by Adam Z. Berenstain, SUNY Cortland, April 30, 2008

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007. It’s another nice fall day and I’m back in Ithaca after classes. I have a short paper and some reading to do tonight. I grab the mail from the front porch and open the door to my apartment. I walk toward the kitchen to drop off the letters and L.L. Bean catalog on the table beneath the dry-erase board, where new mail belongs. Maybe I’ll make a sandwich, too. I’ve got plenty of time.

I pass my office and notice Paul. I’m glad he’s resting. The swelling in his jaw looked bigger when I left this morning, and I wonder how much longer he’ll be able to eat his dry food. It’s been a bad month. If Paul was younger, his infected tooth could be pulled, but the vet isn’t sure Paul would survive the operation at his age. So my wife Chris and I administer antibiotics one week out of every month to help fight the infection. Paul doesn’t mind the pills, as long as he gets his plain yogurt treat afterwards. Chris and I don’t mind because we give Paul insulin injections twice a day, anyway. What’s one more little ritual to keep our cat alive?

From the kitchen, I hear a sound. It’s a spitty snort, like the sound cats make sometimes to catch a breath when they play too hard. But this is rhythmic, quick. This is new. I put down the mail and follow the sound back to my office.

Paul is lying on his side with his mouth open, gasping for breath, his jaw swollen horribly. He looks deformed, not like the round orange tabby Chris and I adopted nine years ago. I pet him, he doesn’t feel like a living animal. He’s inert, only staring, not even blinking.

I call the vet. I carefully bend Paul’s legs so he fits inside his carrier, he won’t move on his own. After a short drive in the car—starting to cry, reassuring Paul, reassuring myself—I’m at the vet’s office. In the examination room, the vet tells me this might be the end. Of course it is, I want to tell her, my cat is cold and barely breathing. He lost almost two pounds this month. We should have put down Paul a long time ago so he never had to lay alone on the floor dying while I was taking notes in some class.

But I nod, and tell the vet I know. This is how it ends. Paul is taken to a back room behind closed doors and far away from the front desk, wrapped up in a green towel with a hot water bottle. I call Chris to tell her she has to meet me right away.

“It’s Paul,” I begin.

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