Saturday, July 6, 2013

Finding "Trouble" in My Life

This is a reprint of a story published in 2001 by Story House Coffee located in Portland, Oregon.  They paid me a small, but fair amount, gave me a free can of their organic coffee and printed the story on one of their coffee can labels. 

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            "You can keep the cat," Mark encouraged. 
            “I don’t know,” I said.
            Normally, I would have enjoyed owning a cat.  But I had just moved into a one-bedroom apartment and it was my first time without roommates.  Though I eventually wanted to get a cat, I wasn’t quite ready to share my space with anyone, not even a small, furry friend. 
            "What's his name?" I asked Mark.
            "Theodore."
            "The Odor?" I mused, placing the accent on the second syllable.
            "Umm . . . yeah, that is kind of a problem," he said.
            Mark was in desperate need of a new home for Theodore.  He already owned a gray tabby named Zachary who stayed home alone while Mark worked long hours as a medical intern.  Mark had assumed the friendly, orange Theodore would be the perfect companion for his first cat.  

            Zachary, however, did not appreciate the newcomer.  On rare occasions when Mark was home, he was privy to growling matches as the cats kept a wary distance from one other.  After one particularly long day Mark came home to find tufts of gray and orange fur all over his apartment accompanied by the strong smell of urine. 
           I had agreed to take care of Theodore for a week while Mark was on vacation, but after that, Theodore had to go.
            Mark handed me the orange tabby.  “So, if you like him, you can keep him,” he said. My landlady is getting angry about The Odor, and my roommate, Doug, isn’t too happy either.”
            "By the way," I asked before Mark left me with my new charge, "was his name always Theodore?"
            After a slight hesitation, Mark said, "No.  It used to be Trouble."
            “I see.”
            Theodore's previous name seemed very appropriate as he, in one day, took over my apartment.  Nothing was sacred.  My pile of newspapers on the floor flew in every direction as he repeated dashed across the living room. House plants became afternoon snacks.  Fallen objects became new toys.  And the borrowed couch from my sister became a scratching post. 
            I had no privacy.  Like a dog, he followed me from room to room and insisted on participating in my every activity.  If I tried to read, he would jump on top of the book.  If I had a glass of water he would explore it with an inquisitive paw.  If I tried to eat something, he’d want a sample, pushing his cold, wet nose into my face to catch the crumbs.  When I took a shower, he sat on the tub wall and cried until I got out. 
            At night he finally settled down.  With his internal motor geared down to constant purr, he stretched out, full length, thoroughly pleased that he no longer had to compete with another cat.  He must have been very lonely at Mark’s place, I thought, feeling sorry for him as he lulled me to sleep.
            My sympathy lasted only until the next morning when, at 5:00 A.M, he woke up, literally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, requesting food.  He performed his morning routine like a bad comedy act.  For an opener, he’d wiggle his way up to my head and meow incessantly in my ear.  Then, he'd flick his tail in my face to make sure I was really awake.  At first, I thought this was an unintended flick of the tail, but after a few days, I actually anticipated the tail flick, catching it in my half-awake stupor to avoid a mouthful of fur.  He knew exactly what he was doing!  In the end, I’d stumble to the kitchen and that’s when the joke was on me when I found his bowl, full of food from the night before! 
            “What is your problem?” I’d yell.  Then, I’d stir the food with my finger, and only then would he eat it and stop bothering me.
            The week came and went, and Mark stopped by.  "So, how was The Odor?"
            "He drove me crazy all week,” I said.
            "Should I take him home?" 
            "Oh, I don't know."
            So, he stayed.  I figured I’d keep him a little while longer because I knew he wouldn't be welcome at his other home.  I got used to having him around, even though I still wondered why I tolerated him.  The bag of cat food Mark had supplied soon ran out.  Dry cat food became a new item on my grocery list.  I moved my plants to the upper shelves of my bookcases, out of reach.  It was like having a child in the house.  I also picked up a small scratching post at a Woolworth’s closeout sale.  It didn’t cost much, and it would save the couch.  When I brought it home, Theodore pounced on it, somehow knowing that it was his.  And through it all, I remained confident that this was all temporary until we found him a new owner.
            Mark's roommate Doug stopped by to visit.  "Hey, I know you,” he said, sitting next to the cat on the couch.  “Boy, have you mellowed out!"  Theodore responded in typical fashion, rolling from side to side, and then turning a somersault under his hand.  "What a nice cat you turned out to be!" 
            I made no comment.
            Several months later, Mark called again.  "So, how’s Theodore, or should I say Trouble?" he asked.
            "Oh, you mean ‘Baby’? He’s fine,”  I said as I watched my “kid” enjoying some of his new toys.
            "You know,” said Mark for the last time, “you can keep the cat."

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