Ms Josefina von Chubs was getting ready for bed at the Cosy Apartment Feline Sanitarium. It had been a long day. She had slept and slept, eaten, slept and slept some more. She was worn out. She stopped by a window first, though, and peered outside. The night was growing dark; the long summer day was far into its twilight now. But she saw a light in one of the farther buildings. She was certain it was coming from a window in Dr Bellen’s study.
Josie climbed down from her cat-tree and walked over to the administration building. The air was warm but stirred now and then by a slight breeze. Sleeping would be a pleasure tonight. But first, she wanted to see why Dr Bellen was working so late.
“Josie…” Dr Bellen was surprised to see the senior client of the sanitarium at his open study door. He was at his desk, not working, but sitting quietly, with a cup of tea. “What are you doing here?”
“I asked what you are doing here!” the doctor repeated, more loudly.
“I was getting ready for bed. It’s been a long day. I’ve slept and slept, eaten, slept and slept some more. I’m worn out. I---”
“Yes, yes, I understand,” Dr Bellen hastened to interrupt her. “Is something wrong?”
“Turn on your hearing aid!”
Josie, who was growing deaf with age, switched on her hearing aid, pausing immediately afterward and inquiring whether it was usual for cats to wear hearing aids.
“It’s just for purposes of the narration…” muttered Dr Bellen.
“It’s doesn’t hurt for a short duration.”
“Oh. Yes, I suppose not. What are you doing here, Doctor? It’s late. You should be in your cottage.”
“I know. I was thinking about Sunrise.”
“Sunrise. The cat who was here over the weekend.”
Josie nodded. She had seen the frightened orange cat admitted to the sanitarium. He was part of a feral colony, and had been trapped so that he could receive veterinary care. She was certain he had been released already.
“You’re correct,” Dr Bellen told her. “He was allowed to go back to the colony.”
“Was there something wrong with the procedure?”
Josie was aware that feral cats sometimes were brought to the sanitarium, where they were attended to by the veterinary staff. They were given injections to help them fight infections and diseases, and they had operations. She was never quite sure what the operations were for; medical details confused her.
“No, everything went well. Sunrise is a healthy fellow, about two years old.”
Josie looked at Dr Bellen, and walked further into his study. She sat on the couch that faced the fireplace, which was empty on this early summer night.
“You don’t seem happy about his care,” she said.
“Oh, his care was first-rate,” replied the doctor. “I just… I wish he could have stayed here. I think he would have liked it here, after a while.”
“Undoubtedly,” agreed Josie. “Why did he have to go?”
Dr Bellen took some time before responding. He brought his tea over to the couch, and sat near Josie. He offered her some treats, which she immediately devoured. There was no sense in talking to her while she was concentrating on treats, so Dr Bellen waited until she was done.
“The truth is, Sunrise could have stayed, but he was quite unsocialised.”
“You’ve stated before that almost any cat could become socialised…” Josie pointed out.
“It’s true; I believe that. But it often takes a very long time, and requires the person involved to spend so much time with the cat that he can frequently do little else. Working eight or nine hours a day makes it difficult. Then there is the matter of a room for segregation, though in fact it’s more helpful if the shy cat can reside in the human’s bedroom for the process.”
“It sounds like the sanitarium doesn’t have the resources for socialising ferals.” Josie nodded. She feared this was the case. The Cosy Apartment was a marvelous place for a cat already accustomed to people. She knew that shy cats needing to grow used to humans required different facilities.
“We don’t. We don’t have the staff, and the staff don’t have the time.” Dr Bellen sighed.
“But you’ve had to let other ferals go back to their colonies before now…”
“That’s true, too. But Sunrise reminded me of someone…”
“But Raleigh was already socialised,” reminded Josie. “He needed a refuge, a home, not the facilities a feral requires.”
“Oh, I know. Sunrise simply had the same sad expression that Peachy had. I think he would have liked it here.”
Josie sat silently for a minute, while Dr Bellen drank his tea. Josie started washing her face, which she did sometimes while thinking. At length, she looked at the human again.
“Do you remember Tungsten?”
“Tungsten?” Dr Bellen was surprised at the mention of the cat. “Why, of course I do. She was the Cosy Apartment’s first client.”
“Yes, that’s right. My, that was a long time ago.” The time that had elapsed since Tungsten had left Idylland had been five years, a very long time indeed to a cat. “I recall when she left, just before you accompanied her to the station.”
“I recall it, too.” Dr Bellen seemed to be seeing something that was farther away than five years.
“She talked to me at that moment. I asked why she had to go. She thought I was rather silly to ask, I know.” Josie almost smiled. She and Tungsten had disliked each other when they had first met, but then grew to be quite tolerant of one another.
“I don’t think it was silly,” said Dr Bellen.
“Tungsten told me that her time at the sanitarium was up, and that she had an appointment to keep elsewhere. Where is Samarra?”
Dr Bellen smiled. Tungsten had always had a good sense of humour; an erudite sense of humour.
“It’s in the next land, over the mountains,” he answered casually.
“Tungsten explained that each of us can do only so much. You helped Tungsten stay at the sanitarium for a long time, and she enjoyed her stay here. She liked you very much.”
“I liked her very much, too…” said Dr Bellen.
“She knew that if you could have kept her here, in decent health, longer, you would have. She said that General Wolfe once stated that ‘war is an option of difficulties’…”
“Tungsten quoted General Wolfe? General James Wolfe?”
“I find it hard to believe that she quoted General James Wolfe…”
“Do you want to hear my story or not, Doctor?” The cat frowned.
“She must have read it somewhere. I think…I think what she meant was, we can do only so much. And when we do one thing, it often keeps us from doing another.”
“I could have kept Sunrise here, and worked with him,” Dr Bellen explained.
“And that might have kept you from devoting time and effort to many other cats. That would have hurt them and their chances. You could have helped Sunrise, but you could also have helped many other cats in that same time. And would Sunrise have been happy in all the time it would have taken to socialise him? And would it have worked out?” Josie stared at the cold fireplace and, after a moment, added, “I don’t know what will happen to Sunrise. He may live a long time, he may live a short time. But what you did for him will improve his life, and that improvement - better health, a stronger chance - was something he never had before.”
“Part of me will always regret not keeping him.”
“Tungsten never said that the options we choose are always easy to live with. They should just be the best we can choose. And...she told me those choices don’t make our destinies; they only serve them.”
Dr Bellen laughed.
“Tungsten was pretty smart.” He put his hand on Josie’s shoulder. “And so are you.”
Josie rubbed her face against the arm of the couch, which always made her look as if she were embarrassed, and blushing.
“Do you have any more treats, Dr Bellen?”
“I’m sure I have a few in a drawer here somewhere…”