Mr Parker was a little distressed. He had gone abroad for his health and, for some years, it had improved. He had felt better than he had for a long while. He had enjoyed his time in this new land, meeting the citizens, tasting the exotic cuisine and seeing the lovely scenery. But then he was told some bad news.
“I’m afraid you have cancer, Mr Parker.”
“Cancer?” Mr Parker was nonplussed. “Oh my. How did this happen? I was feeling so good.”
“It has nothing to do with your diabetes, which has been managed well since you arrived from your country. It is entirely separate, though it will affect your diabetes.” Dr Bellen was distressed as well. The director of the Cosy Apartment Feline Sanitarium had grown rather fond of Mr Parker during the two years in which he had known him.
“Oh dear,” said Mr Parker. “How long do I have?”
“Mr Parker, our specialists tell me that it is a matter of weeks. But…” Dr Bellen was quick to hold up a hand to restrain his patient’s shock. “…I have seen cats live longer, with care and good nutrition. I am confident that you will be with us a while yet.”
Despite the doctor’s assurances, Mr Parker was distraught. He could not brag that he was a great cat, influential in the world, a giant among his peers. In fact, his life was just a small one. But it was his own, and all he had. He was loathe to give it up. He thanked Dr Bellen and went for a walk. He did not take the train back to the town and his hotel, but rambled through the countryside, thinking.
“Hello, Mr Parker. How are you?”
It was not surprising that Mr Parker should meet Renfrew Foster near the sanitarium. Renn worked there and was Dr Bellen’s most able assistant.
“I am afraid I am not well, Mr Foster. I may not be with you much longer.”
“Oh no. That makes me very sad. But you are with us now, right? You are still walking and smelling the air and watching the birds.”
“That’s true, but…”
“There was a time when I was in a foster-home, and I was frightened so I bit someone. I was banished to a dark basement. I was alone and scared. But then I came here. At first, I was a visitor, but then I was given a job at the sanitarium, and things worked out very well.”
“But you are in excellent health, Mr Foster. You have reason to be glad.” Mr Parker was somewhat grieved that his friend didn’t understand his point of view. But it may have been the other way around, for Renn said:
“There was a time when things were very uncertain for me, Mr Parker, very uncertain, oh yes. What I mean to say is, one never knows what will happen. One never knows.” The two friends came to a branching of the path, and Renn indicated the right-paw route. “I must go this way. Chin up, Mr Parker. Good day, good day.”
What Renn had said to him gave Mr Parker something to think about, and think he did, until he came to a little stream crossed by a wooden bridge. There he met Josefina von Chubs, another expatriate, smelling the flowers that grew near the water-line.
“Hello, Mr Parker. You look a bit glum.”
Mr Parker informed Josie of what Dr Bellen had told him, and Josie looked upset at the news. But she brightened when she remarked:
“But you are lucky in some ways, Mr Parker. You were once homeless, I recall you telling us. You were rescued, as I was, and given the chance of another few years with friends, even family.”
“Family?” Mr Parker had not considered this.
“I’m older than you, Mr Parker - though if you say it, I will deny it! - and at my age, I could go at any moment. Life is precarious for us cats, as you know. Cancer, FIP, FIV, feline leukemia - and then there’s abandonment by humans, being lost outside. Oh, it makes me tremble to think of the possibilities.”
“But you are hale and hearty right now,” Mr Parker pointed out.
“Indeed - right now. But tomorrow? Who knows? I don’t mean to belittle your condition, because it is serious, and it is sad. But I am happy you are here with us, Mr Parker, here with us now.”
The day was a warm one, not hot, balmy rather, with gentle breezes stirring the green leaves of the trees. It was the sort of afternoon through which Mr Parker loved to stroll. But lately, such rambles tired him more easily than they once did. He decided to catch the train back to town, after all. He was near the village of Biscuit City’s station, and stopped to buy a ticket. On the platform, he met Her Serene Highness Princess Camarouska Albigensia, also waiting to return to town, after several days in the country. Her highness condescended to inquire as to Mr Parker’s health, and such was her presence, that he felt constrained to tell her the truth.
“I regret that this is happening to you, Mr Parker,” the princess stated.
“Truly, your highness? That’s very kind of you.”
Cammie - as she sometimes permitted others to call her - made a gesture indicating nothing of importance.
“I have felt that something was wrong with you for a while now, Mr Parker. My family has always had something of the second sight, you know. You are undoubtedly feeling downhearted.”
“If truth be told, your highness, I am.”
Cammie nodded sagely. (Siamese cats always look sage when they nod.) She indicated a dirty little creature sitting on the bench under the eaves of the station, hoping not to be noticed.
“Do you see him? He’s called Raleigh. He’s new here. He has FIV and stomatitis.”
“Good Heavens.” Mr Parker was sorry for the peach-hued little fellow.
“Neither of those conditions, of course, are fatal in themselves, and with decent care, vigilance and, of course, a healthy diet, he will live a long time.” The princess set great store by diet. She herself suffered from numerous allergies. “That is why he has come here. He’s a charity case.”
Parker gazed at Raleigh. He looked a rather bedraggled fellow, not at all confident, and quite scared. His heart went out to him.
“Why do you feel sorry for him, Mr Parker?” asked Cammie, with an interested expression.
“He may be sick his whole life. He has to watch for every draught and chill, every infection and virus. It must put him at a great disadvantage.” Mr Parker nodded.
“And he envies you. He envies your robustness, your popularity, your confidence,” Cammie commented. “You stride through the outdoors with nothing to fear. For Raleigh, everything is fearful. But he is here now. Dr Bellen has taken his case. Dr Bellen has much to learn about Raleigh’s condition, especially his emotional state, but they will work together to improve matters.”
“Oh, yes, I see.” This intelligence gladdened Mr Parker, for he was a kind cat, and disliked seeing others suffer. But what the princess had stated made him ponder.
“I can tell what you are thinking, Mr Parker.” Cammie nodded sagely again. (She liked doing that. It made her look superior.) “That that little creature envies you. Yes, indeed. You have had a life of adventure and, within the management of your diabetes, good health. He has not.” She turned at the approach of a train. “Are you catching the 1.18?”
“Oh, no, the 1.55. I wanted time to think, and enjoy the afternoon from a bench at the station.”
“I understand, Mr Parker. Good day.”
For a while, Mr Parker sat alone and ruminated. (He wasn’t sure that cats could ruminate, having paws and claws, rather than hooves, but he had always liked the word.) The sun felt good upon his middle-aged furs and he almost dozed.
“Sorry. Didn’t meen to waik yoo.”
“Well, you didn’t, until you spoke.”
Tucker R. Poly ambled up to the bench at which Mr Parker was sitting and waited for an invitation. Mr Parker sighed and shifted over a bit. Tucker plopped his bum onto the wooden seat, where it had been warmed by the sun.
“I hird wut’s rong wif you, Mr Parker. I’m sorry.”
“Thank you, Mr Poly.”
Tucker was silent for a long time. Birds sang in the background, and now and then, one flew across the tracks in front of the platform. The two cats made chattering noises at them as they soared.
“I haf no teef.”
“I know, Mr Poly.”
“I haf no mancat bits, eyether…”
“I haf die-yabiteez.”
“I awmost died wunce, but I didn’t. Maybee you woent, eyther.”
“I’m afraid everybody dies, Mr Poly.”
“But maybe yoo cud haf fun till then…” Tucker didn’t know what else to say. Then a recollection came to him and he smiled. “Doo yoo ‘member wen wee hayted eech other and wee got into that reel big fite?”
“Good Heavens, yes. I’d forgotten about that. What a sight we must have been, a couple of middle-aged cats battling like youngsters in a feral colony!”
“Hahahahaha.” Tucker was easily amused. But he stopped and watched the birds without chattering. “I’m glad weer frens now, Mr Parker.”
“So am I, Mr Poly.”
“Wud yoo like to haf dinner wiv mee toonite? Thers a nice liddle restrawnt behind the skware in town cawled the Cats’ Pyjamas. Its vary nice and thay like me ther.”
“I would be happy to join you, Mr Poly. About eight o’clock?”
Tucker rose to his feet cheerfully. He was glad that he could make his chum smile. He was a good cat, though he bothered others rather too much. He started to walk away, then turned back to Mr Parker with some alarm.
“Yoo don’t reely haf to ware pyjamas to eet ther,” he said, hoping to allay any unnecessary anxiety on Mr Parker’s part. The latter nodded, as if with relief.
“That’s good to know. Thank you, Mr Poly.”
The train came on time – they always did in this land; it was, after all, not a modern country, and so things happened just as they should have. Mr Parker returned to the Hotel Splendide. He was rather at a loss as to what to do with himself until eight o’clock. Truth be told, he didn’t have much of an appetite. Then he saw Dr Bellen sitting in the lobby. The doctor stood. He had apparently been waiting for Mr Parker.
“I wanted to see how you were, Mr Parker. I feared that you might feel low after our talk earlier in the day.”
Mr Parker was pleased to see his doctor. Not only did it demonstrate that someone was thinking of him – it is always pleasant to have someone think of you, especially in a kind way – but he felt suddenly that he wanted to talk to someone, if only to sort things out in his own mind.
“Let’s go out onto the terrace, shall we?” suggested Dr Bellen. “The setting sun is just starting to throw that orange glow over everything that I like so much.”
Indeed, the world was quite orange when the pair took chairs at a table by the balustrade. It was also a little pink, with streaks of blue behind the clouds.
“You know, doctor, I was feeling dismal when I left the sanitarium today,” confessed Mr Parker. “It is not news that someone wants to hear, that he has cancer, and not long to live.” Dr Bellen remained silent, but pursed his lips in understanding. “But I met some acquaintances on my way back to town – friends, really – and they made me think of something. In particular, it was what Mr Poly stated that actually gave me pause.”
“Mr Poly?” repeated the doctor. “Mr Tucker Poly?” There was incredulity in his voice. Mr Parker chuckled.
“Out of the mouths of babes…” he said, humorously. “He was sorry that I was dying, but hoped that I might have fun until then. Everyone who has come to this fair land in search of health has had a hard life, to different degrees, I think. But each is nonetheless living his life without much thought about how or when it will end.”
“The blessings of being a cat,” said Dr Bellen.
“Indeed. I could be melancholy over my fate – and probably will be from time to time – but look at me now. I have a comfortable place to live, I have plenty of good food to enjoy, water that is fresh and clean. If I feel like playing, there are diversions all about me. My friends will keep me company when I need it, and leave me alone when I need that. Not every cat has such a life. I will be sad to leave it, immensely sad, but that’s merely an indication of how much I enjoy it.”
“I believe that’s a wise way of looking at things, Mr Parker. Certainly, dying is a terrible thing, for the world loses something unique with every life that leaves. But what experiences we can have until then.”
“Yes, if it’s just smelling a flower, coming in from the cold to lie on a heated bed, enjoying a good meal, or even having a knockdown fist-fight with rival!” Mr Parker laughed, and it surprised him rather to realise how much he genuinely felt like laughing. He looked about him. The hotel’s terrace was growing crowded as dinner-time approached. “I will miss this country when I return to Rescuetown.”
“Do you want to return there?” asked Dr Bellen.
“Well, not really.” Mr Parker lowered his eyes. “It is a kindly place, but not my home, really…”
“Then stay here,” Dr Bellen said. “This is your home now. It has been for more than two years. Doesn’t it feel like home?”
“Well, yes, it does, but I thought, well…”
“Your friends, Mr Parker, and you, have all come here from elsewhere. You are all expatriates. But you are no longer visitors, no longer guests; you are citizens. You belong here; here, in your home.”
Mr Parker thought long upon this. In the end, there was no need for words, and he smiled, and nodded his head.
“I’d better get ready for dinner. Mr Poly and I are going to the Cats’ Pyjamas.”
“An excellent choice. I hear the chicken and green pea paté is tasty.”
Mr Parker stood and turned to leave. He stopped and looked at Dr Bellen.
“There is…one thing, Doctor. When it comes time for me to leave – I mean leave…everything… I wonder… Might I beg the favour of you being with me? I hear stories of so many cats, you see, dying alone, and I was hoping…”
The doctor reached out his hand and, putting it on Mr Parker’s orange paw, smiled and said, “Of course I will be with you.”
Mr Parker nodded but didn’t utter a word. He was much affected by the doctor’s generosity. He turned again and walked away, a little more confident than he had been of late. Dr Bellen sat back in his chair.
“Of course I will be with you,” the human quietly promised the cat. “I will always be with you.”
© J. Bellen 2019