Binkley was a mean cat, the kind who lives forever out of spite. When my husband mentioned in passing, “Binkley’s limping a little,” I did not expect a cat who dragged her leg bone behind her like a scavenged drumstick.
When the vet’s x-rays revealed a shattered leg in the hardest place to fix, I learned about feline osteoporosis. Binkley’s usual hop down from the bathroom counter would cost at least $2000, with no guarantees, not counting follow-up visits and medication. The vet assured me I could pay on the installment plan.
“Absolutely not,” my husband responded. “She’s old, she’ll scratch us to a bloody pulp when we try to give her pills, and even if she makes it, what happens the next time she takes a drink from the sink? It’s time to put her down.”
Our youngest daughter, Ally, was easily persuaded. She was tired of fighting her way downstairs past Binkley’s claws every morning. I hesitated, but only out of guilt for my wish to be free of litter boxes and shredded pantyhose.
Emma, fourteen years old, was the lone holdout.
“I’ll pay for it!” she sobbed, surprisingly loyal to the cat I had to nag her to feed. “She shouldn’t have to die just because you don’t like her.”
Immobilized but far from terminal, Binkley purred between hisses as we debated her fate. The vote was three to one. Logic trumps passion, particularly when it holds the purse strings. Really, though, I agreed with Emma.
I remembered my own devastation when I was not quite her age. We had to give away our cats because my father’s allergies landed him in the intensive care unit for a week. He would have died had he tried to stick it out another day. Even so, the family joke was that it took twenty-four ballots to break the tie in my father’s favor.
With Binkley, no lives besides hers were at stake—just money and convenience. Still, spending thousands of dollars on a nasty, old cat seemed absurd. I admired Emma’s passion, though, and wondered where mine had gone. Did I misplace it somewhere among piles of bills and laundry? Maybe it was just another permanent casualty on the long and compromised road to maturity.
As the arguments and tears crescendoed through the weekend, I worried what lesson we’d be teaching our children. At the very least, I imagined that Emma might someday pull the plug on us at the nursing home because she had better ways to spend her time and money. This struck me as only fair.
I despised my husband for his unsympathetic resolve. He despised me for my waffling. “You’re just making it worse,” he accused me. Secretly, I knew he was right. On Monday, I called the vet.
Emma refused to go to school that morning until I promised to schedule the appointment for the late afternoon. When she came home, she gathered Binkley in her arms and barricaded herself in the bathroom.
“I won’t let you kill her!” Emma screamed.
But what could she do in the face of my treachery? Defeated, Emma relinquished her grasp a few minutes before the vet closed.
“I hate you!” she choked between sobs as I fled downstairs.
I eased Binkley into the cardboard carrier for one last trip.
I eased her out again onto a fluffy towel atop the stainless steel exam table. Votive candles glowed from two crystal orbs while Windham Hill played softly in the background. As Dr. Griffin slipped the needle through fur and skin, she assured me that she would make the same choice, too. Stroking Binkley as her feistiness drained away for good, I half let the music lull me into agreement.
“That wasn’t so bad,” I thought wearily on my way home from the vet. But as Lady MacBeth discovered, a murderess cannot long enjoy peace.
The garage door clattered open on what looked like a crime scene. Bikes lay helter-skelter on the cracked concrete. The trashcans were upended, their rank contents strewn from corner to corner. Drifts of kitty litter crunched underfoot. I slammed the door and sprinted upstairs.
“Emma? Where are you?” I beseeched the silent house.
I never should have left her alone. It was bad enough murdering Binkley—what had I done to my own daughter?
Under normal circumstances, Emma was a steady child, but her calm demeanor masked a fierce will. When I praised the drawing she brought home long ago from her second-grade art class, she took a pencil and scribbled out her masterpiece. It was ruined, but at least it was hers. Now, frantic about what destructive self-assertion I might discover beyond the trashed garage, I searched the house from top to bottom.
I found Emma at last, crumpled and crying in a corner of the basement. She let me hold her, and we rocked together for a very long time. I stroked her soft hair until her sobs drained away. I, too, felt bereft. Not so much for Binkley, but for the girl I no longer was who now inhabited my daughter. I admired Emma’s rage: I wished I still had her passion, her conviction, her noble heart.
We buried Binkley on the hill.
When we were finished, I said, “Let’s clean up the garage.”