With the days so short and the nights so very long, the little girl laid down beneath her tattered blanket in spite of the early hour in an attempt to escape the cold and the loneliness, though she knew that sleep would not easily come. Nevertheless, she closed her eyes and tried the best she could to remember her parents’ faces and to recall what it was to be held within the safety of their arms.
Just as she found herself straddling the distance between wakefulness and her dreams, she felt a gust of hot breath upon her face, ruffling the mess of her hair. Startled, she popped her eyes open, only to find a big black nose filling her field of vision. She shrunk back so as to allow her eyes to focus. And, there, before her, was none other than the Yule Cat.
“What a grubby mess you are, Child,” he said with disdain. “You must not have been a good girl this year, for your clothes are torn and soiled.”
“I do not think it is any business of yours what I look like, Mr. Cat,” she said. “Please be on your way. I am trying to rest.”
“Oh, but it is of my concern, for girls such as you deserve to be gobbled up whole.”
“Who says?” she challenged.
“Does it matter as I stand here before you?” A long strand of drool pulled from his fangs. “The townsfolk have no use for girls such as yourself nor does God, I dare say. You obviously have not earned the newness of clothes.”
“And who, pray tell, would get them for me?” the little girl asked.
“Your parents, of course,” the Yule Cat proclaimed.
“I have none. God took them up to Heaven.”
“Then, your guardians.”
“I have none. I am alone in this world. And thus you look upon me with derision in your gaze.”
“Only hunger, my dear,” he said as the scratch of his tongue caught the fur around his mouth.
“Do what you must, but I pray to a compassionate God, not a punishing one as you do.”
“What kind of blasphemy is this?” the Cat asked.
“Call it what you will, it is the truth,” she said. “How am I to earn my new clothes when there is no one to gift them to me? My friend thieves to keep me barely fed, and even that, sir, instills guilt in my heart.”
“Where there is a will, there is a way,” he said.
“Yes, and I would be quite happy to spin your fur into yarn.”
Her words silenced the Cat for a long moment.
“You can do that?”
“Of course. My mother taught me to spin and to knit and to weave and to sew. If you’d care to give me nothing but the fur you shed, I would have nice new clothing for the year ahead. And, then, I would happily make garments for others in need. But, since you plan on eating me, you save me the trouble. However, I fear you will find that I do not satisfy your hunger. There is very little meat on my bones.”
The Yule Cat found that he had no response to offer the little girl, for it was the truth. Silently, he slunk back into the shadows.
She closed her eyes again and begged for sleep to come.
The next morning, she told Gunnar about her conversation with the Yule Cat.
“Weren’t you scared?” His eyes were wide.
“What is there to be scared of?” she asked before answering. “If he eats me, I will no longer be cold or lonely.”
When the little girl next awakened, she found a brush and a spindle lying on the cobblestones before her.
Oh, Gunnar, she said to herself, for she did not like when he took other people’s things.
Yet, that evening, when the Yule Cat returned, she was grateful for Gunnar’s thievery.
“Little Girl, I thought through the night of what you said. You may have my shed fur if it is useful to you.”
And so, the little girl brushed the Yule Cat until she had acquired enough fur to fill both hands. He found it so good to be free of all that extra weight that he licked her cheek before he slunk off into the night.
The little girl stayed up until the wee hours, hand-spinning the Yule Cat’s fur into the softest, most luxurious of yarns. By the time the sun rose, she had a full skein of the stuff.
And when she awakened, much later than usual, she found a pair of knitting needles before her on the cobblestones.
Oh, Gunnar, she said to herself when she found them. Yet, by the next day, she had fashioned a full sleeve from the yarn that she had spun of the Yule Cat’s shedded fur.
Thus, it continued. The Yule Cat would come at night and let the little girl brush him until she had enough fur to carry on with her knitting.
The morning after she finished knitting all of the parts that might comprise a thieving boy’s sweater, she found a needle lying on the cobblestones before her.
And, by the time night fell, the little girl had fashioned a lovely sweater in all manner of earthen tones, which she presented to the Yule Cat.
“It is complete, Mr. Cat,” the little girl announced. “If you would be so kind, I’m quite certain Gunnar would appreciate your presenting him with this sweater to keep him warm on blustery nights.”
The Yule Cat took the sweater in his mouth and skulked away to deliver the gift.
The next morning, the little girl did not rise from where she lay in the alley’s shadows, for in the night, she had chosen a much deeper sleep, one that would allow her to know the peace she desired more than any other. After all, she had repaid her debt to Gunnar for his kindness and found tremendous comfort in the Yule Cat’s change of heart.
Kelly Moyer is an award-winning poet and fibre artist, who pursues
her muse through the cobbled streets of New Orleans’s French Quarter. When not
writing, stitching or weaving, she is likely to be found wandering the
mountains of North Carolina, where she resides with her partner and two
philosopher kittens, Simone and Jean-Paul. Hushpuppy,
her collection of short-form poetry, was released this year by Nun Prophet