|You know you’re asking for it.When you turn down the kittens, because everybody and their dog adopts kittens. When you seek out the battered one-eared guys with pumpkin breath and rotten teeth and FIV, the old bruisers who’ve spent their lives on the street because who else is gonna give them a home? Even when you get lucky— when the stray on your doorstep is only a few months old and completely healthy, not so much as a flea on the fur and her whole life stretching out before her— even then you know you’re asking for it, because the very best-case scenario only lasts a couple of decades before her parts wear out and she grinds painfully to a halt in a random accumulation of system failures.You know, and you do it anyway. Because you’re a dumb mammal with an easily-hacked brain, and if you don’t step up who else will?It was Chip, this time. I called it back when Banana died, I said Chip would probably be next to go. And I can’t really complain, because we thought he was going to die back in 2011. But here it is, almost the end of 2013, and the patchy little fuzzbot was alive right up to 3:30 yesterday afternoon. He’d be alive right now if we hadn’t killed him, although the vet says he wouldn’t be enjoying it.
You really hope they’re not lying to you when they say things like that. You wonder how they even know.
I didn’t even know his name at first. He was just this weird hostile cat who’d sneak in from outside, bolt through my living room and down the hall, and hide under my bed. I called him Puffy Patchy White Cat, with that poetic and lyrical imagination for which I have become so renowned.
Puffy Patchy White Cat hated my guts. He’d shoot past me en route to his underbed fort, and he’d hiss and spit whenever I bent down to look at him under there. He just wanted the territory. I have no idea why. How many children lie awake at night, fearful of predatory monsters beneath the bed? I lived that dream. I would fall asleep to the growls and hisses of some misanthropic furball just the other side of the mattress, lurking and fuming for reasons I could not fathom.
This went on for months before his Human finally showed up at my door, looking to dump him. Told me that Puffy Patchy White Cat’s name was “Chip”, and that he’d be at the Humane Society within 24 hours if nobody was willing to take him. What could I say? The fuzzbot was already spending half his time at the Accursed Apartment; I was going to see him incarcerated, maybe killed, just because he wanted to claw my eyes out?
The day after I said yes I saw Chip’s Human rolling a dolly full of personal effects past my living room window. Chip ran in his wake, mewing piteously: what’s going on where are you taking all my stuff where are we going what’s happening why won’t you talk to me? That two-legged asshole never slowed, never looked back. The service elevator closed behind him and Chip was alone.
He spent that night, like all the others, under my bed. For once he didn’t growl, didn’t hiss, didn’t make a sound.
By the next day he had decided I was his bestest friend. I went into the kitchen and he jumped up on the fridge, started bonking me with that trademark head-butt that is the hallmark of slutty cats everywhere, but which Chip somehow made his own. I fed him. Banana shrugged and made room for another bowl in the house.
In the years since, Chip worked unceasingly to win the title of Toronto’s Priciest Cat. Unused to playing with others, suddenly absorbed into a 5-cat household, he peed chronically and expensively on a succession of carpets and towels. The insides of his ears sprouted clusters of grotesque, blueberry-like growths filled with a bloody, tar-like substance that blocked off the canal and provoked a series of infections that smelled like cheese. We had them surgically removed. They grew back. We took him out to a secret government lab in Lake Scugog, spent a couple thousand dollars having his ears lasered clean of tumors. Called him “Miracle Ears” when he came back with perfect pink shells where all that corruption used to be. Groaned when it reappeared yet again, six months later.
A few years back, when he inexplicably went off his food, we spent three grand exploring a lump in his abdomen that the vet said was consistent with cancer. (It turned out to be gas.) He also had chronic tachycardia, which translated into a lifetime prescription for pricey little blue pills called Atenolol.
He would shriek like a banshee at 3a.m. At first he did this in response to one of BOG’s (admittedly unwarranted) attacks— but after a few iterations where we responded by ganging up on BOG in Chip’s defense, he figured out how to use that. He would walk into whatever room BOG was minding his own business in, let out a shriek to wake the dead, and sit back waiting for BOG to take the fall. (It was much scarier when those two fought for real: they’d grapple in complete silence, no yowls no hisses, just a ball of teeth and claws and flying fur rolling down the stairs, locked together in combat.)
He was affectionate, although he tried to hide it. He would excel at being standoffish during the day (except for the usual refrigerator bonks at dinnertime). Late at night, though—after lights-out— he’d creep slowly onto the bed, edge along the mattress to the headboard, and sprawl across the head of whoever happened to be closest. Sometimes we’d wake up from the sound of the purring; other times we’d wake up suffocating, our mouths draped in fur. Either way we kept ourselves still so as not to startle him, but it wasn’t really necessary. Once Chip segued into Hat Mode, it would take an earthquake to dislodge him.
And who can forget the time he swiped the contact lens right off my eyeball with a single claw?
We’ve known for a while that he was living on borrowed time. Back during one of his endless savings-depleting trips to the vet the tests came back positive for both FIV and feline leukemia; the vet was bracing us for death in mere days, back then. But that was 2011, and ever since he weathered whatever misfortune that fucked-up physiology inflicted upon him. We’d forgotten how mortal he was. Even over the past couple of weeks, when he went off his food and started losing weight— when he turned his nose up at Wellness Brand, and flaked tuna, and the hypoallergenic stuff that costs the GNP of a Latin-American country for a single can— I wasn’t too worried. There he goes again, I thought. Another of his dumb attention-hogging false alarms. We’ll pillage the pones’s college fund and pay another few grand and buy our way out of it the way we always have. Dumb cat. He’d always pulled through before after all, always beaten the odds; and for the first time ever, his ears were actually improving.
So we took him to the vet, and his nictitating membrane was dead white. And suddenly I noticed that his nose— normally bright pink— that was white, too. And the blood tests came back, and his RBC count was about an eighth of what it should have been.
He was suffocating, right down at the cellular level. His resp rate was already elevated, trying to compensate— as if breathing faster could make any difference when there was so little pigment left inside to grab O2 no matter how much tidal volume ramped up. Chip’s marrow had died, his bones had hollowed out like a bird’s while we’d been busy not noticing.
Days, the vet said. And it won’t be an easy death, it’ll be horrible. He’ll die slowly, gasping for breath. A sensation of drowning that persists no matter how much air you take into your lungs.
So yesterday, we saved him the trouble. It wasn’t as peaceful a death as we’d been promised. The sedative did the opposite of what it was supposed to, started freaking him out and waking him up. I restrained his spastic struggles for a while and then let him go, followed him as he groaned and staggered across the room into a dark little toilet cubby that might afford him the comfort of close quarters, at least. Scooped him up there and just kept him company in the dark, until the vet came down with a dose of some new drug that please god wouldn’t fuck up the same way the last one did. His eyes were bright right up until they closed. We buried him out back, just a little ways down the garden from Banana, wrapped up in my very last Jethro Tull t-shirt (Rock Island: not one of their best albums, but great cover art). We buried him with a spray-bottle of pet-stain remover that we won’t be needing any more.
And entropy wins again, and now the universe is a little less complex, a little poorer. There are a billion other cats out there, and thousands more being born every day. It’s good that things die— I keep telling myself this— because immortality would deny hope to all those other creatures who need a home, only to find there is no room at the inn. But there are so many degrees of freedom, even in such a small furry head. So many different ways the synapses can wire up, so many different manifestations of that unique wiring. There are a million other fuzzbots, a million other bright-eyed puffy patchy white cats, but there will never be another Chip. That part of the universe is over now, and as always, I can’t help but miss it.
Goodbye, you dumb troublesome expensive cat. You were worth every penny, and so very much more.
PS: Those photos not taken by we here at the Magic Bungalow— which is to say, most of the best ones on display here— are courtesy of Rebecca Springett.