Too Short a Story

Mankato was one of the nine foster kitties sojourning at the bookstore–and the first one to get sick. On Monday he went to the vet. On Tuesday he looked better, after some hefty antibiotics. Wednesday, he wasn’t doing so well. On Thursday afternoon, I went into the mysteries and thrillers room, also known as the cattery, and could see in a heartbeat what was going to happen.

How can something so tiny leave such deep paw prints on our hearts?

Five days of rubbing high-calorie gel onto my finger for him to lick off, then across his mouth when he wouldn’t lick my finger any more, four nights of feeding checks and desperate attempts to teach him to drink from a bottle and using a curved syringe to push .1 ml slowly, carefully into the side of his mouth, scared each time he would choke, over and over…. it was over.

The writing in his fuzzy book of love was going to be brief. But that didn’t make it any less meaningful. Innocent, no-holds-barred love is hard to come by in this world.

So I picked him up and cuddled him and carried him into the bookstore’s front room and sat in the armchair and stroked his head. Grown cats like to be by themselves when they die, but maybe kittens are different, because he seemed happy that I was there; he dipped his head into my palm in that way we’d developed during all those feedings. I rubbed his ears and told him it was okay, that we’d both tried as hard as we could, now he should go and do what he needed to do. I told him that he didn’t need to be nervous, that it would be fun on the other side, with a big grassy yard to run in and a fancy cat-climbing gym with balls and ropes, and lots of other kittens to play with. I said maybe his real Mommy was there, waiting for him. (He and his two sisters were found abandoned in a box.)

Of course he didn’t understand a single word I babbled. But he was in a lap whose smell he recognized, hearing a voice he knew, getting his ears rubbed when he went.

I’ve never held anything – animal, vegetable or mineral – as it died before.  I am haunted by the fact that I don’t know if I did what was right for him. (Did I feed him too fast? Was the bookstore too hot and suppressed his appetite?) Can we ever know if what we did was right? We do what’s best for each other, insofar as we know it, and we Google like mad through the knowledge of the universe trying to figure out the rest fast enough. I live in a bloody bookstore, and I can’t find the right answers. There aren’t always right answers – for feeding kittens or having relationships or any of what we call normal life.

So we do the best we can, fondling ears and crooning pap and spun sugar, hoping it helps. That’s what we do for each other. Hopefully.

Bookstores are full of tragedies; one shelf of Shakespeare will supply tears enough to flood a fountain. But bookstores have the stories they tell as well as stories for sale, and one of ours ended, a little too soon, getting stroked on the head.

‘Bye, Mankato. You were my favorite, but don’t tell the others, okay?



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11 responses to “Too Short a Story

  1. Stacy B.

    Wendy, he was blessed to be with you. I can’t stand the thought of him dying alone in the shelter. I’m so sorry.

  2. Jo Anne

    Bless you Wendy. You are a wonderful storyteller. Thank you for telling Mankato’s.

  3. Yup I so needed the tissues. Our little friends over even a short amount of time make such a hole in our hearts when they are gone. I pray that yours will heal soon. 😦

  4. Beautiful, Wendy, and I’m so sorry. My childhood memories are from my parents’ veterinary clinic, and even though “put to sleep” and “didn’t make it” were among my earliest understandings, experiences like these never get easier. The only answer that’s felt right to me is as you said – doing the best we can for each other, with love and hope. I’d say you gave Mankato the best exit any of us can hope for.

  5. This was a very vivid story of how you held this tiny life in your hands. But, ultimately, your duty was only to give comfort, which you so beautifully did. You cared for this tiny kitty just as you would have cared for an infant. I saw this on the morning of the anniversary of my Dad’s passing from a busy life at age 58, June 23, 1960. Your story helped me to cry the tears I was holding back! ❤


  6. this
    The hand that rocks the cradle principles the entire world

  7. Eva

    I love this. Going to drive over and meet you someday.

    • It was a hard, hard day and I still cry when I think of him. But the li’l guy was worth it, no matter how short his life. And someone PM’ed me words that have stuck: don’t blame yourself that you couldn’t save him; blame those who let their cat get pregnant with kittens they had no intention of caring for, then threw them away in that box.

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