It was one of those days where I couldn’t listen to a song for longer than thirty seconds and my thoughts would drift during any conversation that was longer than a minute.
Electricity raced through the dense July air as I sat in my cutoff shorts contemplating mortality with pen in hand and blank notebook laid open on my lap. It sounded stupid and cliché, like I was some sort of angsty writer-in-training, but sometimes it helped to get it out.
My pet hamster, Honey, had died that morning.
I had woken up and walked downstairs to feed her. Slowly, I had approached her transparent rainbow colored cage while holding her food. As I scooped out her pellets, I looked around the cage for her. Sometimes she liked to sleep in her hamster wheel and gravity would surrender, letting her body rest much higher than her face. During these times, I would always call down my brother, Adam. We would giggle and take pictures.
However, this morning, I had spotted her lying on her back, in the top compartment of her cage. She was basking in the sweet smell of death, her little feet sticking straight up in the air. She could have been scratching her back on the shavings, or trying to sleep like a human, but no, she was dead.
Dead, dead… dead. It rhymes with lead, thread, and red. I jot these down on my notebook so the empty lines stop mocking me, and then scratch my burning scalp with my pen.
“Don’t worry baby, all animals go to heaven-,” my mom had said, rubbing my shoulders, “Honey is in heaven.”
What would a dead hamster do in heaven? There was Honey, as sweet as ever, lying again in death, but this time, she was supported by clouds. God, who for some reason looked very similar to Poseidon, sat on his throne surrounded by angels looking at my poor dead first pet.
I still remembered when and why I had gotten Honey. My best friend Emily had just gotten a cat named Willy. Willy was precious. He was a black and white tabby cat. He had a little black mustache and he always came when called. He would rub his beautiful furry coat against my scraped ankles and red converse sneakers. Emily and I would sit for hours gossiping about boys and petting Willy. When a boy from school wasn’t interested in us, at least we had one boy that we knew would always love us for who we were.
Returning home after these long days, I would feel a lonely place in my heart that needed to be occupied by a pet: specifically, a cat. Unfortunately, under unfair forces of God, my mother and Adam were allergic. I tried to convince them to suck it up, but alas, they wouldn’t. After a week of persuasion, I was awarded Honey, and she was mine (and my brother’s).
Now, I felt restless. My nostrils were still coated with the sticky sweet death. It was the same scent I remembered from when I was five and my house had rats. My dad had bought rat killer and we could smell them rotting in our house walls for weeks. I remembered that death didn’t smell like I had thought it would. It smelled sickeningly sugary.
Honey was a hamster. A hamster I had loved, but still, a hamster. However, somehow I couldn’t shake her death from my mind.
Death was sneaky. Just the night before I had been petting Honey and holding her while watching Dawson’s Creek. I remember looking at her black beady eyes and thinking that she probably hated Dawson’s Creek. But now, she was gone. There was a hamster-shaped hole in my existence. I felt the weight of her little body on my right shoulder.
Sometimes Adam and I had set up a maze of books and wooden building blocks for Honey to wander through. Now she was three feet underground and sealed in a plastic bag. The Ziploc bag had made me really upset. I wasn’t sure why, but when I had sealed the bag, I felt as though Honey was dying all over again. My hands shook as I imagined the clear plastic constricting her cute butterfly breaths. A hamster-sized coffin would have been better. At least the wood would have permitted breath.
We had buried her an equal distance between our garage and the woods behind our house. Adam and I had dug the hole. My parents had said: “you know the wild animals are just going to dig her up, right?”
Death was unavoidably depressing. Why was it that I would never be able to see my innocent little hamster again? As I sat, I twirled my hair around my index finger and stared up at the orange and red setting sun. I thought of everyone in my life that had died and wondered what they had smelled like.
Writers-in-training were supposed to think about morbid and cynical things, right? I tried to picture my grandparents who had recently passed, in the ground. Would their perfectly wrinkled faces just melt into the earth? Their peach fuzzed wrinkles and sunspots were my favorite parts of them. Each spot, and every wrinkle, was like an award for another year they had survived. I shuddered at their peach fuzz merging with the soft green moss. Yet, there was something disturbingly calming about returning to the earth that we came from.
Images of mossy corpses laden with flowers for eyes and rocks for necklaces, shot through my mind. Perhaps the sweet smell of death was a hint that Honey was still there. No one could take my memories of any loved ones away. We would all eventually be mossy and napping peacefully.
I stood up from the plastic chair and the skin just below my shorts stuck to the artificial substance. I peeled my skin off and red marks were left on the backs of my thighs.