The Cat, Ebola and a Shoebox Coffin

By Shaylen Maxwell

The first time she got cramps, and every time after, I was quick to suspect appendicitis. I had 911 on the line faster than she could scream, "For God's sakes, Dante, I'm just getting my period!"

I'd instruct her to take Tylenol, shove the thermometer under her tongue, and ask, "Is it localized? Could it be leukemia or ebola?"

From then on, it was just a few excruciating hours of heart racing stress, once a month, as my mind questioned every cry, ache, and moan. Her failing health did little more than compound the problem — life and death begins in the intestines, and her diet was worse than a raccoon's. I worried incessantly. Maybe the symptoms could occur concurrently. What if I ignored it, at her request, and it really was something more? Ignoring a pain Kamla believed was just a cramp might kill her if I gave up my vigilance.

Kamla only bickered with me. She failed to see my concern came from love. She'd roll her eyes and taunt me. She'd call me paranoid. She used to think paranoia was one of my cuter quirks, but now she said I was just a pain in her ass. I refused to apologize, and she ceased confiding in me. She thought so little of me as a companion she went off and replaced me with a cat. "Worry-wart, I fare better with a mute," she stated. She was simply trying to hurt me, another feeble attempt to make me cease my antics. But I wouldn't: last I'd checked over-concern was no crime...

She picked out her feline spouse from the nearby shelter. Not to eat, as her father might've preferred, but to distract her from me. She gave it cuddles and kisses, while she denied me. And she named her Licks, because the filthy beast licked lips, and had a habit of sitting on the small of my back when I was writing — nay, attempting to write and still failing miserably. She wasn't quite the cat that Ruby was, but I'm certain all cats pale in comparison to that magnificent creature.

Kamla spent her days teaching school. And I spent my days feeding cats, pretending to write, and living off of my own paranoia. If I wasn't dying of a disease, Kamla must be, or Licks. I couldn't hold down a job in sales; it was too stressful. I was fired often, chronically unemployed, and certain to remain eternally unemployable. Each let-down was only a new opportunity for Kamla to put me through the ringer for all of my own personal failings: I cared too much, I was a worry=wart, and I was as creative as a toilet brush.

I attempted not to listen. It served me not to beat myself up. And all I could do was ponder the destruction of everything around me. I searched the World Wide Web, only to discover than in three billion years the sun will vaporize the Earth. What's the point of going on? "In three billion years we'll be vaporized, Kamla! Don't trivialize these facts. What are we to do? What if man never finds a way to slingshot the Earth into another galaxy?" I printed the article up for her, and I cited the stats. It didn't matter that the Earth began only 4.5 billion years ago, and that as a species, mankind had only existed for a mere 200,000 years. Everything was falling apart...

"What will you do, Licks, if your bones are incinerated? You'll die, but your life will have been for naught."

"Stop it, Dante, you're depressing my cat! Licks doesn't even lick anymore."

"Good!" I'd retort, furiously. "She might give you rubella or typhoid fever, or West Nile virus!"

"Why don't you put your lunacy to paper, and use this creativity for good? Licks won't give me herpes either."

"I should hope not!"

I put some of my insinuations to paper. On Kamla's twenty-ninth birthday I gave her a card and wrote her a short poem. I'd titled it: "The Things I'll Never Let You Die From." After eating cake, I gave her the card.

"Another year closer to your death..." I said. I was being serious.

She was not amused. She scrunched up her nose, "Do I want to read this?"

I hesitated with an answer, "I would." But I would. I was chronically on the look-out for how I might meet my end. Preparation was better than being unpleasantly surprised.

She balled up the paper and fed the icing to Licks on her pinky finger. When Licks was done, she didn't wash her hands. I watched without saying anything. All I could think about was how she was going to die soon! Sooner! So soon! I looked at Licks, flicking her tail and waiting for more. I thought of Licks, too.

"What if Licks dies next week?" I asked, rather mournfully. I felt tears hot on my eyeballs.

"Jesus Christ, Dante, I want to enjoy my cat's life and not think about the fact that she is going to die, too!"

"But she is going to die... And it's good to be prepared," I rationalized.


Kamla stormed off. I opened her present, a pair of modest pearl-pink heels she'd been asking for. Work shoes. I placed the shoes at the back door and carried the empty pink box back to the bedroom. "We can put her in this when she dies, like her casket," I suggested, as I set it on shelf in our bedroom. Kamla shrieked at me and kicked me out into the hall. "Would you prefer we stuff her?" I asked, tapping gently on the door. She howled, and the cat meowed. I retreated to my desk and tried to write.

"It comes out of love," I tried to tell her, but she didn't respond. I could never write when Kamla was upset with me, so I resorted to Cyberchondria to create more undue panic. And I wrote her an e-mail to explain myself: I don't want to lose either of you... Even if Licks wasn't the perfect feline and Kamla was less than the perfect female, I'd be dead without them. Are you sure your mood swings aren't Bipolar? Or Diabetes?