I really like cats. Currently I have five, residing at my home: Starbuck, Sugar, Stampy, Scarlet, and Storm. You could imagine my happiness when I got this book. Cat Stories from the Everyman’s Pocket Classics series and edited by Diana Secker Tesdell caught my attention right away. There are many things that make this book special: (1.) these 19 stories are written by very famous class authors (including a novel Prize recipient) such as Neil Gaiman, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe, Italo Calvino, and so on (2.) This book combines stories from two different centuries from Puss in Boats to The Price. I read a story by my favorite writers, and then, read them all since there is no other animal in the bunch. The stories are divided into “People and Their Cats,” “Cats and Their People”, and “Fanciful Felines.”
Now, I will describe my two favorite short stories, taken from the book.
1. An Old Woman and Her Cat by Doris Lessing
“Her name was Hetty, and she was born in the twentieth century
She was seventy when she died of cold and malnutrition.
She had been alone for a long time, since her husband died of pneumonia in a bad winter soon after the second world war. He had not been more than middle age.”
The opening paragraph of this story immediately tells me a lot about Hetty, who I predict would be the protagonist. I was wondering why would an old woman in the twentieth century died of cold and malnutrition. After reading this story, I knew.
Hetty was the ‘Old Woman’ in this story, with Tibby, her beloved tom cat was the ‘Cat’, in this story. It was only Tibby, who loved Hetty back. All four of her children, grew up, and left the house. Each earnt lots of money and got married; except for some Christmas cards sent by a daughter, Hetty didn’t exists at all before their eyes. After her children left and her husband died, Hetty was moved by the government into a small flat at the same building; however, soon her life changed when she found a kitten, lost and trembling in a dirty corner, and bought it home.
“Tibby was soon a scared warrior with fleas, a torn ear, and a ragged look to him. He was a multicolored cat and his eyes were small and yellow. He was a long way down the scale from the delicately colored, elegant shape pedigree cats.”
By how Tibby was described, it seemed that he was one of the dominant males in Hetty’s neighborhood. And those kind of cats, were like cannibals, compared to those fluffy white Persians with flattened noses.
The place where Hetty lived was overcrowded with cats, and an occasion dog. There were lots of dung left for someone to clean, everybody complains, and finally the government decided that the rule of keeping animals were enforced. Hetty was liked everybody else, needed to have their pet destroyed. Around the same time, Hetty owed a lot of payment for her rent. The neighbors were gossiping that Hetty had ‘gone savage’, because Tibby bringing a dead pigeon was a common sight. They were disgusted with the blood and feathers all the way, and the way Hetty would pluck it and eat it along with Tibby.
So she fled. She took her cat, stole at television set, and ran off, to set her house somewhere else. She set her house again in one room, and soon life was back to normal, until the government decided to move her to where she would die in peace. Hetty, was of course, not allowed bring her beloved cat. So she ran away again, with the other old women, covering up for her.
Her devotion to her cat, was simply heart breaking. The way she sacrificed a lot of things, so that she could live with her cat, perhaps, forming the title. Tibby got everything a cat had wished for, and had done his best to give Hetty her needs, being like Hetty’s only son. By the way, her ‘real’ sons never cared for her.
2. The Price by Neill Gaiman
“We take them in. We get rid of the fleas and ticks, feed them, and take them to the vet. We pay for them to get their shorts, and indignity upon indignity had them neutered or spayed. And they stay with us: for a few months, or for a year, or for ever.”
The narrator of this story, whose name became unknown to the end, really loves cats (which makes him like me). His house seems never complete without his cats. There were never more than eight, but always more than three. As the story starts, he had five. Hermione and Pod, Snowflake and Fuball, and The Black Cat, which was a ‘mini panther’ to the narrator.
Everybody thought he was someone’s cat, because he looks to well fed to be a stray, and too old and jaunty to be abandoned. One day, the author went away to leave for a few weeks, to finish writing a book, and the Black Cat on the pourch seemed different. He had lost clumps of fur, seemed tired and thin. After a visit to the vet, and a few days, the narrator noticed in growing horror that The Black Cat was getting worse and worse, until the point the narrator decided to lock it up in the basement for recovery. An array of unluckiness happened.
By the time the black cat recovered, the family was in chaos. The narrator reluctantly allowed to let the Black Cat live on the pouch. The next morning, suddenly, the whole family’s problems got better. But the narrator still stayed suspicious of whatever happened, to the black cat. So he decided to keep watch.
“I was about to settle myself back down when it occurred to me to wonder what exactly had startled Snowflake so, and I began scanning the middle distance with binoculars, looking for a huge raccoon, a dog or a vicious possum. And there was indeed something coming down the driveway towards the house. I could see it through the binoculars as clear as day. It was the Devil.”
What he saw scared him the most. Over the next few paragraphs, the narrator describes the horror of what he saw,of how The Black Cat fought the Devil. I think, the Devil, was actually a wild ferocious creature; like perhaps, a wild cat, (as it was described as a wild cat once) or a coyote (as it was described as a coyote once)
There are many interesting stories in this book, and I would recommend it to those who likes cats, or want something entertaining to read. This is a gift for a cat lover who would be absolutely delighted reading this book. It would give you food for thought, to make you understand how deep the relationship between human and feline is!