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December 17, 2004
The last present I wrapped before going to bed was for Q. It is from Noodle. I wrapped it messily, to indicate that Noodle's present wrapping skills are not yet fully developed.

Will I understand Noodle better when I see what she got me? he asked as we lay there.

I thought a moment; this was a hard one. I think she believes that you will resemble her more when you receive it, I said at last: the present is a new pair of gloves with furry insides. Present hints should confuse. The best ones lead them deliberately in the wrong direction, although the hint must always be technically true. You can't come right out and lie in a present hint, ever. So you have to deceive by telling the truth, or at least a portion of it. It's not that difficult once you get the hang of it: politicians do it all the time.

Noodle is, indeed, calmer since her surgery of a month ago -- she still can't resist nipping a tempting ankle if it's unfortunate enough to walk by her hiding place, but she is gentler. Doesn't bite nearly so much. She sleeps with us every night, curled up at our feet, and in the morning, after a ritual scolding for scratching on the carpet, she comes and sits on my stomach. When I get up, she sits on Q's stomach until he gets up, and then it's breakfast time. This morning she actually sat on my stomach for a long time and purred -- I'm not sure I ever heard her purr before. She would never hold still long enough. Her purr is tiny and light, not like Kate's, whose purr was bigger than she was. But it's a beginning.

For Christmas, I intend to have Q introduce her to the laser pointer. When he lectures on the English garden in the 18th century, it is an indispensable tool to help the audience make sense of his hundreds of slides: he needs to point to a belvedere in the distance as seen from the house, to a snatch of a Tudor garden visible outside a window in a family portrait, to point out the figure among all the other little figures enjoying the garden at Stowe that may actually be Alexander Pope, which, if it is he, is the only representation of Pope that shows his disability -- Pope was a hunchback. You need a good pointer, one with a very precise and very bright red dot to show people these things, if you're standing at a lectern ten feet away.

The laser pointer also has a secondary use: it drives cats wild. Q discovered this with Kate, who used to sit up with him late at night as he prepared his slides. He would send the little red dot up the wall, and Kate would pursue it, scaling a flat wall as long as she could before falling back down onto the rug. He would describe kinetic spirals with it on the floor, and she would give chase. He could amuse her for hours with the laser pointer. I image most academics have figured this out long ago, but this essay is the first notice I have seen of it in print.

And so, on Christmas Day, I hope to persuade him to get out the laser pointer and have a little fun with Noodle. It is so much better than biting people and pouncing on their ankles: nobody can hurt the bright red dot. You can have fun with it until you're very old, as Kate did. This will be our first Christmas without Kate, without her lovely tortoiseshell furry body curled up in her chair, without her paragraphs of greeting to Q when she came in from outside, without her impressive purr, without her paw reaching up toward the dinner table like a periscope. But Noodle is becoming a cat to reckon with, as I thought she might.

Sometimes the best cats are those who sowed a lot of wild oats in their youth. People, too, sometimes. Such beings are intelligent and brave, and -- with just the slightest bit of civilizing, not enough to ruin them -- make excellent friends.

Sometimes people think that their youthful indiscretions disqualify them form God's love forever. Certainly not. If we can love and admire them despite -- and sometimes because of -- their interesting histories, God, who is much better at loving than you or I will ever be, has long ago done the same.
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