, Short Stories
, Washington (D.C.)
, greenwich village
, quitting smoking
, group therapy
, fall out shelters
, magic brownies
, writing the blues
safeguard against recurrence in the case of a small, first time
“We will go though this together,” Max
promises me. “There will be bad times, but there will also be good
times, and we will be together.”
It is one of those late spring days where the
sky looks like Renoir’s Paris, wouldn’t you know it.
Saturday we pick up my cat. The vet at
Friendship doesn’t know what’s wrong with Spike, but he seems
better. His fur doesn’t clump, his blue eyes are clear, and he
howls all the way to Max’s house, a sure sign of health in a
Siamese. Sunday is a day of suburban grace. Cat and lover in the
same bed with me, along with newspapers, the New Yorker, and the
New York Review of Books. Spike nestles between my breast and
armpit, his long monkey tail wrapped around my wrist, the way he
always does when we sleep. Before Max there was Spike to keep my
heart from turning dry and shriveling up as a walnut. Noisy and
demanding, and he’d steal dinner off your plate if it’s something
he likes. If I spend more than five minutes on the phone he howls
like a baby with wet diapers. I have friends who’d never met Spike
but knew him from phone calls. He weighs as much as a healthy baby
and likes to be held.
Monday, he pukes up mustard yellow and hides
under the bed.
Back to the hospital for both of us.
I am in no shape to make tough decisions,
like whether or not to authorize expensive surgery. The last time I
had a cat sick as Spike I did not. I knew the cat was going to die
anyhow, why him predecess through the pain was the rationale. Maybe
it was the right decision to put that cat to sleep, but I would be
a liar not to admit that I didn’t want to spend the $400. My
neighbor Molly, who often takes care of Spike when I’m out of town,
agrees to be his guardian while I’m in the hospital . She is an
Emergency Room nurse and a convert to Buddhism so I trust her to do
the right thing, whatever that is.
In the waiting room with Max at my side, I
feel like royalty, Queen for a Day, in my awfu1 hospital gown.
Breast cancer is so much more socially acceptable than depression,
at east in Washington, is what I’ve discovered. If Hillary Clinton
had breast cancer she would have been the most popular First Lady
since Betty Ford. Thanks to good health insurance, a steady job,
and plenty of support I’m privileged class among cancer patients,
entitled to ask favors and make demands.
“If it turns out I’m going to die, Max, will
you marry me? I don’t want my retirement benefits togo to
Joint and survivor annuity. Affordable health
insurance that will cover adventures like this.
Max says he will agree to anything if it will
put my mind to rest. He agrees to be my literary executor. He even
agrees to look after Spike.
And the operation goes well. Best possible
outcome, in fact. Clean lymph nodes, and clean margins, the surgeon
tells me. Max doesn’t have to marry me.
The vet discovers a tumor in Spike’s stomach.
Molly consults with her friends, some of whom are Buddhists and
some of whom are nurses. The woman at the Friendship reception desk
says that it seems to happen a lot, women and their cats having
cancer at the same time. They decide that what I would want is the
chance to say good bye, so Molly authorizes the operation. Some
cancer is negotiable, but as far as I know, no one survives stomach
With the fur shaved off his flanks for
surgery, and the shaved spot on his paw for the intravenous, Spike
looks like an Auschwitz victim. When I bring him home, he heads
straight for the linen closet. $2000 down the tubes for an animal
who probably can’t make it through the night.
I spend the night in the linen closet, saying
“Goodbye you old bag of bones. I’m sorry I
begrudged you Bumble Bee Water packed albacore tuna and made you
eat cat food. I’m sorry for leaving you alone sometimes, for
talking on the telephone when I should have been paying
Charlie Stella, Peter Skutches