I had long been fascinated by Manx cats because when I was seventeen, I’d adopted a white Manx cat from a woman who had a litter of kittens. A Manx cat, if you’ve never seen one, is basically a cat without a tail. The first one I had was a pure white cat which made her look exactly like a bunny rabbit.
“You know we can’t get a cat,” said Norman one afternoon as I was pestering him about getting a pet. “This apartment complex doesn’t allow pets.”
Norman lived in an apartment complex way down at the end of Kendall Drive in South Miami. It was one of the first apartments complexes built in that area, an area that has since been dug up, dynamited, sawgrass cut down, alligators corralled in god-knows-where, and built up to be a thriving metropolitan area. But in the late 70s, there was only the one long road, Kendall Drive which had a few scattered businesses, but mostly vegetable and fruit stands. At the end of this long lonely road, stood one apartment complex called Tennis Villas, where Norman lived. I’d moved in with him after I escaped from that big fat joke of a marriage I was involved in and was ready for a new chapter.
“But nobody’s ever going to see it,” I begged. “I don’t plan on letting the cat be an outdoors cat. So who’s ever going to see it?”
I could tell he was starting to soften, and I already had the local newspaper laid out and open to the classified section and a few listings circled that said “free kittens”.
“Here, look at this one,” I pointed, “It says they rescue cats and try to find them good homes. Are you really going to let these poor kittens starve? And guess what else? They say they have a Manx kitten.”
We pulled up in front of a ramshackle house in South Miami--white house, red tile roof with a few tiles missing, overgrown grass surrounded by a chain link fence and parked the Toyota. I could already see cats cruising the yard. We cautiously walked up to the front door and rang the bell. The front curtain moved and a woman’s face momentarily appeared, then darted away quickly. The front door opened to reveal a woman of about five foot, rail thin, a few tendrils of dark hair escaping from a red bandanna that she wore over her head.
“Name’s Jody. You two here about the kitten?”
I’m going to try to break you in to what this place looked like very delicately on account of I don’t want anyone scratching at their skin thinking they have a bad case of Chiggers just by reading this. How else to explain it other than if you looked up the word “packrat” in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Jody’s house.
“You said you were interested in the Manx?” asked Jody. “Come on back and out to the carport area where I keep the babies. I’d offer you two something to drink but I haven’t had time to wash dishes in a few days.”
We trailed Jody through the living room, past stacks of newspapers, some in English, some in Spanish, (don’t ask me why the Spanish as Jody was about as hick as they came) past the multi-tiered cat perches constructed from wood covered with orange and white shag carpeting, through the kitchen where I glimpsed the open pantry which had cases of Top Ramen in ‘natural’ shrimp flavor and extra large bags of Plain Wrap dry cat food and past the kitchen sink overflowing with dirty dishes. Stepping on the cool linoleum floor in my bare feet, I felt something sticky which will remain unidentified. Cats were everywhere. Black and white cats, calico cats, orange and white striped cats, white cats, black cats, fluffy cats, short haired cats. And even a hairless cat.
“That’s Q-Tip,” said Jody as she passed the unfortunate hairless cat and stroked it delicately.
“I just love cats,” she said. “Always have. Grew up with cats and they’ve pretty much saved my life.” I didn’t ask her to elaborate on that one for fear I’d hear some stories about her being locked up in a small closet as a child with a cat, her only friend. Jody looked like the type of woman who’d trap mice to feed the cats if she had to.
“And here we are,” she said stepping down the three steps from the kitchen and onto the carport. “The nursery.”
For some reason, Jody thought it would be a good idea to keep all the nursing mothers outside. I guess they like the fresh air, and as an added bonus, if Jody should forget to feed them, the mother could simply run onto the overgrown lawn where she’d be certain to catch a mouse or a lizard or who knows what else suitable to feed her babies.
Norman had never had a cat before and I have to give him credit for being a good sport. I glanced over at him and saw him forcing his best smile for Jody.
“Like I was telling you on the phone, I used to have a Manx cat,” I told Jody. “They’re just the coolest cats. Their personalities are almost like dogs.”
“You got that right, sweetie. I got one left. Let me grab her away from momma.”
Jody bent over one of the nursing boxes and pulled a baby kitty away from its mothers teat with a sound that reminded me of someone uncorking a bottle of champagne.
“Look at this little sweetheart. Isn’t she just as cute as she can be?”
And she was. The kitten was a tiny little bundle of joy, no bigger than an Idaho potato. She had calico colored fur, mostly black with orange and beige thrown in. She looked up at me and squeaked out a little mewling sound. I was in love.
“Oh, I just love her! Looking over at Norman, I asked, “What do you think? Isn’t she just perfect?”
“She really is a cute little thing,” he said, delicately holding her in both hands.
“Okay Jody, she’s the one we want.”
“Great. But I’m going to have to give her shots before you all take her home. And you have to promise to get her fixed.”
Don’t ask me how, but somehow Jody had all the necessary inoculations ready for a young kitten because she went into the kitchen, opened the fridge and returned with the shots our kitten would need.
“Just hold her still while I give her the shot,” said Jody bending over the oblivious kitten and injecting her with three different injections.
Right about this time we heard a loud cat fight, screeching and hissing coming from the kitchen.
“Thomas! Goldenrod! Cut that out now!” she yelled and the cats actually stopped. This was a scary place. One that may have worked for her and the cats, but I’m pretty certain this woman was never going to get a date. What was she supposed to say on her Match.com profile? Looking To Save The World, One Feline At A Time. Call Me. I don’t think so.
Norman and I took the most adorable kitten in the whole wide world home with us, then made a trip to the local K-Mart where we bought an array of cat paraphernalia; plastic cat bowls, a litter box, a large box of Friskies Seafood Buffet flavored cat food and of course, lots of cat toys, one of which was a toy plastic grasshopper that the kitten just loved.
“So, what do we name her?” I asked Norman as we were fixing dinner that night and giving the kitten an extra helping of Friskies.
He looked down at the little bundle of joy and said, “Princess. Remember that show Make Room For Daddy? That’s what the dad liked to call his daughter. And she really does look like a little princess.”
And that is how Princess came to live with us.
A few weeks later, we got a notice on the front door of the apartment. It was an official looking document which advised us that we were in violation of our lease agreement. No pets allowed. Get rid of the cat or move. What did we do? I think you know the answer to that one. It looked like it was time to find a new place to live.