There is no crankier mammal on the face of this planet that a grumbly black cat with a bone to pick about her name, who was probably rescued against her will.
I’ve probably set myself up to explain a lot, but even that is really just the beginning of it, because we also forced a new kitten on “the poor thing” just as she was done settling in, so there’s that, too.
I’ll begin with the name: Her name is Neville. Yes, Neville. Three (or so) forces conspired to set a boy’s name on this once-tiny and terrified/furious kitten, and to leave it there.
The first is a father (me) who is inept at judging the gender (sex) of baby animals. With all our previous animals, either there was no need to know (salamander, newt, hermit crab) or they displayed their biology clearly enough that there was no ambiguity – and I guess I just didn’t understand that when there is visual ambiguity in something like a tiny kitten, that might be a clue. But by mercurial fiat I pronounced our new kitten a boy, and we – my three daughters, with me in tow – set about to name him.
The second force is the popularity of the Harry Potter books (and movies), and in particular, the fanzine popularity in our family of Neville Longbottom of Gryffindor, who would one day leave behind his modest and occasionally bullied shell to rise to Hogwarts stardom. (Who wouldn’t want a cat to follow in those footsteps?)
The third force is a complex vectored intersection of those and various other influences. Given the legendary reputation of the Hogwarts community for accommodation, the legendary enthusiasm of the three daughters in my home, and the legendary reluctance of me to campaign for retreat in any fashion – and her name became, and always will be, Neville.
As to Neville’s rescue – To say that this cat was rescued is to employ a generous euphemism to cover the well-meaning tracks of an exuberant 7-year-old girl in her Sunday best who saw a kitten under a bush outside church and decided “the poor thing” must have been abandoned by its derelict mother and needed to be rescued, post haste. Our more recent theory is that Neville was simply biding time under that bush, hiding from the other exuberant 7-year-old girls in their Sunday best, until her highly responsible (albeit feral) mother cat returned with a mouse and a bottle of Sunny Delight, when she was snatched – kidnapped – hijacked – wrenched against her instinct and will from under the bush. “The poor thing” spent most of the next several days trying to escape from the bathroom she was locked in, or cowering behind the old cast iron radiator the way she had cowered behind the bush. And as though to prove the adage that history repeats itself whenever it gets a chance, the youngsters of the extended, blended family spent much of their time and energy trying to wrench the kitten out from behind the radiator.
For a few years, and in a couple of homes, Neville has increasingly tolerated us. She spends less time under the couch, more time under the bed, and has recently taken to climbing under the covers for warmth and company. She even has developed a modest taste for “tummies” – if we are careful not to overstay our welcome. But she never has abandoned her knack for spontaneous hissing (she wakes from a dead sleep doing it, with claws extended) or her trademark grumbling – a vocalization that sounds like a much older man expressing displeasure and warning.
Several years ago, it struck us that perhaps having “a friend” would resolve some of Neville’s … issues. We thought perhaps introducing a second cat would soften Neville’s hard edges. We thought perhaps she would spend some time visiting with this other cat, and would possibly even become calm – or friendly.
It turns out we are not the ones to consult on these matters. All we did was add another bullseye to the target. The misnamed, hijacked Neville is as ornery and grumbly as ever, and she and Ellie are hardly friends.
Don’t get me wrong – We do love Neville, and she – in her fashion, darlin’ – loves us. After chasing away Ellie, she will curl up at the foot of the bed (to be sweet? Don’t touch her unannounced). And she will slither under the covers to lie alongside my legs. (Don’t be tempted to reach down unannounced to scratch her head.) And she carries on long and loud Siamese-like conversations that I am confident alternate between her plans for dinner and her plans for dragging my lifeless corpse to the garbage bin when she has learned how to dial Peapod, to order her own food and litter.
But really, given what Neville has been through – really, what we have put Neville through – I’m not sure we should expect much else.