Early on in the summer after eighth grade, my mother and I went to a local strip-mall that had a small pet store. Our original goal had been the clothing store next to it, but we were easily side-tracked by the cat adoption clinic on the sidewalk in front of the pet store. There must have been some 20 cats there of various ages, and my mom and I are both suckers for anything with fur that purrs. There was an aged calico with the highly original name of Cali, a matched pair of gray-and-whites, and a playpen full of orange tabby shorthaired kittens. They were all unbelievably adorable, and we were compelled by the sheer force of their cuteness to pet and cosset each of them.
It all stopped though when my mom spotted him. He was sitting quietly by himself, this kitten so young that his eyes were still an angelic blue. He was about the size of a softball and looked to be made of nothing more than dark orange fluff. His short tail was gray at the end and seemed incapable of laying straight. He saw us watching him and opened his tiny pink mouth. Not a sound came out. My mother fell instantly in love.
She had known this kind of love only once before. It had been for the equally red haired son of her cat Jo (after the one in Little Women) when she was a little girl. His name had been Erskin Butterball, after the local redheaded nightclub singer Erskin Butterfield that her older sister had a crush on. For a few months after his birth, he was the light of my mother’s life until my grandmother, convinced that her daughter’s head cold was actually an allergic reaction to the long haired kitten, took him to the pound while she was at school. My mom never recovered from her devastation and shock at his sudden loss, and yet there he was in front of her, or at least his double.
We had to get him. There were no ifs, ands or buts about it. My father, who loathes cats and couldn’t stand the two we already had, would be made to understand the necessity our bringing the kitten home without consulting him. Our other two cats, who could barely tolerate each other, would lovingly invite this orange intruder into their home. This was fate. This was the ghost of Erskin Butterball returned to the woman who never stopped loving him. It would all work out because she would make it work.
In the end my father was far more excepting of Erskin Butterball II the sequel than were the cats. He says that of our three Erskin, with his fluffiness, hunting prowess and puppy-like emotional dependence, is the only one with any “socially redeeming value.” Mysia, our female, still can’t stand him and hisses every time he comes within a few feet of her. Chutzpah, the stately tom, is far more tolerant and only once a month feels the need to smack out large clumps of his orange hide. Erskin’s eyes have long since faded from their kittenish blue, and the tiny ball of fluff has grown into an orange behemoth that sleeps every night on top of my mother to reminder that he is, and always was, the cat of her dreams.
Illustrator: Marjorie Skiba
About the Author: Rikki lives in New York state with her two kittens. She enjoys knitting complexly patterned blankets and fencing.
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