Once there was a cat named Quack.
Quack was unusual for two reasons.
The first reason was because his name was Quack. And by that I mean that human beings called him Quack. Cats don’t call each other anything, (for good reason). Dogs don’t call themselves anything either, (for bad reason), but since there are no dogs in this story, (Good riddance!), we shall say no more about it.
The other, (and far more remarkable thing), about Quack was that he was not, (not even a little bit), a Christmas Cat. When Christmas came and the decorations went up, Quack would shift his walks and chases far away from wherever a spark of Christmas might be found. He would keep out of the living room where the stockings were hung up by the chimney with care. He would avoid the kitchen, (one of his favorite places), out of aversion to the smell of nutmeg and chestnuts. He wouldn’t go in the front yard where the giant inflatable Santa Claus rocked back and forth in the winter winds. And, (worst of all), he never, (never once not ever!), went near the seven and a half foot Christmas tree in the front window where it sparkled in its cords of electric light and glittering, shining, and very breakable ornaments.
Quack was not a Christmas Cat!
Well, of course people talked, (and by people I mean Cats), and eventually, as such things will, word got around to the King of the Cats in his great palace in that distant place that Cats visit when they catnap, (as opposed to when they sleep which is when they just crawl into the back of their own heads like everyone else does).
The King of the Cats was so upset when he heard the news that he actually flicked an ear. He then decided to take action on the matter as soon as possible. So after a few afternoon naps, a couple of hunts, and good long grooming, he sniffed the air, turned in a circle twice, and jumped a great high jump…
….and landed right on Quack as he was creeping through the rose garden.
What a jump Quack gave! What a howl the King made! And then they were fighting like…well, cats. They leapt and scratched! They howled and yowled! The jumped and pounced. And then the King made a particularly good Ratafan which consisted of winking one eye, twisting his tail just so, and landing from a jump on only two paws.
Well, of course, Quack could never answer such a maneuver as that so he immediately started grooming and was almost immediately joined by the King, (who wasn’t the sort to gloat). They did this for about an hour, then they had a nap, and then they had a long prowl through some nearby woods where they sat and stared at a squirrel in a tree until they were certain that he would be having catmares for the next several weeks.
And then they began to talk. A process which to humans would look like two cats having a nap, snuggled up next to each other for warmth.
“You tail is very well groomed” said the King of the Cats.
“You jump high enough to eat a bird in a tree”, said Quack.
“Yet despite your well groomed tail your paws are clumsy, your eyes are crooked, and you dance like you are missing two legs, four whiskers and one good tooth.” commented the King of the Cats.
“You inadequately groom your ears. Four hairs are out of place behind one and three behind the other”, replied Quack.
The King of the Cats purred.
Pleasantries done, the King of the Cats got straight to the point. “Why are you not being a proper Christmas Cat?” inquired the King of the Cats. “Why do you avoid the many colors and flashing lights of Christmas? Why do you not chew on the poinsettias? Why do you know leave your paw prints in the Christmas pudding? Why do you not tear open the gifts with your sharp, sharp claws? Why do you not attack the bobbing man full of air on your front lawn? Why, in short, cannot the hairs of your passing be found on every inch of the Christmas house?
Quack was very still. His tail did not twitch, his fur did not speak, his eyes did not shift beneath closed eyes, and even his breath seems to stop in his chest. This went on so for long that the King of the Cats was trying to decide which of Quack’s ears to bite when Quack finally spoke.
“They call me Quack”, said Quack.
“What?” asked the King of the Cats, (so puzzled that he half opened one eye for nearly two seconds.
“My humans call me Quack!” said Quack with a swish of his tail. “They gave me that name when I was a kitten and now they call me Quack! They think it is very funny! They are always coming up to me and yelling “Quack! Quack! Quack!” And then they laugh and laugh!”
(It should be noted here that while Cats do smile, (sometimes), they never laugh. To a Cat, the human laugh is the equivalent of a donkey braying wildly because he’s afraid his feedbag has a snake in it, despite the fact that he can see it doesn’t. Human laughter is a harsh, cawing thing and is the fingernails on the blackboard cool of any Cat. One of the problems Cats have with Dogs is that Dogs have spent the last several thousand years trying to learn how to laugh. But, of course, Dogs never get the joke. Cats get it, but don’t want it.)
The King of the Cats sat still for several moments thinking this over. He had run into this problem before and it never ceased to amaze him how many young cats could get worked up about human beings.
“Listen to me!” said the King of the Cats, “You are very young and never knew your mother. You were raised on cow’s milk in a bottle instead of your mother’s milk and thus have decided that humans are the source of your stories. This is not true. You have done very well a reading yourself in the twists of your fur and the back of your eyelids, but you don’t know half enough to put four paws in the air! You have mistaken human size for greatness and the places humans live and the things they do for something important. Tsh Tsh! Your problem is that you have not been around many other Cats and have forgotten that Human Beings are only the fourth most interesting thing in all the world.”
And then the King of the Cats told Quack the secrets stories of the Cats, which every kitten should learn at his mother’s side, but that some Cats never learn by twitch of circumstance or unlucky birth. The King told him the secret history of the Cats, which is a thing no human being and only one dog has ever known.
And as Quack looked up into the Midnight Sky, (for he and the King of the Cats had spoken long), he came to truly realize that whatever human beings might be to a cat, (friends, space heaters, family, providers of food), that they would, and always would be, only the fourth most interesting thing in the world.
And after that, everything else was simple.
From that day on Quack was as good a Christmas Cat as the world had ever seen. He chewed up the poinsettias. He left footprints in the pies and cakes on the kitchen counter. No figurine of glass or crystal was safe from his swishing tail. He tore the wrapping on the Christmas presents with his sharp, sharp claws. One night he took a particular offense and the inflated Santa in the front yard and had such a fight with it as to wake the whole neighborhood.
And the Christmas tree!
Why that seven and a half foot Christmas tree became his new home. Not an hour passed in that Christmas house that Quack could not be found in its vicinity. He knocked the ornaments about, he would get tangled in the lights and, best of all, he would lurk in the branches and wait for someone to come by and then he would leap out at them! Oh the shouts and cries! Oh the curses and the threats! Oh the spilled eggnog!
And soon, as was promised to him by the King of the Cats that December night, his name was no longer Quack, for no human being called him by that name. His name was now and forever, THAT CAT! Which is a name that any Cat would be proud to bear.
Quack had no further meetings with the King of the Cats, and it was always said of Quack that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any cat alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as the King of the Cats once observed, Let us catch something small and twitchy, every one!