[For anyone who gets this blog emailed automatically: if you have not gotten the most recent post, the one I posted on Saturday, go to the blog's website. I've discovered that the site did not notify readers that I'd changed the "notice" to a real post. --D.]
A few days ago, we returned to campus from the Island and I had a short but oddly startling conversation.
I rode back with the students and masters, as I said, because Allen and his family are staying on the Island for another week. The school uses a pair of fifteen-passenger vans (converted to veggie-diesel) for these trips, and I was in the first van to get back. The other one stopped to get dinner on the way, while we voted to wait and eat on campus. That both Charlie and I were in the same van and voted the same way probably had something to do with the difference. I'm not doing it on purpose, but I'm getting more and more like him in certain ways--I don't like being in fast food or chain restaurants anymore, even supposedly healthy ones, like Panera. The light in there looks strange and the food doesn't smell right. Or something.
Anyway, so we pulled into the little parking lot between the Mansion and the Formal Garden, piled out, and unloaded our stuff. The yearlings scattered pretty quickly, going inside with their personal gear or carrying the group equipment and leftover food to the Mansion basement or the Dining Hall, but I didn't have anything to do--not being a yearling means it isn't my job to put stuff away. So I just stood around for a while, stretching after the long van ride and looking and sniffing around. As expected, spring sprung while we were away. The trees are completely leafed out now and the azaleas are mostly done flowering. Some of the roses are about to start. After the cold, early spring conditions on the Island, this explosion of green is kind of overwhelming.
So as I was standing around, a car pulled up. It was one of the campus cars (veggie diesel also) but any car, even one of ours, driving on campus is rare. I waited to find out who had been driving it and why.
A man got out. He was tall, gray-haired with pale golden skin, and he wore black jeans and a blue plaid shirt. It was only when he greeted me that I realized the man was Greg--I'd never seen him out of uniform before.
"I didn't even know you could drive," I said, before I could stop myself. He laughed.
"I haven't always been cloistered," he told me. "How do you think I got by before we built this place?"
I actually hadn't thought about it. I've heard he was a carpenter.
Anyway, I asked him what he'd gone out for and in answer he reached in to the passenger's side of the car and pulled out a blue plastic cat carrier occupied by the black and white cat who loves him.
"He was in the hospital for a couple of days," Greg explained, setting the carrier on the ground. "He's fine, now." I could hear the relief in his voice.
"What was wrong?"
"Urinary tract infection. I found him pissing blood last week."
It sounded strange to hear him use a word like "pissing." He's so reserved, I tend to fall into thinking he's more formal than he really is.
"Too bad Joy was away," I told him. "You wouldn't have had to take him to an outside vet."
"Yes, I would. I made an appointment when I found the blood and I was going to keep him in my room until then, so I could keep an eye on him. But that night, he stopped going at all. A cat that can't piss has a couple of hours. Joy doesn't have the equipment to intubate him, so I would have needed to take him in anyway. He has lost his penis, but kept his life."
"Lost his penis? Why?"
"In the judgment of the vet, his risk for a recurrence is high, especially since we can't monitor him well here. A cat's urethra is very narrow through the penis, so it blocks easily. Removing it reduces the risk."
He had been looking in through the carrier at the cat, but he looked up at me and saw my expression and chuckled a little.
"He would have lost it anyway, if he'd died," Greg explained. "Funny how many men don't think clearly about that type of choice?"
I wasn't sure how to respond to that.
Greg looked over his shoulder a minute, frowning. I guessed that he wanted to take the cat inside, so he could recover from surgery up in the masters' quarters, but since we're not supposed to have animals in the Mansion he wanted to use the secret stairwell, which I'm not supposed to know about. He'd actually looked right at the door to it.
"I know about the stairwell," I told him. "I caught Charlie using it last year."
"Really? He didn't tell me."
"Well, I don't tell anyone else."
"Nor should you. Every magic school ought to have a secret stairwell, don't you think?"
"Yeah. I used to think there were ghosts in the walls. I think a lot of people still do."
"There may be ghosts, too. Just because there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for something doesn't mean that explanation's accurate."
Greg reached back into the car and grabbed a cloth bag full of something and a couple of pieces of paper. He removed one piece, presumably a debit card slip, and handed the other two me.
"You might find this interesting," he told me.
It was the vet bill. It seemed unremarkable to me, except that it listed Greg, not the school, as owner, which was kind of interesting. But then I noticed the name listed for the cat: Greg's Cat Monroe. Monroe in Greg's last name, but....
"Greg's Cat Monroe?" I asked. He smiled.
"Nobody ever calls him anything else," he said, somewhat embarrassed. "I suppose that's his name, now."
Generally the cats on campus don't have names, although the dogs do. Sarah says she's not sure it makes sense to name animals who don't seem to care what their names are, except for human need or convenience. Greg looked pleased that his cat had a name, now.
"Meoww!" said Greg's Cat.
"I'd better get him inside so I can let him out," Greg said, and wished me good evening.
I walked around campus for a while, thinking. What Greg said about choices? I don't think he just meant that men don't think clearly about anything that threatens male genitals. That would kind of be a cheap shot, for him, and anyway, how many men actually have to choose between life and penis? It's not something that really happens for most people.
I think by "that type of choice" Greg meant a kind of false choice. When he first told me about the operation, I was on the point of making some uncomfortable joke based on the idea that the cat had made a choice between sexlessness and something else. Something along the lines of what's more important, life or sex? But that's not really what the situation was--I don't know if neutered cats actually have sex, but I'm pretty confident dead ones don't.
How often do we try to hold on to something we are bound to lose, and lose something even bigger because of it?