When she gave up her efforts to adopt a Jordanian child, it was the hardest decision she’d ever made in her life.
Brigitte returned devastated from her trip to Amman. How could people bear to live like that? When she got back, she went to the Caribbean for a vacation. She needed to rest. She telephoned her husband from the hotel and told him she wouldn’t have kids that weren’t his.
Brigitte was sterile. She was sorry about it, for Eliot’s sake.
When she got home, they went and got Froda.
That was five years ago.
Eliot was the first to get up. He put the coffee on, and sat down in the dining room. The tomatoes were beginning to ripen in the planters on the terrace. He saw an apple fall onto the damp grass, and the sun was coming up behind the garage.
He finished his coffee. He poured a glass of white wine. Froda’s food and water dishes were empty. He’d lost his free day. The student assistant would give the lecture. He went up the stairs and went into his wife’s room.
Brigitte was still in bed. He knew she wasn’t asleep. Her legs and white feet were uncovered. He sipped, gazing at her.
They did not desire each other.
The woman turned over; her eyes were reddened. At dawn he’d heard her sobbing. Brigitte looked him up and down.
He took another sip. Wine was better than reality, but never mind.
Each one knew how the other’s breath would be just then.
“Want some coffee?” asked Eliot.
Brigitte shook her head no. She sat up, resting her back on the headboard. She leaned forward and circled her knees with her arms. Her hair came down almost to her ankles. More sobs shook her back.
Yesterday afternoon the vet had called. They didn’t want to talk about it over the phone. Eliot was home, and his wife was with her lover. They met at the clinic.
Froda was Brigitte’s shadow.
They were both sterile.
They both liked to curl up on the sofa in front of the TV.
They both moved silently through the house.
The vet showed them the test results on the computer screen.
Froda was dying in the next room.
Two days ago Eliot had followed the trail of vomit down the stairs. He found her lying in the middle of the living room. He reluctantly put his hand on her rib cage and the cat vomited again. Brigitte wasn’t home then either.
“Infectious feline peritonitis is incurable,” they told them.
Nobody could do anything.
The woman clawed her forehead. Eliot was sitting across the room from her. He was glad he didn’t feel for Froda what she did, and that he didn’t have to console her.
The vet looked at them.
“I know it’s hard… ,” he said.
There were cat photographs all over the walls. In some, the owners were posing with their mascots. He could see one of Brigitte and Froda. It was a birthday picture. The cat was wearing a dress and a bonnet on her head. He’d taken the picture himself. One in the arms of the other.
Brigitte looked at her husband gazing at the photos on the walls.
“In these cases, the only humane alternative is euthanasia…”
Eliot met his wife’s eyes. His body was there. In his mind, he was drinking beer in the stadium. The Blue Jays had taken on a Cuban second baseman for three seasons. A black guy with a powerful swing, good at catching. He looked away from Brigitte. In the photo the two were kissing each other.
Brigitte burst out crying.
The vet tried to comfort her and talked about the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights. She didn’t know that any such declaration existed.
Eliot was amused. Who would have written something like that? Someone like Brigitte, no doubt.
“Instant, painless death…”
Eliot handed her a paper towel. She dried her tears.
The vet went on with his litany. Treating customers this way paid his rent.
“…without anxiety and as rapidly as possible…”
Brigitte knew it all depended on a word from her. After the adoption venture failed, the hardest decision in her life would consist of a word of compassion. In the room next door, serum dripped and the apparatus was all set around Froda.
Eliot was still thinking about the Declaration of Animal Rights.
“All right… ,” said Brigitte, standing up and facing the vet.
Eliot watched her cry, in the same position. Her hair still had a natural shine. Anyone might fall in love with a woman like this… In another time. In another place. He went down and poured the rest of the wine into his glass. Birds were hopping from branch to branch in the apple tree. He heard Brigitte’s footsteps upstairs. Then the sound of the shower. A squirrel jumped from the fence to the bush. The birds took off in flight.
Brigitte came down, dressed.
Eliot wanted to go with her, so he had changed his class meeting. She turned him down. They discussed it briefly, unheatedly. Finally she accepted.
He offered her a glass of juice. Brigitte wasn’t hungry.
Eliot got dressed and they left.
She was in charge.
At the clinic, the vet was waiting for them in his office. He told them that Froda remained stable, aided by the apparatus around her.
Everything was ready for the procedure.
The clinical action had an evasive name. The vet would put Froda to sleep.
“Do you want to come in or do you prefer to wait here?” he asked.
They agreed to witness Froda’s last moments. The secretary brought them gowns and touched Brigitte gently on the shoulder.
They went into the room. The windows were curtained and everything was in order. The only animal present was Froda.
The cat was dozing in a plastic cradle. Her breathing was regular. Brigitte caressed her head. She couldn’t repress a sob. The vet prepared the syringe.
“Embutramide, Mebezonium Iodide, Tetracaine… ,” he explained as though apologizing. “She won’t feel a thing.”
He looked at his clients. He asked Brigitte to step back so she wouldn’t communicate her stress to the animal, despite the sedation. Brigitte moved back from Froda. The vet took one of her front paws. He searched for the appropriate vein and inserted the needle.
“She will soon stop breathing or moving.”
Brigitte clenched her fists, brought them up to her mouth, and bit her knuckles.
The solution moved through the animal’s veins and entered the blood stream.
At that moment Froda dreamed that she had climbed to the top of the apple tree. Her owner was waiting for her below with her arms open.
“You know you’re a good cat,” Brigitte told her, smiling.
The cat tensed her body, jumped, and in that second the sun blinded her in a flash.
Only a few seconds had gone by.
Brigitte closed her tear-filled eyes.
Froda was sleeping…
It was so simple.
The vet pulled the needle out. Froda’s body jerked with slight spasms and trembling.
“It is normal after death,” he said.
Eliot and the vet went back to the office.
Brigitte remained alone with the body. She picked Froda up. She held her for a few seconds and then put her back into the cradle. She pulled out her phone. She entered a number. On the other end of the line she heard encouraging words.
“It will all be fine, kitten…”
Her throat constricted. She couldn’t answer. She put the phone away.
When Eliot came out, he handed the check to the vet.
The secretary opened the door. She looked at them. Everything was ready for the incineration. The vet gave the order.
The three of them were alone again.
“Now you need to be truthful with your children…”
Eliot avoided looking at Brigitte.
Neither one of them said anything.
“Perhaps this is your first experience with death…”
All this should be written in the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights, thought Eliot.
Now it was his wife who gazed at the picture of her with Froda.
“Remind them of the good times, let them participate in the burial of the ashes, look at photos of your pet together…”
The secretary came back in with a tea tray.
Eliot sipped his tea and felt an urgent need for a beer. Then he remembered that he had to pick up the headstone. His wife had written the words.
“Oh, Lord… ,” Eliot had said when he read them.
Brigitte wanted to call the number again and hear how someone called her kitten.
When they got back, Brigitte went out on the terrace.
She dug the hole next to the apple tree. From the dining room Eliot watched her leaning down over it. Her arms naked.
Brigitte placed the box in the hole. She tamped down the dirt. Then she repeated the same process with the headstone.
She backed up a few feet. She gazed at the red granite marker.
“Blow gently, breezes, for my baby sleeps here,” she read out loud.
She looked over at the dining room. She saw Eliot’s bald head, while he was drinking beer, and she felt compassion for him.
Francisco García González was born in Havana in 1963 and has a degree in history from Havana University. He is a writer, editor, and screenwriter. His short story collections include Juegos permitidos (Games Allowed, 1994), Color local (Local Color, 1999), and ¡Qué quieren las mujeres? (What Do Women Want?, 2003). He has also published a historical essay, Presidio Modelo, temas escondidos (Model Prison, Hidden Agendas, 2002). His stories have appeared in anthologies in Cuba and in Spain. He won Cuba’s Hemingway Short Story Prize in 1999, and has served as editor of the cultural journal Habáname. His articles have appeared in periodicals in Cuba, Mexico, Chile, and the U.S. He has written the screenplays for the films Lisanka and Ticket to Paradise for directors Daniel Díaz Torres and Gerardo Chijona.
Mary G. Berg has taught Latin American literature at the University of Colorado Boulder, UCLA, Caltech, and Harvard. She is now a Resident Scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center, and teaches translation at Harvard Extension. Her translations include three anthologies of recent Cuban fiction (Open Your Eyes and Soar, Cuba on the Edge, New Cuban Fiction), and poetry by Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Clara Ronderos, and Carlota Caulfield. Her latest translations include Olga Orozco, A Talisman in the Darkness (with Melanie Nicholson), 2012, and Laidi Fernández de Juan, Bésame mucho and Other Stories, 2013.