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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Family Pet (05/15/08)

TITLE: Trade Off Penitence


The sun sent a compassionate ray of warmth through the rafters of our neighbor’s old barn. I climbed up to the loft and followed the sunbeam to a mound of straw. With both hands, I moved loose strands of prickly chaff aside to find six mewing fluffs of fur nestled together.

I picked out two kittens and placed them in the towel-lined basket that Mrs. Lowel had loaned me. The kittens gave up on their loud search for nourishment and snuggled into the towel. In the quiet, I sat and wondered at all that had transpired in such a short time.

David and I had been married less than a year when his call came to return to active duty in Iraq. The day before he left, he had given a kitten to his daughter, Jocelyn, for her thirteenth birthday. He returned six weeks later in a casket.

I was a military wife. I knew the drill. At the funeral, I displayed all the required emotions of shock, grief and pain. But somewhere along the way, my outward façade hid a deep-seated anger and resentment toward God. Rather than dealing with my feelings, I encased them within a cement shrine and stopped going to church.

The fragile bond of friendship between Jocelyn and me had been established through David’s efforts. It stayed inside the casket with him after the lid was shut. Neither of us acknowledged the loss. She stayed busy with school and her activities. The rest of the time, she kept to herself and babied the kitten she called Kitty, while I gave in to a compelling need to keep the house spotless.

We led a life of silent toleration until Kitty was about eight months old. While Jocelyn was at school one morning, I attacked my house with disinfectant and scrubbed and cleaned as usual. When I took a break to water my peace lily, I heard a weird yowling outside. Kitty went wild. She tore through the room, knocked over my plant and left a trail of mud behind.

By the time I found her, I was beyond furious. I grabbed her by the scruff of her neck against her wild protests and flung her outside. I had no idea she was mature enough to mate. Jocelyn found her cowering by the door.

“How could you be so mean? Don’t you dare let her outside again!”

I yelled back, “If your bratty cat ever messes up my house again, I’ll throw her out, and she’ll stay out!”

Kitty’s condition soon became obvious. I didn’t care. During the day, I forced her outside, only letting her back in just before the bus stopped each day at three o’clock. Jocelyn wasn’t the wiser until one afternoon when Kitty couldn’t be found. Her anger came out in a verbal barrage, “You did this on purpose. You’re selfish and…and cruel. You’re just jealous of Kitty because my dad gave her to me. I don’t know what he ever saw in you. I hate you!

She punctuated a second “I hate you”, by slamming her bedroom door. I stood in stunned silence as the cement sarcophagus around my heart cracked, and my anger and resentment disintegrated into shame-filled dust. I burst into tears. When I knocked on Jocelyn’s door later and asked for forgiveness, she wouldn’t answer.

That was yesterday. This morning, Jocelyn found Kitty with two stillborn kittens. She wiped away tears and got on the bus without a word.

Desperate to know if there was anything I could do to make amends, I called our neighbor who lived on a farm. “There might be,” Mrs. Lowel said. She told me to come right over. “One of our cats just had kittens.” She pointed to the barn, “Always has a large litter, so I don’t think she’d miss two of ‘em.”

I ran the back of my fingers over the soft little bodies. One was a calico, the other a yellow tabby. “I see your daddy gets around.” I smiled at the irony.

“Now, don’t get your hopes up,” Mrs. Lowel cautioned when I descended from the loft. “Bring ‘em back if this doesn’t work.” I hugged the basket after thanking her and hurried home. “Please work,” I prayed.

It was almost three o’clock. Kitty waited at the door. She turned her back to me; her tail thumped the ground with each deliberate swish. I offered her the basket of mewing kittens and held my breath.

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This article has been read 648 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Joanne Sher 05/22/08
Such real emotions here. I SO wanna know how this turned out. Masterful characterization and dialog - and emotion. Wonderfully done.
Laury Hubrich 05/24/08
Wow! This was great. I thought I was watching a movie there until you ran out of words:( I hope it worked:)
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/25/08
I like how you left this lovely story open-ended for the reader to decide. Great job.
Gregory Kane05/26/08
Excellent writing. You portrayed the emotions powerfully and realistically. I particularly like the way you left the ending hanging.
Betty Castleberry05/26/08
Well of course she accepted the kittens. I won't have it any other way, because I love happy ending. This was SO well done. I hung on every word.
Chely Roach05/26/08
This was phenomenal...I loved the line about "their Daddy getting around". I think an unexpected giggle in the middle of such an emotional story is a welcomed touch. I agree with Betty...Kitty HAD to accept them; I would have it no other way!
Joshua Janoski05/26/08
In a way I would have liked to have had the outcome of the story given to me, but in another way I really like being able to decide for myself.

I think that Kitty took the kittens as her own and loved them, but as far as the daughter goes, I'm not sure how long it will take for her and her mother to bond again.

Good story. I really enjoyed reading it. :)
Yvonne Blake 05/26/08
Ahhh.... how appropriate for today, Memorial Day. I love cats, especially kittens. Good description of working through the emotions.
Well done.
Lynda Lee Schab 05/27/08
Another superb story from you, Mid. Such real, gut-wrenching emotion. Although a "telling" story, you expertly "showed" every detail. Wonderful, wonderful job.
Jan Ackerson 05/27/08
Beautiful--I love kitten stories--but my favorite part was your metaphors for the narrator's hardened heart...

...but if you take this one elsewhere, you should know that cement is just a dry, loose ingredient in concrete. You couldn't encase anything in it.

I love that even though you were spot on topic, this wasn't about the family pet at all, but about reconciliation. Perfect.
Holly Westefeld05/27/08
That was so not nice to end it there, but as others have said, I'll just have to supply the happy ending for myself. That is what the title suggests after all, isn't it?
Debbie Wistrom05/27/08
Oh, you touched many emotions with this entry.
I appreciate the open ending, your words did such a fine job there was no need to tie it up...
Lynda Schultz 05/28/08
What a wonderful story. I hoped it worked too!
Joshua Janoski05/29/08
Congratulations on taking 12th place in your level with this piece, Mid!
Joshua Janoski05/29/08
And you placed 19th overall. Awesome!