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It was on the way back from Knoxville where I attended a yoga class earlier in the day. The class was unusually difficult, I continued to be weak and shaky. After, I decided to go to what I started calling the “hipster coffee shop”. They have wifi, green tea, and no one talks to me there so I can usually get some work done. After struggling for several hours with some CSS, I finish. Not happy to have accomplished anything really, just relieved it’s over so I can get out of there.
I walk quickly, get in the car and start it. It’s dark now, cold. I’m cold, tired and kind of lonely. I let it warm up for just a bit, then drive out of old city. I head down Gay Street, past the Tennessee Theater. I think too long about someone who works there on occasion. I go over the bridge, turn right past the hospital and end up on Chapman Highway. The highway is an ugly four lane road where the speed limit is too high, and the collective IQ is too low. I stay in the right lane, as far away from the pickup trucks, mini vans, and battered late model cars as possible.
Just past the big church, across from a car lot is where we will meet. I would later realize, like I, he was just trying to get somewhere warm.
I saw him from maybe thirty yards away, hunkered down in the middle of the highway, obviously spooked. A pickup truck passes me on the left and I lose sight of him. I am thinking to myself, I hope he makes it across okay, when I feel and hear a thud. No fucking way is all I could say, no fucking way, over and over. I’m yelling it like some kind of mantra by the time I can pull over into a parking lot. I kill the ignition before the car comes to a stop and have the door open. I’m flailing around with the seatbelt trying to get out, when I finally do, I realize the car is rolling. I forgot the parking brake. I turn the steering wheel with one hand so the car doesn’t roll back into traffic and just keep running. I try to tell myself that it may of been a piece of wood, some trash, a milk jug, but then I see him. He is still, on the edge of the road, laying on his side. Cars are honking as they go by, someone yells. It’s precarious trying to get him. I know If I don’t do this quickly he will get run over again. I take my shirt off and scoop him up in it. I’m running back up the hill towards the car. I have him pressed up against me, trying to be gentle. He is looking up at me. I notice the pink collar and the heart shaped tag with a phone number.
I sweep the camera and backpack off the passenger seat onto the floorboard and lay him down. I’m shaking, I can barely read the number on the tag. I fumble with the phone, I can’t get the damn touch screen to work. I finally realize it’s because of the blood on my hands. I’m wiping it on my t-shirt, looking down at the tag when I see his name, Mr. Sparkles. I dial the number. I have no idea what I’m going to say. A machine answers. Not voicemail, one of those infuriating micro-cassette types where you have to wait extra time for the long beep before you can leave a message. “I have Mr. Sparkles, he has been hit”. I leave my number afterwards, wondering If I should of told them that I was the one who hit him.
I freeze, not sure what to do next. I look at him, I’m talking to him. I realize I need to find a vet, nearby, that’s open on Sunday nights, in an unfamiliar town. I start to become very worried.
The next few minutes are a frustrating mix of phone calls, messages, google searches, and finally a desperate text message. I have to make a decision. The closest vet seems to be back downtown, Central Vet something on Clinch, but every time I call the number a fax machine picks up. I decide to head there hoping they have an emergency number posted on the door.
I’m driving way too fast and the old car is noisy, but the loudest sound in the car is Mr Sparkles wheezing. I run a traffic light, pass someone using the turn lane and cut off a car. Then I become stuck at a big intersection, in traffic, just across the bridge. I’m pleading with Mr Sparkles, telling him I’m going to take care of him when I notice the wheezing has stopped. I look down and lay my hand on him. He is not breathing. He is no longer watching me. I just stare. Someone honks behind me and I drive ahead until I can turn off.
I just sit looking at Mr. Sparkles, looking at my hands, looking at that pink collar. Some of the little fake diamonds are gone and I wonder when they came off. Mr Sparkles is obviously a girls pet, I wonder about her age. I wonder if the number I called is still good. I wonder what to do. I sit, staring ahead. I get out of the car and sit on the sidewalk. I want a drink, maybe even a cigarette. I want to call someone. I’m numb, and my head feels hollow.
My phone rings, it’s a woman, the mother. I explain to her what has happened. She sounds upset, but is gracious in that familiar, timid, southernly woman sort of way. We decide to meet at the closed Kay’s ice cream shoppe. I try and wash up using paper towels and the water from my aluminum bottle. I’m clumsy and inefficient, but manage to remove most of the blood from my hands. I put on a shirt I had in the back of the car. I wrap Mr. Sparkles up in a linen tablecloth I purchased for a special picnic that never came to be. I place him in one of my wicker baskets. I rearrange the material so you can see his face, and set him next to me once again.
They are already there when I drive up. They. The mother, and two little girls dressed for bed. They are illuminated by the interior lights of the minivan. She is turned around and is speaking to them as I get out of my car. I grab the basket and wait. She introduces herself and thanks me for calling. I am unprepared and stammer, apologizing for what has happened. I offer to get them a new kitten, but she declines. Apparently there are plenty of free ones available from her sister. I want to tell her that I need to get them a new kitten, but I’m not sure she would understand. I hand her the basket and we look at each other, she thanks me again and turns. I look up at the girls, one of them is looking back with very wide eyes, the other is crying. They drive away across the highway and head in the direction Mr. Sparkles was traveling. Mr. Sparkles will make it home.
Home. I just sit.