Short of Miraculous
The narrow eyes of the heavyset old man in Burger King locked on mine, and I looked away. At a glance, I noticed many layers of clothing and several plastic bags. He was just sitting in a booth and staring.
As my mom and I got closer to the register, I noted the strong stench of sweat and urine. I could feel the eyes on me, and had one of my odd thoughts that this man was me, traveled back in time to visit his younger, thinner, cleaner self. I heard shuffling as the smell grew stronger, and I turned to see the door closing as he left. Ahead of me, my mom was ordering food.
Saturday, 5:48 PM:
It had been a good mass, in which the priest cautioned us of the dangers of getting too comfortable with our faith as we try to fit in to society. We should be prepared to be mocked for our beliefs, to be called foolish by those who don't share in our belief of the wisdom of God. I pondered his words as I watched him dump the remaining wine from various goblets in to one big one, which he then downed in two shots before wiping it off and handing it to an usher. Holy or not, I don't know if I'd want to drink something 100 other people had been in contact with before me. It was amusing and a little gross, but didn't detract from the value of his homily earlier.
Saturday, 9:30 AM:
I awoke from a dream in which, while driving with my family on a highway, we witnessed a low flying plane's engines explode. My mom was driving and my dad was in the passenger seat, a rare arrangement that was one of the smaller clues that I was in a nightmare. No sooner did I wonder if the engines exploded from a technical problem or from missiles, then missiles appeared. Most seemed to target postal vehicles on the road around us, and as my mom swerved to avoid exploding mail trucks, it was a retching sound that brought me to reality.
“Is he throwing up?” I asked as I ran to the kitchen, still partially asleep. The old rotary phone was on the table, and my dad had knocked a small hole in the wall where wiring was exposed.
“Yes,” he answered, as I ran around frantically looking for my ailing feline friend. There was a mix of concern for his illness and relief that he'd made it through the night. But I couldn't find him.
“What are you looking for?”
“The cat. I asked you if he was throwing up.”
“Oh, I thought you asked if you could help me. You said you were going to help me with this today, weren't you?” The noise I'd heard was him turning a screw.
My dad really needs a hearing aid. He gets worse every day. But, I had other things to worry about. He explained the “10 minute job” and showed me how he'd taped the new phone cord to the old one, which we'd snake through the wall and pull down to the basement. This was easier said than done. I went downstairs, and the old cord wouldn't move. It disappeared in the junction of two ceiling beams. It was also next to a metal electrical cable and the cord leading to our oil burner. My dad decided the snaking plan wasn't going to work, and that he'd just drill a new hole next to the old one. When he bore in about five inches and still didn't break through, I shone a flashlight and concluded that he was drilling in to the bottom of a long support beam, and pointed out that the old wire ran next to this 2x4.
I tried to pull the old wire. It didn't budge. I wrapped it around my hand, and stepped off the step stool. My weight pulled about a foot of the wire through, but it tightened and hurt my hand. My dad grew impatient. I convinced him to get a pipe, though he didn't understand how that would help and why he couldn't just drill. I wrapped the wire around the pipe instead of my hand, climbed up the stool again, and stepped off holding the pipe. I got another foot of cord. I rolled the pipe up, and repeated the process until the old wire was out, little staples on it showing what was holding it up so tightly.
Once again, my dad went in with the drill. We couldn't see light. Upstairs, I analyzed the situation. We couldn't see through the wall. Ripping out the molding and the wood paneling would make the project a lot bigger, and the kitchen a lot messier. My mom got involved, and noticed that the wall stuck out a little in the hallway, and on the other side was a thin strip of sheet rock. That would be easier to remove and replace than the wood paneling, and we could see where the wire was going. The only problem would be getting through the floor.
Once exposed, we could see the space between beams, but no hole in the floor. My dad was ready to drill down from upstairs, even though he had no idea where the drill would come out, dangerous with all the electrical wires running underneath. I believe in “measure twice; cut once.” My mom told me about my paternal grandfather, who used to hold out his arms when doing carpentry and ask people to hand him a piece of wood “this big”. This would explain my father's “cut until you're right” approach.
After a small shouting match, I convinced him to measure upstairs and downstairs, and determine where the beams were. All signs pointed to behind the molding. He would need a two-foot hole where he wanted to drill, and the wire would come out the top of a door frame. “Let me just try anyway,” he insisted. “Why don't you look behind the molding?” suggested my mom, “There looks like some kind of notch on the side of the beam there.”
I pried it back. Indeed, a curved line ran into the 2x4 to the point I'd pinpointed with a ruler, through which I could see light and the basement below. We worked one end of the phone line through, ran the other up into the open wall and out the other side, and indeed it was only a 10 minute job at that point. The clock read 2:15 PM though, so it actually took us a bit longer.
Friday, 11:30 PM:
Exhausted from staying up with our cat the night before, my mom had turned in early and asked me to watch him. He was sneezing less frequently, but still moping around, still breathing out of an open mouth, his eyes narrow slits. I didn't have to work the next day, didn't need to be anywhere but by his side. He sat low to the ground, his head up and his eyes drooping. Eventually he lowered his head, and seemed to drift into a much-needed sleep.
This lasted for about 10 minutes before he sneezed and woke with a start. Sneeze after sneeze took him, as he staggered to his feet and walked across the room. I grabbed a tissue and wiped some drool from the side of his mouth. He sat in one corner, then wandered into his cat carrier. He sat in there sneezing, then came out, dropped to the floor and turned to one side. His eyes closed, and he panted from an open mouth.
I'd been with about two of our previous cats in their final moments before. My mom's gone through it with every cat we've ever owned, except for one or two. I wrestled with the sight before me. He could be gasping his last. Would she want to be there, or should I spare her? “Come on man,” I begged, “You're not done yet. You're ten. TEN. You've got at least another five years in you. Nine would be preferable, but we'd all be happy with five. Get up. Please, get up.”
One eyelid flicked open, a weak eye surveying the human lying on the floor beside him. Weakly, he pulled himself up, wanting to be alone, and slinked under a chair in the other room. I let him be. I lay there on the floor, listening to him sneeze in darkness...
Saturday, 1:30 AM:
My back was killing me. The room was silent. I sat up and read the time on the VCR. I must have dozed off. I got my bearings and remembered what had happened. I heard a sneeze.
In the dining room, Chirp sat under a chair on a small rug, his legs tucked under him. He was still sneezing, though the intervals seemed further apart. I scratched behind his ears, kissed his forehead, and told him I'd be right down the hall. I left the door to my room open, and lay in bed. Every five to ten minutes, a sneeze reminded me that he was still there.
Saturday, 5:30 AM:
I jumped out of the bed, not knowing the time, but realizing how quiet it was. I raced in to the kitchen, flipped on the light, and looked around. I heard nothing. I saw nothing. I checked under the chair in the dining room, and in the cat carrier in the living room.
“Are you looking for the cat?” called my mom's voice from the hallway. “He's in the bathroom, sitting on the radiator.” I ran in and looked. On a towel on top of the wooden radiator cover sat an alert, wide-eyed black and white cat. “Meeaaaghh” he said, in his trademark raspy voice. “He finally ate on his own about an hour ago,” said my mom, almost crying, “I put down a dish of baby food, he walked up to it, and started eating. I never thought I'd be so happy to see a cat eat.” After a few hours of sleep, and the antibiotics finally kicking in, enough of his sense of smell had returned for him to regain his appetite.
Saturday, 9:30 PM:
I sit, typing the events of the day out of chronological order. Fresh from a brushing and another dose of his antibiotic, one Mr. Chirp purrs contentedly a few feet away. It's been a scary couple of nights, but it wasn't his time. His recovery is just short of miraculous, and definitely the answer to a lot of prayers. We'll go through this again someday, perhaps in about five years, hopefully closer to nine, and hopefully not any time soon.