Today I started crying in the cat-food aisle at Woolies. Not just a little bit. But those big gulping sobs that make your face screw up all weird and snot come out. John had said, ‘while you are out, grab some dog food’. The dog food is in the same aisle as the cat food. Usually I don’t cry over pet food. It’s just that today we’d had our scrappy old ginger euthanised. And not for scratching up the good couch like I’d threatened him once.
Over the past few months he’d started to waste away. Over the last two weeks he couldn’t eat or drink. He couldn’t clean himself. He couldn’t swallow. He had diarrhoea. I guessed that at 13 it wasn’t something he was going to get over. It looked terminal.
Turns out he had Cat AIDS. The diagnosis shocked me. There I was thinking he was just a big orange furball asleep on the lounge, but the moment my head was turned he was living his double life. Sweet cat by day, by night a promiscuous IV drug user. What else was he up to? Gambling? And there I was naively thinking lizards and birds were his weakness.
It was explained that he probably caught the virus in a fight with another cat. Being desexed and unable to load a syringe without assistance, any other form of transmission seemed unlikely. We decided to do it at home. The thought of putting it him in a box and taking him to the vet seemed a cruel end for a good cat. Ever since his three days of solitude in the neighbour’s downstairs cupboard he’s had an absolute terror response to confinement.
The kids were either going to be at school or out of town. Ivy woke up in tears and insisted that she would spend the last few hours with her beloved shit-covered cat. It was a strange morning. I got on with my day but my mind kept fixing on the fact that in two hours and 20 minutes I was going to kill the cat. In two hours and 18 minutes, two hours and 15 minutes.
And he didn’t know. He just smiled faintly as we patted his scrawny little head, blindly loving the very woman who’d contracted his kill. Of course it was for the best. That was what I told myself. But it still felt strangely sinister on this day planned for his death. I wonder how my little Ivy will manage her first pet death.
Then the universe sends us a duckling. Separated from its mother and fellow ducklings on their journey between ponds. Ivy is in love. She put the duckling in a bucket. She says, ‘Do you think I am going to be a good mother?’ I don’t know what to say. It’s a wild duckling. I know it can’t stay. But it’s taken her mind off the cat. So I say, ‘maybe if we don’t find its mum’. I’m sad about the cat. Ivy is sad about the cat but excited about the duckling. The vet arrives. We wrap our ginger ninja in a towel and lay him on Ivy’s play table. Ivy goes outside to be with the duckling.
Our cat looks confused but doesn’t have the energy to put up a fight. He’s quickly sedated. I wonder whether it’s appropriate to euthanise the cat in Ivy’s playroom, but there isn’t really time to ask. I guess it’s normalising death. I pat his little head until his pupils grow large and his head suddenly no longer feels like a head, but fur-covered wood. The way his body feels changes when his spirit leaves.
The wedding gift from my three sisters-in-law is suddenly very handy. We realise the case the Verve Cliquot was sent in with chocolates and champagne flutes is exactly the right size for our deceased kitty. It’s a glamorous coffin, strangely appropriate, while offering some protection from neighbourhood dogs who may decide to sniff him out and dig him up. Ivy and I place him in his champagne box and surround him with flowers while John digs the hole. I take a photograph for the kids. Then we bury him.
I’ve done this with all the other kids. But it’s Ivy’s first time. She is stoic. John talks to her about finding the duckling family. She takes some convincing but she understands it’s the right thing to do. They set off, and miraculously come across a pond they’ve never seen before and, lo and behold, there are the ducks! The rescued duckling is released in a joyous tail feather wagging bolt across the water. It’s a wonderful moment, thanks to Ivy. Her little face goes dark, the lip quivers, and then she howls! Life and death in just one day in the suburbs. And stupid me, blubbering over a can of Whiskas.