I recall the first Saturday we spent in Davis after returning from our honeymoon: Cardboard boxes litter the living room; suitcases have spilled their contents onto the carpet; shoe couples grieve their separation in the kind of severance that only occurs when you have yet to own a dresser, hangars, or any sort of organizational tools. Hardened crumb pebbles are sticking to the bottoms of my feet in our quaint, 1 ½-person kitchen. With black and white tiles and a window looking out, it really is just one apron short of adorable.
We’ve tossed around the idea of getting a pet since engagement. Technically our apartment complex does not allow it. I’m sure that policy’s purpose is to avoid soiled carpets or noise pollution, which is also why I am sure that by “pets” they mean dogs and ferrets. It’s a painful realization that where man is welcome his best friend is forbidden, but cats, being creatures that prefer to lash out at you in ways that will forever be a mystery to your landlord, perhaps are a doable replacement. I sweetly wrap my arms around Mr. P when he asks me what I’d like to do this particular sunny Saturday and in the most undeniable tone I can muster say, “Can we look at kittens?” I imagine their unblinking eyes taking up the majority of their fur-covered faces and do my best imitation. It becomes obvious that without the fur, my wide eyes must look more maniacal than precious, for his response is, “Sweetie, I don’t know if we should do that just yet.” Unlocking my arms, I note that I must practice this look in the mirror tonight before bed.
We settle on a bike ride around town ending at the Farmer’s Market. This is how Mr. P bribes me to bike “for fun.” The fun is the Farmer’s Market and the hour of thinking about it beforehand while my thighs catch fire. The Farmer’s Market is one of those areas of cultural fuzziness for me. I am not sure what they are supposed to be like, but I do know what they are like back home and I have heard what they are like here. Back home it was a place to talk to farmers and get fresh, cheap melons out of the back of their pickups while gaining exposure to a new intensity of the Southern accent. It was nice, but the stories I have heard about the Davis market fill me with equal wonder and disbelief. Upon the end of our bike ride (which actually was quite pleasant, thankyouverymuch) I learn that not all hype is meant to lead to letdown. It is incredible.
Mobs of young families and college students (the general makeup of this town) meander through the most gorgeous selections of produce, meats, cheeses, fresh breads, and flowers. At one end is a cluster of venders sampling dishes served at local restaurants. It is here that the smell of curry and sausage creep up your nostrils and awaken your senses. The smells are intoxicating and I am sure that it is not an empty stomach that creates hunger but the fumes radiating from the hot skillets. The other end of the market is stationed with a face-painting tent, a field of jubilantly screaming children, and a bicycle-powered carousel (this town would). Smack dab in the middle of all this madness, though, stands a glorious white sign. Colorless and free of image, it does not fail to attract my eye. The handwriting is scraggly, functional at best. And it is glorious.
I am jumping up and down like the four-year-old in the tutu next to me, clutching Mr. P’s arm. Small yelping noises of excitement escape me as I point and practically convulse at the sign. My excitement has an impact of about four feet, as everyone in that diameter seems to gaze in the direction of my telling finger. Quickly realizing that there are few souls that can resist a free kitten, I thrust my eager right hand to my side. The kitten is mine and it’s a good thing that girl in the tutu can’t read yet, because I am quite sure she has mastered the big-eyed face that I will be practicing tonight in the bathroom. I am not ready for that level of competition yet.
There are two kittens left and I am praying that one of them meets Mr. P’s only criteria. Having grown up with cats of both genders, his experience has left him appreciating the temperaments of male cats. Having grown up catless, I have no argument. One kitten looks almost wild with alternating stripes of deep charcoal and grey. This one they know to be female, though. The other is almost entirely black with a patch of white on its tiny chest. “Do you know the gender of this one?” I ask. The woman who found these kittens at a construction site gazes at me. The smile lines around her eyes deepen as she responds, “I haven’t checked this one yet.” She gently picks up the quivering thing in her arms. The blue of its eyes rival that of my husband’s, which always attract the attention of strangers, getting comments from grocery cashiers like, “Man alive, you’ve got some blue eyes.”
The woman lifts the tail and peers underneath the belly of the kitten. She furrows her brow in search, lifting a leg and then turning the creature to its side. My heart rate hastens as my future lies between the legs of this terrified animal. “It’s so hard to tell… tiny little ball sacks haven’t dropped yet,” she mutters as Mr. P and I exchanged humorous and slightly nervous glances at the term “ball sack.” A knowing look crosses her face and she hands the kitten to me. “I believe this one’s a boy.”
All the children on the carousel side of the market flock around us as we hold our furry prize. One small girl insists we name him Bandit. Perhaps it’s the perfect name, for his elusive ball sack won his way into our custody where he steals our affection. Regardless, we agree that his name will be decided once we better understand his personality. It would be a tragedy to name a cat that intends on growing fat and sleeping at the foot of your bed “Bandit.”
In the coming week the list of names forms.
“Huck! Like Huckleberry Finn.”
“Don’t like it. What about Clark? Lewis and Clark. Explorers. It’s perfect.”
“My cousin’s name is Clark. You can’t name your cat after your cousin. It’s kind of insulting.”
“Santa Claws! C-L-A-W-S. Hahaha!”
“Ok, I’m adding it to the list, but it won’t win.”
“Gracious. They’ll think we’re being racist!”
“Very funny. What about Kiwi? It’s funny because it doesn’t make sense!”
“Add it to the list, I guess.”
Others make an appearance on the list: Newton, The Doctor, Yazzo, Atlas, Hutch. But in the end it’s “Luther” that wins. And for a week, that is what we call him, as well as “little man,” “buddy,” “dude,” and occasionally “bro.” Yes, it was one week, several strangely prominent nipples, and a “how to determine cat gender” article later that I had to determine how to break the news to Mr. P.
“Hey baby…” I raise the pitch at the end of “baby” as if to say “I’m proceeding with caution because I have something bad to tell you, so please go easy on me as I crush your dreams.” Noting this pitch, he gives me his full attention and with a patient face asks, “What is it?” “I have some bad news for you.” His face remains unchanged. “Luther… Luther is a girl.”
It took three days of passive protest at the gross deception before Mr. P would call it a “she,” a week or so until we settled on the name “Bella,” a week and a half before my sister made even more fun of “Bella” than “Luther,” reminding me that I named our fur ball after the protagonist of teen vampire series, Twilight, and two weeks of pondering this potential mistake to decide I still liked our name choice. Bella Swan and Bella the cat share zero characteristics. Plus there is no evidence in our apartment that I poured over the entire book series. I can easily fake that I have no idea who Bella Swan is should someone point out the shared name. “Oh Twilight, I think I’ve heard of that,” I’ll say. “Not really into steamy vampire teen reads, though.” A chuckle will escape between words, communicating, “you really should be embarrassed for even bringing it up.” Yeah, Bella suits her.