Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
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Paris, France
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December 31
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Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
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www.alysasalzberg.com
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A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out www.alysasalzberg.com.

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MAY 18, 2011 7:46AM

Woman with a Cat - Fiction Wednesday 1

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As some of you know, Fiction Friday has undergone some major changes.  One of the biggies is that it's now Fiction Wednesday.

You can find information about this, as well as prompts and a list of stories for each week, at the new blog I've created (with former Fiction Friday heads Rita Bourland and Naomi de Plume's blessings),


 

This week's prompts were to either do your own thing, or to write a story beginning with a sentence from a published book or poem. The sentence I chose was: "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." - the opening line of Jane Eyre.

There's still time, so if you feel inspired, why not give Fiction Wednesday a shot?

If you post a story, please go to the Fiction Wednesday Stories for May 18 page, and add your story to the list via the Comments section.

And if you just want to read some great OS fiction, the aforementioned page is the place to go for a full list of all participants' pieces.

Happy reading and writing!

_____________________________________________ 

 

Woman with a Cat 

 

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

And there wouldn’t be one tomorrow, or after that, and not, Minou figured, for a long time to come.  Not until they brought out his cage again and pushed him inside and took him down the winding wood steps and out to the noisy place he usually only saw from his high window, and then down stone steps to the terrible suffering of the underground train ride, with its strong smells and constant stops that made him sick.  And then out and onto a tube-like vehicle that ran smoothly and he could sleep in his cage high over the heads of the human passengers, including his humans just below. 

Whenever he woke up, they'd left the tube-like thing and  were in a quieter place outdoors, where new odors came to him in a rush of unburdened air.  He smelled pine and sand and birds’ wings.  He smelled large animals who dwelt in the darkness of the trees.  He smelled flowers and weeds he’d very much like to chew.

For over a month he’d stayed there this time, with the other human couple whose scent was similar to his master’s.  And they’d let him go outside in the garden, where slowly he’d forgotten himself and become a part of those smells, those trees, where he’d spied on and chased birds – unsuccessfully, but it had thrilled him and moved his little heart all the same.

When his master had reappeared at the door one day, he’d known it was over. And though he was sure he’d be coming back, he knew, of course, that he couldn’t say when.  This always bothered him, as he was a creature of routine.  But now he felt even worse than usual.  “I’ve been climbing trees!” he yowled in outrage as his master and the couple fought him into his cage.

“Please get me out of this little metal box and back to the garden!” he’d meowed, trying to win them over with kitten-like sounds as they’d headed to the place to take the train home. 

But no matter what, the journey had gone in predictable reverse, and some time later he and his master were at the top of the wooden stairs, facing the door behind which lay his home.  As a last resort, though he knew it wouldn’t do anything, he’d peed on himself in protest, then yowled miserably as the-girl-who-came-later gave him a bath.

 
“Any good news today?” Michel said at the door, as he kissed her goodbye.

“There’s one company I’m going to send my resume to, and later on I have an interview.”

He nodded. “Good luck,” and headed down the wooden stairs to work.

Sarah, or the-girl-who-came-later, as Minou called her, turned from the the closed door and wandered into the living room, where the cat was sleeping on the sofa, his soft, dark fur contrasting with the yellow fabric.

She had met Minou the cat one year after he’d been adopted by Michel, who was now her husband.  She’d always loved cats, and Minou was so affectionate and clever that it was hard not to love him especially.  While they’d been away on vacation in Florida, she’d often thought of him with worry.  What if her in-laws left the door open and he got out?  What if they took him outside in their arms and he bolted?

When she found out they’d been letting him out on his own, a black cloud had settled over the beach.  She thought of all the awful things that might happen to him.  She thought of how her in-laws didn’t even know the diseases he might get if he came into contact with any other cats.

But now that he was back home, she didn’t feel any relief.  She’d understood the pee incident very clearly, and though Minou's dog-like comfortable clinging might show he loved to be with them as much as he had before, she knew he really wanted to go outside and have adventures.

When she’d told Michel her misgivings, he’d only shaken his head. “He’s happy to be back.  Listen to how much he purrs.”

And anyway, something unspoken between them seemed to suggest, didn’t she have bigger problems?

She’d quit her job rather spontaneously a few months ago.  It was the story of her life: after a while, no matter how great her work environment might be, she just got bored.  She’d tried to carry on but one day the boss had announced obligatory morning meetings, and something had snapped.  She felt bad that she hadn’t consulted Michel.  Luckily, he made excellent money at his own job, so her decision hadn’t done too much financial damage.

She’d been so eager to leave, though, that she hadn’t thought about what it took to get another job. She’d done it so many times before, but still she’d forgotten the waiting, the endless repetition of writing and re-writing cover letters, of tweaking her resume, of wondering why this or that place didn’t realize she’d really be a perfect fit.  She’d forgotten the dreams that some job descriptions inspired, and the terrible sense of failure and when she didn’t get hired for them.  Most of her friends looked at her with jealousy in a way, especially when she’d let slip that she’d gone to the library in the afternoon, or to a movie – all this fun while they’d been stuck at their desks.

But the thing was, no one realized that trying to find work, was work, and exhausting on so many levels.  Everything about herself and her choices were constantly thrown into question, and she often threw her hands in the air and sat down on the yellow sofa and didn’t move for a long time, except to stroke the curled ball of Minou, who didn’t even acknowledge her by opening his eyes.  He didn’t like to watch the pigeons who gathered on the windowsills anymore, either.  She guessed he must be very bored with just watching when only a few weeks before he’d been chasing birds, no glass between him and them.

One night, Michel came home and Sarah ran eagerly to the opening door.

“Did you get a job?” he asked, noticing her excitement.

“Uh –no.”  She paused, realizing maybe this wasn’t the best way to approach him about her new idea.  But it was too late.  “I’ve been doing some research and I think maybe we should get Minou a harness and I can bring him to the park.”

“What?”  Michel’s forehead furrowed and he brushed past her without a kiss, taking off his suit jacket and draping it over the yellow couch. “No – there are dogs in the park – and besides, with the noise of cars and everything on the way there, he’d be too terrified to move.”

“I could carry him there. And I’ve checked out the park – there aren’t dogs in every corner.”

“No.”  Michel’s voice was firm.  “He needs to get used to being an apartment cat again. He’s not unhappy.”

“He hasn’t moved all day.”

“He’s a cat.  They love to sleep.”

“He doesn’t even get up to look at the pigeons”.

Michel unknotted his tie and wandered into the kitchen for a drink, ending the discussion.

 

Sarah had always told herself that Minou was Michel’s cat. He’d been there before her.  She’d always tried to respect what Michel said when it came to Minou. And seeing what a good, remarkably affectionate cat he was, Michel really must know what he was doing.  That she now was lifting one of the cat's limp front paws to put on the harness she’d secretly bought, was surprising to her.

Another day had come without a call back after an interview, without anything in particular to do.  So, this morning she’d found herself almost half-consciously going to the supermarket’s pet aisle and placing a harness for small dogs in her basket, along with other, perfectly standard groceries.  She’d returned home and put away everything else, leaving only the harness, which she’d slowly detached from its cardboard backing.  And  now here she was, inevitably, impulsively pulling Minou’s other front leg over it and clipping it shut.

“Okay, Minou,” said in a low voice, “Let’s try this.”

At first, it was like Michel had predicted. Minou didn’t even want to go down the stairs.  But she thought of him lying all day on the yellow sofa, and she picked him up in her arms and ran down to the lobby.  And then, she took a breath and opened the front door.

Outside, the loud rush of traffic, the blaring horns, the conversations of passersby, diesel, concrete, cigarette smoke.  Minou recoiled and clawed at her, reaching for the door of their building.  But she kept moving, almost at a slow jog.

They reached the park in about two minutes.  Sarah could feel bleeding scratches covering her chest and arms.  But she didn’t give up.  Instead, she took Minou to a quiet corner, where trees covered the fence that separated them from the busy street.  Then, she put him down.

 

The soil wasn’t the same as what he’d felt under his paws back at the grand place with the other couple.  The smells weren’t as clear, and there was always that awful noise surrounding them, of the big machines that moved so fast and powerfully.  But he could also feel the cool shade of leaves, and detect the darting, fast movements of little birds on their high branches.  Minou forgot his worries and stood, transfixed.

 

It went like this for a few days.  Sarah said nothing to Michel.  She realized she was doing something wrong, though; instead of looking for jobs and sending out resumes, she was now building the whole day around their visits to the park.

She started dreaming about a woman she’d often seen when she was a little girl in Avignon.  The woman always carried a basket for her groceries, and a striped cat on her shoulders.  Sarah would stare at her, amazed and curious.  Her mother never let her talk to the woman, perhaps because she had such a strange appearance.  Or maybe her mother had just been in a hurry to find something to cook for supper each night, and didn’t have time to stop for such things.  When Sarah had gotten older, she’d always meant to talk to the woman and learn her story.  But by then, she couldn’t find her anywhere. 

Waking up, Sarah would think about how Minou was getting more and more used to the noise of cars and the chaos of the outside world on the way to the park.  And so, one day, she set out on their usual route, the cat comfortable in her arms.  Only, this time she turned down a quiet side street and ducked inside a small boucherie

 

These weren’t the smells of the garden, but they were new and intriguing.  The birds were already dead in the display case, but he could guess if she’d point to them and then if she did, she would take them home and they would have a delicious lunch.  And before all that, there was always an hour or so in the park.  Minou began to think city life could be quite wonderful.

 

Soon, Sarah and her cat had become regular figures in their neighborhood.  Everyone knew them and laughed happily to see them come.  People wanted to pet Minou and sometimes he let them and sometimes he didn’t; it was different than someone with a dog – it was unpredictable and strange.

Her job search had come to a halt.  But somehow she’d found something. She had become the Woman with the Cat, here in her own city.  

“How did you get him to be so tame?” people always asked on the days when Minou let himself be petted.

“He wanted to come out here and see the world,” she’d say.  “But please –remember not to tell my husband!”

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Comments

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Yay!! Good for Minou!! And for Sarah!! Maybe they'll meet up with Tina and her new rescuer!
Purrrrrrrrrr fect!
Meooooooooooooooooooooow this was good... but I always know they are..
HUGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG
This was quite lovely. I have been following you for awhile and you capture your readers.
I don't like to think of cats who spend their life inside apartments and I don't like to think of women who can't tell their husbands everything. I think you combined the two very well in this story. They both found their niche.
Thanks so much for reading and for your kind words, everyone! This story was sort of a way for me to get out some issues and things I've been feeling about my own cat, Ali, since his return home from the countryside.

Satori - I did think how funny it was that we both used the same sentence to start our stories and ended up having them very much involved with animals! And yes, who knows, maybe they will run into each other!
Another fun and riveting story from Paris! And a cat's-eye view of the world!

This made me think of a unique feline take on the old song lyric; "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree, Paree?"

Cats can do w/o freeranging outdoors ,if that's the way you decide to go. Here's some tips from the pros. The "secret" is in using cat toys well.

http://www.sspca.org/editor/uploaded/pdfs/Cat%20Toys%20Choosing%20and%20Using%20Them.pdf
Very vivid storytelling. I liked the happy ending. Rated
An interesting read from the cat's perspective. I've never written from there. It would be fun sometime!
Great story!
R
steve - Thank you so much for the link - and for the song lyric, which I didn't know, but very much relate to! I want to sing it to my mother-in-law the next time she touts the country over the city. I mean, seriously.

Joe - Thanks so much, and I'm glad you like the ending. I wasn't so sure about this piece, since it's not purely a work of fiction but more just me venting, I guess.

Susie - Thanks...and maybe that'll be next week's prompt :-)
Two mischievous creatures out for some harmless fun-
Loved tagging along!
What a sweet story, so well written. The empathy and emotion were clearly drawn. I could identify with it all. I'm linkin' this one!
/R+