She stared into the evening sun through clouded eyes, crying softly now and then as she sought a soothing voice, a comforting hand.
I drove slowly.
In my rear mirror, traffic snaked along the shore road.
Restless drivers hurried homeward, anxious to end another day.
I drove on.
She turned her gaze to the sea, it unsettled her.
She seemed unsure whether to curl up and enjoy the sun’s heat or fret over her new surroundings. The warmth won out in the end.
We drove in silence.
Pulling up at the clinic, the children quietly climbed out of the car and we entered a cool darkness. In a back room the vet shook her head and the shedding of tears began. Hugs were given, goodbyes sobbed, the door closed, and three of us left alone in the room.
The cat purred.
I held her and she nuzzled her head into the crook of my arm. She didn’t seem to notice the needle. I stroked her forehead and she slowly folded over on to her side. Wrapping her in her blanket, I left the room, handed her over to my wife and we all stepped out once more into the evening sun.
We drove home slowly.
We buried her, beside her sibling, in the back garden.
Her headstone was a five petaled rose.
I patted down the soil and we stood in silence.
My youngest cried herself to sleep that night, a picture of the cats next to her on the pillow.
It will be the first of many such nights.
I wish I had stopped the car on the way in the road, let the children spend some more time with her.
I wish I had lit the stove that summers morning and let her curl up for the last time in the warmth of a fire.
I wish I had given her more of the ham from my sandwich at lunch time, it was to be her last meal.
I wish I had let her sleep quietly on my lap that afternoon, instead of hurrying back to work.
We are conditioned to wish,
Just as we are conditioned to hurry,
Conditioned to join the cortege,
To snarl and fume as we hurry from home to work and back again,
To fantasize that at some point in the distant future our wishes will be fulfilled out of the kindness of others.
Most of us in that long tailback are unaware how close we are to that last journey. Maybe we should enjoy the warmth of an evening sun, slow down, stop, take the time to look around us before it all clouds over.
Maybe we should, but we won’t.
I lay still that night frightened to breath in case I screamed.
This inability to live in the moment.
Is it a genetic plague or a cultural curse?
As we mark off each day, tossing and turning, in the cold shroud of the night are we condemned forever to whisper in our sleep.