Ellen Nordberg, Author

Please Don’t Ask Me To Feed Your Cat

Award Winner in the Boulder Writers' Workshop Comedy Contest
Rico the cat


2nd Place Winner, Boulder Writers’ Workshop Comedy Contest.

What kind of a mother would deny her children a pet?

My identical twin boys had been asking for a critter of the non-stuffed variety since they could bellow the word “DOG!” out of their double stroller with the enthusiasm of someone pointing out a prancing pink unicorn.

I could barely manage the twins – a pet was not on my radar.

One day when the boys were five, a neighbor’s son knocked on my door. Their family station wagon was idling outside, roof rack piled with camping gear. They’d forgotten to arrange for a pet sitter, and I, stay at home twin-mom, was the only one on the street clueless enough to answer the doorbell.

The boy mumbled about dry and wet cat food, tossed the key at me, and ran for the car where his father gunned it out of the neighborhood.
“Maybe taking care of this cat would be good practice,” I thought, and placed the key on the counter. I went back to unloading groceries, texting the babysitter, and scraping dried applesauce off the TV.

Three days later, I came across the key and choked on my cranberry juice. I left my amazed family at the breakfast table, and flew down the sidewalk like a crazed witch, bathrobe flapping behind me.

Despite the boys’ repeated begging for every thing from a Sheepdog to a trout, our home has remained a pet-free zone. This is partially due to my allergies and my lack of desire for the responsibility, but mostly due to childhood pet traumas. There was the lizard who escaped and was later found fossilized, boiled behind the steam radiator, the feral cat who bit anyone attempted to pet her and spent most of her days under the stove, and the gerbil mother who rejected her tiny pink screaming babies which had to be “disposed of” by our parents. (You don’t want to know.)

I fumbled with the door, anticipating a feline scolding. Instead – silence.
Clueless as to the cat’s moniker, I went through the rooms calling “Here Kitty, Kitty!” and saying silent prayers that the creature wasn’t lying dead behind the dryer.

I tore through the house, and eventually found him up against the wall under the guest room bed, lying on his back, paws splayed out, tongue lolling, hyperventilating like he’d just completed a half marathon.

I filled his bowl with fresh water and set it alongside the bed. No response. I pushed it closer. Nothing. Finally, I reached under and towed him out by a leg, the fur of his large belly scooping dust bunnies from under the bed as he came. I propped his head up to the water bowl, cursing the responsibility, and swearing this was reason number 362 why we would never have pets.

I checked on him seventeen times until his family returned, where upon I confessed to the three day lapse. In case the cat didn’t poop for a month, I felt they needed to know about this brief lack of moisture.

I was not asked to pet sit for them again.

Several years later, another neighbor approached me and asked if my nine year old boys would like to be paid to care for their cat during a three day weekend.

My boys in charge? Only three days? What could possibly go wrong? I had flashbacks to the great cat-sitting debacle of 2008, and opened my mouth to say no.

Then it occurred to me. This would so work in my favor! They’d flunk the responsibility test, and never beg me for a dog again.

We happily took her key, and the boys made plans to play with Rico the sweet kitty after school that very day.

Forty eight hours later I woke up at 3:30am to the sounds of a coyote yowling in the open space, and the realization: no one had fed the freaking cat.

Once again, I leapt into action, wrestling into my down coat, and hoping it covered most of my pajamas. It was minus seven degrees with eighty mile an hour winds, so I threw on the black knit cap that had not retained its original shape after washing, and grabbed a Day-Glo yellow flashlight the size of a car battery for good measure.

I scurried up the icy sidewalk in my slippers, mildly worried for my safety. Then I caught a glimpse of my reflection via street light in the neighbor’s storm door and figured the odds were much better that someone was going to call the police on me.

Fortunately Rico had spied me coming and launched himself at my ankles as I came through the door.  I was so relieved he wasn’t dead or licking the condensation off the inside of the basement windows that I picked him up and rubbed his head. Several bowls of food later, we sat down on the couch. And then my eyes started to itch and my throat tightened up. Ditching Rico, I sneezed my way back home, the idea of returning to sleep a hopeless dream, and remembering reason number 547 why we don’t have pets of our own – my allergies.

At breakfast that day, I casually informed the boys I had gone over to feed Rico in the middle of the night. After the sound of cereal spoons clattering to the table and milk drooling out of mouths had ended, Aidan looked at me sadly.

“We’re never going to get a pet of our own, Mommy, are we?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Not unless the creature’s name begins with ‘Chia.’”

Watch the performance from the Boulder Writer’s Workshop 2013 Comedy Writing Contest

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