This was my 450-word entry for the Erma Bombeck essay contest. I might have submitted something that didn’t mention the “D” word. Oh well. . .
Looking back on it now, I should’ve done things very differently. But I was pregnant with my third child, I had an ailing cat, and I couldn’t get a babysitter.
Poor old Captain Midnite, the long-haired black cat I’d taken in when I was still single. When I got him from a shelter, he spent hours in my closet, finally emerging to make friends with my other cat. He was always skittish, with the ability to jump straight up in the air like a cartoon cat when he was startled. But now, many years later, his health was failing, he had stopped his endless grooming routines, and I think we both knew the end was near. I did not want to wake up and find a D-E-A-D cat one morning.
I made an appointment with the vet, then sat the kids down for a talk about what would happen. I must have explained it several times to my eight-year-old daughter and my five-year-old son: Midnite is old and sick and see how sad he looks? We need to make sure he doesn’t get any sicker or sadder. The vet can give him a shot, and he won’t be hurting anymore. His heart will stop and he will look like he’s asleep. Or something like that. I remember the part about the shot and his heart and no more sad Midnite. As I said, I was pregnant, I had two kids and a cat who had forsaken the cat box for any dark corner. I’d reached the point where I had to take action.
On the designated day, I sent my daughter off to school. The mission began: I placed Midnite into the cat carrier, aka the picnic basket. I put him in the back of the car, and strapped my son into his car seat. Once again, on the short drive to the vet, I went over the schedule of events whereby Captain Midnite would not be coming home with us because of the shot and so on. Yes, my son nodded: shot, not coming home, got it.
Then we arrived at the vet’s office. I opened up the back of the station wagon and grabbed the basket. “Come on,” I said to my son. “It’s time to go in.”
Suddenly, he realized what was happening.
“Midnite is going to DIE?!” he said. “We brought him here so he could get a shot and then DIE??” The tears began to fall. Hadn’t I explained this? Was I too subtle about the whole heart-stopping part? Oh, this had turned into a major parenting fail. What was I supposed to do? I had to carry out the mission, even with a sobbing child accusing me of heinous crimes against our cat.
I said. “You’ll just have to sit in the waiting room and I’ll take Midnite back, and. . .”
My son now had his arms crossed in front of him and his lip was quivering.
“Tell you what,” I said, talking fast, “when I come out from. . .after the. . . we can go across the street to the toy store. Sound good?” I smiled.
“And then we can go to the bookstore if you want.”
He looked up at me with those big blue eyes of his. “And get ice cream after that?”
“Sure,” I said.
Later on, as he held his new book in one hand and his ice cream cone in the other, he looked at me and licked his cone thoughtfully. “You know what?” he said. “This didn’t turn out to be such a bad day after all.”