My great aunt had always had a particular fondness for animals. She'd always wanted a pet but was denied the pleasure as a kid and then lucked into a husband (God rest his soul) who was deathly allergic to anything hairier than that auld lad in mass (you know the one). She always said animals lived a blissful life never worrying about the future. I wouldn't say I was exactly a believer, but I certainly didn't want to burst her bubble by explaining how every bird I'd ever seen looked to be on the brink of a nervous breakdown. She'd also always be harping on about how smart they all were, and something about an octopus and a coconut shell that I could never remember, but I'd seen too many two-dimensional hedgehogs and foxes to be convinced on the whole.
All this is to say that it was no surprise on one of my weekly visits when she pulled out a clipping from a local newspaper about a cat. Of course, not just any cat though. No, no this cat seemingly had a sixth sense (or seventh or eighth, depending on what order you place their incredible sense of balance and their knowledge of exactly how valuable something is before pushing it off the table). Oscar I think his name was, lived in a local hospice and could apparently sense when people were about to die. He would hop up on the foot of a patient's bed and curl into a ball, right before they drifted from this realm. Or so the story goes.
Well of course I obliged when she told me she'd like to have Oscar with her to guide her into the next place. She always called it that—"the next place"—which to me was so beautifully casual. We joked about death a lot, and she seemed much less afraid of it than me. I really hope she was. The sign of a life well lived I suppose. But her dementia was getting worse.
The staff there were delightful when I dropped her off, about a year or so after that conversation. I had managed to get her a bed with a view of the mountain, and she'd tell me every week that she remembered when they put that thing up.
We knew that eventually her time would come, just not exactly when. It ended up being a gorgeous afternoon in July. That cat awoke from a nap in the sun, stretched himself out and quietly plodded up the stairs. He squeezed through the gap in the door left ajar, and paused at the foot of my great aunt's bed. He pounced onto the bed and assumed his position. She half opened her eyes and smiled in acceptance at the presence of this warm creature. Then she fully opened her eyes. But by the time she realised his little paws were clamping her IV line against the bed frame—his vertical pupils locked on hers—it was too late.
Written in around an hour and a half on 2021-03-21