Cat’s command of the English language was mostly in credit to the television and cinema of Red Dwarf’s previous personnel. If pressed, one would find that he knew a few key phrases in several languages having chanced upon delicious items from cultures he knew his current crewmembers were not a part of; in particular he was drawn towards the colour and music of Bollywood and the delightful clichés of K-Drama.
But his favourite genre, in any language, was Christmas movies.
Partly it was because they were paint-by-numbers simple in storyline. A human who hates Christmas (or knows a human who hates Christmas) learning it’s the key to happiness somehow usually with the help of a love interest, large-eyed child or pet, and embraces the holiday. Or Santa’s child has to learn how to Santa. Or Santa has forgotten how to Santa. You got the odd deviation, but actually Cat liked the rinse and repeat method.
Also thinking too much about deep characters and plots hurt and caused wrinkles.
The only part he got bored with was the forced romantic interest. Humans were obsessed with that. It wasn’t always necessary and you never got to see any hanky-panky, so why bother?
But it wasn’t just that he understood Christmas films. They were bright and musical and loud and beautiful. They were everything important. They were him.
As a youngster he tried to create Christmas by himself in his room but something was off about it. He sat on his bed surrounded by the snowflake confetti and textile baubles he had hand-crafted feeling very un-jolly and looking hardly festive and he took off his faux-fur ermine stole and started to understand exactly how Jack Skellington had felt. It was obviously a human thing, and he needed a human to show him how.
His first year living with Lister revived he waited impatiently for November. A man whose self-proclaimed favourite film was ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ – surely he would throw up the glitter and the holly and the spiced food at the first sniff of the season? But there was nothing.
Okay, so maybe he was one of those decent people who waited for the actual month when surrounded by others who may not be quite so endeared. He’d seen plenty of films centred round that.
But the first week of December came and went as did the second and by the 21st of the month he glumly realised that Christmas wasn’t happening this year. Maybe it was because of all those ‘emotions’ Lister kept going on about. How he was down and lonely and stuff. Perhaps he just wasn’t in the mood. Humans were weird like that.
But the next year brought nothing, nor the one after.
Eventually, Cat gave up.
“It’s an activity centre for babies. Might be a bit advanced for you,” his bunkmate sneered from behind his shoulder.
“Leave off! Anyway, it was your idea to go through all this rubbish.”
“To jettison it, not to have nostalgia for centuries we don’t even remember.”
“Well yeah, I don’t remember this stuff. But I do remember my Gran going through the catalogue every Christmas.”
The Cat, who had been preening himself in front of their mirror having fatally caught a glimpse of how gorgeous he was twenty minutes ago, pirouetted gracefully and slammed his hands down on their metal table with a regretful wince. “Christmas?!”
“Yeah, my Gran was nuts for it.”
Lister craned his neck past Rimmer’s thigh to see Cat almost vibrating with excitement. “What’s wrong?”
He drummed his finely-shaped fingerclaws in embarrassment. “You never mention Christmas. I mean, apart from that dumbass movie.”
“That film is a classic,” said Lister as he turned and growled, slumping back into the cushions when Rimmer pressed his shoulders down soothingly to prevent an altercation.
“I don’t see the point in Christmas really.” Rimmer waggled his head in his ‘father knows best’ way. “Pagan rituals cannibalised and regurgitated into candy-coloured nonsense under the guise of monotheistic goodwill. Family members encouraged to gather in one place for an undetermined amount of time that’s only ended by the inevitable punch-up between step-relatives. I can tell you with a great amount of personal experience that there’s no so-called ‘peace on earth’ when family is about.”
“Yeah but what are the chances of your family turning up on Christmas Eve with a trifle these days, Rimmer?”
“With my luck? One thousand percent.”
Lister looked up at him with a dry but consoling smile and turned back to the Cat. “Anyway, as much as I love that film, Rimmer’s right. Christmas is about family. Not much point in it when you’re on your tod.”
“And there’s a lot of JMC health and safety in the way. Don’t even get me started on brandy butter,” Rimmer added authoritatively.
“We won’t because you never remember the codes right. What you think is ‘Christmas pudding fire emergency’ is probably ‘wonky chicks in Easter basket display’.
Cat gazed at them, fascinated, as they sniped insults at one another nose to nose. He was right – he DID need humans for Christmas. This was the most Christmassy thing he’d ever seen in real life.
“That puffed-up feline was born off.”
“I’m serious…” Lister and his dreads dangled over the edge of his bunk and they all stared at him expectantly. Rimmer put his textbook down in a huff. He obviously wasn’t going to get any sleep until Lister had gotten whatever it was about the Cat off his chest.
“Get on with it, Listy,” he sighed. “Tell me what’s bothering you so I can make a snarky comment, you can get all irate and I can go to sleep with a smile on my face.”
“I think Cat… might want Christmas.”
“Of course he does. He wants anything we don’t, especially if it’s gaudy.”
“You saw his little face though, when we were talking about it. If Christmas bothers you that much we can have it somewhere else where you don’t have to join in. We’ll have it down on one of the lower decks out of your way.”
“Really? You normally love forcing me into these things.”
“Yeah well, I don’t really want to either. If I could get out of it I would.” Lister snuggled back into his bunk and chewed the end of his hair. “But I don’t know, maybe having Cat all excited about it might get my spirits up too.”
Rimmer snorted derisively. “Actual spirits would probably work better.”
“Eh, you might be onto something there. Better get out the old cocktail recipe book for some festive tipple. ‘Sides,” he yawned as he pulled up his blankets, “Kryten would love Christmas too.”
“Absolutely. Just think of all that cleaning up for him to do. And such fantastically awkward stains – wine, gravy, berries, chocolate.”
“Smeg man, don’t, now I’m hungry.” Lister nuzzled into his pillow and smiled thoughtfully. Yes, this might actually be fun.
Instead they gathered together outside the Cat’s room a few weeks later on December 1st and pounded the door until he threw it open and yowled at them that he was only hour twelve into his beauty sleep. Upon seeing the homemade rice-crispies treat Advent calendar being offered to him, his bottom lip trembled, and he attributed it to being cold from having his nap disturbed.
A few days later the Cat dragged several mood boards into their bunkroom and went through a regimented itinerary that impressed even Rimmer’s anal proclivity.
Each specially chosen room was to have a theme. Their bunkroom was going to be the traditional red and gold as red was a popular colour in their décor already so there would be no clashing. Rimmer was satisfied with that until he heard that the Parrots bar was going to be the main Christmas tree room and in a Scandinavian style. He liked the snowy woodsy look. It reminded him of masculine things like log cabins, antler-motif furniture and large hairy men in flannel shirts with axes.
The science room was to be contemporary – lots of icy colours; silvers, whites and blues to suit the computers and equipment in there. And of course, Cat’s room would be glamour and glitz – metallics, blacks, purples and pinks, and so much glitter he’d be finding it in his hair past Valentine’s Day.
“We start first thing in the morning,” he announced and rolled up his posters.
Rimmer raised an eyebrow. “So what would that be? 11am?”
“There’s an 11am?”
“Scots pine, Irish spruce, Welsh fir, doesn’t matter,” Rimmer snapped, already tired of tinsel and tiny pegs on string and sharp little LED bulbs joined by green forever-tangled wires, as Kryten carefully positioned the tree inside its stand.
“Well it does sir, as those latter ones aren’t names of specific tree species. There was a ship called the Irish Spruce if I recall…”
“You know your problem, Kryten,” said Rimmer, raising a finger.
Rimmer put it down again. “Your problem is you’ve been inhaling too much spray snow. It’s clogging up your mechanisms and making you odd. Odd-er.”
“But sir, I haven’t even-”
“Bup-bup-bup, all this chatting isn’t getting anything decorated, now is it? Cat has a schedule and we must adhere to it. Go fetch some water for the tree. Chop chop,” he chortled at his pun.
Kryten blinked in a confused manner at Rimmer’s eagerness as he awkwardly stomped off to find some water. Though really Rimmer helping out wasn’t that strange, not that his actions could be mistaken as him having a good heart or wanting to do something nice for the Cat. He just hated to be left out and loved barking orders.
“Lister so help me if you don’t stop trying to slam out Wizzard on that poor excuse for an instrument, I am going to deck your halls,” Rimmer yelled from down the corridor when he caught the tail end of what he supposed was a song as he exited the lift.
“That’d be great man, saves me doing it all,” Lister called back from the sofa.
“I’m helping with everything else. Oh for goodness sake Lister,” he groaned as he entered their room, “the fibre-optic tree’s still practically empty.”
“It’s miserable is what it is. I wish you’d be more helpful, this was your bloody idea after all. Where’s your Christmas cheer?”
Lister lifted up a six pack. “Somewhere about the end of the third one of these.”
“Fine,” Rimmer said with an overly theatrical sniff. “Ruin the Cat’s very first Christmas. Maybe he’ll be so upset he’ll never bother us for another one ever again. Personally I just couldn’t live with myself if that happened.”
“Oh smeg off, Rimmer,” he pouted, squirming with guilt. But it worked and Lister put a few more baubles and candy canes on the tree, before grabbing a biro and drawing a small ‘H’ on the forehead of the fairy and sticking her firmly on the very top branch.
“Who invited Noddy Bloody Holder?” Rimmer groaned from his pillow. Lister made a similar sound from his own bunk.
“Come on, losers. If we’re quick we might catch Santa before he leaves.”
“Very cute, Cat.” Lister rolled over and stretched out his limbs with an aging crack.
“You don’t wanna meet him? I do! I want to see for myself how an old fat guy pulls off red and white. I mean, no way he looks as good as this right?”
The other two men lifted their heads to grimace at his sparkling rhinestone-encrusted Santa suit. Lister leant over his bunk to give Rimmer a subtle ‘I think he’s serious’ look.
Rimmer sent back a ‘Good Lord I think you’re right’ look.
Lister swung out of his bunk. “You run ahead Cat, we’ll see him next year.” As soon as the Cat had scampered off he groaned, “Smeg, please don’t tell me one of us is going to have to dress up as Santa. I’m too old for that sitcom stuff.”
“He might be stupid enough to believe in Father Christmas, but I don’t think he’s stupid enough not to recognise us. Our smell would give us away, for one thing.”
“Yeah I don’t think we can make mince pies and reindeer scented deodorant on such short notice. What do we do?”
“Tell him he missed him, obviously. All we can do,” said Rimmer snippily.
“Aw, but his little face…”
“Enough about his little face. He’ll get over it. And we’ll tell him the truth eventually, at a better time. Like his birthday.”
Lister jumped down from his bunk and dumped his pillow on Rimmer’s head. “You’re such a Scrooge, Rimmer.”
He reappeared, grumbling, “Which one? If it’s anyone but Sir Patrick Stewart I’ll be greatly offended.”
“How dare you.”
“Just a guess,” said Lister. It wasn’t like Cat had made his own gifts and given them all to Kryten the night before to wrap up so he wouldn’t receive anything he didn’t like. That would be silly.
The Cat put the shoulder pieces with his other presents and stood back to admire his treasure trove. “This was a good haul. Can’t wait for next year. Hey, where’s my present from Santa?”
The other three flinched and looked at one another worriedly. Rimmer volunteered Lister for the explanation by nudging him forward with a hoof up the arse. Lister played with one of the over-sized buttons on his elf outfit as he tried to find the right words. “See Cat, the thing about Santa is…” He looked back at Kryten and Rimmer imploringly as he began to flounder.
“Christmas is your present,” Rimmer said suddenly, his antlers bobbing as he stood up. “I mean, yes you had to work for it yourself and you had to put up with us, but that’s what Christmas is. And Father Christmas wanted you to have it at last.”
Lister gawped and Kryten wheeled around (almost losing his gumdrop buttons in his speed) and stared at him unbelievingly. But Cat nodded sagely. “I get it, I get it. So it’s a spiritual gift? Like in the movies?” He bristled unhappily. “I hate spiritual gifts. I can’t wear them.”
“Unfortunately, that’s how he works sometimes. Perhaps next year he’ll bring you leg wax.”
“Hey, you’ve got a point! We’ve only got one year until next Christmas – I better start on my list!”
“Well done, mate,” said Lister (once the Cat was distracted and scribbling furiously with a scent marker on a fluffy notepad) and gave an awed pat to Rimmer’s back.
“It wasn’t that difficult to think of. I’ve had to sit through my fair share of sappy Christmas films over the years, including yours. It’s always the same general message.
“I must agree that was inspired sir,” Kryten beamed with rare admiration. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I must baste the turkey again.”
“So what did you get me, Rimsy the Red-nosed Smeghead?” Lister cooed solicitously once the Gingerbread Mech had gone.
Rimmer folded his arms and looked down his nose at him, not that it was difficult with his lanky frame. “What makes you think I got you anything?”
Lister stuck out his bottom lip.
“Alright, it’s not exactly a gift but… I was hoping to get a personal rendition of ‘Wombling Merry Christmas’. I’m quite partial to it and I know you’ve been practicing all night. In fact the whole universe heard you. It called for you to stop several times.”
“Actually I thought I’d play you something I wrote myself, a homage to Christmas songs.” Lister picked up his battered guitar and strummed what sounded like an attempt at a chord and began:
“Baby it’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere,
I’m all alone, on Christmas,
Let me see if reindeer know how to fly,
Egg egg egg, in my nog nog nog…”
Rimmer discarded the hoof-shaped slippers and gave his toes a well-earned wriggle before slipping out of the top half of his reindeer onesie. Cat was full of turkey and tucked up soundly in his bed, Kryten was clearing everything away and Rimmer could finally enjoy some peace and quiet. He’d found the day pleasant, surprisingly, and he had succumbed more easily to the festive spirit than he thought possible. Even Lister, picking his teeth as he reclined on the sofa, wasn’t as irritating as usual.
“Did you get anything from the Cat?” he asked Lister, only for something to say as he put on his usual white shirt and boxers for bedtime.
“Yeah actually, we both did. He said he left our presents in here.” Lister got up to brush his teeth and buttoned up his new plaid long-johns that for some reason made Rimmer sweat a little as he walked past at crotch-to-face height. “Oh, think I found mine,” he said, peering into his bunk. “A card.”
“Last of the big spenders,” Rimmer scoffed. He fumbled around and found his own tucked under his pillow.
“What’s it say?”
“Mine says ‘Look up, Goalpost-head’.” Rimmer glanced around his bunk for mere moments before he spotted the mistletoe taped to the edge. He gulped. “What does yours say?”
Lister grinned at the berries and leaned inside. “Just kiss him already, bud.”