You won’t believe this, but it isn’t until the cat has attached itself to my face by all four paws that I think, “Well, now I’m in a real pickle.”
When the new hire, a girl we call Legs, comes to the front, I’m stapling a piece of paper to another piece of paper. I’m a receptionist — it’s what I do — staple stuff. I’m a big deal at the front desk. She’s worked at the veterinary clinic for three weeks, and when she comes up, she tells me she is struggling to transfer a cat from one cage to the next. Apparently, he is mad. His accommodations aren’t up to snuff. His water bowl is only half full. This is a vet clinic that specializes in only cats, so the cat expects better — much better.
It’s with an air of bravado that I offer to fix this problem for her. After all, I’ve worked at the clinic ages longer than she has. Tomorrow is my four-week anniversary.
“Don’t worry,” I told her, “I’ll handle this.”
Fast-forward three minutes and here we are. This may also be difficult for you to believe, but I have no idea what I’m doing. I could have waited fifteen more minutes for the ten-year-experienced vet tech to arrive, but that wouldn’t make any sense at all, now would it?
Let’s take a moment to consider the perpetrator. The perpetrator currently attached to my face, I mean. He’s an eight-year old, domestic long-hair that has a suspicious resemblance to the late, feline, internet sensation Colonel Meow. His name is not Colonel Meow, though, because none of our clients are clever enough to think up names like that. This cat — this cat attached to my face — is named Mr. Fluffy Britches.
He’s usually a swell guy, too. Mr. Fluffy Britches, I mean. His owner, Mrs. Chang, brought him in because when he urinates, it’s as if he’s peeing straight gasoline while someone holds a lighter in perpetual flick next to his urethra. Mrs. Chang didn’t put it quite like this, of course. She dropped him on the front counter in a puff of floating cat-hair molecules.
“He’s peeing on my bed. He’s a bad cat. Do something with him.”
Well, Mrs. Chang, I’m doing something with Mr. Fluffy Britches right now. Legs is standing next to the cage door as my arms flail and my hands bat at the cat on my face. She’ll tell me later that she thought about running. She’ll tell me later what a hard decision it was to stay. The back door was so close. Mr. Fluffy Britches was so mad. We’d only known each other for three weeks, after all. Was Legs really supposed to die for me?
The clients I left up front are beginning to stir. Even as Mr. Fluffy Britches growls while attempting to pull a Mike Tyson on my right ear, I can hear the feet tapping, the forced coughs, the throaty catcalls to the back of the clinic. I’m sorry you’re late to pick up your morning cappuccino. Right now, a cat is trying to eat my face.
After a cacophony of cries, a gaggle of grunts, and a tangle of tugs at Mr. Fluffy Britches’ hind legs, I manage to separate his nails from the flesh on my face. Legs slams the cage door hard and quick. To this day, she slams the cage doors rapid-fire, a machine gun of locks clicking that is heard all the way in exam room one if she’s on shift. Surviving this cat attack is quite possibly the best thing that has happened to me all week. For a minute, I didn’t think I would make it. The only upside — if I died, that is — would have been that the three people who arrived at my funeral would be able to say I died doing what I love. Not the mauled-by-a-cat-who-can’t-pee-properly part. The works-with-cats part.
When Legs and I finally make eye contact, the rising relief of nervous laughter begins. She knows I made a mistake. I know she knows I made a mistake. Our bond is sealed with the wax stamp of approval now, whether we wanted to get waxed together or not.
I shuffle to the front, snaking my way behind the clients who are waiting for help. As I push through toward the bathroom, a client stops me to ask if she can just pay for her cat’s treatment right quick. She’s in a real rush, you see. Of course, ma’am, why wouldn’t I stop right now to help you? Don’t mind the blood rushing from the four wounds on my face. Absolutely nothing has gone wrong in the last ten minutes that you should concern yourself with, ma’am. I’ll complete my front desk duties as I bleed from the near-fatal wounds I’ve sustained while I’ve been away from the desk. Not a problem at all.
Legs pokes her head in and offers to try to help the clients who are waiting. She gives me a little wink. A little, how-can-we-not-be-friends-now wink. I close the bathroom door behind me, locking out the sound. I lock out the client with the ridiculous expectations. I lock out Mr. Fluffy Britches, yowling from the back.
As I stare into the mirror, red streaks running down my face in four neat lines, I realize this very moment is one reason I cannot kill myself.
There are dozens of other veterinary clinics in this town alone, full of cats who can’t pee. How many other receptionists-gone-rogue-vet-tech have had cats attached to their face this morning? Not many, I’d wager. I’m special. Unique. Extraordinary. I’ve made a new friend, to boot. You see, you might not believe it, but just because cat attacks aren’t my first pick for how to spend my Tuesday morning doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the positive effect of this situation.
It is because I don’t believe many other people have made new friends via cat attack that I will live another day. If I kill myself, how many other cat-initiated friendships might I miss out on in my life? What bizarre, mildly humorous, and incredibly painful experience that leads to lasting friendship will I rob myself of in the coming days or years? Forget Mr. Fluffy Britches and the permanent psychological damage he’s done to me. I made a new friend today.
Nikcole Wiles is a graduate student at the University of North Florida. When she’s not writing emotionally distant humor pieces or crafting her latest short story, she’s a) drowning in academia b) cooking her wife a gourmet meal (usually Ramen), or c) being vomited on by her daughter. All of her fiction and poetry is revised with the assistance of her wife and four cats.