A bear walks into a bar, and puts a dollar in the jar.
"Kahlúa and cream, Mike." It's not his usual genever, but he's not the first bear to order that drink this week. He takes it to the chalk line and stands for a while, sipping the drink and fingering something in his pocket. Finally, he raises the glass.
"To Curio!", he says, and flings the glass into the fireplace.
He was always my cat, ever since he walked up to me in the shelter two years ago and said so. My sister had to translate for him -- I wasn't very fluent in feline at the time.
He was the most outgoing and easygoing of our cats, always willing to accept attention from anybody, but I'm the one he followed around, and asked to be picked up and carried by. He spent a lot of time on Colleen's lap, too, and when he started getting picky about food, she would empty a can of catfood into a small bowl and make sure he ate it.
At night I would pat the laundry hamper in the hallway and say "Up", and he would jump up for me to carry upstairs to bed, though he often leapt out of my arms and ran up the stairs ahead of me. Most nights he slept on our bed.
I made a pad of folded leopard-print, fuzzy fabric and set it on my desk so that he could lie or sit there and be petted while I worked on the computer. He made an excellent villain's cat. He liked high places; I once found him on the highest shelf in our bathroom, afraid to come down. Perhaps he knew I'd come rescue him.
Maybe a month ago he started eating less, and became more solitary. His breathing became labored. His last two weeks I would often come home to find that he'd spent all day in our closet, or on the cool tiles of the shower stall. I would carry him to Colleen, but he would only pick at his food. His last week, he was completely miserable; we made the earliest appointment we could. It was barely soon enough.
The vet put him on oxygen and took X-rays; there was fluid filling his abdomen and chest cavity, compressing his lungs, and surrounding his heart. There were a couple of possibilities, all but one inevitably fatal. There was a chance that it was a diaphramatic hernia, which might have been fixable by surgery, but the most likely thing was feline infectious peritonitis. The next most likely was cancer.
I called Colleen, and then Naomi, who drove down to the vet's to meet us. Colleen told me she had already said her goodbyes. Naomi asked whether we could take him home to see the kids, who were coming back from New York the next day; but it was iffy. He was already in bad shape, and the thought of letting him die alone in the closet was appalling. He was my cat, and I had to do what was best for him, no matter how much it hurt. He was in misery, and there was only one thing I could do for him.
I held him in my arms, where he loved to be, while the sedative took effect, Naomi stroking his head. There was a little while, at the end, when his breathing became easier; he looked calm and contented. He must have known his people were helping him the only way we could. We laid him on the counter and stroked him until after his heart had stopped. His eyes were still bright.
Somewhere in there, Naomi reminded me that cats live in the moment, and we had done the best we could to make his last moments good ones, surrounded by the people he loved.
And he had one last gift for me: he taught me to cry again. Long ago, I forgot how. Thank you, Curio, for giving me back my tears.
The bear sits back down, and puts a tattered red collar on the table in front of him.
In the end, he walked across the Rainbow Bridge calmly, eyes open and tail held high. In Valhalla, he's finally able to go outside, get wasted on catnip, and sleep on the grass in the sunlight. In the evening he walks across the tables -- he was never a lap cat except for Colleen -- and begs for scraps from the feasting warriors. He's especially fond of beef.
Sometimes, late at night, he'll go visiting. There's a petrified forest where it's always twilight, and a glade where stands an Amethyst Rose with obsidian thorns as sharp as Curio's claws. Sometimes Bast goes with him. Bast willing, I'll see them again some day.