Dr Bellen looked up from where he was sitting on a couch in his office at the Cosy Apartment Feline Sanitarium. His trusted assistant, Renn, was standing in the open doorway.
“Good evening, Renn. What can I do for you?”
“Oh, nothing, Doctor. Aaaarrrnnnhhhh….”
“You’re making your quiet wailing sounds. You must want something.”
“No, no. I’m fine. Aaarrrnnnnhhhhh…”
Dr Bellen smiled. He patted the couch cushion next to him.
“Why don’t you come over here and let me give you a chest rub?”
“Well, all right.”
Renn hurried over and jumped up on the couch. He was more careful about jumping these days, since he was not as agile as he once was. But he still prided himself on being able to jump when he needed to.
Renn sniffed at what looked like a thick book, open on Dr Bellen’s lap. The cat thought it smelled funny, but interesting. Its thick pages were covered with images.
“This is a photo album, Renn. It has pictures from all the time I’ve been director at the sanitarium. It occurred to me that this very month, I’ve been dealing with cats on a daily basis for fifteen years.”
“Fifteen years!” exclaimed Renn. “That’s forever! At least, it’s a very long time.”
“You were born fifteen years ago,” the doctor pointed out with a small smile.
“It’s not that long ago,” remarked Renn. He peered over the human’s hand. “I know that cat. That’s Tungsten.”
“Indeed. She was my first cat, the one who started my work here at the sanitarium. She came here in August of 2007.”
“She and I were friends. I liked her.”
“And she liked you,” responded Dr Bellen.
“She hit me once.”
Dr Bellen laughed.
“You deserved it. That big nose of yours was sniffing her too closely. She objected.”
“Haha. My big nose is always leading me somewhere. Do you miss Tungsten?”
“Yes, I do. She helped me keep order here at the sanitarium, and taught me a great deal about cats.”
“There are so many cats in here!” Renn said excitedly, as the doctor turned the pages of the album. “Pictures and pictures! Some I know, some I don’t.”
“Many more sanitaria have had a lot more cats. Quite a few of ours were foster-cats who came for their health. When they improved, they found new homes elsewhere. Most didn’t stay long, a few months.”
Renn looked at Dr Bellen, a little annoyed.
“That doesn’t seem fair. The sanitarium gives them everything, and then they go away.”
“That’s what the sanitarium is for, Renn. It helps those who need it; sometimes, it provides a refuge until they find a permanent home, and sometimes those who come for their health stay. That’s the way the sanitarium was before I came, and that’s how it all be after I leave.”
“And some cats get jobs here!” laughed Renn. He considered one of the photographs. “Who’s that?”
“That’s Lincoln. He was the sanitarium’s first foster-cat.”
“He looks like Hector. He’s irritating.”
“Hector? He’s just young and bored. He needs a playmate.”
Dr Bellen flipped a few more pages.
“Yes, I have plenty of pictures of him. The sanitarium couldn’t help him.”
“It helped him, Dr Bellen,” countered Renn, an unaccustomed seriousness coming over his expansive features. “He was happy here. Well, after he got over fighting with Tucker. I remember he would go for walks outside, in the grounds of the sanitarium. He loved that! He even went outside and lay on the grass the day he left for Samarra. And he loved his food.”
“He did that. And, speaking of Tucker, there he is.”
“The babee of the fambly…” Renn commented, imitating Mr Poly’s squeaky voice. He and Dr Bellen laughed, but then fell silent for a moment. Renn then said, “Tucker was here forever. He came to stay soon after I did. I miss him.”
“So do I.” More pages were flipped. “There’s Echo. Do you remember her? And the Felons, and Portia.”
“Portly Po!” Renn grinned.
“You shouldn’t call her that,” said Dr Bellen.
The human glanced at the cat and smiled. Renn looked at the doctor.
“We’ve been a lot of work for you, Doctor. And money! The sanitarium must have spent millions of dollars on all the cats who have come here. You could have bought a car with all the money spent, or a house. Or a planet.”
Dr Bellen chuckled and answered, “It’s been worth it, Renn. When I watch the residents eat, when I walk through the sanitarium, and I see the cats sleeping contentedly, or having a good wash, I know it’s been worth it. And, it hasn’t been just me. There is an excellent staff here. I’ve had help all these years. And there’s been you.”
“I’m glad I came to stay and work at the sanitarium, Doctor.”
“Me, too, Renn.”
The cat peered at the photo album again. If his brow could have furrowed, it would have.
“Doctor… There are a lot of cats’ pictures here…but there are some blank pages at the back of the book, like there’s room for more…”
Dr Bellen returned Renn’s look, and said, “There’s always room for one more.”
“Said the elevator operator…”
The doctor laughed and told Renn, “That’s the last time I loan you a book of memoirs by a nineteenth century British diplomatist. Now, come here and let me rub your chest.”