by Patrick Kelley Morgan
From The Stories Of My Uncle, In Which He Gets 45 Roommates
Or: A Piece Of The Remarkable History Of My Uncle,
And How He Acquired 45 Roommates
Or: Norman And Unc Have An Orange Julius
Norman was a demon, an abstract demon, and he lived inside the genetic coding for a particular marijuana plant’s THC. He was, among other things, capable of multipresence: once, he was conjured simultaneously by a vagrant in Des Moines, Iowa, three students in Leipzig, Germany, and a lonely widow in Buenos Aries, Argentina. Other than a slight difficulty in following three distinctly emotive conversations in four languages (one of the students, from shock, code-switched from the German spoken by her companions to her native Urdu) with absolutely no time lag, Norman handled these and indeed all other summons with a characteristic professional acumen to which most of his colleagues couldn’t even aspire.
It is not entirely accurate to claim that Norman was coded for by the nucleic acids in the THC of one individual cannabis plant. Technically, the sequence coded for a minute variation in that chemical, which resulted in a nuanced interaction with human physiology, which then stimulated an inordinate craving for a generic brand of macaroni and cheese. This generic macaroni and cheese craving also stipulated that a traditional range-top preparation method be chosen over the sometimes cleaner and swifter microwave method, which at any rate produced a snack that was never quite as succulent anyhow. Norman, who actually lived within this abstract sequence, tended to materialize in the steam coming from the hot noodles, melting butter and liquefying cheese-like powder.
In a cute inversion of some other kinds of supernatural traditions, when one conjures a demon, it is customary for the demon to ask three wishes of every individual in the room. There have been some unfortunates who, not aware of this technicality, have attempted to call up several abstract demons at one time. Even more unfortunate than those singular individuals, you may well imagine, have been those foolish enough to have invited a baker’s dozen of their most intimate acquaintances over for the occasion. Imagine: even with a modest collection of, say, 10 folks and 3 demons, a staggering 90 feats of wishery would result. I should point out, by the by, that the wishes of most abstract demons are not considered appealing by the majority of those forced to fulfill them.
Norman, I’ve suggested, was no mediocre abstract demon. He was renowned for a certain knack in dreaming up idiosyncratic demands for his callers. Many other demons found themselves routinely caught off guard by the sudden availability of wish fulfillment, and so were forced to fall back on certain cliché requests, like “call your grandmother on the telephone and swear,” or “call your locally respected religious leader on the telephone and swear,” or something along those lines. Telephones and swearing, for obscure reasons, are perennially fascinating for many demons. It was not so, however, for Norman, who managed never to be caught without a lengthy list of absolutely original and unexpected ideas for his human counterparts. Perhaps one of the most nefarious of these wishes was foisted upon my eccentric and almost unfortunate uncle 25 years ago.
Unc worked as a parking structure attendant, and hated every moment of it because he was convinced that he ought to have been a model for khaki pants. He owned approximately twenty sets of slacks in varying shades of khaki and in varying styles, which he routinely replaced as fashion or entropy dictated. Sometime in his deeper past, he had gotten the impression that when he wore khaki pants, those who saw him could concentrate on nothing other than how good he looked in them. He was especially proud of how his knees affected the shape of each pantleg. He saw in this an unusual gift that ought to have been shared with the commercial world of hosiery. Unfortunately no one who mattered in that world seemed to agree.
It was largely because of his acute melancholy about the unfairness of his life that Unc took up recreational drugs. He liked to lounge about in relaxed-fit khaki pants after work, burning a joint and lamenting how nice his knees looked with his feet propped up on an ottoman. One afternoon while in this very posture, Unc was seized with an inordinate yen for a generic macaroni and cheese product prepared on the stove. Naturally — what did you expect? — there was a box of this selfsame product in Unc’s otherwise scanty pantry.
As it happened, Norman was a bit restless that day. It had been a good two weeks (in our 4-dimensional terms) since his last apparition, and Norman had that kind of creative disposition that became rapidly agitated without the appropriate expressive medium. It was with a thick sigh of expected contentment that Norman made his appearance in the steamy stirring bowl.
“Hello, Unc,” began the demon. (Unc’s given name was Sebastian. I have never been certain whether Norman actually called Unc “Unc,” or whether Unc later interposed this detail for homey, stylistic reasons. But since I am trying to preserve the integrity of this tale as it was told me by Unc, I have kept it so.) “I can’t tell you how nice it is to be here.”
Years of laboring as a parking attendant and an especially bitter worldview had made Unc relatively unflappable. So, he greeted the gossamer being sitting in the semi-powdered cheese in his ceramic mixing bowl with an affable “Hi.”
Norman certainly had not expected so even-keeled a response to his sudden presence, but if this jarred him, he didn’t let on. Norman, ever the professional, came right to the point. “Unc,” he said, drawing himself up to his full three feet and wavering above the still hot bowl, “you may not know this, but I am an abstract demon. As such, you are required to fulfill three wishes for me.”
“Really,” said Unc, declaratively rather than interrogatively.
“Really,” returned Norman.
Here, there was an awkward pause, because Unc wanted to start eating the macaroni and was unsure of the protocol to be observed when entertaining a demon. “Okay,” he said at length.
Norman smiled. (Demons do this with their foreheads exclusively, but Unc didn’t know this. Thus, from Unc’s standpoint it looked as though Norman was simply furrowing his hefty brow.) “My first wish, Unc,” he said slowly, “is that you adopt 45 middle-aged cats who do not socialize well, and take them all on a walk together, after which you must give them all baths in your tub.”
Unc was naturally puzzled by this obtuse demand. “What happens,” he asked, “if I don’t?”
Norman’s brow furrowed in the other direction, though this looked no different to Unc. “In that case,” replied the demon, “I shall sever your corpus colossum.”
This threat didn’t have the desired effect, since Unc had never known that he had something called the corpus colossum. This necessitated an embarrassing half-hour lecture from Norman with the aid of an encyclopedia and copious illustrations, after which it was clear to Unc that he had better comply unless he wanted the two hemispheres of his brain to be incapable of communication, which would almost certainly result in numerous difficulties in reading comprehension and handedness, among other things.
Resignedly, then, Unc began collecting middle-aged cats. He had to contact three different shelters to get the required 45, and then had to find 45 cat-sized leashes, and then had to get all 45 leashes attached to the cats swarming and mewling about his formerly spacious-seeming apartment. Norman enjoyed himself thoroughly, unaffected as he was by the clumps of feline hair and clouds of dander wafting on the air currents of Unc’s abode. By the time Unc was ready to begin the forced march, he was exhausted and variously scratched, and in a decidedly bad humor that rivaled that of his 45 adoptees.
In a strange moment of solidarity, each cat staunchly refused to budge from his or her recumbent position once the leashes were attached, and Unc despaired of ever accomplishing the task. But just then an altercation broke out among the felines, and Unc took advantage of the momentum to encourage them all out of his door, into the hallway, down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk, where they all promptly became inert again.
Norman was savoring Unc’s discomfiture, lost as the latter was in the midst of 45 recalcitrant cats on the patchy lawn of his apartment building. Now Unc lived on a busy street, and a commotion had begun to radiate from this fuzzy epicenter. Traffic slowed, and passers-by with large grins stopped to observe the silly man with nice knees and innumerable pets try to take them for a walk. Above all this activity hovered Norman, though he was visible only to Unc. Norman was in ecstasy.
Meanwhile a slow change had come over the sprawling cats. In natural sunlight, it seems, Norman’s invisibility was compromised, at least from the feline point of view. One by one, they became very interested in the unusual, slightly opaque form bobbing seven feet over their heads. One of the first to perk up was a longhaired mackerel tabby who went by the name of Julius.
Julius was an intrepid and colorful individual. Too colorful, apparently, for his former roommates, who had unceremoniously turned him out of their home after Julius made repeated (and successful) incursions into their pantry and cupboards. Instead of being impressed by this rather remarkable series of feats — which included the consumption of several donuts in one sitting, each of which was about the size of Julius’ maned head – these unusual people were actually angered and promptly deposited Julius at the “Intake” section of the local animal shelter. Something more or less similar had happened to poor Julius every few months, all the four years of his life.
Somehow, in spite of this lifetime of shabby treatment, Julius remained a curious and generally even-tempered cat. And now, relaxed on a green spot of my uncle’s shared lawn, he found himself inexorably drawn to the undulating shape that had, it seemed, materialized directly above his orange head.
Abstract demons generally show a marked propensity for the pragmatic that belies their name. Norman especially valued the fabrication of utterly watertight plans for his wishing expeditions, making sure to confine his unusual schemes to the realm of human possibility, though he delighted in stretching these almost unbearably. So it is unusual that Norman didn’t consider the acute reflexes unique to cats and their possible effects on his semicorporeality.
Like many scrappy cats who live by their wits, Julius was an accomplished hunter, though hardly a sporting one. Neither Norman nor Unc, who had all but given up any hope of continuing his life-as-he-knew-it, was expecting the large orange man cat in the center of the meowing melee to leap approximately seven feet into the air and snag one of Norman’s tendrils (Norman had three of these. He was built rather like a gelatinous tripod with a large forehead and deep-set eyes), so suddenly did he vault himself upward.
Gelatinous though it was, Norman’s body was not at all elastic. Further, he weighed only a few ounces. Julius, on the other hand, was long and strong and quite massive, and his 21 pounds pulled all three of Norman’s ounces into swift contact with the ground, after which Julius began to tumble about with that appendage between his teeth in the manner of a much younger cat.
The sight proved irresistible to the others in the clowder, and soon Norman was obscured beneath a feline swell.
Unc had by now let go of all 45 leads and sat down on the short stairway before his building, unsure of what to think.
Norman, unfamiliar with physical discomfort, was befuddled by the sensation of numerous claws and teeth exploring his tiny body. He was attempting to come to grips with this when he found himself not only at the base of a mountain of cats, but also in a tidy kitchenette in Windsor, Ontario, lolling above a nice hot stovetop pot and met with the incredulous stares of five young theater students.
He decided to cut his losses.
Copyright © 2005 by Patrick Kelly Morgan