We began our week picking out a new family member. Leah and I don’t have a very good track record with pets. She had very severe allergies as a baby that necessitate having pets with no fur or feathers. We’ve had fish that died and water turtles that were very stinky, so the tortoise is my newest idea. Plus, she loves the Franklin the Turtle books. So here we were.
“I’m not sure if this is going to work,” said the pimply, teenage employee of Pet Village in the mall.
I flashed him a sharp look that was meant to convey the unspoken message that I didn’t really care what he thought. Hadn’t he ever heard of the customer is always right?
Leah and I were standing at one end of a long aisle in the pet store while another store employee placed four tortoises at the other end about ten feet away.
“Okay babycakes,” I told her, “call them.”
“Franklin! Oh Franklin….come here Franklin,” said Leah as she patted her leg as if calling a dog. Two of the tortoises did not budge. A third began creeping to the left of the aisle under a dog food display, and the more cooperative Pet Village employee nudged it with her foot to put it back on course. The fourth tortoise began a slow and steady trek down the aisle. It looked like we had found Franklin.
“He likes me Mommy. Franklin the turtle likes me!” Leah gushed as she picked up the leader of the tortoise pack and held him to her chest. Who would have thought a tortoise could be cuddly?
I gave the pimply employee an “I told you so” sort of look as I asked the girl to help me pick out the assorted items one would need to care for a land tortoise (there were a lot, surprisingly), and we took Franklin home.
In general, I’m not much of a pet sort of person. I don’t have the patience or the fortitude that it takes to deal with them. I don’t like messes or inconvenience. However, I recognize that it is important for children to have something alive to love and care for.
“There Mom, hold Franklin. Pat his shell. He likes it when you rub it in circles,” Leah said as I was sitting down several mornings later to grade papers.
I handed the tortoise back to her a bit impatiently. “Leah, I don’t have time for this right now. I’ve held this turtle twice already this morning.”
“He is not a turtle,” she said, her blue eyes flashing.
In between holding Franklin, I began seeing Spencer. The first couple of dates went well. He was passably attractive in a distinguished sort of way. The first thing I noticed was that he stood when I entered the restaurant.
“You are more enchanting than your picture,” he said as we conducted small talk over a wine that had been opened carefully at our table and that was nothing short of orgasmic.
“Thank you. It’s good to finally meet. I know our schedules have been difficult to coordinate,” I said as I struggled to focus. My mouth was having a little party. Ok, so he was a little bit over the top, but the wine was really good.
I knew that he had three sons, two of whom were teenagers and one of whom was slightly younger. “What sort of law do you practice?” Spencer was the second in my succession of attorneys and apparently dealt only in divorce law.
“Wow, I bet that’s challenging,” I replied, “and depressing.”
“It’s not bad,” he answered with a slight smile, “My boys help me stay positive. Plus we have five cats that we shower with love.”
Five cats? Who has five cats? One or two cats, maybe, but five? “Oh, that’s quite a few cats,” I said honestly.
The second date was more relaxed since we went to a movie, and it was nice to see him in a slightly less buttoned-up environment. So we were on to lucky date #3. And we ALL know what that means!
For this auspicious date, we had tentatively planned to go to his house after dinner. I knew that he lived somewhere in the very ritzy Broadmoor area, so I followed him to the posh neighborhood when we had finished our bananas flambé (yes a little cart with fire at our table-you gotta love that).
As I had expected, the average price range of the houses we passed was more than I would make in the next ten years. There were guard houses every few blocks and high, ivy-covered walls bordering the secluded streets. He pulled in to a large stone-front house with a sloping driveway. It had two garages, and he opened one with a remote. I parked behind him in the driveway and waited for him to park his car.
“Here we are,” he said as he got out of the car and waited for me to walk inside the garage. He closed it behind me. I looked around. The garage was extremely messy, but then I figured that three boys and a single dad would have lots of projects they might have to store in a garage. There was sporting equipment piled everywhere in no particular order and bags of what appeared to be trash. There was also the faint odor of kitty litter. Though it was a two-car garage, the car barely fit in because of the sheer amount of stuff collected at random.
“You’ll have to excuse the mess,” said Spencer as if he knew my thoughts, “I keep thinking we’re going to get around to cleaning this place up, but you know how it goes.”
Before opening the door to the house, he took me into his arms and kissed me. It was a long, searching kiss full of promise and passion. My pulse began to quicken as I contemplated what lay ahead.
The door opened into the kitchen and beyond that I could see the large living area. Though it had obviously been a beautiful house at one time, now the entire house appeared to be filled with clutter and filth. There was no space in the kitchen that was free of dirty dishes, many of which were covered with congealed grease and rotting food. The smell of feral cats was completely overpowering. The floor underneath my shoes crunched with dirty cat litter and the occasional cat feces. I could see cats perched on the kitchen counters and the tops of the couches.
The living room past the kitchen was piled with boxes, papers, books, and bags of what appeared to be more kitty litter. There was even men’s underwear hanging from a lampshade. I had never seen anything like it, except on those television shows where the Health Department takes the person’s house away because it is so filthy.
Now I realize that I am more obsessive-compulsive about cleanliness than the average person, but this was beyond the pale. Even from a pure sanitation standpoint, I was not sure it was a safe place to be. I certainly could not think about doing the wild thing in such a wild environment.
But since we were already on date three, I had no phone call to give me an out. I looked at Spencer with panicked eyes.
“What’s wrong,” he asked. He obviously did not see anything strange in this chamber of horrors.
“I am not feeling well at all,” I said as I shook my head violently from side to side. This was not a lie. “I am going to have to go home.”
He looked at me with obvious concern. “What’s wrong? I’ll take you home.”
“No, no. It’s OK. I just need to go home. I just have a headache and I need to go. I’m sorry,” I said as I started to back slowly toward the door to the garage. I heard an angry “Meow!” as I stepped on one of the many cats. Was it possible there were only five? They were everywhere!
Should I get Doritos on the way home? Definitely. And a little treat for Franklin.
copyright © 2009 Tiia Jones