Unlucky In Love : A Death's Door Story
Unlucky in love, Colin Peterson, though a lifelong bachelor with few friends, had found one of life’s most hallowed grails...an authentic vocation. He’d been a practicing vet for over thirty years, his bond with animals a primal connection allowing his warm heart to avoid the inexorably entropic decay all too lamentably suffered by those who have never found a craved for soul mate.
Highly proficient, widely respected and now the owner of a successful veterinary practice situated in one of London’s less salubrious, but animal-loving suburbs, Colin possessed a particular gift. Whilst not exactly Dr Dolittle, he found himself able to hear the thoughts of the animals he treated and perhaps more staggeringly, he could transmit his own, enabling what amounted to conversation between patient and physician.
This ineffable, therefore silent bond enabled Colin to quietly gain the trust of even the most vicious of snarling dogs, whelping in pain as he attended to their grisly wounds, or as he gently administered medication to rodents and reptiles with teeth atavistically inclined to sink themselves into an invasive, incautious hand.
Colin and his patients understood each other and though his ability remained a closely guarded secret, it gave his existence the spiritual ichor love’s absence had so cruelly denied him. Helping his animal friends in his unique fashion had saved him from the abyss, its gaping maw swallowing so many of his colleagues, insidiously drowning them in drink, drugs and the perilous seas of stress related mental ill-health. Unloved by a partner, he’d found an animal connection just as valuable and perhaps less capricious.
Sophie burst into the practice waiting room the moment its doors were unlocked on a cold, drizzly November morning, her face darker and far damper than the rain-sodden, puddled pavement leading to the brightly lit, but sparsely furnished reception room. Its practicality subsumed the need for incongruent aesthetic charm. Unlike a commercial lawyer’s sanctum, the room had been designed for its client’s needs, rather than their fat wallets. It was a room aware of its liminal character, sitting consciously on the miniscule, but invisible line between recovery, and death.
Sophie’s makeup-streaked face had the appearance of a having been attended to by a drunk clown who had proceeded to wash off his incompetent attempts to beautify what he’d considered ugly. Her eyes shone like impuissant lighthouse beacons, calling those staring into them not to safety, but to the ruin of the rocks constituting her bedraggled life. Red raw from inconsolable sobbing, they implored the receptionist to help even before her desperate words could be uttered.
In her thin, scarred arms, their skin mottled by dark bruises and freshly administered cuts, lay a small black cat, its fur matted with blood and dripping rose water onto the floor. He’d evidently been soaked by the ever-impartial heavens and found no shelter.
The cat buried its delicate face deep into Sophie’s chest, its breathing both erratic and faint. A single drop of blood dropped onto the sterilised floor tiles, soon joined by others until a small pool began to grow, befouling Sophie’s already mud-stained white trainers.
“My cat, my fucking cat! Look what some fucker has done to him...look. Do something. Please, just do something...he’s all I've got...I'm all he’s got. Help us...please!”
The receptionist, attempted to speak, but Sophie’s sobs encouraged her to eschew words for action, forcing her to leave her words unuttered as she quickly vacated the post-it-note strewn reception desk. She respectfully interrupted Colin as he diligently completed a meds. request in the room just behind the reception area, the cursor blinking as though it was a tiny electronic heart forever imprisoned within its digital world. Within that technological world, compassion met science, and both danced an expensive jig.
Colin listened to his colleague’s rambled description of the event she’d just witnessed, calmly placed his coffee on the well-organised computer desk and put his warm hand on the receptionist’s plump shoulder. His eyes calmed her immediately, their knowing tenderness the antidote to her vicarious distress. He’d employed Jane because she too knew life was precious in all its myriad forms; her gentle heart soothing all but the most febrile clients.
“Send her into Examination Room 1. I’ll be waiting.” His instructions were delivered with the authority managed only by those who have the unequivocal respect of those receiving them. Though naturally taciturn, Colin did not use words as verbal padding, he employed them with the precision with which he dextrously manoeuvred his scalpel...they were tools, not social blandishments. He exuded measured, efficient competence, yet silent kindness was his most prominent trait. Words were merely the necessary nexus between essential action, and the emotional needs of his human clientele.
Sophie pushed the door open and stood before Colin, her hot tears rolling down her pallid, fear-drained face. She shook with untrammelled grief and perhaps the merest hint of guilt, or if not guilt, then self-admonishing regret. Circumstances had once again overwhelmed her, rendering her fate’s callous victim yet again. Unable to accept that life is never less than a mixed bag of fortune for all, Sophie had concluded long ago that she would always suffer, and deep within her fractured psyche, she considered this...just.
“Ok Miss, place our patient on the table...carefully. Let’s see what we are dealing with shall we?” Colin proceeded to triage his feline patient, deftly lifting one mangled limb after the other, then inspecting multiple ugly gashes as viscous, dark blood seeped from them smearing the green inspection table with disconcerting speed. Colin lifted the cat’s jaw up and met its serene, resigned gaze with his own eyes.
A minute passed as though an hour, the room’s silence deafening.
Colin gently lowered the cat’s head to the table’s surface, stroked its drenched fur and turned his back on both him, and Sophie as he brought up a new page on his computer screen.
“Miss, I need a few details before we proceed. Try to stay calm and give me your full attention. I’m here to help, but first I must take some details. Please understand”.
“What’s your full name and address?” Colin’s voice was calm, measured, perfunctory.
Sophies’s response was its antithesis. “Fucking hell, what the fuck? My name ain’t gunna save my cat you stupid twat. It’s Sophie Cahill. Home address...I don’t have one. I live in my van. Just quit your fucking admin. and save my cat you fuckin’ idiot!”
“Ok, please try to control yourself Sophie. I really am here to help...both of you. Tell me what happened”.
Sophie shifted uncomfortably, her eyes involuntarily drifting to the black bundle barely breathing in front of her. She burst into tears, snot running down her face, gathering on her smeared top lip before she wiped it away angrily with a blood-stained sleeve. Barely composing herself, she said...
“I found Buster in the road this morning. Near the van. He’d got out. I got back to the van last night with some randomer and Buster jumped off the bed. I shut the side door and well, me and the bloke got on with it. We were both hammered. I fell asleep...that’s all. For fuck’s sake it's not a crime!” She wiped more snot from her nose and searched Colin’s eyes for judgement. She found none.
“When I woke up, he’d - the punter - had gone and left the fucking van door open. Buster must have gone out for piss, or a dump or whatever he wanted to do. I got dressed and went looking. I found him by the side of the road leading to the car park I’d made home for the night. He’d been hit by a fucking car...bastard had just left him to die. Fucker. I picked him up and came here...I can pay. Just help him...please!”
Sophie shuddered, engulfed by another inexorable wave of grief and stared imploringly into Colin’s serene, sagacious eyes. He placed his hand on her bony shoulder, squeezing it with a tenderness she’d never known in her grubby, drug-addled life. When men touched her, they did so as though she was a piece of meat to be roughly consumed in a fit of libidinous rapture, sans the remotest consideration of her thoughts. Her father had begun this pattern when she was just nine-years-old. A myriad strangers had continued to show her that brand of fatherly love.
Colin asked Sophie to let him examine Buster more closely. She complied, though not without telling him it was “about fucking time!”
Colin slid his latex-gloved fingers under Buster's jaw, raising his face to look directly into his chatoyant eyes, themselves dimming with the passing of every second.
The room fell silent, at least to human ears.
“Well buddy, it looks pretty grim I’m afraid. You’ve not got long old friend. I can’t do anything for you. No details. You don’t need to know the details...trust me. But, you do need to make a decision Buster. I will ask Sophie to do whatever you decide. So, here’s how it plays out little man. I pick you up and hold you in my arms and we wait...together for the pain to stop. That might take a while and it won’t be easy...for either of us.
“The alternative is that I let you go to sleep very quickly. You won’t suffer a minute more. I will hold you as you drift off...in my arms. So Buster, I need you to decide. As with all your life, nobody will tell you what to do and I’m not going to insult you by doing that now.”
A moment passed, the room silent save for Buster’s rasping breaths and the sobbing of Sophie as she deliquesced into an emotional, tear-stained mess.
“Thanks. It’s not her fault. She’s been kind. Unreliable, but kind. I want to sleep now. I want this to be...over. All nine used. I've been loved. But now, you and I know it's my time to go.”
Buster gratefully awaited his final nap, listening to Colin and Sophie agree the procedure. He closed his once bright eyes for the last time and purred softly.