When our cat Bureau died in the summer of 2020, I was relieved. A gorgeous, green-eyed, gray shorthair, she was nineteen, and a true drama queen. She caterwauled throughout the night for no apparent reason. She jumped on me whenever I fell asleep, and constantly tried to get onto my lap when I was awake. 

I respected her—I love loud, outspoken females!—but I didn’t like her much. She’d been a good cat—kind and patient with our kids, friendly with visitors—but a terrible roommate. So when, literally overnight, she went from spry and sassy to unable to stand or meow, we had her put down and buried her in the garden.

Friends said the best way for everyone to get over the death of a pet was a new pet. Vi and Abe were ready; Jason surprised us all—including himself—by not being in a hurry. Despite having had cats for his entire life, he was not excited about the idea. Our fish (and Shelly, a fist-sized snail we’ve had for about four years now), were enough. In college, I’d watched Singin’ in the Rain, and became obsessed with the idea of a cat named Cyd Charisse. It felt too perfect. The real Cyd Charisse was cat-like, amazingly long-limbed and agile. I watched her in that green dress in the dream sequence, her hair a sleek black bob, and I pictured a green-eyed, pink-nosed tuxedo cat with a little cap of dark fur on her head, and felt very deeply that some day I must have her.

Photo: J. Adrian Wylie, Illustration: Tabi Walters

The kids discussed cat colors and names, and Jason continued to beg off; we had a camping trip coming up, school was starting soon, our house was small and it was nice for it to not be covered in cat hair. The kids tried a different tack, akin to throwing large bowlfuls of spaghetti at a wall to see what would stick. 

My daughter wanted two gerbils. She wanted two hamsters. And then she got excited about snakes, a development that sounded a clanging alarm bell in my head. My son wanted a bird, and then a pet mouse named Dill (he was eating a pickle).

Family trips to PetCo and PetSmart and Tiny Lions resulted in tears, begging, bartering, making wild promises. So I stopped taking the kids to “check out” cats. Sure, they were basically on board with the adventure of “finding Cyd Charisse,” but they also fell in love with any and every cat … and hamster, and guinea pig, and bird … and snake. 

Running errands, I’d “stop by” a pet shop, just to see who was there. If there was a tuxedo cat, I’d stare deeply into their eyes and ask if it was Cyd Charisse. The answer was always no.

Two years passed this way, more or less. Every so often there’d be a surge of interest and begging from my kids, and more excuses from my husband. With the impending school year, the kids have doubled down. And then there’s me. Do I want a cat? I’ve gotten used to caterwaul-free nights, to less vacuuming and more freedom for long camping trips … 

But I can’t get Cyd Charisse out of my head.