A Dickens of a Cat
By Gwen Ellis
I had surgery in mid-November and learned that I, indeed, had an aggressive form of ovarian cancer. Then there were complications—intestinal blockage—and ten days in the hospital.
I was weary of being in the hospital. I was frightened about my future. I worried if I was even going to have a future. I had been divorced a year earlier and I wondered how I was going to cope with chemotherapy, my job and house in the country all by myself.
Sometime during those ten days, my daughter began to say, “Mom, I don’t want you to be alone. I think you need a pet.”
“Oh, Wendy, how could I take care of a pet? I’m so weak I can hardly take care of me.”
“What about a cat? Cats don’t require much care.”
“I’m a dog person,” I answered with my “and that’s final” tone. But one night after my concerned daughter had gone for the evening, I began to think about what she’d said. We were so focused on my cancer and whether I’d live or die that we thought of little else. Perhaps a pet would give me something else to think about. Pets have always made me happy. In fact, I’m positively silly about my pets. The doctor had already told me that the very best therapy was going to be a positive attitude.
I went to sleep that night thinking about the kind of pet I might want. In the morning when Wendy came I shocked her by saying, “All right, I’ve decided I want a cat. I want you to go to the animal shelter and get me a black-and-white tuxedo cat. Since I’m a book editor, I think I should have a very literary-looking cat, don’t you? His name will be Charles Dickens. Make sure he looks the part. He should have a bib and white mittens and socks, and a mustache would be good.”
She didn’t make it to the shelter that day because after all those long tiresome days, I was suddenly dismissed from the hospital. But the next afternoon, Wendy got a “mommy sitter” and then went to get my cat. I could hardly wait for her to get home. When the garage door opened, Judy, my “sitter,” jumped up to see what Wendy had brought.
It was a young, bright-eyed black cat with a white bib, the compulsory white mittens and socks, and a one-sided mustache. I couldn’t believe it. I had told Wendy what I wanted, but I never dreamed she would find the exact cat I’d described. “Hello, Charles Dickens,” I said. He said, “Meow.”
Dickens had a history. He had been a very frightened stray who went in a rainstorm to a house where he couldn’t stay because there were already three cats living there. The lady of the house wept as she took him to the pound and told the attendants, “Make sure whoever gets him calls me.”
That evening I called her, and she told me, “I’m about to have a baby, and I already have three cats. I couldn’t keep him, but I just loved him. I prayed God would send him to someone who needed him and would really love him.”
I realized in that moment that Dickens had not come to me by chance. “Your prayers have been answered,” I said. I told her my story and ended with, “I need him.”
All that first day and the next, Dickens went over my house with a “fine-toothed nose.” He poked into every crevice and cranny. Then he began to sneeze. He sneezed and sneezed and sneezed. His nose was running
“Is he going to die?” I asked when she brought him home. as an editor, and taking care of my and his eyes were dull. Dickens was sick. Wendy took him to the vet.
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