The blanket was pink and purple, and looked like it might feature the face of a Disney character. It was impossible to tell, however, because it was wadded up and stuffed in the bottom of an animal carrier. Sitting atop the blanket was a very nervous cat, hunched against the back wall, completely silent, the smells of the office too unfamiliar and intimidating.
To the man observing, it looked like a blanket his seven year old daughter might have stored somewhere, the kind that are a dime a dozen during the holiday season or at a specialty store. It was a bit dirty, but it seemed well-intentioned and well-used.
The man slowly lifted his eyes to the individual carrying the crate. She had arrived in a cab, which was still a little rare in this city. She was around thirty years old, plainly dressed, and appeared to be every bit as nervous as the cat huddling on the blanket.
Our observationist was just there to pick up his dog, who had been the recipient of a very humiliating surgery the day before. The reader is surely familiar with this surgery, and will pity the dog accordingly. The man was waiting patiently to be helped, and was next in line when the young woman with the blanket walked in the door.
She didn't express any regard for the rules of society when she walked around the man and struck up a conversation with the still busy assistant, but after hearing her speak it was plain to see why. Her voice carried an indicator of a mental handicap of some sorts, unknown to the author, but placing the taxi and her assumed rudeness into immediate context. Forgiveness, tinged with a pity he struggled to tamp down, rose in his heart.
The assistant asked her if she'd fed the cat in the last twelve hours, and the young woman responded with a firm no. Then, a moment after, she leaned forward and confidentially informed the lady trying to take the crate that the cat had a "few pieces" of food that morning.
She was reluctant to let go of the crate. But as she let her hand fall away, she looked at the assistant and said, "Will you please put his blanket with him after he's done to make him feel better?"
The man—who is notorious for having a tender heart, especially in the vet's office—steeled himself, for he felt the tears coming. Hot pin pricks of empathy stung the corners of his eyes, and he knew he couldn't break down. Not here again. Not now.
He knew then the blanket had to be special. He realized how important the blanket must have been to her, if it was so important to the cat.
And then a memory was triggered.
He'd had a recent experience with blankets. A terrible experience. He had hated a pair of blankets not long ago, and the memory of them was chiseled into his mind, bored into his subconscious, and caused him to obsess over the objects of security (and terrible things) for an unhealthy amount of time. He had repeatedly wanted to burn that pair of blankets, and burn the things they represented out of the lives of the people he loved the most.
Of course it was never really about the blankets, was it?
Then the young woman asked another question.
"How much will it cost?"
The assistant told her, and then told her it would cost extra if she left him there additional nights to heal. The young lady frowned, agreed, and headed out to the taxi, still waiting in the parking lot.
But sometimes it has to be humanity. Not pity, not false philanthropy, and not an overblown ego.
Just humanity. Wanting to be good to someone else.
God/humanity/the basic good called to the man. Still fighting back tears, he walked out to his car. He retrieved his wallet and brought it back inside. The assistant brought his dog around, who was happy to see the man, but a restrained sort of happy, and understandably so.
"Sir, you've already paid. You don't owe anything else. Just keep him still for a few days."
"Ma'am, if you knew this dog, you'd know that's going to be almost impossible..."
Then his voice cracked and betrayed him.
"...and it's nothing of mine I want to pay for."