Many years ago, sometimes during the mid-nineties when I was perpetually in school, one of my best friends in the music faculty asked me something.
“Mac,” he said. “You know anything ‘bout cats?”
I looked at him. He was a heavily built Italian guy, with jet black hair and a brilliant smile that he’d had even as a baby. In the time he’d been at school, he’d gotten to know the backstage guys, got keys to every door in the building and kept them in a ring on his belt, and had a small female labour pool who warmed his bed, did his homework, and helped him learn his music. God had given him so much in his way with people, and somehow God, in His infinite wisdom, had given him a mild learning disability. He couldn’t read music.
That year he’d become the general dogsbody for our music teacher. He did things for people, free of charge. Whenever he asked me for a favour, I jumped at the chance; I had to somehow pay him back for all his meals I’d eaten, the drinks he’d bought, all the millions of things he’d done. Now he was asking me something about cats.
“I had cats when I was kid,” I said. “I guess I know a few things.”
“David wants me to take his cat to the vet. It needs shots or something, I dunno. They gave me a list for the vet to read. Help me bring it to the vet?”
“Absolutely,” I said eagerly.
We took a cab over to our teacher’s apartment. David and his wife were big, hard-working, and very hard drinking Southerners. They had a house in Vermont, but they’d done their best to make the Saint Catherine’s street two-bedroom a home: A black baby grand, a wall full of mirrors (I was told they made a place look larger), autographed posters, enormous poofy couches, shag carpets, and (this was something many people had remarked on and it had never been explained) black candles on the dining room table.
When we arrived, the gigantic Lulu waddled daintily out to meet us. She was black and white, a mixed breed, but carried herself like a prize-winning Persian. Anthony stood back as I scratched Lulu behind the ears and then unceremoniously rammed her into a carrier.
To this day I don’t know why David and his wife sent Anthony, a big Italian who throughout his life never had so much as a pet rock, to oversee the medical care of their prize kitty. A few years later, I heard that they’d hired an untrained music student to care for David’s senile and incontinent mother in-law, but that’s another story.
The vet was a burly man with a heavy gallic moustache. He tossed poor Lulu onto his metal examining table, shoving his large hairy fingers into here and there, taking her temperature, and finally giving her several needles into the bulging nape of her neck. Lulu, although a mouser of reputed savagery and sadism, lay there and peed herself, her furry limbs spread like a dead octopus over the smooth stainless steel. The vet had an Italian name and Anthony chatted with him (“E voi che siete Italiano?”). I knew just enough Italian to remember this exchange, while the vet was weighing Lulu.
“Thirteen pounds. That’s a very heavy cat,” said the vet.
“You should see the owners,” said Anthony.
We left. Anthony had paid the vet bill and put the receipt into an envelope. On the cab ride back, Anthony bent down and took a look at Lulu inside the cat carrier.
“Did the vet give the cat a sedative or something?”
“Because she’s so quiet.”
On the way to the vet, she’d cried unhappily with a high, kittenish meow that belied her size. Now she was quiet as a stone and stared straight out the window. She didn’t seem angry.
We got back to David’s apartment. Lulu emerged from the carrier, and seemed to grow and fluff out as she put the vet’s big and knobby hands out of her mind. I looked around the kitchen, opened a small pantry, and there, against the wall, were several hundred cans of Fancy Feast. I opened one and poured it into Lulu’s bowl. The meat, or whatever it was, came out the same shape as the can, with the can’s metal striations shiny, perfect, and straight against the wet mess of cat food. Lulu dug into her food. Her tail rose in pleasure, and I noticed something down there. I bent over to take a closer look.
Sticking unobtrusively out of Lulu’s ass was the vet’s rectal thermometer.
“Jesus,” I said. I grasped it, pulled, and it slid firmly out. I stood there for a moment, aghast, upset, and as of yet unaware that later in the day I would tell of this several times and I would be laughed at, by both my friends and Lulu’s owners. After a moment, I went to the sink, and washed catshit off the thermometer. As the person whom Anthony had designated as a animal expert, I felt ashamed and somehow responsible that Lulu got violated.
I placed the thermometer, spanking clean, on the coffee table with a note. Dear David, The vet left his thermometer up Lulu. Here it is - Mac. PS. Don’t worry, I washed it.
A few years later, I heard that David’s mother left Lulu outside all night during a Vermont winter. In the morning, all that was left of her was a pile of snow against the patio door with two little eyes peeking out. Lulu survived that as well.