TREADWELL

“Catch him!” shouted Jane.  “He’ll kill himself!  He’ll choke!”

A streak of caramel flew across Peter’s bed and would have exited too fast to follow had it not been for the shopping bag handles around its neck.

Peter would have made an effort to help in the chase but for the tubes and meters and hoses that immobilized him horizontally.

Jane pushed quickly around the bank of medical machines that stood stolidly at Peter’s elbow, rushing after the cat in her bathrobe and slippers.

Peter watched and smiled, despite knowing that something really could happen to Treadwell if he weren’t caught and freed.  He considered picking up his legs and putting them over his bedside as a show of concern and solidarity with his wife.  He decided against this demonstration.  If Treadwell did come to harm, then he would make the effort.

Besides, he couldn’t follow without his walker, without rolling his oxygen alongside, and even if he could have, his speed would have been so minimal that Friday would have arrived before he at the scene of Treadwell’s demise, and he himself embalmed and ready for planting after the spring thaw.

“Catch him!” shouted Jane.  “He’ll kill himself!  He’ll choke!”

A streak of caramel flew across Peter’s bed and would have exited too fast to follow had it not been for the shopping bag handles around its neck.

Peter would have made an effort to help in the chase but for the tubes and meters and hoses that immobilized him horizontally.

Jane pushed quickly around the bank of medical machines that stood stolidly at Peter’s elbow, rushing after the cat in her bathrobe and slippers.

Peter watched and smiled, despite knowing that something really could happen to Treadwell if he weren’t caught and freed.  He considered picking up his legs and putting them over his bedside as a show of concern and solidarity with his wife.  He decided against this demonstration.  If Treadwell did come to harm, then he would make the effort.

Besides, he couldn’t follow without his walker, without rolling his oxygen alongside, and even if he could have, his speed would have been so minimal that Friday would have arrived before he at the scene of Treadwell’s demise, and he himself embalmed and ready for planting after the spring thaw.

Peter leaned back against his pillows and closed his eyes against the winter sun that glinted off the hillside into his bedroom, trying to ignore the constant sounds of medical alert claxons that went off nearly every second, it seemed.

The room was barely warmed and he ached to spring from his prison and leap into a shower, clearly understanding that to do so would be his last attempt at freshening up.  He hadn’t many illusions about his longevity nor about the storms that had forced Jane and him to spend eight hundred dollars on two high school kids to get up on the roof and break up and clean up the ice dams that threatened eventually to cost them even more in repapering and recarpeting bills come spring.

Over the symphony of blips and honks and sirens singing at constant low levels, he could hear his wife’s frantic hunt.

If something dire did happen to Treadwell, both Gardners would have been heartbroken.  Until the cat’s arrival — via pound, via vet — their lives had seemed suddenly without purpose: their last child had left home, Jane played bridge each Wednesday and joined the church choir, Peter — retired both from his hardware store and newly released from his post as mayor — golfed on Tuesdays and volunteered at the Lions’ Club.  They read, watched television, worked for good causes, but their lives had no focus.   Treadwell changed that.

He was creamy-butterscotch-marmalade, with a white bib beneath his throat, and yellow eyes that darkened as the day progressed.  He was built solidly and with such energy inherent that he could not only run for five minutes in a frenzy throughout the house, but when he made flying leaps, he was so confident of himself that he had time to look over at whomever was watching as if to say, “See how lucky you are.”

His most endearing features, though, were others.  Treadwell was a Hemingway cat, one of a breed reputedly occurring spontaneously in Key West, with extra toes on his front paws, forcing him to strut silently like a ballerina, with white tows pointing outwards.  These extra digits, used as men use thumbs, also allowed him to open cupboards, to climb walls, to reach under furniture to collect his own toys.  He needn’t leap to a countertop (which, of course, was forbidden).  All he needed to do was stand below what he wanted, stretch upwards and with his huge opposable extra tools bring down his target.

His second lovable characteristic was his sweetness.  Somewhere — probably long before the Gardeners had saved him — he had learned two specific tricks: he loved to roll over on his back and stretch, arching his back to curve in one long line, like a flattened C.  From above, Treadwell to Peter’s eyes looked enormously like the infamous Marilyn Monroe nude calendar photograph.

Peter liked to stand over him and rub the cat’s belly with his feet, grinning down at him endlessly.  Which was fine with Treadwell who spent a good forty per cent of his awake time each day upside down, looking at his new world from an angle only he could appreciate.

Jane accused Treadwell of being manipulative.  Rightly. He was a mimic, unbelievably sweet and loving and soft.  If he lay beside one or the other of the Garners in bed, if they stroked his throat or ears, Treadwell did the same to them.  His little paw would come slowly to their chins, nails withdrawn and bunched up so as not to scratch, and he

would carass their chins, their throats.  If he felt he was being ignored, Treadwell would clamber onto either Peter’s or Jane’s chest, brings up his right paw to the tip of his owners’ chin, and turn their faces towards himself.

When he wanted to join them in bed, he could either leap from the floor or, in Peter’s case, from a side chair to the headboard of Peter’s bed where he walked along an inch-wide bar, stepping down carefully by putting one paw on Peter’s head, another upon his shoulder, and then sliding downwards onto the comforter.

Most appealingly, whenever Treadwell graced one or the other’s bed, he insisted on sleeping in contact with it inhabitant. A paw or a hind leg would have to be touching a hand, arm, shoulder or leg.

Finally, Treadwell followed his masters like an eager, loving dog.  Jane was certain he would cause her to fall on the stairs, as Treadwell also loved to stop halfway down the flight, lie on a tread, and wait to be scratched.

Peter worried, more now than when he was healthier, that Treadwell would knock his cane out from under him, or entangle himself in Peter’s walker, causing Peter to crash to the floor, perhaps even squashing the cat.

Treadwell was as curious as the next cat, and any line, string, wire was his to tangle, disentangle, maul.  Peter imagined Treadwell, had he the patience, could untie the Gordian knot.

At breakfast or dinner, Treadwell was of course eager, leading his masters to the kitchen, stopping along the way (for no reason Jane or Peter could ever understand) to smack his head into a corner, a chair, a table leg, whatever solid obstacle he passed.  It wasn’t simply spotting his territory.  It was more a habit although born of what Jane and Peter could not understand.

They could understand why Treadwell wolfed his food, looking over his shoulder from time to time, throwing self-control to the winds, guarding his food from other inmates of the pound  He never stopped in mid-meal to investigate anything, or even it seemed to breath  They could not leave for a weekend as other cat-owners might, filling his dishes with water and food, knowing that a cat only ate when hungry, and a surfeit of pellets would last overnight or even for two days as most cats spaced their satisfaction.

They could understand his treading.  From the first afternoon he was brought home, Treadwell leapt onto Jane’s or Peter’s lap, and began to tread there against flesh and sweater. Clearly he had been weaned too soon.  He could sit with Jane or Peter, sometimes for twenty minutes at a stretch, his eyes closed in ecstasy or remembering, and tread without thinking.  Or certainly so it seemed.

And perhaps having been deprived of lessons at his mother’s knee, Treadwell did not purr.  He breathed hard, but he did not purr.

Treadwell was as needy as Peter and Jane.

Of the two, of course, it was Peter now who needed more attention.  His illnesses had begun while on a fishing trip to Canada.  He had ingested water filled with E. coli.  Until this time, apart from an occasional day on the links when he had a little trouble breathing as he pulled his cart uphill, Peter had considered himself in good health for his age.  But E. coli ran through his system.  Ultimately he was forced into a doctor’s office where the remainder of his life changed forever.

An Asian doctor in Toronto asked him how many pillows he slept with.  Three, he replied.  She nodded knowledgeably (an early sign of congestive heart failure) and passed on this information to an internist, a pulmonologist, a heart specialist.  These were followed by surgeons (when he returned home), diuretics (which lightened him of three to five litres of liquid in his lungs while he lay for five nights’ observation in Rhinberry’s hospital), a raft of tests (CT-scans, X-rays, ultrasounds).

Yet when he was finally released, he was able to say heartily that he actually felt better, despite the prodding and needles and worry.

Until one afternoon when he elbowed out of his way an old couple in the emergency room as he struggled to breathe.  A technician asked him if he could hear his heart.  Peter replied no.  Well, he certainly should, she said firmly. His blood pressure was sky-rocketing.

After another round of hospital tests, during which his heart was catheterized, he was discovered to have what doctors like to call a Triple A: abdominal aortic aneurism. Worse, or more, he needed a valve replacement and a second aneurism was found in an artery leading to his heart.

Through all this Peter remained hopeful and as cheerful as possible, especially when meeting friends and family.  If he were concerned, he would not allow this to surface and worry others.  His children began to come to visit, which he enjoyed.

And Treadwell waited at home.

While gaining strength for his first operation, Peter bonded more firmly with Treadwell.  After it, Treadwell bonded with Peter.

Then came Peter’s second surgery to repair the faulty valve and the aortic aneurism.  According to doctors and technicians who wandered in and out of his room, Peter was doing splendidly.  A therapist collected him twice a day to walk the halls of the hospital, to do some very mild physical therapy, to get him a dentist somehow indentured to the hospital for patients like Peter, who had to undergo a thorough detoxification and preventive round of antibiotics before his teeth could be cleaned.  Peter was astonished to learn that an infection in his gums or jaws could lead to a further crisis with his heart.

It was on one of his morning rounds with the therapist that Peter collapsed.  His replaced valve had been leaking.

For the second time in eight weeks, Peter awoke days later to see all of his family huddled together at the foot of his bed, looking morose, concerned, tearful, grateful.  Of course, the clearer his head became, the more he appreciated the tableau.

But he also came to the conclusion that there was no reason to call them a third time.  He had caused them enough trouble, disrupted lives, cost monies, scared and dismayed them.  He would not see them this way again.  If his system were shutting down one organ at a time — although he did think this was unfair; he wasn’t that old — nonetheless he wanted out.  If constant pain and debilitation were to be his future, then there was no happy future in view.

He did nothing about this decision.  He didn’t discuss it with Jane, who continued to be cheerful and to make sounds of encouragement  and wonderment at his progress whenever she could.  But Peter knew he was making no progress.

Treadwell gave him comfort and delight. Even though he was bedbound, Peter wanted Treadwell to spend as much time with him as possible.  Whether the cat wanted the same, he knew, was open to question.  He knew he loved the little thing.  He was fairly certain — even with Treadwell’s genius for endearment — that Treadwell saw him and Jane only as sources for food, water, and comfort.

Insofar as Treadwell never learned anything that came close to discipline, Peter allowed him total freedom.  Jane might tell him angrily that Treadwell shouldn’t be allowed to sit atop the gas stove, lying between its burners, for the heat that rose from the oven below.  Nor was he allowed to scratch side chairs and upholstery.  And though he might sit at a window for hours watching birds, what lay outside in the valley was dangerous: foxes, coyotes, hawks, bears, not to mention ticks and Lyme disease and who knew what all, so that he was simply not allowed out-of-doors.  Every time a neighbor came to visit, Treadwell had to be hidden quickly, housed in an empty room, lest he be tempted to escape to breathe the frigid, open air.

Only half-jokingly did Peter say one evening to Jane, “When I go, I want Treadwell with me.  Just put him in a box and place him under my arm.”

Jane laughed at the idea and said that whatever Peter wanted was his.

But Peter knew if he insisted, Jane would be doubly miserable.

Visiting nurses came in daily to help Jane cook and clean and turn Peter, bathe him, clear his intravenous lines, and report back to his physician how Peter was reacting to various changes of medication.  Another physical therapist came once a week.  Peter was fitted with a portable oxygen canister — although this was not entirely successful.  Its slight weight was too much for a man who had lost seventy-three pounds in ten weeks.  Portability remained a possibility, especially if Peter should want to go out, but he was once more attached to a larger, more helpful although bulkier machine.

He was forced to take six minute walks (with his walker) to help technicians measure his blood oxygen.  His lungs were again drained of fluid.

Treadwell was the only happy thing in Peter’s life.  Of course, the cat was learning new tricks: how to scatter opened bottles and containers of medicine onto the floor of Peter’s bedroom, to relentlessly leap atop Peter at four in the morning, a signal of hunger, and to call out for feeding — which meant that Jane had to be wakened.

Jane, however, was not giving in entirely.  She left her bed and followed Treadwell into the kitchen, as though she were indeed going to feed him a few treats (his weight had increased alarmingly since his arrival) but instead, once past him on the linoleum tile, she walked quickly into the mudroom, opened the door to a tiny half-bath there in which litter had been placed, put down one treat only for Treadwell who willingly followed, and then closed the door to the entrance hall and went back to bed to sleep.  Treadwell remarkably did not howl.

Late one afternoon, Peter awoke from a nap.  Actually, he leaned up as though electrocuted, gasping for breath.  His mask had been removed and sat among the covers at the foot of his bed.

Treadwell lay at his elbow, half off the bedside, motionless, the lines of the oxygen feeder wrapped around his neck.

Peter understood the moment immediately.  He was dying.  He wouldn’t see his family again.  Without his oxygen, he was going to slip into a coma within seconds and that would be that.  Treadwell was comatose, inert.  Peter managed to reach out to his bedside for his “grabber” and stretched as best he could to try to grasp the mask a few feet away, to bring it towards him.

He succeeded and had it in hand, growing weaker by the second.  He found a notebook on his bedside table and a pen.

He grabbed the mask.  He pulled Treadwell closer to him, putting him on his back, face up, cradled in his arm.  He slipped the mask over Treadwell’s face and tried to insert its feeds into the cat’s tiny nose. He was weeping silently. He wondered hazily whether, should he try CPR, he would crush Treadwell’s chest.

The feeds would not be fitted into Treadwell’s nostrils: they were too wide.  In desperation, Peter put them into the cat’s mouth instead, holding his small jaws shut.

He held the mask in place to Treadwell’s face and hoped against hope.  His own vision began to blur.  He couldn’t hear the constant alarms sounding throughout the house.  He reached with his other hand for the note pad.

“Jane, we….”

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3 thoughts on “TREADWELL

  1. John: This is the first time I have ever commented on a blog, except for our son’s, when photographs are involved. I enjoy it and liked the pieces of the short story about the cat lover and his health problems! Jim S.

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