First appeared in SCUM February 2016
I was cleaning my room. The windows were open. I remember clearly that one of the pale blue and white curtains was lifted by the breeze and brushed against my thigh as I bent to pick up a pile of dirty washing. I was wearing these teeny little shorts. I carried my dark-stained wicker laundry basket into the laundry, shoving the contents into our dilapidated washing machine. My universe felt neatly ordered, and smelt of incense.
In a gradual way I became aware of a noise: what sounded like two dogs fighting. I ignored this for a while. We didn’t have a dog. Still, the sound persisted and curiosity got the better of me. In bare feet I padded across the threadbare beige carpet of the hallway to the front door. From the entranceway, I could see two dogs were in our yard and were tussling on our driveway. There was a small furry body in between their two stocky ones. In there somewhere was Voodoo, our little brown and black tabby. Voodoo, who would sit on the shelf in the front hallway so she could softly head-butt passers by. As though she was the high priestess of our little house in a low-lying Wollongong suburb and we were merely paying our respects. Voodoo, who was happy to lie across your shoulders while you cooked, head on one shoulder, legs curving over the other.
I screamed her name. It felt like I was watching myself from over near the letterbox, looking at myself in my short-shorts and a little kerchief tied in my hair. I was wearing a bra and at some point I remember thinking that was lucky. Time slowed down, like it does in films when something horrible is happening. A car crash, or knife attack. I screamed Voodoo’s name, over and over again. It was all I seemed to be able to do. I screamed loud and long enough for Dan to come running out from inside the house. He scanned the yard, following my outstretched arm. I was standing and pointing like some ridiculous heroine from a 1960s horror movie.
I registered that there was a woman in a grey singlet standing to the side of the driveway, yelling at the dogs. Then Dan, who still has the scar from when he was bitten by a dog as a kid doing his newspaper route, was on top of them. My Dan, who’s still a bit scared of dogs, was on top of the lighter of the two tan-coloured dogs, the one who was doing the most damage. He straddled it and started punching it in the head in an attempt to make it let go of the cat. It was an impossibly bizarre scene. My soft-spoken partner, dreadlocks flying, was punching a dog. (Someone told me later that you should give an attacking dog a swift kick in the nuts. That’s the only way you can unlock some dogs’ jaws once they’ve bitten down.)
Dan punched away. The dogs paid no attention. I continued to scream.
‘They’re killing her. They’re killing her.’
I should say I worried that the other dog would bite Dan, or that I told him to stop, but what he was doing felt like the only right thing. In our sunny driveway, blue sky overhead, what else could be done? By that point my screams had brought the guy from down the end of the street running over. He told us later his name was Scott. I looked at the woman in the grey singlet. I screamed.
‘They’re killing her.’
I wasn’t telling her anything she didn’t already know.
‘They’re killing her.’
She wrung her hands as we watched. The dogs kept biting Voodoo on the back and the legs, both of them keeping her pinned down. There was one moment where I saw the dog throw the cat into the air and then vigorously snap her in the opposite direction. Later, the vet would tell me that they do that to break the spine of whatever they are attacking. In Voodoo’s case it was successful. Scott and Dan both stayed so calm. With the two of them, they managed to get the dogs off Voodoo. The woman in the singlet disappeared with the dogs.
I must have stopped screaming at some point. Scott said to call a vet. My hands shook and I couldn’t stop crying. The woman who answered the phone said to bring Voodoo in straight away; you felt she’d had this phone call many times before. I ran into the laundry to grab the brown wicker basket I had left next to the washing machine. I grabbed an old towel. It felt better when I was doing something.
By the time I came back outside, the woman in the grey singlet had returned. She apologised. She apologised over and over, and said she wanted to come to the vet with us.
‘I’ll pay for everything,’ she said. Her face was pink.
She sat in the front seat, and Dan drove. I sat in the back with Voodoo and the basket. Her eyes were wide-open with pain. I had the towel over her legs and back. She kept trying to get up. She was panting and her eyes were wider than I had ever seen them, even more than when you patted her so hard that the whites of her eyes became visible, the way she liked sometimes. She would slump back, only to try to get up again a couple of minutes later. I just kept telling her she was going to be okay.
The woman with the dogs was explaining to Dan how they had gotten out. I didn’t listen to her. I kept patting Voodoo, holding her warm paw in my hand.
We arrived at the vet. They obviously had a procedure for what to do in situations like this. For a moment, when the dark-haired receptionist had gently relieved us of the basket containing our injured cat, whisking her away to where they kept the shiny surfaces, I had let a little seed of hope settle in my stomach. The vet was gentle and wonderful: a tall man with a South African accent. He explained that Voodoo’s intestines and bladder were so compromised she would never have normal function again, that she was paralysed, that these were not things they could fix.
‘If Voodoo is in pain I want her to be put down as soon as possible,’ I said.
He told me to bring in the box of tissues. A blond vet nurse stood over the cat, holding her paw. I nodded and cried through everything that he told us. He explained how the euthanasia would work and I signed a form.
I hadn’t noticed until they first took the cat away at the front desk, but Dan was bleeding. At first I thought he had been bitten by one of the dogs, but the vet said it must have been the cat. He had long scratch marks too. It was the vet who noticed how white Dan had become just before they were going to give Voodoo the injection. I called my Mum to come and get Dan and take him to the medical centre. I stroked Voodoo’s head as they administered the greenish-yellow liquid through the IV that they had already set up. It kind of looked like Mountain Dew. When I came out the woman in the grey singlet hugged me and said she had already paid the euthanasia bill. I let her hug me. Some of my tears turned a patch on her singlet a darker grey.
When Dan got to the medical centre the doctor thought Dan was a junkie. He bandaged him up, and gave him antibiotics, and treated him like shit. He said something like: You people are all the same. Dan, who let me cry and get snot all over his shirt while we waited for the vet.
I drove home with the empty washing basket. I told them they could throw the towel away.
That night, the boyfriend of the woman with the grey singlet came over to apologise. They were his dogs. He gave us a bottle of what looked like expensive red wine, and a bunch of still-closed green lilies in an enormous glass jar. The woman had handwritten us a note. A few weeks later, when they heard we had complained to the council, the boyfriend came back and threatened to kill us, sort of.
‘You’re lucky I don’t want to go to prison or you’d be dead,’ he had said. I wanted to tell him I didn’t feel lucky. Dan and I stood side by side at the door in silence. ‘They’re going to kill my dogs.’
(I had checked with the council before we made the complaint that they wouldn’t put down his dogs. I didn’t have the stomach for any more dead pets. The council had assured us that the owners would just need to build a better fence, that’s all. After he left I called back to check and they said the dogs definitely weren’t going to be put down. I don’t know if the guy had gotten the wrong idea or he was just pissed and lied to make us feel bad.)
Dan’s scratches took a long time to heal. For months afterwards, I kept seeing Voodoo out of the corner of my eye in all her usual spots. It’s not like I thought she was a ghost or anything. I just missed her and I guess you get used to things. I thought about her every time I hung out the washing. I still do.
A few weeks after Voodoo died I was in Aldi and I saw the same bottle of wine that the couple had given us. It cost $5.99.
This piece first appeared in the Memoir section of the SCUM website. They’re an awesome publication and I highly suggest you check them out if you haven’t done so already: www.scum-mag.com