Death I can do, though it’s hard. But we know the routine: there is putting the cat into the cage with a towel that one of us has used, or a piece of clothing. Raf will carry the cage; I will look for the cab, since I will end up paying for it. Why? Because Raf will argue that the bus only costs 75 cents, not the 15 bucks that the cab will cost. And I will argue that the animal is sick and soon to die, and that waiting twenty minutes for a bus, getting jostled about before sitting down, and then having perfect strangers sticking their face into the cage and commenting on the cat’s health….well, isn’t that abuse?
We will be silent on the way to the vet, since what is there to say? It’s not a trip to the airport, which is the other time that we splurge for cabs: there are no beach houses waiting at the end of the journey. Instead, we will wait less time than usual for the vet to appear, since the staff too want this over. And the other people at the vet, holding their perfectly healthy dogs and cats who merely need vaccinations? They will instantly know: we not here for that.
The vet will explain the procedure, though really, we could almost do the damn thing ourselves, so often have we seen it done. There will be the muscle relaxant first, then there will be the drug that stops the heart, and then there will be that instant when the animal is simply not there. Always, always, I wonder where he goes—that cat that annoyed you every morning by walking over your bladder, the contents of which you’ve been trying push back under a thin sheet of sleep. You get up, urinate, and then go feed the cat.
During the day, if you’re about and he’s about, you address a few words to him. And while some cats simply disappear between food times, other cats seem to enjoy keeping an eye on you. If I am writing at home, it is very likely that Loquito, our male calico cat, will be in the room with me.
“Why are you standing on the floor? Standing on the floor is strictly prohibited! Stop standing on the floor, at once!”
I address such words to Loquito because his every and his only gesture is a complete “f-ck you.”
“Why is your tail up? Put down your tail immediately!”
The tail rises just a bit higher.
It may be that your cat is vocal, and that you will spend five or ten minutes several times a day having completely stupid conversations.
Cat enters room: yowl
Marc: What! What did you just say?
Cat: growl / yowl
Marc: Young man, I don’t like your attitude!
Cat: snarl / yowl / growl
Marc: You live in the LAP of luxury…
Cat walks out of the room.
At this point, you have a choice: drop the argument and get back to whatever you were doing, or follow the cat and keep the argument alive. I am embarrassed to admit how many times….
What am I trying to tell you?
No matter how many times you wonder why you are so crazy as to feed and care for an animal whose only activity is to coldly appraise and universally find you lacking, you still find yourself doing completely insane things. There was the cat—quite beautiful, completely stupid—who urinated outside the bedroom door every morning. And did you, groggy with sleep, ever remember? Of course not—each morning you stepped in it, roared in rage, and grabbed a newspaper to go after the varmint. You never caught him—or rarely—and anyway, the smacking never did any good.
And so the day came when he was in horrible pain, issuing horrible sounding groans, and…
….completely unable to pee!
You panic, you take him to the vet, you demand immediate attention since this in an EMERGENCY, so empty out the waiting room, send everyone home or to another vet because YOUR CAT NEEDS IMMEDIATE ATTENTION!
And so there we were: Raf at the head of the gurney, I at the foot. And is it enough that we have dropped everything, rushed to the vet, called off work or meetings, put our careers in jeopardy, lost multi-million dollar projects, enraged our bosses, and probably left the front door open, so distracted and distraught were we? Of course not, since we are now saying completely idiotic things.
Raf, sobbing: Oh what a little angel!
Marc, sniffling: the best, the loveliest little angel!
Raf, wailing and beating breast: Oh, the purest….
Some part of me, of course, stood back and thought, ‘this damn cat has driven me nuts…’
But now, the vet, in between us and laboring to save the life of this now indispensable animal, announces that the catheter has gotten through the blockage, or the crystalage or whatever it is, and now it’s time to pay $1,465.29 and take your animal back home, where he can…
….piss on the floor again!
If you’re an animal lover, you completely get this. Colder souls, of course, do not. But you are infinitely relieved, because you have done that awful day at the vet too many times, and carrying the cat carrier home without the cat is more than you can bear.
Yes, we have done death. But what haven’t we done?
Because that’s what we were confronting, two days ago when Raf feed only three but not four cats. So was the cat with me, sleeping behind the one closable door in our apartment?
It was the youngest, and perhaps the favorite, since Mauricio had come to give solace to Raf, who was heartbroken over the death of Kitty, his all-time favorite cat. Nor had Mauricio done a bad job of it: he had put his little nose into Raf t-shirt and gone to sleep there. And he would do so so often that the t-shirt grew to have a permanent and quite unsightly stain on it. Still, it smelled of him / them—so who could possibly wash it?
He did, of course, have his little faults. At first, I fell in with the belief that he was—completely unauthorized—a longhair cat. Then I took another look, and realized that he was no cat at all, but rather a skunk. But where were the stripes? Easy—he had been genetically modified. So his name got changed—as they always do in our house—to Monsanto.
That was the first problem. More serious was that he discovered that he could wedge his way through the ornamental curlicues of the balcony railing and walk on a six-inch ledge 18 feet above the sidewalk. Which he frequently did, ignoring my howls of protest / correction. And so it was easy to imagine, two days ago: he would have been on the ledge, he would have spied a pigeon, and he would have lunged. Forgetting that he was, of course, on the ledge.
So he had fallen, but where was he? Was he injured? Had someone made off with him? Had he crawled under a car, and then, perhaps seeking the heat of the motor, crawled up into the chassis? If so, what would happen if the car owner returned, started the car, and then….
With death, there is nothing to imagine. With disappearance there is nothing but imagination, and how many of those imaginations were good? Never has the street seemed noisier to me than it did two days ago: I felt an animal rage for anyone driving by with their car stereo blaring. Sure, I could take it, but didn’t that jerk know that my CAT might be under the car he was passing, and whose alarm he had just set off! Shit!
I cannot leave home, since what if Mauricio came back? Neither can I stay home, since I’m feeling dangerously close to a panic attack, because it doesn’t seem like I’ve had a break. There are, after all, no emotional reserves to call upon: I fell, I broke my back, I looked at paralysis straight in the eye for months, until that diagnosis backed down. Fine—and now I’ve lost my cat. Is this the wind God tempers to the shorn lamb?
So I couldn’t stay inside. I call Lady, and learn that she is in the café.
“I’m doing a class on poetic transitions, and I gotta be ready by Monday,” she told me.
It’s a relief to wrap my head around something other than a lost cat, so we play with the possibilities—are there some poets who are transitional? If so, whom? Whitman comes springing to mind. Anyway, it’s time to get to work, which means finding a picture of Mauricio, since we are going to crowd source his search and rescue.
“I need a whole gang of street urchins,” I told Lady, and explained: little kids are perfect for this sort of job. They have the energy, they can bend, and it’s a game for them. Three things I don’t have.
Well, the only picture I can find is a picture Raf posted on Facebook, and that was a repost from a year ago. In fact, I had taken the picture on my cellphone, and that phone, which was actually so sensible and efficient that I fell in love with it? Stolen. So the picture, burgeoning with high resolution, was in somebody else’s larcenous hands. (And I hope he moves to Saudi Arabia, and continues his career rather less successfully there.) So now we have a picture that has a resolution somewhere near the negative numbers, which means that any rescue poster is going to have to be half a page, not a full page. So Miss Taí gets right on that, since she could write the book on graphic arts, though she’s too modest to. Anyway, she comes up with the poster, but in the meantime, Lady had transitioned out of poetic transitions and transitioned into cat rescue mode.
She walks ever room of my apartment.
She counts the cats.
She watches them as they come surging into the kitchen, when I shake the food bin.
Lastly, she is out on the street, interviewing neighbors, disseminating information, giving updates. Finally, she gets right down on her knees, ignoring the pain she must be in, because she is limping. An operation looms soon in her future, but is she deterred? No, because now she has her head on the street, and her famous curls are spread out in front her, and I think that I will never see a more perfect image of a supplicating Medussa.
Alas, even she can do nothing, including walk, since now the pain has gotten insufferable. So she has called Nico, and he has appeared, and now my task is to walk the streets of Viejo San Juan, shaking the food can loudly, and calling “MAURICIO!”
Oh, and did I tell you that there are six cruise ships on this day, and that all of the cruisers are afflicted with elephantiasis, which makes their limbs swell to enormous proportions, which makes movement excruciating and very, very slow. So slow, in fact, that some of them are actually going in reverse!
Well, I do that, and then it’s time to tackle the problem with the people who count—sorry, Lady—and who are out there on the street doing business. Which doesn’t mean what you think—though there may be some of those, too—but rather Orlando the Potato King and Carlos the Street Porter. And that’s when I realized the virtue of saying hello to everyone—Sam Walton would be proud—because they instantly agree to help. So I give Orlando my number and tell him that one day I will absolutely buy one of his potatoes, drenched in sour cream and chicken and god knows what all. And I tell him to tell Carlos, the Street Porter, whom I don’t see, since he is probably on the next block, selling another relieved and eternally grateful client the “free” street parking. Yes, petty minds and evil tongues aver that Carlos is a pest, but not only is he helping you parallel park-- Dále Dále Dále Dále Dále he is shouting—but he is also there monitoring your car, ensuring that not one thieving hand is placed on it! Because ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN, COULDN’T IT???
Yes, Carlos and I are good friends, since Carlos learned early on: ingratiate yourself with the neighbors. So he takes out the trash for one, saves a parking space for another, runs messages for a third. But what to do for me? Instantly, he knew, when he saw me fumbling around with the padlock to close the gate to the entrance of the building. “I’ll do it,” he told me, and then sprang into the role of jailor, told me I was his prisoner, and then told me he would unlock the gate and let me out only at seven the next morning.
Well, it seemed a harmless enough fantasy, since we were clearly on the honor system. After all, Carlos never actually took my keys, but handed them back civilly enough, and if he caught sneaking out without permission, his only action was to wag his finger at me and call out, “No, no, no, no, NO!” What pleasures does a street porter have? And who am I to deny him one?
Anyway, the point was that the Potato King and the Street Porter were going to have to do, because I absolutely could not do it. I had gone to get the posters printed, but that meant talking to Luis, since there is one and only one of everything in San Juan, and Luis is the village printer. But he also is a dog lover, and has a very nice chocolate labrador, and so we had to hear the story of the dog’s struggle with hip dysplasia. Oh, and then there were the two people who had cats themselves, and they had disappeared, and then what had happened? The story went on for ages, since the man had that habit of repeating significant material several times. So a long story became a saga that made Beowulf look like a tossed-aside remark. And how did it end? Like all good sagas, in death!
Everyone had a story, and worse, everyone instantly became my best friend, my brother or sister, my priest confessor. I told the details of the disappearance over and over again; I was interrogated at every turn. Why had I not closed the door on the balcony on that fatal night? The suspicion was on every breath: I was guilty of negligence, if not criminal intent, at the very least.
I could bear it no longer: I stumbled home, put my raging back to bed, and sobbed.
Oh, but wait, because we were going to the opera, so what would happen if Mauricio came back, sometime in the middle of the first act, and stood outside yowling through all of Madame Butterfly? So then it was time to convince Raf’s mom to go, which involved being initially rejected, calling the elder daughter, agreeing which story to stick to, calling Mamina back…. In the end, Mamina did what we had schemed, and what she had intended to do in the first place. She just likes to be persuaded, and what lady doesn’t?
Mauricio doesn’t come home, but Raf does, and watches what is for him a form of pornography: English Stately Houses on YouTube. But that’s not sufficient, and so when I come upon him after midnight, he’s in tears. So that’s when it’s time to crack the next bottle of wine in the kitchen, but does that do the trick? Certainly not in stopping the tears….
So the next morning was not, as you can imagine, either early or pleasant. But I did manage to eat something, drink some coffee and go out to interrogate Carlos, who told me that Mauricio had been outside our gate howling at five in the morning.
Well, if he had been that close, could he be inside the building? That would be logical, but nothing is very logical with cats, and so I have no faith that calling “Mauricio” as I went up the stairs would work. But it does, and then all of a sudden there is Mauricio, and he is running faster than I have ever seen him up the stairs, and he either leaps into my arms or I grab him. It doesn’t matter much which, since I have now opened the door and dumped him into the apartment.
So now it’s time to call everybody I had called, and go back to all the stores I had visited, and have the endless conversations about miraculous rescues that all of the animal lovers had witnessed, and now my back is hurting again. I go home, and pat Mauricio, and tell him, since someone has to be the responsible parent, “just WAIT till your father gets home! YOU’LL catch what for!”
“What for” being what I always caught, and if I never knew precisely what it was, I still caught it, and caught it quite a lot, and never liked it when caught. So I predict dire things—the worst of “what fors”—for the cat, who doesn’t look too convinced. In fact, he is back to lying on the buffet by the front door, which makes it easy to scold him in passing.
“We were worried to death!”
“Do you KNOW what you put us through?”
“Just wait till….”
And then Mr. Fernández is home, and I stick it to him to stand up and father this damn cat right, and Mauricio is lying on the floor, observing all of this.
“I’ve been telling him all day to just wait until you came home,” I tell Raf, though both of us are looking at the cat.
“Yes,” says Raf, “forget the pigeons, get the roaches!”
“That’s all,” I tell him? “That’s a ‘what-for?’ That’s the lamest ‘what-for’ I’ve ever heard! Where’s your backbone?”
So Raf tells the cat, he must never do that again, and if he ever does, he’ll catch the what-forringnest 'what-for' he’ll ever get in his life, and I join in, and we’re painting a lurid picture indeed of what ‘what-for’ could be like for this cat, when suddenly he flips over onto his back, exposes his belly to be rubbed, stretches leisurely and…