


We arrived earlier that evening with her wrapped in a blanket we knew she liked. The vet opened the office after hours to help us. It was a good start. He placed her on a metal table, checked her with his fingers for a short bit, and then prepared an IV for fluids. He let those run for about ten minutes. During this time Gorey never focused her eyes. Both remained large and glazed and entirely unfocused. Trivial things were said during this massive moment, but not the correct things, not the right words. The right words would have been to say, She will die tonight, no matter what you do.


A cat person is a state of being that is in flux with the rest of one's surroundings. You must be able to exist in a world where you love another creature that doesn’t always love you. Too many people will say, Cats don’t really love their owners or say, Cats love their owners so much. Neither of these are true all of the time. Instead, cats are like interstellar space, mysterious and intriguing, but dangerous in a way humans can only guess at and never hope to fully understand. There is this: to understand could mean madness.


Best of all is that under these pretenses (which can very safely be assumed as fact) cats domesticated themselves. They took their time, the same way they still take their time about everything. The spread was slow. Owners, or rather cohabitors, began taking cats with them on journeys to other lands to keep a check on rodents infesting ships in rampant numbers. As expected, cats were left behind and made their way into the Old World and beyond.


At home it would take nearly four hours for Gorey to die. During this entire time she convulsed, seized, pushed bouts of air out of her body and drew more in at a speed wholly unnatural. Her eyes remained as wide open as I’d ever seen a living thing manage. I lay on the floor with her throughout. Holding my own breath, I cradled her body gently enough to feel the muscles harden and move beneath her coat like flat stones coming alive in folds of silk. When that last second of her little life slipped into memory, I pushed myself up from the floor and paced the darkness like a father gutted, like a deep-chested cat tending fresh wounds, like a man soaked in salt water.


Give in to them and forget you ever felt differently. Embrace cat ladies, ailurophiles, cattitude, philofelists, fur babies, taco tongues, and philogalists. Realize that loyalty should be earned and not merely expected and that Bastet, who the Egyptians worshipped as a god, was half cat. In fact, stemming from their penchant for killing venomous snakes, cats were seen as protectors of the Pharaoh as far back as the First Dynasty. But it has been a confidence game. Cats carry themselves as if they anticipated such attention all along.


That 7500 BC joint burial in the Neolithic village of Shillourokambos of a human and a cat is one provable fact. But more information, new information, can soften the edges of facts. It can do away with fact and lovingly sculpt it into an instance of unexpected emotion. Such as the supplemental details that the cat had clearly been tamed and was small. A kitten.

About the Author: Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of eight books of fiction and poetry, including most recently the collection Sway (Cowboy Jamboree Press, 2020). His first nonfiction book, The Orchard Is Full of Sound, will be published by West Virginia University Press in 2022 and Cowboy Jamboree Press will publish his Collected Stories in late 2021.


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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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