by Midge Raymond

Sienna can’t stop watching the clock. At seven-thirty, all the patients are checked in—eighteen ferals—and Dr. Gabby is ready to begin. Why she’s called Dr. Gabby—not Dr. Matthews or just plain Gabby—Sienna has no idea. She’s still too new to ask a lot of questions, and she’s still hoping the job will be temporary, despite what she’s told them.

It’s Feral Friday, and so, unlike other days at the shelter clinic, it’s just Sienna and the veterinarian, along with a few volunteers.

She glances at the clock again. If they start by eight, she’ll be able to make her appointment at four, though she’s not sure she wants to. She still hasn’t told Paul.

She kneels down to anesthetize the first cat, using a large, metal, forklike tool to nudge him—or her; Sienna can’t tell yet—to the back of the trap. She dislikes this part, squishing the poor cats until they can barely move, but she has to do it so they don’t jump the needle. “Sorry, babe,” she whispers as she injects the cat. She removes the fork, and the cat, a thin black tabby, stretches out again in the trap, eyes locking warily onto hers.

While she waits for the anesthesia to take effect, Sienna draws up meds and vaccines. Back home, she worked for a private vet; she’s not accustomed to shelter life, to high-volume spay/neuter, to ferals. She was surprised to learn that even the ferals get vaccines—rabies and a combo for panleukopenia, herpes, and calici. Though they clearly won’t be back for their booster shots, Dr. Gabby wants them to have at least some level of protection. They even get flea and parasite treatment. How nice for them, Sienna thought; she couldn’t remember the last time she had as much as a flu shot. With no health insurance, she has to take her chances.

As Dr. Gabby scrubs in, Sienna removes the tabby from the trap—a male, maybe six months old—and weighs him. She shaves his genitals and removes the flyaway fur with a lint roller.

“It’s a boy,” she calls out. On Feral Fridays, the place feels more like a delivery ward than a spay/neuter clinic.

Dr. Gabby comes over to give the cat a brief exam. Sienna sees her write his age on the paperwork and feels satisfied that she’s guessed right. Not that it’s hard: This boy is small, and the lives of most ferals aren’t long. Sienna arranges him on the surgery table, face-up, and ties a thick cord across his lower body to hold him in place. She clamps the ear for the ear-tip, and as Dr. Gabby steps in, Sienna watches her make two small incisions on the skin of each testicle, then squeeze until the testicles pop out, slick and pink. After pulling them out, Dr. Gabby ties each vein back on itself, then tucks the ligated cords back inside and applies surgical glue. The procedure takes less than sixty seconds.

As Dr. Gabby carves out a small tattoo on the cat’s belly to show he’s been fixed, Sienna returns to the hall to poke the next cat, a fluffy snowshoe. She waits for Dr. Gabby to slice off the tip of the tabby’s left ear, then brings him into recovery, where two volunteers wait. She lays him gently on his side, in the carrier he’ll be picked up in later, and pulls out his tongue. The volunteers who monitor recovery will make sure it stays pink.

Sienna takes the anesthetized snowshoe from the trap. “Hey, Siri,” she hears Dr. Gabby say, “play ‘Seventies Road Trip’ on Spotify.”

Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” drifts in from the surgery suite as Sienna examines the snowshoe. “It’s a girl,” she says. When the cat’s prepped, she secures her to the table, hind legs spread apart, front paws crossed over her chest, then cleans the shaved belly. Dr. Gabby spreads a surgical drape over the abdomen, and Sienna places an oxygen mask over the cat’s nose and mouth. The spays take longer, ten to fifteen minutes. Carly Simon’s “You’re so Vain” mingles with the sound of the O2 machine, which hums and beeps with every heartbeat.

Another volunteer slips into the surgery suite, silent and ghostlike in her white surgical mask and hairnet, and removes the dirty instruments for sterilizing. Sienna is about to step out to poke the next patient when she hears Dr. Gabby say, “Hmm.”

Sienna turns back. “What is it?” She’s only worked with Dr. Gabby for a couple of months, but she can see that the incision is much larger than usual for a cat spay.

“Pregnant,” Dr. Gabby murmurs.

Sienna pauses, not really meaning to, but because this surgery will take longer, there’s time. She watches Dr. Gabby pull out one half of the cat’s two-horned uterus, the tube bulging with three egg-shaped bubbles. Not normally squeamish, Sienna presses her lips together as Dr. Gabby puts the mass, clamps and all, on the surgical tray. Each sac, a little smaller than Sienna’s fist, is a deep purplish blue, with bright veins streaking through, like red lightning against a bruised sky.

The other half of the uterus has two fetuses, slightly smaller than the others. She was probably about five weeks along—more than halfway through her pregnancy. Dr. Gabby moves all of the fetuses, still clamped, to the sink.

Sienna finally turns away. She knows the babies will die without pain, without suffering, without any oxygen or chance at life, without any knowledge whatsoever that they might have existed—she knows all this from her training, yet as she preps the next cat, she can’t help but think of them lying against the cold stainless steel, twisted by surgical instruments. She pictures blood mixing with the water, bathing the sacs in pink.

“Sorry?” She hadn’t noticed Dr. Gabby talking. The Kinks are singing “Lola.”

“Can I get a splash block, please?”

Sienna nods and grabs the syringe. Holding it over the cat’s abdomen, she releases four milligrams of lidocaine along the incision site. Dr. Gabby’s instruments glitter and shine, winking and blinking under the bright surgery lights.

“She’ll need fluids,” Dr. Gabby says. “About two hundred cc’s.”

“Got it.”

Sienna looks at the clock again. It’s only eight-thirty. Plenty of time for her appointment. Yet in this moment, she knows she’s not going to show.

Carole King is singing “I Feel the Earth Move.”




They don’t take lunch on Feral Fridays, just a few quick breaks between patients. By one in the afternoon, there are two cats left, and on the other side of the door, Sienna can hear the receptionist explaining aftercare to one of the ferals’ caregivers. Keep them in their carriers overnight in a warm, safe place. Release them midday, where they were trapped. Let them sit in the carrier for fifteen minutes so that they will know where they are. Have food available; they will be starving.

The last surgery is long; Dr. Gabby can’t find the uterus. She sinks her hook a few times, then extends the incision. “I don’t see the stump, either,” she mutters.

“What does that mean, exactly?” Sienna is certain she hadn’t sexed the cat wrong, that Dr. Gabby isn’t looking for a uterus in the abdomen of a male.

“She could’ve been spayed young,” Dr. Gabby says, “which would make it hard to see. But I’ll look for some ovarian tissue, just in case. If she weren’t feral, I wouldn’t do all this—but we only have one chance with her. We have to make sure.”

“She doesn’t have an ear tip,” Sienna says. “Or a tattoo.”

“She was probably an owned cat at some point.” Dr. Gabby sighs. She spends a few more minutes in the cat’s belly and finds nothing. “Okay, we’re good.”

Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” plays. As Sienna brings the cat to recovery, her phone buzzes—once, twice, a third time. It has to be Paul; he’s the only one who contacts her in bursts. It annoys her that he can’t say whatever he has to say in just one text.

Once the cat’s in her carrier, she glances at the phone. Hows yr mom? What r u doing after wrk? I can bring dinner over.

She slips the phone back into the pocket in her scrubs and looks at the post-op ferals. There are eight left, and Sienna can tell by the stickers on the carriers that they all came from one caregiver. Everyone’s got a pink tongue.

She steps out of recovery and pulls out her phone again. She doesn’t want to respond, but he knows her schedule, knows she’s done for the day or soon will be. She texts back, Whatever u want. In the surgery suite, Crosby Stills & Nash sing “Love the One You’re With.”




She left Portland to care for her mom after yet another operation. Her mother, who Sienna is convinced must have a highly advanced form of Munchausen’s syndrome, is already without an appendix, a uterus, and one ovary—this time, it was a cholecystectomy. It would’ve been a short visit—four vacation days, five tops—except that while the surgeons were removing the gallbladder, they nicked the small intestine, requiring another hospitalization and another surgery a week later. That week turned into a month, and by then Sienna had to find a way to keep paying rent or risk losing her apartment. The veterinary practice she worked for in Portland had replaced her with another tech, supposedly temporarily, but now that the first month has turned into two, she’s afraid to ask whether the job is still hers.

She knows she’s lucky to have found a job right in town, a short drive from her mom’s. The clinic is part of a privately funded shelter—a rich cat lover had left millions, with specific instructions to include a spay/neuter clinic—and, the only one on the Oregon coast, it stays busy with ferals, shelter animals, even owned pets from other parts of the state.

Falling back in with Paul had been natural, even expected. Voted “cutest couple” in high school, they spent two more years together at the community college—but he was content to stay in town, where he works at his stepmom’s used bookstore, and part-time for parks and rec in the summer. Sienna had wanted more, anything more, as long as it was not suffused with sand and brine and fog. She moved to Portland, transferred her college credits to a vet tech program, and though she still saw Paul when she came home for holidays, it had been over soon after she left.

Until now. He’s done so much for her mom, whom he considers family, and being with him again feels like both an escape and a trap. She feels as though she’s slowly creeping into a life here, that this extended visit will eventually make Portland disappear.

She meets Paul at Honeybee’s, a local place that serves everything from pasta to burgers to pizza. They order a large veggie pizza and a Caesar salad to take home. The one advantage of doing the shopping and the meals is that she can keep her mother from eating fried food and cured meats, and there’s been no alcohol in the house since she’s been home.

On the way back they pass the women’s clinic, and she feels guilty; she hadn’t bothered to cancel her appointment. She wonders now if they’d let her make another one. If she still wants to.




The next morning, before her shift, she stops in at the shelter. She’s been here dozens of times, usually to pick up animals for surgery, but she rarely stays long, rarely looks at anyone. She’s always been an anomaly among her coworkers in that she doesn’t have a half-dozen pets—dogs abandoned at the vet; irresistible, unwanted kittens from unspayed housecats. She didn’t choose her job out of a great love for animals but more for the medical aspect of it, and because she preferred animals to people.

But since her test came back positive, she’s felt drawn to the kennels and cat rooms. She looks at the furry faces and worries she’s unfit for parenting—of any sort. She’s twenty-four years old and can barely take care of her mom, who can at least feed herself and get around the house on her own. Her care of animals has always been short-lived.

She lets herself into the dog kennels and walks slowly through, amid ear-splitting barking and howling, the sharp stench of urine and bleach, dogs leaping up at her from behind the chain-link gates of their kennels. Her attention is drawn more to the dogs who don’t jump up—the ones who lie on their beds, lifting their eyes but not their heads.

She passes visitors who are talking to a volunteer about one of the dogs. “She’ll need a special diet,” the volunteer is saying. “Her teeth are worn down—we think from chewing on a rope to try to free herself. She was found tied up in the yard of a vacant house. She’s a little afraid of men still.”

Sienna walks past them and out the door, back across the courtyard to the clinic. As much as she wishes she were back in Portland, she almost prefers this work to her previous job. At the clinic, working mostly with ferals and shelter animals, she rarely has to interact with those charged with their care.




She and Paul lie in the twin bed of her childhood, close together because that’s the only way they fit. Her mother is asleep down the hall, so they whisper in the dark. She’s still a little breathless, from both the sex and the keeping quiet—and as she rests her head against Paul’s chest, she listens to the mad beating of his heart and knows, in part, why it’s been so hard to give him up. They are good together, in this way, if only in this way—and she wishes she felt something more, a connection deeper than this. Something telling her they might be on the same path, headed toward the same future.

They chat about everything but nothing, as it always seems to be, as if there’s an invisible threshold both of them are reluctant to cross. She doesn’t know how to tell him she’s pregnant, so she hasn’t. They’d had a scare years ago, back in high school. When she told him she’d missed her period, he looked hopeful—excited, even—as if the news was something he’d been waiting for all along. She’d felt the opposite: terrified, trapped, desperate, like the dog who tried to chew off the rope that tied her home. Sienna hasn’t forgotten the look on Paul’s face when, a week later, she got her period: the flash of disappointment, the attempt to recover.

She lets her fingers wander through his hair, her palm brushing his forehead. She loves him still, she’s realized, but more for what’s past than for what’s possible. She knows he’s smart, but dislikes that he’s lazy. Though he is outgoing, she sees more of his shyness, in the downward turn of his faded green eyes, his plain, straight-toothed smile. He’s slim, as he’s always been, carrying himself as if he doesn’t want to take up a lot of space. He reminds her of the dogs who lie down in shelter kennels, and she doesn’t know why she’s always looking for someone like those who jump and bark.




The next week, she reschedules her appointment for Friday, to have the week in case she changes her mind, and the weekend in case she feels sick afterwards. On Thursday afternoon, when the clinic closes, she drives to the beach to take a walk, ignoring Paul’s texts.

The beach stretches out before her, wide and empty, the clouds low and gray. She crosses the windblown dunes, stepping over patches of grass, to walk on the firm sand closer to shore. The clouds are moving downward, dousing her in fog and hiding the cliffs in the distance.

She hears a crunch under her feet and looks down at the sand. She’s stepped on a seashell, and as she brushes the fragments off her sneakers, she notices for the first time that there’s a been a blue tide—little creatures called “by-the-wind sailors” that cover Oregon beaches in the spring. By now most of them are dead, decaying, blowing in the wind like feathers or tiny pieces of plastic. Swirling around her feet, clinging to her scrubs, they look like thin, transparent leaves, with spider-web veins running through them.

She was obsessed with these hydrozoans when she was a kid. When they are alive, they look like gossamer sailing ships with indigo-blue hulls, and she used to imagine herself climbing aboard, floating away, toward all of the world that was beyond this beach, this town. But, she realized later, the by-the-wind sailors never go back to sea. They come ashore and die.




On Monday, she’s relieved that the surgeries are routine. No illnesses. No hidden testicles or missing uteri. No pregnancies.

At the end of the day, she steps out of the clinic and over to the shelter. She’s avoiding texting Paul; she managed to evade him over the weekend by telling him she’d gotten a stomach bug.

In one of the cat rooms, a volunteer is putting a large, black-and-white cat into a kennel. “I know, I know,” the volunteer says to the cat. “I’m sorry, buddy.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Owner surrender,” the volunteer says. She wears a name tag that reads Judy. “They said they don’t”—she holds up her hands to make finger quotes—“‘have enough time’ for him anymore.”

“Are you kidding me?”

Judy shrugs. “I’m just glad they brought him to the shelter. Most people just kick them out and let them fend for themselves.”

Sienna thinks again of the dog, left in the empty yard of an empty house. She goes over to the cat’s kennel and sticks her hand through the bars. The cat cowers in the back of the stainless-steel cage and looks at her with wide black eyes. She reads the card that Judy had stuck to the front of the kennel: Carson, eight-year-old male, friendly. The card includes Carson’s weight, a little more about his personality, and the words Surrender — No Time.

She asks Judy if she has any more information about Carson. “Let me grab his paperwork,” Judy says.

Sienna opens Carson’s kennel door and reaches in. He shrinks back, then relaxes as she runs her hand along the top of his head, under his chin.

Judy returns. “Let’s see … it says he’s been indoors all his life. He was an only cat. They don’t know how he does with dogs or kids.”

Sienna hears an electronic ping, and Judy pulls out her phone. “Here, have a look,” she says, handing Sienna the file. “They need me up front for a sec. I’ll be right back.”

Sienna looks through the forms, at the checked boxes and handwritten notes. By all accounts, Carson is the perfect cat: sweet, playful, affectionate. She sees nothing on paper to indicate what’s wrong with his humans: he’s been neutered, is up to date on all his vaccinations, has no health issues. His former owners appear to be a married couple; they have the same last name. Their address is on the forms. Sienna looks up to make sure Judy’s not nearby, then takes a photo of the page.




She Googles the address and drives past on her way home. The house—in a subdivision much nicer than the neighborhood she grew up in, where her mom still lives—is a neat, freshly painted, two-story home with expansive windows and a porch that wraps all the way around to the back. The street is quiet, leafy, wide with open spaces.

She parks across the street, takes another dose of Tylenol for lingering cramps, and watches the house. As the sun goes down and lights don’t come on inside, she realizes no one is home. Before she can allow herself to think, she gets out of the car and steps up onto the porch, as if she might knock on the door. Instead, after a quick glance around to confirm she’s unseen, she steals around to the back.

On the back deck is an outdoor dining table with four chairs, a grill, a pair of Adirondack chairs. She thinks of Carson, alone in his kennel, confused, and then, as quickly and quietly as possible, she picks up each patio chair and places it, upside down, on the table. Then she gently rolls the Adirondacks up and over, seats facing downward. As she makes her way back to the street, she glimpses the trash and recycling bins on the side of the house and rolls them over to the other side.

She hurries back to her car, gets in, and waits. Nothing. No one has seen her. She starts the car and drives home.




She begins taking her lunch breaks at the shelter, visiting the dogs and cats. The weight of her short pregnancy, now at odds with the sudden hollowness inside her, seems to lure her to dissonance of this place: in every pair of eyes is abuse and forgiveness, neglect and hope.

She rarely sees a dog more than once or twice—the dogs get adopted quickly—but the cats linger. A week later, Carson is still there, still huddled in the back of his kennel, though he seems to recognize her when she visits, and he snuggles into her hand when she pets him. His pupils are back to a normal size, and his bright green eyes look directly into hers.

She drives past his former home again. This time, she sees the couple in the driveway, standing between two cars, apparently just getting home from their own jobs.

The woman is hugely pregnant.

The man says something Sienna can’t hear, and the woman laughs, slipping her arm around the man’s waist. They look so happy, so carefree, she can’t believe they are the same people who just put their cat in a cage.

She calls Honeybee’s and orders two large pizzas for delivery, with every topping she can think of, plus garlic knots and six dipping sauces. She gives them the address of this house. Then she drives away.




The next day at lunch she goes to Paul’s bookstore instead of the shelter. She’s already decided to adopt Carson. What she hasn’t decided is when, or if, she’s going to take him to Portland.

She’s been thinking of that couple—hating them on one hand, and on the other, wondering whether she could have that life for herself, or something like it. Whether she even wants it.

She wanders through the store as Paul finishes with a customer, then returns to the counter once she hears the front door click shut. He looks up from the register. “Your mom says you’re leaving soon.”

“I never told her that.”

“It’s just a feeling she had.” His eyes are still on her face. “You’re different,” he says. “Like something changed.”

She looks away. “I never planned to stay long. You knew that.”

“But you’re here now. You have a job.”

She looks at him again and recognizes the expression he wore years ago, when they thought she was pregnant.

He puts aside a stack of books on the counter. “I’m right, aren’t I?” he says. “Something happened?”

“Yeah. Something happened.”

She wants to tell him about the abortion, but instead, she finds herself telling him about the couple who returned Carson. About the things she’s done. She doesn’t know how he’ll react, but she’s surprised by the red that rises in his cheeks. By the slow smile that crosses his face.

He goes to the magazine stand and begins to pull subscription cards out of magazines. He brings them over: Cigar Aficionado, Guns & Ammo, Super Motors, a half dozen more. He picks up a pen. “What’s their address?”

She pulls up the photo on her phone and puts it down in front of him. He copies the address onto each of the cards, checking the box that reads, Bill me later. “This one”—he holds up the card for Super Motors—“is more than a hundred bucks a month.”

Then, as if remembering something, he returns to the rack and brings back one more card: Catster. “The magazine for cat lovers,” he says.

She puts her phone, along with the cards, in the pocket of her scrubs.

“How much time have you got?” he asks.

“About half an hour. Why?”

He puts a Back Soon sign in the door and locks up the store. She gets into his car without asking where they’re going, but she’s not surprised when they end up on the street where Carson used to live. Paul drives around the corner and parks on the adjacent block. She follows him back to the house.

There’s one car in the driveway, and Paul takes out his phone and begins taking photos. “What are you doing?” she whispers.

“We can put it on Craigslist,” he whispers back. “Just the address, so people will show up asking about it.”

Before she can respond, the front door opens. It’s the man, who stands there for a moment, then descends the front steps toward them.

“What do you think you’re doing?” He looks bigger than Sienna remembers, his voice loud and uncompromising.

Paul straightens up, stands his ground. “Sorry,” he says. “We’re looking for our cat. He’s missing. I thought I might’ve seen him under the car.”

The man looks from Paul to Sienna, as if not sure whether to believe him.

“He’s black-and-white,” Sienna adds. “Eight years old. About 12 pounds.”

The man says nothing, and she can see in his face that he’s shaken. She watches him, waiting for something, anything—but then he seems to recover. “Have you tried the shelter?” he says.

“I guess we’ll have to,” Paul says.

Though she knows it’s a no-kill shelter, Sienna adds, “We were hoping he didn’t end up there. He may have been put down already.”

Again, no response, though Sienna can see in the man’s face that he’s rattled. Paul takes her hand, and as they walk away, Sienna turns back to see the man watching them. When he sees her look over her shoulder, he goes back inside.

Paul drives her back to the clinic. She’s about to open the door, then leans over and kisses him, an instinct as sudden and unexpected to her as turning over this couple’s deck chairs. “Will you meet me here after work?” she says.

“How come?”

“So you can meet Carson,” she says.




Later that afternoon, during recovery, she takes Cooper, a large retriever mix, out for a post-surgery walk. Usually she stays in the clinic’s parking lot, but this time, remembering the cards in her pocket, she walks down the driveway to the road, where there’s a mailbox on the corner.

Cooper is still a little loopy from the meds, but he’s glad to be out, glad to be free of the cone for a few moments. At the corner, Sienna drops the cards into the mailbox, one at a time, then lets the box shut with a clang. She walks Cooper back slowly, taking her time, the dog stopping her every few feet to sniff at something new, not wanting to miss a single scent, a single possibility.

Midge Raymond is the author of the novel My Last Continent and the award-winning short-story collection Forgetting English. Her writing has appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, the Chicago Tribune, Poets & Writers, and many other publications.