A week ago last Thursday, or someday thereabouts (time has been moving oddly lately, rushing past in great swathes, or forming itself into dollops, expanding the minutes and contracting the hours as they fall past my gaze, or else slowing down all together to a pace where I feel I can see the motes of life itself move slowly past, before falling down a wormhole and leaving me stunned, flummoxed, and usually later than I wanted to be), I saw a sign.
It was a sheet of paper, printed out from someone’s computer, and stuck up on a lamp-post. Might have had a photo at one point…also might not have.
Not an uncommon sight around here, that kind of sign. The more determined ones are also encased in plastic poly-wallets to protect them from the weather, as if their longevity might have some bearing on the outcome. They’re there, purposefully at head height, proclaiming (usually with a bad photo) “LOST!”, with a description of a much-loved family pet gone missing, and all the weight of hope that somewhere, someone knows something of the creature.
I always feel sad about those signs, and the sorrowing hope of the unknown person who stuck it up in a meither of grief and wondering, their only thread of possibility that some local will get in touch via the address or the mobile phone number or the landline number or the email or please, any way possible, to let them know their beloved creature has been located.
I’ve seen SO many for cats. Fewer for dogs, and about the same number for birds.
Mum and I once saw a tortoise…not a sign for a lost one, but an actual in-fact tortoise walking determinedly down the street, heading for the main road. Mum pulled the car over and I scooped up the (hissing, thwarted) hefty reptile, and we took it back to her house, and put it in a spacious box in the garden before contacting a local animal charity to report it discovered. I forget the precise chain of links which was made before the owners were located, but the tortoise was summarily returned and its garden secured.
A friend of mine once turned up on my doorstep at the crack of dawn, in a frenzy – she’d walked out of her front door and on the far side of her car, unseen the night before, in the dark, was a very, extremely dead cat. She needed my help to move it. Dispose of it? What do you do with a very dead cat? It hadn’t been there the morning before, so she surmised it must have been hit by a car at some point in the day and dragged itself to the relative safety of her driveway before expiring anyway.
I dressed and bundled myself into her car, listening to the animated, horror-tinged recollections of her and her teenage daughter, and how neither of them had the stomach to deal with the animal, but they knew me and knew I’d be able to handle it. I agreed, I would be able to handle it…but also, HOW would I handle it? I crossed my fingers and hoped for a collar, so that there wouldn’t be a cat-bereft family hanging signs on lamp-posts for the time it took for them to acknowledge the inevitable, unenviable truth – no cat would be coming back.
Holding my breath in the buzzing, with a hand clothed in a bin-bag, I explored the remains. There was no collar.
Sadly, I bundled the cat and bits-of-cat, and as much of the attendant insect life as I could, into a bin-bag. And then into another. And then into a third, as a concession to whichever bin-men would encounter the shrouded creature on bin-day. A deathly pass-the-parcel with nothing good in the middle, and sadness in every layer. I laid it gently in the bin and closed the lid. The smell of daytime and the sun’s light began to filter into my notice again.
An ignominious ending for (presumably) a well loved pet. Perhaps it had been micro-chipped, but there was no way I was searching for that!
I still think about the cat, and the family, whoever they were. I hope they’re okay now.
Back to the sign.
The one I saw – the one I told you about at the beginning, when I started writing this and felt I had a point…
The sign had faded with the weather – no protective plastic coating for this missive – and I wondered if the putter-upper would try again, with a new sign, because frankly, this one looked like a mess. All the details had been washed away, weathered into indecipherable smudges against bleached and tatty white. Struck me as sad, because the pet had clearly been missing for a long time, and I hoped perhaps it was all discovered and back home by now, and the sign being still there was just an oversight.
Then I looked again.
There, across the middle of the sign, still legible (just), was one giant, exultant word: FOUND!
Someone, somewhere, had taken something in – an animal in the wrong place, unexpected, out of bounds and clearly LOST – and this wonderful, amazing person had embraced the whatever-it-was, made provision for it, and hit upon a wonderful idea to get it back to the sorrowing owner, still clutching faint threads of hope that their beloved would somehow be returned to them. They’d make signs and hang them on lamp-posts, and the owner would read the details, heartbeat racing as they recognised their pet, and they’d be in touch, and the stars would sing with joy as the links in the chain were made with kindness and good intentions and eventually they’d hold their absent beloved in their arms again.
Signs, like the sign I saw.
Signs which originally might have detailed when, and where, and how to find out and from whom, what creature had been FOUND, rescued, delivered from certain death on the streets, and saved…only for the sign to disintegrate, and alongside it the chance of restoration.
The weight of all those unmet hopes damn well nearly crushed me.