Veterinarians state that cats possess IQs similar to that of a human six-year-old child. But vets lie. From long association with two Applehead Siamese kitties, I can tell you that a human’s IQ, at any age, is miniscule compared to that of domestic felines. I’d learned this before the second Christmas that Gremlin — named for the little imp in the old Bugs Bunny cartoon and not the tiny monsters in the popular film — graced my home with her presence.
Two weeks after Gremlin’s first birthday, Christmas Eve arrived. In Italian-American tradition, I cooked the “feast of the seven fishes” as my family attended church and toured the neighborhood to enjoy the lights. The mouthwatering scent of seafood-laden tomato sauce wafted through my house, where Gremlin and I were the sole creatures stirring. Suddenly, a very distinct and unfamiliar male voice spoke clearly into my head. In no uncertain terms, it urged, “Check the cat!”
I hadn’t imagined that voice; I wasn’t crazy. And I couldn’t ignore the insistent voice or its implicit warning — for neither my husband nor I had ever called Gremlin by the plebeian term, “the cat.” Clearly, this was something external. I tossed down my ladle and the unseen Christmas angel who’d just spoken into my head led me one flight up. Beneath my beautiful Christmas tree, on the open split-level overlooking the dining room, was Gremlin — curled beneath the tree, with a golden light bulb from the lowest branch clenched delicately in her tiny jaws. The tree was lit! One little crunch from those jaws and she’d be toast, literally, or prey to a horrible death by broken glass! Terrified, I unplugged the tree at once and wove the lowest-hanging strand of lights out of her reach.
My husband, who always reverts to childhood at Christmas, wasn’t thrilled with the darkened tree. Rob him of any single glitzy, commercial symbol of Christmas and he morphs into Scrooge. He vowed that we would outsmart Gremlin the following Christmas, so that we could have a tree with “all that glittered.”
True to his word, the following year, as Gremlin dozed peacefully upstairs, my husband put his finger to his lips and drew two half-circles of fabric from a shopping bag. Quilted and printed with sprigs of holly, these were no ordinary tree skirts — or half skirts. Hidden within the quilting was an electric wire attached to a remote control device. The dial on the control was clearly marked, “Kitten, medium-sized cat, large cat.” “What the hell is this?!?” I demanded with a sick feeling in my stomach.
“You put the half-circles together under the tree to form a full circle,” said my husband, sotto voce. “There’ll be a bit of carpeting exposed, in the area that the skirts won’t cover — right around the tree stand, just like a regular tree skirt. But that’s okay; there’s no way that Gremlin is going to step into that zone after she hot-foots it on the skirts. It’s a very, very low-level electrical jolt.”
“It trains her not to get close to the tree and keeps her safe.”
“She’s not one of Pavlov’s dogs,” I reminded him with narrowed eyes. “She’s a Siamese cat, the Albert Einstein of all domestic felines. She won’t take orders. And I’ll be damned if you electrocute her, even mildly!”
“Look,” he said testily. “I’m the father figure here. I’m going to train her! I want the tree and all the trimmings. We want to keep Gremlin safe. This is the best way to accomplish both.”
“She sees you put those things under the tree, she’ll figure it all out,” I warned.
“I thought of that,” he grinned evilly. “You stay behind closed doors with her while I do all the work. I’ll put up the tree, trim it, and install the tree skirts. The nosy little thing won’t see me working; she won’t be forewarned. And she’ll train easily; you’ll see.”
‘though something told me Gremlin would get the best of my husband, I agreed to his madness. It gave me, you see, more than three hours of peace, an unprecedented respite during the insanity of the holiday. Three hours in which I read, napped, and stroked Gremlin, who sat beside me as my husband connived in secret, behind a closed door, to dupe her. “Let her loose!” he finally bellowed up from the split-level, like a lion tamer ordering his assistant to let the lionesses into the circus arena.
Sprung, Gremlin ran immediately to the top of the stairs and peered down, spying a winter kitty carnival. There was an enticing Christmas tree, a forest of bright baubles ripe for swatting around and all-aglow with enticing lights. She also eyed the half skirts, awaiting her like an executioner ready to throw the switch. On soft paws, she padded to the bottom of the stairs and then, in one fell swoop, leapt gracefully through the air to land squarely and unerringly in the small circle of carpeting uncovered by the electric skirts.
For an animal of her size, her balletic jette was equal to a human jumping the length of an Olympic-sized swimming pool without ever touching water. Not a paw, not a whisker, not a silken hair of Gremlin’s had brushed the electrified fabric. That small patch of carpet was, to her, what an American Embassy would be to a U.S. citizen in a pickle overseas. And the look in Gremlin’s sapphire blue eyes clearly telegraphed to my husband, “Pathetic human! Mine is the superior intellect!”
I laughed myself silly. Gremlin remained inscrutable in her safe haven, licking her paws in studied nonchalance and every once in a while, glancing at my husband from slit, knowing eyes. Understanding when to concede defeat, he unplugged the tree and proceeded to dismantle it, lights, faux pine boughs, and ornaments. Never again has a Christmas tree graced our home. Gremlin trained my husband very, very well!
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