Fiction / Lily Hoang
:: The Mystical Adventures of the Happy Cat ::
Indeed, there he goes, the happy cat. He walks along the streets, along the canals and beside flats and businesses practically suffering with primary colors. The cat is very happy. He is a happy cat. Today, leaves dangle on the subterfuge of falling, and this is the season the happy cat likes best: when his orange coat makes him invisible, and he catches colorful birds and the ugliest rats, and he brings them home to his pal. When he does, his pal gives him a good hard pet, and they put their foreheads together—like a head-butt, like bonding.
“What tasty snack shall I bring home today?” The happy cat spits. It makes a splash in the water and fish jump out in pretty patterns like fireworks.
Once upon a time, there was a little ragdoll girl and she had no eyes. Where her eyes used to be are two pale circles. Buttons used to protect her from dirt and wind and sand, but alas, one day one of the buttons fell off and another day the next one did. This is a story about a little ragdoll girl without eyes.
Everybody knows that the happy cat has a home, and everyone knows to whom he pledges his allegiance, and yet—when the happy cat paws at their cherry doors, someone always opens with a handful of treats. The happy cat does some paltry parlor trick, and so the nice people of Copenhagen open up cans of tuna and sardines and other aluminum-sealed fish for the happy cat to eat. He is a cat with a certain joie de vivre, one he will share with those who are so generous to him, and everyone closes the door with smiles. After all, who could say no to such a happy cat?
In this small way, every single Danish citizen in Copenhagen is owned by the happy cat, but the happy cat remains loyal only to his pal.
With eyes or no, the little ragdoll girl loves to dance. Oh, she wiggles her bottom and she wiggles her top and she thrusts her ragdoll head in beat to the 808. She loves electronic music—because she just loves to dance all night long.
Every day now, the happy cat has a mission: to find a new pal for his pal. It isn’t that the happy cat isn’t enough, but recently, his pal lacks humor and he’s always so somber, dolor, just plain sad. The happy cat does not like this, so he brings home new friends for his pal, but not just any old thing deserves the privilege of being pals to his pal: oh, no way, the happy cat must interview these candidates first. Most often, they are not sturdy enough, but the happy cat delivers every day, even when these new pals are already dead.
The ragdoll girl was once a beautiful young lady. She met a nice woman—that’s me—who promised her friendship and endless devotion, and my potions are strong. When I hobble off, she waits, small and helpless, her rags like daffodils in the wind.
She is so beautiful and young and in love, and I wish she could stay so forever.
There is a crumpled ball caught in a spider-webbed corner of the study belonging to the man who is the happy cat’s pal. If the paper were straightened out, it would say this: “Once [upon a time] (scratched out), there [was a] (scratched out) is a horse and the horse.” This is all the paper says. It says nothing more. Now it is a mere crumpled ball and the spider in whose web it currently resides is very poisonous. Watch out: here it comes.
Quite frankly, the happy cat wouldn’t touch an opossum with a fishing pole, but maybe an opossum is exactly what his pal needs—but then! Down the canal floats a little ragdoll girl, and she is soaked to the seams, and the happy cat knows it instantly: this is the perfect pal for his pal. He lets go of the opossum, who is quite scared. It runs off and quickly.
The happy cat also takes off running, downstream, as fast as the water is flowing and then a little faster because he must outrun the downstream momentum that holds the ragdoll girl hostage, and now the happy cat slows down some to jump down the stairs, and he slows until stop, and he steadies his hind legs and wraps his claws around the cement edge, and he lowers his torso downwards, toward the river—and boy could this be a colossal mistake!—toward the river some more, toward the ragdoll girl—and at just the right moment, he snatches her clean up. He is such a good cat!
When the ragdoll girl dances, she drops so much molly that diamonds sprinkle the edges of her eyes.
But even this cannot last forever, and at the stroke of midnight, the ragdoll girl must retreat into her ragdoll girl body, and no one would like a ragdoll girl at a party like this—it’s just such a fancy one—no, the ragdoll girl would simply not belong.
But that was long ago. Long, long ago.
Back then, the ragdoll girl had eyes, and what did they see?
Once, the ragdoll girl saw Prince Charming, but he didn’t see her—just a ragdoll girl laying along just another marble staircase; he was sick of marble staircases. He rushed off to do something very important.
He drags the ragdoll girl by the neck with his teeth, and she leaves a train of dirty water everywhere they go. The happy cat is not happy with this situation that sprinkles water all over his coat. This makes him a distinctly unhappy cat. An unhappy cat is a terribly bad kitty.
He slackens his hold on the ragdoll girl, and her head flops free against each and every hard cobblestone, all the way home.
The happy cat’s pal lacks spirit, and with lack of spirit comes lack of inspiration: nothing inspires him, nothing moves him; he feels—but without emotion.
When I asked her what she wanted to trade, she said, “My eyes,” and I just shrugged. I don’t complain, and it’s out of my pay grade to explain what a bad wager she’s about to make.
But goodness did she love to dance.
The happy cat drops the ragdoll girl right at his pal’s feet. Surely, this will earn him a wealth of treats, maybe of a few different varieties; the happy cat looks first at the ragdoll girl he has brought just for him, and then he looks at his pal with his violet eyes that plead for love and acceptance. He yowls just once, to acknowledge something, goddamn it, but no one responds.
Suddenly, his pal shoots his hand out and gives the happy cat’s head a good hard petting. “What’s this, fellow?”
The happy cat snakes around his pal’s legs to express joy.
The happy cat’s pal goes downtown, and he moves with intention without being rushed. The pal stops at the baker’s, just to say hello. “Hello,” the pal says.
“Good morning to you, good chap. Tell me, are you making any krona these days?”
The pal’s head falls. He doesn’t bother answering. “You’re looking splendid as always.”
The baker hands the pal a loaf of crusty bread and a tub of cloudberry jam.
“Oh, thank you, but—”
“I insist, I insist,” and then he grabs another bag from behind the counter, “and this is for your happy cat.”
“Thank you,” the pal says, because he is honestly hungry.
The pal snacks on the bread and jam, and the city is busy with fall fragrance and produce. Happy Danish people bicycle along the canals and other happy Danish people sit at cafés along the canals; everyone is having a splendid day. The trees are every perfect autumn color, crispy with song.
The pal stops at many stalls and shops, and every owner asks about the happy cat and kronas, and soon enough the pal has an armful of goods. “Take it,” they insist, all of them, and so what can he do? He cannot be rude! By the time the pal reaches the button shop, he is pushing a shopping cart, and even that is overflowing. Like Odysseus finally reaching Ithaka, here is the pal, at the button shop, the whole reason for this expedition: just two little buttons.
Once there is a beautiful girl, and she has a beautiful voice, and she’s something of a princess, except that she isn’t royalty. As such, Prince Charming can’t be bothered to look at her. She comes to me, and I say, “You are despairing. I can tell.” Now this is the first time we met, but for many years I have watched this beautiful girl.
“Your hair is so neatly combed and such a sonic silver, surely, you must be here to help me. Please, old crone lady, help me.”
I promised her that the prince would see her, finally, but I did not mention the marble staircase and her new ragdoll girl body. I did not mention how invisible she would always remain.
There are many buttons at the button store. The pal has never seen so many buttons captured in just one place. He says to the girl behind the counter, “I must sew two eyes, but how do I choose?”
The girl takes him by the hand, and it feels like a storm in her simple touch, and she guides him to the thousands of buttons in the store. “Feel it,” she says, closing the pal’s fingers around a fancy gilded button, “and the right one will just be right.”
The pal takes a single bright purple thread and carefully sews two eyes into place. She is perfect now, flawless.
The ragdoll girl jumps up and takes his hand in hers, and now they are in a small barn. They stand beside this very fallow candle, and it woes. It woes, “Oh, that I should only have one single purpose in my life!” The fallow candle, it would seem, has no purpose, being fallow and all that.
The melting pot calls out, “Shut up, you little brat.”
“Mama,” the fallow candle says, “I’m sorry.”
The pal looks at the ragdoll girl because he doesn’t understand how a fallow candle can be related to a melting pot. “Just watch,” the ragdoll girl says.
Now a large sheep slams his way into the barn. He splinters the wooden door.
The fallow candle jumps twice, but no flames rise to his wick. “Papa!”
The sheep looks at his fallow candle son and asks, “Why are you still here? We have no use for you.”
The barn is fairly sparse. Some hay and wooden stalls, but there’s enough feed in the melting pot to keep the sheep happy.
“We should just melt you, be done with you,” the sheep says, and the melting pot does not disagree.
The fallow candle feels distressed. He is in crisis. He packs his bag and begins a journey, and the journey will never be complete until he finds a purpose in life.
Along the way, he meets a tinderbox. “Tinderbox,” the fallow candle says, “what are you doing in this forest? This place is not safe for a pretty tinderbox like you.”
The tinderbox says, “What are,” and she stares the fallow candle right in the eye, “you doing here?”
“I have no purpose in life. I am without destiny. I am useless.”
“Crawl inside me,” the tinderbox says and opens her lid. The fallow candle bends and distorts, but how can he jump in? The tinderbox unlatches something and a door opens and the fallow runs inside.
And so the tinderbox glows with purpose, like this is what she was always meant to do, like she was waiting for a fallow candle to grant her life.
“Do you understand?” the ragdoll girl says, and her button eyes fall off. They roll around the ground until they fall flat.
Don’t go calling me a bully. I grant only what is asked of me. People should not speak in metaphors when what they desire is literal.
They fall flat and sink into the ground. The pal palms the earth, and it is completely flat.
Meanwhile, the happy cat goes along his day, free of the burden of the hunt. He bakes his fur in the sun until it sets. Then, he returns to his pal because it is getting cold and damp outside.
Six, but now he has only four buttons left.
The pal picks two different buttons: a silver star and an olive square. The first time he had put on two matching buttons. Now he attempts a different strategy. He secures the buttons, first with thread and then with superglue. The ragdoll girl pops into life and puts her little cloth hand in his human hand, and suddenly, they are in a field, and pastel flowers grow wild and untended. There is a very handsome butterfly who catches everyone’s eye, and he flutters onto a dandelion. The truth is that he, too, is a desperate one. He must find a mate but none of these paltry flowers will do. He turns his nose up and flies off to another flower. And then another. And then another. The seasons change and he dies, alone. His fall is not graceful. It’s just a fall. And he is just another flattened bug waiting for the soil to incorporate his body.
“Do you understand?” Her eyes fall to the ground, and he is too slow to retrieve them from the past retreating into the present.
He puts his hand around the ragdoll girl’s cotton hand and looks at her eyeless face. “But I don’t understand yet,” he says, and in walks the happy cat, and his pal forgets the whole ordeal.
For many days his pal has been quite happy. His mood became a spirited jig, as opposed to a requiem, which was how it was for far too long.
Nobody likes a downer, not even a happy cat.
For many days, his pal was not a downer at all. His pal was as happy as the happy cat himself. Flowers thrust into bloom when he walked by their boxes, and all of Copenhagen, it seemed, rushed past Winter and flew into the apex of Spring. Colors just ached from inhabiting such beauty, such substance.
And then the happy cat found the ragdoll girl in his box of toys.
Did she ever even have eyes?
Surely, this is all the pal’s imagination. What else could it be?
It is the only ethical thing to do: the happy cat does not let go until the water nips at his teeth. She floats off without any eyes on her face, blind.
Today the happy cat is not too happy. He catches a purple-winged dove right at its neck, and its fight only prolongs the suffering. The happy cat plays.
The thing is limp and probably dead when the happy cat reaches home. His pal is waiting for him at the door. “What’s this?” His pal’s fingers are all black. His pal has been working, and when he is working, he is a happy pal.
The happy cat drops the dead bird at his pal’s shoes. They are worn down. They used to be a glossy mustard. Now they are brown.
His pal picks him up, which the happy cat does not like one bit, and says, “Look at those dirty paws!” They go inside, and the unhappy cat is still being held, and his pal takes a cold cloth to his paws and scrubs.
Very, very unhappy now, the cat goes to bed. There, nuzzled under the blanket, is a wet ragdoll girl, and she doesn’t have any eyes.
The ragdoll girl has a curse on her—and a promise. Don’t go pointing fingers: this is not my fault.
The happy cat snuggles with her and falls asleep.
There is a knock on the door. The happy cat’s ears shoot up.
Ah, it is only Prince Charming, but the ragdoll girl can’t see him.
His pal bows before royalty, and the prince takes off his riding cape and unbuckles his sword because there are no beasts in here to kill.
Their affair is brief but solar.
The ragdoll girl dances and twirls and twists her body all around. It’s a real party in there, and joy falls on the entire house, modest though it may be.
Now the happy cat and the ragdoll girl stroll along the canals.
Now the happy cat spots a fish-girl, and she flaps her tail and dries her hair in the sun. The happy cat and the ragdoll girl drag her back to the house. The whole way, she complains and tells the most obvious stories, and everyone wishes she would just shut up already.
From the writer
:: Account ::
In the midst of writing a serial killer novel that was more or less devastating my brain and my emotions, a friend told me to write something happy for a change. To take a break. He told me I should write a story about a happy cat. And this is exactly what I did.