THE NEXT DAY, SHERRY and Val and Ruth P. went to visit Wendy on their lunch hour. I could’ve gone with them if I wanted to, but it was a Thursday and my reports are due on Friday, and the three of them were gone for more than an hour, and I can’t afford that kind of time the day before I have to hand in my reports.
They brought Ruth P.’s card that we’d all signed with Ruth C.’s pen (I wrote, “Eat lots of Jell-O!” because I was trying to think of something nice associated with hospitals, and the fact that they often serve Jell-O was the only good thing that came to mind), and Sherry told me later that day that Wendy had been in good spirits. She was sitting up and joking with the gals about not having to do her weekly score sheets for Mr. Vanderhoeven. Wendy’s score sheets are quantitative and my reports are qualitative — there’s a big difference.
“Did you tell her about the kitten?” I said.
Sherry squinted. “No, I don’t think we mentioned the kitten. But Wendy said our card was very thoughtful, and she really appreciated my idea about us keeping up her apartment while she wasn’t there, but she said she’d like to wait for the biopsy results before we started that because she might be going home soon. She said she was hoping for the best.” Sherry took a deep breath. “And then there were tears.”
“Oh, no,” I said. “Wendy started to cry?”
“No, I did. We’ve gotten so close, Wendy and me, and I couldn’t bear to see her lying in that hospital bed wearing that ratty nightgown of hers, surrounded by all sorts of equipment. Not that she’s hooked up to any of it, but it’s there, you know?”
I stood up then, and I put my arms around Sherry. She feels so deeply about her friends, I thought, but who’s feeling deeply about her? So I hugged her and said, “Maybe there’s still good news to come.”
“Oh, Eunice,” said Sherry, holding me, “I hope so.”
A WEEK OR SO later, the biopsy came back positive for cancer, and do you know what Sherry did? She went right out to Sears and had copies of Wendy’s keys cut for all of us, and then she went to the ladies’ department and spent her own money on the nicest nightgown she could find and took it to Wendy along with some balloons, even though apparently Wendy said no, no, she was perfectly happy with the nightgown she already had and didn’t need anything fancy.
But Sherry insisted on throwing out the old nightie because she said Wendy deserved something new and beautiful to brighten her dark days. And then Sherry sat with her all night and cried, even though Wendy told her she didn’t mind being alone — she liked it, actually — because, Sherry said to me, who really likes being alone?
THE NEXT DAY, KEVIN went out and picked up a kitten from the Humane Society, and he and Twyla took him to the hospital to show Wendy.
I thought they would’ve asked me to go along, because everybody knows I have a lot of cat experience, and I know for a fact that Twyla doesn’t even like animals because I once heard her telling a joke that went like this: “Taking a hamster to the vet is like taking a disposable lighter to get fixed.” But they didn’t ask me, so I couldn’t help them.
Sherry told me Kevin said Wendy was sleeping at the time, but they snuggled that little ball of fur right up next to her and took a digital photo, which Kevin said he’d print out on his colour inkjet at home to show her when she was awake sometime. Then they took the kitten to Wendy’s apartment — Sherry said she was pretty sure Wendy wasn’t allergic — along with some food and a litter box.
Sherry told me all this in the early afternoon. The poor thing was exhausted from the night before, even though she’d slept in and come to work late, which isn’t something I would’ve done but that’s how Sherry is, she puts her friends first. Then she asked if I wanted to go along with her after work to bring in Wendy’s mail and water her plants, and visit Andrew Lloyd Webber. Andrew Lloyd Webber is the name Kevin suggested for the kitten, because he noticed Wendy had a bunch of sound-tracks to his musicals, including Cats.
“Of course,” I said right away. “Of course I’ll go with you, Sherry.”
“Great, then it’s all set.” Sherry beamed at me, and I felt as if everything — my computer, my in-tray, my pen-and-pencil cage — was lit up by that smile on her face. “I’ll come by your desk at five o’clock.”
Ten minutes after she walked away, I remembered that I was supposed to take Johnny to the clinic that night.
Now, the thing about people is, they’re unpredictable. You think you know how they’ll react to something, and then they go and prove you wrong, every time.
My Johnny, though, right from the start he was a different story. I’ll admit he was a bit of a handful when I first brought him home. But then he was sweet as anything to me, twenty-four hours a day, or however many hours in a day we spent together. And I could count on him to be consistent.
But people — they’ll turn around one day and act completely differently from how they acted before. There’s simply no telling.
For example, when I went to Sherry’s desk to explain that I couldn’t go with her to Wendy’s that night, I thought she’d understand. Especially since it had to do with Johnny and his not being well. But what she said was, “What do you mean you can’t go?”
“I just can’t,” I said. “I’m sorry, Sherry. I guess in the heat of the moment I forgot about Johnny’s appointment.”
“Johnny, Johnny, Johnny,” she said, in a not very nice tone of voice.
“What do you mean by that?”
“A cat can be replaced, Eunice. A person is forever.”
Which is what people think, you know, who don’t have pets. They think it doesn’t matter. They think pets are disposable — you lose one, you buy another.
“Johnny is important to me,” I said.
And she looked at me like I was a bug or I was stupid — like I was a stupid bug — and said, “Wendy is dying, Eunice. Our co-worker is dying, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it, except maybe water her plants and bring in her mail and feed Andrew Lloyd Webber once in a while. Because she has nobody. And you’re standing there telling me you can’t go because of Johnny.”
The way she said his name again like that, it got to me. You know how things can get to you? So I looked at her and said, “Johnny is dying too, Sherry. And maybe that doesn’t matter to you, but it matters to me.”
Oh boy, you should’ve seen her face. She didn’t know what to say to me after that!
And then I walked away.
To be continued…