About the time Morris was trying to set the record for the oldest orange short-tailed cat in California, we bought a small winter home in Arizona in a 55+ gated community. We began hauling four cats to and from Tucson. By then bow-legged, with that bony crown old cats get, Morris needed a step to get into bed and stood by the chair so Dave could lift him onto his lap. Morris died in Tucson three years ago– the day before Thanksgiving. Nurse Sweetie was by his side.
That Christmas, just before dark, the horned owl who lives on our street called for his mate. Outside on my porch, a tiny orange kitten hiding among the flower pots peeked through the glass door. I couldn’t hear him, but his mouth was saying, “Let me in quick. It’s freezing out here and that horned owl wants me for dinner.” I scooped him up, asked him if he was Morris, then checked his tail. This cat was orange with circles on each side. A white cross of longer hair ran down his backbone and across his shoulders. He had more tail than any cat needed. I put him down. He ran across to Dave, jumped in his lap and snuggled up. That night when Dave went to bed, he followed and crawled up beside him where Morris used to sleep.
Not everyone welcomed him. The next day, the other three realized there was a new kitten in the house who planned to hang around. Nurse Sweetie still missed Morris. She growled and crawled back under the bed. Rascal, the hunky mellow male cat hissed and warned this mouse-sized kitten to keep away– he was head honcho now and didn’t want him around. This new kitten flattened his ears, turned sideways and raced as fast as he could down the laminate floor and charged Rascal, knocking him off his feet, letting Rascal know he was here to stay. We began to worry Rascal might kill him. Rascal liked to dance backwards on hind feet swinging his catnip mouse by the tail in circles. That mouse often landed in the kitchen sink. Would this new kitten with the long tail end up in the sink? In the summer, the other fluffy female brought dead squirrels to drop by my door. The kitten nipped at her toes and I wondered if he’d soon be a present by my door.
By the time we could get him to the vet three days later, he’d settled in– more or less. We’d inspected his belly. He had fourteen evenly spaced white button spots on his belly. Dave named him Freckles. The vet checked his teeth and guessed he’d been born some time around Thanksgiving. Pets are only allowed in one small section. Somehow, he’d found his way to the pet section and one of the few homes with cats.
He was a pest. When he got wound up, the white cross on his back stood up and he’d zip around on the laminate floors banging into walls, or other cats. He’d crawl in drawers climbing up and down, peeking out at us, hiding if we tried to catch him. He was told, “Settle down, dammit” so often, I thought he might think that was his name. When I brought a new printer home, he decided it was his bed even before I hooked it up. He soon learned which button made the paper come out. He’d poke the button then bend over and watch the paper feed out.
Rascal and Freckles have battled since that first day. In their own special game, they charge up belly to belly then fall to the floor kicking and biting. Somehow nobody’s ever been hurt. And Sweetie, who grew moody and grouchy after Morris died, lets Freckles wash her face and snuggles up with him when she’s lonely.
Freckles would make a good Walmart greeter. He spends his mornings hanging out the window blinds, talking to dogs and people on their way down the street to the dog walk. A neighbor snapped his photo last year.
Our Christmas Cat is three now. Still an irritating teenager who plays with the printer in the middle of the night, nips his sister’s toes when she’s catching a cat nap, and rides the round cat scratcher like a skate board, banging into walls when I’m trying to sleep. But our Christmas Cat is here to stay– and I’m glad.