The Learned Cat

640px-Franz_Marc_013KITTY | J.T. Ledbetter

Rathalla Review

⇒”Our cat plays the trombone and studies Latin.”

That’s how this imaginative flash fiction begins, and I cannot think of a more appropriate and self-assured opening than this. Our cat plays the trombone and studies Latin. How else to begin? That’s what this piece is about, after all: a learned cat, one who speaks (in English, in Latin), who plays classical concertos on her trombone, who stalks through the night to haunt the dreams of a neighboring dog and who is the object of envy and admiration among animals throughout the neighborhood.

This story is a sort of portrait, a narrative of the cat’s life with her owners , the narrator(s). Toward the end of the piece, the cat is given an opportunity and a heavy choice, one she handles with the aplomb and careful deliberation of–well, a cat who plays the trombone and studies Latin. She can even quote Ovid, by the way.

There is a long and respected tradition of literature about animals. People like Geoffrey Chaucer and various fabulists have shown over the centuries just how much fun, and how full of possibility, this strategy can be. One of my favorite short story authors, Amy Hempel, has made an entire career out of writing about the relationships between people and their animals. I suppose what makes animals such an interesting subject for fiction is the fact that humans and animals have such a long, rich, and very confusing history together: in some cultures and periods, animals have simply served as food or a labor source; in others, they are family members.

I’ve often wanted to write a story from the POV of a house pet, but couldn’t get the “voice” right (naturally; there’s no easy solution to this problem). I suppose the surest solution to this problem is to humanize the animal, making it talk, deliberate, and generally behave as a human does. Naturally, this creates a great opportunity for comedy, especially when human characters treat the “human”-seeming animal without any incredulity or weirdness. Mr. Ledbetter has a great deal of fun with his learned cat premise, and the story succeeds because this is what the author emphasizes: fun. Sure, we can analyze it, deconstructing the characters’ psyches and whatnot, but ultimately this story’s strength is its simple, innocent sense of fun and adventure.

Read the story over at Rathalla Review! (Click on the Fall ’14 edition to view in ISSUU–the story’s on page 23.)

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