January 13, 2008

Meet Fanny

"There are, I am told, certain bleak and squalid people to whom the advent of a new kitten is a matter of comparative indifference."
-Beverely Nichols (Laughter on the Stairs, 1953)

Meet Fanny, the newest addition to the Little Blue House. She's grey, three months old, and weighs approximately three pounds. She is also the new love of my life. (Sorry, Kevin.)

There is no provision in our rental agreement for a kitten, small, grey or otherwise. Our landlords will allow adult cats. They'll even allow puppies. But for some inexplicable reason, they bear a deep and abiding grudge against kittens. "They just cause a lot of trouble," our landlord Jack, explained. What, and puppies don't?

Well, like any other renter and cat lover, I'm simply ignoring that clause in my contract. No apartment I've ever rented allowed pets, but that didn't mean there weren't half a dozen or more in residence. (You could count them in the lobby on the stormy nights when the fire alarm went off. They were the ones howling with indignation. Their owners were often howling with indignation as well.) So, Fanny must remain a secret between you and me, and when she gets a little older -- a year, say -- we'll tell Jack and Gina.

Now, I have nothing against older cats. I actually prefer cats after they've outgrown that troublesome kitten phase and settled down into a quiet middle age. I just don't like adopting someone else's middle-aged cats. I've done it twice before, and there's just no nice way to say it: They were duds. They had lots of personality, but they weren't very affectionate, and I just don't see the point of a house cat that can't or won't show affection. My mother, who has very graciously kept one of our old cats, Mister Man, since our move to Germany, complained just the other night, "Why can't he just sit in my lap and purr like a normal cat?"

So, we said "never again," but after two weeks in our new house, I was beginning to feel lonesome for some cat-loving. Kevin was not so keen on violating our rental contract, but inveterate cat-lover that his is, he agreed we could get one under two conditions: that we get a kitten and that this kitten be female. (I suspect Kevin's irrational prejudice against male cats was formed by the many nights when Mister Man kept us awake by making very passionate and vocal love to my slippers.) Anyway, once we were reasonably sure that Jack and Gina had exhausted their list of reasons to drop-in on us unexpectedly, Kevin and I went to the local Humane Shelter to see about a kitten, a female kitten.

Unfortunately, all of the kittens at the shelter turned out to be male. All ten of them. So that night we went home empty-handed. But the very next day, we just happened to find ourselves in the neighborhood of the Humane Shelter while we were running errands, and I suggested we peek in, just to see if they had anything new. "They're not going to have any new kittens after just one day," he said. And he was right. Not only didn't they have any new kittens, they didn't have any of the old ones either. Somehow, in less than 24 hours, all ten kittens had been adopted. I was completely despondent.

Then just as we were about to give up and go home, Kevin stopped to play with a pretty little grey and white cat in a cage by the door. Now, I love grey cats -- true grey cats, whose soft fur is the blue-grey of dawn -- but I've never owned one, as they seem to be exceedingly rare in the southern United States. However, there were lots of grey, adult cats at the shelter that day, and I was about to suggest to Kevin that maybe we could adopt one of them, when Kevin said softly, "Sarah, look. She has a kitten." And there in the very back of the cage, was a tiny grey kitten, so grey it was almost blue.

I picked up her adoption papers, clipped to the cage, and read: "Three-month old grey tabby, female." Apparently she had been in the shelter for over a week, but I guess no one saw her because she was always curled up underneath her mother asleep and her blue-grey coat blended in perfectly with the blue-grey fleece of the cat bed. We only even saw her because the mother shifted position in response to Kevin's loving attentions.

"Oh, Momma, look. Here's a kitten!" exclaimed a blond-haired boy with an Irish lilt and two missing front teeth. His equally angelic older sister rushed over, as did their beautiful mother. "There now, here's a kitten after all" said the woman to her husband. "What do you think about this one, darlin'?" I could tell that in their minds, the kitten was as good as theirs, but I had her adoption papers in my hand. So without another word, even to Kevin, I walked up to the front desk and started the adoption proceedings. And when, fifteen minutes later, the beautiful Irish family came out to ask about adopting "a kitty, the little grey one," the receptionist had to tell them it was already being adopted.

Don't think it didn't prick my conscience to deny that sweet immigrant family their kitten, but we are immigrants, too, at least I am, though "sweet" I may not be. And I hope I don't sound to treacly or mystical when I say this, but it was as if her mother had been keeping her just for us.

However, as the afternoon wore on, I was no longer so sure. In the four hours we'd be waiting for the adoption to go through, "our" kitten hadn't moved an inch, hadn't so much as opened her eyes. What was wrong with her, we wondered. Was she dead? Or worse, was she a dud?

The adoption counselor assured us that she was just a little over-tired from her recent spaying. (Well, yes, I can imagine.) And sure enough, once we were allowed to take her out of her cage and hold her, she perked right up. Fanny, as we decided to call her, crawled all over Kevin, chirping like a cricket, before settling down in the nape of his neck and purring.

In the 24-hours since she came home with us, Fanny hasn't left our side. This turned out to be incredibly fortunate, as last night, Jack showed up on one of his surprise visits. He had forgotten to give us the key to the front door. But since Fanny was asleep in my lap when we heard the knock at the door, I was able to whisk her away to the bedroom without Jack being two cents the wiser. In fact, during the twenty minutes or so in which he tried, unsuccessfully to make the key fit into our lock, Fanny didn't make a peep. Not even a single chir-rup. She just sat in my lap, purring like an engine, as she is at this very moment.

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