Taking Care

By Al Kratz

It was my job to take care of the dead animals and I was a dedicated worker. Maybe not a soldier, but I did try to be the Marine of the household. This meant no animal left behind, which meant get the dead out before the wife and kids saw them. In the early days, this process wasn’t just duty. Fish got moments of silence and were flushed in clean toilet water. If the ground wasn’t too frozen, birds got an honest burial deep enough the raccoons couldn’t go looking. But there’s a thing called fatigue. There’s the principle of diminishing returns. Maybe a bird was wrapped in newspaper and sneaked into the neighbor’s trash. Maybe a hamster was carried out by the tail and flicked into the woodpile.

But there’s no doubt it was the cats that did me in.

We weren’t supposed to have four cats. Cats are like magnets. Try putting just one on your fridge. That’s crazy. Cats are like magnets except for the part where they secretly hate you. Magnets don’t hide feelings like this. Okay, it was more like we had three cats because one was a basement dweller. That’s why I thought it was weird when I saw her jump on my bed when I came out of the shower. That’s why she looked at me while she pissed my bed. I didn’t want the kind of life where things piss on my bed. That’s why my mission expanded.

It’s not like I didn’t know people who had also wanted to get rid of a cat. I worked with a Rob who felt bad because he found a cat pissing on his bed and he spent the next few weeks mired in that kind of hate before a truck ran over his cat. Rob spent time after that wondering about luck. Don’t question a solution like that, I told him. It’s universal. I worked with a Mike who found a place that specialized in this kind of problem. They even made house calls. They came to his living room, got the cat, and told him they’d take it from there.

It sounded sterile enough, but I didn’t want to wait for house calls. I put the bed pisser into a carrier and went straight to them. They were serious soldiers. The lady at the front desk typed away as I said, Our cat’s gotten too old, I think it’s best we put her down. She nodded to every word. Have a seat, Sweetie. We’ll call you. I felt more at home than I had for a while. One December on my paper route a lady let me in her kitchen at six in the morning for hot chocolate.

06-IMG_0493The doctor called my name fairly quickly. His assistant helped the cat out of the box. She stroked its back and accepted me like the lady out front had. My doctor said, it’s normal, you gave her a good life, but if her quality is down to nothing at home, if all she does is hide in the basement, gives you nothing in return, then it’s better to let her go. I wanted to give him a hug. He said, It’s up to you: you can stay here while I give her the shot, or you can go. Whatever makes you comfortable. I stayed. The assistant stroked the cat’s head while I stroked its back and the doctor put her down. I said, Thanks for everything, and I went home.

I had forgotten the whole thing. Three cats wasn’t so bad, but eventually I had to come out of the shower again. There was one in the hallway. She couldn’t even piss. I don’t know how it happened. She was like a fourth of the cat I remembered. I almost got sick. This wasn’t like before or like what Rob or Mike had. I told her I was sorry and put her in the same crate and took her to them. The lady at the desk lingered on the screen with my history. She didn’t nod. She scowled. She ordered me to take a seat. I felt their medicine aimed at me. I felt more afraid than I had in a while. One summer on my paper route, boys were being taken. We all started our routes, but some of them never came home.

The doctor didn’t call my name. He just looked at me. I pulled her out of the box. They grabbed her from my hands. We’ll take it from here, he said. He looked to the door. There would be no hugs. I couldn’t go back home. I felt too dirty, so I went to Walmart.

I worked with a different Mike who told me he’d play a game when he went shopping with his wife. He’d pretend he was a serial killer and he’d look at all the people in the store to pick out the one to kill. He’d follow them around. He’d think about how he’d do it. It’s just a game though, he assured me. You know, something fun to think about. I walked through Walmart and tried to play his game, but I just couldn’t do it. Maybe it felt inappropriate given the cats. Maybe there is a concept called hypothetical imperative.

I decided to alter the game. I walked around to find the one to save. I followed her around. I thought about how I’d do it. The game got complicated when the one I picked decided she didn’t care for being the one picked. It became impossible when I accidentally cornered her at Cleaning Supplies. Her eyes looked like she was about to strike. My eyes begged for reconciliation. I hoped they could give her what I knew my words couldn’t sell: Wait, I was trying to save you.

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Al Kratz is a writer from Des Moines, Iowa. His work has been in Literary Orphans, Wyvern Lit, Red Savina Review, Gravel, Apeiron Review and others. He is a reader for Pithead Chapel and writes fiction reviews for Alternating Current. You can follow him on twitter @SilverbackedG.

Art by Michelle Johnsen, Appliance Doctor