Inspired by a very striking cat that came to stay in the kennel at the veterinary hospital where I work.


I will never forget the first time she spoke to me. I had certainly talked to many cats before. Most of them had replied in one way or another, but never like this. Her voice was soft and sweet. At first I did not hear her. Though she was alone in the small section of the kennel where the felines stayed, the sound of dogs barking on the other side of the wall caused me to question whether I had heard anything at all. That quick whisper resembling a voice seemed out of place. I looked around to see who might be in the building with me.

Sundays left me alone in the animal hospital. There were no surgeries or clients on that day, only the lonely kennel attendant. While everyone else slept in late then played the day away watching football games or taking in the sunshine out of doors I stayed in. Even though I worked by myself on those days I was never alone. The animals were there with me, keeping me in good company.

The voice I heard was not as I knew voices to be. She did not speak aloud. The lack of lips would have caused some issue with my understanding of her pronunciation of many words in the English or any other language (seeing as how I only spoke the one any other language would not have been effective anyway). My limitations had not been an issue at any point to her. I quickly understood her words even if I had no way of knowing what language they were from or how she was causing them to enter my thoughts.

 I learned her name quite quickly. Rosetta she told me in her soothing tone. I introduced myself as well. I felt in my gut that I didn’t need to remind her of things she already knew, but my father had raised me to follow his lead as a southern gentleman (a Midwestern southern gentleman though the accent did not seem required as he had lost his some years before I was born).

Now when at first you find yourself (should you ever find yourself) in a situation where a cat decides to talk to you, my advice is to listen. It may be such a moment as that very moment in time that so drastically changed me, the day I met Rosetta. Or it may be that the cat you find yourself communicating with simply needs to get some things off of his or her chest. Either way it is common courtesy not to ignore them.

I stopped and slowly turned to face her. She was old. Her body was failing her. She was very white with thinning fur that you could see right through. Hints of pink adorned her face, on her nose especially. I tried and failed to discern her specific breed, only concluding that she was a truly beautiful cat. Her eyes were crusted over so badly they were nearly sealed shut. Yet I could see them. I could see her looking at me. Her face was so different from other cats. There was wisdom imprinted deeply upon it. I wanted to say to myself that she looked human, that was my best way of pinning down what it was about her. It did not look human at all as a matter of fact, just not quite feline. Not like anything I had ever seen before.

 I stood with perfect posture. This was very unlike me to do. I slouched often. From the strain of physical labor yes, but more from a weight that was not visible. The weight that we all collect as we pass through the world. For some it is a burden, to others it is a blessing. Many artists have drawn great inspiration from theirs. I never did any of these things. I was aware of it just sitting atop my shoulders, piling up higher as I grew older. That was all it was to me, nothing more.

My thoughts were not deep, I concluded. I was not anyone special in any way that a man can be. I had always been just so-so at everything. Another drifter just waiting for the next break from the life being forced upon me by the needs that we all share. I had to get out of bed each morning though I never wanted to. If I had it my way I would have simply lived in a constant state of sleep. It was the best place to be, inside of my dreams. I wondered at first, if this was one of them.

It is not. Rosetta told me. Not a dream at all. I smiled, out of character, standing in front of her cage and waiting silently. You don’t talk much. You’re a thinker. I wasn’t sure I agreed with her. I soon realized that whatever I thought, she heard. I like that. It leaves you more open, receptive. She strained to lift up her head. You have a way with animals. You find yourself more comfortable around them than you do your own kind. Very true. I wanted to ask her one question. Then it became three. Soon I was overloaded. Too many questions, many of which I had no frame of reference for. How had they come to be?

You are so curious. That is the common misconception about me, being that I am a cat. Was it true? I’ve always been curious. Just like you I wanted to know things, and in no particular order my need for answers came. I have found those answers over my lifetimes. Nine of them I presumed. Another piece of modern lore. Yes, I have lived nine lifetimes. I could tell for reasons I could not understand that she had lived many more. How many I wondered.

I've lost track. All I really know at this point is that this life is to be my last. Time takes its toll even on the most resilient of us. I am weary and fading. The question that moved to the top of my list was why? You want to ask why I have come to rest here after so many years. You want to know how long I have been around. Most of all, you want to know why I have chosen you. I was nothing special. Just the guy who changed the litter boxes and filled the food bowls.

 Not true at all. You are here with me now because of who you truly are. You are a man of great compassion and a deep thinker. Much deeper than you believe yourself to be. Why? Again that question rose from my thoughts. Simple. You are very simple. A blank canvas in need of a masterpiece. I admire that in you. I must have wondered where this was going. Not impatiently, just something I needed to know. Then I knew before she could answer. She knew that I had come to the correct conclusion. It was not what I wanted at all. I could not be there for her, could not offer myself for what she wanted.

It is not part of your job, I know. You constantly avoid it, but it is all around you. It happens all over the world, the universe. At any given moment billions die. Many do the same here, just within the confines of this small building. It is simply something that happens. It is not what you want to see. You close yourself off from it yet are always aware of it. Why was she here in my kennel? Why had she come to me for this?

I wish for only one thing. I have only one request. Do not let me die alone. She sensed my unease. I desperately wanted to flee her side yet I stayed put. Her eyes smiled through the pain. She looked at me through the crust that surrounded them, encased them.
You need not do anything more than stay with me. That is all I ask. I couldn’t, yet I refused to let myself abandon her. Rosetta, the old tired cat. I unlatched and opened her cage. She did not jump up and hiss, or beg for affection as the other cats would. She remained still, wrapped in a soft warm blanket that she must have pulled over herself. I was comforted by a rare feeling. For the first time in my life I knew exactly what a suffering animal was asking of me. I lifted her up gently and held her to my chest. I sat down on the floor of the small cat ward and lowered Rosetta onto my lap, still wrapped up in her blanket.

It will come soon. This story I have created by living through the events will finally reach the conclusion for me. My place in this world will be left open and I will be at peace. I begged time to allow her to stay with me. For a few more minutes, for a thousand years.  I wanted to know everything about her life, her travels, her experiences. I’d lived so little, done nothing with my own life. I wanted to hear her stories.

You see how curious you are? Her voice was not strained. It was the same soft, soothing tone. Very melodic, like a song swimming through me every time she spoke. It was very tired now, much more than it had been at first. I chose wisely when I came to you. She squinted a smile and managed to purr. I ran my hand gently over her wiry fur. Her breathing began to slow. I had never felt any creature die. There I was with Rosetta in my lap, feeling her body slowly shutting down. I began to let go of the tears I was holding back. She sensed my pain.

It is only a body. She spoke slower now. Each word had to be needed, rationed out. So little strength remained in her. You will find that my secret is simply that. To remember that our bodies are not us. You don’t think I have been around for so long in this form do you? She had to pause and struggle to breathe. You’re very kind to stay with me. She paused again. This time I did not know if she would continue. You’ve never wanted to be around death. Her voice was difficult to make out now. I closed my eyes and listened to every word as Rosetta spoke for one final time. Do not fear these endings. They are not what they appear to be.

The breath escaped her little lungs. Her body was still warm. I cried hard, wetting her fur with salty tears as I held her to me. Sobs of grief filled my ears, my own grief. It was so loud in the tiny room. Now I was all alone.

The sounds of the dogs barking on the other side of the wall vanished. The sobs I let burst from within me ceased. All of my senses shut down and I felt strangely at peace. My mind opened up as if someone had drawn the curtains. My thoughts filled with questions I had never thought to ask, answers to questions I had never known existed. I wasn’t able to comprehend most of what I was seeing and feeling. I only knew that it was remarkable. I did not need to understand it all. Perhaps with time I will. The one thing I did know as I opened my eyes and looked down at Rosetta was that she had given me a rare and wonderful gift that day.

Three lifetimes have come and gone. Three times have I left my body only to find myself born anew. With each step I take I understand more and more of what she had left behind for me. What she had imparted on me. Rosetta. I don’t know how many lifetimes I have remaining. Our kind never knows.

 Please do remember one simple piece of advice that I have already offered to you friends. When a cat decides to speak to you(should a cat ever decide to speak to you), be polite. Listen.

Submitted: March 11, 2009

© Copyright 2022 Alan Dale Dalby. All rights reserved.

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