Hit and Stay
The flash of gray came up so fast, just in the edge of Mark’s vision, that he had no time at all to even slow down, much less stop. He grimaced, his shoulders hunching, then couldn’t help but groan loudly as he felt the impact on the passenger side bumper and tire.
There was only one car behind him. Mark slowed, turned on his turn signal and pulled to the side of the road, surprised when the following car also pulled off. Taking a deep breath, Mark turned off the car and opened the door. The driver’s door of the car behind him was also opening, a woman stepping out and frowning at him.
“It was a cat,” she said.
Mark nodded, walking to the side of the road. “I thought so. Came fast.”
The woman was walking around her car to join him. “I know. You couldn’t have avoided it.”
“Thanks,” Mark said, surprised at how relieved her pronouncement made him feel. “Doesn’t make much difference for him, though.”
Mark looked down the shoulder of the road and frowned again when he saw the still gray form in the grass.
“Thanks for stopping,” he said to the woman, “but I got this.”
The woman held out her hand which Mark took and found himself in a firm handshake. Her eyes were serious, but friendly. “Maddy Cranston,” she said simply. “I’m a vet tech. I might be able to help.”
Mark breathed out in relief. “Mark Glade,” he said. “Thanks.”
The two walked toward the cat. Mark’s stomach cramped when he realized the animal was still breathing, its side moving rapidly up and down. Its eyes were closed, though, and it was otherwise not moving. Mark watched as Maddy knelt in the grass next to the animal, carefully touching it with her fingertips. When it didn’t respond, she ran her hands more firmly down its sides.
“I don’t see any blood,” Mark said.
Maddy shook her head. “It’s all internal.” She grimaced as she used her fingers to probe the animal’s head. She glanced up at Mark. “His skull is pretty well crushed. He’s not going to make it.”
Mark swallowed, his eyes filling. He bit his lower lip. “Is there a vet’s office nearby we can take him to?”
Maddy shook her head. “He’d not make the drive. It’s just a matter of time. It seems more merciful not to move him.”
Mark nodded, then slowly lowered himself into the grass. He reached toward the cat, then stopped, looking up at Maddy. “Is he in a lot of pain?”
Maddy shook her head, her hand stroking the cat’s side now. “He doesn’t feel anything. He’s totally unconscious.”
Mark nodded again, then reached over and carefully slid his hands under the injured cat. With absolute care, he lifted it and cradled it in his arms, up against his chest. Maddy watched, then slid closer so she could reach the cat. Together the two of them held him and stroked him as his breathing slowed, becoming less and less regular until finally the movement of his side stopped.
Maddy and Mark looked at each other, tears sliding down their faces. Years later, their teenaged daughter would ask Maddy when she first fell in love with Mark.
“Was it when he held the cat?” she would ask. “Or when he cried?”
Maddy would shake her head, smiling with the memory. “It was,” she would correct, “the moment he pulled over and stepped out of the car.”