X-Rays For Cats
My cat died last week. His name was Teddy and he was six years old. My partner Emma and I adopted him after his owner (Emma’s aunt) died in 2014. Initially we were tasked with finding Ted a home, but no one responded to our ads quick enough, and I fell in love with the little guy, so we kept him.
Anyway, Teddy had cancer.
Emma and I took Teddy to the vet after he’d become lethargic, spending days curled in a ball near the front door of our apartment where soothing cool air blew in from under the crack. An x-ray and blood tests made it clear he was suffering form organ failure as a result of lymphoma. We made the decision to let our cat go, and were with him until the very end. Those final moments were a terrible blessing, gifting us with every last fragment of Ted’s generous company.
Still haunted by Teddy’s death, last Friday I responded to a call for submissions to an online micro-fiction contest with a story about that last trip to the vet. It’s fictionalized in as much as I’ve compressed time and combined me and Emma into a single narrator (I also changed the doctor’s name). In the submission I also changed Ted’s name to Sam, but here I’ve changed it back. We tried to rename Teddy as Theodore when we first got him, but it didn’t stick. We don’t have naming rights over our lodgers.
As you wonderful avid readers know, I often use this space to get deep into emotions, because horror can be used as a way to heal from trauma. That said, I’m reluctant to share this story for two reasons. First of all, it deals with empathy for the non-human and existential borders, but it’s not technically horror. To this I look to the likes of Junji Ito and H.P. Lovecraft, who both established a tradition of expressing love for feline companions in stories, essays and diaries. Second of all, the story was almost immediately rejected by the contest’s judges, which makes me worry it’s actually not very good. To this I say: people didn’t want to adopt Teddy either, and I still loved him even though he was broken.
X-Rays For Cats
The tumor’s white light fills my vision, refracted by shattered glass tears. Doctor Badu doesn’t print x-rays for cats, but the computer monitor is enough to blind me. If only I could control my pupils, contract them to defiant pinholes.
“It’s malignant,” says Badu.
I escape to a treasured memory. Laying on hardwood floorboards, sunlight warms Teddy’s ginger coat as he pushes his nostril against my index fingertip, trying to pick a booger from his tiny pink nose. Our rude little meet-cute.
“He has practically no mucous membrane left.”
Collecting my thoughts in an adjacent examination room, I sob under a poster describing dry nose as a sign of kidney disease, which can be caused by lymphoma. Teddy enters in the arms of a technician, joined by Badu.
I pet Ted as sedative flows through a plastic tube into his bandaged arm, just above his white paw. He’d been trying to die the past few days, hiding under beds and in crawl spaces, the deepest darknesses available. That’s why we’re here. But in his final moments I look into his eyes—they focus on my face before dilating into black saucers, as if trying to devour every last ray of light.