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Fantasy Speculative

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

“I can’t come into work,” I say, over long yowls coming from the cat carrier. “It’s–a family emergency.”

The vet tech in pink scrubs has snuck up on me, her voice almost a whisper. “Come on, we can get you back.”

An old woman with more rouge than advisable hugs her trembling Chihuahua to her ample bosom as though to protect it from the sound. 

I pick up the carrier and it increases, this keening despair and pain vibrating through the handle. I try not to jostle.

But blood spatters out. One glob makes it onto my low heels. On the cream bow. 

They’re called kitten heels, for when you want to be fancy, but can’t abide moulding your feet into Barbie shape. 

They were expensive. I think not about covering over the impossibly round stain or trying to remove it, but finding a sharpie to add more to match. Brown, I think. When the blood oxidizes, it will be brown. 

They sedate her almost immediately. Another vet tech in a headband and incongruous pigtails stands ready in the room when we get there. 

She slips a board under the tabby’s body. Now the cat is silent, though her breathing is rapid. Her white bib wet and red now. Her face–I turn away. The cotton balls inside a glass jar are the same white her bib used to be.

Both techs wash their hands, and pink scrubs leaves me behind with the pigtailed one. The door’s hydraulic arm hisses above.

The vet tech’s pen scratches on the paper. She adjusts the clipboard, tosses one of her honey braids thoughtlessly behind her. “Does she have her shots? Any records?”

“She’s not–my cat. She’s not–anyone’s cat. I found her this morning.”

“You have a cat carrier.”

“It belongs to my neighbor.”

“Have you seen her before?”

“Yes. She’s a neighborhood cat.”

She nods, writing on the form. “All right, let’s see what the doctor says.” And she carefully takes up the board they’ve set her on.

It’s only two minutes before the doctor returns, looking grizzled and kind and sad. His thick glasses soften the light, smudged. The tech puts the unconscious cat on the steel table and stands against a wall, waiting to be needed. 

He says a lot of things, filler, to come to something that ends up being, “The best choice may be to end her suffering humanely.”

I agree. Not with the word humane, but I don’t say that aloud. The part about the end of suffering is what matters.

He asks if I want to be there when it happens. I don’t answer, but put my hand on the door, and leave the room, slamming it behind me unnecessarily.

I head into the lobby, and then, out into the sun of the blacktop. But I stop, and come back in, walking to the reception counter. It’s high. I’m glad of the heels, however short.

I peer over, but the bone-thin woman in Snoopy scrubs sitting behind the counter does not acknowledge me, even when I tap on the counter, even when I attempt to ring the bell. It makes a tinny, off sound that does not stop once it begins, not even when I touch the curve of it to stop the vibration.

“Excuse me–hello? I just want to know what I owe. For the cat that got hit by a car.” I don’t add, “The cat they’re killing back there now.”

She doesn’t move. Her chest does not rise and fall. 

It has happened before. Once. And I’d reasoned myself into believing that had been a dream or a fugue state. 

I run and check on the woman waiting with a scrappy chihuahua. Her eyes are half-closed, but the dog stares straight through me. 

No clock ticks. The sun stays fixed outside the picture windows. I sit and read all the magazines in the room, including the National Geographic for Children.

However long it’s been, my mouth turns dry during my second look of facts on cheetahs. My tongue feels like sticky flypaper.

At the water fountain, nothing flows no matter how much I push the bar. I try the water cooler, and though there’s a bubble suspended in it, nothing moves, and I crumple the paper cone to throw in the trash on the way by.

Finally, I walk the still streets, abandoning the sidewalk to weave through vehicles. Past a jacked black up truck so high I couldn’t see the driver, and a woman in oversized pink tinted sunglasses, driving a sensible silver SUV, her mouth open. I try to decide if she was singing or talking, but could not, and crossed the graveled train tracks to a gas station.

I pass people waiting in line, shadowed. Fluorescents always flicker, too fast to see sometimes. Statues. A dust-covered man in a bright orange vest with Natty Light balanced on his hip, a woman in a long tie-dye dress kneeling to wipe the face of a curly-headed toddler, a man in business attire, pointedly and ironically looking at his smartwatch. All arrested in one moment. Stopped.

The patch of broken light brightened. No, not stopped. Slowed. 

I pick up the pace, the click of my kitten heels the only sound all the way to the glass door cooler. Open it, chose the cheapest water. I only have a card. No cash.

I lap the water from the bottle. Turning it upside down gives me a trickle. 

I am going mad. It is the only explanation. It feels like reality, but it’s a reality no one but me will remember when this is through.

I walk back to the vet clinic. To the door I’d slammed.  

Hand on the knob, turn, and open.

The doctor and the vet tech look up at me. He blinks and breathes, a regular human, unstuck in time. 

The flimsy plastic of the water bottle crinkles in my hand. Proof as insubstantial as the bottle itself. I open my mouth to ask if either of them remembers me carrying a water bottle in, but I’m interrupted by my phone ringing. 


I send them to voicemail. “I’ll stay. The cat’s name is Betty.”

June 05, 2024 04:56

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1 comment

Daniel Mangru
16:18 Jun 13, 2024

Lots of good descriptive imagery and subtle details. Educational too: I (a guy) now know what "low heels" are. It makes sense that there would be low heels, given that there are high heels. Google also pulls up good images of "kitten heels." As a guy who doesn't pay attention to women's shoes, this was a fascinating and overwhelming deep dive that came from two back-to-back sentences. Good job. The vibe at the Vet is captured really well. It gave me flashbacks of sitting there amongst the other people in the waiting room. It seems there is...


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