was in the family room, watching TV with Paw-Paw when it happened.
Owwww! Nonnie cried. Leon scratched me.
The cat jumped down to the floor and Nonnies grandfather
jumped up from the easy chair, forsaking the Braves. Let
He examined her arm tenderly. There was a weeping red scratch,
four-and-a-half inches long on her forearm. Nonnies eyes
were moist as she looked up at her Paw-Paw. His glowing white
shock of hair and twinkling blue eyes usually made any bad thing
better, but this really hurt.
Jeezum, Gumdrop! This is going to leave a scar. Might
even need stitches. Half-smiling, he raised his eyebrows
and looked down at her over the top of his wire-frame glasses.
Ill never hear the end from your Momma.
Now the tears, like the blood from the scratch, began to come
in earnest. Why? Why? she blurted through the crying.
Paw-Paw led her into the bathroom and started cleaning the wound
with peroxide. Nonnie just cried harder, so he began talking to
her to distract her.
Why what, Gumdrop?
Why did Leon scratch me? Leon never scratches anybody. Hes
a good kitty. Hes your kitty. She sniffled while she
got it out.
It was true, if Leon was anyones cat, he was Paw-Paws.
A mixed breed, he looked like a pure Siamese, and he followed
Paw-Paw everywhere. Leon slept in the old mans bed. The
cat even went into the bathroom with Paw-Paw, emerging right behind
when he came out again.
I dunno, sweetheart. It aint like him, is it?
He applied antibiotic ointment to the wound and bandaged it. I
dont think it needs stitches after all, he said.
And why do I have to have a scar?
Oh, Gumdrop, Paw-Paw said, I cant tell
you why bad things sometimes happen. He lifted her up and
held her in one strong arm. I can tell you this much, though.
Nothing happens by accident. Everything that happens has some
purpose. Sometimes we just cant see what that might be.
Thats stupid, Nonnie insisted. What reason
could there be for Leon to scratch me? She looked at her
bandaged arm. What purpose could there be to a scar? Its
just that dumb cat!
Oh, sweetie, he clucked. Leon wouldnt
do something like that out of meanness. Lets go take a look
She nodded, so he let her down and they both went back into the
family room. Leon was curled on Paw-Paws chair where he
could smell the old man.
What were you doing when it happened? he asked.
I, I might have touched his mouth, she sniffled.
Hmmm, he was looking into the cats mouth, which
Leon complied with because it was Paw-Paw. Hes got
some kind of sores in his mouth. It must have hurt him.
See, baby? He set Leon down on the chair again. Leon
never meant to hurt you. He just lashed out.
Stupid cat! Nonnie said.
Well have to take him to the vet and see what those
sores are. Paw-Paw said it easily, but Nonnie could tell
he was disturbed.
The next day while Momma was at work, Nonnie and Paw-Paw put Leon
into his carrier and took him to the doctor. The vets office
smelled like ammonia and dog hair and medicine. Nonnie didnt
like it and she didnt think Leon did either. The vet was
a nice lady named Dr. Kylie, but something about the place gave
Nonnie a deep feeling of dread, like nothing good could ever happen
there. Dr. Kylie had examined Leon. Now the three of them
Nonnie, Paw-Paw, and Leon, were waiting in the exam room for the
results of the blood test.
When the door opened and the vet came in, Nonnie didnt like
the look on her face. There was a funny curl on one end of her
lips; not a smile, but not a frown either.
Im afraid I have a bit of bad news, she said.
His names Leon! Nonnie interrupted.
Dr. Kylie smiled. Leon. Well, Leon is very sick.
Whats wrong? Paw-Paw asked.
He has feline leukemia, she said, deadpan.
I was just a construction worker, so Im not sure about
these things, Paw-Paw started. Is that cancer?
Dr. Kylie shook her head. Feline leukemia isnt cancer,
like leukemia is in people. Humans are immune to it. Its
a retrovirus called FeLV.
Is that bad? he asked. Nonnies eyes darted from
him to the doctor like she was trying to follow the ball in a
The vet nodded. In about a third of cats, mostly the young
and very old, they succumb right away. Another third carry the
disease, but never show it and test negative unless you test the
bone marrow. Then there are cats like Leon. She glanced
at Nonnie, but Nonnie just stared. When the virus has become
active, its almost always fatal.
Oh, no! Nonnie cried out. Tears began to flow, blurring
her vision, but when she looked at Paw-Paw she could still see
his face was grave.
Almost always? he asked.
Yes, the vet continued. It makes them vulnerable
to other diseases and parasites like feline peritonitis.
What about Leon?
Dr. Kylie gave them a wary look. A lot of vets would tell
you the cat should be put down, she said finally. Most,
even. They would say its the only kind thing to do.
We could never do that, Nonnie said before Paw-Paw
could respond. She looked over at him, but he was nodding.
The vet seemed to understand.
Well keep him alive as long as we can, Paw-Paw
told her. What can we expect?
Well, she said, With it already causing lesions,
and the amount of the virus I found in the sample, I wouldnt
expect Leon to live more than a month or two.
Paw-Paws face fell. Nonnie thought she heard it hit the
ground with a nauseating thud. She felt nauseous anyhow.
What can we do? her grandfather asked, but she could
hear an uncharacteristic quaver in his tone. Was he gonna cry?
Paw-Paw never cried!
Im going to give you some antibiotics. Give him these.
She took a small box from the medicine cabinet over the sink and
handed it to Paw-Paw. Keep him comfortable. Give him food
he likes and lots of liquid so he doesnt dehydrate. Love
him. Make his time as easy as you can.
Thats all? he asked.
Thats all I can do, she said. Im
very sorry. Dr. Kylie turned away, and Nonnie wondered if
the vet were going to cry, too.
They put Leon back into his carrier and took him to the car. Nonnie
had trouble not crying. She would stop, then suddenly burst into
tears again periodically all the way home.
I dont understand, she insisted when they turned
off the highway. Why Leon, Paw-Paw? Why? Hes the nicest
cat ever! There isnt no better cat than him. He doesnt
deserve to die. Her words muffled by snuffling, she rubbed
her nose on her sleeve.
Paw-Paw smiled a tired smile. Its a hard thing, even
for an old man like me. I kinda thought Leond be with me
for the rest of my life.
"Oh, Paw-Paw, Nonnie gasped, even putting a hand over
her mouth. It really isnt fair.
Gumdrop, he said. Remember what I told you?
What? she demanded. No answer was going to do.
Everything happens for a reason, he began.
No! Nonnie shouted. No! Theres no reason
Leon has to die. There just isnt!
Paw-Paws voice dropped to a whisper. That was his trick
to get people to listen, cause they had to be quiet and try to
hear. Just because you dont know the reason doesnt
mean there isnt one, he said. God has a plan
for each of us, and his reasons are his own. God is loving and
merciful, but man is stupid and short-sighted. We can never know
the mind of God, but we can know he has a good reason for everything
that happens and accept it because of that.
No! Nonnie insisted. God is mean if he goes
around killing good cats like Leon. There cant be any reason
Will you do something for me? Paw-Paw asked.
What? she crossed her arms in front of herself. Her
fresh scratch burned, as if aggravated by the vets diagnosis.
Will you just think about it and wait?
Wait for what? she pouted.
Wait to see if you understand?
Ill try, she said, but the cut burned, her eyes
burned, and she couldnt imagine ever understanding such
Nonnie and Paw-Paw cared for Leon together, making a partnership
of the task. Leon couldnt have gotten better care or more
attention if he had been in the Mayo Clinic.
At first, Leon seemed like his normal cat self. He followed Paw-Paw
around, then whenever he sat down Leon would curl in his lap and
purr his loud, boat-engine purr that could be heard in the next
room. After a month, he had run through the first course of the
antibiotics, and the sores in his mouth came back and got worse.
He ate less and less, despite being given his favorite wet cat
food. Even scraps of pork and fat failed to interest him. There
had been a time when he would have fought off a Doberman Pincer
to get the morsels.
By the time two months had passed, Leon became dehydrated. His
stomach was a caved in pit below his rib cage, and he didnt
purr as loudly as he used to, but he still purred whenever he
was with Paw-Paw.
Nonnie couldnt look at him without wanting to burst into
tears once more.
Hes so skinny his ribs are sticking out, she
said, And his fur looks so dirty.
Leons too weak to clean himself, Paw-Paw said,
shaking his head. Well take him back to the vet. Maybe
theres something else she can do.
Dr. Kylie seemed very surprised to see them. Nonnie figured she
thought Leon would have died by now. That was what shed
said during their first visit. Nevertheless, Dr. Kylie prescribed
a new course of a stronger antibiotic, and gave Leon an injection
of subcutaneous fluid (Paw-Paw said that meant under his skin).
Leon looked like he was hiding a softball in some cat-pocket hidden
under the fur near his tail.
Now, dont get your hopes up, she told them,
but this might help.
Youre surprised hes not dead! Nonnie accused
Yes, Dr. Kylie said simply, I am. You must love
him very much.
The scowl faded. We do, Nonnie said, but she felt
the tears trying to come again.
Nonnie didnt know whether it was the fluid or the new antibiotic,
but Leon bounced back. His appetite returned and his stomach didnt
look so sunken anymore. His purring grew louder. Paw-Paw had been
surfing the internet. He thought the homeopathic remedies, like
cottage cheese and flaxseed oil, were helping.
Day passed into night and week into month. The good spell didnt
At the end of the fourth month since he was diagnosed, Leon stopped
Nonnie watched him grow so weak that he no longer followed Paw-Paw
around the house, but wherever her grandfather went he carried
Leon with him. Paw-Paw spent more and more time just laying in
his bed, and the bedroom became the place were they spent all
their time together, Paw-Paw, Nonnie, and Leon. Leon would lay
just at the end of Paw-Paws arm, and he would stroke the
cat. Leon still purred.
He was so weak that he couldnt walk at all, and Nonnie knew
that the end must be near, even though no one said it. She worried,
and rubbed the itching skin on her healing forearm. A habit shed
picked up when the scratch had decided to heal so slowly.
On that morning, Nonnie woke up before the sun. Her eyes popped
open, wide-awake and clear, for she knew something was wrong.
Leon, she whispered, pulling off the covers and jumping
out of bed.
When she ran into Paw-Paws room he was still asleep. Leon
was in his usual spot, curled up next to her sleeping grandfather.
Nonnie rushed to the bed and sat next to Leon. She reached out
and stroked him, giving him his first petting of the day, but
it was wrong. Leon was cold. She touched his head, but it just
rolled to one side.
He wasnt purring. He wasnt breathing.
No! Nonnie cried. It wasnt right. Her mind was
a hamster wheel, racing around and around. Why had he gotten better,
only to get sick again? Wouldnt it have been better if hed
just died outright, like Dr. Kylie said a lot of cats did?
Paw-Paw, she said, touching her grandfathers
shoulder. She didnt really want to see the look on his face
when he found out Leon had died. Shed never seen him cry,
and didnt want to now. Such a light sleeper, but Paw-Paw
She shook his shoulder now, Paw-Paw, Paw-Paw, wake up.
But Paw-Paw didnt wake up.
Nonnie shook him harder, and harder, but couldnt keep from
the realization that something was wrong.
Paw-Paw, Paw-Paw! Now she was shouting.
Whats wrong? Nonnies mother came in from
the bedroom, wiping the sleep from her eyes. Why are you
Mommy, Nonnie cried, tears gushing. Its
Nonnie cried all the way through the funeral. Not just for the
loss of her grandfather, but for Leon as well.
It was hard, and it was bad, and Momma kept telling her that everyone
had to die sometimeas if she didnt know that. Still,
two things kept ringing in her ears and bouncing around inside
her head: Her mothers word, sometime, was the first. The
second was Paw-Paw, back when Leon first got sick, saying he thought
Leon would be with him for the rest of his life.
Eventually, Nonnies cat-scratch healed, but a scar formed
there that always stayed a bright pink, never quite turning the
darker color that other scars did. Whenever she bathed, or washed
her hands, Nonnie would see it.
For the rest of her whole long life, whenever she looked at that
scar, Nonnie thought of Paw-Paw and Leon and knew that they were
together somewhere, and whenever she looked at that scar and thought
of her grandfather and her friend, she knew that she would never
again doubt that there was a purpose for everything in life.
Anthony Longo has been the main contributor and editor of
a monthly newsletter titled "Music City Computer News."
He has a professional writing credit with his sale of "Anonymous
Hours" to Hardboiled, a Gryphon-Books publication.
He lives in Nashville
with his wife and two daughters.
Thomas Anthony Longo