The Sad Demise of Larry the Pig
My daughter Mary's beloved guinea pig, Larry, died recently. Larry was a gift to Mary several months ago, and after an initial period of settling in, he became more or less a member of the family.
Now, Larry was a rather appealing guinea pig. He was solid white with whorled fur that stuck out in bizarre tufts and clumps. He looked like some crazed punk rocker as he scurried around in his cage with his hair going-this-way-and-that. Whenever my daughter went to feed him, he'd jump up in the air, chittering and rumbling excitedly, glad to see her and glad to see the food coming. Problem was, Larry was a pig of rather excitable temperament, and would bite on occasion. I often crouched down next to his cage and peered in at him, watching as he scrambled frenetically among the shavings of his cage. His little beads of eyes watched me carefully, as if daring me to reach in and stroke him. "Come on," he seemed to say. "Stick that old hand in here. Let me show you what Guinea Pig Ferocity is all about. Stick in a finger, draw back a bloody little stump."
I only had the courage to pick him up once. Not long after we acquired him, I reached in and scooped Larry up into my two hands.
"YOW!" I dropped Larry like he was covered with molten lava. My daughter came running in.
"What's wrong daddy?" she asked breathlessly.
I pointed a shaking finger at Larry, who was nosing around the outside of his cage as if nothing had happened.
"That stupid thing bit me! Look!"
"Aw, daddy. I don't even see a mark."
"It HURT. That thing needs a brick up-side it's head."
"Yeah, daddy. Right." In spite of repeated threats, I had never struck, or even yelled at, any of her assorted cats, dogs or hermit crabs. She knew I was bluffing.
After she washed and kissed my finger, I was mollified enough to forgive Larry his indiscretion. Eventually, I got to the point where I would sneak in when no-one was around and feed him carrots and apples, his favorite treat. Although I never picked him up again, I would reach in and stroke him with a finger occasionally. He would stand perfectly still, head upraised slightly while I combed his back carefully with a forefinger. It became a regular ritual we both enjoyed.
One morning before work my wife put Larry's cage outside on the deck. We had friends coming over, and she was worried about the guinea pig odor, which could at times be pretty strong.
"Don't leave him out all day" I said. "Guinea pigs are susceptible to heat stroke." This was just about the only guinea pig fact I knew.
"Yeah, yeah. I know." My spouse hurried off the deck and back into the house.
I left for work, and later that afternoon received a call at my desk.
"Basil. Larry's dead."
"What? What happened? You took him inside before you went to work, didn't you?"
Silence on the line for a moment. "No."
I sighed. This would be a big blow to my tender-hearted daughter, who loves all animals and wants to be a veterinarian someday.
"What are you gonna tell her?" Chicken that I am, I would leave it to her to tell Mary the bad news.
"I don't know. The truth," she said glumly.
When I drove up to my house that evening, Mary and her mom were standing outside on the deck in front of Larry's cage. I hugged Mary, who was crying like her heart was broken, and looked in the cage at Larry. His still little form was stretched out and his head rested near the water bottle. He'd obviously been overheated and had tried drinking water to cool down. His was probably not an easy death at all. I shook my head and looked sorrowfully down at my feet. Our other guinea pig, Cowie, had died earlier in the year from a bad pregnancy. She had been Larry's mate, and Mary had grieved for her for days afterward.
"Daddy, is Larry in heaven with Cowie and their babies now?"
I hugged her and kissed the top of her head. "I think so, honey. I'll bet Larry is in heaven right now playing with Cowie and the babies."
"But daddy, are you sure? How do you know?"
I looked at her tear-stained face, her sweet brown eyes, so trusting and innocent. "Honey, we can't ever really be sure about something like heaven. There's just a lot we don't know yet, but we will one day. I do believe this: if the company of Larry and Cowie and their babies is needed to make you happy in heaven, they'll be there."
She blinked and wiped her eyes. "So they'll be waiting up there for me when I go?"
"Yeah, sweetie. They'll be there waiting."
"I guess Larry's happy now that he's with Cowie."
I nodded. "I'm sure of it."
I buried Larry in the shade of a clump of cannas, next to Cowie. I thought long and hard about death, guinea pigs and the afterlife. Maybe one of these years (but not TOO soon) we'll all be together again. Maybe I'll finally be able to hold Larry without losing a fingertip. In the meantime, have fun little punk-rocker pig. Play with your babies, enjoy your wife's company, and hold down the fort till we all get there.