Sunday, December 11, 2005


Midnight, Thanksgiving day. The five of us stood around the formica counter; the fair-haired young vet, a little flustered maybe at having so large an audience, nevertheless moved quickly and capably. The catheter was already in Socks's foreleg, wrapped in that green webby stuff they use nowadays. Three syringes of sedatives -- all different, I think, but adding up to a whopping overdose -- he administered one after another. In a very short time, thirty seconds, it seemed, he said, "he's gone."

It was just couple weeks ago that we had noticed him getting fat. "His body is perfectly spherical; he weareth a runcible hat," I had quoted to him. "Socks, we're going to have to get you a runcible hat." This had happened before -- we had taken him to the vet, and the vet had said "Your cat is fat." So we didn't pay it much mind, so much else was going on. Socks, anyway, had always looked after himself. He was a rogue, or possibly "thug" is a more accurate word; he always walked with a bit of a swagger, and he never backed down from anything. One of his favorite things to do was to sit calmly at the edge of the sidewalk while people walked their leashed dogs by. Socks wouldn't budge, while the dogs barked and lunged at him, held back with difficulty by their owners. He'd just gaze at the dogs with an unblinking Clint Eastwood insouciance. "So you put up with a leash?"

I used to say that Socks was sent to us to show us another way of being. When he showed up, a slim arrogant teenager, our reigning cat, the large and regal but tremendously neurotic pitch-black Duncan, hitherto lord of the house, abdicated at once without a struggle, and retreated to the back bedroom. Socks would thrust his head at our dog's muzzle and demand to have his ears licked. Our dog always obliged, anxious to please -- if she didn't do it fast enough or thoroughly enough, Socks would cuff her, good-naturedly but imperatively, until she got it right.

Up there on the counter, as we all stroked him, I could see that his face had become gaunt. The tumor had been taking its toll. If any of us had taken a good look at him in the last week or so, we would have figured out sooner that he was ill. Not that I imagine it would have done any good. The cancer was extremely aggressive, moving in on his stomach and kidneys. But Socks hadn't complained. He never did. The night before Thanksgiving he threw up some, but, as for many cats, that was just matter of course for Socks -- he did it so often that we always laid carpet-samples over his favorite pieces of furniture, to make the cleaning-up easier. But when we came back from Thanksgiving dinner he'd thrown up all over the place, not the usual innocuous piles of kibbles that seemed barely to have seen the inside of a cat at all, but a noisome, ominous fluid. And he was moving very, very slowly.

Our cat-carrier was loaned out, so we put him in a cardboard box. He didn't object when we closed him in, which was when I knew for certain he was very ill. I held the box on my lap. On the way he vomited, and the fluid soaked the bottom of the box, and the lap of my jeans; a warm stinking drench. "'tsokay, socks," I crooned. I already knew it wasn't.

Later we murmurred "om mani"s as we petted him, and he receded from this life. It's supposed to be propitious for a good rebirth. Who knows. An assistant came in to ask about our disposal plans, pattering through their options. "We just need a box, I think," we said. "We'll bury him in the back yard." We're Victorian sentimentalists, really -- we want our mourning ceremonies. We were all wet-eyed.

"We could put him near Duncan..." mused Martha. Then she smiled a little. "... who he didn't get along with. Or near Croker, who he always wanted to eat."

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