My lady takes me to the vet every three months. The vet gives me the once- over to check my kidneys because they’re not working so well these days. My lady worries a lot about fleas, so he looks for fleas as well.
I always know when we are going to the vet as she calls me in that special voice. I hide under the bed. I crouch under the centre of the bed and have to be enticed out with my favourite biscuits, after which I allow myself to be caught and bundled into my travel basket.
After a couple of plaintive cries I settle down and enjoy the drive into lower Manhattan. She leaves me at the vet’s while she goes to work. They put me in a cage in a huge back room - cats at one end and dogs at the other. It’s chaos as they arrive, dogs barking, cats meowing, especially the young ones. I’m an old hand; I just go to sleep, once the noise settles down. That morning it was different. I hadn’t had time to settle before there was a shattering crash.
“What on earth?” I hear the receptionist ask, and there is that edge to her voice which means that she is really nervous. Suddenly everyone is moving about, running to the window and talking loudly. Two lorries in an accident I decide and change position in my cage, so that my tail wraps over my ears. I want to get to sleep, it was a busy night.
When the second crash happens there are screams.
“Out, out, out,” I hear the vet shout, panic making his voice shake.
“What about the animals?” the nurse asks.
“They’ll be all right, they’ve got water, just go, go.”
The door slams and I hear the key in the lock. We are all locked in. I don’t like locked in. There is yelling from the street, sirens, running feet, confusion. I stay with my head tucked down, but my ears are pricked up, taking in every sound. It’s a while later that the earth begins to move. It starts with a distant thunder which, instead of rolling away, grows ever louder. A shock wave hits us, and for a moment the cages rattle against one another, but thankfully they do not fall. It is mayhem in our room, every animal lets out its cry of terror, and I find my own voice adding to the screams. I can hear some of my fellow inmates throwing themselves against the wire of their cages, but I tried that in my youth and know it is useless.
Then the dust comes in a tidal wave, and we are all silent, struggling to breathe. Finally the dust settles. My coat is covered. I shake myself, but wisely do not try to lick myself clean. I wait.
The daylight fades and darkness comes - still there are no people. I have never known a time without people. I know we are in trouble now.
The second day comes and goes. If one of the animals lets out a cry it is not for attention or help, it is a cry of despair. All my water has gone.
Darkness falls on the third day and I have given up hope. I try to remain dignified. I curl into a tight ball.
People. People have returned. I hear the vet. He is talking loudly to someone. He pours water into each cage, and for a moment there is nothing but the sound of lapping and slurping. More people. Some of the cages are opened and there are sounds of relief and love on both sides. I hear the voice of my lady, and the door of my cage is opened. She picks me up, and I let out an involuntary cry. She starts to weep and holds me and brushes my fur.
“Better hurry,” I hear the vet say. My lady gives me a kiss and pushes me into my travel basket. In the distance there is a heavy mechanical noise, but otherwise everything is eerily silent. My lady walks a long way, but I can’t hear her footsteps. It’s like when we have snow, but this seems the opposite of snow which smells wet and clean - this smells of dryness and fire.
We don’t go to the car. My lady talks to me all the time as she walks through the city, changing the basket from hand to hand as it becomes heavy.
She stops at an all night cafe. She puts my basket on the ground and I can see her shoes are covered in ash. She buys a coffee. Another woman speaks to her.
“That cat seems really frightened,” she says.
It must be the look in my eyes.
Linda Mitchell (UK)