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It’s been a week, I think, so I thought I’d bring her in. She just sniffs at her food — I make my own, no store-bought cat food for her, I shred tuna and chicken together, she used to love it, she’d purr and twirl around my ankles when I’d be dicing the meat, couldn’t wait, almost out of her skin every meal time. Now she just stares at the dish, sits there. I’ve thrown it out almost every day this week, dried up and all. Ray, my husband, jokes that’s she’s on a diet and that I should try it, too. Five pounds up and he says I’ve let myself go. Well, he did help me lose all that weight when we first met — he was so encouraging, told me I was beautiful, that I could do it. And he was right. Now, he says that I’m so fat, he’s embarrassed to be seen with me.
Not that we go out that much. I should stay at home and look after my man, he says, since I didn’t give him any kids. He’s joking, of course, it was him who didn’t want kids, but I haven’t seen my friends for a while, he doesn’t like when I go out without him. He expects dinner on the table when he gets home even if I don’t cook as well as his ex, now she was a gourmet cook. She was always elegant, and well-dressed, even if she was stuck up. He left her because of that. Says she needed to be brought down a notch but even then she’d be way above me. He’s so funny.
Lulu’s always been healthy, I take very good care of her. Last year she had a broken paw, the front left. I have no idea how it happened. I came home late from a girls’ night out and she was curled up on her pillow and wouldn’t move. Ray had been watching football and said he didn’t notice anything. She meowed so loudly when I felt along her bones — I know how to check her out, I was going to be a nurse but Ray didn’t want me to finish my degree, said he didn’t want his wife cleaning other people’s shit. Not that I was going to do that, I was already in grad school, but he insisted after we were married. Said I deserved better.
Lulu limps a bit now, but her legs are as good as they are going to get, I guess. Her tail, too. One time she got it caught in the door — see, she has a kink? Ray swore he didn’t see her sneaking through the terrace door when he slammed it shut. He said he was sorry but that it was a tail, not a vital organ, so she’d be fine. And she was. He wouldn’t pay for the X-rays, was I mad — X-rays for a cat’s tail? He couldn’t stop laughing about it. But it’s not her tail that I’m worried about now — she’s getting so skinny. No, she’s not throwing up, just the occasional hairball – Ray loathes those! Yes, she’s still peeing.
Lulu’s a plain tabby — purebred rooftop tabby I call her. I found her in the back of the shed when she was a kitten right after my Bengal got lost. Mau, five-year-old, not a kitten anymore. Ray says he has no idea how she got out, but once out, Mau was gone. Those cats cost so much, nobody would ever return her, she was a strictly indoor cat, I had been so careful with doors and windows. I cried for days, but I wouldn’t let Ray see — he’d be mad that I was so upset about a cat, even it that cat had cost over a thousand dollars. Only the best for Ray, that’s why he got a Bengal but Mau never liked Ray even if Ray was the one who bought her after he ran over Mocha. Mocha? She was my first cat, the one I had before we were married, a blue-eyed Siamese with a brown nose and ears and stockings. She curled in my lap when I read, slept under my desk when I was studying, met me at the door when I came home. She was my good luck charm — I did so well on exams because she helped me concentrate when I studied. She didn’t take well to the move to the big house, but she was starting to get used to it. She loved to sit under Ray’s Merc when the engine was still warm and I told Ray to be careful when he took the car out, to check for her, but he must have forgotten. Mocha was getting old, she wasn’t quick enough to get away. I guess it was an accident.
Lulu was so tiny when I found her, her eyes were still closed. Her mother she never came back. I called the kitten Louloudi, flower in Greek. Ray’s Greek and he wanted me to learn the language so that I could speak it when we travelled there. We sometimes go to the Caribbean, but he has to go to Greece at least once a year — he’s a different man there, happy, relaxed. His family thought I was doing great, but he said that my accent was atrocious so I stopped. But Lulu, I fed her with a dropper and then she learned to lick my fingers. Ray said the milk would kill her because it was from a cow and not a cat, didn’t I know anything, but she did fine. When she was a kitten, she always followed me around and at nights I had to shoo her from our bedroom. After the night when Ray woke me up in the middle of the night and insisted that I change the bedsheets because they smelled of cat, I kept her out of there. But when he travelled for work, she slept curled around my neck — so soft, so warm — and I always changed the sheets before he got home but still, he’d shake out the duvet insisting there were cat hairs on it. There never were, I boiled and bleached the sheets and the duvet cover every time.
Lulu’s older now, but she still runs like a kitten whenever Ray comes into the room. He says she’s killing songbirds whenever she’s outside, a killing machine, not like dogs, those are loyal and devoted, cats are selfish and mean-spirited, like humans, like me. I asked him once if he’d like a dog and he just laughed — he wasn’t going to let me ruin a good dog, he said.
Can you feel her ribs? She’s so skinny now. She used to curl up in my lap all soft and fat when I read but now she just lays on her pillow, getting skinnier and skinnier. Last year when I was laid up with the dislocated shoulder, she stayed with me all the time but knew to make herself scarce when Ray came home. He was mad because he had to do the shopping by himself. Normally, he takes me shopping for groceries, he won’t let me drive, I’m such a bad driver, but with my shoulder in the sling he had to go alone. He only grabbed my arm but he is so strong it popped out. He drove me to the hospital, apologizing the whole time and crying. I told the doctor it was an accident. Because it was. My arm is still sore and I can’t lift it to reach the top shelves so I had to rearrange the pantry – Ray likes to see it orderly. And it hurts when I iron his shirts — it’s my right arm. A fresh shirt every morning, a corporate lawyer needs to look good all the time. That was the only time I saw a doctor — thank goodness I’m healthy, if a little clumsy. Last month I fell on the ice, slipped on the front when the front door slammed shut after Ray rushed in and I cut my eyebrow and had a black eye for a week. No, it didn’t need stitches, it healed nicely with those steristrips from the drugstore, see?
Of course, I’m fine. I’m tough, I don’t fuss much, but I worry about Lulu. She’s not tough.
Margaret Nowaczyk is a pediatric geneticist and an award-winning short story writer living in Hamilton, ON. “Chasing Zebras”, her memoir about clinical genetics, mental health, and writing, will be published by Wolsak&Wynn in 2021.
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