Dr Bellen relaxed in his study. It was late afternoon and, though the work-day was officially ended, he still had much to do. But he took a break with a cup of tea and a biscuit or two. Outside the day was gloomy and grey, rain was falling, and it was cool; inside, all the residents of the Cosy Apartment Feline Sanitarium were snug in cat-beds or couches, chairs or perches, taking their ease.
It had been a difficult couple of weeks at the Cosy Apartment. Two of the residents had to leave, unexpectedly, on their final journeys. It was always a tough time for Dr Bellen. But he had to remember that, in the great scheme of things, every human is merely fostering cats and dogs and other animals. They would all, eventually, be called Home. He and others who looked after little lives could only make them as happy and carefree as possible in the interval.
There was something more specific that Dr Bellen remembered as he sipped his tea and watched the downpour. It was a conversation he had inadvertently overheard between the two newly departed cats, while they were preparing for their journeys. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but he was walking outside the principal residence building and, as he neared a corner, he caught the start of a conversation. He was surprised when he recognized the voices of Princess Camarouska Albigensia - known to her friends as Cammie - and the little charity case, Raleigh. He had not thought the two had known each other and, evidently, they hadn’t, not well. They were speaking together nonetheless.
“Good afternoon. I understand that you will be leaving the Sanitarium tomorrow… Ahem… I am talking to you, little man.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Your Highness. I, er…”
“I understand that you will be leaving the Sanitarium tomorrow.”
Indeed, Raleigh was sitting, rather forlornly, on a bench, with a little bundle of belongings already tied up in a knotted handkerchief. Cammie gestured to it with her white cane. (Cammie was blind, you see, and, while it may have been unusual to observe a cat with a cane, white or otherwise, she did things her own way.)
“You won’t be needing even that when you go, you know. I too will be leaving tomorrow, in the afternoon, and I will be taking almost nothing.”
“Really?” In his surprise, Raleigh actually looked up.
“Yes,” Cammie answered. “We leave all our baggage behind when we make this journey.”
There was a pause, and then Cammie asked, “Are you afraid?”
There was a longer pause this time, but Raleigh eventually replied, in a tinier voice than usual:
“I too will admit to some anxiety over this sojourn.” Raleigh looked at the princess, quite taken aback. Cammie continued: “It is, after all, a once in a lifetime event, and a very important one. It cannot be undertaken lightly, and gives a heavy responsibility to those who leave and, especially, to those left behind.”
Cammie thumped the end of her cane on the ground in some impatience, but then modified her attitude. She was a sensitive soul - being a cat - but sometimes took a rather stern approach to others. When she spoke again, though, her tone was quite sympathetic.
“I know how that is, little man. One believes that one must take this journey alone. But that is not true. For instance, Dr Bellen will be at the station to see us off.”
“Of course. He never permits a cat to leave without a farewell.”
“That will be nice.”
After a hesitation, Cammie said, “I think you will be departing from the Sanitarium’s station, is that correct? By the 10.05 train tomorrow morning?” Raleigh nodded. “I will be taking the 3.30. If you like, you can wait for me at the next station, and we will take the further stages of the journey together.”
Raleigh couldn’t believe his ears. (They were a little battered, one even had a tiny pinprick hole all the way through it; he sometimes wondered about the things he heard with them.) The princess may have mistaken the look of incredulity for one of alarm, though this was unlikely. In any case, she elaborated:
“It is a rather nice station - they all are in Idylland - and will surely have a warm fire in the waiting room if it is chilly outside. The station restaurant is quite welcoming, as well, and provides excellent food.”
“I haven’t felt like eating much lately.”
“You needn’t worry about that, little man. You will find your appetite returning as you make this journey.”
“Truly. You will discover many remarkable things about yourself, and about the world, the farther you go on.”
“And you’ll be with me?”
“I will even deign to sit in the same compartment with you. Not on the same seat, of course, but across from you.”
“Oh, that would be very nice, Your Highness. Thank you.”
“You are most welcome. We all must make this journey, and at the end of it, we will be good friends, so we may as well start tomorrow. Not today, you understand, for, at the moment, you are still too far beneath me. But tomorrow…”
“Oh, Your Highness, I…I am feeling not as frightened now…”
“Excellent. I am glad to hear it. You will feel even braver tomorrow, and soon, you will feel fit and healthy, like a kitten again. You will run and jump and play, as far and as much as you like.”
“And we will be friends?”
“We will all be friends, Raleigh.”
Dr Bellen smiled as he thought of the two cats on the train-ride together, leaving Idylland, but heading for an even better country. Then he heard a soft meow and looked toward his study door. His door was always open, and cats often came by to say ‘hello’. This time, though, it was Renn, his able assistant.
“Good afternoon, Renn. Are you done for the day? Would you like some tea? I could have the kitchen prepare something for you: chicken, chicken-and-liver, ocean whitefish, turkey, beef, cod…”
“That’s it? Nothing more?”
“How may I help you, Renn?”
“I just wanted to see how you were. I thought you were a little low after the last week or so.”
“Thank you, Renn. That’s kind of you, but I’m fine."
Renn paused; cats paused a lot in Idylland. Cats tend to think first, and then speak, quite unlike people.
“Dr Bellen, will we all go on the same journey the princess and Raleigh took?”
“Yes, Renn, we will. You and I, and everyone. I try not to feel sad about it, because those who had a good life here in Idylland will have had their time, and will be ready to move on. Those who have missed what they should have had will find it when they arrive at their destination.”
“And we will see all our friends?” Renn was worried about this.
“I believe so. We will see all our friends, and all those we see will be our friends. Even those who were bad and malicious will be there, because they will be shorn of everything evil, and only what they should have been will be left. They will know that they are truly themselves, and be sorry for what they were before. But the past won’t matter in the place where we’ll be; we’ll look at our lives here as adults look at their childhood: sometimes sad, sometimes happy, but all just a preparation for their real lives.”
Renn looked wryly at Dr Bellen, and said, “I don’t know how I can be any different…”
Dr Bellen laughed and remarked, “I think you will be just the same, Renn. I hope so.” He patted the couch next to where he sat. “Why don’t you come up here and lie beside me while I finish my tea? We can talk about chest-rubs and treats and such things.”
Renn started purring and leaped up next to Dr Bellen. Outside the rain continued, but inside, it was warm and snug.