REST IN PEACE, ROSCOE
by Mary Miller Chiao
“Achoo,” sneezed the doctor. He reached for a Kleenex from the box he kept on his desk and blew his nose, then tossed the tissue in the wastebasket and wiped his hands with sanitizer.
The woman seated opposite him had dark circles under her brown eyes. He tried not to frown when he noticed a large number of what looked like animal hairs clinging to her light blue long-sleeved blouse and gray wool skirt. She had a round face with chubby cheeks, full lips, and a turned-up nose. White wavy hair, parted on the side, fell just below her ears. He guessed her to be in her sixties.
“Now, Miss Higgins, please tell me why you need the services of a psychiatrist?”
“Well, Doctor, my cat, Roscoe, was hit by a car two years ago and died, but he’s always with me. I don’t understand why he continues to stay here.”
Dr. Katz cleared his throat, straightened his bow tie, and looked down over the top of his glasses at her. “What do you mean he is always with you?”
“He’s here now. Actually, he’s smelling the bottom of your shoes.”
The doctor automatically lifted his feet and looked down.
“Do you have cats, Doctor?”
He slammed his shoes back on the laminate floor. “No, I don’t like cats, and I’m allergic to them. My ex-wife has a cat. I saw her yesterday.”
“Well, that’s why Roscoe is smelling your shoes. He picked up the scent of the other cat.” She reached into a brown purse, took out a picture from her wallet, and handed it to him. “Here’s my Roscoe.” A black and white cat looked down from the top of a fence.
He returned the photo to her and watched while she carefully placed it back in her purse. Then he picked up his pen and pretended to write notes on a yellow legal-sized pad of paper.
“Now, Miss Higgins, I don’t normally handle cases such as yours, but you were referred by Dr. Elp, the chief psychiatrist at our local hospital.”
“Oh, no, Doctor. Your receptionist must have misunderstood. I didn’t speak to Dr. Elp. I found you on Yelp. Frankly, you didn’t have good reviews, but, when I saw your name was Dr. Katz, I knew you were the doctor for me.”
“But my name is not spelled C-A-T-S. It is spelled K-A-T-Z.” He leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Very well, Miss Higgins, when did this cat first appear to you?”
“Four years ago, Doctor. I opened my door one morning to get the newspaper and he walked in, went into the kitchen, sat down in front of the refrigerator, and meowed.”
Dr. Katz scratched his neck while he waited impatiently for her to continue.
“He walked around my house like he owned the place. I decided to put some food down and hoped that would get him to move on. He ate everything, then went into my living room, jumped up on my favorite chair, and went to sleep.”
Dr. Katz glanced at his watch while wondering why he got all the loonies. “Yes, yes, go on Miss Higgins.”
“I can tell you, Doctor, I was not happy with the situation. I stared at him for some time trying to figure out what to do. After an hour, he yawned and stretched, then walked to the front door and meowed. I opened it, and he walked out.”
Dr. Katz noticed that she stared behind him. He turned around but couldn’t see anything.
“Oh, it’s just Roscoe, Doctor. He’s sitting on the top of your chair to the left of your head.”
Dr. Katz wondered if there was a room available in the hospital psych ward, then thought better of it. The woman did not appear to be dangerous.
“The next morning, Doctor, the same thing happened. It became a daily occurrence. He would come in the house in the morning, eat breakfast, sleep on my favorite chair in the sun by the front window all day, and at night go outside. I’ve never had a cat before, but I got used to him. I named him after Sheriff Roscoe on that TV series.”
Tears welled in her eyes. “This went on for a couple of years. He would even jump onto my lap when I watched television and purr. But, two years ago when I opened the door in the morning, he didn’t come in.” She started to cry, and Dr. Katz pushed the tissue box towards her. “I went looking for him, and I found him dead by the side of the road. He’d been hit by a car.”
“That must have been very traumatic for you.” Dr. Katz tried his best to sound compassionate. Strangely, his eyes got teary and his nose stuffed up.
“It broke my heart, Doctor. I’ve never been close to any one or any animal before. I dug up part of my vegetable garden and buried him there.”
“It’s normal to grieve for a pet, Miss Higgins.”
“But later that morning, I heard scratching at the front door. I opened it, and Roscoe walked inside. He trotted to his chair and went to sleep. I thought I must have been imagining everything, so I ran to the backyard and checked where I buried him next to the Roma tomatoes. He actually woke up and followed me. The dirt had not been disturbed so I could tell he still was buried there, well, at least his body was. Since that day, he never leaves my side.”
She stood up, walked to his open window, and looked out. “If I get in the car, he jumps in too. He goes grocery shopping with me and dawdles by the cat food.”
She returned to her chair. “Don’t you think it’s time for him to go where he’s supposed to go after he dies?” She pointed to the back of the doctor’s chair. “Roscoe understands what I’m saying, and he doesn’t like it. He’s swishing his tail.” Dr. Katz felt fresh air on the nape of his neck. He stood up and closed the window.
“Miss Higgins, sometimes we cannot accept death, and we fantasize our loved ones are still with us. I have had several such cases over the years, and I will work with you to help you let go of Roscoe. You must face the reality, Miss Higgins,” he paused for effect, “that Roscoe is dead!”
“But I can see him!”
“In reality, Miss Higgins, you cannot see Roscoe. Your mind is playing tricks on you. If Roscoe were truly here, then I too would be able to see him, and I cannot. I think after a few sessions with me, you will get well. Please have Marsha set up an hour appointment. Your homework is to journal all your thoughts about Roscoe. Don’t hold back. Bring the book to our next meeting.”
“Thank you, doctor. I hope you can help me.”
Dr. Katz stood and escorted the woman out the door. He returned to his desk, opened his bottom drawer, took out disposable gloves, bleach cleanser, and paper towels, and then sprayed the chair she occupied, taking care to wipe it well. He sat down and swiveled around to his credenza. Taking the decanter, he poured a full snifter of brandy and downed it.
A light knock on the door and his secretary entered. He stared angrily at her.
“Good grief, Marsha, be more careful next time when you set up appointments. That woman didn’t have a reference. She simply got my name online.”
“Sorry, Dr. Katz. I’ll be more careful in the future. I hope she turns out to be an interesting case for you. Here’s the mail.”
Dr. Katz glared at her until she left. The woman needed to lose at least twenty pounds, but he enjoyed watching her butt jiggle when she left his office, and she was very good at her work, not to mention cheap. He glanced down at his notes. He had drawn a stick figure of a cat in a sandbox. Turning on his calculator, he multiplied $150 an hour once a week over the next three years. Hopefully, he would never cure her and the money would keep coming in, like some of his clients. That ex-wife of his was a regular sieve.
The next week Miss Higgins came back with Roscoe who, she said, jumped up and perched again on the back of his chair. He had to admit feeling a bounce but told himself this business gets to psychiatrists after a while.
“Now, Miss Higgins, did you keep a journal like I suggested?”
“Yes, Doctor, I have it here.” She held up a medium-sized spiral bound notebook with flowers on the cover. “I wrote everything that came to my mind about Roscoe since I was here last.”
“And did anything stand out to you, Miss Higgins?”
“Oh, yes, Doctor.” She opened the book. He could see she had filled up nearly half the pages. “Roscoe changed my life.”
“In what way, Miss Higgins?”
“I was not a very nice person. I did terrible things and yelled at everyone.” She paused. “I was lucky to inherit some money,” Dr. Katz perked up, ”and opened a small stationery store. “I forced myself to smile at the customers and act nice, but I always cheated them out of their change. Sometimes I didn’t put items they paid for in their bags. My employees were afraid of me. I would hire them at minimum wage and make them work long hours without paying overtime. I fired them after a year so I didn’t have to give them a raise. I certainly never paid for them to have medical coverage.”
Dr. Katz recognized some of his clients in her description, and maybe a bit of himself.
“I’ll never forget one Halloween. A little girl came to my house dressed like Snow White. She carried a magic wand and a bag that looked like a large red apple. When she said trick or treat and held the bag out toward me, I grabbed a large handful of her candy and then slammed the door in her face. I could hear her crying outside, and it made me cackle like a witch.”
Dr. Katz tried hard not to laugh.
“But I’m not like that anymore. I know it sounds strange, but it’s as if Roscoe has given me permission to be nice. You see, I had a terrible childhood, and I grew up mean and unhappy. I tried my best to make everyone around me suffer. I’m so thankful that Roscoe came into my life. I’m a better person for knowing him. Last week, after my visit here, I volunteered at the library to read books to children. I started yesterday, and it made me so happy. Roscoe slept on the floor beside me the entire time.”
Dr. Katz quickly reached for a tissue and sneezed into it. If he could have a dollar for every one of his clients who grew up in a dysfunctional family, he would give up his practice and move to Maui.
“Oh, Doctor, you’ve helped me so much. When I finished writing in my journal about life with Roscoe, I was able to step back and realize that Roscoe gave me the greatest gift of all.”
“And what was that, Miss Higgins?”
“Roscoe taught me to love and to be kind.”
She sobbed quietly. “Roscoe’s waving at me, like when a child is saying bye bye. He says I don’t need him anymore. Roscoe says he won’t be coming home with me today, and I won’t need to see you again. “
“But Miss Higgins,” stammered the doctor, visualizing $150 a week walking out the door, “let’s have Marsha set you up with a few more appointments to make sure you are truly okay. I don’t think you should have gotten well so soon.”
“Oh no, Doctor, Roscoe says someone else needs him now more than I do.”
She rose from her chair and walked to the door, and then she turned around and looked at the top of his chair. “Thank you, Roscoe. I’ll always remember you.”
Dr. Katz watched her close the door. “Damn it!” He slammed his fist on the desk.
Marsha knocked on the door and walked in. “Miss Higgins looked happy when she left. You must have had a major breakthrough.” He watched her wrinkle her nose. “What stinks in here, Doctor Katz?” The phone rang in the reception area, and she hurried out of the room to take the call.
Dr. Katz smelled it too. He stood up and glanced down. A small amount of yellow liquid dribbled over the toe of his shoe and onto the floor. A black and white cat that looked exactly like the photograph Miss Higgins had shown him, leaped into the seat he just vacated, curled up, and purred.