The Death of Khaasta: Rest in Peace, Ted, our Smokey

I have really done with the horror of 2016. My mind has tried to reason away the dejection and despondence of this abominable year so many times, but in vain. I convince myself to hope and happiness, my failures of the heart flying over personal bereavement with the ambition of reaching higher ground, but in vain. I do my utmost as an upstanding human forced cramble about in this world of monstrous inanity, but in vain. For all our cares, for all our great endeavours, for all our efforts and surmises, we are continually disappointed, for no matter how much we fight against the evils of life, raging tranquility can never reconcile us to the most unspeakable tragedies. I no longer pretend to defer grief; at last, something in the world that makes sense: an escape from the maddening prospect of ceaseless insensibility.

Early this morning, Ted, our Smokey, our Khaasta, decided he had done with the trials of life and left us, to join his ancestors in the great expanse, to live on in verdant fields of high grass and rubber bands. Two months ago, he suffered from a stroke, and though it was determined to have been a severe one, still he persevered. Six weeks ago, we discovered that he had been living with cancer, and still he persevered. He had a drooping eye, a projecting tooth, and a long and confused face, and still he persevered. Throughout the course of his long life, he had various illnesses and infections which never seemed to distress him, a heart murmur which he duly ignored, and enjoyed making us panic by finding out all the plastic and rubber bits in the house and eating them against his better judgement and survival instincts, and still he persevered. He was like an old man wrapped in a feline package, doing what he liked when he wanted, hating change, hating doctors, hating medicine, and hating anything that was not bashing his head into the bathtub at two in the morning and smashing insects repeatedly until flat. He was being treated for a rare form of cancer that had claimed the better part of his neck, and while he was doing amazingly with treatment and seemed to be on the path to a longer and healthier life, a second and more virulent stroke carried him off in the early hours. Though he was always obdurate and demanded cuddling at the most awkward times, the evening of life is sentimental for all beings, and in the last month, he had traded in his usually stubbornness and absent-mindedness for unbidden affection. He was a constant companion, a great lingerer and a nudge in every respect. His passing was done in private, while neither of us was watching, and I suppose it is better done that way; humans are selfish creatures, always wanting to prolong the inevitable because we want one more day, one more hour, one more moment. He went when he chose to do, and he is now somewhere in the universe, at the command of his own destiny, dancing in a whirl of plastic bags and twist ties, frolicking in a ball bin of milk tops.   

When we took his body to be cremated, my heart had not yet caught up with what my mind knew must be: it played a violent trick on me, and when the lid was lifted from his carrier and his body was laying in the gentle light of the guess room at the hospital, the movement of the shadows, the ripple of the light cascading down his fur made me believe that he was still breathing, but his eyes, usually wide and rife with the terrified curiosity which he always looked at everything, were dim and soulless. It was a cruel deception; it made me hope again, but I have learned now not to trust surmises. His coat, still professing that resplendent sheen, was perfectly matted, but his spirit, probably mantling over us and wondering why we were upset instead of preparing his dinner, had fled. Since we have come home, the echoes of his life have been everywhere: there is an emptiness that he left behind which can never be replenished.

The absence of life is not the same as material privation: we will never again see the same soul occupying the same space. The world refers to them as pets, but that is what we do, not really what they are. Affection pays for itself in proportion to the love we offer, and if the love we lavished on him was any indication, we are inconsolable. The suffering is more on our side now, for he led an enormously happy and productive life, and we are left to remember and agonize. It is all wretchedness now. Grief is the currency for death, leaving us in emotional debt perhaps forever, but love is the tax we happily pay toward the investment of another's company, and we would all rather pay it and be happy and poor than be rich in a friendless life. He is gone, and we are now beholden to him, but we are so much happier for his having been here than we deserve to be.      

Many of my stories are based on the absurd things that happened to me in real life, but while Smokey made up the chief of what was absurd in the house, his counterpart Khaasta made up everything that
was unabsurd in the keep and on the islands. Ever a the wordless voice of reason, Khaasta was Leraa's companion for the better part of his life and accompanied him on his many visits to the south. She was the subject of many stories in Tales from Frewyn, acted as a playmate to the children, and as a general antagonist to Rautu, who reluctantly grew to appreciate her company. I will write a story about her passing, but not now. I have cried so much today, and am still crying now, that I will have to harden myself a little before writing anymore about death. It is the most unfair mistress in the world, disproportionately dividing up the sorrow that complements her, giving the living more than is our share. The Haanta do not see death as an evil; they view it as a completion, and the spirit goes on to dwell in the realm of enlightenment. That is certainly so in Khaasta's case, and I hope it is so in Smokey's, even if his enlightenment was to realize his dream of killing the centipede that evaded him just before he passed.