This morning, as I was peeling cucumbers to go with the children's sandwiches, I didn't hear the usual anticipatory squeaking from our guinea pigs, who have always been remarkably attuned to the soft whoosh of the fridge door opening, the rustle of plastic wrap, and the sound of any vegetable being sliced. Alas, Harry, our fat, enthusiastic father-of-thirty-six, was lying on his side as if he didn't know what hit him. I'm no vet, but I think he must have been sinking his teeth into a cucumber peel one minute and having a massive heart attack the next. Although I knew right away, I couldn't help thinking that all it would take to have him up and squeaking was a slice of apple nearby, and I put one down near him. Nothing. His wife, Ginny, had retreated to the top floor of our piggy housing development, and did not return to the lower levels until my husband had removed Harry's body.
We buried him in the garden this evening, his winding sheet a clean old dishtowel, his coffin a cardboard Ikea desk lamp box--exactly the right size. A few days ago he was chasing his wife, enjoying connubial relations with her (not bad for a guy of, approximately, 90) and even stealing food from her.
So we had a proper service with an Ave Maria, a few memories from the kids of interesting adventures with Harry (watching him stand on his hind legs when our eldest played the clarinet, clawing his way up mom's pants leg). And a doxology. And now may he rest in peace! We brought Ginny, his wife of some eight years, out for the ceremony, but she seemed not very impressed, and was glad to be back in her home eating a carrot.
I'll leave the last words to Robert Lowell:
WORDS FOR MUFFIN, A GUINEA-PIG
'Of late they leave the light on in my entry
so I won't scare, though I never scare in the dark;
I bless this arrow that flies from wall to window...
five years and a nightlight given me to breathe—
Heidegger said spare time is ecstasy...
I am not scared, although my life was short;
my sickly breathing sounded like dry leather.
Mrs. Muffin! It clicks. I had my day.
You'll paint me like Cromwell with all my warts:
small mop with a tumor and eyes too popped for thought.
I was a rhinoceros when jumped by my sons.
I ate and bred, and then I only ate,
my life zenithed in the Lyndon Johnson 'sixties...
this short pound God threw on the scales, found wanting.'