When our daughter came home for Christmas break at the end of her first semester at Washington State University, she went through the airports toting her carry-on luggage.
And, a small Tupperware container that held more water than you’re normally allowed to get past airport security. On the lid of the Tupperware container was a taped-on label that said:
“Hello! My name is Muftah.”
Muftah was the name Brooke and her friends had given to her fish, a betta — known as the fighting fish — with dark blue, flowing fins. Muftah became quite the object of curiosity for airport employees and other travelers.
“Where’d you guys come up with the name, Muftah?” I’d asked her.
“Muftah was our DoorDash driver,” she’d said.
She brought Muftah home, supposedly just for winter break, because she didn’t want to leave him in the dorm that long without food. By the end of the break, as she prepared to go back to WSU for the ill-fated coronavirus spring semester of 2020, she was over it: Muftah was staying with us rather than making the return journey to Pullman, Washington.
I thought about what to do with him. I already had a 13-gallon aquarium with assorted tropical fish in it. A community tank, they call it. And betta fish are no bueno in a community tank. Left to his own devices, Muftah would kill everyone in the tank.
Initially we put him in one of those little 1-gallon betta containers, but it seemed so… confined. I’d always wanted a bigger aquarium, so for my birthday in February my wife and mom got me a snazzy new 40-gallon tank. I moved the community fish in there and set up the 13-gallon tank as Muftah’s exclusive domain.
And that’s how we ended up with two aquariums within 8 feet of each other in my house. Muftah, the killer, is the only fish with his own tank, and a name, because usually you don’t name fish.
Brooke went back to school, pet-less. She would come home early when COVID-19 hit in March. By the end of nearly six months at home, Brooke started getting the itch. Well, two itches actually. One: Get the heck away from Mom and Dad. And two, to get another pet when she returned to Pullman.
Her first thought was a dog. But there were obstacles: She would be moving in to a five-bedroom townhome with four of her sorority sisters, so a dog would be… a lot. And, her older brother — happy birthday Luc! — has beaten her to the punch, getting a dog of his own a couple of years ago.
We have two dogs at home — a Main Dog and a Backup Dog — so if Brooke got one, that would be four dogs in our house — the Main Dog, the Backup Dog and two Guest Dogs — whenever both kids were at home for college breaks.
That’s… a lot.
Brooke’s wheels started turning. What’s between a fish called Muftah and a dog?
“A cat!” was Brooke’s answer.
It made a certain amount of sense. Cats are pretty independent. I recalled a Robin Williams comedy routine in which he compared dogs and cats, and the punchline was, when you return home to your cat, the cat looks at you coolly, walks the other way and says, “F— you.”
I’m a dog person. Call me insecure, but I like a pet that’s excited to see me and jumps up on me and tries to lick my face when I get home. Plus, security. No cat ever scared off an intruder by barking.
“But I’m allergic to cats,” I said. “Do I have to move out when you and the cat come home on break?”
“Suck it up, Dad. You can take Benadryl.”
So, a month into her fall semester — a semester in which she’s living in Pullman with her friends, despite there being no on-campus classes — Brooke adopted a black kitten.
Gotta admit. The kitten is adorable. Brooke sent videos of the cute little guy, chasing his own reflection in a floor-length mirror, and later purring while he slept on her shoulder. They both looked very happy, my little girl and her cat, and that made me happy.
It’ll be interesting, though, to see what happens when the cat meets Muftah. Not such a tough guy now, are you, Mr. Killer Betta Fish?
The cat’s name? No honors for the DoorDash driver this time. Brooke named the cat Hefner — Hef, for short.
You know. Hef. Because he’s living with five girls.
They do grow up fast, don’t they?
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.