Willie cried when she tried to pick him up. When she touched his hind legs, he nipped at her fingers. She grumbled at her stiff left arm that wouldn’t move properly. Her arm hung awkwardly at her side and throbbed when she bent her elbow, making it impossible to cradle the old cat. Meanwhile Willie’s hind legs buckled as he dragged himself across the room. She tried to entice him into the cat carrier with a can of tuna but he seemed to have lost his appetite. Exhausted, she lay on the floor beside Willie and nudged him through the grated door as gently as she could. Willie cried as she settled his crippled legs on the baby blanket she had crocheted as a teenager and packed away in her hope chest for the child she never had.

She winced as pain shot up her arm then wept for her poor crippled cat. Willie leaned out of the carrier and nestled his head in the palm of her hand. He began to purr as if to comfort her.

“It’s going to be all right, old boy,” she told him as she scratched his head. “You’ve just got a touch of arthritis, that’s all. And I’ve got a pulled muscle,” she tried to explain away her own pain.

“I must have slept wrong last night.” She listened as the grandfather clock that had belonged to her mother’s began to chime. She counted out the chimes as it rang eight o’clock and petted Willie’s head. “We have an appointment with the vet at nine,” she told him. “It’ll be all right. You have to hang in there a little longer.” She’d asked her nephew to come at eight thirty to drive them to the veterinary clinic. It was a twenty-minute drive across town, and she calculated an extra ten minutes to spare.

“Just thirty more minutes and we’ll be on our way,” she told Willie. But thirty minutes seemed like a lifetime, as long as the eighteen years they’d spent together. She remembered the day she’d found Willie. He was a starving rag of a kitten, the sole survivor of his litter. Willie had grown up to be a sleek bi-color cat whose delicate, heart shaped face suggested a Siamese ancestry mixed with an alley strain reflected in his golden, almond shaped eyes. She heard him purring again as if the sound alone could soothe their mutual aches and pains.

“Any minute now,” she murmured and would have turned to look at the time on the grandfather clock but she didn’t want to jostle the cat nestled against her arm. She glanced at her wrist instead then remembered her watch had stopped in the middle of the night when she had awoken in a deep sweat and felt pain knifing through her left arm.

“My watch needs a new battery,” she told Willie,” just like I need a new heart and you need new legs.” She didn’t add that the watch was probably the only thing that was potentially repairable. Instead she remembered that she had lain awake in the interminable limbo of three a.m. trying to decide if there was an elephant sitting on her chest and if this was another angina attack or if her arm had simply gone to sleep because she’d slept crookedly.

It didn’t matter. Willie had to go to the vet’s at nine a.m. That much was crucial. Angina would have to wait.

“The doctor will help us,” she said out loud to reassure herself as much as the cat. “It’s just a touch of rheumatism and old age. You’ll be all right, you’ll see,” she added. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Then she wondered: what Willie would do without her? Maybe he choosing to abdicate before she did so he wouldn’t have to find out.

Her nephew knocked on the door promptly at eight thirty. She patted Willie’s head, tucked him inside the carrier and latched the door.

“Auntie, you look terrible. Are you all right?” his question was an oxymoron but she hurt too much to argue with him.

“I’ve been awake since three a.m. worrying myself sick,” she said. “As soon as we get Willie to the vet’s, I’ll feel better.” After Willie’s appointment, she decided to ask her nephew to take her to the emergency room in case she was having another heart attack. “But first things first,” she told herself.

Her nephew drove them to the vet’s where they were ushered into a small examination room with a high counter. She opened the carrier and Willie crawled onto the counter and looked around with wide, nervous eyes.

“We’ll put Willie on glucosamine. That should help the arthritis,” the veterinarian said after he examined the cat. “We might have to put him on steroids too, to build up his strength.” The veterinarian didn’t tell her that whatever they did was only a stopgap measure to buy time. She realized this but didn’t care. Time was more valuable than money. Willie seemed to be feeling better when they left the vet’s office.

“Now take me to the emergency room,” she told her nephew.

“What?” he said in alarm.

“I’ve had this pain in my arm since the middle of the night.”

“Auntie! We should have gone to the emergency first!” She was about to argue that Willie was more important, but she knew it was a waste of breath. At her age, breath was invaluable.

They went to the emergency room. She almost changed her mind and was about to tell her nephew to take her home so she could feed Willie when she was ushered into an alcove. The doctor on duty examined her and confirmed her suspicions. She had pulled a muscle and was suffering from severe indigestion after eating the week’s worth of leftovers that had accumulated in her refrigerator.

“I’m going to live!” she announced happily as she rejoined her worried nephew. “Let’s take Willie home. I’ll feed him and order Chinese carry-out.”

“I worry about you, Auntie,” her nephew said as he walked her back to his car.

“What’s to worry about? We shot a bear!” That was the family euphemism for surmounting an obstacle.

“I suppose,” he said but he sounded dubious.

“Don’t you worry either,” she told Willie, who was beginning to fuss in his carrier. “We’re going to be all right.”

They’d been gifted with one more day, she thought happily. And in the end, that was all that mattered.

Published in Stories