A Professional Opinion

Matthias Kramer

The first time I met Dr. Buttons was on the way home from the hospital, with the latest flavor of Frappuccino balanced precariously in my bicycle's basket. He was lying sprawled out, belly up, on the sidewalk in front of the neighborhood park. Screeching to a halt, narrowly catching my Frappuccino before it flew whipped-cream first into the void, I considered my options. The doctor didn’t seem injured. In fact, he appeared to be enjoying his time there on the sunbaked cement more than any number of clams in a proverbial high-tide. His expression made him seem wiser than old stones. Inside of me, an invoiceable question crystallized.

“Excuse me,” I said, pitching my voice as I did while speaking to my father when I visited him. A voice halfway between the brusque entreaty of a librarian’s shush and a lover’s delicate early-morning coo.

The doctor pretended not to hear me, though I knew he knew I was there. Even though his eyes were closed and his breathing regular, the slight twitching of his chin hairs assured me he was awake. Between his narrowly slit eyelids, I took note of a slight glint of green revealed by the sunlight reflected off the tsukemen shop’s storefront window. The doctor was in.

Deciding not to cause any further trouble for the doctor, I rolled my bike around him and carried on my way. As I rode home, slower than normal, I pondered that newly formed question. By the time I got home, the whipped-cream had melted in the summer sun. The doctor had made an impression on me, and I longed for our next chance encounter.

Next week, I got my wish, catching Dr. Buttons again on my way home from the hospital. I recognized his lustrous black fur coat and lucent eyes immediately, even from across the street. With only a slight regard for personal safety, I cut through the intersection and hopped off my bike. Dr. Buttons sat on a waist-high brick wall surrounding the neighborhood park, carefully licking the space between his stretched-out fingers.

“Excuse me,” I again said in that same voice reserved for hospital bedsides.

Dr. Buttons regarded me with a cool emerald glance.

“You must be hot, wearing that coat and all.” I tried to make conversation, thinking this might be my only chance to ask my question. “I wonder if you’ve got anything else to wear.”

The doctor surrendered to a tremendous yawn. He stood up from his perch and trotted off towards the swing set. I followed a few paces behind. He didn’t seem to be trying to escape, more so acting as a sort of guide. We passed the swings and ended up in a small shady spot nestled beneath a copse of flowerless sakura trees beside a koi pond. The doctor hopped onto a stone bench and made room for me to sit next to him. I obliged.

“I wonder if I could ask your opinion on something.”

The doctor made no move to give affirmation or negation to my inquiry. Instead, he closed his eyes and reopened them.

“You see, my father is, well…” I tried to consider how to phrase it, but words failed me.

Dr. Buttons placed his hand on my thigh. The pads of his hands felt cool and smooth like river stones. His fingernails were sharp, but he took care not to prick me with them. Normally, when someone made a move on me like this—especially in public—I would shrink away and close off completely. The doctor, however, made an entirely different impression on me.

“I don’t know who else to ask. None of the other doctors would be able to help.”

My father’s hospital bed appeared before my eyes with its paper-thin, ghost-white sheet, its plastic control panel for summoning the nurses or self-medicating, the stainless-steel IV stand with its tangle of emotionless tubes. I could hear the intermittent beeping signature of my father’s continued existence. He was teetering somewhere halfway in and halfway out, like a child balancing on the threshold of her parents’ bedroom, hands on the doorframe for support. My mother sat in a fake-leather chair, turquoise and with the faint smell of vomit cloying the air around it. The setting sun illumined her profile. She never could find a way to live without being by his side, even considering all that had happened with him and us, even now with his liver half gone.

“What he did, it’s not going to disappear. I know that,” I said to Dr. Buttons. My next words cut short in that in-between space dividing thought and speech. “But life will have to be different, right?” I somehow concluded my question. “You know, after he’s dead…”

The doctor remained motionless, hand pressed on my thigh, tail swaying in the breeze. Then he yawned again, and tiny white fangs appeared between his lips. With that, he hopped off and disappeared into the brush. I sat on the bench, feeling inexplicably satisfied, and understanding now that no doctor could give any real answer to my question, should even that doctor be a cat.


Matthias Kramer