Old Henry was seventy-five years old yet his mind was as keen and sharp as it’s ever been; even though his body slowed him down a little with the usual aches and pains that surprise old folks every morning when they occur in ever new and unexpected places.
He didn’t leave his small cottage very often and spent his time pottering about in the garden or sitting indoors by his radio. He was glad of company every now and then, especially since he lived alone, and he particularly looked forwards to Father Ignatius’ visits every week. The priest would pray a while with him and give him Holy Communion, and then they would spend sometime discussing world affairs and putting things to right.
This week however old Henry was unusually quiet. Father Ignatius wondered if perhaps he was unwell and would not say in case the doctor took him to hospital for a check-up.
“You’re rather quiet today,” said the priest hesitantly, “has nothing happened in the world this week Henry?”
“No … it’s not that …” replied the old man, “it’s Thumper … I found him dead this morning …”
“Oh dear … I’m sorry to hear it …” replied Father Ignatius “It’s so sad when a pet dies … I love my dog Canis and I’d be heart-broken when his turn comes … but … but …” hesitated the priest, “I’ve been visiting you for a while … I never knew you had a dog …”
“Thumper is not a dog …” said old Henry, “he’s a goldfish … or rather he was … I found him floating on the surface of his tank this morning … as dead as a dodo …”
“Oh …” mumbled the puzzled priest.
“I called him Thumper because he thumped his tail on the side of the tank when I fed him … alas … Thumper will thump no more …”
Father Ignatius said nothing imagining for a moment a goldfish thumping its tail against the glass tank wall.
“I plan to bury him in the garden,” said Henry, “just by the rose bush. He’s in that cardboard box there … Will you say a few words with me whilst I bury him?”
It was rather unusual but the kind priest acquiesced. Henry opened the box and showed Father Ignatius a three inches goldfish lying peacefully on its side on a bed of cotton wool.
The two men went out in the garden and Henry placed the open box on a table with the lid beside it.
“I’ll go fetch a spade to dig a hole …” he said as he shuffled slowly towards a shed a few yards away.
Just as Henry was out of sight it happened. It happened so quickly that Father Ignatius had no time to react. He just stood there, frozen on his feet, watching the whole event unfold before his very eyes and unable to do anything to prevent it.
A cat came out of the bushes … jumped on the garden table … picked up the dead fish in its mouth … and hurried away in a flash.
Father Ignatius put the lid back on the box and held it solemnly in his hands. He prayed that the old man would not ask to see his beloved Thumper one last time before committing him to the ground.
Henry returned and started digging a hole by the rose bush. He then took the box from the priest’s hands and laid it in the hole and started covering it with earth he’d just dug up.
Father Ignatius stood silently throughout the whole ceremony, thanking the Good Lord that Henry did not open the empty box one last time.
Henry stood by the tiny grave, head bent slightly down, and finally said “I’ll miss you Thumper … you’ve been a good companion to me all these years … I’ll miss your waggling tail every morning … rest in peace my friend … wherever you are …”
Father Ignatius said “Amen” as the cat came out of the bushes licking its lips in delight.
The two men made their way back into the house.
“Will you get another goldfish Henry?” asked Father Ignatius cautiously as they sat down drinking a cup of tea.
“Nah …” said old Henry, “too much trouble … changing the tank water every few days … I can’t be bothered with a goldfish anymore … I might get a budgie though!”
Father Ignatius smiled as he readied himself to leave.
“You’re a kind old priest … in your funny sort of way …” said Henry as he walked him to the front door.
“How so?” asked Father Ignatius.
Henry smiled as his eyes brightened and he said “I saw that darned neighbor’s cat eat Thumper … and you said nothing … you let me bury an empty box so as not to upset me … that’s very Christian of you if I may say so …”
Father Ignatius said nothing his lips half-smiling in nervous appreciation.
“One day I’ll bury that darned cat too … mark my words …” continued old Henry.