It’s Time

“Don’t worry, Carolyn, the doctors will fix you right up. You’ve got nothing to worry
about,” said Donna as she sped down the road. They were doing fifty in a thirty-five speed
limit zone, but Donna tried to keep her voice calm while she silently prayed that they wouldn’t pass a
cop or hit a stray patch of ice. “Really, I mean it. I’m sure you’re fine and we’ve got nothing to
worry about.”

Carolyn was silent, giving her best friend only half-sleepy, half-annoyed look in
response. She hated going for drives, especially when Donna drove so fast. Donna knew this.
“Oh alright, if that’s how you’re going to be, then fine. You don’t have to talk to me, but there’s
nothing you can do that’ll get you out of going. And I know they’ll give you medicine too;
you’re going to have to take it whether you like it or not. This isn’t up for discussion Carolyn, do
you understand?”

Donna took her eyes off the road for a brief second to look over to Carolyn. She stared
wordlessly back with a genuine sadness in her eyes. This wasn’t just her usual pouting.
“Oh, please don’t worry Carolyn,” Donna said, taking one hand off the steering wheel to
fiddle with the large gray pendant that hung around her neck. Her fingers ran over the engraved
letters. They read, ‘Always with me’, on one side, and ‘Jeff Scherbatski’ on the other. “I really
am sure that everything is going to be just fine. I know you haven’t been feeling well, and I
wouldn’t bring you here unless I knew it was for the best. Don’t you trust me, Carolyn?” Carolyn
remained silent, and Donna’s grip on her necklace tightened.

“I know you’re not happy about this, but we’ll be back home before you know it.” Donna
pulled into the Doctor’s office parking lot. A woman with a dog walked by. Donna looked over
at Carolyn, whose eyes peered over the dashboard toward the dog. Her ears folded back, and her
body stiffened.

“That’s okay, we can wait just a second before going in,” said Donna. “I mean it, you
don’t have to worry. I’m going to make sure they get you feeling better in no time, I promise. I
won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

Donna stepped out of the car and walked around to the passenger side. She opened the
passenger door, unbuckled Carolyn’s seatbelt, and maneuvered it over the cat carrier to free
Carolyn. Carolyn still didn’t say a word, but she shifted uncomfortably as Donna lifted her
carrier out of the car and walked into the veterinarian’s office.

“Hi, Donna. You’re just in time… looks like I have a 1:00 appointment for Carolyn
Scherbatsky,” said the man sitting behind the front desk. He wore blue scrubs with
yellow-and-red paw prints made to look like they were walking across the shoulders.
“Yes, here she is, thank you, Collin,” said Donna, placing Carolyn’s carrier on top of the
desk. Carolyn gave a low “Rreaoow” in protest, pulling her ears back slightly and giving Collin a
distasteful look out of the corner of her eye.

“Hey, how’s your son? Did the move go smoothly?” said Collin.
“Yes, everything went very well! Johnny calls at least twice a week, and it sounds like he
and his fiancé are loving the new house, and loving Montana too. I haven’t gotten a chance to go
out there yet, but the pictures are beautiful.”

“I bet. That’s a nice place to live, lots of fresh air.”

“Yeah, it really is. I can’t wait till I can get out there to visit, I’m supposed to go soon.
Johnny keeps joking about how there’s a house for sale down the street from them and I could
move in and be close to the grandkids someday, but I don’t know about that just yet. Especially
with all the issues Carolyn has been having, I’d hate to put her through all the stress of moving,”
said Donna.

“Oh really? I think that would be a nice setup for you. And I’m sure Carolyn would
appreciate having Johnny close by. Now speaking of Carolyn, what seems to be the problem
today? Has her rash cleared up?” asked Collin.

Donna looked at Carolyn, who was already starting to fall asleep. She was folded up like
a loaf of bread. Instead of lying her head down on her paws, it drooped forward as she nodded
off.

“We’ve been having some minor issues for a while,” Donna said with a sigh.
“Oh yeah?” said Collin, a bit more softly than before. “Sorry to hear. How long would
that be? And what do you mean by ‘minor issues?”

“It’s been about three or four days now. I wanted to bring her in earlier, but you know
how she hates the car.”

“You don’t have to sugar coat it, I know it’s this place and not the car that she doesn’t
like,” said Collin, the corners of his mouth leaning into a slight smile.

For a short moment Donna smiled back for the first time in—she racked her brain—about
three or four days.

“Yes, well, you know I wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings. I’m sure she’d be grateful to
you all if she could understand.” Donna sighed again, the smile falling from her face as quickly
as it had appeared. “Anyway, the rash hasn’t been as bad since she was on antibiotics. The real
problem is, well, it’s been a bit tricky trying to get her to eat or drink these last few days.”
Collin stopped typing and looked up at Donna, his brow furrowed. “She stopped eating?”

“Yes,” said Donna, “the litter box has been quite empty too. She doesn’t seem to want to
talk to me much. She’s been acting quite sad, you know, sleeping a lot. Not in my room either,
the last few nights I found her in the basement where she never used to go. I don’t know what
could be wrong, I thought we had all her kidney issues under control. Before this week she
seemed to be loving her new water fountain and on Monday she even wanted to play a little bit,
just like when she was younger. But not anymore. The past few days have been so hard for her.
Do you think it could be another kidney infection? Maybe another round of antibiotics could do
the trick?”

Collin stared straight ahead at his computer for a moment with his hands folded in his
lap. After a moment he took a deep breath and looked up at Donna, his eyes a bit gentler than
before.

“Hmm. Sleeping a lot…doesn’t want to eat… and secluding herself. Right. You know I’m
just the front desk guy and I can’t give you any kind of diagnosis, you’ll have to wait for the vet.
But I will say that you’ve taken great care of her. Most cats don’t make it to 19, that’s pretty
damn impressive. Why don’t you take a seat, I’ll let you know when they’re ready for you.”

“Yes… but you think she’ll be okay, don’t you?” Donna said.

Collin looked away and sighed, then turned his eyes back to Donna. “You know what? I
think that everything will be okay. In a couple weeks…shoot, let’s say two months. Two months
from now, both of you will be just fine. Okay Donna? Everything’s going to be just fine,” he said
with a smile.

Collin disappeared behind a set of double doors. Donna sat with Carolyn’s carrier on her
lap. Carolyn was curled up with her tail wrapped around her thin, frail body. Her tail twitched as
she slept and tickled her nose. It wasn’t so long ago, thought Donna, that Carolyn had been
falling asleep on her husband’s lap, chasing her son’s backpack straps around the living room,
meowing at the door as Carolyn unlocked it to come home, batting around balls of wrapping
paper on Christmas morning…

Donna was abruptly pulled back into the present by the sound of her phone ringing. Her
son’s face lit up the screen.

“Hello?”

“Hey Mom. Do you know how to get a stain out of a white tablecloth? I think Katie
might kill me when she gets home.”

“Oh that’s easy, just soak in white vinegar for an hour then wash in hot water. Make sure
you don’t put it in the dryer until the stain is completely gone,” she said.

“Thanks Mom, you’re the best. Hey, I saw my real estate agent the other day. Have you
thought any more about that house down the street from me? I think it would be really great for
you, especially since…”

“Yes, I know, I’ve thought about it. Quite a lot, actually. But… with Carolyn sick,
moving might be too much for her. Plus, can you imagine me leaving Wisconsin? I’ve been a
tried-and-true Midwesterner all my life.”

“Oh no, Carolyn’s sick again?”

“She’s sick still, yes. We’re at the vet right now.”

“I’m sorry Mom, I hope she feels better soon. I know how much she’s meant to you,
especially since Dad died.”

“Thank you. And don’t worry about me and Carolyn, we’ll be okay,” said Donna.

“I hope so, I’d love to come back and see her sometime soon. Hey, remember when we
first got Carolyn?”

Donna laughed. “Of course, I remember. How could I possibly forget you coming
through the door with that kitten in your arms after begging for a puppy all those months. I’ll
never forget the look on your face.”

“Yeah, it all happened so fast when we found her that I barely knew what to say about it.
She was all full of fleas and scraggly. I didn’t even want to pick her up, but dad put her right in
my arms before we walked through the front door.”

“Yes, and then he came in right behind you insisting that ‘Johnny found a kitten and he
really wants to keep it, we can’t separate them now, they’re already bonded,’” Donna said with a
laugh.

“I bet you knew from the get-go that it was really his idea to keep that cat, I didn’t want
anything to do with her until she was cleaned up. I loved her after a few days, but I sure didn’t
want to get bit by those fleas.”

“ I don’t blame you,” said Donna. “Of course she’s the prettiest kitty in the world now,
but she sure wasn’t much to look at before your dad fixed her up. I like to say she’s my best
friend now, but the two of them were something else from day one.

“They really were, I bet she misses him,” said Johnny.

“I really think she does. I just wish she didn’t have to be so sick, I hate to see her like
this.” Donna sighed and ran her fingers over her necklace. “By the way, I got my anniversary
present in the mail last Monday. Thank you, that was very thoughtful.”

“Good, I’m glad you like it, Mom. I’d seen ads for those pendants with a loved one’s
ashes and I thought it might make your first anniversary without him a little easier. I’m just glad
you like it, I was worried you might think it was creepy or something.”

“No, no, I love it. It’s perfect, thank you. But I should probably get going now, the vet
should be calling in soon.”

“Alright Mom. Take care. And please just give the real estate agent a call, okay? The
house might surprise you.”

A door opened and a woman wearing a white coat with her hair in a sleek ponytail
stepped out. “Carolyn and Donna Scherbatsky,” she called out.

“I will. I’ve got to go, we just got called to go in. I love you. I’ll call when we get home
we’ll talk more about the house then,” said Donna.

“Okay. Love you too Mom.”

Inside the examination room, Donna set Carolyn’s carrier on the metal table and opened
the door. Carolyn painstakingly straightened her legs into a standing position and took step after
labored step onto the folded-up blanket on the table. She let out a sigh and folded into a sitting
position with her feet tucked under her thin body. Instead of sitting down, Donna stood by the
table and began to gently pet Carolyn.

“Hi Cheryl, how’ve you been?” said Donna.

“Not too bad, thanks for asking,” said the vet. “So, Donna. My notes say that Carolyn has
been having trouble getting food down, had some problems with sleeping excessively, and
reclusive behavior. Does that sound about right?”

“Yes, that’s right. Do we need to start her on some more antibiotics?” asked Donna.

Cheryl took the same pause that Colin had just a few minutes before. “Donna,” she said,
“I think it’s time.”

The words echoed in Donna’s ears off of the hard tile floors and staggeringly white walls.
It’s time. It’s time. It’s time.

She looked down at Carolyn, who stared back up at her with true and complete trust in
her eyes.

“I’m sorry, what?” said Donna.

“I think it might be time to let go. We’ve had this conversation before, I don’t think we
can put this off any longer. She’s in a lot of pain, and she’s trying to tell you that.”

Donna stared back blankly. “But are you sure there isn’t anything else we can try? Money
isn’t an object, I’ll find a way to make it work if there’s something she needs. Please, she’s all I
have left here.”

“Donna, I’m so sorry, but we’re just out of time. She held on for a long time, but we
knew this day was going to come sooner or later.”

Donna began to frantically look from Carolyn to Cheryl, silently begging one of them to
give her something of an answer. “Could I just have a moment alone with her?” she asked, the
tears beginning to well up in her eyes.

“Of course,” said the vet. “Take all the time you need. I’ll be in the back, just let me
know when you’re ready.”

Donna gently scooped up Carolyn off the table and cradled her in her arms like a baby.
Donna noticed how light she was, how frail she felt, and how her once silky, beautiful fur was
now dry and thin despite Donna’s best efforts to keep it brushed. Her big green eyes stared up at
Donna, and she began to purr as she slowly closed and opened them. Carolyn wheezed slightly
as she breathed in but maintained her purr all the same. Donna sat down. Despite her best efforts,
she could feel the hot tears begin to run down her cheeks.

“I’m so sorry, Carolyn. I did everything I could. I really did. Maybe there’s something
else we can try? Maybe we’ll go to another vet, get a second opinion? Please, I can’t do this
without knowing I tried everything to help you.”

Donna leaned to the left to reach for her purse. The movement jostled Carolyn slightly,
who gave a weak but profound yowl in response. Donna stopped her movement and looked
down at Carolyn. Her ears were pulled back and her eyes and nose were scrunched. She
continued her long meow in a low, drawn-out cry. Donna stared down at her in horror.
“Carolyn, you really are in a lot of pain, aren’t you? Oh god, I’m so sorry I couldn’t see
that sooner. That’s what you’ve been trying to tell me these past few days, isn’t it? And I didn’t
listen to you.” Donna began to sob, her breaths coming in stifled gasps. Carolyn meowed weakly
and leaned her head into Donna’s hand, closing her eyes and beginning to purr again.

Donna laughed through her tears. “Does that mean you forgive me? You take after your
Dad, Carolyn. You’re kinder than I could ever hope to be.” Carolyn gave another weak meow,
looking back at Donna and blinking slowly once more. The two of them sat in the chair for a few
more moments, Carolyn purring and Donna holding her, gently scratching her ears and slowly
rocking back and forth. It was not so different, Donna thought, from how she had rocked her son
when he was a baby. And not different at all from her last moments with her husband before he
passed, Donna holding his hand and stroking his hair.

After a few minutes, Donna’s tears began to slow. Carolyn was asleep again with her
head nestled into the bend of Donna’s elbow. With Carolyn still in her arms, Donna stood and
walked across the small examination room. She used her foot to knock on the door to the back
office. “We’re ready,” she said. “It’s time.”

Two months to the day after, Donna stood on her front porch with her hands in the
pockets of her overalls, looking into her empty house through an open front door. The midday
light shone beautifully on the hardwood floors now that there was no furniture in the way to
prevent it from doing so. A man carrying a cardboard box walked through the door. “This is the
last of them,” he said. “Do you want to do one final walk through or are you ready to go? It’s a
long drive to Montana, best to get an early start.”

Donna’s fingers reached up and found her necklace. The same large gray pendant was
there, but it was now accompanied by a much smaller charm hanging from the same chain,
resting directly above Donna’s heart. Donna peered into the doorway for a moment, gazing one
last time at the rooms, floors, ceilings, and stairways that had held a lifetime worth of love.
“I’m ready,” said Donna. “It’s time for a new start.”


Sarah Hansen 

Born and raised in northern Illinois, Sarah Hansen is a 2019 Carroll University graduate. She is an alumnus of Portage Magazine, serving as the 2017 Poetry Editor and 2019 Editor in Chief.  Her work was previously published in Portage Magazine’s 2020 issue. 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: