The Christmas Present

Cross-posted from Living Off Script

It was our first Christmas in the new apartment. I woke so early it was still dark. If Hubs, my husband, was awake he would have laughed and said I was like a five-year-old, eager to see what Santa left under the tree. But we didn't have a tree because we had four cats. Feral Cat, our fourth feline, had trouble adjusting to the move, let alone living with people.

******

One wintry night at our previous apartment, Hubs made a failure of a turkey sheperds pie for dinner. He bought beef gravy mix instead of chicken, and it didn't mesh well with the ground turkey. He dumped the contents into a trash bag and set it on the back porch. We ended up ordering a pizza, and Hubs vowed never to use a recipe from Real Simple magazine again.


Hubs went to take the trash to the dumpster the next morning when he called me into the kitchen. "Bee! Come here! You have to see this!"


I didn't want to get up from my place on the sofa, where I was snugly buried under a fleece throw. With a huge sigh, I trudged into the kitchen and joined him at the back door.


He slid the curtain aside, and I saw a possum enjoying what should have been last night's dinner. "Holy shit," I cried. "Do we really have possums in the city? I mean, aren't they only out in like, the suburbs? Or the country or something?"


Hubs, who was a new Chicago transplant from a small town in Iowa shook his head, "I don't know."


"I wouldn't take the trash out right now, if I were you," I suggested helpfully.


Half an hour later, Hubs put his shoes back on to dispose of the torn bag, and to go to a hardware store for a trash can with a lid. The possum was surely gone by then. Again, he urged me into the kitchen. "Bee, come here! You have to see this! Hurry!"


I rolled my eyes. "What? Is the possum still there? I now know what a possum looks--"


"No! It's something else!"


I threw my blanket aside and once again, joined him at the kitchen door. A brown-and-white tabby was feasting on the shepherds pie. I swooned, "Ohhhh! What a cutie!" 


Hubs agreed. But as soon as that cat saw us watching him from the slit between the window and the kitchen curtains, he ran down the stairs faster than I could say, "Awwwww...."


It took months of leaving food and fresh water outside before I was finally able to lure that cat, who we named Feral Cat, indoors. By the time we moved to our new place he had lived with us for two years but was still extremely shy. He spent most of his time inside our box spring, which he loved to climb into after meals. Although he had lots of toys -- crinkly balls, furry gray mice, and catnip pillows -- we rarely saw him out in the open, let alone playing.

******

On that first Christmas morning in the new place, I woke up early to use the bathroom. It was cold and dark as I shivered my way down the hall. I hadn't bothered putting on my glasses, despite my extreme nearsightedness. Feral Cat was in the bathroom -- not hiding! -- licking a toy. I was so excited to see him finally playing that I ran back to the bedroom and shook Hubs awake.


"Hubs, oh my god, guess what!"


"What," he mumbled.


"We just got the best Christmas present, ever! Feral Cat is actually playing with a toy -- one of those gray mice. He licked it so much that it changed shape!"


Hubs leaped out of bed and ran for the bathroom.


"Hey, I haven't gone yet. No fair," I whined.


He returned a moment later, and announced, "That's not a toy! That's a real mouse!"


Merry Christmas.

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