Friday, October 28, 2005

A really sad cat story

Subtitle: mistakes parents make

I peered closely with my reading glasses at my book, trying not to be distracted by a domestic outcry in the other room. In the back of my head I was hearing Kay shouting “Put him out! Put him out right now, Eve. Eve, the cat is going to throw up, put him OUT!” I heard the sound of Kay lunging at the cat, the spasmodic bullfrog croak of a vomiting cat “urruupp, urrupp, urrupppp” abruptly terminated by the slam of the back door. Eve burst into tears. She was 8 or 9 years old.

“Eve!” Kay shouted, “Why didn’t you go grab the cat and put him out when I said to? He just puked on the rug and all over me and you were just sitting there on the couch ignoring what I was telling you to do!”

The cat’s improbable name was Toto, as in we aren't in Kansas anymore. We didn't have a TV and Eve had gotten creeped out when we started reading the Wizard of Oz to her so she knew nothing about Dorothy's dog Toto. I don't remember how she came up with the name.

Eve was weeping.

“Mom” [muffled with sobs] “Mom, it’s cold outside. Toto might freeze. He might die!”

At that point I interjected, “He won’t freeze. He’s a cat and he’s covered with fur and he won’t freeze and he was vomiting.”

“He was sick,” she wailed. Why don’t you take him to the vet?”

“The vet’s closed. Eve, cats vomit all the time. He won’t die.”

Her face was stung with tears.

I was saying “Why didn’t you do what Kay said? You were just...ignoring what she said. Sometimes you have to act fast. If the cat is vomiting and someone says to put it out you do it right then.”

My voice had filled the room and drowned her and her face floated toward mine.

“But Daddy, Toto’s sick.”

“That the point! I exclaimed, exasperated. “We don’t want a sick cat in the house throwing up.”

“But Daddy if he’s sick and he dies I’ll feel guilty and I’ll never be able to tell him I’m sorry and...” the rest of her statement dissolved in her tears.

“He’ll be OK,” I said.

Outside I heard the snarly whine of two tomcats winding up their yowls like the rpm’s of electric power-tools, ending suddenly with paired explosive shrieks, “yeeooorrrrggghhh, yeeoooourrrgghhhhh, YEOWWWGHGGG!”

Toto was an outdoor tomcat and had an enemy that lived in the commercial stables across a field from our house.

I ignored it. “You need to do what we say, Eve, sometimes it’s important to do what we say.”

“Daddy, if he’s still sick tomorrow will you take him to the vet?”

Every time we took him to the vet it cost us big bucks. I was not enthusiastic about taking the cat to the vet. But I did, every time. Eve loved the cat. A year previously when I had found the cat as it lay unconscious in the rain in the yard, I had wrapped it in a towel and taken it in a smelly wet bundle to the animal emergency clinic. The cat was in shock because it couldn’t piss on account of a urinary blockage. They resuscitated him. The vet told us to feed Toto expensive special food and that the condition would probably recur anyway. It had, twice. Catheterized cat. I think it was a couple hundred bucks each time.

So I said “Yes, we'll take him to the vet if he's still sick, but Eve, if we’re gonna have animals, you’ve got to help out, not get in the way.”

Eve’s crying subsided into silent anger. She glared at me, red-eyed.
In the night she had a nightmare and came and got in bed beside Kay.
The following morning when I went to get the paper the cat was not waiting on the porch. The frost was thick on the grass between our house and the creek. The gray cirrus clouds were turning a puffy orange over the creek-bottom pecan trees. The horses shuffled and huffed in the morning cold, browsing the frosty grass.

That afternoon when I got home the cat was still not there. I rode an exercise bicycle in the evening cold on the back porch while Eve did her homework. She seemed to have forgotten about the cat. She asked me about her spelling words.

About dark I walked in the patch of brush where the cat often stayed, not far from our house. The wind rose from the north. I pushed through the leafless thicket of hog plum which was bristly and clawed at my jacket. But there was no sign of any cat.

The following day when I got home from work the cat was still missing. Kay and Eve were preparing to search for him. We live below a cliff on Onion Creek, and the creek and cliff blocked the cat’s travels in one direction. The domain of the enemy tomcat blocked his wanderings in another. So we walked toward a big abandoned house on the place adjacent to us on the west, and opened the rotting back door and tramped up and down the stairs in the musty bat-dung air. “Daddy, Daddy, he’s been here. Here’s a dead bird. He’s been here and killed it.” A desiccated sparrow lay on the dusty floor. “It means he’s been here!” said Eve, elated. I touched the bird with my toe, and it was a papery shell with feathers stuck to it, a mummified bird that had been dead for weeks. Our beagle raced through the rooms baying with excitement.

A thorough search of the abandoned house produced no cat. We went out. Kay told Eve to go look in a shed, and I walked back to the stable. I opened the door and called in a falsetto catcall “kiiiddeekiddeekiddee.” Silence. A horse nuzzled past my shoulder, interested in the smell of hay. Then I saw Toto, curled up on top of an old icebox. I could tell he was dead. I went over and touched him. He was heavy and cold and stiff. He was a big cat.

Eve and Kay came walking up. Eve for some reason turned away and went over to run water into the horse trough.

I whispered to Kay that the cat was dead.

“You’ve got to tell Eve” she said, sensing that I was considering hiding the corpse. “She said she wanted to know if anything happened to him.”
“Eve” I said. She turned and looked at me with alarm. I said, “Toto’s dead.”

She cried for about an hour.

I laboriously dug a hole with a pick in the hardpan gravelly earth near our house and when it was a couple of feet deep I stuffed the carcass into the hole but it was like trying to bury a big, powerful spring, and various parts like the legs or the tail kept popping out of the hole. Finally I got the cat lodged in the bottom of its shallow grave and I filled the dirt back in and then put two big heavy rocks on the mound to keep legs from sticking out or the dogs from digging up the cat’s body.

Eve and Kay brought out a little wooden cross they had made, and I hammered it into the ground and Eve said a prayer. “God let Toto go to heaven and take care of him let Toto be happy all his... all his... all his soul’s life.” This was a childlike prayer, in keeping with what I expected from her, but Eve startled me, afterward, when she said to me “Did you have to tell me? Why didn’t you just go bury him and never tell me and keep it a secret. I’d rather you had."

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