- Created on Friday, 20 July 2001 00:00
"Don't do it, daughter. Just don't do it."
"I'll think about it," she said coldly.
"I had a cat once, when I was a boy," the abbot murmured slowly. "He was a big gray tomcat with shoulders like a small bulldog and a head and neck to match, and that sort of slouchy insolence that makes some of them look like the Devil's own. He was pure cat. Do you know cats?"
"Cat lovers don't know cats. You cant love all cats if you know cats, and the ones you love if you know them are the ones the cat lovers don't even like. Zeke was that kind of a cat."
"This has a moral, of course?" She was watching him suspiciously.
"Only that I killed him."
"Stop. Whatever you're about to say, stop."
"A truck hit him, crushed his back legs. He dragged himself under the house. Once in a while he'd make a noise like a cat fight and thrash around a little, but mostly he just lay quietly and waited. 'He ought to be destroyed,' they kept telling me. After a few hours he dragged himself from under the house. Crying for help. 'He ought to be destroyed,' they said. I wouldn't let them do it. They said it was cruel to let him live. So finally I said I'd do it myself, if it had to be done. I got a gun and a shovel and took him out to the edge of the woods. I stretched him out on the ground while I dug a hole. Then I shot him through the head. It was a small-bore rifle. Zeke thrashed a couple of times, then got up and started dragging himself toward some bushes. I shot him again. It knocked him flat, so I thought he was dead, and put him in the hole. After a couple of shovels of dirt, Zeke got up and pulled himself out of the hole and started for the bushes again. I was crying louder than the cat. I had to kill him with the shovel. I had to put him back in the hole and use the blade of the shovel like a cleaver, and while I was chopping with it, Zeke was still thrashing around. They told me later it was just spinal reflex, but I didn't believe it. I knew that cat. He wanted to get to those bushes and just lie there and wait. I wished to God that I had only let him get to those bushes and die the way a cat would if you just let it alone--with dignity. I never felt right about it. Zeke was only a cat, but--"
"Shut up!" she whispered.
"--but even the ancient pagans noticed that Nature imposes nothing on you that Nature doesn't prepare you to bear. If that is true even of a cat, then is it not more perfectly true of a creature with rational intellect and will--whatever you may believe of Heaven?"
Abbot Zerchi to a woman who suffered a fatal dose of radiation along with her daughter, and is now heading towards a euthanasia station. From A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.