WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #14: An elderly couple disagrees about what to do with their sick house cat.
Frank’s oxygen machine was hissing quietly in the background, as it always did, amidst his pitiful gasps for air. Edith knew his health was rapidly deteriorating and that soon she would be alone in the house, shuffling in worn slippers from room to room as she swept and wept and waited for death. It would be horrible to lose Frank after more than fifty years of marriage, and Edith was beginning to accept that she wouldn’t be able to survive the trauma, but all that knowledge was damn depressing, so she shoved it down, ignored it as best she could. She was only even thinking about the inevitable end now because Stinky was dying and he was doing so in the middle of the kitchen. The damn cat didn’t even have the decency to hide his decay away under a bed or a dark corner of a closet. He was lying on the linoleum, on his side, and his breathing was rapid and shallow. She could easily observe his side rise and fall, rise and fall. His eyes seemed glazed over and when she called his name, or even made any kind of noise, he did not turn his head. Edith released a deep breath and bent to cradle the poor, pitiful animal in her arms. She lifted Stinky and carried him into the living room, where she laid him on the floor beside the couch where Frank lay.
Edith looked at her husband who, in all actuality, looked just as pitiful at Stinky did. Frank did not look at Edith or really acknowledge her presence at all. She cleared her throat. “I think Stinky’s dying, Frank.”
Frank grunted. “Best to make sure he’s comfortable and let him be about his business then.”
Edith paled. “That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”
Frank fully opened his eyes and surveyed his wife. In the time they had been married, just about half of a century, she had only surprised him maybe once or twice, and that was it. He prided himself on knowing her so completely, from her most shameful secrets to her wildest desires. If she took an extra breath, Frank knew it and even anticipated it sometimes. So the shock, outrage, and grief saturating her tone did a number on Frank. He had not been expecting such emotion – could never have anticipated it because Edith didn’t even like Stinky. As a matter of fact, as best as Frank could recall, Edith had hated the cat. She had only allowed Frank to cross the threshold into their home with the feline because he had bribed her with jewelry, sweet nothings, and wine … mostly wine. Edith never pet Stinky, and she’d always forget to feed him. The cat was constant fodder for her complaint, and come to think of it, today was the first day Frank could remember Edith ever using the animal’s name. Why would she express sentimentality over a creature she loathed? Hell, she sounded more upset than Frank did and it was his cat. He struggled to take a breath and wheezed, “What else can we do?”
Edith’s bottom lip quivered and ideas did not come easily, nor did the means to express them. She simply trembled for a few moments before she exploded. “We could take him to the vet, Frank. That’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?”
Edith’s tone was now angry and defensive. Frank’s confusion depended and when he spoke, it was with halting difficulty as it always was, but he spoke even slower and simpler, as if he were explaining geometry to an especially dense toddler. “Stinky’s very old, Edith. It’s his time. All the money, time, and energy spent at the vet’s office might not be enough to save him.”
“But you don’t know for sure and you won’t even try! You’re just giving up on him!”
Frank turned his worn and tired gaze on the poor wretch in question. The cat was dying and he certainly wasn’t taking his time to do it; Frank was fairly certain the cat would be dead within the hour. He looked pitiful and miserable, thin and bare. What would be the sense in moving him, dragging him out into the cold for a car ride, which he hated more than anything else in the world, the vet included? It made no sense and Frank always erred on the side of logic. “He might not make it to the vet, darlin’ –“
“Might; there’s that word again! If nothing’s guaranteed, then why not try?” Edith’s face was red, evidence of her misplaced passion. She had some vague and far away understanding that she wasn’t talking about Stinky, not really. But just who she was referencing eluded her at the moment and some instinct, some sort of sixth sense, told her it was better that way and kept her from tumbling down any rabbit holes.
Frank understood Edith was not going to let this go. His wife, whom he adored and praised and sincerely loved in the best way mere mortals can understand it, would rather he struggle to stand, pack up the damn cat, and hobble to the car, gasping and fighting for every single breath. Frank had emphysema and had been given a six months’ notice three months ago. He was on his way out and in a fit of what could only be sheer lunacy, his wife wanted him to die trying to get their dying cat to the vet’s office. It didn’t make sense and though Frank always erred on the side of logic, he also wanted to keep his missus happy. “Alright, alright,” he said. “Get the carrier.”
Edith should have been satisfied, but she was not. She was still an emotional mess, desperately terrified and overwhelmingly sad, and too afraid to admit and acknowledge why. She watched with her trembling hands over her equally tremulous mouth as Frank gripped the back of the couch and lifted his fragile, fragile body. He stopped breathing as he did so – did not have the energy to move and inflate his lungs – so when he came to a sitting position, after nearly a full minute of slow-motion movement, he paused to inhale deeply and greedily, wheezing. Both Frank and Edith knew he only had a few gasps left, only a handful of lungful inhales before Death would kindly stop for Frank. He let one leg simply drop from the couch, and it crashed against the carpet, as if it were completely useless. Frank winced. The other one would drop in the same fashion and dear God, Edith couldn’t stand it. She released a sob of epic proportions, so loud and shattering that Frank felt his heart momentarily stop. She rushed to Frank, thought better of it, and gently took him into her arms. “I don’t want you to die. I can’t live without you; what would be the point?”
Frank was too stunned, too exhausted, to move. He only allowed himself to be held.
“If you don’t think there’s anything worth fighting to live for, how could I possibly find anything? I know it’s selfish, I know it’s unfair, but it’s just sad, Frank. I’m so sad because I am going to miss you so damn much.”
Frank took a short breath. “I’m going to miss you, too. I love you, Edith. I always have and I always will. Life ends in death; always has and always will. We can’t change it, but we don’t have to dwell on it, either. Just love me, babe, okay? Love me like you always have until the end. It’s all I want.” Frank took his sobbing wife into his arms, and for the first time in many, many years, Frank shed tears of his own.
Somewhere in the background, satisfied the humans would be alright on their own without him, Stinky died.