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Soft Ornaments

Learning lessons from a cat

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I don't know what it says about a Christmas tree if a damn cat can knock it down, but surely that can't be a good sign. Maybe I shouldn't have my tree on top of a table, but my ceilings are seventy million feet high and it's the only way I can think of to make the tree look proportional to the space. So I put it on the table and figured, since it's fake and full of electrical wires, that maybe my cats would leave it alone. But my new cat, Petal, must be half-raccoon -- she even looks a little raccoon-ish -- and I would not have personally picked her out as mine but it's not like I had a choice. Petal picked me, she kept showing up at my door to remind me I was hers, that she'd picked me and there was not a lot I could do about it because I was hers and that's just the way it is. So here I have this half-raccoon cat who will climb anything, which is why I keep finding the tree on my bed when I get home.

Not that she drags it there. My bed is next to the table where I keep the tree, so all my cat has to do is knock the tree over and my bed catches it. My Christmas tree has bounced on my bed more than me, which is saying something, so for that reason Mae is only allowed to put "soft ornaments" on it. Even I didn't know what the hell I meant by that, but remarkably Mae had absolutely no problem figuring out that there are tons of soft things that serve very well as ornaments: finger puppets, pot holders, cookies and old prescription-medicine canisters to name a few. I must admit it all looks kind of pretty. To be truthful, though, Mae could hang ornaments she made out of her own earwax and I'd still gurgle with pride like the pathetic hen that I am. "See the angel Mae made for the tree?" I boasted to Grant and Keiger. "Is that not amazing?"

"It's a wad of dental floss," Grant discerned. He was not amazed at all.

"It's not even knotted," Keiger added, though he was a tiny tad amazed.

"This is art!" I shrieked at them. "I swear to Jesus God, the wonder of authentic, God-given genius is totally wasted on you bunch of booger-eating plebeian. Why do I even bother?" I would have continued, throwing in how Grant's idea of passable party fare is pig's feet and Cheetos, while Keiger's own Christmas tree is little more than an ailing spider plant festooned with two anemic strands of tinsel, but just then my tree got knocked down again and I had to rush to make sure my new cat wasn't trapped, or worse, electrocuted.

"You need to kill that cat," Grant said, but I know he only says stuff like that to dissuade me from ever asking him to pet-sit again. He still claims to be traumatized from the last time eight years ago when he cat-sat for me and the late Lucy, my treasured toothless old alley-cat rescue, tried to sleep on his head. Normally I would have said it served him right for having such a huge head, but Lucy slept on my own head every night and it didn't occur to me until then that anyone would mind having a soft, furry purring thing keeping their head warm all night. I tell you, it was downright nice with Lucy on your head unless you had to move or something, in which case she'd dig her claws into your skull. But other than that, all you had to do was stay perfectly still and she'd lie there on your forehead as peacefully as a toothless, tuna-smelling toupee, hardly interrupting your oxygen supply at all. What was so bad about that? But to this day, Grant, the big pussy, pretends he hates cats just to keep me from asking him to pet-sit mine.

"I mean it," Grant insisted, "kill that cat."

"I can't kill Petal," I said. It's true. Petal picked me as her owner, plain and simple.

Keiger was silent. Concerning my two cats, he is unashamedly biased with his affections, bestowing most of them on Tinkerbell, my 16-year-old midget Persian who, until recently, had a skin condition that made her hair fall out in clumps. But since meeting Keiger, her hair puffed all up again, so Keiger nicknamed her "P. Diddy." I have never seen a cat so in love like Tinkerbell is with Keiger. She quakes with joy every time he comes over, wraps herself around his neck, nibbles his ears and kisses his eyelids. It's a wonder to behold. When Keiger and I broke up last summer, Tinkerbell practically lay around bawling with her paws outstretched. Not even Petal could pull her out of her malaise. Finally, there was nothing for me to do but show up on Keiger's doorstep to remind him that he was mine, that I'd picked him and there was not a lot he could do about it because that's just the way it is. He didn't seem all that convinced at first, so I wrapped myself around his neck, all soft and purring, and he wisely stayed perfectly still, knowing, I'm sure, that if he tried to move, I'd have dug my claws into his skull.

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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