So now you know that cats can live an extraordinarily long time (more than nine lives worth by far), and as long as they’re already near the end, I have no problem with taking a life. But how does being able to prolong my own life benefit M.? I’ll get to that, but first it would probably be beneficial if I told you what I have discovered about her.
M. has been here at Greendale for about five weeks. I’ve found I’ve become much more conscientious about the passing of time since she arrived. The first couple weeks were pretty exciting around her room because of the parade of doctors passing in and out her door. Honest to goodness, “I’m going to try and heal you” medical doctors are a rarity in a place like this. I pretty much camped out in front of her room (and if anyone noticed, they either hadn’t let on or I’m too oblivious to realize) and was picking up as much information as I could.
To the best of their collective knowledge they had no idea what was wrong with M. Their best guess was that it was something not unlike but not entirely similar to “Rise Syndrome.” That’s what it sounded like to me anyway; they kept saying what sounded like “rise.” I could tell right away they were wrong. Even in a messed up world like the one we live in, who would be so cruel as to name something that confined you to a chair and imprisoned in your own body “Rise Syndrome”?
They were pinning all their medical theories on the hopes that her parents had given her Aspirin as a child; that would satisfy their curiosity. They surmised she already had lived longer than most with the affliction, and there was nothing left for them to do. On the fourth week, there was no trace of a single doctor. The idea of fixing her was a forgotten one, and she had become like every other resident at the Pines.
Having learned practically nothing from the doctors, I turned my attention elsewhere to try to learn as much about M. as possible. I still didn’t even know what M. stood for; it certainly didn’t stand for Mercy.
Turns out, the M. doesn’t stand for anything.
I decided that to learn more about this newest resident, I would have to venture away from her room and spend more time around the attendant’s station, particularly when Jodie and Janice were working together. Most attendants keep to themselves, biding their time in silence or reading something mind-numbingly average. (No one wants to read existentialist literature when surrounded by death.) Jodie and Janice were different. When the J’s were together, they were the best source of gossip any inquiring mind could hope for. Jodie seemed relatively young, having come to work at the Pines just out of college. She kept talking about pursuing a better job/life, but she never seemed to do anything about it.
Janice was older. She had been at Greendale long enough that she could have potentially been a problem for me—that is if she cared about anything other than current events and organizing a “girl’s nights out.” Fortunately for me, her interests did not run much deeper.
I would sit on the other side of their desk, just out of site, and listen for any information that might be of use. I had to sit through hours of banality about pseudo celebrities—that as far as I could tell were only famous for being famous. Who was boffing who in the supply closet, which I already knew the answer to—and the ever so popular topic, “What I would do with my life if I wasn’t stuck here.” This last bit actually raised my temper. They didn’t know what it was like to truly be stuck here; they had a choice, whereas M. didn’t have the same luxury. I was finding the likelihood of hearing any worthwhile information amid this inane, babbling drivel a futile effort, when the topic suddenly shifted to that of the new resident.
This is what I learned:
M. Annabelle Lee was named so by her very literary conscious parents after the title character in the poem by Edgar Allen Poe. (Yes, I am very aware of who Mr. Poe is. Anyone who wrote “The Black Cat” is OK in my book, especially when said story may or may not have been based on someone I know.) Apparently, they thought her name would sound more literary if they attached an initial to the front. So M. Annabelle Lee was saddled with a first name, consisting of only one letter, like “W. Somerset Maugham” or “M. Butterfly.” However, unlike Mr. William Maugham, her M. was an initial that signified nothing. Maybe the M. stood for Macbeth.
Her parents met in college. He was a poetry major and she was in the writing program, with a focus on gothic literature. When they met, she was taken with his admiration for Mr. Poe and he was thrilled with her interest in Ms. Dickinson (ah, M. A. Lee). The two started dating, and before they finished school, she became pregnant.
On the day in December when she was giving birth, he was rushing from class to get to the hospital. His car hit a patch of ice and went crashing through the guardrail and into the freezing river below. The coroner’s report stated he had most likely died of hypothermia before he had the chance to drown. Thus chilling and killing poor M. Annabelle Lee’s father.
It had been a difficult pregnancy, as sometimes is the case with twins, and complications with the delivery ended up claiming the life of her mother. The two children were raised by their grandmother. The brother went off and married his high-school sweetheart, and when the grandmother passed away, they took in M.
So the people I saw on the day she was admitted were not her parents, but her twin brother and his wife. They were expecting a child of their own any day and couldn’t give his sister the care she needed.
Having reached the end of the tale, the conversation strayed to what pop star did what to whom on some award show. I made my retreat.
The new information was swirling around in my brain. She was practically alone, and if the doctors were correct, she didn’t have long to live.
Which brings us to now.
I’m not ready to let her go that easily. I told you how cats prolong their own lives, but it is possible, or so I’ve heard, to transfer the life we take in, instead of absorbing the essence we keep it in your “craw” and pass it on to another.
I don’t know if this is really possible, but I’m about to try.
Anthony David Lawson is the author of “Novel,” as well as a local playwright, director and actor. He will write a piece of prose presented in parts every other week in encore throughout 2015, entitled “The Nine Lives of Xen.”