To Steve McQueen, who was that sort of guy
THE CAT HAS BEEN DYING for two days and two nights when Eleanor finally drops the Steve bomb. She says the cat’s suffering, someone needs to do something and we can’t afford a vet. Steve in my place would work things out — he’s that sort of guy. Now it’s either the cat or her: I never got over that thing with Steve.
“OK, I’ll sort Toto out,” I say and she opens her eyes wide.
“What do you mean you’ll sort him out?”
“I mean I’ll sort him out! Do you want to do it yourself?”
“Are you going to kill Toto?”
“Yes!” I say and she starts crying.
“Oh my God, poor Toto! He’s like the son I never had…”
“Eleanor: Toto’s suffering. We need to put him to sleep. It’s the only decent thing to do.”
“How will you do it?”
“I don’t know yet. But I’ll Google something.”
“Make it something painless,” she says and suddenly she isn’t crying anymore.
“I will. Give me a while and I’ll have him meet his cat god.”
“I hate it when you want to sound tough,” she says and goes back into the room where Toto is dying and the telly is on showing a rerun of The Antiques Roadshow.
Online I come across thousands of links discussing how to kill a cat. I click on the first result, a page titled “7 Things You Probably Have at Home That Could Kill Your Neighbour’s Pets”. Broken-glass stuffed meatballs: slow and painful and a hassle. Poisoning the cat with anti-freeze liquid: I don’t drive. Bleached milk: barbaric, for some reason. I search once more, filtering the results with words like merciful, nice, happy, practical, cheap and I end up in someone’s minimalist blog –– apparently the latest thing is decluttering and living a frugal life. The post discusses how to put suffering animals to sleep, humanely and without paying through the nose –– there’s a minimalist approach to everything. The methods discussed are: shooting the cat in the head, drugging and drowning it, or taking it to a shelter where they’ll do it for free. The shelter seems the best idea: we aren’t far from Battersea. But is this something Steve would do?
“I’ll drown Toto,” I say to Eleanor.
“You’ll drown him?”
“Yes, I found a way to drown him fast and without pain.”
“I’ll feed him some of your Valium and then drown him in the river when he’s asleep.”
“Can’t you drown him in a bucket over here?”
“I don’t want you around.”
“That fucking river is rotten,” she says.
“I’m supposed to kill him…”
“I’m not sure… What will you do with the body?”
“Listen: I’ll take the bus to Richmond, where I can drown and bury Toto in a nice spot overlooking a garden or a stream or a mansion. By the way, did you know that Ronnie Wood lives in Richmond?”
“Do you really have to do this now?”
“You’ve asked me to do something! What else can be done?”
“What does Ronnie Wood has to do with this? Do you think this is funny? You’re so immature!”
“Chill out, honey. I’m trying to let off some steam… Let me handle this,” I say.
“No! You’ll fuck it up. You always do!” she says and slams the door shut in my face.
“Eleonor, open the door, please! We can’t let Toto suffer any more!”
“Fuck off!” she shouts from the other side.
“Come on, Els…”
“I’ll sort this out myself! WHY DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING ALONE!”
A minute later she comes through the door crying with the cat in his cage. I lock myself in the toilet and feed Toto four 5mg crushed Valium mixed with milk in a syringe. He swallows every drop without moaning. I almost feel sad for him.
It’s cold and it’ll snow any moment. Toto seems to like it: he’s quiet — the cold must ease his pain. My hands are freezing, my whole body is freezing. I walk fast, changing the cage from hand to hand, and in ten minutes I reach Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.
The place smells of wet dog and cat shit, even from the door. I go in: dogs barking, cats meowing, and other unrecognisable animal howls coming from who knows where. I check the signs and get to the reception. I stop at the front desk and tell the security guard I need to put Toto down. He says he’ll get me to see a vet and tells me to wait. No questions are asked –– I guess many people turn up nowadays, because of this minimalist fad and the Tories, to get rid of their pets. Five minutes later a fat guy with a thick double chin, wearing a white apron, turns up.
“Come into my office,” he says.
I explain to him that Toto has been dying for days on end and that he’s almost twenty years old. Animal euthanasia, heavy doors, antifreeze, Richmond, decluttering, Steve, I keep thinking but I just say that I’ve found out that here we can put him down for free.
“It’s a terrible decision to make, but we can’t let him suffer anymore, you know what I mean…” I say and he nods.
“I know what you mean,” he says, “let me see the cat.”
I open the cage and gently shake Toto but he doesn’t wake up. I pull him out onto the examination table and he doesn’t move. The vet looks at me with a blank face and then takes his stethoscope to the cat’s body and listens for a few seconds.
“Too late: the cat is dead,” he says.
“He was like the son Eleanor never had,” I say. He looks at me with compassion and I look at dead Toto, pensively, for like three seconds, to make up for very likely OD’ing him. Then I ask if they might be able to get rid of the body themselves and if it’s free. He says yes and that it’s free and what do I want to do with the cage? “You can keep the cage too,” I say and leave quickly after thanking him for not killing Toto.
It must still be early to go back home — I’m supposed to be on my way to Richmond. I check the time on my phone, and realise that I’ve missed eight calls. Before I can listen to my voicemail the phone rings again.
“DON’T DO IT,” Eleanor shouts.
“Don’t do what?”
“Don’t drown Toto,” she says, “I’ve changed my mind!” I stay quiet for a moment. “WHERE ARE YOU?” she asks. I don’t know what to say. “WHERE AAAARRRREEEE YOUUUUUU?” I hang up.
The phone starts ringing once more but I don’t answer. There’s nothing to say and there’s no coming back from hanging up. Now she’ll keep calling and leaving increasingly violent voicemails. Until she ends up bringing up that thing with her cousin and me. She never got over that thing with her cousin Anna.
It finally starts snowing and I cross the road and walk into a pub with my pocket vibrating. Perhaps after a few drinks I’ll be able to answer. Or not. Maybe it’s better if I never answer the phone again.
Fernando Sdrigotti is a writer, cultural critic, and recovering musician. He was born in Rosario, Argentina, and now lives and works in London. He is a contributing editor at 3am Magazine and Numéro Cinq and the editor-in-chief of Minor Literature[s]. His new book Shetlag: una novela acentuada, has just been released by Araña editorial, Valencia. He tweets at @f_sd.