MARILYN AND ME
© 2011 Molly Levite Griffis
“Now I’m no eye doc, mind you, but I’m guessing this cat came into this world blind,” the vet told Marilyn and me, shaking
his lion’s mane of steel gray hair like the patriarch of the pride.
“‘Peers to me she’s got holes in both retinas,” he droned on as he began scratching the cat behind her ears. She responded by happily nuzzling her fluffy head into his hairy hands. For such a big man, he had a soft and gentle touch. “Don’t know why the mother didn’t leave her to die. Usually do the defective ones. That or the tom kills them. Nature’s way, you know?” He sighed as if he didn’t really approve of the way nature handled her affairs.
He put down the instrument he had been using to examine the cat’s eyes carefully in order not to startle her, scooped her
fluffy body up from the table, and nuzzled his gray-whiskered face into her tabby colored one.
“God makes mistakes from time to time, too, you know,” he added as he gave her one last head-to-tail stroke before he handed her back to me.
Marilyn reached for her, but the cat, whose heart was pounding against my palm like a trip-hammer doing triple time, nosed
her way into the familiar smell of my faded, paint stained green sweatshirt. Having to keep track of the two of them had kept me from changing clothes in over twenty-four hours.
The cat let out a prolonged yowl, so I attempted to tuck its head under my shirt hoping to muffle the sound, but she wiggled around until I found myself holding her in the middle of her fat, furry belly. Evidently the exam had wiped her out because she suddenly went limp, hanging from my arm like a four-footed sack of flour with fur. The yowling was replaced by a motorboat purr.
Marilyn smiled, reached for my other hand, and began to purr, too.
The vet narrowed his eyes as he studied my bedraggled traveling companion more carefully.
“But isn’t there something you could give it that would help?” I asked, trying to focus his attention back on the cat and at
the same time keep from sounding as desperate as I felt. He looked at me and shook his head.
“Sorry but I’m fresh out of Seeing Eye dogs!” He slapped his leg and gave a belly laugh that started just
above his knees and rippled up his body toward the jowls that defined his face. “Sometimes you got to laugh to keep from crying, you know?” he added apologetically.
I knew. Believe me I knew. I also knew that even a lifetime cat hater like me was going to have a hard time
ditching one that was blind.
“Make a cute kid’s book, wouldn’t it?” he rambled as he slipped a pen out of the pocket of his white jacket and began
rolling it back and forth in his fingers.
“Except you could put a different twist to it. Instead of a Seeing Eye dog, make it a Seeing Eye cat. Yep, that’s it. A Seeing Eye Siamese to give it better alliteration, don’t you know? Kids’ books got to have lots of alliteration, so you could call the cat Sally Sue. Sally Sue the Seeing Eye Siamese…that’s what you could call it.”
I could see it coming.
He was about to tell me about all the kids’ books he was going to write someday. I hadn’t worked in a bookstore half my life not to know the signs.
“Kids’ books are easy to write,” he would assure me.
“Not many words.” Give it a title before it was written. They all did that. There’s not a person alive who doesn’t think they can write a kid’s book, but none of them I ever waited on or knew ever got any further than the title. A title and lots of day dreaming about autograph sessions in bookstores from sea to shining sea.
“Yep, gonna write books for the little buckaroos when I hang up the old stethoscope,” he mused. I knew it. “All
I need’s a crackerjack illustrator.”
I knew that, too. That’s all any of the soon-to-be famous authors needed.
“Anything else you can tell me about this cat?” I interrupted, but instantly regretted it. The less I knew the better.
Less to think about while I figured out how to get rid of her.
“Well, other than the fact she’s pregnant…but I’m sure you figured that out because of her swollen tits,” he went on as if
he hoped I didn’t think he was stupid for pointing out the obvious. “Doesn’t miss her sight since she never had it, but taking care of a batch of kittens is gonna be a tad bit tricky for the lot of you.
More than likely she’ll hide ‘em the minute they’re born, and since you can’t smell like she can, you’re gonna have a hard time keeping up with the little rascals.”
Pregnant? This feline Jonah I had acquired was not only blind, but she was pregnant, too?
No, I had not figured that out. How the hell could I have figured that out? She just looked fat to me. It had never occurred to me to inspect her “tits.” I had touched her as little as possible in the few hours she’d been with us, left the cuddling to Marilyn, a cat lover of the first order. I wished I could shut him up but didn’t know how short of hitting him in the mouth with the silver handled, rubber-headed hammer which was lying on the examining table. Why would a vet need a rubber-headed hammer anyway? Did he tap furry little knees for reflexes?
“She’s between a year or two old from the looks of her teeth. Babies due in about five weeks.
Can’t tell if this is her first litter or not. Gotta hope those kitten of hers don’t inherit her eye troubles. She’s fat and sassy, so she must a belonged to somebody if you just found her. Sassy! That’d be a good name for her, don’t you think?”
He paused to take a breath, but before I could ask him whether this fur covered-albatross would start craving pickles and
ice cream before long, he went back to dancing with his muse.
I’ll change her from a tabby to a Siamese. Like the star of my first book. Sure, then I could call the sequel Sassy the Sightless Siamese. Better alliteration, don’t you know?” he gloated as he picked up the rubber hammer and began bouncing it on the gray flecked metal table. “Yes, sir, I got stories spinning around in my head all the time. Just need to jot ‘em down on paper, that’s all.”
If I didn’t get out of that urine smelling cinder block room in a hurry, I had a wild and crazy feeling I might strangle the
man in order to save a forest from dying for a lost cause. Stuffing him in a gunnysack and tossing it in a pond would be child’s play compared to doing it to a blind, pregnant cat.
“She sure is lucky you rescued her,” he assured me. “Wouldn’t a lasted two days on her own, her being blind and
kittens on the way.
Bet her owners…the people who kept her so fat and sassy…are running around out there worried sick,” he babbled with a sympathetic nod toward the world outside his clinic walls. “Scouring the bushes, looking up and down every street in town. Afraid they’ll find her little dead body on the interstate smashed flat by a semi. Blind creatures have a way of grabbin’ hold of your heart and not lettin’ go. But you know about that already, don’t you? She grabbed a hold of you. Where’d you say you found her?”
I hadn’t said.
And I wasn’t about to tell St. Francis here the truth-that she had crawled her way into Marilyn’s and my lives over twenty-four hours and a couple of hundred miles ago. That there wasn’t a chance in a million that I could find the owners who had kept her “fat and sassy.”
“Well, we…that is I…” I stammered, “…you know how things happen sometimes….”
I’d felt a twinge of guilt about ditching a cat who appeared from the start to be visually handicapped, but one that was pregnant as well as blind? I shifted her in my arm because she was getting heavier by the minute.
I wanted to hand her back to him, tell him to get rid of the kittens as soon as possible, but I knew he would refuse since
I’d already admitted she wasn’t mine, that I’d only brought her in to find out why she kept bumping into things.
She had coped so well it didn’t occur to me that she was totally blind, but then I’d only been around her a little while. I’d have to find another vet to get rid of the kittens if that was what I decided to do before I dumped her. He reached over to pat her again and gave another softhearted sigh. I needed to make my exit before he began outlining a plan for locating the cat’s distraught owner.
“What do I owe you?” I asked, prying Marilyn’s hand from mine so I could reach for my backpack and my billfold.
She stepped closer to me. Her purring grew louder, and she began opening and contracting her fingers like a nursing kitten trying to make the milk come. She pulled up the sleeve of her sweat suit and rubbed her head against my shoulder before she began lifting her feet and shaking them like she had seen the cat do on the examining table.
The vet looked from Marilyn to me to the cat, then out the window at my sun-faded, fender dented ‘80 Olds.
“She got Alzheimer’s?” he asked making eye contact with Marilyn.
“Yeah,” I said slinging the backpack over my shoulder. Marilyn stared back at him, hissed, grabbed my sleeve,
and slid her fingers down my arm and into my hand again. She squeezed so hard my wedding band cut into my flesh. I had meant to toss that silver plated shackle into Gus’s coffin when the funeral home
people insisted I look at him, but I forgot to slip it off until after they snapped the lid shut, so I left it where it was and forgot about it. That had been over two months ago.
“Such a pretty little thing,” the vet continued, peering into Marilyn’s face. “Especially her eyes. Takes a
while to figure it out sometimes, especially young as she is.
Looked normal enough when you all came in. Hideous disease, Alzheimer’s,” he muttered, chewing on his lower lip. “Thief of everything in life that matters.”
He began to absent-mindedly arrange the instruments on the exam table in a triangle. He put the rubber headed hammer
in the middle and studied it.
“The wife gave me that for Christmas the year she forgot what kind of doc I was,” he said with a trace of a smile. “Stole it from one of her MDs, I guess. Wrapped it up, tied a big red bow on it, and put it under the tree.” He looked up at me again. “Clinic’s free on Tuesdays.”
“But this is Monday,” I pointed out, trying to pry my crumpled fingers from Marilyn’s sweaty hand.
“At least I think so. Lose track of time when you’re on the road like we are.”
“It’s all the same,” he muttered as he turned his back on us. “The wife had it, too, don’t you know?
Lasted eleven years.” He turned to look at Marilyn, who was still purring. She kept her death grip on me with her right hand, but she continued to imitate the pawing motion with the left, fingers curved, fingers straight, claws in, claws out. The cat was sacked out completely now in spite of the awkward hold I had on her belly…and her kittens.
“Eleven years,” he repeated, drumming the rubber hammer on the table in rhythm with the purring duet, which was growing
The Double Bubble Gum color of the cinder block walls in the tiny room triggered that old Doublemint jingle “Double your
pleasure, double your fun!” in my scrambled brain.
Pleasure. Right. Fun. Right. I tried to pretend the room smelled like spearmint instead of animal pee. I shook my head to clear out the song as well as the smell. It didn’t work.
“How long she been non-verbal?” he wanted to know, but it was late and I was tired and didn’t have the strength to tell
Marilyn’s story again.
“Can’t remember,” I lied. “Like you said, it’s all the same.”
I turned to go. He waddled around the table to open the door for us, but not before I caught the reflection in the
What I saw was an overweight, gray-haired woman with a pregnant blind cat under one arm struggling to guide a reluctant dementia patient out the door. My first thought was “What a pathetic sight. Somebody ought to help those poor people!”
My second was, “Oh my God, that’s Marilyn and me!”
“I’d try to help, but those eleven years taught me that assistance from strangers was usually more trouble than it was
worth,” the vet apologized as he positioned himself in the doorway.
“Come with Lydia. Please come with Lydia,” I pleaded as I maneuvered her toward the car. “You’re a good kitty,
aren’t you? Come with Lydia.” And I silently appealed to any gods who watch over children, animals, and idiots to lend a helping hand. “We got to get where I can think.”
Ours was the only car in the lot so I released her hand long enough to jerk open the door.
My juggling skills had improved these past two months, two months in which she had tried to wander away every time I took her for a ride and often balked about getting in.
“I’ll let you hold your kitty if you’ll get in the car,” I promised, using the bribing technique that worked sometimes.
She immediately turned her backside to the seat and plopped down, reaching for the cat as she dragged her feet inside. The exhausted animal roused itself long enough to curl back up in a tight ball of fur and close its useless eyes again.
“So long, Sassy!
Look out for Lassie!” Dr. Seuss of the vet world sang out from the doorway as he watched my little band of gypsies settle back in the open-windowed car where we had no air conditioning, very little gas, and not a hell of a lot of hope.
Eleven years. His stint as warden lasted eleven years.
“Got a million of them!” he yelled as the door to his clinic clanged shut with a prison-cell snap, and Marilyn and the cat
began to purr again.