“Kibbles, come here.” Maria places her crochet on the small glass table beneath the warm glow of the reading lamp and beckons with frail hands. “Here, kitty.”
Kibbles jumps 26 inches at an angle of 64 degrees to land squarely in Maria’s lap. She lets out a delighted squeal and scratches him lovingly behind the ears. Kibbles can tell through sensors beneath his skin that Maria’s temperature is 97.8 degrees Fahrenheit, well within acceptable parameters for a woman of her advanced age. He wiggles his furry butt into Maria’s warm lap and stretches out his paws.
“Kibbles, did I ever tell you about the day I met Dominic?”
She has, many times. Kibbles closes his eyes and nuzzles his chin against her knee, his body rumbling beneath her touch as she begins her story.
“Oh, no, Kibbles!”
Kibbles lifts his head from his spot on the bed to peer at Maria. “Merp?”
“My glasses.” She frets at the bedcovers near her pillow, her eyes wide and unfocused, her breaths quickening. “Where did I put them? I can’t see without them. Oh, Kibbles! What will I do…”
Fortunately, Kibbles doesn’t have to search for Maria’s glasses. He remembers where she put them, like he remembers everything she’s done since moving into the nursing home. He hops from the bed, to the floor, to the sink, his claws clicking on the ceramic brim as he alights with uncanny grace. He grips the glasses with his teeth, careful not to scratch the lenses with his sharp canines. Then he leaps from the sink back to the bed, dropping the glasses onto the pillow beside her questing hand.
Maria grasps the glasses with trembling fingers. “Oh! I found them, Kibbles!” She perches them on her nose and blinks down at him.
Kibbles nestles into Maria’s lap. He logs the event in the central computer while she strokes his silky fur.
“Kibbles, you’re the best cat I’ve ever had.”
Kibbles purrs with pleasure.
It is dark and very quiet when Maria sits bolt upright in her bed. “Kibbles, I… I don’t… I’m not feeling very…”
Kibbles rises from his spot curled up beside Maria and places a paw on her arm to check her vitals, mewling soothingly to her. Her heart rate is slowing, her blood pressure dropping. Beads of sweat glint on her forehead in the dim light coming from the window.
Maria’s heart stops beating. She sucks in one last, surprised breath, then collapses back onto the bed, her eyes gaping but seeing nothing.
Kibbles could attempt to resuscitate by administering an electric shock of 325 volts through his paws. But the nursing home has received notice from her estate not to do so. So he contacts the central computer and reports the time of her death—11:37 PM—and the cause: cardiac arrest.
Kibbles seizes one corner of the bedsheet with his teeth and pulls it gently over Maria’s careworn face. He hops off the bed as the chamber door slides open at the far end of the room. The bed detaches from the wall with a sharp snap and rolls into the hallway, twisting left before clattering toward the crematorium. From the right, a freshly-made bed with clean white sheets swishes into the room and clicks into the wall to take its place.
It will be seven minutes before the cleaning bots arrive to refresh the room. They’ll be finished with their work a half-hour after that. He’ll be lying on the bed, his tail twitching contentedly, when his new companion arrives in the morning.