|Photo by Orlovic, modified by Tony Wild|
The Last Cat Standing
by Katherine Tomlinson
Moo had been the sweetest cat Lois had ever known. An ordinary black and white “cow” cat, she’d been the runt of a litter of kittens born to a feral cat occupying the parking garage of the office building where she worked. A young woman from the sixth floor, a receptionist at the insurance company that sprawled across half a dozen office suites, had rescued the kittens and then littered the building with photocopied flyers offering them up for adoption.
Building maintenance kept taking the flyers down, but every morning there was a fresh batch taped to the mirrors in all the ladies’ rooms and on the stairwell sides of all the exit doors.
Lois had successfully staved off such appeals before—in the days before email it seemed like once a week every local newscast included a pet adoption segment and the critters on offer were always super cute.
This time, though, she was vulnerable. Her best friend had moved away when her husband’s job took him to another state. The apartment she’d shared with her teenage son felt empty after he’d headed off to college. She was lonely and middle-aged and feared becoming a cliché and the idea of having a lively little kitten around sounded good.
She’d picked Moo because she was tiny and feisty and not lovely, with a tail that was bare at the tip like a rat’s and ears that weren’t quite covered with fur.
Moo had come to Lois as if they were old friends and had begun purring the moment she picked her up. She thrived in Lois’ care, filling out and growing a coat that felt as plush as cut velvet.
Lois doted on Moo and Moo turned out to be the best cat ever. (And it wasn’t just Lois who said so. Lois’ son Orrin adored Moo, who would practically turn backflips when he and his partner showed up for holiday meals and unscheduled visits.)
A month after Moo turned 22, she suddenly started losing weight.
She’d always been a substantial cat—okay, she was pretty porky if you wanted to know the truth—and an alarmed Lois took her to the vet at once. She’d never had a cat before, and when her vet told her that Moo was developing signs of the kidney disease that was the fate of most house cats, she went into denial.
She bought sacks of special food.
She turned the apartment’s guest bathroom into a therapy suite, hanging bags of fluid from the curtain rod to re-hydrate Moo twice a day.
She was such a good cat. She never even flinched when Lois stuck the needle in to start the IV and she purred the whole time as the saline solution dripped into her now-shrunken body.
Watching Moo slowly decline nearly killed Lois.
“I can’t go through this again,” she told her son as she mixed special medicine into a plate of canned turkey and nudged it toward the cat. Moo just nosed at it and went back under the night stand where she spent most of her days now.
“This is just too hard,” Lois sobbed the night before Moo died, the cat’s little body barely moving as she took shallower and shallower sips of air until she finally lay still.
“I’m never going to have another cat,” Lois vowed to the sympathetic woman at the pet rescue place where she took Moo’s toys and cat crate and the uneaten bags and cans of food.
Lois really meant her promise and she kept it for six months, deleting all the emails from well-meaning friends who knew she had an “opening” and wanted to fill it with this kitten or that cat.
“I’m too old to get another cat,” she would say firmly because she’d found that was an argument most people couldn’t counter. She was 64, which was around 12 years as cats counted them.
“You could just get an older cat,” her son suggested reasonably. He and his partner lived in a house with a yard big enough to accommodate their constantly expanding pack of rescued Rottweilers and they’d set up a special fund to take care of the dogs in case something happened to one or the other of them.
Orrin was worried about his mom, afraid she was becoming a recluse. She was too young to retreat from the world and do nothing but watch bad television.
“Maybe you could just foster a kitten,” he suggested.
“Not going to happen,” Lois said, her attention caught by a cat food ad on television. Orrin had shown her how to DVR her shows so she could skip past the commercials, but she never could remember how that worked.
Lois stuck to her promise and avoided any and all places where pet adoption events might take place, including the local farmer’s market, the nearest park, and all pet supply stores.
She never expected to be ambushed when she ran into a Bookstar to buy the latest Nicholas Sparks novel for a friend going into the hospital.
There by the cashier was a small pen filled with kittens with a posse of adoption volunteers milling around, looking for likely prospects and jumping on any sign of interest.
And of course all the kittens were adorable.
Some were curled up like yin/yangs, sleeping despite the noise in that boneless way only kittens can seem to manage.
Others were balanced on the mesh sides of the pen, reaching their paws up toward the people who were leaning over with waggling fingers trying to catch their attention.
The kitten that locked eyes with Lois was a tiny orange tabby.
She averted her gaze as she passed the pen on her way to the fiction section.
She was almost out the door, her purchase tucked into her tote ba, when she turned back to look at the orange tabby kitten one more time.
The kitten lifted his tiny paw as if waving goodbye and Lois knew, knew, that she couldn’t walk out of the store without at least petting him. “He’s waving goodbye” the nearest volunteer said.
Lois sighed and shifted her tote bag,
She walked over to the pen and picked the kitten up.
He weighed nothing, less than the book she’d just bought.
His purr was twice as big as he was.
As she brought the kitten up to her face to smell his new cat scent and nuzzle him, she felt a lightning bolt streak down her arm.
“Oh,” she said as she dropped to the floor, still holding the kitten.
“No,” she said a moment later as her heart seized up like a frozen faucet in winter.
She was dead before the paramedics arrived.
The kitten was fine and was adopted two hours later by a little girl who’d come into the store with her mother and fallen instantly in love with the golden-eyed fur-baby she immediately named Minaj.
Orrin would later laugh at the irony of his mother’s vow that she would never adopt another cat.
“Well, your mother always did need to have the last word,” his partner Jon commented, which wasn’t as mean as it sounded because he’d loved Lois.
Orrin looked sad for a moment and then one of the dogs crashed into his legs, wanting some attention.
“Who’s a good dog?” he asked. “Are you a good dog?”
The dog wagged his big Rottweiler butt happily.
“What would you think about getting a cat?” Orrin asked Jon.