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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2000 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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we usually know when something has ended
june 24, 2000

We usually know when something has ended; rarely do we perceive when something new has started.

About a month ago, Sheba, one of our four cats, and in fact the most recent, having been brought in from our backyard about three years ago, after he wandered there and made a home for himself in a tall stand of cannas as dark green as banana leaves, but transparent and veiny at their sunny tips, and stayed through to the Fall, to where we would see him rainy mornings on the wet brown concrete of our back patio, his soft orange fur, under the back door's yellow light, thorny from rain drops, him lifting his front right paw, beseeching to be let in to the warmth and light and love and canned catfood, mouth unhinging in meow after meow after meow we could see, but couldn't hear, through the noise of the drizzle and the panes of our back door, until finally we did swing the door open one day-- Sheba, one morning about a month ago, sprang up on our bed while Mary lay flipping through the satellite guide trying to find something for us to watch while we ate breakfast, maneuvered his head under Mary's free hand for some absent-minded petting, then turned around, vibrated the back of his tail at Mary, and urinated on her.

I was in the kitchen, vigorously shaking a new bottle of Clamato.

"Sheba just peed on me." Mary stood in the short hallway between the kitchen and the bedroom, long hair spilling around her shoulders, fingers gingerly pulling her pajama pants away from her legs, so that they looked like clown pants, wetness, like a map of the continents, darkening the pants' rose pattern.

Sheba had never done that before. He seemed friendly enough when we both went back in the bedroom, Mary to change, me to bend over and pet him to see how he acted. For a week or so afterwards, whenever he hopped up on the bed between us, the one not giving him a kiss on his forehead would gently steer his back end so it was pointing instead at the headboard or footboard, just in case.

And then we forgot about it.

About a week or so later Mary said, "You know, Sheba doesn't come in the bedroom like he used to." It was true-- neither of us had really given it any significance at the time, but Sheba had started spending most of the day curled up at the end of our long, red settee in the living room. We went to him, both petting him, cooing to him but also checking the clarity of his eyes, the temperature of his inside thigh and ear tips. He got himself up, arch of his back mimicked in the arch of his tail, but didn't purr.

The next day he stopped getting up when we petted him. I scratched under his chin, but as soon as I removed my upside-down fingers, his head would sag heavily back down, like water-filled plastic.

That evening, while we were preparing dinner, Mary, who had stepped away from the stove long enough to see how he was doing, said, "Sheba's walking."

I joined her. Sheba was halfway across the living room carpet on his way to the front hall, the three other cats silently watching him, moving with the back of his body high up and swollen, like a boll weevil.

It occurred to us then, thinking back, comparing our offhand observations, that he seemed to have been spending more and more time in the litter box lately, and licking his anus longer and longer afterwards.

"When's the last time you saw him poop?"

I couldn't remember.

The next morning, we dropped him off at the vet's on our way to work, asking the receptionist to have the doctor check for a bowel blockage.

The vet called me at work a little after ten that morning. Sheba's bowels were fine. The problem was his bladder. It was blocked, and had been for at least several hours. The vet told me Sheba's bladder was the "size of a grapefruit", that fruit so often used to convey danger and damage. Since Sheba was male and ate only dry food, he was highly susceptible to feline lower urinary tract disease, its acronym - FLUTD - mockingly close to the cause of the disease.

The vet told me Sheba was in intensive care. He would do everything he could, but we should begin preparing ourselves for the possibility Sheba may die.

How long can a cat go without urinating? A few days? A week? Longer? Actually, about twelve hours. Sometimes, up to twenty-four. Never beyond that. By then they're dead.

I didn't tell Mary until we met for lunch. I pulled into a bank parking lot and we both cried in the car, his big, dumb orange face floating up in our minds.

After lunch I called the doctor again. The news was better. They were able to get a catheter into him, and were starting to drain the bladder. A few days after that, in time for the weekend, he was able to come home, quiet and blinking at the furniture he didn't yet have the strength back to jump up on, but at least alive.

We dropped him off so casually that morning, quickly petting him goodbye, not knowing this could have been the last time we'd ever see him. One of the few things in life that doesn't change is a last time. No matter what you do afterwards, no matter how hard you try, the last time stays unreachable, incurable, in the past.