I had been looking after Oval for a week 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 making weird noises, like he was burping.
Stop being gross, Oval!
Oval came into the bedroom, looked at me with contempt and started heaving and making eerie retching sounds. Woahhoahha wooshaahhssa. His stomach was roiling.
OMG, Oval was vomiting. I was totally grossed out but also worried. Had Oval eaten some caramel M&Ms that I had left out? Or swallowed a peanut?
Would I need to physically stick my fingers down Ovals throat to remove the M&Ms/peanut? I would do anything for love, but I wont do that, I thought 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 way to the kitchen to grab some paper towels, I stood then slid in a patch of Ovals vomit. I screamed. Oval continued to heave.
I had been looking after Oval for a week and we had failed to properly bond. Oval had never met me before and looked 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 looked 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, particularly an unfamiliar cat. Does Uber take cats? Could I transport him in a box or a bag?
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 just puked like you and I cough or sniffle. Why didnt I know this? They puked when their stomachs were empty, they puked when their stomachs were full. They puked when they had a furball.
I went up to get some more paper towels to clean the puke and slipped in another pile of puke.
Back on the forums I fell down the rabbit click hole 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 range of expressions.
Oval had taken a break from his puking and looked at me with malevolence 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, dropping some cat shit on my shoes and thought FML.
The next day Oval looked like his usual depressed self, but at least he wasnt spewing. I closed the door and went off to work before immediately realising I had locked my only set 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 persons ID with their address on it.
That could take a week to get if the owner was on a hike.
But, but, theres 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 getting (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 thought of the nice moments Oval and I had shared over the past week: when Oval made a bed in my backpack, 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 wasnt all bad. It wasnt all vomit.
Over the course of the day, as I became more frantic, as I implored random locksmiths to break into the flat, Ovals owner replied to my messages. There was a spare key with a neighbour.
I arrived back at 10pm and tried to take Oval in my arms.
My baby was alive.
Brigid Delaney is a Guardian Australia writer and columnist
Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/04/i-kept-telling-the-cat-to-stop-being-gross-but-he-just-looked-at-me-with-contempt