Licton Springs Review

Siobahn's Best Friend By Katy Nielson

“Siobhan, it’s your choice, but I think you know what has to be done,” Siobhan’s mother, Amelia, said. sixteen-year-old Siobhan was huddled in the corner of her bed with her palm tree quilt pulled up to her chin. Her mother sat next to and stroked her daughter’s hair. Tears were falling down Siobhan’s cheeks and soaking the rim of her blanket. “Sweetheart, just remember it’s for the best.”

“For the best?! How can you say that? He’ll be dead, how can that be for the best?”

“I know it’s hard. I’ll miss him too, but if you choose not to put Snickers to sleep, the pain he’s in will just get worse, and I don’t think you want that for him.” Siobhan glanced down to the end of her bed and saw a tiny white puffball curled up at the foot of her bed. She could hear how labored his breathing had become, but the thought of putting him to sleep ripped her heart in two.

Snickers had been with them since she was three. Her dad, Don, had found him outside their house without a collar, and when no one replied to the “found cat” signs, she begged him to let her keep him. Don told her that they would “keep him until they could find someone else to take him.” Fortunately for her, no one else wanted the stubborn, mangy ball of fur.

She couldn’t imagine what her life would be like once he was gone. She wouldn’t get to pet him, or give him snuggles. She wouldn’t be able to wiggle her feet at night and laugh as he pounced at his unknown adversary. She wouldn’t feel him curl up on her back right as she was trying to fall asleep. She would no longer find long white furs on all her new clothes or her ribbons in shreds. Never again would she be woken up at three in the morning to his sad mournful cries begging to be let out of her room. How would she go on?

Amelia pulled Siobhan into her arms as Siobhan broke down once more. “I…I can’t… I can’t just let him go.” She nestled her head in her mother’s hair, which was soon wet with her tears.

“I don’t want to put him down either, but we have to do what’s best for him. Look at him. All he does now is sleep, he barely eats, and every time he meows you can tell just how much pain he’s in.”

“But he’s still just a baby.”

“I know you like to think of him as a kitten, but he’s at least 13. We don’t even know how old he was when we found him. He’s had a good long life, but to keep him around much longer would be cruel.” Siobhan wanted to respond, but she was too overwhelmed to force out any words, so they just sat there hugging each other, each lost in her own grief.

That night as Siobhan was in her bed, trying in vain to fall asleep. Snickers sidled over to her and curled up in the cradle of her arms. His head rested on her elbow, and his paws were draped over her lower arm. She gently pet him, and his purrs were so loud it felt like they were penetrating her very soul. At long last she was able to fall asleep to the steady hum of his purring and the warmth of his body nestled into her side.

“Siobhan, honey wake up.” Siobhan blinked and rubbed her eyes.

“Huh? What time is it?”

“It’s eight o’clock. You’re going to be late for school.”

“It’s eight?! Good god. Why didn’t you get me up?”

“I tried, but you were out like a light.” Siobhan jumped out of bed, cursed her broken alarm clock and threw on the first clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt that she could find. Once she had gotten dressed and brushed most of the tangles out of her strawberry-blonde hair, she ran down the stairs while simultaneously putting her hair in a ponytail. When she got to the kitchen she was about to grab a banana out of the bowl when the sight of Snickers lying in front of the fridge, his chest moving up and down far slower than normal, made her feel nauseous. She put a hand to her stomach and used her other hand to steady herself against the counter.

“Siobhan, are you OK?” Her younger sister Genevieve asked. Siobhan shook her head and pointed at Snickers. “Oh. Look it’s gonna be OK. We can get another cat. Maybe a black one this time, or a calico.”

“How can you talk about getting a new cat at a time like this? We can’t just replace him like a loaf of week-old bread.” She stared daggers at her sister. “Please just promise me you’ll never become a doctor.”

“What? What does that have to do with anything?”

“You have terrible bedside manner.” Genevieve just scoffed and walked off. Siobhan knelt down beside him and rubbed Snickers tummy. “Meow. Mmmmmreow.” He rolled over and nuzzled his head into her hand, begging for more pets. She quickly scratched his neck and said, “I love you, sweetie,” in her baby-talk voice before grabbing her backpack off the kitchen table and running out the door. “Bye,” she called to the house in general.

The whole day she was distracted. She couldn’t concentrate in any of her classes.

She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t even notice the French teacher calling on her and causing all the other students to laugh when she didn’t even look up. At lunch she picked at her food, but didn’t take a bite. “Hey Siobhan. What’s wrong with you? You haven’t said a word all day,” her best friend Lila said, waving her hand in front of Siobhan’s face, causing her to jump.

“Huh? Oh, I’m worried about Snickers. I think we’re finally going to have to put him down.”

“Oh god. I’m so, so sorry. He’s the sweetest little kitty in the world. Are you going to be OK?” Even though Siobhan appreciated her friend’s concern, she really didn’t want to talk about it right then. Lila sensed her friend’s desire for silence so she just reached over and squeezed her hand.

By the time Siobhan got home she felt completely drained. All she wanted to do was sink into her bed with a bowl of cookie dough ice cream in her hand and an episode of Veronica Mars in the DVD player, but when she walked into the house her mom and dad were sitting at the kitchen table. Her mom stood up when she opened the door, and Siobhan noticed that her face was streaked with tears. “Oh god, what is it? Did he…did he…die?” she was forced to choke the last word out. Her mom shook her head, but from the deep breath she took, Siobhan knew that something bad had happened. “Just tell me. Please.”

“Siobhan, we took him to the vet today, and he said that even if we decide not to put him to sleep, he’ll only live two weeks, three tops.” As upsetting as this was Siobhan saw the positive side.

“So we won’t have to put him to sleep.”

“Siobhan, honey, if we don’t he’ll only get worse. Do you want your final memories of him to be his being so sick that he could barely even walk? Think about what he must be going through.” Tears began to well up in Amelia’s eyes, but she tried her best to keep them from spilling over. Siobhan sank on to the floor and put her head in her hands.

“I know we have to,” she said through her tears, “but I don’t know if I can.” Her tears began to overwhelm her, and soon her words were nothing more than a whisper. Her dad knelt down to give her a hug as her mom took the cordless phone into the living room and called the vet, hoping that Siobhan wouldn’t hear, but that motion alone convinced Siobhan that it was the vet, Dr. Moss, calling about putting him to sleep.

Siobhan couldn’t sleep that night. Instead she spent the whole night staring at the ceiling, hugging her pillow to her chest and reminiscing about the days spent with Snickers. She remembered how scared he was when he first came to live with them. How he would wiggle out of their arms every time one of them tried to pick him up. How he used to sit in front of his food dish and just meow and meow until someone got up at whatever ungodly hour he felt hungry. How he would curl up on her feet on cold nights and make her feel warm and snuggly. Every time she closed her eyes and thought that sleep would soon overtake her, another wave of memories engulfed her.

By the time morning came her eyes were red, puffy and slightly clouded over from her lack of sleep. She walked down the stairs and saw her mom sitting at the table holding a mug of steaming tea. “Mom?” Amelia slowly turned to look at her daughter.

“Hi Sweetie, have you made a decision?” Siobhan nodded and told her mom that she decided that putting Snickers to sleep would be for the best.

“I suspected as much.” It was then that Siobhan realized that the cat carrier was sitting on the chair next to her mom. Inside it was a folded up towel, a catnip mouse, a little bowl of water and a plastic ball with a bell in it. Siobhan smiled weakly because she knew that if she let herself start crying again, she wouldn’t stop.

Siobhan took her time walking back to her room and scooping Snickers into her arms. She held him as she would a sleeping baby. She carried him down the stairs and placed him in the carrier. Siobhan and Amelia walked to the car, and Amelia drove while Siobhan watched her cat, trying to memorize his every move, sound and look. When the car first started, he looked at her with his head cocked to one side and let out a low “meow,” as though he was asking where he was going. She opened the cage and scratched his head until he was purring contentedly. Amelia took one hand off the wheel and lightly squeezed her daughter’s hand.

When they got to the vet, Dr. Moss greeted them warmly and told them that he sympathized with what they were going through. How could he possibly know what this is like? Siobhan thought, but all she said was, “Will it hurt?”

“No. It will be over in a matter of seconds. It will be too quick for him to feel pain. Would you like a moment to say goodbye?” Siobhan nodded. Dr. Moss left the room. Amelia gave Snickers a quick pet and said that she would miss him before following the doctor out, leaving Siobhan and Snickers alone for the last time. Siobhan hugged him and kissed him on the top of his head.

“I’m gonna miss you, Snickers. You’ve been the best pet a girl could ask for. I’ll never forget you. I love you so much.” She kissed him again, and she rubbed his head on her chin. “Goodbye, boy.” By this time she had lost all her willpower, and tears poured down her face and landed on his head.

Dr. Moss and Amelia came back into the room and took Snickers from her. Siobhan’s hand trailed over Snickers back until he was too far away to reach. Amelia hugged her sobbing daughter. “What am I gonna do without him?”

Amelia escorted Siobhan to the car, and they drove home in a gloomy silence. Once they got home Siobhan ran to her room and threw herself down on her bed in tears. She heard light taping on the door. “What?” her voice was husky with tears. The door creaked open and Genevieve dropped down onto Siobhan’s bed. “So did you come to tell me how great it will be now that Snickers is gone?” she asked with malice.

“How could you think that? Of course not. I just wanted to give you this.” Genevieve handed Siobhan a small photo album. In it were numerous shots of Snickers. Snickers as a kitten, Snickers playing with one toy or another, with the family, alone, sleeping, eating and everything in between. Siobhan was more touched than she could say. She sat up and hugged her sister.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

“It’s to make up for being a bitch yesterday. I was just trying to lighten the mood because I didn’t want to have to think about what we’ll do without him.” Genevieve then began to cry too.

Amelia decided to let her girls stay home from school that day, so they spent the entire day sitting on Siobhan’s bed reminiscing. The stories they told each other made them laugh and cry simultaneously. By the end of the day they were all cried out.

When Siobhan fell asleep that night, it was the first night in thirteen years that she couldn’t feel the weight of Snickers at the foot of her bed. Strangely enough that night, unlike so many nights during his sickness, she was able to fall asleep thinking about a happy, healthy Snickers instead of the sickly thing that had taken over his body in the last few months.

• Epilogue •

Seven months later, Siobhan was celebrating her seventeenth birthday. She sat surrounded by piles of wrapping paper, clothes, books, movies, gift cards, CDs and several other things, “Thank you, everyone. This is amazing.”

“Siobhan, we have one more thing for you.” She looked up surprised. There was nothing else on the table, which twenty minutes ago had been piled with gifts. Her mom walked into the living room holding a small box. “We thought it was time,” she said. As she walked closer, a tiny, orange head peeked over the edge of the box as well as two little paws. When Amelia handed her the box, a furry, orange kitten with a red ribbon around its neck jumped out and landed on her lap.

“Oh my god! Hi. What’s your name?” She picked up the kitten, which squirmed out of her hands and jumped onto her shoulder.

“What are you gonna name her?” Genevieve asked. Siobhan considered this for a minute.

“Dandelion.”

“Dandelion?”

“Dandelion,” Siobhan confirmed. She laughed as the kitten began to chew on her hair.

That night Siobhan placed the Polaroid of Dandelion and her that Amelia had taken, on her bedside table right next to the framed photo of her holding Snickers the day her dad had brought him home.