Lily was scaling the metal cage while her siblings slept soundly. A man with an East Asian accent smiled and said ‘Ah, she like spider man.’ I laughed and agreed. She was eight weeks old. Lily was petite and kitten like, even as a senior lady. She would have been fifteen years old in May. Three weeks ago the vet said she had a large tumour under her tongue and that she may only have a few days to live.
At nine o’clock on her last living morning, she was lying over my shoulder and purring loudly as I lightly rested my ear on her side to listen to her heartbeat. I sighed as I felt the warmth of her strawberry fur on my cheek. At ten o’clock she was devouring blended prawns. At eleven o’clock she was sitting on the roof of the garden shed, watching a black and white cat skulk across a driveway. At twelve o’clock she was sleeping in her bed by the sofa. At one o’clock she was chattering gaily in the passenger seat next to me as I drove her to the vets. At two o’clock, she was lying on her fluffy blanket, upon a steel table in a windowless room. She purred as the vet injected her front leg. Her body became limp in my hands within ten seconds. Her eyes were large black discs. She cooled quickly and I took my hand away, what I wanted to remember was her warmth. All that remained was her absence.
‘I’m just happy she is at peace.’ said the vet. ‘At peace’ I thought, she does not have the awareness to be at peace. She is dead. When living things die, they simply die and their consciousness goes with them. To be at peace, one must be sentient. There is nothing. And it is this nothingness that fills my mind with a gnawing black hole where Lily once was. When I think of her, there is a hollow, pulling sensation inside me and I long for her trilling mews. In private, I weep at the loss of her. I apologise for my tears, because I am embarrassed to be bereft at the loss of a cat.
She didn’t know she was going to die that day. If Lily could talk, when asked the question, ‘Would you like to be killed today?’, what would she have said? Would she have said ‘Yes please; I am in too much pain and I do not want to live another day.’ Or would she have said: ‘Living hurts. My mouth won’t close. My tongue is agony. I drool because it hurts to swallow. I cannot eat without pain but I am so hungry. I cannot clean myself. I am tired and I do not think I will be here long. But I like to feel the air in my whiskers and the sun on my back. I like the smells of spring and the grass blades on my scent glands. I like the taste of mashed prawns. I like the sounds of the garden and I am excited by the sight of the Dunnocks alighting on the bird table. I like your fingers stroking my head and I still want to sit across the back of your neck, like I did when I was young and I am not ready to let go of life just yet. Let me live a little longer.’
No one knows. No one knows what animals really want at this time. Perhaps, the survival instinct is stronger than the agony. The vets think they know but they can only know the human response to pain and apply that to other species. No one really knows if Lily wanted to live or die on that day. I can only hope that I am wrong about the nothingness beyond.