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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Tim Dowling: the cat has gone to the vet. I sit and await good news

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I am sitting in the kitchen, looking up tomato blight on my phone. My tomatoes are displaying all the symptoms. I have about half of them. “Wilted stems,” I say. “Tick.”

My wife comes in from the garden.

“There’s something wrong with this cat,” she says, setting it down on the sofa. The cat slowly assumes a sphinx-like crouch, staring straight ahead, at nothing.

“Where was he?” I say.

“Just out there,” my wife says, “lying on the bricks.” By degrees the cat lowers its head until its chin is resting on its front paws.

My wife appraises him for a minute, hands on hips, then returns to the garden. I walk over and stroke the cat’s head, but it makes no response. Only yesterday it was at my office door demanding food, making a noise like a hard-to-spell Irish girl’s name. Or maybe it wasn’t yesterday. I go out to the garden, where my wife is weeding.

“That cat really isn’t very well,” I say.

When the oldest one surfaces at about midday, I am still sitting in a chair watching the cat on the sofa.

“The cat’s not well,” I say.

“Isn’t he?” the oldest says.

“Dad thinks he’s about to check out,” my wife says from the doorway, being unnecessarily faithful to my phrasing.

“So take him to the vet,” the oldest one says. I turn towards my wife.

“Why is everyone looking at me?” she says.

It’s the weekend, but the local vet has a main branch somewhere west that is open in the afternoon. At three my wife and the oldest one get into the car with the cat. I decide not to go along; it feels more hopeful to stay home and await good news. An hour later my wife rings.

“It’s not good news,” she says. “They’re doing a blood test, but depending on the results, they might…”

“OK, well,” I say.

“He’s got some kind of mass in his gut,” she says, her voice cracking and wobbling. “And his kidneys aren’t working.”

“Yeah,” I say.

“Anyway, he’s having a lovely time.”

“He does like going to the vet,” I say.

When the phone rings half an hour later, I am not reassured by the great gulp of air my wife takes before speaking.

“It was worse than they thought, so we decided to put him down,” she says.

“Oh, when…”

“I mean, we’ve already done it,” she says, leaving a long pause. “It’s very sad.”

An hour later, all five of us are sitting in the living room. The TV is on but no one is watching: everybody’s vision is ballooned with tears. Nobody blinks.

“He was a good cat,” the oldest one says.

“He had many hobbies,” I say. “Later in life he became a passionate keyboard-sitter.”

“Yeah, he did,” the oldest says.

“I guess we should get rid of his bowl,” the youngest says.

“I already got rid of his bowl,” my wife says.

“And all the cat food,” the middle one says.

“The cat food!” my wife says, choking back a sob.

“I bought it yesterday,” I say. “It’s not even opened.”

“You can take it back then,” the middle one says.

“What am I gonna say? ‘I don’t need this any more, my cat’s dead’?”

“Poor James!” my wife says.

Once everyone starts looking for photos of James to illustrate their social media tributes, it becomes apparent he was a lot older than we remembered. The vet had him down as 12, but he was really almost 16. The last of a litter of six kittens, he had to be pulled out by the tail, which promptly fell off. As a result of this deficit, there was no waiting list to adopt him. But he was a good cat, and he always waved his off-putting little stub like there was a whole tail attached to it. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

“I almost brought him back home,” my wife says later. “But then I thought better of it.”

“Just for us to say goodbye?” I say. “That would have been selfish, and possibly cruel.”

“No, I mean dead, for you to bury,” she says.

“Oh,” I say. “Well, you made the right choice there.”

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