Monday, February 10, 2014

Pet of the Week

 Pet of the Week

     It was a Friday night in the winter of 2009 as I sat on our worn, black couch, performing an exercise in multitasking. Trust me, it is no small feat to read an old, battered copy of Eragon, eat a bowl of chocolate ice cream, and pet an overly fluffy orange cat simultaneously. However, I was doing quite well, if I do say so myself. Cinderella (who I named when I was six, so do not hold that against me) purred softly as she arched her furry back under my hand. One of my mom's many yoga chant CD's played softly on the stereo, and my mom hummed along as she reclined on our other worn, black couch, reading today's copy of The Sitka Sentinel, our local newspaper. The last cold, sweet, velvety bite of ice cream slid down my throat as I turned the crinkled, dog-eared pages of my book. Idly stroking Cinderella's soft fur, I wondered if my dad was regretting his decision to go for a late-night bike ride in these freezing temperatures yet. Knowing him, it was rather unlikely, and even more improbable that he would admit to it if this were indeed the case. Craning my neck, I peered out the window, looking at the lights from the harbor and the faint silhouette of Mount Edgecumbe in the distance. Our lamps glowed softly, illuminating our dark green carpet, our coffee table, cluttered with books and papers, and our ancient TV in its' wooden cabinet. In short, it was a typical Friday night in the small, rainy, island town of Sitka, Alaska.

     "Hey," said my mom, looking at me over the top of her paper, "do you think that you would want another cat?"

     I thought about it briefly. Just a month ago, we had had two cats, but Prince Charming (again, he was named when I was six) had ventured outside, as he did with some frequency, and never returned. He had never really cared for me, and the feeling had been mutual, so I hadn't really minded his disappearance. We still had Cinderella, but I supposed that another cat might be nice. 

     "Sure," I finally answered. "Why?" I knew that my mom never asked a question without a reason.

     "Well, you know the "Pet of the Week" column that the Sentinel runs every Friday?" 

      "Yeah," I replied. "Pet of the Week" was a column that selected an animal from our local animal shelter that was or would be up for adoption and told you about things like its' personality, age, gender, where it was found or why it was given up, etc. in hopes of getting you to adopt it. It was one of the few parts of the newspaper that I read.

     "Well, this week's pet looks kind of nice. Come see," she told me, beckoning me over. 

     I walked over and examined the column. At the top was a picture of a small kitten, his head cocked quizzically to one side. His eyes glinted in the light from the camera flash, and his dark fur fluffed out around him.

     "It says that he's very friendly, and playful. Haven't you always wanted a cat who would play with you?" Mom inquired.

     "Uh-huh." Our first cat, Nikita, hated my guts. She belonged to my mom before I was born, and always resented that I took up so much of Mom's attention. Then we adopted Prince Charming and Cinderella. Prince Charming was usually too busy eating to play, and Cinderella, though affectionate, was not one for even the slightest physical exertion.  Therefore, we'd never had a playful cat.

     "If you want, we could go over to the shelter tomorrow and see about adopting him," my mom suggested.

     "Really!?" I exclaimed. (Perhaps, to the reader, this seems like the patently obvious conclusion to be drawn from the previous statements, but we all have our little flaws. I'm slow to catch on to things sometimes. Deal with it.)

     "Sure!" she responded. "Of course, we'd need to call the shelter, and we'd want to see him before deciding, and he's a little too young for adoption now, so we'd have to wait a month or two, but we could totally do it!" 

     "Wow! Thanks, Mom!"  I marvelled.

     "You're welcome," my mom said. She grinned.

       The following day, we drove to the shelter in my mom's tiny, ancient, battered car, affectionately nicknamed "the Snowflake," because it was rumored to have once been white back in the days of yore. The thick carpet of moss on the car's hood swayed gently in the breeze as I leaned back in my sheepskin-covered seat, which was rather threadbare and on its' last legs of fluffiness. The faint smell of something that I didn't want to think about wafted out of the glove compartment as the shrill noise of bagpiping, of all things, came from the stereo. I cranked down one of the windows in a futile attempt to air out the car, straining against my tattered seatbelt to see if we were there yet. After an eight-year-old's eternity, the car pulled up to the shelter, wheels crunching on the gravel driveway. As soon as the car came to a complete stop, I unbuckled my seatbelts, jumped out, and sprinted up to the front door. 

     "Hey, slow down!" my mom laughed, stepping out of the car and walking toward me.

     "Sorry," I said sheepishly, bouncing on the balls of my feet. "Can we go in?"

     "Of course!" Mom pushed open the door and stepped inside, with me following.

     We looked down a long, tile-floored hallway, lined with doors on both sides. The fluorescent lights emitted a low, constant hum. The only mar on the professional, pristine appearance of the place was the strong odor of wet fur.

     A tall, brunette woman appeared from around the corner. "Can I help you?" she asked.

     "We're here to see the Pet of the Week, Ms. Buckmaster," my mom answered.

     "Our cats are kept right down here," the alleged Ms. Buckmaster informed us, starting down the hall.

     My mom followed, and I was just about to do so when a poster in one of the windows caught my eye. It showed a tiny gray kitten wearing an oversized pair of glasses crouching by a computer keyboard, eyes focused on the computer's mouse. I leaned down to read the caption at the bottom.

     "Abigail!" my mom called.

     "Coming!" I hurried down the hall. Mom was holding a door open, and I stepped inside. I was met by a small, seething metropolis of cats, playing, napping, and eating busily on a fur-covered gray carpet. A lone "cat tree" stood in one corner, and a fishy smell permeated the air. 

     My attention was immediately caught by the two smallest, fluffiest kittens that I had ever seen, one black and one orange. "Mom, can we get these two?" I asked excitedly, dropping to my knees and holding out a hand to the orange one. I was already thinking of names for them. Peanut Butter and Jelly? Blackberry and Carrot? Halloween and...

     "Sorry, hon," my mom apologized, breaking into my reverie, "but those two are already scheduled for adoption."

     "Aww, man," I grumbled.

     "Well, it's hardly surprising," my mom pointed out. "I mean, look at how tiny they are! Plus, that little orange one is female, and orange female cats are really rare."

     "Oh, well," I sighed.

     "Besides, we're here to look at the Pet of the Week, remember?" Mom reminded me.

     "Sorry, I just got sidetracked. They're just so cute..." I rhapsodized.

     "Aren't they?" she agreed.

     "Yeah. Can I pet one?'

     "Of course!"

     I picked up the little orange one. "Mom, this one can fit in the palm of my hand!"

     "Wow!" my mom exclaimed. She dropped to her knees and was immediately swarmed by cats.

     "Why do they all like you so much?" I asked, slightly envious.

     "I think that they can smell the salmon that I had for lunch," she laughed.

     "Which cat is the Pet of the Week, anyway?" I inquired.

     "That black one over there," Mom answered, nodding her head toward a small, furry shape lurking in the back.

     On hands and knees, I approached him. The tiny black kitten looked up with an inquisitive meow. His enormous ears stuck out from his head, and his large yellow eyes stared at me. I carefully held my hand out for him to sniff. After a few seconds of deliberation, he seemed to decide that I was trustworthy, rubbing my hand with his head. Carefully, I ran my hand along his back. He let out a deep, rumbling, slightly wheezy purr as his huge golden eyes looked up at mine.

     "So, what do you think? Should we get him?" I heard Mom ask.

     I smiled. "Definitely."

     Later, driving home in the car, my mind swam with happy, fuzzy thoughts. 

     My mom said something that I didn't quite hear.

     "Sorry, what?" I asked.

     "I said, what are you going to name your new cat?" she repeated, sounding amused.

     Dozens of names flitted through my mind and were quickly discarded. Then, suddenly, I seized on the perfect name. I felt a warm glow of satisfaction. "His name is Lucky!"

     Two months later, Mom and I brought Lucky home. Today, he still lives with us, happily sleeping in the sun, eating poisonous plants, playing with our other cat, Midnight, further wrecking our already dilapidated furniture, and other miscellaneous cattish activities. Despite frequent misdemeanors, though, Lucky (like Felix) is indeed a wonderful, wonderful cat. Every time I look at him, I am glad that he is mine. While I do not speak Feline (I have so far been unsuccessful in my attempts to take a correspondence course in it), I hope that he is as happy to be living with me as I am to be living with him. When I adopted Lucky, I gained a lifelong friend.

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