Le Petit Enfant
The origin of the Fluff Attack in the City of Light began on an overcast day on the busy docks near Port de Seine in the year 1911. A furry tomcat, wearing a hobo hat with a flower and a black eye from too much tussling on deck, scurried down the gangplank and made his way under a sausage cart. Rounds of Polish and Irish immigrants worked the docks, dressed in ratted cottons and threadbare naval coats. They were stooped from heavy lifting and called out to each other in their native tongues.
The tomcat stopped for a moment to lick his paws with his big sloppy tongue, then sniffed the dangling end of a string of pork sausage. He continued to sniff until the sniff became a tentative lick, and the lick became a bite, and the bite resulted in the whole long string of heavy meat dropping to the ground. The cart owner, a Polish man with a heavy black frock and a wide dark mustache and a sinister glare, chased the cat from his cart with a long butcher's knife. The hobo hat fell off and spun in place, in the dirt, as the white blur went on ahead, crouched and scared.
The hobo cat passed his time nipping at the ankles of steamer men and prostitutes, yowling in the night like a little lost baby. He drank steadily from pans of drippings from meat hall leftovers, sipped from the dirty banks of the Seine, and lay on his back in small stretches of dirt behind the promenade and rolled around.
Soon he grew bold and, satisfied that even the proud dock wastrels would continue to drop their food for him, he set out to ascend Paris by night. He took the lamp poles and lanterns first, and sat gazing down at the berets and top hats and waiting for the lantern men to come around. He did this for a year or two, becoming a sort of fixture in the area.
Soon the little tramp made his way over the brick encampments in La Cite where the myriad homeless stood around and made fires. The little guy ran over boats and across bridges, increasingly fearless, tail high in the air, ecstatic and fluffy. He scampered across thick pieces of rope hanging heavy with just-scrubbed clothing, jumped to window sills in narrow alleys until he was up near the rooftops, gazing down at all of the Port de Seine and out across to Notre Dame.
"Auuwwr." he mewed plaintively. "Auwwrr auwwwr." His voice was deep and nasally, like an old man's. Hair grew out of his ears the same as an old man's, and one of his eyes had grown unusually large due to an infection. He licked at it night and day, until the dark weeping from his bad eye had stained one paw brown. The oily river water did not help, but the hobo cat pressed on.
He saw more of Paris as another few years went by. He gave up the gristle and gravy of the Port for more exotic fare - sliced salmon, tender cutlets of lamb. A kindly habidasher in Pigalle began leaving out bowls of milk and water for the furry tramp. One day, this kindly shop owner left a new hobo hat for the tom, with a bright yellow marigold. The cat pushed his head down against the ground, until the hat slipped onto his hard but fuzzy skull, and he waited for nightfall. All night, he sat out on the cobblestones outside the suitmaker's bedroom window and said,
He paid no mind to the noise from the Moulin Rouge just blocks away. He paid no attention to the noise from the drunk and angry gamblers, the shunned and insulted prostitutes. Once the early morning hours arrived, and the air was still blue and not yet grey, he made his ascent. His heavy body hit the bed and he moved toward the old man gently, his kindred spirit. The hobo hat fell off again onto the bed, and the hobo cat nudged his skull against the habidasher's cheek, and pressed it there, purring.
The habidasher woke and felt the perfumed animal's hot fish breath on his cheek, and the light motor of a purr, and sighed contentedly.
It is like I am being attacked, he thought to himself. And yet it is so fluffy, and so light, and causes me to relax.
And yet, in his French way, the old man was inspired. He had a revelation. He sat up in bed, alarming the hobo cat, who then ran out the window down to the alley below.
"This hobo cat who wears my hobo hat - he gave a gift to me! It is a fluff attack!" said the Habidasher aloud. "I will tell my neighbors to keep their windows open, so they may experience fluff attack."
The following night, the cat returned, and this time, the habidasher fixed the little creature's damaged eye with a needle and thread. The fuzzy prince protested and hissed, but at the end it was clear that the infection would no longer torment him.
The row of shops lining the district all began keeping their windows open. Some days they saw a grey and white shadow over the rooftops, other nights they thought their heard the cry of a baby on the damp streets below. Some nights they heard frantic screaming and the clatter of refuse bins, but no fluff attack came. However, one night, an Italian restauranteer placed a doughy pie, still steaming, on the sill. Sometime after midnight, he woke to the sound of wet, sloppy licking. The creature was just outside. The Italian kept his eyes closed as the room fell silent. Minutes later, he felt a heavy vibration on the bed, and before he knew it, a fuzzy skull was pressing against his cheek, and the hot breath, smelling of cheese and dough, consumed him.
Soon, the neighborhood ran with talks of the phantom hobo cat, and his early morning fluff attacks. They were said to inspire fever dreams, or bring on inspiration for new ideas. Many of the residents of Paris, at that time, lived burdensome lives, and the hope for the loving embrace of a committed cat head, and the smearing of said cat's wet nose on one's lips brought about an antidote to the hangover from the Belle Epoque. The artists of that time were already full of themselves, or irrelevant, or dead, and all felt weary of Paris and what war had done to its spirit, but the hobo cat brought a new sort of ecstasy to their hearts, invading their dreams, maneuvering their spirits like his nimble pawed climbing, all the way to the stars.
The dressmaker was the sole resident who refused to take part. She was a careful widow who watched over her shop like a bird of prey, and she had lost her husband in the Great War. For many months after the news came, she refused to see or be seen, except in the event of a special order of fabric, or a custom designer sweeping into town. The dressmaker refused to be part of the Little Hobo's house-by-house invasion of the hearts and minds of wartime Paris. She kept her window shut and locked. She would have none of it.
One night, the dressmaker double-checked the locks on her shop downstairs, and headed up for bed. She opened her copy of Le Gaulois - it had run, among other things, a very engaging serial about a subterranean opera singer, but it had darkened her thoughts too much for her to read at that hour. She put the paper away and sat for a very long time in her modest flat. She stared out through the clouded and buckled glass and decided she wanted to look at the sky again. She opened the window to the chill, and brought out a plate of strawberries and other fruits out on her sill, and waited, and watched. She sighed despondently, the way old women sigh at the end of their lives, though she was only 28.
The window was still open. The sounds of revelry came from below. She hated them for enjoying life despite all the carnage in the fields outside Paris and beyond. How dare you enjoy your life, when mine has been such misery, she thought darkly, and pulled up the sheets, and lay awake for a long time, her heart pounding in her chest. She did not sleep for a long time, and when she did at last, the darkness had begun to lighten through the window. The air was cold. Her body grew warm and heavy, and she at last slept.
A fuzzy skull, and the odd mingling of strawberries and fish, invaded her senses in a dream. Something wet but rough scraped over her neck and cheeks. The little animal was so heavy, draped over her windpipe, but he purred and purred and she dared not move.
This is the hobo cat, she thought excitedly. He has come for me.
"Bonjour, la petit enfant, petit prinz..." she murmured through his fur, still half asleep. He responded by pressing his head up against her face, and purring loudly. A tear emerged from her right eye, near the spot where her husband had kissed her before leaving for Belgium. She kept herself from crying aloud, but the purring continued, and the Little Tramp rubbed his nose on her jaw and paused to lick there, where the tear had fallen. He crawled off her windpipe and collapsed onto his side, satisfied and happy. There was no longer a need to roam the streets in search of a home, for he had found it at last.
"Ecoutes la lune." she said, smiling.
"Auwwrr." he said plainly.