I’m running down the stairwell of my apartment building, holding a lifeless tabby cat in my hands.
I didn’t kill it, I swear. At least not intentionally. I like cats just fine, definitely enough to never want to see one die by my hands. I’m willing to pay what it takes to get this little guy breathing again. Hell, I’ll go clear out the cat adoption center and let them all be my new roommates if that’s the exchange for letting this limp cat be okay. I’ll be the Cat Guy in the building, no problem. I need this cat to live. Because I want him to, of course, but the main thought fueling my quick pace is that I may have to tell my next-door neighbor that her cat died while I was cat sitting for her. I’ve never been in a situation where I had to break serious news to someone before and I don’t think it would go smoothly.
I passed his owner, Stacy, in the hallway last Monday. She asked me if I’d cat sit while she left town for a couple weeks. I said I would because I have a crush on her. I’ve also changed her tire and helped her rearrange her furniture. I’m also not very good at saying no, or just about any social situation if I’m honest. Proof of that: Here I am, running full tilt down this busy street, a probably dead/definitely hurt cat held in front of me like a hot pan out of the oven, and I’m still making sure to smile and nod at passersby. I can hear the cat speaking to me, “Now’s not the time for pleasantries, guy, get me to the fucking vet.” I tell it I’m sorry. Luckily, not one person on the sidewalk thinks of us long enough to wonder what the hell is going on and why I’m talking to a cat. I don’t need that right now.
I kick open the door of the vet clinic. I’ve never been inside one before, I’m out of breath, I’m panicking. I just stumble up to the counter and make some kind of yelping sound to the receptionist. He sees the sorry cat and understands. A veterinary technician appears quickly as the cat is limp in my hands, like a plastic grocery bag full of wet food scraps. She takes him out of my hands and leads me to one of the rooms. She lays him gently on the metal operating table and inspects him. I’ve only had one pet in my life: a hamster when I was nine. It slipped from my hands and disappeared while my dad was assembling the tubes on the plastic hamster house. I don’t want my only other interaction with a pet to end the same way.
“His name’s Ole,” I say to the tech named Kath. “I was going next door to check on him and I kind of… I kind of tripped.”
“Okay,” Kath says, pressing a stethoscope to the cat’s chest. “What happened to him, though?”
“Well, I opened the door and tripped over the threshold, I think. And I dropped the glass bowl of fruit I was carrying,” I say. I tap my forehead to demonstrate how the bowl landed on the feline. The tech continues poking at the cat and taking all of this in stride, which is making me panic more. “See, I’m cat sitting and his owner has cable in her apartment so I was gonna stick around with him for a while and so I brought some fruit and…. is he dead?”
“No,” she says, clinically. “It looks as though he has a concussion, but he should be okay. His eyes are even open now, see?”
Used to horrified pet owners, Kath adopts a calming, almost motherly tone. She keeps Ole in the back for some blood tests while I sit out in the lobby. An old woman with a three-legged terrier tells me all the ways her pets have died over the years. She’s up to a beagle in 1998 when Kath thankfully calls my name. She hands me a vial of unpronounceable pills for me to administer to the cat once a day for the next 3-4 days; I hand over my credit card for the fee that I’ll be paying off for the next 3-4 years. It’s a fair receipt. I buy Ole a bounty of treats and a new toy. It’s a red mouse on a string. He doesn’t seem interested at the moment but maybe when he’s up to it.
His owner comes home a week later. She doesn’t notice the missing patch of fur on Ole’s left leg from the blood test at the vet, just asks if any important packages came while she was away. Stacy doesn’t seem to notice this miracle cat at all. When I stop by the next day to help Stacy rearrange furniture again for some reason, he climbs up on my lap and tests out his new mouse toy. I can see in his yellow eyes that he has forgiven me.
I still do favors for Stacy, but now it’s more to say hi to Ole, less out of a weak-willed crush. After the incident with Ole, I started going to the cat adoption center near my house. The volunteers know my name now; every time they ask if today’s the day. I smile and tell them that I can’t decide how many can live comfortably in my apartment. They laugh but I’m thinking three, at least.
Lanny Durbin is a writer and musician from Springfield, Illinois. His work has appeared in Cat on a Leash Review and Flash Fiction Magazine.
Regular reader? We need your Patreon support.