I had been looking after Oval for a few weeks and we had failed to properly bond. Then he started vomiting
When you are housesitting for someone who has a pet, your primary aim is to keep the pet alive until the owner gets back. Nothing else matters. Not you vomiting as you clean out the litter tray, or gagging as you accidentally flick wet cat food into your hair, or contracting toxoplasmosis like the guy from Trainspotting.
Those things do not matter.
Just keep the pet alive.
On Monday- a public holiday in New South Wales- Oval started attaining weird noises, like he was burping.
” Stop being gross, Oval !”
Oval came into the bedroom, looked at me with disdain and started heaving and making eerie retching voices . Woahhoahha wooshaahhssa. His stomach was roiling.
OMG, Oval was vomiting. I was wholly grossed out but also worried. Had Oval eaten some caramel M& Ms that I had left out? Or swallowed a peanut?
Would I required to physically stick my fingers down Oval’s throat to remove the M& Ms/ peanut?” I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that ,” I supposed but did not say, because Oval was within hearing distance.
Oval moved to a different part of the bedroom and left another pool of vomit.
I vacillated between compassion and disgust.
On my style to the kitchen to grab some newspaper towels, I stood then slid in a patch of Oval’s vomit. I called. Oval continues to heave.
I had been looking after Oval for a few weeks and we had failed to properly bond. Oval had never met me before and appeared shitty when on the second night I returned to the house. The look said: you again. And: where is my person ?
There had been other cats that I appeared after and nothing remotely like mutual respect was established.
Mabel( Newtown ): geriatric, always crying and underfoot.
Poss( Fitzroy ): a purebred who hid under the bed.
C-Span( Manhattan ): an epic defecator.
But they had all lived.
With Oval spewing up bile I wondered: had I used up my nine lives?
As it was a public holiday I was unsure what to do with Oval. How does one transport a sick cat to a vet, especially an unfamiliar cat. Does Uber take cats? Could I transport him in a box or a pouch?
I asked my group chat( they offered nothing helpful) and then went on a forum for people who had cats that vomited. It seemed to be a common thing. Cats simply puked like you and I cough or sniffle. Why didn’t I know this? They puked when their bellies were empty, they retched when their stomachs were full. They retched when they had a furball.
I went up to get some more newspaper towels to clean the puke and slipped in another pile of puke.
Back on the forums I fell down the rabbit click pit for cats with depression. This puzzled me. How do you know a cat is sad, and how do you know the cat is just being a cat? They have a limited scope of expressions.
Oval had taken a infringe from his puking and looked at me with spite and hate. He then went back to throwing up. Maybe Oval was depressed.
It was so hard to tell.
Later Oval stopped vomiting and returned to eating his dry food and playing with a paper bag. I cleaned out the cat litter, falling some cat shit on my shoes and thought FML.
The next day Oval looked like his usual depressed self, but at least he wasn’t spewing. I shut the door and went off to work before immediately realising I had locked my merely defined of keys in the house.
I banged on the door.” Oval! Oval !” Oval said nothing. “OVAL!!!!!!!!!!!!”
The owner was in America and not responding to messages. Was this the week she was hiking in the wilderness? I rang some of her friends- did they have a spare key?
I rang a locksmith- they would not let me into the building unless I was the owner.
” You need a letter giving up permission to enter plus the person’s ID with their address on it .”
That could take a week to get if the owner was on a hike.
” But, but, there’s a cat in there, he could starve. He will starve .”
I imagined poor Oval, having eaten the last of the dry food, licking Dorito dust off the couch, starving to death in the flat, crying and get( even more) depressed as the litter tray remained unchanged.
As I reached out for ever more dubious locksmiths, as I contemplated ladders and smashing in doors, I was just thinking about the nice moments Oval and I had shared over the past week: when Oval made a bed in my knapsack, when Oval licked my hand, when Oval gazed at me with sleepy eyes and looked like he wanted for nothing. When Oval was asleep. It wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t all vomit.
Over the course of the day, as I became more frantic, as I implored random locksmiths to break into the flat, Oval’s owner are responding to my messages. There was a spare key with a neighbour.
I arrived back at 10 pm and tried to take Oval in my arms.
My newborn was alive.
* Brigid Delaney is a Guardian Australia writer and columnist
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