The Mystical Adventures of the Happy Cat

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.


Lily Hoang is the author of five books, includ­ing A Bes­tiary (CSU Press, 2016), win­ner of the Cleve­land State Uni­ver­si­ty Poet­ry Center’s Non­fic­tion Con­test, and Chang­ing (Fairy Tale Review Press, 2008), recip­i­ent of a PEN Open Books Award.