JOHNNY WAS DEAD WHEN I got home.
I opened the door, and do you know what? I knew. I couldn’t feel him anymore, is the only way I can describe it. You might think that’s crazy, but that’s the way it was.
After a while, I found him in the coat closet, curled up in the back corner. He hardly took up any room — he was the smallest I’d seen him since he was a kitten. I crawled in there with him and took one of his tiny paws between my fingers, and I thought of little Andrew Lloyd Webber all alone in Wendy’s empty apartment. And I started to cry. I cried for him, and I cried for all the cats in the world who don’t have love, and at least that’s one thing Johnny had. You can take everything else away, but at the very least he had love.
THAT NIGHT MY PHONE rang, and it was Sherry, which is funny because I couldn’t remember ever giving her my home number.
“I’ve been calling everyone.” She sounded out of breath. “Something awful’s happened.”
“Oh, no,” I said. “Is it Wendy?”
“Oh, Eunice,” she said, and that’s when I heard the catch in her voice, and a second later, she was sobbing.
“Shhh,” I said. “It’s okay. Let it out.”
By this time, I’d taken Johnny to the vet. I’d said goodbye to him, and the nurse had given me a big hug, and then I’d come home to my empty apartment.
“Wendy, she —”
“I know. I know it’s hard. Shhh.”
“She said she doesn’t want me to visit her anymore!” Sherry wailed.
“After everything I’ve done for her. How could she, Eunice?”
And Lord forgive me, but do you know what I did? I laughed. Loud. It came out of my mouth, and there was no holding it back.
“Are you,” said Sherry, “are you laughing at me?”
“No,” I said, giggling.
“This isn’t a joke, Eunice!”
“I know!” I chuckled.
And she hung up. The line went dead, and Wendy was still alive, and Sherry was probably really upset with me, and I just couldn’t stop laughing.
THE NEXT DAY, I took my set of keys and went over to Wendy’s apartment. I was expecting the place to be a disaster like everybody said, but it really wasn’t that bad. Maybe it wasn’t up to Sherry’s standards because she lives in a condo with a balcony and a communal party room, but it looked nice enough to me. It was too quiet, though, so I looked through Wendy’s CD collection for something to put on, and the soundtrack to Cats jumped right out at me.
After a while, I found Andrew Lloyd Webber under a couch and coaxed him out by opening a can of wet food in the kitchen. He came running, and I scooped him up in my arms, and I pushed my face into his fur, which was even softer than Johnny’s had been, if you can believe that.
Then I was crying, and Andrew Lloyd Webber was meowing — cry, meow, cry, meow — and we kept going like that for a while, with “Mr. Mistoffelees” playing in the background and lifting both of our hearts.
And the whole time he didn’t try to jump down once. He stayed in my arms and let me hold him, even with that can of wet food on the floor smelling so darn good.
HALFWAY TO THE HOSPITAL, I realized I didn’t have anything to bring Wendy, so I stopped in at a drug store and picked up a card. The card didn’t have any words in it, just a cartoon of a sun peeking out over the top of a cloud. Because what is there to say?
I asked for Wendy’s room number at the front desk, and I took the elevator up, and I walked down the hall until I found her door, which was open. And there she was.
Wendy was propped up on pillows, and her eyes were closed. She seemed so small and frail in her fancy, frilly nightgown, and her skin was yellow and her hair was matted and the streaks had grown out so the ends were a totally different colour from her roots. Every corner of the room was filled with gifts that were completely useless to her — wilted flowers and shrivelled Get-Well-Soon balloons and unopened magazines and untouched crossword puzzles, and above everything else was the photo of Andrew Lloyd Webber staring down at her like a guardian angel.
I stood there in the doorway looking at her, and for the life of me, I couldn’t think of anything to say except, “Hi, Wendy.”
For a long while, she didn’t answer me, and I thought maybe she was napping and maybe I should leave. But I had Andrew Lloyd Webber pressed against me under my coat, and I thought I should get her permission to take him home, even though at the same time I was thinking, What’s she going to do with him? She can’t take care of herself, much less a baby animal.
Then she opened her eyes.
“It’s me, Eunice,” I said quickly, “from work. I sit next to Val?”
“I know who you are,” she said in a quiet but steady voice. “Come in.”
“I brought this for you.” I walked into the room and handed her the card.
“Thanks,” she whispered. “Could you put it over there?”
“Okay.” I held it up for her. “It doesn’t have any words in it. It’s just got a picture of a sun, and there’s a cloud, and the sun’s peeking over it.” I set it down in the field of cards on her bedside table.
“They keep bringing me all these things.” Wendy gestured around her with a slim, yellow hand. “I’m running out of room here, but they keep on bringing stuff. That cat photo showed up last week. Somebody came in and took my picture with a cat when I was sleeping.”
“That’s nice,” I said.
“Nice? It’s weird. And I don’t even like cats.”
I took a few steps closer. “You don’t?”
She shook her head. “I’m allergic.”
I felt Andrew Lloyd Webber’s soft warmth on my chest, and my heart was soaring now, but I forced myself to look nonchalant and said, “Oh.”
Then Wendy’s face went serious, and she reached up and touched my arm. Her hand was light as a feather. “Sorry, I forgot you have a cat. How’s it doing? Sherry told me it wasn’t well.”
“No, he’s —” And then I stopped.
“Go ahead.” She made a gun out of her thumb and forefinger and pointed it at me — Sherry always said she had a goofy sense of humour — and said, “Shoot.”
“Oh, Wendy.” I took a deep breath. “Johnny died.”
And she gave me the saddest and kindest look I’ve ever seen, and put her hand back on my arm. “I am really sorry to hear that, Eunice.”
“Thank you.” I blinked at her. “Sherry told you he was sick?”
“Yeah, but she didn’t exactly say it in a nice way.” Wendy scowled and tugged at the lacy ruffles around her neck. “Jesus God, I hate this nightie.”
And right then I remembered I had something else for her. I reached into my purse and took out her apartment keys and placed them on her cluttered bedside table. “These are yours.”
“Thanks, Eunice. I appreciate that.” She smiled at me and closed her eyes.
I smiled too, and I wanted so desperately to take back every not-nice thought I’d ever had about Wendy. Because she was a real person. She was the realest person I’d ever met. And past the sharp angle of her shoulder, I could see that cartoon sun peeking over that cartoon cloud, and I thought to myself, Spring is coming.
Right at that moment, Andrew Lloyd Webber meowed.
Then he poked his small, fluffy head out the top of my coat, and Wendy’s eyes flew open, and she sneezed and her whole body quaked from it. She looked at Andrew Lloyd Webber and looked at the photo of her and him on the wall. Then she sneezed again and said, “What the hell?”
I quickly handed her the Kleenex box from her bedside table, knocking over some of the cards, including mine.
“Meow,” Andrew Lloyd Webber said again in his sweet, angelic kitten-voice.
Wendy grabbed a tissue and waved it at us like a flag. “Get that thing out of here, will you?” she told me before blowing her nose.
“I will,” I said. “Thank you, Wendy.” And we backed out of the room and left her alone, which was all she ever wanted, anyway.