A short story for Anna.
Once upon a hill, in a time long, long ago, there lived a kitty named Eva. Eva had silky black fur and two fluffy ears and eyes of the deepest green. Her home was a nook in the bole of an ancient tree, where between two giant roots she built a warm nest of dried leaves and soft moss.
Eva liked to lie curled in her nest and listen to Wind conversing with Tree. Eva loved Tree, and Tree loved her. In summer, Tree shielded Eva from the blistering anger of Sun with a shimmering, glittering shield of dark green leaves. In winter, when Sun calmed down, Tree dried her leaves and dropped them to the ground for Eva to refresh her nest while basking in Sun’s rays.
Even so, Eva was not completely happy. One day, Tree noticed that Eva was sad and asked her what was wrong. Eva said she was lonely for someone furry and warm and soft to cuddle and play with. Tree wanted to help. She told Wind, and Wind told Sun, and Sun told God and God said, “Boom.”
I realize that’s an odd thing for God to say, but there it is. God is a Being of Few Words.
The next morning, when Eva returned from her nightly prowl through the woods below, there was someone waiting for her in her nest. He was large and furry and orange with white stripes, and he had eyes of deepest amber. And, she soon learned, he was warm and soft and his name was Tom.
Eva loved him.
Every night, they frolicked through the woods, chasing each other up trees and through the branches, leaping from tree to tree. Tom would pounce on her from above and they’d fall, laughing and tumbling through the leaves to the ground, where of course they always landed on their feet. Every morning they’d return to their nest at the foot of Tree and Tom would curl around Eva and Eva would settle her head under his chin and rest her chin on his paws, and they would nap for several long minutes at a time.
Tom did have one annoying habit. Between naps, Eva loved to stretch and yawn and listen to the news whispered between Wind and Tree. Tom, however, wanted to run and play. He would pester Eva by stepping on her head until she either agreed to go with him, or hissed at him to go away.
One day, after she had sent him alone into the woods, she was surprised when he came running back right away. His tail was standing straight up and fluffed to twice its normal size.
“What is it, Tom?” she asked.
Tom answered by jumping on her back and exclaiming, “I have the best idea EVER!”
When Eva had come down from her startled leap, and finished pouncing on Tom with her claws extended to demonstrate just how much she did NOT appreciate his scaring her like that, she arched her back and asked him, “WHAT is so important, then?”
“We should build something!” Tom said.
“Build something?” Eva growled.
“Like a fort. Or a cat tree!” Tom said.
“A cat… tree? What’s a ‘cat tree’?” Eva inquired.
“I don’t know. I just made it up. I guess I was thinking that you like trees. And you like cats. Why not both at once?”
Eva turned twice on her nest and sat Sphinx-like to study Tom, her green eyes fixed unblinking on his twitching whiskers. She curled her tail around her feet.
Tom never could stand her silence. He went tumbling onward, “What if we made a tree designed just for cats? You know how fun it is to climb really high, but then how sometimes you get stuck at the top and can’t remember how to get down?”
“That’s you, Tom,” said Eva. “That’s a thing that happens to you.”
“Well, yeah, but it’s really annoying. And I know how much you hate when you have to come rescue me.”
“Go on,” said Eva.
“Well, what if we built a tree that had stairs coming down, so you could climb as high as you want, and you’d always know you could get down again.”
“You mean you would always know you could get down again.”
“Yes, yes, that’s what I mean!” said Tom.
“I think it’s a marvelous idea, Tom,” said Eva, and she added a little purr and stretched herself out to expose her fluffy belly.
“You do?” he said, and his amber eyes dilated with surprise and pleasure.
“I do, my dear,” said Eva, and she stretched a little further. “And I think you should definitely take care of that as soon as you’re done rubbing my belly. Exactly three times.”
Dear reader, let us leave the next few moments in obscurity. Whether Tom succeeded in producing exactly the right number of belly rubs, whether, despite his accurate and precise compliance with her request, Eva nevertheless clawed the sh*t out of him, and whether the aftermath of this little spat eventually led to a batch of kittens precisely 67 days later… these are all matters best left to the imagination.
Let us fast-forward instead to the next evening, when Tom began his project. First, he wanted to draw a diagram of the cat tree. He asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God if he could have a pencil. And God said, “Boom.”
Tom held the pencil in his mouth and used it against a rock to draw a rather crude but basically effective diagram.
And when he was done he realized he would need planks of wood. So he asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God if he could have planks of wood. And God said, “Boom.”
When he saw the pile of planks in the woods, Tom realized he would need a way to fix them together. So he asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God if he could have some nails. OH, and a hammer. And God said, “Boom.”
When he saw the hammer and nails next to the planks in the woods, Tom realized he would need a way to cut the wood to the right sizes. So he asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God if he could have a miter saw. And God said, “Boom.”
When he saw the miter saw next to the hammer and nails next to the planks in the woods, Tom realized he would need catnip to fuel his activities and because life is more fun with drugs, right?
Well, Tom asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God if he could have the catnip, and God said, “Boom” and if you think God shouldn’t be supporting drug use then that’s just a sign that you live in a fallen world. Which, in fact, you do, and we’re getting to that. Patience, dear reader.
By this time, Tom had been working on his cat tree for a full half hour, which, even for an energetic cat like Tom, is a long time to be awake. He took a break. If he also took a hit of catnip and ran around in mad little circles for twenty to thirty seconds before settling in beside Eva, then that is what he did.
When Tom awoke, he went straight back into the woods to stare at his pile of planks, and his hammer and nails, and his miter saw, and his catnip. He made a note to ask Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God to send a larger shipment of the latter next time. And then, and only then, did he realize he had a problem.
And the problem he had was this: Tom did not have hands.
If, dear reader, you are among those privileged enough to have been born with a set of these useful little appendages, then you, as is true for most people of privilege, probably have no idea what it is like to live without them.
I’m not saying it’s horrible. In fact, for someone like Eva it’s quite blissful. What need is there for hands when one is content to lie in a sliver of sunlight and listen to Tree whispering to Wind?
But for Tom, at this exact moment, it was a problem of insurmountable proportions. How was he to build a cat tree without the dexterity necessary to wield a hammer and nails, let alone a miter saw?
Now, dear reader, let us pause for a moment and reflect, lest we judge Tom too harshly for what happens next. The poor fellow has his heart set on a cat tree and why? Because he wishes to save his beloved Eva the trouble of arising from her queenly perch to rescue him from his near-daily misadventures.
Of course, he could have asked for a cat tree fully formed to be delivered straight from the hands of God, simply by asking Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God (who, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, does in fact have hands), but Tom chose the path of greater resistance, the journey that would require him to work hard, and while we might fault him for not just asking for what he wanted, we can at least applaud him for being willing to work.
(Please ignore those cynical folk who whisper that Tom simply didn’t think that far ahead, and that he would indeed have asked for the cat tree fully formed if the idea had occurred to him. Please, let us give him the benefit of the doubt. God knows there is reason enough to fault him without adding needless speculation to the tally.)
Also, please consider that at this exact moment, Tom could have chosen simply to consume the catnip and allow the ensuing ecstasy to wipe out all thought of accomplishing anything.
Come to think of it, that would have been the wiser choice.
But Tom had begun, and he was determined to finish. And really, it was not such a difficult problem. He simply asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God for a pair of opposable thumbs. And God said, “Duuuuuuuuude.”
When Tom heard this, he asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God, “Wait, what?”
And God said, “Dude. Why does it always come to this? Why can’t people just be happy with what I give them? I mean, I didn’t even plant a forbidden tree this time around. And you STILL can’t stop doing things that are bad for you.”
Tom was, needless to say, confused by this unexpected response. God was ordinarily a Being of Few Words. Tom asked Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God, “So… am I getting the thumbs or not?”
And God said, “Whatevs.”
And then God said, “But you know what? I’m sick of doing everything for free all the time. I’ve had it with you people. You want gifts? Why not give something in return for once? Ingrates. I’ll tell you what. Have your dadgum thumbs. Fine. Have them. All I want in return is a nice warm coat to keep away the chill of your stupid decisions.”
And Tom said, “Okay.”
And that’s how Tom came to be the first hairless cat with opposable thumbs—in other words, the first human.
Now, it might seem that everyone has everything they want now. God has a warm fur coat, Tom has opposable thumbs, and Eva never has to rescue Tom out of a tree again.
There’s just one problem. Eva is pissed. Tom has traded away his beautiful, furry warm coat that she loved to groom. More importantly, she has a Bad Feeling about the fact that God wasn’t thrilled with the idea. God is often right about such things.
And, perhaps most significantly, Eva loves Tom, and she realizes that with his opposable thumbs and his naked body, he will never again be a fit companion for her in her cozy warm coat and her glistening sharp claws.
Though it breaks her heart to do it, she would rather be without her own coat and claws than without her Tom. She asks Tree to ask Wind to ask Sun to ask God to let her be like Tom, and God says, “Boom.”
At first, although they miss their beautiful fur and their shiny sharp claws, the trade is not so bad. Tom builds his cat tree and they spend an entire five minutes staring quietly at it before deciding that a cardboard box would actually be more fun to play in.
Then as summer turns to fall, they discover that without their fur, their little nest isn’t warm enough. They build a shelter, which is nice, but they have to build it on level ground away from Eva’s tree. And now that they no longer sleep at the foot of Tree, Eva begins to forget what Wind sounds like when it’s whispering to Tree.
As winter sets in, it becomes too cold to go outside without a coat, so they make clothes to cover their nakedness. And as the fruits and vegetables that fed them in the summer disappear from the trees, and they use up the last of the roots that they know how to find, they realize that they must have hunting weapons to replace the claws they gave up.
And now sometimes their clothes need washing, and so they must haul water up from the nearby stream, so they invent a bucket. Their weapons need sharpening, so they invent a whet stone. And for every new problem that arises, they invent something new. And for every invention, they find two or three new problems that require yet more inventions.
Before long, there is no time for lounging around under the tree or leaping through the branches laughing. There’s no time for talking to Tree or for listening to Wind or for asking for exactly three belly rubs.
Eventually, in fact, everyone forgets that they ever could talk to trees, or wind, or sun, or God.
But the story is not quite over. Remember those kittens? Though they were in Eva’s belly at the time, they did not themselves make a deal with God. And so, in due time, Eva gives birth to six tiny kittens in what turns out to be the easiest labor ever in the history of humankind. And she’s never forgotten that fact, nor the fact that she was once blissfully happy in her warm coat and sharp claws, before Tom made a Very Bad Decision and she, in turn, gave up her fur in order to be with him.
And that, dear readers, is why to this very day the smartest of women often leave the Bad-Decision-Making men in their lives in favor of the companionship of cats.