Today I had a cat killed.
The phone rang. It was my friend the veterinary nurse.
“The test came back FIV positive.”
I had asked her to make sure his blood was tested. Now I had to say it,
“I know what I have to do. And I hate it.”
She argued a painfully false hope,
“He’s healthy now. He can live a couple of years.”
“What about my cat? My neighbour has four. What about them?”
There is no vaccine or treatment or cure. All it takes is one bite; fighting or rough and tumble. Transmission is saliva to blood. Toms infect females when they bite the scruff of the neck while mating. When cats fight…..
Tara was fourteen when she died. I told the vet,
“But she’s neutered.”
He shrugged. You don’t need to mate to catch it.
I had brought her in that morning. She had collapsed yet again. I had thought it was her thyroid.
The nurse phoned. The vet had to speak to me. A friend drove me up.
“We have to put her down now.”
I collapsed. I was on the floor in the foetal position. My friend talked me to my feet.
“Let me hold her.”
“Her bladder will go.”
“I’m sorry Tara….”
Tears ran down my face. They should have let me hold her. The vet shaved her paw, slid the needle in…..
It was like switching off the light.
They put her in a cardboard box. She was wrapped in a towel.
I sat on my bed and cradled her limp form in my arms. Patti Smith’s Gone Again album blasted at me…..
I never mourned her. I could not allow myself to grieve.
She’s buried in the garden of a church, which is ironic considering her owner’s atheism.
Every spring snowdrops emerge and then bluebells; a little commemoration of the purity of her love. She nurtured me through my breakdowns; sitting atop my curled form; sometimes wrapping herself around my head as if she were the mother cat and I her kitten. She saved my life; more than once.
I spoke into the phone,
“Can Cats’ Protection not take him?”
“Can he be rehomed?”
“You would have to take care of that.”
She had other patients to think of; and her own cats.
I swallowed, then,
“I know what has to be done.”
She had collected him that morning after I’d rescued a little stray tom and endured a night of caterwauling. My own cat had kept his distance from the creature locked in the bathroom. My lazy, soft, quiet, cuddly neutered male could not be doing with this deranged young one who would rub up against me one moment then snap at my hand the next. He was a feline teenager flooded with testosterone and stress hormones. I sat on the floor beside him and he understood. I was in charge and he would shut up. I was angry at him, so much so that I had not given him a name. That would wait till he was relieved of his testicular burden.
I’m glad he made me angry. It’s harder to let them go when you’ve give them a name.
It was a holiday. The church café was closed. I liked these days. I could visit Tara in peace. The pile of soil was a cause of concern. I’d told them time and again where she was buried; look for the square of brick set into the ground under the linden tree. I couldn’t find it. There was nothing but a hole. Some piece of denial told me they hadn’t done this. I fumbled in the bare soil looking for the outline.
Is it the outside or inside of the square?
The earth was dry as it flowed through my fingers. And then;
A bone. From the hind leg. The longest in a cat’s body. I dropped it and walked away.
I tore the wrapping from the cork and poured myself a glass of brandy. Then another. By the fourth or fifth it was taking effect.
There was a time when this would have broken me. I had hardened up.
Or perhaps merely died inside.