You imagine that you won't be returning with this cat. This collapsible tent-shaped carrying case he's leaving in will be empty when you get back home. Or maybe you won't even stop back home. Without the cat, why bother. You could toss the carrier into the back of your car and return to work. Six months later you'll find it collapsed between toilet paper and a stroller and you'll think, "Oh yeah," frown, "Hal."
You've decided on cool aloofness. With the last cat, you cried until you wondered if you would ever stop. You vowed to never fall again for fur. You got two kittens and you planned to think of them as hired guns on permanent mouser detail. They became regular fixtures in your Instagram feed. Hal, so handsome and stately. Orin, so round and empathetic.
Hal has kidney stones. Lots. He's too nauseated to eat dry Iams, so he begs instead for treats. He'll eat canned food, but only seafood and just the gravy. At one point your out-patient procedures included an entire drug cocktail that was stirred into his gravy and shot into the vicinity of his mouth. At night you jam a sharp needle into his upper back and push fluids under his skin. The liquid collects in a ball around his front right leg and he looks lopsided as he scampers away. The doctor wants the stones to move to a resting place in his bladder. Passing them could be painful. In addition to the hydration, Hal takes a drug to make his urethra pulse and hopefully push the stones along.
He's begun pissing on the kitchen floor. He backs his butt up against the lower cupboards, just beneath the drawer that holds his treats. His tail seizes and the urine spreads slowly across the wood. Orin stands next to him, nuzzling his haunches. Hal's also done this in the bathroom and in your bed. He's done this in an undisclosed location you could smell but not see when you returned home from vacation. You've taken to calling him Piss Cat.
Cool aloofness isn't such a stretch. It also looks like annoyance and anger.
Hal used to be strong and now his shoulder bones jut from his fur, his stomach cuts a sharp U next to his rib cage. He folds his limbs into his body and sits alone on the steps. When Orin tries to spar with him, he hisses and wanders away. He seems to have a limp.
You plan to accept the doctor's inevitable prognosis. Faced with an option of extreme medical care to prolong a short painful life and a lethal injection, you will choose B. This isn't Toonses, a steady companion through so many life phases, unable to turn his body left and tipping over into the litter box. This is Piss Cat soiling unknown surfaces, surfaces your ever-more mobile daughter is desperate to put her mouth on. He's loaded into his tent-shaped carrying case; You imagine that you won't be returning home with this cat.
The clinic smells like urine-soaked fur. The receptionist confirms he's lost a pound. You pick a corner and set the carrier at your feet. Hal meows, throatily, disproving what you've just told the woman about how he seems lethargic. The ultrasound doctor is running late. The waiting room is chaos. A medium-sized dog craps on the floor.
"She has dementia," her owner tells everyone. "She walks and plops."
An employee picks up the fresh mounds with gloved hands, sprays disinfectant, mops and sets up a Slippery When Wet sign before returning to the front desk.
A brown Newfoundland lumbers through the door like a bear of a man who has just woken from a beer and nacho cheese coma. One of the receptionists squeals.
"I was just saying today that we don't see enough Newfoundlands," she says, emphasizing the "found" syllable.
The dog's owner offers no response, just checks in. The receptionist's face sags as she begins to understand the situation. The dog will also be receiving an ultrasound. His owner's face is puffed and streaked with red and she's given information on euthanasia.
You choke thinking of this poor woman with this human-like animal. His furry face and innocent eyes. The way that losing something so big would cut such a massive hole in one's life. Your chest gets tight and your nose tingles. Your cat meows at your feet and you wonder why you're more sad about a stranger's dog than you are about your own pet.
There's a woman with a baby, a small child and a dog. She leaves.
She returns with a baby, a small child and a puppy. She cradles the puppy in her arms, the car seat is balanced on a chair and the kid is sprawled out playing video games on an iPhone.
"That must be tough," a woman says. "A baby and a puppy."
"Aw, he's a good dog," she says.
The baby cries, and she swings the carrier. You want to ask to hold the baby. You think you can get her to stop crying. With even just an ounce less self-control, you would do it. She's got five daughters, she tells the receptionist.
The door opens and closes and people come and go. The big dog attracts a lot of attention, people want to pet him. None of them even suspect that he is dead dog walking. Your cat unleashes a string of meows. You wonder if you should be cuddling him instead of playing Words With Friends.
"So did you say your cat has kidney stones?" You ask the woman next to you.
They don't know, she says. The cat has been peeing everywhere.
Her story is long and complicated and includes taping the cat into a large cardboard box for the night. She chewed her way out. The woman had a dog, she tells you, but he died. He got into a box of baked goods her mother had made for Christmas.
"Death by Chocolate," she says. "Every woman's dream."
The receptionist calls you to the counter and asks you for your euthanasia preferences. He can be cremated with a pack of other animals, you say. You don't need the ashes, you say. No, you don't want to be present for the injection. You want to hand him to a professional, walk out the door and never look back.
"I've done that before," you say. "And, just, no."
And then you start crying. You remember the room in the back of the clinic. The couch covered with a sheet. The way Toonses went limp in your arms. You remember picking Hal out from a room full of whizzing fur balls. He was the second-craziest cat in the room. He --
You stop yourself. Cool aloofness. You sign your name and sit down.
"They're going to keep her overnight," Death By Chocolate tells you as she leaves the office. Now that you're sad-sad, you can't pretend to care.
Maybe you do want to be there for the injection.
Hal pees on you as you hold his legs through the ultrasound. His right kidney isn't worse; his left one still has stones. You start to get a feeling.
They aren't going to kill your cat. Not today.
The vet reminds you of Crispin Glover. He wants to check Hal's blood. As long as he isn't worse, Crispin thinks the cat can live.
But you're done with the cat. The cat's already dead in your head. You are cool. You are aloof. You were going to toss the carrier into the back seat and return to work. Now you will have to take him home.
You're a little dazed when you wander back to the lobby.
The receptionist is sitting with the Newfie's owner. The dog is at her feet.
"How'd it go," the receptionist asks. Her eyes wide. Empathetic.
"He's gotten a stay of execution," you say.
"Mine, too," the Newfie's owner says, nods at her dog.
You both shake your head. You were prepared. And now ...
Piss Cat lives.