Away in a Menagerie

A short story by Kate Sebeny

There are few things as joy-inspiring as a youngster’s excitement during the holidays, at least in the abstract. Though I usually take a “bah-humbug” approach to Christmas, last year was different because I had little ones—four of them.

So it was with something like good old-fashioned Christmas spirit that I sprung for a tree and lugged the boxes marked “Xmas” down from the attic. The holiday paraphernalia was left over from my own childhood, so old the tinsel that was carefully recovered each year was real tin. The contents of the boxes reawakened fond memories as I started hanging these precious, delicate mementos.

But my nostalgic reverie was interrupted when two of my “kids” – Moxie and Mitzi, Russian Blue kitten siblings – got so rambunctious chasing around in the branches that they actually toppled the tree. I jumped out of the way, but a box of bulbs didn’t. To counteract the kittens’ enthusiasm, I sunk an anchor bolt into the ceiling and strapped the tree to it for security.

Once I was satisfied the tree could withstand the kittens’ horseplay, I got back to decorating the lower boughs. Being a smart person who can anticipate the inevitable, I reinforced the flimsy hangers with pieces of baling wire. That would surely keep the keepsake ornaments firmly in place.

Then my other two young ones—Dickens and Twain, a pair of Border Collie puppies—got into the act. While the kittens batted with abandon at the fragile glass balls, the puppies sniffed the shiny orbs warily, shying at their sway. Luckily, they were tuckered out from a recent romp in the snow and soon fell asleep. By the time the puppies stirred again, I’d made good progress on trimming the tree.

It occurred to me to give the pups a treat by playing that novelty song where dogs bark out the tune to “Jingle Bells.” The effect could not have been more explosive if I’d fired off a large-caliber gun in the house. Before the end of the first chorus, a chain reaction of alarmed responses had spread throughout the pet population. A few more ornaments succumbed to the ensuing chaos.

Once I killed the music, relative order again prevailed and I figured it was safe to resume tree trimming. I was well into the tinsel part of the program when I heard the first crunch.

Dickens – that little dickens! – had bitten down on an insubstantial glass sphere. Of course, Twain had to follow suit. Then, naturally, they fought over the pieces, competing to eat them. All the youngsters, puppies and kittens alike, consume many things that aren’t food – as their output proves. But thin sharp shards sounded downright lethal. So I scolded the glass eaters and rummaged up my lineman’s pliers to remove all the low-hanging ornaments I’d reinforced with wire. Problem solved.

Hung with decorations only above the puppies’ reach, however, the tree looked odd. So I filled in with extra tinsel and a little garland action. I didn’t dare put lights on the thing. And heaven forbid I should string popcorn.

As the days approaching Christmas passed, the tree – predictably – started looking rattier and rattier. It seemed to sport less tinsel every day, and that fresh Christmas-y pine scent was gradually displaced by a less pleasant odor. It wasn’t until I went to water the tree one morning that I realized the source of the smell: Dickens and Twain, evidently mistaking this indoor tree for an outdoor counterpart, had been “watering” it, too! Swapping out the traditional Christmas-tree skirting with puppy pads fixed that.

And I solved the mystery of the missing adornments when I started finding tinsel turds. The yard was festooned with festive Yule logs and the litter box was dazzling. I’m surprised the tin didn’t poison anybody; the tinsel passed through their digestive tracts intact, in all its glittering glory.

Then there was Christmas morning. Coming downstairs, I saw that there had indeed been an overnight visitation. But not by Santa. Instead, it looked like a random band of vandals had ransacked the place: The presents I set out were shredded to confetti, what was edible had been eaten (along with items not meant for consumption), and the toys had been worked over big-time, the remnants scattered.

Nestled in the wreckage, the four little culprits slept soundly and sweetly, dead to the world after their busy night.

Angelic as they looked, I think we’ll skip the tree thing this year.

My Four Children

Written on December 18, 2015