Here I was once again, sitting in front of the bedroom window, looking out at another beautiful spring day, only today didn’t seem so beautiful. Sure, it was another one of those days with the big puffy white clouds floating through a sea of blue sky. All the neighbors were out gardening, playing, barbecuing, you know, doing all those things that we take for granted.
It wasn’t going to be that kind of day for me. Being the dog in charge of the house, I had some added responsibilities, and one of those was nurturing and caring for the rest of my fur family. Today, that responsibility was weighing heavily on me.
“C’mon guys, Cindee has called a meeting!”
The melody of the big orange cat’s deep Latin voice cut through the fog that was rolling into my brain. My ears perked up and picked up on the familiar sound of little paws padding up the stairs. The cats were on their way. I turned my head in time to see a grey and white feline with a sagging belly hop up onto the bed.
“Hey Cindee,” she said, raising her left paw to her lips so that she could clean it.
“Hi Bella,” I answered before returning my gaze to the neighborhood that lies beyond our window.
Across the street Rufus, the sheepdog was holding a conversation with his neighbor Gus, Mr. McMurtry’s basset hound through the chain-link fence that separated their yards. Though I was not able to make out what they were saying, I knew for a fact that Rufus was telling knock-knock jokes just by the way that Gus laughed.
“Let’s go Mylo! Cindee says it’s important!”
Alright, Rapi, I am coming already. You don’t need to be so pushy!”
I couldn’t help but smile. Classic Mylo, giving the orange cat a hard time. Just then the bed swayed ever so slightly under me. That could mean only one thing.
“What’s up Cindee?”
The nasal squeak was unmistakable. The image of a slender tuxedo cat with big eyes and whiskers askew filled my brain.
“Hey, Yehudi! I’ll share in a minute when Rapi and Mylo get here,” I answered gently.
That’s when the not-so-subtle sound of thundering paws came from the staircase. I turned in time to see the adolescent dog come bounding into the room, followed by a rather robust orange cat, his big tummy swaying and his tongue hanging from his mouth.
“Everyone is here,” the cat said gasping between breaths.
“Thanks, Rapi,” I responded trying to muster a smile.
“Yep, we are here old lady!”
“Stop being rude, Mylo!”
If the orange cat’s chastisement bothered the cream-haired dog, he didn’t show it, instead, he leaped up onto the bed and curled into a ball, facing me, with Rapi following suit.
With everyone here, silence crept over the room. The three cats and Mylo all stared intently at me, waiting to hear what was so important that I had to call a formal meeting. To be honest, I had been feeling queasy all morning, ever since Mommy had broken the news to me, and now, a full-on dread had settled over me. I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and began.
“I have bad news.”
Four sets of eyes bored into my soul. Moments like this are some of the most uncomfortable. Rapi and Bella, the two older cats, wore a look of concern on their faces. Like me, they had both seen their share of tragedies and were steeling themselves for this new one. Yehudi’s was a different story. She didn’t know what I was about to say, yet already her eyes had begun to mist over. Mylo, who had never met sadness or despair, cocked his head to the right and concentrated on every word that fell from my lips.
“Mommy and Daddy have gone to get cousin Smudge. His Daddy is very sick and will be going to a hospital out of town for a couple of days, so Smudge will be staying with us.”
The expressions on Yehudi and Mylo’s faces had begun to transform, and I knew the two youngest members of our entourage were going to have some questions.
“Listen! It is very important that we make Smudge feel like family. So don’t say anything that could possibly be hurtful, okay Mylo.”
“Me? Why are you singling me out Old Lady,” the yellow lab mix barked in protest.
“That’s why Mylo! Calling Cindee Old Lady is disrespectful and hurts her feelings,” the orange cat hissed.
The dog thought about it for a moment then dropped his head. I felt bad for him, after all, he was still young and didn’t really understand.
“I am sorry Old … umm, Cindee,” the younger canine said apologetically.
The orange cat harrumphed, then turned his attention back to me and waited patiently for me to continue. When I didn’t say anything, they sensed that I was done, and so the gathering rose to break up.
“Wait! What’s wrong with Smudge’s daddy?”
Everyone sat back down at looked at the little black and white cat, then turned back towards me looking for an answer.
I thought about the little fuzzy hamster, then about his daddy. I couldn’t hold the tears back anymore. Memories from years of cuddling with Uncle Allen on Saturday nights and cheering on the Buffalo Bills with him on Sunday afternoons filled me.
Rapi gaped at me, his yellow-green eyes wide with anticipation.
“His heart is broken, and this thing called a liver isn’t working right anymore. He needs new ones.”
“What,” Bella cried out.
“No, that can’t be true,” Rapi mumbled with a shake of his head.
Mylo wore a new look on his face. One that he had never worn before. It was concern and worry.
They all fell silent and listened with anticipation while I told them what little I knew. Drawing in a deep breath, I began.
“Many years ago, Daddy had a baby human and they called him Allen.”
“Wait, hold up, Daddy has a baby human,” Yehudi asked.
I looked around at their faces and saw the same expression on each one. Confusion.
“Yes, Daddy had a baby human, most people have baby humans, and before you ask, they grow up into adult humans.”
Yehudi and Mylo looked at each other and shrugged.
“I guess that makes sense,” the yellow lab mix said.
“Okay, please continue,” Rapi said, ready to hear the story.
“So, the story goes, that Uncle Allen was born with a heart problem and the doctors had to cut him open and fix it, but, it was only meant to be a temporary solution that would give them about twenty-five years to find another answer.”
The older grey and white cat broke down and began to weep. I could hardly believe my eyes. Everyone knows Bella is only about Bella and nothing else.
“He gave me my name,” she mumbled between sobs.
“But they found a way to fix it didn’t they?”
I looked into Yehudi’s eyes and couldn’t help but notice the sad reflection of the big brown dog in them.
“The only way they can fix him is to take somebody else’s heart and liver and put it into him.”
A look of horror came across Mylo’s face. His mouth fell open and his tongue drooped out.
“But doesn’t that other person need them?”
I smiled weakly at the younger dog. All the cats had drawn closer to me, their attention hanging on my every word.
“I heard that he must wait for someone to go to the Rainbow Bridge. But it has to be a special someone who has just the right heart and liver who makes the trip to the Bridge in just the right way.”
We all sat up straight.
“Is that the car door,” Mylo howled.
A mad dash to the window ensued. It was them. Daddy had his arm around Mommy and she, in turn, held Smudge’s cage in her arms.
“Remember … happy and comforting,” I shouted.
The front door opened, and we all dashed down the stairs to find Mommy squatting down and opening the cage door.
“Hey guys look who’s here,” she shouted as we gathered in a circle around the fuzzy tan and white hamster.
“Smudgie! You wanna play,” Yehudi bellowed joyously.
The hamster puffed out his cheeks and nodded his head vigorously, before scurrying off with Bella, Yehudi, and Mylo. I watched until they had disappeared around the corner, then I pushed through the pet door and out into the enclosed porch.
Climbing up onto the wicker chair, I allowed myself to relax and gaze out the bank of windows at the deep cobalt dome overhead. A memory of Smudge sitting on Uncle Allen’s shoulder nibbling on a small bit of apple slowly materialized in my thoughts. I could see the hamster snuggling into Uncle Allen’s thick dark beard and the two of them giggling.
“You okay Cindee?”
I turned to see Rapi looking up at me. The big orange cat jumped into the air, landing next to me with a thud.
“I am,” I answered.
“Why do things like this happen Rapi?”
The cat stared deeply into my eyes and let my query roll around inside his head for a moment or two.
“You know Cindee, I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone has that answer. But I do know that what is important is this very moment. I think life is about making each second count … you know, enjoying it to the fullest and letting the people you care about know that you love them.”
I let the words sink in while I stared out at the backyard and admired the birds flitting back and forth in a game of tag and a beautiful orange and black butterfly floating from flower to flower.
“You’re welcome Cindee.”
A moment passed. Then another. Silence filled the emptiness inside of me. It was the salve I needed.
“I love you!”
“Love you too Cindee!”
I decided I didn’t know what was going to happen to Uncle Allen or Smudge for that matter, but I did know I was going to live each moment. Having made that resolution, I sighed a deep and comforting sigh and spent the rest of that afternoon happy and content with my best friend at my side.