The King o' Cats
You know how everyone has a sort of "special skill" that their friends mock and simultaneously enjoy? Juggling, building paper airplanes, opening beer bottles with your bare hands, that sort of thing?
Well, my "special skill" is befriending cats. Whenever we make a new friend who has an angry and antisocial cat that hisses and bites and scratches everyone, I'm inevitably asked to work my magic. So I roll myself on the floor, make some sort of cuddly baby face calling the cat cuddly baby names (I don't really need to do it, it's just a cover-up), and - lo and behold - the little monster of darkness and despair walks up to me, then drops down next to me and starts purring.
This works equally well with any cat. Even the feral back alley cats we encounter at 3 AM, when we stumble out of a bar, more than half-drunk. I suspect, based on my one interaction with the tigers and lions at the zoo, that it works on all felines, but I am not curious enough to try it in a wider setting like, say, a jungle.
Over drinks, various hypotheses attempting to explain this uncanny ability of mine have been constructed. My beer belly and bald head quickly invalidated the cat-like appearance hypothesis. The way I look at them, the exact volume of my voice, even something or another about magnetic resonance (!?) have been proposed as likely explanations. Lately, everyone thinks it's my voice, which supposedly sounds very maternal to cats. I'm not sure if I should take that as a compliment, seeing how I'm a grown-up man in his thirties.
Anyway, they're all wrong. Truth is, I have friends in high places.
See, I am friends with the king of cats.
Or I was, I'm not sure what tense to use. I don't know if His Majesty has friends, or if he still considers me a friend, seeing how he's a king now. Besides, at the time of writing, I haven't seen him in about twenty years. That's a long time to live for a cat, so I don't even know if he's alive anymore. I do occasionally find decapitated mice on my doormat, but I don't know if that's something sent by His Majesty personally, some special pension that he has bestowed upon me by a royal decree which has outlived him, or my neighbourhood cats being friendly.
But anyway: I am, or was, friends with the king of cats.
Which, I might add, is not my way of coping with the death of my dear cat, my best friend during my troubled childhood. I understand why you might get that impression, but this isn't something that I fabricated myself, the product of that creative sort of sadness, regret, emptiness and despair that young adolescents experience. Charles really was the king of cats, which I know because he told me himself, sort of.
OK, now that I read it, I can see this isn't exactly helping my case, so I think it's best if I explained how that happened.
This happened a long time ago, right around Christmas. I was barely fourteen, that age when the magic of Christmas is gradually replaced by the mundane spirit of adulthood. But I hung on to it in every way I could, silently working my way through inconsistencies like listening to religious-themed carols despite not believing in God at all. Some of these things still bring tears to my eyes; for example, right around that particular Christmas, my dad told me that he'd looked all over for the present I wanted (a *particular* edition of Isaac Asimov's Foundation) and never found it, and that he got me something else. But then he did sneak into my room in the middle of the night to place it under the tree, and insisted that the CD I got instead was from Santa.
It was late at night, and I was sitting at my computer, browsing the web, this wonder of the information age which had just been shown to me. I don't remember what I was reading. It was probably something related to programming because I was a very strange kid. Paul McCartney's "Hope of Deliverance", the only one of his songs in my whopping 80-song MP3 collection, was barely leaking out of my computer's beige plastic speakers. Charles was purring, stretched out on top of my monitor - a big 14" CRT which heated up like crazy so of course Charles loved it.
So I'm sitting there, minding my own business, when - I was about to say out of nowhere, but I guess out of the information superhighway is more accurate - a Yahoo! Messenger window pops up on my screen. For you young folks, Yahoo! Messenger was sort of like Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp or whatever you kids are using nowadays, except it was from, you know, Yahoo (an old company that no one remembers anymore, anyway, it was sort of like Facebook, I guess).
It was a message from someone called "puffynapoleon98", which looks silly in retrospect but we all had silly aliases on YM back then. And it had exactly one, entirely cryptic line:
"hey just wanted to let you know tibert is dead"
I think I tried to ask who it was, and offer my condolences, whoever this tibert was, but no one answered. I shrugged, and went to the kitchen to make myself some tea.
When I came back, Charles was awake. He was, in fact, staring at my computer screen, which seemed very cute, as you might expect. I was about to say something sweet and snuggly about how he's so serious-looking with those big adorable eyes of his, when - I shit you not, Charles looked at me, stared right into my eyes, and yelled "By God! Then *I* am the king of cats now!", jumped from the table, went out the window and disappeared behind our house.
I stood there for a good five minutes, wondering, at first, what had happened, then wondering what to do. I thought about telling my parents, but it seemed silly. The matter of a house cat suddenly talking aside, what was I going to say, that Charles ran away? We were all used to his disappearing acts; we never neutered him, so he'd always leave, sometimes for days at a time, roaming around the neighbourhood, getting into fights and getting other cats pregnant.
This time, Charles never came back, or at least I never saw him again.
But one morning, a few days after His Majesty disappeared, I woke up next to a newspaper-wrapped packet that rested next to my pillow, emanating a distinct smell of either fennel or cat pee. I opened it, half curious, half creeped out; inside it were a shrink-wrapped, hardcover edition of Asimov's Foundation, and a decapitated mouse.
PSA: I don't know if this is common (enough) knowledge so I'm gonna mention it here: the King o' Cats is a very common story theme. There are hundreds, of not thousands of versions of this story in the British Isles. This is just one more.
Look it up, there are tons of King o' Cats stories out there!
(And FWIW, I feel a Police song spoof coming on....)
See, occasional treasures like this are why I come to the Pub. Thanks, littlejohn!
Well this is all Charles' doing, really, I just told the story :-P.