Johnny America


Pro­fes­sor Yan­nick Muller, The Man Who Be­came a Cat


Pro­fes­sor Yan­nick Muller made three mis­takes to pre­cip­i­tate his trans­for­ma­tion in­to a cat: first, the pre­vi­ous evening, he’d pur­chased cat food when he in­tend­ed to pur­chase cof­fee beans; sec­ond, the fol­low­ing morn­ing, he ground the cat food, swirled the grounds with hot wa­ter in his plunger pot, wait­ed, then poured the liq­uid in­to his cof­fee mug; third, present­ly, he drank from that mug. On­ly cats drink cat food cof­fee, and Muller was no cat. Muller’s body, rec­og­niz­ing this con­tra­dic­tion, made the nec­es­sary ad­just­ments to his ge­net­ic structure.

The trans­for­ma­tion first man­i­fest­ed it­self as a re­duc­tion in scale. Muller no­ticed his eye-lev­el grad­u­al­ly near­ing the ground, but rea­soned he was mere­ly do­ing squats; he did squats every morn­ing, af­ter all, and he fig­ured his body had au­to­mat­ed the rou­tine. He cheered this de­vel­op­ment. Muller took note that his eye-lev­el re­mained close to the ground, while all his pre­vi­ous squats in­volved a re­turn to nor­mal, and rea­soned some­thing must be awry. His con­cern in­creased when he no­ticed his cof­fee mug falling to the floor be­side his paw. He dropped it due to his lack of op­pos­able thumb. Muller thought care­ful­ly about these ob­ser­va­tions; he clear­ly re­mem­bered hav­ing an op­pos­able thumb but could not re­call ever pos­sess­ing a paw. His arm was still an arm, but now it was cov­ered with fur and stripes. As a boy, he’d once drawn stripes on his arm; per­haps he’d ne­glect­ed to wash them clean and they’d re­mained on his arm for forty years with­out him notic­ing. This was an un­sat­is­fac­to­ry ex­pla­na­tion, since it did not ac­count for the gray fur. More re­search would have to be done.

Muller strode to his dress­ing mir­ror. His gait now in­volved four legs, which was an­oth­er dis­tress­ing ob­ser­va­tion. When Muller looked in­to the mir­ror his feel­ings were as­suaged: he was look­ing at Pro­fes­sor Yan­nick Muller, hu­man male, six-foot-one, fifty-one years of age, stand­ing nor­mal­ly. The cat sighed with re­lief. There was noth­ing to be con­cerned about. To cel­e­brate this vic­to­ry, Muller licked the fur on the un­der­side of his neck. The body in the dress­ing mir­ror stood mo­tion­less. Muller licked his fur again, and again the body in the mir­ror was mo­tion­less. What he con­sid­ered his re­flec­tion could not be: not on­ly was the fig­ure in the mir­ror not lick­ing the fur on the un­der­side of its neck, but it didn’t even have fur on the un­der­side of its neck. Or a tail. Muller then re­mem­bered that it was not a dress­ing mir­ror at all! It was a life-sized pic­ture of him­self that he’d placed on the wall with the hope that po­ten­tial bur­glars might see the im­age of the man they were about to steal from, feel sym­pa­thet­ic, then leave quick­ly and qui­et­ly. Per­haps tak­ing time to pen a note of apol­o­gy. Muller had nev­er been stolen from, so he thought the plan to be worth­while, but he could’ve done with­out the present confusion.

Muller didn’t need the dress­ing mir­ror any longer. He put the ev­i­dence in front of him and knew he was now a cat. This was not wish-ful­fil­ment: not on­ly did Muller dis­like cats, but to com­pound the in­con­ve­nience Muller was sched­uled to give the keynote speech at the Phi­los­o­phy Pro­fes­sors Con­gress lat­er in the evening. It was his University’s hon­or to host the event, and it was his hon­or, elect­ed by his peers, to speak on their be­half. He’d been work­ing on his speech for months. It was a primer to the larg­er project that he he’d been work­ing on for years, his mag­num opus, a full-length book preach­ing his con­clu­sions on phi­los­o­phy. The work was en­ti­tled The Hu­man Ex­pe­ri­ence. Muller read the ti­tle on his com­put­er screen. How would he be able to ad­dress his au­di­ence as a cat? It would be a spec­ta­cle that he did not take plea­sure in imagining.

Muller knew rev­el­ing in de­spair wouldn’t help mat­ters and re­solved to set out for help, but he was too em­bar­rassed to ask a hu­man so he ven­tured to find a cat.

“Hel­lo,” Muller said to the first cat he en­coun­tered. He was as­tound­ed at his own voice, for it was the same as pri­or to his transformation.

“Hel­lo,” re­spond­ed the cat, a calico.

“I am in need of as­sis­tance,” Muller explained.

“Then it would be un­wise to ask John Key.”

This non-se­quitor puz­zled Muller.

“I am un­fa­mil­iar with that name.”

“John Key,” said the cal­i­co cat in a de­ri­sive man­ner. “The Prime Min­is­ter of New Zealand.”

“What is the mean­ing of that information?”

The cal­i­co cat hissed and ran away. Cats pre­fer com­mu­ni­ca­tion by me­ow­ing, and gen­er­al­ly avoid speak­ing Ger­man. When they do speak the lan­guage, it is cus­tom­ary for them to lim­it their con­ver­sa­tion to the pol­i­tics of New Zealand; by lim­it­ing their con­ver­sa­tion to Ki­wi gov­er­nance, if a hu­man does over­hear the con­ver­sa­tion he or she will take no in­ter­est and leave the re­mark­able cats alone. Muller was ig­no­rant of this wise custom.

Dis­con­so­late at his in­abil­i­ty to find help, Muller re­turned to his house. It was for­tu­nate that the pre­vi­ous own­ers in­stalled a cat-door, and that he’d nev­er found time to board it over.

The keynote speech was due to be giv­en in just hours. All his hard work, his think­ing, his writ­ing, would be lost for­ev­er. Muller tried to cheer him­self up by play­ing with a string. It worked — and sparked an idea. He dropped the string, ran to his writ­ing desk, and hopped up on the chair. He looked at the ti­tle, The Hu­man Ex­pe­ri­ence, placed his cur­sor at the end of it, and typed the ad­den­dum: …from the Per­spec­tive of a Cat.

Ah, there it is, he thought.

Muller rev­elled in his good for­tune. He would be­come the first philoso­pher with the abil­i­ty to ob­serve his species from a true outsider’s per­spec­tive. Not on­ly would his speech go on, it would be stronger than he an­tic­i­pat­ed. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing book, al­so to be ti­tled The Hu­man Ex­pe­ri­ence from the Per­spec­tive of a Cat, would be the first of its kind. It would sell mil­lions. Muller imag­ined him­self show­ered with praise, the first cat No­bel lau­re­ate, delv­ing deep­er in­to the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence than any oth­er philoso­pher. He imag­ined ex­quis­ite salmon buf­fets. He smiled, laid down where the sun­beams met the floor, rolled on to his back, and took a nap.

Filed under Fiction on March 27th, 2015

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