And I think she’d be up for it. Why? Because Stripe and her sister Orange Swirl are gymnasts. It’s not just that they’re young and limber and small even for kittens. It’s the way they carry themselves. Shoulders back. Legs liquid. Focus on the business of sticking that landing, not eating potato chips and talking about boys like the rest of the girls their age.
If you were like me as a kid—i.e. desperately eager to be the next Nadia Comaneci and intensely envious of any girl who showed signs of making it farther down that path—you know there’s a Stripe and Swirl at every school: They’re pretty in a quiet, compact way. They always seem to be daydreaming, going through the motions of freeze tag or whatever with the muggles of the world while mentally rehearsing their uneven parallel bar routines. They are too un-invested in schoolyard minutia to really be popular, but they’re too poised and otherworldly to really be unpopular.
You watch them and marvel at their ability to break out of the social narrative, although the thoughts that actually form in your head are, “I can’t believe Stripe climbed straight up that wall. I can’t believe that Swirl’s rhythmic gymnastics routine outshined my lip synch to Paula Abdul’s ‘Straight Up’ at the talent show.”
Right now, Stripe is totally Teodora Ungureanu. And because you in fact weren’t like me as a kid, I will explain that Teodora (at least as depicted in the 1984 made-for-TV movie Nadia) is Nadia’s prettier, more sophisticated, more outgoing, initially better trained friend. By the time the girls are 16, Teodora is a mere silver medalist who spends most of her time chasing boys.
Which leaves shy, slopey-eyed Swirl to fill the roll of Nadia, the unsmiling uber-gymnast who devotes her life to her sport. All she needs is a Bela Karolyi, the moody, hard-driving coach who devotes his live to the sport.
Enter Denzel, the big, neurotic panther of a cat who lives next door to Stripe and Swirl. While Stripe is out chasing string, Swirl has taken to climbing from her third-floor pad into Denzel’s, a gravity-defying feat in itself. What’s more amazing is that none of the humans or other cats at the cattery can touch Denzel without getting a swift paw across the face. Much like how Bela pissed off the judges, the Soviet gymnastics bureaucracy and Nadia’s parents. But when Swirl enters his cage, he licks her plum-sized head and slowly, diligently talks her through the steps of a double Yurkenco layout with a half twist.