The Cat, The Tortoise and The Dog
by Simon Evans
Vanessa took a deep breath and placed her hand on the telephone. She then lifted her hand off it and rubbed her thumb over the tips of her fingers. Her hands were clammy.
With a silent, decisive nod she picked up the receiver and dialled the number which was written on the pad in front of her. The number was underlined, circled and peppered with stabs from her biro.
While the ringing tone played in time to her pulse Vanessa twirled the phone cord around her fingers.
“Ah, hello, is that Mr Henderson? … Hello Mr Henderson it’s Vanessa Banton here from Salisbury House Veterinary Surgery… Hello there. Mr Henderson I’m afraid that I have some rather upsetting news… I’m very sorry to have to tell you that Harvey died during the surgery… Yes, I’m sorry. There were complications and Harvey’s heart stopped and we were unable to resuscitate him… I know… I know… I’m so sorry Mr Henderson. It is unusual as the surgery is routine and relatively low risk. I can only suggest that Harvey had an underlying health problem. He was very young so I completely understand what a shock this must be for you and your family… I know… I know. You’ve had such bad luck with your pets… OK… Yes… I will make the usual arrangements at this end and tie up all the administrative loose ends… OK… I’m so sorry. Take care Mr Henderson. Goodbye.”
This was the third time Vanessa had called the Henderson family to inform them of the death of a pet. They had had to cope with the news that Robbie the tortoise had suffered a sharp decline after a short illness six months after the untimely demise of Arthur the Siamese cat, who had been put down after being diagnosed with a rare form of feline cancer.
Vanessa didn’t like the Henderson family. She didn’t like them one bit.
Mr Henderson exuded an air of wretchedness, with his pointy nose, dandruff, speech impediment and overt penny pinching. Getting Mr Henderson to agree to unfasten his wallet to pay for treatment for his pets was an almost impossible task.
Mrs Henderson shuffled around with a fake limp – huffing and puffing like a dying dragon. She was an overgrown ball bag of a woman with ugly, big watery eyes and terrible, terrible teeth. Whether she was asked to flea her cat, worm her dog or attend to her tortoise’s inadequate bedding she always gave the same response – ‘I forgot’.
Their son, who they incredibly decided to name ‘Sonny’, barely uttered a word and would just slump in the corner of the consultation room with snot peeking from his grubby nostrils and his lower lip hanging down like a new born slug. He was constantly texting with a thousand yard stare stamped on his pasty face. Vanessa had once had to ask Sonny to stop driving his remote control Monster Truck around the waiting room. He was a surly, emotionally void runt who wouldn’t even say thanks when given a lollypop. No hello, no goodbye, no manners, nothing.
All three of the departed pets – Harvey, Robbie and Arthur – had all seemed to look at Vanessa pleadingly, as if to say ‘Please don’t send us back to that dirty shithole with those pathetic, thick idiots’.
Vanessa worked late that evening. She was the last to leave, which wasn’t unusual. During the hour long drive home her mood lifted and she felt the strain of the day fall away.
Despite customers like the Henderson family Vanessa loved her job. She had wanted to become a vet since she was a child. She genuinely cared deeply about animals but like all good vets her professional passion ran deeper than that. She dealt with people as much as she dealt with animals. When she healed the physical problems of an animal she was also tending to the emotional wounds of the owner. The science of veterinary medicine was also fascinating – the developments in treatments and diagnosis were almost constant and ensured that her work was ever changing and stimulating.
Vanessa pulled into her drive and turned the engine off. The silence wrapped itself around her and a smile flickered over her face. She opened the car door and walked around to the boot. As soon as the door was opened Harvey bounded out and jumped up at her, all licks and grins.
“Come on boy, we’re home.”
Vanessa shut the boot and attached Harvey’s lead and walked him to the front door. As usual Arthur ran out as soon as the front door opened. The two animals touched noses as they were reunited. Harvey barked excitedly, tail smacking a happy rhythm on the door frame. Arthur walked in circles of pleasure and rubbed his face against Vanessa’s legs.
“Here we are then boys, all together again!”
Vanessa shut the front door behind her and detached Harvey’s lead. She grinned as Harvey and Arthur tumbled through the house together.
After all three of them had eaten, Vanessa opened the back door and they all enjoyed the evening sunshine in the back garden. Arthur rolled on his back on the patio, Harvey bounced around the lawn and Vanessa sipped a chilled glass of white wine.
In the greenhouse at the bottom of the garden Robbie slowly blinked while munching on a delicious mouthful of dandelions and pansies.