Chapter 2: Barry

It was now Monday and Barry’s sneezing persisted throughout the previous night and into early morning. The poor fella barely got a wink of sound sleep, and neither did I for that matter. His situation seemed to have gone from bad to worse as a dry, stuttering cough now accompanied his older symptoms. I had placed a fan facing outward in front of the open window in hopes of drawing out any searching particles, yet to my anger (rather than surprise), the window appeared to have gently slid down and silently closed itself during one of my rare moments of sleep. Of course it had. When I noticed this around 4 am, I held my tongue from revealing my annoyance and opened the window once again. It was harder to open this time, but it eventually gave way and I propped it open using the fan itself. The fan gave me a slight stinging shock, but I continued to ignore these prods and settled back for an uncomfortable couple hours of truncated sleep. When a blast of spit carried on a hot wind peppered my face, I awoke to Barry’s leathery nose roughly 2-3 inches from my face. It was time to get Barry to the doc.

I have known Barry for 12 years now and he is the best friend I have. I do not know what happened in the first six months of his life, but this guy hates the vet. Once there, it is incredible the fury and strength he throws forth, not too mention whatever fluids or solids are contained in his body at the time. I always assumed that Barry either had a real nasty experience at the vet that scarred him like a cattle brand, or he simply thumbs his nose at science and thinks that all doctors are hacks. I could see both, as Barry can hold a grudge if you piss him off bad enough and he is also one of the cockiest dudes I have ever known – he thinks doctors and hospitals are for the weak. Unlucky for him, I snuck up on him and caged him. I need him at full strength if we are going to do what we said.

Dawn, the lady who brought us together, and nearly tore us apart, picked him up at an animal shelter out in Salem, Massachusetts when he was just a few months old. I always got a kick out of the fact that he is a black cat from Witchtown with some serious fire. I sometimes wonder who this guy really is and what other things he has seen. There are few people who knew Barry in his early days, and fewer that I have spoken to, but one guy who did know him hinted at the possibility that Barry’s mother died during kitten birth. According to the shelter records, her litter only yielded two kittens and no information was given as to the whereabouts of the sibling or mother, only that Barry was the second born. This theory could make sense. Perhaps Barry harbors an inner anger that his birth caused his mother’s death or he blames the doctors present for letting her die. I have never let Barry know that I have heard such a story, and don’t know if the right time will ever present itself.

I went back to the same shelter a few years later looking for some more pieces to Barry’s puzzle, when my eye was snared by a mysterious black kitten. She was slight and beautiful with luminous yellow eyes. Her coat had a slick sheen and her head cocked slightly to the right. I was entranced. Her name was Lois and I immediately forgot why I had come back to Salem. She gently cooed as I filled out the paper work in a daze. We were ten miles from the city on that cold, clear December night when I realized that I had just taken in another cat.

Barry was pissed. I never knew if he was mad because he was now not the only cat in the apartment or if it was because I did not get his say in the matter. He has never been clear with me about his true feelings towards Lois, but despite all his macho posturing, he too fell in love with her. Lois worshipped Barry and he treated her like dirt. I do not know if his cold confidence made her jelly in his paws, but despite his moodiness and bursts of anger, she always loved him unconditionally. I can’t say what went on when it was just the two of them, but pretty soon after her arrival they were oftentimes entangled in a warm knot of black fur. Barry hates when I bring this up, but it is true, the cat is capable of tenderness and love.

As I suspected, Barry was a complete terror at the Hospital. He was rage incarnate, spitting and howling. They put us in the same room where they had put Lois in what ended up being her final visit to the hospital. Her final visit anywhere really, at least for here on Earth. I did not like being in that room and knowing she was gone. Flashes of Lois dragging her poisoned body along the floor blinded me. Barry could sense it. But this hospital was not in Maverick, our accursed city, and it seemed far enough away to remain unmolested by the creeping tendrils beneath the soil – for a little while, at least.

The doctor was a very patient woman. She appeared to be about my age, perhaps a bit older, with dark, oily hair pulled taught, streaked with gray and flecked with dandruff. She had a young, blond-haired assistant with her who looked fresh and happy. They both wore full-length white frocks, reminiscent of Army nurses from World War I or the Flu Epidemic of 1918. Their movements were smooth and slow, as though they were on silent wheels with well-greased bearings. The fluorescent lights caused a gauzy blur that surrounded and softened their bodies. They handled Barry with respect and liberal amounts of caution. They smiled honestly and sadly. The hint of melancholy did not seem a result of Barry’s condition, but rather a distant pain in their eyes, as though they were remembering something from ages past. In spite of Barry’s twisting and writhing, gnashing teeth intending to kill, they continued to smile and examine him thoroughly.

The doctor’s eyes were a very clear, wet, slate blue and she held them directly on mine as she told me her recommendations. Her voice was sweet and strong and her locution was direct and clinical – it seemed to juxtapose the depth and history in her eyes. If she had any knowledge of our mission or the events of the past that have brought us here, she made no mention, save that strangeness in her eyes. She prescribed a mild antihistamine (which I knew he would never take) and suggested that I steam Barry twice a day. I liked telling people that I had to steam Barry, which meant keeping him enclosed in the bathroom while the shower runs hot to help him get some moisture into his sinuses. Barry didn’t think it was very funny, but there was very little that Barry thought was funny, especially these days.

While we waited in the lobby for his prescription to be filled, Lois’ doctor saw me. She was such a sweet woman. She was very young for her incredible breadth of knowledge. She was strong when she had to be and generally very caring and soft when needed. I feared that Lois’ case was going to break her, but she remained vigilant throughout every descending step her condition took. She examined every possibility and potential cure and in the end she stayed with me while I cried, holding Lois’ stiff body in my lifeless arms. Her name was Dr. Helmbold, and when the situation felt right, she let me call her Elizabeth.

Elizabeth walked around the bench where we sat and caught me by surprise as she approached from behind my right shoulder. She was tender, as always, and asked how I was doing. I first told her that I did not want to alarm her when I brought Barry in, and having heard my stories about Barry’s behavior, I did not want to add any further stress onto this gentle woman with a face-to-face encounter. She was tall, over six feet, with soft, peach colored hair. She said that she heard that I was here and was anxious to see how I was doing and if everything was alright. I lied and told her that I was doing ok. I cared for her. She had done such a wonderful job, despite losing Lois, and she had for all intents and purposes seen me naked. She saw me in my most vulnerable and raw and that put her in a very small company.

I explained Barry’s symptoms and diagnosis, although she had already spoken with the other doctor. She got on her knees to peer into Barry’s carrier, which was placed on the floor. I thought that she may have been eager to meet Barry, for he was so close to me and she, in a way, was so close to me. She peered in and said a few soft introductory words and Barry just stared back, nervously, from the back of his cage. He did not know how hard this woman had worked, how much compassion she had showed me. He knew enough not to hiss or growl, but he remained seated and cautiously observant. Dr. Helmbold, appeared to do the same. She held her silent, searching gaze for what felt like a few seconds too many, and then rose. She assured me again that I could call her for any emergency and was glad to see me. I felt like I should shake her hand, a firm, business-like handshake. I also felt like I should hug her, like friends who haven’t seen each other in years hug one another at a funeral for a mutual friend. And I felt like I wanted to cry in her lap, as I had done once before. In the end, I remained seated and just looked into her eyes and thanked her again as I tried not to cry.

As Dr. Helmbold disappeared behind the swinging doors that led to the lab, Barry’s name was called and I settled up with the front desk. Barry rode shotgun as I told him we were on our way back to Maverick. He did not know that we were going to make one more stop. It had always been my plan, and best now that I had him in the car, that we were going to see the Shaman. The Shaman lived only two blocks from us, up a slow hill and next to the elementary school. He operated a bodega of sorts in a small stretch of four or five shops and lived in a room in the back. I don’t know how he made his rent and why he rarely bothered to have much filling out his dusty, stained shelves, but he knew me and he knew I was coming, even though I had not told him.

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