“Mom?” I could tell from Sophie’s tone that she had been mulling something over.
“We don’t have any pets,” she observed.
This is true. Max, my beloved cat, died shortly after she was born. At night, when I was pregnant, I would listen to his raspy breathing emanating from where he sat in the doorway to my bathroom. He had diabetes and an enlarged heart. I spent more money that I care to admit trying to extend his life, unable to say goodbye.
Only recently have I felt ready for another cat. Just the other day I was needling Kevin about getting a black one with green eyes. Such a cat would not resemble any of my former cats, and therefore I would be freed of the guilt of “replacing” Max. Kevin rolled his eyes, “An all black cat? So it can shed on everything?” As if the color of the cat had any bearing on how much it shed. Still, I knew what he meant. Max had a talent for being able to shed black hairs on white clothes and white hairs on black clothes. I’m fairly certain he could release them at will.
“Do you want a pet?” I fished, feeling somewhat ambivalent about her response. On the one hand, I miss the heart-slowing effects of having a warm ball of fur in my lap. On the other, cats—ALL pets—are work. Kevin has sensibly asserted that we should get a cat when Sophia is ready to take care of it. I am in perfect agreement with this. I received my first cat when I was five. I saw her at a garage sale just up the road. I begged and pleaded and made all kinds of promises I lacked the ability to keep at five. Against my father’s better judgment, my mother took me to get the cat. She was so tiny—all claws. The very first morning of her 16-year stay, she scaled my mother’s nightgown all the way up to her shoulder, mewing for her breakfast. I do believe my mother fed her (and cleaned her litter box) that day and every day henceforth.
“Yes!” Answered Sophie, pulling me back to the present.
“What kind of pet?”
“A kitty cat!” Thank god she didn’t say dog. Sophie recently overcame her fear of dogs. The Boyfriends (my friend Nan’s twin boys) have a lovely, sweet, obedient dog named Sally, whom Nancy describes as an 8th generation mutt. Sophia has been terrified of Sally from the day one. Nan believed that through gradual exposure, Sophia would master her fear. So, each time we went over, she brought Sally in the room. At first it was for a short period of time and Sally remained on leash. Nan barked commands at her and Sally sat, gave her paw, and played dead. Gradually, Sally stayed longer. And finally, Sally was off-leash. It was quite a triumph when Sophie asked Nancy if she could pet Sally. Nancy held Sally while Sophia stroked her fur. Emboldened by this, Sophia quickly graduated to attempting to cut Sally’s hair, grabbing her ears and smacking her on the head. I was appalled, but Nancy was cool. She’s feeling her power, Nan told me. We worked on gentle touching. There’s still more work to be done.
Still, I don’t want a dog. Ever.
Sophia has been around cats because her grandmother has two. Far less patient than Sally, my mother’s cats hightail it out of there when they see Sophia coming. They are both obnoxious: one by nature, one by nurture. Casey Cat loves Sophie’s grandpa and ONLY her grandpa. He regards the rest of us with scorn, sneering at me when I walk past. I can say this with authority, as a cat-lover, this cat is wholly unloveable. Thus, it was no surprise that he freaked out when Sophie’s grandpa rescued a 3 lb stray—Maggie Magoo. Maggie Magoo was a threat to Casey and Bernie’s inseparable bond, and so he did what any male cat does in this situation. He sprayed the joint. I am quite sure he has covered every inch of the rug in my mother’s finished basement. It smells like NYC on a hot summer’s day down there. Having won the pissing match, he reclaimed his man and left Maggie Magoo, skittish and untrusting, out in the cold.
This feline drama is off Sophia’s radar. Only recently as she walked through the basement did she note, “It stinks down here!” I think she has yet to connect it to the stinker.
I report this conversation to my friend and neighbor, who shudders at the thought of adding a pet to her brood, adding that her seven-year-old son is dying for a dog.
“How about a hermit crab?” I suggested.
“We got a couple of gold fish at the school fair this summer. Remember?”
“Oh yeah,” in my mind’s eye, I could see him holding up a clear plastic bag with a flash of gold inside, “whatever happened to those fish?” I couldn’t recall seeing them around the house.
“Oh they died within a couple of days. Thank god.”
Animal lovers, be assured this was not the heartless remark of a cruel woman. It’s the honest reaction of a mother whose household has reached maximum capacity. Where feeding the goldfish (and changing its water and whatever else you have to do to maintain goldfish health) is one more task that will fall to her, despite her capable brood.
Sophie is awaiting my reaction. “I want one too, honey. But we need to wait until you’re a big girl and can take care of it yourself.”
“Okay,” says Sophie cheerfully, popping her thumb in her mouth. Thank god, indeed.