You know, we weren't supposed to keep her.
It was just supposed to be a temporary thing.
It was dark and late when my sister's roommate's meth-head mother knocked on the front door of my tiny one-bedroom apartment. I was expecting her, but I don't think that I expected her to hand me a squirming ball of white fur wrapped in a dirty towel. I mean, was a box so hard to come by?
"Sorry, there's no food for her or nothin'."
"Um, all right. Any litter or anything?"
"Oh, um, no," the woman said, chewing on her bottom lip. A friend had come with her and this other woman's eyes darted around my apartment nervously. My boyfriend's snores drifted in from the other room.
"Oh, well, okay. Thanks for bringing her all the way out here."
"Yeah, yeah, sure. Sorry we couldn't keep her."
I shrugged. This was the reason I was taking her in, albeit temporarily. These people were shitbags. "Least I could do."
My posture changed a bit as I tried to shoo them out of my living room and back towards the front door. Whether they got the hint or not, I didn't know, but they did turn around and head out.
With the door shut (and locked) behind them, I put the squirmy ball of fur on the floor. I picked the dirty towel off of her and put it in the kitchen trash. Then I sat on my ugly blue velour couch and put my elbows on my knees.
I looked at the cat and the cat looked at me.
"So. What now?"
* * * * *
Even later that night, I dug out some cash from my boyfriend's wallet and trekked across the street to the AM/PM for an overpriced bag of cat food and a small bag of litter. The streetlights made my skin look cheesy and distorted in their glow as I crossed Pearl. I'd managed to fish out a box lid from my bedroom closet that could act as an impromptu litter box until I could stop by the pet store after work.
The puffy white ball of fur had made itself at home in the living room, curling up on the ugly blue couch. White cat hair had already started to cling to most of the surfaces and I made a mental note to grab a lint roller when I was out next.
In the morning, my boyfriend already gone for work, I got dressed and left for my own job. While I was in the office, I talked up the puffy white furball to my co-workers - did anyone want a two year old cat, current on her shots and spayed? I had no takers from my immediate cube-mates, so I drafted up a "free cat" poster that I sent to my email so I could retrieve it at home. I could head back to the apartment and take a picture of the cat to add to the poster before I put it up in the breakroom.
Aw, the best laid plans, right?
When I returned home from work in the early evening hours, I found my boyfriend spread out across the length of the couch. He was watching television and the puffy white cat had curled herself up on his chest.
They both looked at me as I entered the apartment, a printed draft of the "free cat" flyer in my hand.
"We can keep her, right?"
I threw the flyer away that night.
* * * * *
Eventually, the puffy white furball became the puffy white furbaby
. In our tiny apartment we tripped over her, we ransacked all 460 square feet of our space to find her in a cupboard, we lost a million tiny mouse toys underneath the ugly blue couch. We learned quickly to leave the bathroom door cracked open just a tiny bit while we were using the toilet - if we didn't, she'd rip up the carpet in an attempt to dig her way in.
We also learned that once she got in, if one was sitting on the toilet, she'd destroy our feet by hugging them with her front legs and kicking at them with the claws on her back feet.
She didn't meow, either. She squeaked
She got us in trouble with apartment management, what with her penchant for sitting in the front window of our non-pet-fee-paying apartment.
She once got angry when we didn't clean her litter box for a couple of weeks and left a small brown present underneath the covers at the end of our bed.
She escaped between our legs and out the apartment door, leaving us to drop everything and chase after her.
Then, one day, we brought home something new.
* * * * *
I knelt down on the floor, my back still throbbing a bit at the injection site. I grimaced and my husband reached out a hand to me. I shook my head - I didn't need helping getting back up just yet. I leaned in towards the carseat and tucked the blankets around the sleeping infant.
The puffy white furbaby stood to my side, contemplative.
"Baby," I cooed. "It's okay, come on over and take a sniff."
Until then, the only thing referred to as Baby in our apartment had been the puffy white furbaby. Now the furbaby leaned forward tentatively to take a whiff of the peoplebaby. She sniffed the pink blanket and the tiny fingers that peeked out at the top.
Then she walked away in a bit of a huff.
* * * * *
"Mommy," she said to me as we sat close together on the couch, "I don't want Baby to die."
I choked back a tiny sob as I smoothed her hair. "I know, Little Bear. Neither do Mommy or Daddy." Both our gazes fixed on the puffy white furbaby, stretched on the floor of our living room. She was sleeping peacefully, it seemed, but I could see the hitch in her breath. I could see the lump that had grown to exponential proportions in a matter of just a few months.
"So don't take her to the vet, Mommy!" She clung to my side.
The tears slipped out, despite my best effort to reign them in. I wiped them off my face. "Honey, this is the way it has to be. Animals and people, they both die when they're very old, very sick or very hurt. Baby is very old and
very sick. If we don't do anything, she'll be very hurt also."
Arianna buried her face in the cotton of my shirt. "I don't want her to go away! I want her to stay here forever!"
"I know," I said softly. "This is the very best thing we can do for her, though. The last, best thing we can do for her."
We sat on the couch together, her five-year-old hands in mine, staring at the one that I called Puffy Cat who snoozed quietly in the sunlight streaming in from the window.
"Come on, Little Bear," I said. "Let's open a can of tuna for her. That'll cheer us all up."
And it did, if only for a little bit.
* * * * *
I prepped tunafish for sandwiches yesterday and, just like I always do, I paused before draining the excess tuna water into the sink. It seems like such a waste, I thought in my mind. The house gets too silent around me when I'm making lunches, my daughter and husband asleep in the other rooms.
I miss the sound of a tiny squeak at my feet, demanding that I pour her some tuna soup into one of her plastic bowls.
Before we had a kid, we had a Puffy Cat. She was a living reminder of the us that existed before we became the us we are today. A fluffy piece of all the good parts of our life together, first as just Ron & Jill and then as husband & wife and then as Mom & Dad.
And she was good for clinging to when those times sometimes got to be too much to bear.
* * * * *
No one knows it, but when I make tunafish sandwiches, I leave the tuna soup outside my front door in one of her little plastic bowls.
Goodnight, Puffy Cat.
Author's note: I've never openly wept when writing an LJ Idol post before.