(If you are new to my blog or you haven’t read The Little Brudders of Miséricorde — Thierry, who appears below, is a bilingual Québécois mouse. He is a central character in the novel.)
“Dey were preddy nice, hein?”
“Yes, Thierry. Really nice.”
“Dat nice woman sure can cook!”
Thierry is talking about Simona. She and Chris were our hosts during our stay in Calgary. A glance at Simona’s library will reveal that she is devoted to her spiritual journey. Among other practices, she has mastered some wonderfully fragrant recipes from Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking.
“‘Ow come you kenna cook like dat?”
“Well... I guess I could try...”
“Parfait! I ken steal dem spices from de épicerie!”
“I have money, Thierry.”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Our cycling trip has gone a little over budget. I don’t exactly have money. I have an overdraft at the bank. Accepting the gracious hospitality of people like Simona and Chris gives Thierry and me a reprieve from being buried under the daily expenses of the road. And certainly some much needed rest and recuperation.
“I dun wish nutin’ bad for dat cat –“
“Yeah. I’m sorry dat Romo were not feelin’ good but it were nice not gettin’ chased.”
“I is not scared or nutin’ but... you know what I mean.”
“For sure, Thierry.”
Thierry is talking about Chris and Simona’s beloved cat. I think Chris named him Romo because Simona is originally from Romania and still has a charming accent. Chris hails from Newfoundland and likes to joke that Simona speaks better English than he does. Given how much she reads, how widely travelled she is, and her extensive formal education, as well, I’m pretty sure she speaks better English than either of us.
When Thierry and I arrived, Chris was at Emergency Care with Romo. He’s an older cat and his health had taken a sudden turn for the worse. The first night of our visit, Romo stayed overnight at the Animal Hospital.
Thierry tried not to appear too relieved since Simona and Chris were obviously very concerned. They are both health care professionals and both remarked on how much time the veterinarian spent on the telephone explaining Romo’s illness and the course of treatment.
Sometimes our animal companions can get more thorough and immediate medical attention than we can.
Simona is younger than I am but she was at least as solicitous as my own mother might be. Within half an hour of my arrival she was running a hot bath for me and adding Epson salts for my sore muscles. She’d even finished readingThe Little Brudders of Miséricorde before my arrival and both she and Chris were helping to amplify my blog and the book’s profile on social media.
The next morning, after breakfast and some leisurely conversation, Simona and Chris drove me into town for my rendezvous at Owl’s Nest Books. They insisted. I didn’t object. They live up on the ridge past Signal Hill. It involves a lot of convoluted streets, near-hidden bike paths, and impossibly steep climbs.
Moments after arriving at Owl’s Nest, Chris got a call from the Animal Hospital. He and Simona rushed to the car and sped away. This is it, I thought. Romo’s not going to pull through.
“But you was wrong, hein? Dey bring Romo home and took turns sleepin’ wid ‘im dat night. ‘E were still so sick dat he look right at me and jes blink. I ne’er been standing so close to a cat in my life.”
The next morning, Chris stayed with Romo. Simona and I ventured out to Alliance Française, a Calgary French language meet up, to enjoy coffee and a croissant and to practice our French. As well, Simona hoped to find opportunity to promote my novel. I’m fortunate that I have several people giving of themselves and their time to help get Little Brudders into the hands of readers.
Later, we stopped by Shelf Life Books and Pages on Kensington where I introduced myself and signed copies. By the time we got home, Romo was somewhat more alert but it seemed Chris and Simona were preparing themselves to accept that these were likely Romo’s final days. I went to bed early. Thierry spent the night exploring. Chris and Simona began their vigil.
I woke in the morning and, astonishingly, Romo limped into the little foyer where I was sleeping, greeted me tentatively, and sniffed my camping gear which was spread out around the room.
Of his nine lives, maybe this old cat had one encore left.
“C’était un miracle! I prayed to Frère André, you know. I mean... I know dat Romo is a cat but what de ‘ell. Love yer enemy ‘n all dat.”
Romo even joined us at the breakfast table, which was fine with Thierry. He found the dry sack with my sleeping bag and fell asleep.
“You know, I is noc – “
“Yes, Thierry. Everyone knows you are nocturnal.”
That morning, we said our goodbyes to Simona. I gave Romo a little scratch behind the ears and, surprisingly, he snarled.
“That’s a good sign,” I suggested. “He’s lost all that lethargy.”
Chris drives us to the outskirts of the city. I’m pretty sure he’d have driven me to Canmore if I’d asked. Newfoundlanders are renowned for their generosity and kindness. Chris’ mom once insisted on lending her car to a family of stranded strangers who were visiting Newfoundland. There were no rentals to be had. Turns out the husband in that family was the ambassador to Canada from Uruguay. All the media picked up on the story. For Chris’s mom, it was just common decency.
I think there’s a lot of his mom in Chris.
Thierry and I spent the day fighting headwinds. When we arrived at the campground we discovered it was nearly deserted. And no wonder. Only one source of water which was turned off after 8pm; one fly-infested and perilously overflowing portable toilet; no shower; no garbage receptacles; no electricity for RVs. Oh well.
Next evening, we were at the much more comfortable municipal campground in Canmore when we received the news from Chris:
We made the difficult choice... Romo was really peaceful... seemed to be telling us we were doing what he wished for....
“Mais j'ai prié. Au Frère André.”
“Prayers aren’t magic, Thierry. You prayed for Romo and now he is no longer suffering. Sometimes death is the final healing.”
Thierry didn’t seem convinced. I reminded him that Simona is an experienced nurse. Chris is a pharmacologist working in palliative care for cancer patients. They did everything they could for Romo. And they knew it was time to let the old fellow go.
Thierry didn’t go out and do his usual exploring last night. He sat in the mesh pocket on the roof of our tent. Whenever I roused to roll over I saw him watching me. He was still there when I woke this morning.