Driving down the country road listening to music too loud, a dog on my lap and another on my shoulder. I travel down this road several times a week, it’s a connection to larger roads that lead to the interstate, but tonight was I was driving down it to pick up a pizza in the small town nearby. A car passes coming the other direction and I avert my eyes to the white line at the edge of the road on my right to avoid being blinded by its high beams. An instant later and they are back peering into the darkness, confirming the gentle curves and twists of a road that I feel as much as I see while I drive down it. And that’s when I saw them. The eyes in the road.
A pair of eyes on the road glowing brightly like two orange embers embedded in the pavement. Within seconds I see what they belong to, an orange tabby cat, its body broken on the road in the other lane hit by a car (the one that almost blinded me? I wondered), and then its gone as I speed past at 60 miles per hour.
It’s dead I thought to myself as I continued on my journey, but those glowing eyes. I knew that cats and some other animals that are active at night have something like mirrors in the back of their eyes that reflect light, somehow helping them to see much better in darkness than most other animals. How long does that effect last after death? I wondered. Was it possible the animal was still alive?
It couldn’t be I told myself. It looked very dead. Besides the cold will kill it if it is still alive since the temperature was below 20 degree Fahrenheit.
Should I turn around? I asked myself. I made excuses. I’ve been sick. It’s too cold. I’ve got two dogs in the car which will absolutely freak out if I bring a cat into the car.
I continued, turning onto another road that led to the small town nearby.
It’s late on a Sunday. What will I do if the cat’s still alive? A side trip to the vet will be expensive. It’s just a cat. It’s dead.
But those eyes in the darkness. What if it wasn’t? What if it was only stunned? It’s just a cat. That’s not who I am. Not what I’m about. What have I become if I pass up an animal like this? I slowed the car down and pulled into an access road to a tobacco field and turned around.
This is stupid I said to myself, the cat’s dead and if it’s not you’ve just made a very expensive decision that likely no one will care about. It’s just a cat.
I spotted the cat exactly where I expected it to be coming to a stop and turning the hazard flasher’s on. There was plenty of visibility both ahead and behind me and so my stopping would present no danger to other drivers. I saw the eyes were open, unblinking staring at nothing. The dogs started barking, sensing my unusual behavior, and I opened the door and left the car. I looked around me. There were three mobile homes a few hundred yards away, and the nearest was dark. Did this cat belong to one of these homes?
I lifted the cat’s warm body into my arms and a few drops of blood fell from its mouth. Illuminated by my car’s headlights I stood stroking the cat’s soft fur. It was a young female, likely less than a year old. Her head was way too loose on her neck meaning it was likely broken. I held two fingers to her heart and felt nothing. In the cold air my breath bathed her body in tendrils of steam so I held my breath to see if there was any hint of life from her. None. She was gone, a short life ended only moments before I had come upon her body.
Two cars slowed and passed me. I wondered what they thought of me, a bearded old man in a heavy coat cradling a dead cat in his arms stroking its fur. But I didn’t think it’s right for such an animal to die alone on a cold country road. Cats may be independent but they are still our responsibility just as dogs are.
I laid her down gently in the frozen grass away from the ditch at the side of the road. Here her body would rest without being crushed into the pavement. Perhaps her owner would find her and know what happened to her. Perhaps not. Regardless I had done enough. My conscience was appeased.
I returned to the car, turned it around and continued on my drive.
But I can’t forget those eyes in the darkness.