Arthur hunted for an A on his Underwood typewriter. Feeling exasperated by the randomized alphabet, once he found the key labeled with an A, Arthur sighed and pecked it hard. Readjusting his glasses, he squinted and searched the keyboard for the next letter. Peck! After striking each key, he flinched, gritting his teeth. His fingers felt weak and brittle. He thought that at any moment they would snap in two like old match sticks.
For days he worked on his will in short bursts before becoming fatigued, causing his RA to flare and his back screaming for a break. Frequent cat naps with Jelly Bean were more to his liking. She was his feline companion coming up to eighteen years next month. A present he gave himself after the passing of his wife, Nelly—she was a dog person.
He bemoaned the drudgery of writing the will but took delight in envisioning its reception. After all, if any of his snotty-nosed relatives honestly believed they were entitled to any of his fortunes, then they were truly disturbed. Arthur knew he’d have to enjoy his relative's hysterics and subsequent court battles to rectify the terrible injustices done to them from above.
Arthur grinned knowing there was only one beneficiary that deserved a penny.
“Just gotta find one more letter and we’ll be done, Jelly.”
Jelly stopped lapping water at the mention of her name. Her vertical eyes, wide and endearing, looked lovingly at the frail old man. Two seconds later, bored and aloof, Jelly hopped on the footstool, then atop Arthur’s bed in anticipation of settling in for the night.
“Where’s that pesky N, again? Ah-ha, N.” Peck! His index finger triumphantly struck the N’s key lever, striking the ribbon, and leaving behind the final words completing the document: Last Will and Testament of Arthur Feldman.
He turned the knob, releasing the paper, and placed the sheet with the rest. It was a healthy stack full of legal jargon that only lawyers and varmints could get off on. Arthur saluted with a sip of warm milk and chuckled, admiring his accomplishment. Evening drinks meant visiting the bathroom throughout the night. But warm milk was a tradition he and his dead wife long-held, and he’d be damned if he would tarnish her memory.
Arthur, hunched over and staring in the mirror, ran his toothbrush over his teeth and spat out the used spearmint paste. Without thinking, he sat on the porcelain throne to see if he could squeeze out a little something.
After strategically positioning his walker, Arthur sat on the edge of the bed. He closed his eyes and exhaled deeply.
"You there, Nelly? It's me, Arthur. I finished the will. It took a while, but it'll get the job done. Those loving relatives of ours are in for a big surprise. Me and Jelly Bean are doing fine. I know you never fancied cats, but you'll love her, I promise. Jelly's a sweetheart. Just wanted to say, I love you, and I'll see you soon. Good night, honey."
Before turning off the bedside lamp, Arthur stroked Jelly Bean’s fur. Her tail fluttered in response. “There, there, now aren’t we the cutest kitty in the world? Now, don’t let me wake you up too much tonight. You know how it is with me and my pee.”
Being skin and bones didn't guard against muscle cramps or nullify their pain. Tonight, they started in his left calf and shot up his pelvis. Arthur started rubbing his leg as he always did, desperate to prevent the inevitable. The answer came in the form of contractions. With a low threshold, Arthur began twisting and writhing under the sheets like a snake slithering out from underneath a rock. When his back froze, he opened his mouth to a silent scream. This time the pain lasted thirty seconds, or was it thirty days? His HMO recommended he hydrate, which only meant more nightly pee trips, not prevention.
He came out of it sweating and exhausted. As he lay with the pain ebbing, there was a small sense of relief that Jelly Bean was unmoved by the trauma. She lay curled up at the foot of the bed. She gets stressed easily.
Arthur’s eyes were droopy and dry, paralleling his frame of mind. As habit would have it, whether it was from charley horses, incontinence, or old age, he slept less and less and had even fewer visitors. He struggled to remember when he enjoyed either. He filled his days with jigsaw puzzles, reading who-dun-its, and relished taking cat naps with Jelly Bean. He disliked the night.
“Damn,” he muttered.
Arthur rolled over, careful not to arouse Jelly, and leaned on his walker. The bathroom was just steps away, but it might as well have been across the street. With the nightlight guiding the way, he dragged his feet along with his walker. His bones cracked like tinder from a campfire when his legs moved. The toilet seat was still warm.
Several minutes passed before his enlarged prostate acquiesced and let loose a tinkling of urine. Sitting there, he grinned, thinking how the doctor at the HMO would've sent him back with the half-filled cup, demanding that he, "Fill ‘er up."
Done for the moment, he reached the bed and pulled the covers up around his chin, closed his eyes, and drifted off.
The air was still, and although it was dead quiet, Jelly Bean popped up her head. Her aged yet alert eyes looked around in the dark. The bathroom nightlight provided all the illumination she required.
Her attention snapped toward the old man. She cocked her head from side to side. Slowly, she stood and moved stealthily to Arthur’s face. On his back, his eyes closed, with his mouth agape—Jelly Bean wondered.
Within a paw’s length of the old man, Jelly breathed in his scent. Odd, Jelly thought, his eyelids weren’t quivering. She knew when the old man was asleep or dreaming. His eyelids or lips would shake or shudder. She assumed Arthur's dreams were like hers: fun, adventurous, even life-affirming. Like strutting the points of a wooden fence using her tail for balance, teasing barking dogs clearly out of reach, or roaming the neighborhood scavenging for mice or looking for tasty morsels in uncovered garbage cans.
Jelly Bean took stock of the old man, examining his head and ears and nose. He lay silent, peaceful, yet she sensed uneasiness. She shook as dread passed down her spine. Jelly placed her nose inside the old man’s hanging mouth. Her instinct was correct.
She lowered her head, snuggling Arthur’s face, and then placed a paw gently on his chest. After a moment, or was it eighteen years, she curled up against Arthur’s chest lying silently. Her eyes glistened. She went sleepless, watching over Arthur.
As the rays of dawn breached the cracks in the bedroom window’s shutters, Jelly sensed movement. She lifted her head to see Arthur gazing back, looking as he had when she was a kitten. With their eyes locked, Jelly watched as something within Arthur's body began floating upwards, rising and rising until it finally disappeared.
Calm and content, Jelly flicked her tail and edged closer, nestling into Arthur's body. At peace, she closed her eyes, purring.