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The Christmas Kitten: A Short Story

NB: Coarse language and mature themes.

Jeff reminded himself that the suicide rate is always highest at Christmas.

It’s probably because they close the bars, he thought. Forcing broken people to sober up long enough to remember how alone they are probably isn’t the best approach for Christmas. It’s not fair either. Only the poor drunks can’t afford to stock up properly.

Jeff was not poor. He was well stocked, and well drunk. He also wasn’t entirely sure why he was walking down by the river, if he was well stocked. He suspected that the well drunk had something to do with it.

Between now and his midnight toast, he realized, there was more than a bit of a gap in his memory. He and his two closest friends -- myself and I -- had a few shots each to mark the arrival of the big day.

The air is nice out here, he thought. Sharp and clean. I like the crunch of the snow. The dry air does it, I think. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Christ, why the hell am I wearing sandals? For fuck’s sake, my boots would have been right by the door. Jesus fucking Christ. What an idiot. Oh no. What if I also forgot...

Jeff checked his coat pockets. He discovered, to his relief, that he had brought one for the road.

Good man, he thought, as he cracked open the beer. I forgive you this sandals debacle, in the spirit of the holiday. Cheers.

Jeff took a long drink. The drunk reared up over him. It tangled him up so much that he almost slipped away again into the absence it created. He caught himself, as he almost fell over, and came back to himself.

It’s probably the rush. From almost falling over that cleared me up. That was a close one. Didn’t spill the beer. Good man. Doesn't look like I would have hurt myself. The snow looks rather comfy. Soft almost.

With his foot, he poked at the spot where he would have fallen. Then, he looked up to the clear sky and the very many stars.

I should lie here in the snow. Like Dylan Thomas. Or was it Robbie Burns? It doesn't matter who it was. Whoever finds me will remember. They will see the romance of it. Drunk dead in the snow. Like a poet.

He drained the rest of the beer and tossed the bottle towards the river. After a moment, he heard the satisfying chink of the glass piercing the snow.

Of course, that would blow my theory to hell. I’m pissed and I have plenty of piss back at home. Ah well, so much for fucking theories. A lot of fucking good they do you.

He dropped himself into the snow.

This is nice. I like this. Peaceful. Fresh. Everything smells so fresh. Everything's still, too. Maybe I will make a snow angel. If anyone finds me here, that’s what I will tell them anyway. Just wanted to make a snow angel. Officer. I assume it will be an officer. Who the fuck else would be out here by the river at this time of night? On Christmas Eve. Christmas, you mean. Remember, the shots? Not really, but I take your point. I guess I will feel sleepy at some point. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? You lie in the snow and fall asleep. Jesus fucking Christ, wouldn’t that be nice? To fall asleep easily for once. For once in my goddamn life. Oh well. It’s going to happen eventually. I guess I will lie here and close my eyes and see what happens.

The kitten arrived, after he closed his eyes.

“Miaou,” it said.

“Jesus,” Jeff replied. “What the hell are you doing out here, cat? You scared the bejeezus out of me." He tried to see where the kitten sat. “What are you doing out here, cat? Go home. Go away.”

The kitten began to purr, like an ill-functioning outboard motor. It poked its wet nose into Jeff’s jaw. It poked again and, this time, it rubbed its whole head against him, as its purr become more consistent.

“No, cat.” Jeff tried to move his head away from the kitten’s affections. “Piss off. Will you? Piss off. I’m trying to... I’m trying... ”

“Miaou,” asked the kitten, loudly and wetly in Jeff’s ear.

“I don’t know what I’m trying to do. OK.” He managed to get his hand between his face and the kitten. He gave it a light shove, which the kitten squirmed around easily. “Will you leave me alone.”

“Miaou,” the kitten asked again, and it placed its paw on Jeff’s cheek.

“Yes, fine, I do know what I’m trying to do. I know exactly what I’m trying to do, but I don’t want to say it, OK. I don’t want to say it, so I won’t really know that I’m doing it. OK. Does that make you happy? Now that I’ve said it.”

The kitten started licking his ear. The little raspy tongue was too much for Jeff to bear.

“For fuck’s sake,” Jeff slowly raised himself out of the snow. He felt very stiff. “Ah geez, will you look at you. You’re nothing but skin and bones.”

“Miaou,” said the kitten.

“There’s no fucking way I’m taking you home.”

Jeff looked around. There was no obvious shelter for the kitten. The nearest houses were so far away that he didn’t want to walk the distance.

“Miaou,” said the kitten.

“For Christ’s sake, cat, I said, no.”

“Miaou,” said the kitten once more.

Jeff tugged open his fridge door roughly.

“I should feed you something, but, after that, you’re out of here,” he told the kitten, who was purring like a Spitfire in his hand. A warm boney Spitfire.

The fridge was well stocked with beer, wine, soda, olives, and a variety of condiments. He threw open the freezer to find several bottles of vodka and rum, and plenty of ice.

“I don’t even have leftovers, cat,” Jeff told the kitten, as he slammed the freezer door shut. “That’s fucking pathetic.”

“Miaou,” said the kitten.

“You didn’t have to agree so easily.”

Jeff threw open his cupboards.

“Chips won’t do,” he told the kitten. “I’m guessing that chickpeas won’t cut it either. I’m not even sure why I have Jello mix.” Jeff studied his counter, littered with empties, shot glasses, and lime. “Jesus Christ, how can I not have anything to feed a cat? What kind of human being is incapable of feeding a stray fucking cat -- a fucking kitten -- on Christmas Day.”

“Miaou,” said the kitten.

“Wait a minute, cat. I thought of something.”

Jeff again tore open the fridge door. He shuffled some wine and beer bottles and, in the back corner, he found an unopened carton of eggnog.

“My one attempt at Christmas cheer this year,” he told the kitten, as he read the ingredients. “Don’t worry, I haven’t spiked it yet.”

He took a plate from his cupboard, filled it with eggnog, and set the kitten down beside it on the counter. The kitten poked at it with its nose, then, it lapped up the eggnog graciously.

“Hold on, cat. You shouldn’t eat on the counter.”

Jeff scooped up the kitten in one hand, poured more eggnog into the plate with the other, and moved them all into to the living room. He set the kitten and the plate down on the floor and returned to the kitchen to fix himself a rum and eggnog.

“I wouldn’t want to let you drink alone, cat.” Jeff raised his glass to the kitten and took a long drink. “God, look at you. You’re skin and bones. I can’t believe you’re alive. It’s fucking incredible. You must be a feisty little bastard.”

The kitten looked up from the eggnog.

“I guess I better give you a name. No. I probably shouldn’t. Because you’re going to the pound tomorrow. First thing. But I don’t want to call you “cat” all night. It doesn’t seem right.”

“Miaou,” said the kitten.

“How about Nick? It being Christmas and all. You didn’t come down the chimney exactly, but it’s kind of like you did”

“Miaou,” said the kitten.

Jeff didn’t take Nick to the pound the next day or the day after that. When Jeff finally took Nick to the vet, a few days into the New Year, to have him checked, he changed her name to Nicky.

Very soon, because he fell into the habit of talking to Nicky at home, Jeff found himself falling into the habit of talking to most anyone away from home. Much to his surprise, most anyone more often than not turned out to be mostly nice.

And, so it was, twelve Christmases later, Jeff had to turn down several invitations to spend a Christmas Eve alone with Nicky. She was feisty to the end and tried her best to last the night, so they could have one last drink of eggnog together, like they did every year, to mark the memory of when they first met.

When she didn’t make it, Jeff set the saucer out for her anyway, toasted her one last time, and sat up with her until all her warmth was gone.

He also promised  her that he would never spend another Christmas alone and, because of his memory of her, he never did.


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