Our cat has been bitten by a fox. The wounds on his leg are weeping yellow pus and the skin around the teeth marks are receding like a sneer.
I’m at the vet with my daughter waiting to be told what the cost of fixing Kitty will be.
‘We found two fractures in his pelvis,’ says the vet with an Irish accent like brandy cream.
He points at an x-ray of our unconscious cat manspreading his thin, ghostly back legs.
‘You can see them. Here. And there.’
His fingers circle the fractures on the x-ray.
‘And what is that there?’ asks my daughter.
His kneecap is dislocating!
‘Oh. That. Yeah. That’s a dislocating kneecap.’
The vet begins to recite a long list of injuries to the cat as calmly as the clerk of a court reads out the charge sheet against a multiple murderer. I feel a wave of nausea sweep over me. The cat is uninsured. What will the final cost of fixing Kitty be?
Of course, I knew there’d be a price to pay, nothing comes free these days except the wallpaper at No 10.
But I was only expecting to fork out for a shot of antibiotics, the x-ray and a band-aid or two. £150? £250?
Unfortunately, my cat has enough injuries to script an entire series of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’.
I don’t admire myself for thinking this. But every time the vet moves to open his mouth, I hear a till ringing in reception and my bank account squealing like a pinched pig.
Behind the look of concern which I’ve nailed onto my face for the sake of my daughter, there’s a sour faced accountant in the banking department of my brain throwing his calculator out of the window and shouting: “I told you to get insurance, years ago, you dim-witted, dunderhead.”
‘A dislocating kneecap you say?’ I ask.
‘Two of them,’ replies the vet.
Two dislocating kneecaps.
Is that a cash register I hear?
Another two rings of the till, another two abacus beads sliding in the wrong direction.
I know the government has introduced legislation to recognise animals as sentient beings.
I know I should care about Kitty as much as I do my kids.
But at what point does my responsibility to finance a new pair of bionic kneecaps for the kitty end and my need to finance this summer’s tour of Italy’s vineyards begin?
‘I’m not worried about his kneecaps. I don’t need to operate on them,’ says the vet.
‘Praise be, Doctor,’ I mutter.
My undignified relief doesn’t pass by my daughter unnoticed.
‘I’ll pay, if that’s what’s worrying you,’ she says.
The vet looks at me. Parent shaming. He’s seen it before.
‘Maybe you could make a contribution which we could offset from any future inheritance?’ I say.
Suddenly, the vet peers at the x-ray as if he’s just seen an alien.
‘Oh. I hadn’t noticed that. Can you see that?’ he asks.
My wallet sags like a winded boxer in anticipation of another blow.
‘If you look just here you can see he’s got a fractured sternum, too.’
‘Poor cat,’ says my daughter.
‘Sores on his paws. Nobbled knees. Pelvic fractures and a shoddy sternum. That’s like a Full House in Poker, right?’ I say.
What will the cost of fixing kitty be?
‘Dad!’ says my daughter. ‘This is serious.’
‘You’re telling me,’ I say. ‘This bill is going to put my retirement back by a decade.’
The vet straightens up and turns from the x-ray.
He’s well over six feet and looks down on me with kind patient eyes.
Like any half decent animal psychologist, he knows that at this moment in time I need a sedative to calm me down much more than the cat does.
‘The good news is that we don’t need to operate. On anything,’ he announces.
‘Brilliant’ says my daughter.
‘Two grand if we did,’ he says, looking me in the eye.
‘Barolo here I come,’ I say and do a jig while my inner accountant lifts his shirt over his face and runs around like he’s scored the winning goal at the World Cup Final.
‘The pelvis will heal itself?’ asks my daughter.
‘In a month. But you’ll need to keep him in a cage or restricted space, so he can’t jump on tables. And don’t let him go outside. He’s been hit by a car, poor thing.’
Winged by a car, he couldn’t escape the attention of a greedy fox as he limped home.
‘That fox must have thought: ‘That’s a very slow moving double cheese burger. I’ll have a go at that,’ I say.
‘A cheese burger? I don’t get your drift,’ says the vet.
‘The cat. It got hit by the car and couldn’t move fast and this fox saw it and thought metaphorically that cat is like a burger…
‘Ignore him,’ says my daughter as she eyes the floor of the surgery in embarrassment.
‘You’ll be wanting some anti-biotics before you go,’ says the vet in his Irish brogue.
‘No, thanks,’ I say. ‘But a glass of wine would be great if you’ve got one.’