I had been bugging my parents for a pet for a really long time. What I really wanted was a dog- a little guy to follow me up to the soccer field and sleep in the tent with me when my buddies had camp outs. My mom always said that it wasn’t fair to leave a dog home alone all day while she and my dad worked and I went to school.
What my parents brought home instead was this huge, scruffy cat. He had ragged ears and ginormous paws and long, black fur. Right through his black fur was a long, white scar just above his left eye. It made it look like he was squinting at me as he crawled out of the carrier and slunk around our living room.
“What do you think, Jeff?” my mom was asking excitedly. I was obviously supposed to be super happy.
“Why this guy?” I asked, watching him sniff uncertainly at the space between the couch and the floor.
“He really needed a home,” mom said. “He was at the shelter. He came from a bad home. They’re not sure what happened to him there but they had to give him some stitches and wait for him to get better before he could even find a new family.”
I didn’t say anything. I was watching the big black shadow trying to wiggle his solid form under the couch to hide. His big yellow eyes seemed to glow.
“I know how much you wanted a pet,” my mom was saying. “I thought you could love him.”
I think my dad understood that I was feeling pretty uncertain. He grabbed my shoulder. “This guy has had it rough, kiddo. I bet you can treat him so well that he forgets all about his last family.”
“I don’t know...” I said slowly.
“I do,” my mother said, and I could tell by her tone of voice that I was definitely keeping the cat. “He might be a little scared and grouchy for a while but I know he will come around.”
At first he was really grouchy. He slept under the window in the living room or under the coffee table and didn’t want to be around anyone. Sometimes he would get up on the kitchen table and when my mom tried to shoo him off he would make this horrible hissing noise, more like a snake than a cat. I wanted to name him Oscar, after the dude who lived in the trash can on Sesame Street.
“That’s kind of mean,” my mom said, frowning.
“What about Zombie?” my dad suggested but my mom frowned at that name too.
“I like Edgar,” she said. “Like Edgar Allan Poe.” I could tell by that tone that he was doomed to be Edgar.
Eventually Edgar did start coming around a little. He started hiding out under my bed during the day and crawling up to lay on the covers with me after everyone else had gone to bed at night. When I scratched his ears he purred so loudly that he sounded like a giant swarm of angry hornets.
One night as I scratched his ears I thought I could feel the skin underneath his thick, black fur moving around. I tried to poke at it a little but Edgar hissed at me like a snake and jumped off the bed. He crawled under the bed and refused to come up for ear scratches the next night.
When the old grouch finally came around again, I could tell right away that there was something wrong with his fur. It looked like the big tufts of hair beside his ears were moving. I scratched it gently and his purr started up like a lawn mower. But if I slowed my scratches down to try to feel what was going on in there he eyed me suspiciously and stretched his big silvery claws out toward me in warning.
The next morning I mentioned it to my dad. “It feels like there is something in Edgar’s head,” I said through a mouthful of pancakes.
“What do you mean?” my mom asked from across the kitchen where she was packing lunches for school and work.
“It feels like something is moving around under his fur.”
“Fleas!” my dad gasped, a look of abject horror on his face.
I shook my head while I swallowed. “It’s under the skin too.”
My mom looked mildly concerned. “Are you sure?” she asked, handing me a Spiderman lunch box that I was way too old for.
“I think so.”
“Why don’t we take a look at him when we get home this evening?” my dad suggested, beginning to usher everyone to the doorway.
I had agreed but by the time I dragged Edgar out from under my bed to show them that evening it seemed to have gotten even worse. I could see lumps in the fur on his head.
“Is it some kind of an infection from his stitches?” my mom asked my dad.
“I’m not sure. I think we’d better take him to a vet.”
“Will the shelter pay for that?” my mom asked. They were acting like I wasn’t even there.
“I doubt it,” my dad replied, “but I still think he had better go. I’ll drop him off on the way to work tomorrow.”
That night Edgar was so grouchy that he didn’t even want to lay with me. He curled up in a ball at the foot of my bed, not letting me touch him. I felt like a traitor.
When my parents got home from work the next day I met them at the front door. “How is Edgar?” I asked.
“Not ‘What’s for supper?’ That’s new!” my mom joked.
I looked at my dad expectantly and finally he said, “Let’s go get dinner ready and I’ll tell you about it while we eat.”
My mom made spaghetti with bright red tomato sauce that had huge chunks of tomato and onion but I didn’t even complain. I just waited for my dad to tell me what the vet had said.
“The vet thinks that when the other vet stitched up Edgar’s head he may have made some kind of mistake. They did some X-Rays but they told me that the images were blurry and they don’t really know what’s going on.” I could tell that my dad was trying to make it sound more simple for me.
“What are they gonna do?” I asked.
“They’re going to cut Edgar’s head back open to see what is going on. Then once they have everything figured out, they will sew him back up again.”
“When?” I asked, choking on a big piece of onion. “Can I go? I want to be there for Edgar.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good-” my father was saying but my mom interrupted him.
“That’s very responsible of you to want to be there for your pet,” she said. “I think that’s a great idea.”
“Are you really sure?” my dad asked her quietly. “It might be pretty grisly.”
“Of course I’m sure,” my mom said and for once I was happy to hear the tone of voice that meant the decision had been made.
My dad took me to the vet the next day. I had to get up as early as a school morning even though it was Saturday. “I guess you really do want to come,” my dad joked tensely as he handed me a granola bar for the drive there.
There was only one other animal in the waiting room- a fluffy, white dog with a matching owner. When the vet took us out back I could see that there were a few other animals in cages.
“What are they doing here?” I asked my dad quietly as we passed.
“Probably recovering from surgeries,” my dad told me. “That’s where Edgar will go after this.”
“We can’t take him home?”
“Not right away.” My dad did that shoulder grab thing again. “But I bet he’ll be ready to come home really soon.”
Edgar was already in the operating room on a big silver table. A woman in Garfield scrubs was shaving a strip of fur off his forehead with a little pink razor like the ones my mom uses for her armpits. I could see the skin where the fur was gone moving around. It gave me goosebumps on my arms.
The vet turned to me and smiled kindly. “We’re just going to make a little incision right beside his scar,” he told me. He motioned to a tiny instrument on a table that looked like a really sharp knife.
“Are you going to put him to sleep?” I asked, remembering that humans usually get put to sleep when they get cut open.
“Not for a little cut like this,” the vet told me with a reassuring smile. “He has already had a needle to freeze it so he won’t feel it at all.”
I watched the vet pick up the little knife. “Are you ready, Jeff?” he asked me. I swallowed hard but nodded my approval and he stepped toward the cat.
Edgar didn’t even pull away as the vet’s gloved hand moved closer with the knife. The other woman had her hands on his back, ready to hold him down if struggled. He didn’t struggled at all. He hissed a little, really quietly, but that was it.
The knife began to slice a thin line in the flesh. I expected Edgar to meow in pain but he didn’t react much at all. He closed his great yellow eyes but barely flinched. I thought about how brave he was.
As the little slit got a bit longer it looked like it was beginning to wiggle. The knife slid just another quarter of an inch and suddenly the tiny cut was bulging and pulsing. The vet whipped his hand away from it, the knife clattering back onto the table.
At first I didn’t understand what was happening. The little cut was pulsing bigger and bigger until it seemed to break open. As it did bugs began to gush from the hole and down across Edgar’s head.
They looked like worms and slithered through Edgar’s fur despite the fact they had dozens of tiny, useless legs. They were red and white and there were areas where the colors mixed and appeared to be an unimaginable pink color. The place where their eyes should have been looked like little black pits and when they stuck out their tongues, they were long and forked.
There was a terrible crashing sound and I realized that woman behind Edgar had fainted and knocked over the tray with all the instruments on it, sending them sliding across the floor.
They clatter made Edagr open his eyes and he stared at me, yellow eyes blazing, as bug after bug burst from his head and slithered down over his face. They left streaks of slime in his fur and even across his glossy eyeballs as they broke free and began to slide effortlessly across the floor.
One little pink body slipped onto Edgar’s thick black lips and Edgar snapped it into his mouth. I heard it hit his teeth, a wet explosion.