Episode 16: In Which a Cat Has a Fowl Day
The world is a funny place. Even a well-traveled and worldly fellow such as myself can unexpectedly run into something new. Just the other day such an occurrence transpired right here in my home. I was making my usual morning rounds, and I decided to take a well-deserved respite for second breakfast. When I approached the hall leading to my room, I heard a most peculiar sound. A soft, breathy vocalization was emanating from one of the kennels. It was obviously not one of my people, and it didn’t sound like any dog I’ve ever heard. My whiskers were all on end, and I felt my tail thrash in anticipation as I slowly approached the kennel. A wet, earthy smell drifted into my nostrils, and my ears picked up the distinct rustle that revealed this outsider to be feathered. Lowering my body toward the ground, I slunk closer to the barred door. Instinctive apprehension that accompanies confronting the unknown flowed through my body like electricity. How large would it be? How much of a threat? I knew that it was locked in, but that could not override millennia of the evolutionary drive for survival.
I peeked over the edge of the kennel floor to see once and for all what I was contending with in my space. She let out a slightly louder quack (I could hear at once that the voice sounded female), no doubt startled by the sight of such a handsome face appearing so suddenly to greet her. No bigger than me, feathers all in white, a long flat beak and flat, rubbery looking feet to match; a duck! I sat and looked at her, and she cocked her head to conduct an appraisal of her own. She chattered softly and seemed curious. I asked her where she came from. It was difficult at first to understand her accent, but I got used to it without too much trouble.
She relayed to me a harrowing tale of wandering into the wrong section of her yard, where she was chased by a small dog. He had wanted to taste fresh duck wing (typically inconsiderate dog behavior) and had nearly succeeded before her keeper rushed to her aid. It came as no surprise that her keeper is one of my friends here, the one with a penchant for unusual breeds. She was just here to make sure that no real damage was done in the chase, and she admitted to me that her pride was sorer than the bruise on her wing. How embarrassing to lose oneself in one’s own home, and then to have to be rescued by a human companion, not to mention the indecorous comportment of running around like a chicken with her head cut off. I empathized with her sentiment, and told her that I could relate to the indignity of relying on human assistance from time to time. She appreciated the words of solidarity.
We shared several more exchanges throughout the course of the day, and she proved to be a gracious and intriguing house guest. My perception of ducks, and possibly waterfowl in general, was considerably improved following this encounter with an incidental ambassador. Not having met many of her kind, I must assume that she is a paragon of her people. Intelligent and quick witted, our conversations were punctuated by her laughter. She was self-conscious of the quacky timbre of her mirth, which only made her peals of amusement all the more charming. She made for an exquisite companion, and it would have given me great pleasure to spend many more days with her. Given the nature of my work-life balance, however, I knew that this was highly improbable. She left at the end of the day, and when I passed by her kennel, its emptiness resonated in my chest, and I did not like to linger and look into the space that had so recently offered joy. It wasn’t just the kind of emptiness that comes from the lack of presence; it was the hollowness of a space that was occupied by the irreplaceable and which now harbors only resounding silence.
Tucked into my own kennel for the night, I reflected on the day, and the nature of my existence. Friends come in and out of my life on a regular basis, and what a gift it is to make a lifetime of connections that are meaningful, if short. The happiness and affection that we share is unequivocally genuine, and I am grateful to experience such amicable regard on frequent occasions. This time, though, my gratitude was dampened by a hint of sorrow tugging at my heart strings and filling my mental atmosphere with its gloom. Only the intangible components of this world carry such weight. To my surprise, I was able to identify and acknowledge the definite source of my melancholy; I missed her. I know that this is my lot in life, and I would not choose another path. I wanted only to see her one more time, and I couldn’t bring myself to silence the quiet voice whispering comfort that maybe someday she would come back. But I know the reality of seeing friends repeatedly here, and I know better than to cling too tightly to false hope. I will endeavor to persevere, and take solace in the quotidian love of my human companions. That is the life of a hospital cat.