I had to take my cat Frances to the vet yesterday because of a stubborn skin allergy that makes her itch all the time. As always, the trip to the vet was a challenge. I had to change clothes when it was over. Frances is thirteen years old and full of issues. Even though she likes to snuggle up beside me and purr while I lie in bed, her heart normally burns with hatred for all living things. She often screams at me for no reason. When people come to visit, she sniffs them one time and then walks away, making them feel thoroughly unwelcome. I could tell you more bad things about her, but I won’t.
Frances is a solid black cat with intense yellow eyes. You probably don’t know it by looking at the picture up above, but her body is round and plump. She weighs fifteen pounds and waddles when she moves. Not long ago, my friend Angie looked at her and said, “You look like you’re pregnant with a whole bunch of kittens.”
When I first got Frances, she was tiny. I held her in one hand when I carried her home. She stared up at me the whole time, howling and bawling. I assumed she missed her mother. I assumed she would calm down eventually. She didn’t. Thirteen years later, Frances still stares up at me and makes loud, horrendous noises like she’s trying to tell me something urgent … and she’s upset because I don’t understand her. I live under a cloud of guilt, constantly wondering what she’s mad about, wondering why there’s so much frustration in her eyes, wondering what I’m doing wrong. I feed her quality cat food and tuna. I pet her and talk to her. I scratch her back. But she keeps on flooding me with guilt and shame.
Yesterday, when it was time to go to the vet, I scooped Frances up in my arms and carried her out the front door. Right away, her fur stood up. Her tail bristled like a toilet brush. She squirmed and thrashed with unusual strength. I locked my arms around her and held on as tightly as I could. I walked to the driveway and stood beside my car, struggling to open the driver’s side door and maintain my grip on Frances at the same time. It was a tough job. As if the situation wasn’t hard enough, she decided to empty her bladder on me too. She soaked my shirt. And the side of my car.
Putting her inside the car was almost as hard as pushing a rope up a hill. But somehow I managed to do it. Once she was inside, I threw myself into the driver’s seat and jerked the door shut. I pulled out of the driveway and started down the road, gnashing my teeth and grumbling. Frances waddled behind the driver’s seat and hunkered in the back floorboard, screaming like she’d been shot.
She kept screaming all the way to the vet’s office. And I did plenty of screaming too. Over and over, I yelled, “Frances, I’m taking you somewhere to help you. I’m going to pay somebody a bunch of money to make you stop itching, okay? You’re welcome, Frances! You’re welcome, you’re welcome, you’re welcome!”
When we got to the vet’s office, I stumbled into the waiting room, holding her in front of me like a hostage. I didn’t even try to be gentle. I was too irate for that. My shirt was covered in black fur and fresh urine.
I mumbled to the lady behind the counter. I told her my name. I told her I had an appointment. Then I sat down in a chair in the corner, scowling. Frances sat on my lap, huddled against my stomach with her head down. She still despised me, but she was too scared of the waiting room to pull away from me. We both sat there a long time, quietly hating each other.
I go through cycles with Frances. In spite of her wretched disposition, I always love her. I think of her as a mutant roommate, a furry companion who greets me every day when I come home from the mill. The love never goes away. But sometimes I forget that I love her. Then I just think of her as an angry bag of fluid.
Two ladies walked into the vet’s office together and sat down across from me in the waiting area. One lady held a gray tabby cat in her arms, wrapped in a blanket like a baby. The cat’s eyes were half-open. He looked groggy and feeble. The lady holding the cat never spoke at all. She just cried continuously and held the cat against her chest, petting his head the whole time. The other woman leaned forward and whispered to me for few minutes. She told me the cat’s name was Oscar.
It was time to put Oscar to sleep, she said gently.
My heart dropped into my stomach. I bit my lip. I felt sad for them. They weren’t just bringing the cat in for a routine visit. They were bringing him in for the last time. They were saying goodbye to a friend. It was a dark day for them.
I looked down at my own cat. She was lying on my lap like a sack of potatoes. I picked her up and held her close. I stroked her fur and looked into her strange, yellow, alien eyes. I kissed the top of her head. I told her I loved her.
Eventually, the vet called me back to one of the examination rooms. I carried Frances into the room and placed her on a cold, metal table. She looked up at me, meowing softly, sniffing the air. The vet trimmed her claws and gave her a quick shot in the butt.
I paid for the shot and left. Frances and I were both happy to get back in the car. The ride home was much different. We stayed calm and quiet. She didn’t scream at me. I didn’t scream at her. We just listened to classical music all the way home.
Matthew David Curry 2016