When Sasha was Eighty-four
Emma Hooper

Sasha sat. On the table was the cereal he was not eating. On the floor was the mess he was not picking up. His eyes were closed. Sealed to prevent unnecessary flooding. He was eighty-four today.

In the next room there was a dark dusty couch. Under the couch there was a dying-cat. She had no fur on her knees. She had no fire in her eyes. Her dying-cat eyes looked out wearily past the mess that was not being picked up and the cereal that was not being eaten to the man with the sealed sad eyes. His breath was coming and going in faint stops. His hands shook just a little. His knees trembled just a little. "I will try," said the man. "I will try to stop this from happening." The cat said nothing.

Eventually, Sasha stood and walked with trembly knees into the next room. He gently gathered the dark dusty cat from under his couch. Her bony cat-head did not protest. She slept while he carefully wrapped her spindly spidery cat-legs and spindly spidery cat-body up in a rolled newspaper. He left her bony head to poke out the top. To breathe and to see. Then the eighty-four-year-old man walked with the newspaper-cat in his shaky arms to the cat-hospital.

In the waiting room there were many cats, some in rolled newspaper and some not. Sasha sat down in next to a young woman. "Hello," he said.

"Hello," said the woman. She had a young yellow cat rolled in newspaper at her feet.

"Are you well?" asked Sasha.

"Oh, Quite Good. Very Good. Thank you," said the woman. Her young yellow cat was looking back and forth, round and round, at everything in the waiting room. His young eyes moved very quickly in his fluffy young head.

"Oh." said Sasha. He did not talk to the woman anymore after that. In his lap his bony black cat slept.

The cat-doctor had kind hands. "Hello," said Sasha.

"Hello," said the cat-doctor. "What is wrong here?"

Sasha began to answer, but his throat caught on something and he had to seal his eyelids. "She was a fine-cat the yesterday before yesterday," he said with his eyes closed, "but now she is a dying-cat."

When he unsealed his eyes, he saw that the cat-doctor had placed one large kind hand on the sleeping cat's neck. The other large kind hand she used to pat the cat's ears until she woke up. The cat opened one eye and looked up at the doctor. "Yes," said the doctor. "This is a dying-cat."

Sasha chewed one of his fingertips. "Can you turn her back into a fine-cat?" he asked.

The doctor removed her hands from the cat-neck and head. She reached into her doctor coat and brought out a colorful pamphlet. It read: Top 84 Reasons Why You Need Our Church! She pointed to reason number four: • Ill Or Deceased Loved Ones. "Alright then?" she said.

Sasha smiled weakly.

"No?" she said. "Would you like a different pamphlet?" She opened her coat to Sasha. Inside were many colorful pamphlets. She took out a red one and offered it to Sasha. Your Cat and Our God, it read.

"No, no thank you," said Sasha. Then he took up his newspaper-cat in shaky arms and left the hospital.

Sasha walked into the cold clean church with his cat in his tired newsprint-blackened arms. He slid into a worn wood confessional and carefully placed the still-sleeping-cat at his feet. "Hello," he said to the priest on the other side of the lattice.

"Hello," said the priest.

"Bless me father," said Sasha.

"Have you sinned?" asked the priest. He sounded young.

"No," said Sasha. "My cat is dying."

"Oh," said the priest on the other side. Then he said nothing.

Sasha waited for forty or fifty seconds. Then he asked, "Can you help her?"

The priest said nothing. He sneezed once softly. Then he sneezed loudly. And again. Then he sneezed loudly four more times. "Jesus Christ," he said. Sasha heard a door creak then slam.

"Hello?" said Sasha. "Hello, are you alright?" He peered through the small holes in the wood before him. There was no priest on the other side. Sasha gathered the cat from the cold church floor and followed the sound of loud sneezes out of the confessional, through rows and rows of worn wood pews. He followed and followed sneeze after sneeze until at last he located the priest, laying face-down-flat, on the very middle of a pew in the very middle of the church. "Are you alright?" he asked.

"No," said the priest, not looking up from the pew. Then he sneezed many times, causing his body to bounce up and down on the pew. Each time the priest sneezed, another little bit of fur flew off the cat-body in Sasha's arms. When he was able to speak again without sneeze bouncing, the priest lifted his head slightly and said, "Please go away. Take your cat and go very very far away." Sasha saw that his priest eyes and priest nose were leaking. Although Sasha would have liked to lie down on a pew for just a few minutes himself, he decided not to. He walked out of the cold clean church.

He went to the airport and bought a ticket. Then he and his cat sat in small airplane seats while the world underneath passed from the comforts of home to the sands of Egypt. Sasha watched his cat sleep on the seat next to him. She was very small. Even in newspaper. Sasha wondered if she might slip down the crack in the seat. He did up her seatbelt. Then, because he had been losing a little weight lately, he did up his seatbelt as well. A steward with blue eyes and gloves came by. "Hello," said Sasha.

"Hello," said the blue steward. "Eating today?"

"Yes, please," said Sasha.

"Human-meal or Cat-meal?" asked the steward.

"Human-meal, please," said Sasha.

"And for the cat?" asked the steward.

"Cat-meal, please," said Sasha. The blue steward gave them two trays and left.

Sasha left the foil on his food while he carefully cut up the cat-meal. He placed a small piece of cat-food on a fork and placed it in his sleeping cat's open mouth, on her tongue. She woke up. She did not swallow the food. "Please," said Sasha. But she would not. The food piece stayed sitting on her cat-tongue in her open mouth. She looked at Sasha. Sasha looked at her and her tongue. "I will try," he said, "I will try to stop this from happening." He removed the cat-food with a clean colored napkin. They did not watch the in-flight movie.

The Cairo airport was very crowded. Sasha did his best to shoulder through people until he found the restroom. His whole body felt very tired. He washed his face. In the restroom mirror he could see the reflection of the bony-headed-cat in his black newsprint-arms. She was awake. She looked at the bony-headed reflection of him. Sasha sighed and made his way back out through the many many people to the Cairo airport information desk. "Hello," he said.

"Hello," said the Cairo information girl. She had a hat that said, "Cairo! Of course!" Sasha wondered if she was old enough to be a qualified information girl.

"Please," said Sasha, "I have a dying-cat. I need to find the Great Old Cat-Man. Can you tell me how?"

"Yes," said the information girl, "I can." She looked back and forth, round and round, at the many many people passing by. Her young eyes moved very quickly in her fluffy young head. No else one was watching them. She slipped Sasha an ancient-looking map. "You should go quickly," she said in a low voice, "that is a soon-dying-cat."

Sasha was exhausted. He stood, carefully nibbling the top of his pinkie, before a small sand-colored door at the top of four hundred steps. He was in the middle of the desert. He wondered if his camel, left to wait four hundred steps below, would run away. He walked through the door, arms full of cat-skin and cat-bone.

The Great Old Cat-Man had a million wrinkles, starting in waves of white hair, ending in curled toenails. He wore a vestment of newspaper and clicked yellow fingers together. With only two bits of breath left after climbing four hundred stairs, Sasha said, "Hello," to him in a whisper voice.

The Great Old Cat-Man said nothing. Although he understood everything, he only spoke Egyptian and Cat. He drew a fingernail through his spiderweb-white hair; Sasha and the bony-headed newspaper-cat watched it part the thin strands. Then, with his one remaining bit of breath, Sasha continued, "My cat is a dying-cat. Can you please make her a fine-cat again?" As he said this, Sasha laid down his newspaper-cat at the Great Old Cat-Man's feet. Then he laid himself down next to the newspaper-cat. His eighty-four-year-old eyes were very tired. The Great Old Cat-Man bent and picked up the sleeping-cat with his left hand, peeling off her newspaper. Then he bent the other way and picked up Sasha with his right hand.

"Very well," he said, in Cat, and even though Sasha did not understand him, he understood.

Sasha smiled and closed his tired eyes. They stayed closed. The cat opened her eyes wide and bright, and kept them open. She looked quickly back and forth, round and round.

Emma Hooper is a viola player and author; she has a band called Waitress for the Bees and a debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James out January 2015.