Winter 2007

Table of Contents - Vol. III, No. 4


Poetry    Essays    Fiction    Book Reviews

Howard Waldman


At the Veterinarian’s

After the collie with the bandaged paw it was the old man’s turn. He had a day-old beard and his shirt was askew, buttons and buttonholes mismatched. He placed the battered wicker basket on the white table. The lid was maintained by two luggage elastics and he had trouble freeing them. The young vet did it easily. Just looking at the cat was enough to know, but the old man said:

“He’s blind, can’t walk or eat.”

“Generalized cancer.”


“No, it happens only once. He must be twenty.”

“My wife found him in her garden twenty-one years ago. He was a kitten.”

“Ripe old age for a cat. Nothing to be done except put him to sleep. Perfectly painless. Sixty Euros.”

“Yes, that’s why I brought him in.”

The young vet busied himself at the stainless steel sink and came back with two syringes.

“What’s his name?”


“This won’t hurt, Felix. Hold him and talk to him.”

“He’s deaf too.”

The young vet took a fold of skin and injected the contents of the first syringe. The cat hardly struggled.

“It’s to calm him. We’ll wait a minute.”

He went over to his desk and chose a number on his cell-phone. There was a photo of a pretty smiling woman on the desk and another of two small children. Still holding Felix, the old man heard him mumble:

“Yvette, Jean. … Just two more. … Yes, heavy cream and a jar of mustard. Won’t forget.”

He returned and examined the cat.

“He’s right now.”

He injected the contents of the second syringe expertly in the region of the heart. Felix hardly shuddered.

“It’s over. Perfectly painless. You can tell your wife her cat didn’t suffer at all.”

“My wife is dead.”

A quick compassionate expression and the young vet took the syringes over to the stainless steel sink. The old man said to his back:

“She died six months and almost one week ago. Doctor, why don’t they do to people who need it what you just did to Felix?”

“Animals are animals, humans are humans.”

“Doctor, if somebody offered you six hundred Euros to do it to him, would you accept?”

“Euthanasia is a crime.”

“You could always say he had a heart attack. Six thousand Euros?”

The young vet returned to the table and the old man who was still holding the cat.

“Sixty Euros, please.”

The old man paid and started for the door.

“Don’t you want your cat?”

“What for now?”

“Some people prefer to bury their animals in their garden.”

“Not me.”

“No problem in that case. Don’t forget to take your basket.”

“Sixty thousand Euros?”

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing. No, you can keep the basket too, Doctor.”


Plant No Trees in the Garden

One November day, just after he’d bedded Emily, his wife timidly suggested planting a walnut tree. He was the one who planted, tended and knew.

He consulted his specialized books and explained, in simplified terms, the factors that ruled out the operation: inappropriate soil, early frosts, the voracity of squirrels, the walnut prone to sixty-four diseases. Anyhow the garden was too small for something that size. Marie-Louise, Albertine, Agnes, Madame Hardy and all his other precious sun-loving old roses (he called them “my ladies”) would take umbrage at the intrusion. His final argument was that the walnut took fifteen years to bear. He didn’t add that with his heart condition he’d never taste one of the walnuts, unlike her, ten years younger and never so much as a sniffle.

She listened respectfully as she’d done years back, a lovely C+ student in his English Literature of the Age of Reason class. Her argument was touchingly subjective: the sweetness of the fresh walnuts she’d savoured as a child. She couldn’t invoke the annual gift to future generations. To her despair, they were childless.

Each November she gently brought up the matter. Patiently he repeated his explanations and came up with another argument. His heart tolerated puttering-- things like spraying, pruning and weeding-- but not the backbreaking kind of effort necessary for planting a tree. Of course he didn’t add that the image of her, widowed (or, worse, remarried), savouring the fruit of the tree that had killed him was unbearable. She timidly countered his medical reason by suggesting that her husky brother Roger could do the digging. But every single shrub and bulb had been planted by his hand. Having to rely on someone else would estrange him from his garden, he felt, and confirm his decline.

One November dawn a clattering outside woke him to an empty bed. From the window he saw her pushing the wheelbarrow, the spade bouncing about. So finally he tackled the job, although she begged him to have Roger do it. With the last shovel heave of dirt in the hole his heart protested violently. “Think of me when you taste the first one,” he thought angrily.

The tree grew relentlessly. In the fourth year its shadow encroached on his ladies. Nymph’s Thigh began developing Black Spot, Green Fly started tormenting Catherine Mermet, mildew disfigured Belle de Crécy.

While waiting for the tree to bear fruit, his wife often read in its skinny shadow. When she coughed he reminded her, as a joke, of the superstition that the shade of the walnut was fatal, not just to roses but to people as well. She smiled and went on reading and coughing.


Years after, his brother-in-law came over and picked the first nuts and husked them next to the bed of diseased and dying ladies. He brought them back to the veranda, the shells and his big hands black with the acrid liquor. He cracked them open and worked the nuts free. They looked like miniature brains. He patiently unpeeled the bitter yellow membrane and savoured one.

“Sweet, as she always used to say,” Roger said. “She’d have loved them. Go ahead, taste one.”

“No,” he replied, a bitter taste in his mouth, as if he’d already tasted the black acrid liquor and the bitter yellow membrane. “You can have them all.”

© Howard Waldman


Poetry    Essays    Fiction    Book Reviews

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