My mother and I walked up the stairs and found him sleeping on her pillow. Our cat Stinky always knew when he was going to the veterinarian – a sort of sixth sense, followed by knowing exactly when food was being prepared for him. He meticulously planned every move to assure his freedom, executing his tactics with Marine-like precision.
You don’t spend 20 years with a family without adapting to all their tricks.
Today was different. He hardly flinched when we laid out the green towel next to him – the one covered in bleach spots and shredded from some of his less graceful escapes. As we expected, he didn’t notice when we entered the room. His hearing is almost entirely gone by now.
My mother sat down next to him on the bed. The change of pressure produced a soft mew as Stinky woke up to assess his situation, his eyes darting around the room to find the danger.
For the past few weeks, the handsome Siamese cat had stopped patrolling the house like we were accustomed to. He was hardly awake for more than a few hours at a time now. He limped into rooms and was easily startled by noises. His sheen of a mane had degraded to patchy pink skin peeking through a shedding coat.
The once-proud hunter had become nothing more than a 12-pound fuzzy bell tower, chiming precisely when he was hungry.
“Did your brother say bye to him yet?” my mother asked. “This could be the last time he’s in the house.”
“Relax,” I replied. “He’s going to be fine. He’s made it this far, hasn’t he?”
“You’re probably right,” she said, caressing the back of his head.
I snapped a quick picture of them, in case I was lying to myself.
My earliest recollections of Moe Finkelstein, colloquially known as Stinky, are oddly romanticized, just like childhood memories should be. Now, it’s charming that he was born in a dumpster outside a fast food joint in Texas. I forgive him for ripping on the window screen at all hours of the night to be let inside. I almost miss the mornings when he’d groom my hair with his sandpaper tongue before the sun would come up.
I’ve even come to terms with the fact that I may never see that matchbox car I made him eat in the fifth grade.
Reminiscing about Stinky only served to make this moment harder. Seeing my mother swaddle the cat as if he were her favorite child, ignoring the fact that she had four human ones, quickly dissipated the happy place I had made for myself.
Instead of panting frantically during the car ride, he stared straight ahead, his eyes glazed.
As we entered the veterinarian’s office, the stoic look never once left the feline’s face. The only emotion came from the swelling eyes of his loving protector.
“Stinky, the doctor will see you in Room 2,” the receptionist called out over the chattering animals.
The small room had an old chair, a long metal table, a sink, jars of treats, miscellaneous literature on vaccines and a window pointing toward the setting sun over a green backyard.
Stinky soon found his spot on the sill, staring at what once was his kingdom.
A young nurse entered the room to perform a routine checkup. She attempted to pick him up, giving in to a brief wrestling match that proved the old fighter didn’t have much left in him.
“A few pounds lighter,” she said, studying her notes. “That makes about eight pounds since his last visit this year.”
My mother explained how his appetite was limited and his energy had vanished. Both of them mentally projected the big question, but neither brought it up.
The veterinarian came in a few moments later and studied Stinky briefly. In what could be his last performance on stage, he obliged a stool sample for the probing physician.
“We will send these out and call you tomorrow with the results,” he said, calmly handing my mother a pamphlet from the wall. “It seems like a thyroid problem that could be controlled with a very affordable medication.”
He left the room almost as quickly as he had arrived. My mother turned the folded paper around in her hand, studying the pictures of owners and their loving pets.
We exchanged glances as our eyes fell on the old kitten enjoying another look out the window.
My mom slowly scanned the cat sitting defiantly with his back to us. A noise came out of her mouth that could only be described as “with disappointment.” She has made the same sound when I presented her a failing letter grade or left the house a mess.
The master of havoc had pulled off his greatest act yet – a death defying spectacle that left us speechless.
Few words were exchanged as we wrapped him back up in a new towel provided by the clinic. The emotional trauma of losing a beloved family member was quickly replaced by an almost personal vengeance carried out by her most mischievous of children.
It wasn’t until we pulled out of the parking lot that the tension had been lifted.
“This god damn cat has got to be kidding me,” she said to his seemingly smug appearance. “It was like he was knocking on death’s door.”
I noticed a familiar aroma filling her Lexus. “And now I’m pretty sure he’s pooping in your lap.”
Patrick McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org