After I check in, I choose the only secluded seat in the waiting room, the chair between the giant stuffed Saint Bernard and the equally large aquarium, the chair farthest from the commotion of fidgety children, frustrated mothers and quivering dogs on short leashes.
Across from me, a young woman with a pinched-in waist strokes a kitten. I want to tell her to appreciate the wild-eyed tiny puff of fur batting at her gaudy Christmas earrings. That kitten will never again be the same as it is right this moment, never as playful, fur never as shiny, reflexes never as fast. Beginnings are such fun. I wish my Molly were a kitten again with life brightly stretching out in front of her.
Funny how I didn't notice the years passing so quickly. Didn't notice Father Time robbing me of the tiny half-drowned kitten I'd pulled from the river and fed with an eyedropper.
I turn from the kitten with a future and read the titles of the brochures tucked into the plastic holder attached to the wall. Molly shifts beneath the Garfield blanket on my lap, pokes her head out, gazes at me and mews, soundlessly. I rub her ears and start her purr-motor. "You've been a good friend, Mollygocatly. You're a well used, a splendidly worn cat."
I tilt Molly's head upward and kiss her mottled kitty-cat lips. She nuzzles into me, wraps her yellow paws around my hand--puts a big old dent in my heart. "We've always been there for one another haven't we old girl?"
Molly was my cuddly-warmth through the loss of my breasts, a near divorce and empty nest syndrome. When Molly gave birth to her only litter, I was in the closet with her. I nursed her through spaying, hairballs and feline acne.
I look up, catch the woman with the pinched-in waist staring at me. She forces a half smile and averts her gaze. The young never think they'll grow old, never think their kittens will mellow. I wish that weren't so wrong.
I gaze down at the cat I've shared a pillow with for more years than I've been married. The cat whose name is included at the end of all my letters and who once received a credit card with a thousand dollar limit.
"Molly." I jiggle the treasure on my lap. "Molly, remember how you loved to ride on the dashboard?" Rode on there, perched in the sunlight, from Point Barrow Alaska to the Texas oil fields.
"Remember the winter we were so broke?" Lived on boxed macaroni and cheese. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yuck! Thought we'd get the scurvy.
"And remember how I cried when we had to give up that warm-cozy farm house and move into that drafty-makeshift yurt?" The move didn't bother Miss Mollygocatly. Cats know how to adjust. She just climbed into the bottom of my sleeping bag and stayed there until she heard an envelope of cheese being ripped open.
Molly was easy. She never demanded more than a spot of sunlight and a good old belly rub. In turn, she rewarded us with stiffened squirrels at our feet, frightened, peeping birds on our pillows, and once and once only, a rat in my bubble bath.
My old Molly has slept on the kitchen table for so many years I've come to think of her as a centerpiece. She's always in the midst of everything: lying on the edge of the bathtub dipping her tail into the suds, chasing water beads as they roll down the shower door, sitting on the washer talking cat talk while I fold laundry, walking the countertop while dinner is being prepared, chasing the broom, the dust rag, the vacuum cord. She's the first to greet company when the doorbell rings. How can life be without my Molly?
I stroke the mass of love on my lap, feel her ribs, her sharp spine.
"Mollygocatly, wake up," I say louder than I've intended. She opens her eyes and purrs but doesn't lift her head. "Molly,do you remember the fit you threw when I got married and left on my honeymoon without you? Remember how you broke my only lamp, shredded the drapes, ate two of Roy's goldfish and terrorized old Peep-Peep into a featherless lump of lunacy?"
The receptionist steps through the half door holding a chart, glances around the room. I wince. My breath is caught somewhere between my throat and the pit of my stomach. I feel as though my heart just flipped over backwards. "Miss Roberts," she says. "We're ready for Sweety Pie. Room two." The woman with the pinched-in waist stands and walks by, smiling, with her kitten clutched to her.
Molly's damp nose touches my hand. My breath comes back in jagged gasps. Ooof, I hear myself sigh. I'm not ready for this. I can't do it. I stand and gather Molly to my chest. Her body twitches. She moans and stares up at me. I run my nose through her fur, breathe in the soft scent of perfumed litter and the stench of pain. I don't want to do this, but I can't let her go on suffering. She's been too good a friend. We settle back into the chair next to the aquarium, beneath the glazed stare of the oversized stuffed dog.
"Now what was I saying, Molly? Oh yeah, the honeymoon, old Peep-Peep. Remember how you hid under the bed for days, pouting? Wouldn't come out even for sardines." Good old Molly, when she finally came out, she pooped in Roy's work boots, and then scooted across the paperwork he had strewn on the kitchen table.
Molly probably never knew I saved two of her nine lives that day.
"Sue, we're ready for you." The receptionist studies the papers on her clipboard. She doesn't look at us. She can't. She knows us too well. "Room three," she says. "Doctor will be right with you." I swallow and nod. I stand, but can barely make my feet move.
I take a seat in room three. My nostrils flare. The room smells of urine, disinfectant and fear. I arrange Molly on my lap, fuss with the Garfield blanket that covers her, scratch her throat. Through the wall, I hear a woman laugh. I lean sideways to pick up on the muffled one sided conversation being held in babytalk. "You'll never grow old will you my silly little Sweety Pie?"
I kiss Molly between the ears and nod my head toward the wall. "Youth in denial," I say. Right now that woman's joy comes naturally. She's grateful her kitten just needs shots, maybe wormed, but all the same healthy.
Doctor Peters comes in, closes the door behind her and leans back against it. She stuffs her hands into the pockets of her medical jacket. A white ring circles her mouth. She doesn't like this part of her job. The bantering and niceties we usually exchange are shelved, instead, she asks if I'd like to wait in my car. "I'll bring her to you when I'm finished."
I say nothing. I try, but I can't speak. I shake my head. She turns away, fills a hypodermic syringe with solution, taps it, pushes the plunger. Fluids spray into the air.
I squeeze my prize. "Good-bye Mollygocatly," I say, soundlessly. She mews and gazes up at me. Her eyes are soft and yielding, clouded with cataracts and trust.
I have been a stay-at-home mom, a fitness instructor and a belly dancer, a teacher's aide and soda jerk, a shoe sales person and the literary editor of a small college magazine. I have been published in several anthologies and newspapers. I live on a mountaintop with my husband.
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