Mr. Sugar v Ssssanta

By Marian Allen

My humans were preparing for that noisy, cluttery “Christmas Eve Party” thing they do every year, so I got under their feet until, late in the afternoon, they let me out of the house.

“At least it isn’t very cold today,” Darling said. “Poor kitty.”

Poor kitty, indeed. I’m a full-grown cat, I’ll have you know. Persian, pure white, of an absolutely ideal weight, neutered (so there’s none of that undignified chasing around after females even though females aren’t really to my taste).

It is, perhaps, unfortunate that my given name is Mr. Sugar, but that’s hardly my fault, is it?

I made a bee-line down the street to the first lower-value block and prowled to and fro in front of Mrs. DiMarco’s house. When she was in her cups, Mrs. DiMarco often gave me what she was pleased to call “scrippy-scraps”, and Mrs. DiMarco was usually in her cups.

Her front door opened, and she tossed something into the yard.

“Get it, Ragmop!” she bellowed, “Ragmop” having always been her name for me.

I sat and licked a paw, since it would be very poor form to seem excited about mere food, and the thing she had tossed took the opportunity to slither away from me. It was a small dark-green snake with a red ring around its neck.

“Jezuss,” the snake whispered, heading for the BVM-in-a-bathtub plastic grotto on Mrs. DiMarco’s lawn. “Jezuss, Mary, and Joseph!” It slithered behind the Blessed Virgin Mary and curled into a knot.

Let me just say here that every American-born snake I’ve ever met claims to be both Irish and Catholic. They all claim they were converted by St. Patrick as he drove them out of Ireland. I don’t argue.

“Awww,” Mrs. DiMarco crooned at me, “he got away from you. Poor Ragmop. C’mere, and I’ll give you some scrippy-scraps.”

Happily, it wasn’t another snake, it was cold leftover breaded fish and some tender gristle from a roast chicken. Delicious!

As I ate, Mrs. DiMarco talked to me as if I were another human. This is one of the things I like about Mrs. DiMarco.

“Where these damn snakes keep coming from, I don’t know. I’m not just seeing them – I mean, it isn’t just me. Hilda and Maxine were over the other day and like to had heart attacks when one showed up in the middle of the living room floor. I haven’t seen two fat old ladies climb onto chairs and dance since the last Policemen’s Widows Karaoke night.”

Mrs. DiMarco is convinced I understand everything she says. I do, naturally, but most humans don’t realize it. I can’t say that Mrs. DiMarco realizes it, but she does believe it.

“How good are you at detecting snakes, Ragmop? You and me have been through the wars together; think you can find where these damn snakes are getting into the house?”

By “the wars”, she means various and sundry incidents that … well, let’s just say that nobody but Mrs. DiMarco could have become embroiled in certain situations, and nobody but I, dragged unwilling into them, could have extricated both of us relatively unscathed.

When I had finished her food offering, she picked up the dish she had served it in and held the door open for me.

I really had no interest in where and how snakes were getting into her house, but there might be more food in it, so I entered.

Mrs. DiMarco is never one to do things by halves. I had been surprised that her front yard hadn’t been packed with Christmas lights and huge plastic inflatables, but now I saw that she had saved everything for inside. The petition the neighborhood had submitted to the zoning board about her Mardi Gras decorations may have had something to do with it.

Outdoors might have been bland, but indoors looked like Santa’s whorehouse. Strings of multicolored lights blinked from every possible location. An entire miniature village covered with dirty artificial snow populated the mantelpiece over a gas fireplace that hadn’t worked in all the time I’d known my hostess. Pride of place in the center of the display was given to a disproportionate manger scene made up of pieces from various mismatched sets. 

In the corner stood an artificial tree that might well have been the first artificial tree ever made. Its “needles” were uncompromisingly plastic, and so many were missing there was more twisted metal visible than greenery. At least the metal was and looked real, which is more than could be said for the foliage. More multicolored blinking lights wound around the tree, crumpled tinsel appeared to have been tossed toward it by the handful, and the ornaments … well, the ornaments, like Mrs. DiMarco, had seen better days. The angel on top had been made out of a broken chopstick draped with a Barbie wedding dress, the pink powder-puff head cocked at an alarming angle, its pipe-cleaner halo tarnished and bent into more of a pentagon than a circle.

A commercially produced felt stocking, decorated with a felt-pieced reindeer, hung from the mantle. It had possibly once been Rudolph, but the nose had fallen off at some point in the past. I was touched to see that another stocking with “Ragmop” written on it in black felt-tip pen hung beside it.

“You just look around while I make supper,” she said, beginning her preparations by knocking back half a bottle of beer.

Hardly surprising she had snakes. She was lucky she didn’t have pink elephants.

To please her – and to kill time while I waited for more “scrippy-scraps” – I wandered the house, poking my paws and nose into corners, nooks, crannies, and what-not.

“Don’t you mess with my tree,” she said, as if I wanted to catch whatever mange was going on there.

I didn’t expect to find anything, but I did. Five more small snakes – also ring-necks – huddled behind a nutcracker dressed in a policeman’s uniform. The nutcracker was dressed in a policeman’s uniform, that is, not the snakes. They were hardly hidden, but they were green with red bands around their necks, and they had blended with the – for want of a better word – décor.

“Back off, Boyo!” the longest of the snakes said. “I’d as soon take yer nose off as look at ye.”

“Why so pugnacious? Does it come as a package deal with the cheap accent?”

“Insult me, would you? Insult a poor widow with children to feed?”

“Da is dead?” one of the small snakes said, and all the small snakes wailed. Well, they hissed, but that’s wailing for a snake.

“Hush ye,” said the mother. “We all saw himself tossed out into the cold, and now here comes this cat, probably having eaten him and looking for another taste.”

She curled around the small snakes, who huddled together and gave me the collective stink-eye.

“I’ve eaten no one,” I said. “Certainly not, er, himself. It isn’t cold outside, and he was fine when I left him. That said, if it’s food you’re looking for, there’s a small pond two blocks to the west with any number of crickets and frogs.”

Even as I said it, my keen hearing picked up a minuscule thump from the fireplace. The glass doors were closed, as they always were, but a small green head with a red ring around the neck behind it peeked out of the vents where heat was meant to blow into the room.

“Daddy!” all the little snakes hissed, and rushed to greet him, the mother panic-slithering behind them, and with good reason: Mrs. DiMarco was coming back.

“Hide in the tree,” I cried, and ran past Mrs. DiMarco into the kitchen, mewing like a kitten as I went.

“Aww, Ragmop’s still hungry,” she said. She watched me, but she didn’t follow. “I just wanna plug in the tree.”

She plugged in the lights, but that wasn’t all. The tree didn’t just light up; it rotated and played seasonal music.

Around went the ratty angel. Around with the battered ornaments. Around went the wads of tinsel. And around went the pretty little garland of green with red stripes.

“Prettiest tree ever,” said Mrs. DiMarco. “I say that every year, but it’s true every year.”

She sighed in contentment and came back into the kitchen to give me a bite of a gummy orange cheese-like substance and a pinch of buttered toast to tide me over while dinner cooked.

My people, who knew my habits, telephoned a few minutes later to ask Mrs. DiMarco if she had seen me and, when told I was with her, asked if I might stay the night and avoid the ruckus of their party.

“Sure! He’s my little buddy, aren’t you, Ragmop?”

I meowed, as humans like cats to do, and jumped onto a kitchen chair, where my hostess could slip me morsels from her Christmas Eve feast: a surprisingly good beef roast and gravy.

While she washed up, I returned to the living room and “accidentally” unplugged the tree. The snakes dropped to the floor, the little ones hissing, “Whee! That was brilliant! Can we come again next Christmas Eve, Da?”

“We’ll see,” said Da, with a sidelong glance at me that spoke NO in a louder voice than any snake had ever had.

One by one, Da leading the way and the mother bringing up the rear, the snakes went back through the heat vents and back up the chimney.

Mrs. DiMarco caught me whispering goodbye and good luck and said, “Is that where those snicky-snakes are getting in, Ragmop? Good boy!”

She sealed the vents by duct taping grocery bags over them.

That done, she plugged the tree back in, apparently not noticing the disappearance of the green-and-red garland. Eggnog in hand, fuzzy slippers that looked like snowmen on her feet, Mrs. DiMarco settled into her couch and sang carols along with her tree while I purred in time with what was passing for music.

The next morning, there was a stocking full of chicken-flavored treats and catnip toys for a cat who had obviously been a good boy all year.

About Marian

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved telling and soaking up stories. At the age of six, I was told somebody got paid for writing books and movies and television shows; I abandoned my previous ambition (beachcomber), and became a writer. 

I’ve had stories in anthologies, on-line and print publications, including Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress anthologies 22 and 23, on coffee cans, and the wall of an Indian restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky.

Small town life agrees with me. I like the interconnectedness of everything and everybody. I try to remember, in my books and stories, that no one exists in isolation, but in a web of connections. 

Most of my work is fantasy, science fiction and/or mystery, though I write anything else that suits the story and character.

Check out Marian’s books on Amazon.