Saturday, July 31, 2010

All the Cats in Latvia

And I'm home!  Exhausted, but home.

I seem to have dropped a day somewhere . . . no idea how.  Which means that I'll be finishing this in forty-four days rather than the forty-three originally scheduled.  Odd.

Oh well.  I've got a good one today.  It's called . . .

All the Cats in Latvia 

Michael Swanwick

 The cats of Riga are more fastidious than cats are elsewhere.  With their breakfasts they require tea – milk, but no sugar – and little napkins to wipe their whiskers with afterwards.  There’s a special fork they use to eat mice with, and a spoon that’s only for canned tuna.  Though they control the city, and some say the entire nation, they do it secretly so they won’t have to deal with humans constantly petitioning them for favors.

They granted a favor once, and that was enough for them.

The one exception occurred in 1909 when a Latvian merchant was refused membership in the Great Guild, which at the time was controlled by Germans.  Now this merchant was very kind to his cats of which he had a great number due entirely to his refusal to have them neutered.  For this and other reasons the cats of Riga were kindly disposed toward him.

Thus, when the merchant begged his cats for help, the oldest and scrawniest of the lot stretched his paws one by one, bit at the claws for a while, and finally said, “Oh, well.  So long as it’s no more than ten minutes’ work.”  And he ordered the younger cats to go up on the roof and turn around the statues adorning its two steeples.

The statues were of two proud cats, feet together on the steeple-peaks and tails held high.  When they were turned around, their backsides faced directly toward the Great Guild.  Since their backs were arched, they looked like they were spraying the German merchants who had rejected their building’s owner.

Businessmen are not easily intimidated.  They can stand up staunchly to threats of violence and economic sanctions.  But no man can long withstand the laughter of an entire city.  The Latvian merchant was installed in the Great Guild, the statues were turned back, and all was well.

For a time.

But then the merchant’s nondescript dumpling of a wife died and a flashy younger woman caught his eye.  In no time at all, the two were married and – a new wife being, as the saying goes, like a new broom – she set out to sweep away all of the dust and clutter and cobwebs of his old life to make way for the new.  The merchant, who might have been expected to know better, was dazzled by his new mistress and did anything and everything he was told.  Among the many things that disappeared were all but one of the merchant’s cats – and that one she had neutered.

Cats are not merciful creatures, nor are they proportionate in their revenge.  The cats of Riga took away their protection from the merchant and the city in which he lived.  Worse, they spoke to all the cats of Latvia and got them to withdraw their protection from the entire country.

Two world wars ensued, and afterwards Latvia was absorbed into the Soviet Union.  Only then did the cats of Riga decided that there had been punishment enough and return to their usual complacent ways.

This is a story that two kittens named Orli and Akira told Sabina Hahn when she was a little girl.  Later, Sabina told it to me, and now I’ve told it to you.  So you know it’s a true tale.

Just don’t tell anyone I told you, okay?  The cats of Riga would be displeased if word of what they did got around.



Ken Houghton said...

You posted the "eyes" story late at night, and then revised it later that day. That's the "lost day."

So who is publishing the book of Swanwick's Tuckers?

Michael Swanwick said...

Nobody's approached me about it. We'll see.

In the meantime, I'll be posting the stories on my Web page soon.