“Josie. Josie? Josie!”
“I’m sorry, Doctor. I didn’t have my hearing aid turned on.”
Miss Josefina von Chubs rubbed her face against the doorframe in embarrassment. She was always forgetting either to wear her hearing aid or to turn it on, once it was in place. Doctor Bellen was always startling her, without meaning to. He was used to that, even if Josie wasn’t.
“Are you ready? The train will be leaving in a quarter-hour.”
“Oh, yes, yes, I…I think I am quite ready.”
Josie looked about her room. She had lived at the Cosy Apartment Feline Sanitarium for more than twelve years, and was a little reluctant to change her residence. But the time had come; she knew this and sighed.
“I will miss living here, I don’t mind admitting, Doctor. Especially the food service. It is very convenient. The staff never complained about bringing the food to my suite.”
“I can assure you, Josie, that they considered it a pleasure.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. I was demanding at times, and impatient. I’m sorry about that. Will you let the clerk of the kitchen know? I…I haven’t been feeling quite myself of late, Doctor, as you’re aware. Sometimes I become confused. I swear, Doctor, there are times when I don’t really know where I am!”
Josie said this humorously, but Dr Bellen knew that it was the truth, and that her condition now worried her a little.
“I understand,” he said - and he did understand. “I wish the treatments we’d prescribed had worked more effectively. Then you would be able to stay here.”
Josie took a final look about, at her favourite bed, heated, which had been a great comfort to her; the water-bowls, conveniently placed; the tall saddle-topped cat-tree, which she was becoming unable to climb. It was all very nice, very homey.
She turned and walked slowly into the corridor with Dr Bellen. She always moved slowly now, but with determination; her joints ached rather badly, though, and she wobbled too much, causing her some embarrassment. She was concerned that she would not be able to make it to the station.
As if in answer to that anxiety, Dr Bellen led her outside the building, where she saw a taxi-cab waiting by the curb.
“Oh, we needn’t use a taxi, Doctor; it’s not far to the station,” she said, eyeing the soft upholstery of the vehicle’s rear seat through an opened door.
“Nonsense. You won’t be walking all that way. Here, let me help you.”
“Oh, well, if you insist…”
Being picked up used to annoy Josie. She would squirm and roll in a person’s arms. For the last year or two, though, she didn’t mind it as much. It’s funny how tastes change. The cushions of the taxi were as soft as they looked. The automobile trundled down the drive, past the different buildings of the sanitarium and out through the gate, where the porter saluted respectfully.
“I will confess, Doctor, that I never liked automobile rides, even in such as this vehicle,” remarked Josie. Indeed, the taxi was an excellent motor-car; old-fashioned, and not a modern, streamlined creation meant for speed. “They usually took me somewhere I didn’t want to go.”
“And now?” Dr Bellen regarded Josie sidelong. He was a little fearful of her answer. Josie didn’t respond. Instead, she looked around the cab, as if attempting to discover where she was by what she saw. “Josie?”
“Hm? Yes? Oh, dear, there I go again. I’m sorry, Doctor. I won’t miss episodes like that!” Josie laughed a little, to disguise her consternation. But she brightened and said, “Do you remember that conversation we had last summer, about when Tungsten departed?”
“I do, yes, clearly.”
“Well, I understand what she meant now - Tungsten, I mean. I don’t mean to denigrate your species, Doctor, but we cats are more sensitive than humans, and I know now that this is my time. I wish I didn’t have to go; the sanitarium is my home, and I have friends here.” She smiled at Dr Bellen. “But everyone must go to Samarra some day, and today, I must go. I’m not afraid; somewhat nervous, but not afraid.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” Indeed, Dr Bellen could hear the veracity in Josie’s voice, and knew that she spoke the truth. She was almost relaxed, a little sad, but ready for whatever happened next.
The station was not crowded; it never was. There were no crowds in Idylland, except on festive occasions, and then, people and animals were friendly and happy, and liked being in large groups. Otherwise, they collected in small parties here and there; nothing offensive or loud. A few humans and cats waited on the platform.
“We needn’t worry about your ticket, Josie. I have it already. You’ve a first class compartment to yourself. I’ve asked them to turn up the heat in there for you.”
“Oh that’s most kind of you, Doctor. Thank you.”
Josie didn’t need to wait. The train already huffed and puffed next to the platform, as if it had come into the station just for her. A few passengers had found their spots in the carriage. Dr Bellen saw that Josie was settled into her compartment, which had seats as comfortable as the taxi’s, and pictures of far-away lands on the walls. There was a poster advertising journeys to Samarra, and the colours made Josie feel almost exhilarated about going there. Dr Bellen pulled down the window a little, so that he could remain outside, and talk to Josie, who reclined against the thick stuffing of the seat’s back.
“I know what Tungsten meant now, what she meant by one’s destiny,” the aged cat said. “This is mine. I have had a good, long life; it started rather roughly… I recall, vaguely, something about automobile engines… Perhaps my father was a mechanic… The last dozen years have been quite enjoyable, despite the comings and goings of everyone at the sanitarium. But I’m old, Doctor, and I’m feeling even older. It’s hard for me to be comfortable enough even to sleep, let alone get about, and I am tired. So it’s time for me to move on, to go to Samarra.”
Dr Bellen smiled and commented, “You are a wise old lady, Josie.”
“Oh, all cats are wise, Doctor; it’s just that some aren’t smart enough to know it!”
Dr Bellen laughed, and told his friend, “I will see you again some day, Josie.”
“What? Will you be coming to Samarra, too?” This surprised Josie. She may have been wise but she wasn’t all-knowing. She had no idea that humans left Idylland, too. “But who will manage the sanitarium? Cats depend on it, you know.”
“There will be another director after me, and another after him. There are thousands of sanitaria around the world, big and small. Millions of people watching out for cats, and for dogs, and birds and all animals. Good Heavens, I thought you were a literate cat. Haven’t you ever read our brochure?”
Josie laughed and admitted that she had not. Her tastes ran more toward residential architecture, and books with pictures.
“Then I will see you again, Dr Bellen.”
“We will all see each other again, Josie.” The human paused before adding, “But I will miss you a great deal until then.”
“I will miss you, too, Doctor,” said Josie. “…Good-bye.”
The train had started to accelerate by then, and Dr Bellen stepped back. Very soon the engine had pulled the carriages around the far curve, where the trees of the woods crowded close to the rails. With a toot on the horn, the train was gone. The last Dr Bellen saw of Miss Josefina von Chubs was a little white paw waving from the train’s window.
The human stood for a long time on the platform, staring at the spot where he had last seen the paw. He wondered if he had been right to send Josie away at this time. Certainly, Josie herself seemed sure that it was time. But despite cats’ belief in their superior knowledge, they could not know everything, and they depended on people to help them at times. That was why the Cosy Apartment Feline Sanitarium, and others like it, existed.
When he had purchased Josie’s ticket, Dr Bellen had been asked by the station-master if he was sure he wanted a passage to Samarra. The doctor had of course said ‘yes’, but he could never be sure, not really; no one could. One just did the best one could, even doctors.
Dr Bellen realised that he was alone on the platform. One of the porters was sweeping the wooden floor with a broom. Birds were singing in the trees near by, and a now-distant train blew its horn. It would be passing over the frontier by twilight. Dr Bellen sighed and turned to leave. He had a sanitarium to run, and he was certain he was behind in some task or another.