January 2007

I descended the stairs to the basement, only to find the floor empty and quiet. Everyone was outside, apparently. But the silence was broken then by a most horrible rasp, and I looked down to see that the family cat was tied to a colorful indoor plastic swing set, tugging against its leash as it clawed its way blindly across the floor. I stepped forward to help the creature, but its claws were extended in a death panic, and I knew my hands would be flayed if I came anywhere near it.

So instead I ran over to the sliding glass door and looked for someone who might be able to help in the back yard. After all, it was their cat. I could hear the children playing somewhere out of sight—this predicament was probably their doing—and K’s mother was just waking up from a noon nap on a cot on the back porch. She hadn’t put her teeth in, and as she licked her dry lips her jaw jutted out in a way that made me uncomfortable. I ducked back into the house to give her some privacy as she rolled over and fumbled for her dentures.

Back in the house the cat was clearly dying, its rasps now lasting upward of ten seconds as it strained for every bit of air it could get. Frustrated by my inability to help, I overcame my trepidation and went back out onto the back porch. “Mrs. M.,” I said, “your cat–”

But she cut me off. “Look what you’ve done now,” she said. “I’m stabbed in the back because you weren’t looking.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but as she rolled over to probe her back I saw that a lawn dart had impaled her close to the kidney.

“That wasn’t me,” I said. “I’ve been inside!” But she wasn’t listening as she fumbled to reach the dart.

Back inside, the cat had stopped struggling against its noose, and now sat shivering, and breathing shallowly. I knelt down to remove the strap from its neck, noting that it was only as the cat lay at death’s door that I could get close enough to save its life. But as I was unwinding its leash, the animal merely slid out of its constraint by itself.

“Well, see?” I said. “You did it all by yourself.” Perhaps too late, but the timing of it was impressive. I gathered the broken cat into my lap and stroked it, whispering words of assurance as it clung to life.