On the afternoon I made the telephone call from the office, I left and drove home in the middle of the day. I was in bed before dinner. I didn’t wake up until the next morning, and when I did it was with that familiar wordless conviction that sometimes comes with waking, the certainty that what I’d done had been absolutely the wrong thing, yet I’d forgotten what it was.
I remembered saying to the girl on the phone, “This is new for me. I’ve never been in this situation before.” I knew she didn’t care, which might have been one of the reasons I said it. She was asking whether Friday would be all right. I checked my calendar. “That’ll be fine,” I said, circling the time. I’ve had more difficulty scheduling a haircut.
There was a time when a small calico cat licked my cheeks softly to wake me up every morning. I hated it. And her name never suited her. I was embarrassed every time a new person would ask. For nearly a year in the late 90s, she lived in Tennessee outside Ethel Crownover’s cabin on the Cumberland Plateau. For the other nineteen, she lived with me. And now I was making an appointment to let her go. She’s covered in flies that I have to shake off her when I carry her in at night. I haven’t spoken in weeks.
A friend points out that had I not artificially imposed domesticity upon her, had I not kept her within walls and fed her with a couple helpings of indeterminately-defined meat product a day, she’d have passed naturally from this earth a long time ago. I don’t buy it. It’s not that I don’t believe what he’s said. It’s just that I don’t buy it. And, having imposed so upon what could be considered her natural lifespan thus far, what dictates that this imposition should change? What makes it okay for me to kill her, now? Am I simply tired of finding that she’s still alive, despite everything?
As far as I know, she’s just old. I used to try to find her shape in the five anatomical outlines shown on the poster in the veterinary office: Thin, Underweight, Healthy, Overweight, Obese. She was always one of the last two, but I recognize Thin now, and I think she might have been so for a long time now. She’s opinionated, a grandmother of the windowsill who can’t quite remember where you’ve been or why, but she doesn’t think highly of whatever it was, doesn’t believe your reason for being there in the first place and has her doubts you’re doing much good here either. It’s entirely personal, for she has never held much faith in the world beyond her own tail, a tail which she, in her youthful glory, spent hours chasing. I’d forgotten that. How she used to literally fall over, sideways, as she spun dervishly around, jumping quickly back into a thoughtful, seated position where she would lick herself a time or two as if to confirm that nothing remotely unusual or out-of-the-ordinary had happened, before being struck again by the temptation of a flickering tip of a tail.
She was born in a litter on the cool smooth concrete floor of my grandfather’s garage, the garage that was like a temple for him, in which he kept his lawn mowers and his Cadillac. My grandmother had been quietly filching leftovers from the dinner table for the mama cat as my tax-paying grandfather called the Animal Control, the Fire Department, the Police department. He was getting ready to take a hoe to the lot of them, though, by the time my cousin and I came traipsing through to visit, and the two of us squirreled the litter back to where we were staying in Chapel Hill. It turned out to be the last time I stayed with him before he died, his funeral the same weekend as Rodney King killers were acquitted and Los Angeles burned. When I got home from the funeral, my cat was waiting for me, a small patch of butterscotch and black at the foot of the bed, and my boyfriend was on a date with another woman. I moved out a week later, taking the cat, the piano, and five boxes of books. A child who was born then could have graduated from high school now, and the man who named her died a year after I moved out.
I haven’t thought about any of that in years. The present day-to-day, with a few exceptions, either holds my attention or keeps me distracted enough to avoid any level of deep consideration. It’s been easy enough to get used to the feel of her spine along her back, the stiff tilt of her hips. We change the newspaper beneath the litter box that catches her spills nearly every day, just another housekeeping thing that needs doing. Why wouldn’t this, like everything, go on forever?
Tomorrow morning, it won’t.