s.e. smith | Longreads | November 2017 | 17 minutes (4,363 words)
The veterinarian looks anxious as she enters the room, clearly dreading the conversation she must have many times a night on the late shift at the emergency clinic.
Yes, your pet is dying. No, I’m afraid there’s not much we can do, she is bracing herself to say.
Her scrubs are a rich maroon, coordinating with the jewel-toned surroundings of the hushed exam room in the swanky clinic. Thick doors block the sound from outside, the interstitial space where they’ve left me alone in an echoing silence with a grim steel table and a box of tissues after the technician rushed my cat to the back, somewhere in the bowels of the hospital. The last time I saw her she was gasping for air, eyes huge, expression: betrayed.
I wonder if I will see her again.
It’s the largest veterinary clinic I’ve ever been in and it feels more like a spa, down to the powder blue polo shirts the receptionists all wear. The stack of euthanasia authorizations left out on the counter are the only sign this place is perhaps not what it seems. I have driven a long way to come here, because it is Easter weekend and my vet isn’t in the office, but this cannot wait.
Oddly, I find myself wanting to reassure the vet, to tuck her loose strand of hair behind her ear and offer her a cup of tea from the space-age machine out in the horrifically depressing lobby, filled with people sitting in little clumps with strained faces.
“I know,” I say as she sits opposite me, searching for words, and her shoulders slump in relief. “I knew the cancer would spread eventually, but is there anything we can do to make her comfortable?”
On my way in, struggling with the weight of my cat’s carrier and my bag, I passed a couple carrying one of those cardboard boxes they use to send cats home from the shelter, the takeout container that is supposed to presage many years of happy life together, cartoon kittens and puppies stenciled along the sides. It swung with a peculiar, empty lightness, bouncing in an almost sprightly way that felt at odds with the stricken looks on their faces.
There is a stark finality in the empty cat carrier.
You can take this, your cat won’t be needing it anymore.