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How it got so out of hand, I don’t know. It had all started with one simple birthday wish…and changed my life forever.
We were living in an apartment then, a small, two-bedroom condo with worn flowery wallpaper covering the kitchen and dining room walls. We had just recently moved in, so the only things unpacked were an old red recliner, a small television sitting on a shelf, and a lumpy burgundy sofa, all located in the living room; my mom’s and my bed, all our clothes, and our food. No matter how I looked at the cluttered apartment, I found myself disliking it more and more, not to mention the small space we had. I hated the tan carpet underfoot, the tacky wallpaper everywhere I looked, and the squeaky faucet in our one bathroom. I couldn’t understand why my mother was so fond of it, until the day I noticed her contentedly reading a book out on the back balcony, obviously enjoying the view. After that I had kept my comments to myself…all except the matter of getting a pet.
From the age of six, I had begged for a cat, but my mom had firmly and repeatedly refused. One hot August afternoon, I returned from school and entered the steamy kitchen, intent on getting a cat.
“Mom,” I started, cautiously approaching The Subject. “We’ve got more room now that our stuff is, um, in order…don’t you think?”
Mom turned to me and raised her dark eyebrows.
“You talkin’ about this dump?” she gestured towards the stacks of laundry on the sofa.
“Well,” I muttered, “It’s not that bad.”
Ignoring me, Mom continued stirring the thickening stew.
I protested resolutely, “Lucinda has two dogs next-door, and her apartment doesn’t look cramped at all!” Sighing, my mother turned around, hands on her hips.
“So, it’s that cat business, again.” She combed through her auburn hair with nimble fingers that had seen too many days of threading needles and sewing and patching and knitting. Anybody could tell just by looking at her that she was a seamstress – yarn hung from her jean pockets, bright threads weaved through repaired jackets.
Now she added herbs to the pot, and muttered, “You know very well, Eileen Gardener, how little space we have in our…home.” I knew by the way she said it that, once again, the subject was closed.
Mom changed the subject, saying, “I’m gonna leave this stew to sit fer a while, and run some errands around town. Get yer jacket, and let’s go.” So I grabbed my faded Old Navy jacket, and went to the car.
After groceries had been purchased and a few cigarettes had been picked up, we stopped at For Eyes to pick up her new glasses prescription. While waiting, I seized the opportunity to visit Burke Pets, next-door. I rushed inside, and for about five minutes, cuddled puppies and kittens.
My mother soon found me and exclaimed, exasperated, “There you are! We’ve gotta go, git in the car! My stew’s gonna be ruined!”
When I passed her a Siamese kitten in response, she softened momentarily, stroking it, and murmured, “I know they’re gorgeous, Eileen, but we just can’t.” Her last words surprised me, and I wondered if she felt the way I did.