Alexandra N. Kontes


Alexandra N. Kontes lives in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in kill author, and is forthcoming in Foundling Review and in Fractured West.


Choosing Death (January 20, 2011. Issue 24.)

She was nine years old when she died of cancer. More precisely, she died of an overdose of barbiturates, which were administered intravenously while she lay on a yellow towel, on top of a metal table at the vet’s office. Her heart stopped. Her breathing stopped. Her eyes did not close. The vet was crying. I was sobbing. I took off her ragged purple collar with its tiny bell, and I put it in my pocket. It was all I had left of her.

My cat and I had been nearly inseparable since the moment I saw her at a local animal shelter in April of 2000. When I opened her cage, her trusting green eyes looked into mine, and she walked right into my arms. She was a year old, and she had been at the shelter for two months. She weighed five pounds. Her name was May. She was with me in 2001 when a stranger broke into my house and raped me. She was there when my uncle was killed in a car accident, and when my heart was broken almost beyond repair. She was there when my grandfather died. She growled when someone was at the door. She came out of hiding at the sound of the can opener, or at the mere mention of the word tuna. She pounced on my socks, and hid them around the house. She came running when I asked, “Where’s that cat?” She sat on the edge of the tub while I took a shower. She was allergic to dust. Her black tabby fur was as soft as a rabbit’s.

Our unexpected journey into the world of feline cancer began in December of 2007. One morning, May walked into the bathroom. When she walked out, she was limping. I took her to the vet. Within minutes of our arrival, she confirmed a diagnosis--- mammary gland cancer. “Cancer was not one of the options,” I said. “A sprained toe, a broken ankle maybe, but not cancer. Not cancer.”

May had surgery three days later. She recovered quickly, and rather ingeniously managed to take off her lampshade collar and hide it in her litter box. Shortly afterwards, the doctors informed me that they were not able to remove all of the cancer. They referred me to an oncologist. “They recover more quickly than humans,” he said. “She will have to spend days in the hospital,” he said. “There will be pills,” he said. “She will lose her whiskers,” he said.” “It is not a cure,” he said. “What will happen if I don’t do this?” I asked. “She will die,” he said. “No,” I said. No.

I took her home. She played with socks. She ran around the house. I held her while she slept. But soon enough, she began losing weight. Her soft fur became stiffer. At the beginning of April, she stopped eating. I tempted her with tuna. No interest. I took her to the emergency room. The cancer had spread. “Let’s give her appetite stimulants,” they said. “So she can die ravenously hungry in a few weeks?” I thought. No. Enough.

I called my vet, and on April 10th, 2008, five months after her diagnosis, I stroked May’s head as she died, and I put her collar in my pocket. When I got home from work that night, the tiny bell, still in my pocket, began to ring. It had been silent all day.