You curl up in your new hideout, and the soft light of the April afternoon washes your worn-out body. You are aware of my closeness. You confirm that with a gentle sigh while my palm tenderly slides down your fur. You still like my touch, although pain is what you now mostly feel. And uncertainty—but for how long?
Against the tracksuit pants I wipe a lock of your hair which is stuck to my palm. I try to take a better position, crawling next to you under the table. I hate the sentimentality of people who want to capture with photos the beautiful moments in life because they believe that’s the only way they can remain part of their memories. Ironic, because I myself resort to this now. Nothing else is left for me. Another day, week, month at best is the most optimistic prognosis.
Only this time. I will make an exception.
Your chest is rising and falling, fighting for every breath. It’s not easy for you, I know, and I would love most if I could breathe for you. But I can’t. Even if I breathe a new life into you, it probably wouldn’t help. You wouldn’t even let me. Because you are a fighter. Besides, it seems to me you don’t like people taking pity on you, as you didn’t like it when they laughed in your face. This is why I control myself when I’m around you, poorly disguising the true nature of my feelings in a lame attempt to preserve your dignity. Panic hits me because of what is coming!
A tidal wave rushes from within, forcing tears to my eyes, which stream silently down my face and drip-drop onto your colorful blanket. Jolly green, purple and beige squares support your long, thin and distorted body like a gentle cloud. The shadow of what you used to be.
I support myself on my elbows, taking the first snapshot with my cell phone in my left hand. You hear a click and crack open your eyes. Your gaze rests on me, warming me with the heat of the hearth fire that fades away. I take another picture, producing another click, and then my hand trembles; I have to dry the tears that, undecided, stop and pause in the corners of my eyes.
You raise your head, not ceasing to look at me. Your good eye caresses my soul, while the other, sick from cataracts and inflammation unsuccessfully treated with ointments and drops, looks into the unknown. I’m stroking your hair, matted around it, waiting for you to be ready to continue our little photo session.
Again you accept me and indulge my whim. Gently as a newborn, you push your head along my hand, responding to my caress. First you rub your little nose into my fingers, and then you push your left ear against my hand, wanting me to scratch and massage it. When you become bored or you think it is enough, with amazing vigor you start to wash yourself. You surprise me a little because I don’t remember when was the last time I saw you wash yourself. (It was a long time ago, just as eons have gone by since the days when you would happily nestle in the most comfortable seat in the apartment, after successfully sponging an abundant meal, and start to clean yourself. An invisible clock, or timer in you—as we used to joke—woke you up and led you, with your tail raised, to your bowls, where you patiently waited until, usually Mom, capitulated before your determination and persistence of the winner.) I smile, encouraged by a false hope and strong mental images awakened from the past. How little it takes for the Phoenix to resurrect in me and clatter the wings of joy. How dishonest I am with myself (and you) and subject to self-deception!
I leave you for a moment and hurry into the kitchen to show the photos to Mom. You continue sprucing up, as you know it’s time for Saša’s arrival. As always, you want to show yourself to him in the best light. You care about what Saša thinks of you. I don’t think you do this so he can pet you and lavish words of praise on you, calling you Viola, Love. No, you accept Saša because you know you will be better each time you see him and you want to give something back to him. You want to show him that his visits really make you feel better. And so you do that. I don’t know with which words I can express more clearly what I feel for you, so I will repeat: Viola, my love.
My thoughts come rushing back like raging currents of mountain rivers that do not stop for anything or anyone. Hurrying with a roar to their finish line, completely self-sufficient. Each word I make immortal here must be engraved with the dedication of a blind stonemason who, just by sense of touch and guided by indestructible faith, creates from the shapeless mass a work which present generations, but also those who come after, will admire. Those who are alive today, and their children who are just born, setting the foundation for new generations. This is our written monument and I snuggle up against it, blinded by the pain inflicted upon me by every minute that takes us into the future. The future is what I want to avoid at any cost, selfishly keeping the present so these moments last as long as possible. Not thinking about you and the relief it will bring you. We are both on the road of no return. Do you think so too? Do you also feel at least a fraction of regret we will part soon, with no guarantee and no promise that, in the blink of an eye or the distant future, we might meet each other again? Tell me, dearest….
Tonight, I am watching over you. I leave the desk lamp on, wishing to better guard over the timid work of your lungs from which the rattles and squeals of suffocation no longer emerge after Saša has given you the injections. One could see how you livened up and hurried to the bowl to satisfy your thirst with the very diluted milk. You wanted to boast to Saša that you were doing better and let him know how much his visits mean to you and how much you appreciate what he does for you. If only you knew how proud I am of you!
Your regular breathing lulls me to sleep, from which I awake unaccustomed to the neon light transforming the night in our room into a polar day. I fall to sleep again and twitch, awakened by the beeping of the electric doors of the late-night trams, the roaring engines of occasional cars that chase the empty street, and even rarer passers-by, to whom the nightlife is nothing more alien than that illuminated by daylight. They are both the children of the moon and the children of the sun; unlike me, who always favors the heat of the sun over the beauty of the night sky dotted with myriads of distant stars.
I doze off and miss when you get up and pause to gather strength before undertaking the long journey down the hall to the living room where your bowls are waiting for you under the window. Still sleepy, I subconsciously hear Saša’s words: if you know the routes of his movement, carry him there so he doesn’t get tired. I jump headlong into my slippers and stumble after you. I have to be careful not to wake Mom and Dad who sleep in the furthest room next to the bathroom. A small corridor separates it from the living room, the same one which connects the living room with the kitchen, pantry and the maid’s room. I put one of my hands under your chest while the other I place under your hind legs, lifting you up as light as a feather and carrying you to your refreshments.
It’s still not midnight, I see by the big, mercury-gray wall clock, which we received as a gift from the bookkeeping service where I worked for three years before I turned that page in life and became fully active in the animal protection and rights association. Having enough of the diluted milk from the right half of the bowl you switch to the left one which also contains diluted milk. You make strange gurgling and belching noises while drinking, resting to regain your breath. Again you fight the battle with the body which does not give up, though experiencing defeat after defeat. The desire to heal it and keep it in force is stronger than the pain it causes you, stronger than common sense. Your legs are shaking and weak while they carry you to a bowl with water and crackers, only a two-step process. You wheeze and catch your breath, but you don’t give up. You drink. Water is like antibiotics to you, and when you’re done here, you will go back to the saucer to the right of the bowl with milk where acidophilus awaits you. You refresh yourself with it. Then you raise your eyes to me in the dark and expectantly, and I know what I must do. Some four hours ago Saša relieved your bladder by squeezing it. It is not pee time yet. So I take you in my arms as a snowflake and carry you back to your bed.
I kneel to lower you down as gently as possible and make it easier for you to land on your unnaturally elongated and weakened hind legs. Awkwardly stepping on them and swaying, you crawl under the table. I follow you, crawling on my knees. I cuddle you and calm you until your breathing is normalized, and then I slip under the quilt on my floor bed. Listening to whether your breathing will again become shrill, I fall asleep without even being aware of it.
The next time I wake up on time. About an hour has passed, and you wait for me to take you in my arms and carry you to the bowls with food. No problem, love. Tonight I’m yours. Count on me. When you’re done, I carry you to the corridor between the kitchen, pantry, children’s and living room, where three boxes make up your small bathroom. A pile of newspaper is spread below them. I lower you into the nearest box, with fresh kitty litter covered with three layers of paper towels. My slippers rustle through the papers, under which is ammonia-eaten and bleached parquet—a consequence of your slumbering and belated attempts to get to the toilet. So as not to wake my parents, I close the door to the corridor in front of their room. I listen. Hearing quiet snoring from a dark room, I give in to your stubbornness. I take you back under the table with unfinished business. It’s the night. I’m tired and have no energy—or heart—to fight against your character and will. That’s what I appreciate about you. You don’t allow yourself to be bossed around and you do things in your own time, reminding me of myself! I wait until your breathing calms again, and then I crawl into bed too.
Mom wakes up just before seven o’clock, groggy and with trepidation about whether this morning she will also find wet newspaper and more eaten parquet. By the time she is up, we have repeated your nightly ritual five more times. The last time I lay in bed a little after six o’clock, long ago having turned off the desk lamp, accompanied by the dawn that pressed through the windows with open curtains and lifted blinds. Fatigue crawls through my body, and I catch the last hour of an illusory dream before facing the challenge of a new day.
I hate working days that are made into holidays! It gets on my nerves when everything stops, when nothing is open and you have no place to go, and well-wishers, who spent the whole day devouring the bodies of tortured and slaughtered animals, occupy our phone. The words I wish you happy this, happy that are frustrating, human hypocrisy that sees no further than its own stomach. There are the days when I feel like one of them—a hypocrite—when I am not persistent enough, stubborn and determined enough, to reason with my old folks and talk them out of buying slaughtered chickens for you. If you only knew your food was coming from these mistreated creatures who spend their miserable lives crammed in cages where they cannot spread their wings, and peck each other from stress and frustration, I’m sure you would boycott it too. Alone I was too weak to fight the windmills, and your being sick and being eaten up by diabetes certainly did not go in my favor.
Don’t worry. I don’t blame you for anything. You are made the way you are made, and nobody can blame you for that. But we, humans, have a choice: the choice between good and evil, compassion and cruelty, empathy and ignoring, and we do not use it. We do not use common sense because our stomach blinds our mind and everything flows through it. At least most of us.
What now flows through my stomach are new spasms caused by crying. Again I succumb to my emotions and tears blind my vision as a summer shower blocks the view through the windshield of the car at full speed. Nice memories of the days we spent together arise in me, only to be nibbled by the sour taste of reality. One moment I see you alive and playful, in pursuit of a ball of aluminum foil that is rolling and sliding on the parquet while you chase it with your little paws around the apartment in the never-ending game; the next moment I see you dejected and curled up in a cardboard box, in search of peace and solitude. Then, without a break, I see you jumping after the piece of string I hold in my hand while we all laugh at your acrobatics; and a moment later I see you lying on the carpet next to the armchair I sit in, too weak and too sick to jump into my lap and settle down there. The high tides and ebb tides of feelings turn in me faster than those caused by the magical allure of the moon, crushing me and grinding me into the granules of the person I am becoming, while salty sea water withdraws from the coasts, sprinkled with the fine sand of oblivion.
Yesterday we had a serious talk with Saša about the possibility of putting you down. We have not talked to you about that, but somehow I feel you foresee it, that you have exposed us and that nothing remains hidden from you. You read all around you like X-rays, and stoically, calmly and gracefully handle what is coming. I wish I could be brave like you and look death in the face with equal force and dignity. The hopelessness of your nonexistence, which covers me like a magician’s cloak, prevents me from that. Stealing me, stealing you. I do not agree to such a deal! As long as there is a fire in you for one more battle, as long as you do not say it’s over.
Absently I wipe my tears and take a book, leaving you to rest. King’s horror stories go past me, but I do not experience them. Have I become immune to fear? Have I become immune to everything around me, whether fictional or real? Why do you hurt me so much then?!
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