Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Little Dalia

A day late, but here she be. Some details have been changed to preserve anonymity.

Little Dalia

Our plane banked towards the farmland knitted below, "We'll be in our new home soon."
I was surprised at the amount of pasture so close to the city; Ottawa. A far cry from Newfoundland, the origin of our journey. The weight of our angled approach pushed me into my window while my son squirmed uncomfortably on my lap.

"Look, there it is" Alex, my husband, said. Gray blocks crawled towards us and roadways fingered through a surprising amount of greenery. It was bigger than St.John's. This was our nations captial, and I wondered if I had been expecting a swell of nationalistic pride at the sight of it. In truth, I was uninspired and distracted. I needed to call Falaise Animal Hospital, now to be my hospital. I was a Veterinary Receptionist and I had a job lined up.

As our plane took its final swaying moments in the sky, I rewinded  the moments leading to Ottawa; our goodbye parties, Alex's Ph.d acceptance letter, skype interviews. I kept going back. The day Henry was born, leaving my hospital for maternity leave, telling my boss I was pregnant. My first day there. My first day at a vet clinic seemed like a million years ago, the actual year was 2009. 

In those three years I had seen death and joy. Pets on the verge of demise who rallied. Animals who died in their sleep. Downy puppies and kittens who galloped in greeting towards me; I saw second chances for abused hunting beagles and abandoned barn cats. A lot of misery came through our doors, but we also granted a lot of peace. I had been in the gateway between our clinic and the wide "out there." This was a new "out there."

Rubber bounced on the tarmack and I shook out my day-dream. Ottawa. Here we were. This was it.

The first two weeks jarred by with the typical duties that accompany a move to a strange city. Matt and I picked up our keys, signed our lease and wrote a lot of cheques. On a bright morning, Henry flirted with his prospective babysitter at a table in Tim Hortons and we decided that we liked her. We screwed together more wooden Ikea furniture than either of us would ever care to see again. We bought groceries, unpacked our bags, and smiled at our neighbours in the elevator when saw them. We were building what we could.

But when we closed our eyes at night, a hollowness echoed through us. We sank into Newfoundland fog and smelt the sea; the sing-song of constant wind, scraping tuckamores and lumbering moose. Steamy sweet teas, crusty toast and thick jam. Dusty cabin beams through laughter that pulled our sides in hazy evenings. Shadowed hills and ice and damp with accents that pierce your ears and your hearts. It was in our souls and we were far away now. When we opened our eyes each morning, loss rolled in our stomachs. 

So I launched myself into my new job. Falaise was a small practice, only one Vet worked on any given day, and my adjustment was easier than I imagined. My first mission was claiming the front desk and organizing outdated leaflets. On my second day, Rosie, one of the three technitions, approached me:

"So. You're a Newfie?"
I straightened, "Yep."
"How do you like it here so far?"
"Ottawa is nice. It's a bit lonely, though."
"You'll make friends." she said,  "Let me know if you need help with anything." and she returned to the treatment room.

The door bell chimed. I scanned my appointment list. This must be Dalia Hall. A lady in a gray  sweater approached my counter – she had a small calico cat wrapped in a blue blanket "Oh! Hello, you must be new!" she said.

I smiled, "Yes, I am. And this must be Dalia."
"The one and only."

Dalia looked up at me from her nest with green moons. Her fur looked like an orange, black and white swirling marble cake. She was very pretty. I reached over my counter and scratched behind one of her ears, "Hello, Dalia." Her skin was thin and barely covered the bones of her face. She closed her green moon eyes and buried her cheek in my hand. A rumble erupted from her chest. "Sweet girl," I said.

I led the pair into consulting room one and  closed the door behind them. I grabbed Dalia's file and flickered over the notes. There was a diagnoses: Kidney Failure. Dalia had been in three times a week for the last week for subcutaenous fluid treatments. Poor girl.

A few minutes later I heard Dr.White open the door to the room and beckon for Rosie. They were starting Dalia's treatment. Ms.Hall drifted back towards Reception.
"Is it okay if I sit here while they do this? I'm squeamish about needles." She was still clutching the blue blanket.
"Of course."
She smiled, "So. Are you a student?"
"Oh, no. I've worked in a vet clinic before. I just moved here from Newfoundland, actually."
She brightened, "Oh, I love Newfoundland! I went there last summer. To St.John's, it was beautiful."
A bit of sweet melancholy swelled up my throat, "I'm from St.John's."
We smiled at our connection.

A few moments later Rosie brought Dalia back up front – her moon eyes were still shining, but she now had a slightly mishappen lump between her shoulders where fluid has been injected. Ms.Hall held out her blanket and cooed, "come here, girlie."

In the weeks that passed I got to know many other clients and their pets, but I always found myself with shifts that were scheduled during Dalia's treatments. Every appointment, little Dalia came to the counter for her squinty, rumbly, ear-rub and then was whisked away while Ms. Hall waited deligently. When I wasn't busy checking in other appointments or running tasks for the doctors, we talked.

I described my rugged island home and suggested all of the places she could visit the next time she was there. Ms.Hall talked most about Dalia; she shared when she had had a good day and when she had had a bad day. As the days passed, there were more bad days, her heart grew heavier and I offered what little comfort I could.

The first day it snowed, Ms.Hall told me about how Dalia had been a mother. Ms.Hall found her fifteen years ago, in the snow, with five little kittens. She adopted the whole family, but three of the kittens died. In her story, Ms.Hall kept repeating that it must have been some kind of mistake. Because, surely, no one was so cruel as to abandon a pregnant cat in the dead of winter. I didn't want to tell her how heartless some people could be. I didn't want to say how many people wouldn't care about a little cat momma and her tiny babies. So, when she'd finished, I simply replied " I bet  Dalia was a good mom. She must have chosen you."

Ms.Hall didn't say anything, but she nodded.

Dalia continued to waste away. She continued her treatments, but Dr.White looked grimmer after each visit. One evening, Ms.Hall called me "I know we're scheduled for tomorrow, but I think I have t-" Her sentence broke. She couldn't finish. Without checking our appointments, I told her we'd  see her at once.

Dr.White was running a bit behind when Ms.Hall arrived, so she stood at my counter with her girl in her arms. Little Dalia looked up at me with her moon eyes; they weren't shining as brightly as before, but, when I gave her her scratch, she still managed to lean so forcefully into my fingers that I was worried I might hurt her.
"Sweet girl," I whispered.
 "She is," Ms.Hall breathed.

We were both still looking down at her softly purring form when Dr.White rushed towards Ms.Hall and apologized for the delay. She ushered them gingerly into the room. I watched as the gentle, moon eyed, marble-cake cat turned the corner.

The phone was ringing. I shoved my palms into my eyes and tried not to think about what was unfolding as I jumped back to my duties.

The rest of the appointments passed and, once things were quiet, Ms.Hall reappeared. She held her empty blue blanket in her hands. Calico strands still clung to it. 

We stood together as orphans for a moment.

She spoke first.

"Thank you for everything"

I knew I wouldn't see her again, at least for a while. My friend who loved Newfoundland.
I filled with love and pain and yearning. The loss that had been rolling in my belly threatened to crash and pull me apart. I wanted to hug her and cry for our gentle, green-eyed girl. I couldn't.

I said.

"You're welcome."

There was a moment of silence and Ms.Hall nodded. Then she zipped up her coat. She turned. She left. 

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