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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2002 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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machine happenstance
october 19, 2002

I mentioned in my previous Lately we thought our newest cat, Lady, might not be fat, but pregnant. I went on the Internet a week and a half ago to learn how long the gestation period is for cats, sixty-three to sixty-five days, and then counting backwards determined that if Lady were pregnant, she would have to have been impregnated only a day or two before we got her, since almost all of the sixty-five days had run out, which seemed so unlikely to me, that we would just happen to get her at that point, I began to lean more towards the fat theory, but still, there was something about the way she was lying on her side more and more, head resting on the carpet, that made me think, is she?

By a week ago last Friday, on October 11, I had more or less convinced myself she was, indeed, pregnant. I put my palm on her swollen side throughout the early evening, and each time felt movement underneath which to me seemed to be separate life. Mary felt the shiftings too, had been more skeptical than me, but now was also beginning to wonder.

But we both resisted the idea she was pregnant, because we didn't want to be disappointed if it turned out to be cat food.

Saturday morning, October 12, at seven o'clock, while Mary and I were in bed, watching the news, drinking coffee, planning our day, Lady hopped off, went up to Rudo, our black, long-haired top cat, touched noses with him for the first time since she'd arrived in our home, then trotted off to our master closet.

She had been spending a lot of time in the closet the past few weeks, and now I realize, in hindsight, where you finally 'see what the sailor has hidden', that she had been scouting that location as the safest place to deliver. It's a fairly large, square closet, with a wire, two-drawer Elfa bin across the entrance to block the other cats' entry (they sometimes urinate inside). But Lady, a jumper, was easily able to leap on top of the bin, balance herself, jump down inside on the carpet.

We followed her, to where she had four-legged behind a big, black garbage bag filled with old clothes.

She lay on her side, breathing rapidly. Could it be she was actually pregnant, about to deliver?

She got up, restless, walked around, flopped back down again on her side. Let out a loud, unhappy meow. Stretched her body out across the carpet. As Mary and I watched, her abdomen started undulating, her hind legs stretching farther back.

Another long, loud meow. A cry of pain. She threw her body around on the carpet, screaming now, claws out, fangs bared, threw herself around again. Her hind legs trembled. Got up, threw herself around, violently, let out a shriek.

A big bubble of blood shimmered darkly from between her back legs, popped out on the white carpet.

Lady switched her body around, grasping the elongated bubble, licking steadily at it. The roughness of her tongue broke though the dark red bubble. We could now see there was something inside. More licking, continuous, we could hear the constant rasp, and after half a minute we realized she was licking a baby kitten covered in blood. It was no longer than my thumb, only slightly wider, looking like a small mouse, a species confusion reinforced by its furless tail, which looked rodent-like.

Mary put her knuckles to her mouth. "Oh, my goodness!"

The baby lay under the licks motionless, unresponding. Dead, we thought, but then, beneath the thin pink membrane still covering its head, we saw its tiny, toothless mouth suddenly stretch open.

It was alive.

Lady licked another ten minutes, until the kitten was cleaned of the blood sac, but still oily, tiny fur spiked, then abruptly lay back on her side, hind legs shaking again, abdomen undulating, not screaming this time, and with a squirt of bright blood shot out another dark red bubble.

We watched as she started cleaning this one, the first kitten lying weakly on its side, still soaked in blood.

Over the course of the next twenty minutes, she delivered four kittens in all, each one eventually brought to life under her constant licking, and afterbirths, each looking like a disembodied tongue, each of which she ate, for the protein.

Forty-five minutes after she had begun, she had the four kittens, their fur dryer, to where you could see the different markings, anchored to her nipples, but then she stood up suddenly, two of the kittens still swinging from her teats, walked heavily away from the brood, including the pair that had dropped off, flopped back down on her side, and pushed out the largest blood sac of all.

We thought it was another afterbirth, but she kept licking at it, and after five minutes, we could make out the black kitten within the mess.

Five in all.

We watched them for a long time that morning, looking silently at each other from time to time, grinning. Whenever a kitten had trouble getting to a nipple, crawling blindly along Lady's tail instead, or between her back legs, or trying to squirm down into the mewling tumble of the suckling babies, we made worried faces to each other, but then Lady herself would, at some point, rise up from the nursing long enough to steer the lost kitten closer with her paw.

They started making noises about twenty minutes after they were born. Not "Meow", because their mouths were still too tiny for two syllables, but instead, a high-pitched, "Whew."

Mary and I stayed in the closet a long time, sitting on the floor next to each other, watching them, occasionally reaching out, petting their tiny backs with a pinky.

Returning to bed, talking about the experience, we could tell each time Lady got up, shaking off her sucklers to eat some of the food we put in there, because there'd be the sudden cacophony from the closet, "Whew! Whew! Whew! Whew! Whew!"

Monday, October 14, which was Mary's birthday (we figure Lady tried to wait until that date to coincide, but couldn't), we went to an imaging diagnostic center at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas so Mary could have an MRI taken of her head, brain and neck.

"MRI" stands for magnetic resonance imaging, meaning a series of x-rays which are much more intricately detailed than regular x-rays.

Mary's neurologist recommended the MRI to see how her brain was now, in the aftermath of her stroke back in April.

I got the address for the imaging center over the phone, and was immediately dismayed to see the address included, along with street and suite number, "building three". As someone who is constantly disoriented spatially, having trouble finding our own home if we approach from an unfamiliar direction, I prefer addresses like "Number 10, One-Story Buildings Street", and am especially uncomfortable with streets that include in their name a compass direction, such as "North Whizzing Traffic Boulevard", because I invariably wind up on South Whizzing Traffic Boulevard, and appear to be traveling east.

So the inclusion of "building three" in the address immediately brought to mind an immense, godless sprawl of cloud-piercing edifices where I'd be trapped, in the maze of treeless interior roads, like a rat.

Fortunately, maybe because Mary was by my side, it turned out to be quite easy to find not only building three but its parking lot, although the lot itself was filled, not only all its slots, but all its lanes, cars circling and recircling, waiting for someone to return to a parked car, or for a parked car's back-up lights to come on.

We kept cruising slowly behind a train of other cars down the same aisles over and over, as the clock ticked down, but then Mary spotted a guy opening up his driver's door, so we stopped in the middle of the aisle and I put on my right directional signal to indicate this slot was ours, and anyone who tried to take it from us was going to have to face me popping out of my car brandishing a rolled-up copy of William James' lectures on pragmatism, which I'm currently reading.

We got the spot.

The diagnostic center itself, inside building three, although the waiting room was incredibly crowded, mostly old people, we always see that in the specialists' waiting rooms we frequent, turned out to be well-run.

I handed both our insurance cards to the guy behind the counter, one of many guys behind the counter, evenly spaced, like at the Department of Motor Vehicles, along with Mary's driver's license.

We sat for about ten minutes, were called in.

A nurse led us down several turns in a corridor, men and women passing by with clipboards, then sat us in an interior hallway. She asked Mary a lot of questions, most of which I answered, the majority of them the typical medical history questions, but she also needed to know if Mary had any implants or plates, any removable teeth, had ever worked with metal, or had ever been shot with a bullet, or a pellet from a BB gun.

"No," to all.

Another nurse put a needle head in a vein in Mary's left forearm, taped it in place. "Okay, Mrs. Moore, we need you to go into this room here, remove all your clothes except your panties and socks, and put two hospital gowns on, facing opposite directions, so you're completely covered. You'll have to remove that hair band and your wristwatch, but you can leave your wedding ring on."

The male technician who would be conducting the test came out into the hallway, looked at me. "You're going to go in the room with your wife during the procedure?"

Yes. I wanted to be there during the MRI for moral support, and in case they asked Mary anything she couldn't answer.

I could leave my shirt and pants on, and my shoes, but had to remove my jacket, empty my pockets, remove my wristwatch.

The room in which the MRI machine was located was square, all white, about the size of a standard living room. The high ceiling was glass, letting in a lot of light, above the glass ceiling a large skylight.

You couldn't miss the MRI machine, because it absolutely dominated the room.

Taller than me, and just as wide, it was an odd sculpture of a white circle buried in one side of a white square.

The left and bottom sides were straight lines, the top and right sides three-quarters of the circumference of a circle.

It looked like someone huge had thrown a doughnut down at the side of a pliable box, but in this case a doughnut eight feet deep.

A human-sized shelf protruded perpendicular from the front of the doughnut hole. Mary lay down on it, the technician fussing around, connecting her taped syringe to a tube in a nearby slender machine, this would be to insert a dye into Mary, for the contrast shots, placing a large harness over her head, adjusting it so at the rear of the harness a mirror showed her eyes. I winked at her reflection. She winked back.

The technician started clearing blankets off a nearby chair.

"That's fine. I'll just stand."

"The MRI takes an hour, sir."

"Oh." I sat down.

There were no magazines in the room, of course, because of their metal staples, no clock (and I had to give up my wristwatch to get in).

The technician put headphones on Mary, asked her what radio station she'd like.

She chose the station we usually listen to, WRR, which plays classical music, but he said the reception for that station was bad in the room. He tuned it to a similar station instead.

He showed her a rubber bulb attached to a cord, placed it in her right hand. "This is your panic button. If you start to feel claustrophobic, squeeze it."

Striding over to me, he handed me a small cardboard envelope. "Place these in your ears, please."

I looked at the white, blue and yellow packet. Aearo Ear Classic. Made in USA. I flipped the top up, shook two yellow cylinders out, the size of long pencil erasers. Screwed them in my ears.

"Okay, we're going to start in a few minutes."

He pressed a button, and the shelf with Mary on it slid into the deep hole of the doughnut.

He left the room, stayed out throughout the hour-long procedure, although I'd occasionally hear his voice coming out of Mary's headphones over the next hour, telling her she was a quarter of the way through, more than half the way, that they were going to start inserting the dye into her veins now (at which point the top black knobs on the slender machine beside the MRI machine, connected by clear plastic tubes to the syringe head in Mary's left forearm, started twirling left magically, as if by ghosts).

The operation of the MRI machine produced sounds that were quite loud.

There'd be no sound at all, then a series of very loud, stuttering sounds, silence, very loud car alarm sounds. It was about as loud, even with the ear plugs, as being at a heavy metal rock concert. In the enormity of the loudness I sometimes recognized a rhythm to the start and stop of the sound, like bass guitar drama, but which was, of course, machine happenstance.

In the middle of one particularly loud barrage I thought to myself, Can it really be any louder without these ear plugs? I pulled them out, BLANG, immediately screwed them back in.

Afterwards, walking back to the parking lot, holding her hand, I asked Mary what it was like.