Precisely what we hope to avoid.
Toffee looked at me with polite interest, as if he wished to be helpful but had no idea of what I was saying. Silly me — trying to talk to a cat. You'd think I'd know better by now.
So I turned to his neighbor on the sofa. "Possum," I said, "Would you please translate what I just said into cat language for Toffee? I'd really appreciate it, man."
Possum opened his eyes and yawned. From his twitching tail, I knew a lecture was forthcoming. "Honestly," he said, "I don't know how you people are smart enough to live. First, you bring a huge evergreen into the house, that smells like forest, and squirrels, and birds. And then you tie cat toys all over it. And then you expect us not to have any fun. What on earth are you thinking?"
What could I say? I used one of Possum's own debate tactics. I became fiercely focused on examining one of my hands for possible fleas and didn't reply. It worked.
After a while, Possum said, "I don't suppose you'd care to make a little bargain with me...?"
I tried to do the human equivalent of perking up my ears and looking interested. "What did you have in mind, dear Possum?" I said.
"There's the matter of my Christmas List. Every year I put a few fantastic things on it, and every year I don't get them." he said.
He was referring, of course, to the Bicycle Rickshaw he's wanted every year since he saw one in an Anthropologie catalogue. It cost $10,000 and was tricked out like a fantasy from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Possum imagines me pedaling him and select friends around in search of treats from dumpsters of the best restaurants in the South End. I thought he'd given up on this idea now that his No. 1 destination — Hamersley's Bistro, for the roast chicken — has closed. (I enjoyed it twice just before the end, and I see his point. I didn't bring home leftovers, so please don't say a word.)
"But, Possum," I said, "Last year you put a kitten on your Christmas list and Santa did come through. Against all better judgment. I know it took some extra time, but we DID get you a kitten. And a very good one, too."
Possum considered this for a while. "This year," he said, "I really do want a bicycle rickshaw. And if you promise to get me one, I will do my utmost keep Toffee from electrocuting himself or otherwise trying to off himself by eating ornaments, strings, ribbons, and large tree branches. I will likewise prevent him from climbing the tree or the mantel, although I cannot make any guarantees about gift tags or bows. There all bets are off. That's my deal. I want catnip-scented pillows on the rickshaw and streamers on the handlebars. And a pretty canopy... something colorful."
I said I would think about it.