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Caged Cats

June 29, 2019
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This piece is about evolving identity in adolescence, power dynamics within a family and about the sometimes confusing and painful space between childhood and adulthood.  

My cat was named Miss Ann.  I can’t remember if I actually named her that or if she came with the name and it was too late to change.  She came to me around Christmas. She was a small cat, all bony sleekness.  Her coat was a silky gray.  She lived in the basement with me, my little sister and her kitten. My sister, younger than me by six years, loved her own hellish kitten: Pickles. Pickles would hide under beds and wait for the passing flash of your ankles to dive out with razor sharp claws. I hated Pickles. My Miss Ann was an older cat. She preferred to sleep on my little white metal day bed with the floral comforter. She would jump up on me when I slept late on weekends and methodically knead my stomach. She was the first pet that belonged to me in a long chain of family dogs, fish and iguanas. I had always kept my distance from the other pets. I had no natural affinity for animals. My sister was easier, loving every creature who had ever been in our care. But with Miss Ann, I found myself owned. We belonged one to the other.   She was mine and the only being in my house that never annoyed me. Her obvious preference for me pleased me. I had been a cat owner for about a year by the time I left for a month away at grandmother’s that summer. My mom assured me that Miss Ann would be fine.  My mom would feed and care for her.  So, I left her alone in the basement, stalking room to room, searching the darkened daybed for me. It was the first time I abandoned someone who loved me. 

Our house was set back on a dirt drive from a long curving road twenty minutes from town.  Town being a collection of houses, a gas station and one little cafe where we went only when our power was out. On those special nights, we would drive past the darkened houses of our neighbors to eat mozzarella sticks surrounded by the women from our mesa with curlers covered by worn bandanas.The yard in the back disappeared into a few acres of pasture with the bright veins of an irrigation ditch. My sister, May and I would play around the ditch. We would throw sticks in to watch them race. We would pretend to be the characters from The Boxcar Children and make stew with leaves and grass. I already felt too old for games like that but I loved my sister. In the front, a reddish brown work building housed beehives in the winter, gathered from the high mountain meadows.  Their honey tasted of wherever they had spent their summer, surrounded by wildflowers or alfalfa fields. 

The field between us had donkeys and a long-lashed llama. The llama would rush the fence and chew vigorously, hurling the occasional huffy spit bomb at May and I as we ran past. Beyond that was an animal refuge center. My mom helped to care for the animals in the center as partial payment of our rent.

The woman who owned the refuge lived in a messy, odd smelling house with her son and husband.  Past her house, there were areas dedicated to raccoons, falcons and other large birds.  Often black bears were in the cages beyond that.  There was a little trailer next to the large animal cages. Smaller animals were kept in enclosures inside and the air was thick with the smell of rodents.  We didn’t have a computer at home yet but there was one inside the trailer and I sometimes walked there to do school papers. I would sit at the messy little desk typing and gagging on the suffocating, wood-chip odor.  Sometimes my mom would be there at the same time, pulling venison from the freezer inside the trailer to bring to the big cats.  

In the back of the winding little compound driveway, two mountain lions stalked around or lay bored and drowsy within their cages. Their wooden, mesh-lined crates were a few feet apart and two small stories each. Athena and King. Athena would go into heat every month and from my little bedroom, I could hear the short cut off sounding screams of her frustration.  She sounded like a madwoman railing against the walls, like a furious siren breaking from her the melody of her song. Sharp and short, repeated and seeming to never end. Those sounds would drive us all crazy. At night, we would bury our heads in our pillows to drown it out.

I felt a sort of kinship in that sound, thirteen years old, trapped between adult and child, my hormones taking me to task.  Desires raking across my skin incessant and hotly agonizing.  My rage often outside of my control.  My own youthful percolating would rise to a boil and I would hate everyone in my family, then love them again. Everything they said and did annoyed me.  I would tease them and yell at them.  Then I would cry to think how much I loved them, rising early to bake muffins for my sister before she woke up.  Carefully stirring in the blueberries so that the blue wouldn’t bleed into the batter.  

  King looked like an overgrown house-cat with big chocolate eyes and soft looking fur.  He would stare at you as you stared at him. It was impossible not to imagine the cage between us gone. It sent a chill up my spine to day dream about his strength, his powerful legs, his speed. I could envision him free to leap upon me with sharp claws, teeth and ferocious might. These mountain lions would never be able to leave.  They were former pets. No doubt the swagger of some truck loving man had been reinforced by a declawed mountain lion as a pet.  To declaw: a violent offense against the big primal cats who stared at me like a lesser life form, like the food I could be. Their first knuckle and been sliced but to my human eyes, their paws looked normal. It must have felt to them as though half the paw was missing. Did they mourn those razor sharp adornments? Feel grief over their loss? Standing close enough, I imagined that the incredible, natural power that still vibrated through them crashed like waves against cube of their prison. Their captivity seemed to have it’s own sound, a high octave screech just out of reach of your ears, heard only through the ribs. This pain laden cacophony seemed to vibrate my lungs and heart and made it hard for me to stand before them. Marked by humans, caged by humans, stared at by curious humans. My throat would tighten as though preparing for tears. My knees would feel wobbly. The discomfort of gazing at them made me want to lower my eyes or bow down in consternation and regret for my kind. What would be their fate?  Without claws and imprinted by humans, they were doomed to their micro world, with their only companion always out of reach.  I wondered how he felt to hear her scream out during those monthly seasons of madness.  Did he feel compassion, loss, longing?  Are those available to a lion?  Staring into those keen eyes, trained upon mine as I stood before him, I thought it possible.  I would rush past him quickly some days, leaving the little trailer with my clutch of history papers for middle school, wanting to avoid the awkwardness of a debt I could never repay.  Wildness stolen by civilized savagery.  I had not caged them but I never felt innocent.

I would never see Miss Ann again after I left for my grandmother’s.  My mom accidentally let her outside one day.  That’s the story.  Although my cat never seemed interested in going outside before. I can’t think of a time I had to be wary of the door or squeeze out to prevent her escape.  She had always seemed perfectly content to stay within the basement. She would stay in my room most of the time, only sauntering out with her tiny blue gray feet to the litter box and back.  She was small and delicate, fitting of her fussy name.  My room at that moment was still a distillation of girlhood.  My dresser covered with an embroidered white dresser runner with delicate lace around the edges, pouring over with flowers and women in big hats and gowns, natural successors to the princesses of years before.  My collection of porcelain dolls set up on shelves. A scattering of ceramic face masks painted in bright colors with glitter decorated all the walls.  The only nod to my changing tastes was a collection of black and white photos of Leonardo DiCaprio printed from the computer and taped to the wall right above the bars of my bed.  

When I returned home a month later, my mom told me about the cat. She hadn’t wanted to tell me while I was away and ruin my trip. Her waiting to tell me about Miss Ann felt like a betrayal. Whether mine or hers, I couldn’t say. My stomach twisted to think that I had been having fun with my cousins, helping my grandmother with her garden, watching Letterman and laughing while all the time Miss Ann was gone.  

I wonder if my mom let Miss Ann out on purpose.  I imagine that she was meowing and beseeching. My mother has always had a complicated relationship with being needed too much by her dependents. She had made a quick open of the door, a justification to herself that the cat would enjoy being outside. Coyotes would have made Miss Ann a quick meal.  A cat who had never been outside.  At least she had her claws.  Later a kid I knew from my school bus would tell me that it was our neighbor boy who killed Miss Ann. A short, stocky red faced kid who was already known for torturing animals. He had bragged of drowning her in a puddle, my second hand source informed me. I don’t know what happened to her and I never found her body. That image of her possible violent ending stays with me even now.  Did she think of me?  Wonder where I had gone? Did she call out to me silently, desperate and alone? I’ve never loved a cat again, preferring as an adult, the simple affection and trust of a dog.  No sharp claws in my heart.  

My mom had a boyfriend then who was right between us in age.  I was 13, he was 23 and my mom was 33.  He had long hair, drove a Jeep without a top and listened to Bob Marley.  He had a handsome face, always pressed inward, petulant and pouty.  The lips pursed together in a simulacrum of deep thought. He competed with us for attention. We were used to men who wanted to date my mother but had put up with us for the opportunity.  I hated him.  I hated all the men before and after. I had no loyalty to my father, who was unpredictable and loud.  I hated the new men because she wanted their approval too much. Her longing for romance made her weak, pliant to their demands.  That weakness was the most dangerous force in my life.  It put the control of everything I depended on into the hands of a stranger. I needed her to be strong. To make sure that our little family held together. Unlike May, I remembered how life had been when she was under my father’s control.  I remembered following him home in the dark as he weaved all over the road drunk. He always said he was a good drunk driver.  I would advise her to call the police.  She never did. She concealed her college coursework from him so he wouldn’t have a chance to prevent her from attending classes. I was her accomplice then. The lines in our house were clear: us against him. When we finally escaped, I thought it would be different.  I thought we would be free. The line of men after my dad were a salted wound that could never close.  That these feeble, idiotic losers could be allowed to take possession of our life set me to burn.  This life that I had heavily contributed to by learning to cook, caring for my sister, dragging her to soccer practice making sure she finished her homework was not really in my control.  These men would make May and I into outsiders. Men kissed our mother’s neck in front of us as she played at the piano, made suggestive remarks to her, licked their lips and drew her with them into her room.  When each relationship ended, I would listen to her cry.  I would try to give advice. 

That night, this most recent man, Caleb, came to our house when my mom was at work.  He sat outside on the porch, smoking.  My little sister was only nine years old.  She couldn’t remember what it had been like to have our father home.  She still looked to each new boyfriend as a potential father.  Smiling her big winning smiles, she would stand around waiting to be noticed. That frustrated and disgusted me. I was angry to think that our little group of three wasn’t enough for May either. She was out there now talking to Caleb, his long hair looked dirty and his jeans had big ragged holes in the knees. I was standing at the sink rinsing a bowl, the water hot enough to make my hands tingle and ache, passing over the surface of the ceramic in one smooth ever changing sheet.  

The door crashed open and May came in crying.  I was next to her, my arms around her in second.  “What happened? What happened? May? Are you all right?”  

Her voice was croaky and choked.  It took several tries for me to understand what she was saying. “He hit me!” I noticed then the redness swelling on her cheek.  A slap, perhaps or a closed handed smack.  I was shaking. The blood seeming to expand in my body and press against my skin with too little space to flow. Vibrating with rage, I ran outside on the porch already shouting at him.  He stood there smirking, hand resting on the wood banister.  I wanted to shove him down the steps.  I wanted to see him fall backwards and see the gaping o of surprise on his face as he crashed into the hard earth.  Instead I raged at him, “What did you do?  Did you hit her?!”  

“She hit me first.  We were play wrestling and she hit me first.” This overgrown boy in front of me, like a flash, all pretense of age and maturity fading. I just opened and closed my mouth. Too angry, too outraged to know what to say. My words often desert me in these moments, my brain short circuiting and no language to express a galaxy of emotion.  

“She’s nine years old!  How hard could she have hit you? You are a grown adult!”  Saying those words was sort of violently comical.  Standing on the porch screaming at him that he was grown up despite all the evidence to the contrary.  I stormed back inside.  Slamming the wood edged screen door with all my strength and heading back to my sister.  

“I’m calling mom!”  I shouted it at her and then softened my tone, “I’m calling mom. He can’t hit you.” I went to the kitchen and pulled open our clear plastic phone, the brightly colored visible mechanism exaggerated and cartoonish.  Placing the receiver against my ear, I dialed the number to my mom’s office.  The office woman at the fish hatchery, Margaret answered.  “Hi Margaret, I’m looking for my mom.  Is she around?” 

“Oh hey, Tilda.  No, I’m sorry honey, she headed out just a couple minutes ago.”

I thanked her and hung up the phone.  

May and I sat in the living room.  I held her in my arms and held her hand, so small in mine. “Mom will break up with him when she finds out!  He can’t do that to you. He’s a fucking asshole”. I was saying it out loud to May but also trying to convince myself. I peeked a couple times out the kitchen window to see if Caleb was still there and he was, meandering from his Jeep to the porch and back again. He was performing casually as if nothing had happened. 

We saw my mom’s dark blue Ford pickup truck pull up in the long curvy dirt drive way twenty minutes later. I jumped up, instructing my sister to stay in the house. I walked past Caleb without looking at him and met my mom as she opened her driver side door. Her head was turned down as she gathered her water bottle and backpack together from the seat next to her. She smiled as she turned toward me, her hair nutty brown and dried out looking at the ends, pulled back from her face with a purple cloth scrunchie. Hanging down onto her t shirt was a collection of necklaces, a silver star, long metal feathers and a nude fairy holding a rainbow gem in her tiny outstretched hand.

“Mom.  Caleb hit May.” I let those words sit between us. I held my breath. Waiting for her to react, for her to fly at him in anger where he stood back slouching against the wall of our house, I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. “Mom. He hit her. Her cheek was red and he said he did it because she hit him first while they were playing. He hit her hard.” Desperate explanation poured out of me while I studied her face looking for reflection of my own feeling in her face.  “Mom? Mom? Did you hear what I said?” 

She just stared at me, blankly. “Oh, Tilda, hey.”

“Mom! Caleb hit May!” 

“Okay, where is she?”

“She’s in the house. He hasn’t come in. She was really upset.”

My mom followed me into the house.  I looked back at her in time to see her make a pained expression at Caleb. What did that mean? I wondered and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. She came into the living room, where May was sitting on the couch, her feet tucked under her, looking at an old Calvin and Hobbes book that had found a home on the coffee table. Mom went to her, looked at her face, clucked her tongue. She didn’t ask May to tell the story.

Then she seemed to remember me. “I’ll go talk to him. We will take a ride in the car and I’ll talk to him.” 

“Are you going to break up with him? He hit her. He can’t hit her.” 

She looked at me. My words were not enough to convince her. She was buying time. 

So they went for a ride. I stayed home with May. We played the game of Life while we waited. Choosing careers and filling up our little plastic cars with blue and pink peg children. I would get up when it was May’s turn to look outside for her truck. They were gone a long time. Dark had started to spread long fingers across the kitchen counters. 

When they finally arrived home, I was looking out. I saw the truck pull up and park. As the doors opened, they both got out looking somber. As they approached the house, he took her hand. She looked embarrassed and pleased. I knew then for certain that he had won. My lungs seemed empty of air, filled instead with an enervating grief. I was a watcher, calling out reason, logic, inalienable truths into the wall of my mother and an adult world. She called me in to her bedroom to speak to her. We sat next to each other on her pink satin comforter. He was sorry, she explained. He knew it was wrong to hit May. He wouldn’t do it again. I stared at her. She looked away, unable to meet my burning gaze. She jumped back from me a couple inches on the bed as though from a hot stove. I said nothing. I left her bedroom, passing Caleb as he entered, closing the door behind him. 

That night, I lay by alone in my chilly little basement room.  Miss Ann was gone.  Athena was quiet.  The only windows, high up on the wall, lined up with the muddy ground outside. I couldn’t sleep. I let my hand slide down under the sheets and between my legs. Rubbing up and down the strokes rougher and rougher until I reached that little peak and spasm. Muscles finally relaxing and tears on my cheeks as I closed my eyes and rested. I didn’t make a sound the whole time. If I could have, I would have screamed. High and loud and trapped.

 


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Stifling atmosphere is well established.
naricorn rated this work:

July 2, 2019, 12:18 p.m.

Hey! Thanks for posting. You do a great job of establishing a tense, suffocating atmosphere. Some thoughts as I read:

*"She lived in the basement with me, my little sister and a hellish kitten whose name I’ve forgotten but who would lie in wait under bunk beds and dressers to run out and viciously attack ankles as they passed." - This sentence greatly confused me at first. One of those Oxford comma situations. The "little sister" and "hellish kitten" seemed to be describing Miss Ann, which didn't make sense because you said she was an older cat. It also didn't help that you only discuss the sister at length until much later. I think, since the narrator's sister means so much to her, she needs to be featured more prominently (and at least named in the beginning!)

*"Miss Ann was an older cat, she preferred to sleep on my little white metal day bed with the floral comforter." - sentence fragment

*You could establish much of what you say in the first paragraph more subtly. For example, saying "We shared the intimacy of a young person and their beloved pet" is not as impactful as going through specific montages of the narrator interacting with Miss Ann. Maybe even contrasting them with interactions with previous pets could be effective. And why do other "beings" in the narrator's house annoy the narrator?

*I like the description of the town but think that the sentence is a bit convoluted. Going to the cafe when the power is out is an intriguing detail (that perhaps speaks to the narrator's class?)

*Going back a bit, I think I'd be less confused if you rephrased the kitten having "found a new home." That implies more agency than you really mean, as the kitten's still searching for the narrator, who's abandoned her.

*Also, wait. Isn't Miss Ann an older cat? What's the assassin kitten, then?

*The description of the narrator's battle with her uncontrollable emotions growing up is compelling. Pretty accurate to my own experience, unfortunately. I do think more specifics would serve you well (the narrator's reflections result from experiences she has outside of the house, right? Does she go to school? What happens? What are the desires?)

*What trip? Another thing to work on--either transitions or more clarification to ground the reader as you switch from section. I'm already trying to piece together her life.

*Maybe tie the mountain lions back to Miss Ann more. I see what you're trying to do with all the pieces of this story, but they could fit together better. At the beginning, it seems like the story is mainly about Miss Ann, but then it seems like leave her completely and pick back up with her later.

*"my mother has always had a complicated relationship with being needed too much." is an interesting line that doesn't need to be explicit. Just mentioning that she felt too needed should be sufficient. But then, later, you say "Her longing for romance made her weak, pliant to their demands." So she wants to be needed?

I'm partial to a good coming-of-age story, and, as I said earlier, I think the narrator's struggle in her stifling environment is conveyed well. That said, I think certain threads in the story should be expanded on/be more present throughout, such as her relationship with her family (mom and sister) as well as her love for Miss Ann. Miss Ann is where she puts her hopes, it seems, and the loss of Miss Ann could be reflected upon more in the beginning.

Plot Pacing Show Don't Tell Character Motivation Sentence Structure Concision

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A compelling voice, and heartbreaking circumstances overshadow errors within the piece.
K-Anu-Grymm rated this work:

Aug. 12, 2019, 9:25 p.m.

Hello!

I would like to start with what I believe is your A/N.
“This piece is about evolving identity in adolescence, power dynamics within a family and about the sometimes confusing and painful space between childhood and adulthood.”

I was ready to read a story with the first sentence. It’s jarring to realize it’s not part of the story. Just wanted to get that out there.

INTRODUCTION:
-I consider this the first paragraph, so this section will cover everything about the first paragraph.

“My cat was named Miss Ann.”
This may be personal preference, but I do think “Miss Ann was my cat.” sounds a bit better.

The entire paragraph is full of tiny sentences which break up the flow of your introduction. I counted, and you have 25 sentences in your first paragraph, of which only about 3 are an average sentence length.

Here is an example of how you can lengthen some sentences and include the same information. This is a less-choppy first quarter of your introduction paragraph:


I can’t remember if I actually named her that, or if she came with the name and it was too late to change.  She came to me around Christmas as a small, skin-and-bones cat with a beautiful, silky gray coat. She lived in the basement with me, my sister—who was six years my junior—and her kitten from hell: Pickles.

I won’t do this for the entire paragraph, since the entire paragraph has these tiny sentences you can combine. I don’t want you to feel like I’m taking your story and rewriting it.

Note: You mention the sister is 6 years younger. I don’t think anyone really needs a number of exactly how much younger she is without mentioning the age of the narrator in that instance as well. Saying she’s 6 years younger doesn’t let me know what to envision when I do not know the age of the narrator.

With that said, your first paragraph is hhhhuuuuuge. It is not kind to the eyes, and I recommend cutting it up into three smaller paragraphs. You can cut the paragraph off right where you mention Pickles. The second paragraph can be all about Pickles. Then the rest is in a third paragraph.

Seeing huge blocks of text…I don’t know. It sets the mind up for narration that drags. It’s not very motivating.

At first, I didn’t think the introduction needed to change at all since I trusted there’d be more story on Miss Ann. There isn’t. The next time you mention her, she’s…dead. Add in a small story for the beginning. What, exactly, did the narrator like about this cat? Did she love the cat only because the cat loved her? Did she love her for any reason beyond that? Was she more quirky than the other kittens? Did this cat hiss at all the people the narrator didn’t like, and try to protect her from the kitten from hell?

On with the good!

I like introduction about the cat. Initially, I thought this would be a cute story about a special cat, and…boy, was I wrong. That’s not a bad thing! The story is great in itself.

THE REST: Structure.

I got lost after the first paragraph. The second, third, and fourth paragraphs go off on details about the house, the environment, etc, with very few mentions of cats in general.

Why did I get lost? I was expecting you to talk about…well, cats. In the second paragraph, I was just asking myself, “Wait, what am I reading again?”

I understand you want to establish a life in the story before talking more about the cat, and that is perfectly fine. I recommend adding a line after “It was the first time I abandoned someone who loved me.” It prepares the reader with a visual cue that you’re going to be talking about something else for a moment, which is setting up the family dynamic and environment and all of that. When you start talking about Miss Ann again, have another line. You could have a few asterisks centered, or underscores, etc.

“Then I would cry to think how much I loved them, rising early to bake muffins for my sister before she woke up.  Carefully stirring in the blueberries so that the blue wouldn’t bleed into the batter.”
I suggest rephrasing this for better flow. Try…
“Then, I would cry thinking about how much I loved them, causing me to rise early to bake blueberry muffins for the girls before they woke. I was a challenge keeping the fruit from bleeding into the batter, but I learned it for them.”

PUNCTUATION, TYPOS, ETC

I’m sure others have mentioned this—I did not look over their reviews. I do apologize if this is redundant. It can be difficult to figure out where to place a comma, and, personally, I never learned directly from taking classes or anything of the sort. It was intuitive, and I definitely get them wrong from time to time. Orrr…perhaps far more often than I think.

Anyway, here are a few sentences that are stronger with properly placed commas. They help pause sentences and put in a tone. Without them, the narration feels rushed, as though you want to tell the story fast as possible before you leave to make it to work. There was a whoooole lot more sentences than this, but I didn’t want to be here for hours to put everything down.

“The woman who owned the refuge lived in a messy, odd smelling house with her son and husband.”
Correction: odd-smelling

“Often black bears were in the cages beyond that.”
Correction: Often,

“Did they mourn those razor sharp adornments?”
Correction: razor-sharp

“…that still vibrated through them crashed like waves against cube of their prison.”
Correction: the cube

“…dragging her to soccer practice making sure she finished her homework was not really in my control.”
Correction: practice,

“What did you do?  Did you hit her?!”  
Writing conventions will tell you never to put an exclamation and question mark together under any circumstances—it’s not grammatically correct, and they’re right. Personally, I do it anyway; it gives flavor. However, I such doing it in this order: !? For some reason, that looks better than the other way around.

LINES I LOVED THE HECK OUT OF

“It was the first time I abandoned someone who loved me. “

“Wildness stolen by civilized savagery.  I had not caged them but I never felt innocent.”

“That these feeble, idiotic losers could be allowed to take possession of our life set me to burn. “

“Dark had started to spread long fingers across the kitchen counters.”

“I was a watcher, calling out reason, logic, inalienable truths into the wall of my mother and an adult world.”

OTHER

“She sounded like a madwoman railing against the walls, like a furious siren breaking from her the melody of her song.”
Maaaybe pick one simile, and stick with that one. If you insist on keeping both, then…
“She sounded like a madwoman railing against the walls, or, maybe, a furious siren after breaking the melody of her song better describes that audible horror.”

“…only when our power was out. On those special nights, we would drive past the darkened houses of our neighbors to eat mozzarella sticks…”

In this paragraph, you could give a better sense of why you’re detailing these nights. As a child, I personally loved blackouts—they were mysterious and out of the ordinary, and everyone was closer together. It felt more homely than any other day. Is that what this paragraph was getting at? I got that sense, but didn’t feel it, and it may have to do with the issues in the INTRO. With the small, sudden sentences, the entire paragraph is lacking emotion. The narrator is rattling out a checklist of things with a robotic flair, and it doesn’t match. What you describe should be emotional, yet nothing is connecting. Is this by intention? Perhaps the narrator is struggling with emotion? I felt no joy in what was being described, no nothing, which is why I’m at a loss as to why the paragraph is there at all.

“She smiled as she turned toward me, her hair nutty brown and dried out looking at the ends, pulled back from her face with a purple cloth scrunchie. Hanging down onto her t shirt was a collection of necklaces, a silver star, long metal feathers and a nude fairy holding a rainbow gem in her tiny outstretched hand.”

This breaks the action of what’s happening. The description about the mom does not need to be here. Most of it should be somewhere else as to not break the flow of the incident occurring.

In the paragraph where you mention she felt guilt about Miss Ann, I think it could also benefit from the narrator explaining her thoughts. Such as… “I abandoned her. Did she run outside of the house hoping to find me? Was her love for me the end of her?”

I didn’t find Pickles very necessary in the story, which already has a looooot of other details to keep track of during the reading. After reading the entire thing, Pickles isn’t really mentioned again. I think you could actually tie Pickles in with the men in their lives. Maybe Pickles doesn’t particularly care for the little sister, who tries so hard to get Pickles to like her, and it amounts to nothing.

Consider establishing a state (U.S, right…?) in which this takes place. I just pictured some state out south in a very rural area.

You mention the desires of the narrator which begin with puberty. Does she ever go to school? Does she meet other kids? Has she interacted with other boys? Is there any story to tell there? Maybe the mom could be a reason why she doesn’t have any friends. She could be scared that her daughter will love her own friends more than her mother, and makes up excuses as to why she can’t hang out with them, why they can’t come over, etc. It would tie in her mention of carnal desire better, how she essentially has no release, how both that and her confusion made her frustrated, leaving her to lash out and whatnot.

OVERALL

The story is infuriating. I couldn’t stand the mother, I hated the men in their lives, and I understood it all too well. I felt sympathy for the narrator and her little sister. Those poor kids! With that said, that’s a good thing. The story invokes anger, compassion, pity, and sadness. This is a story that works without having a whole lot of dialogue and any real scenes. It feels like someone was sitting across from me at the table, recounting things from their past in a stream of consciousness.

Still, everything above could be worked on, and there are parts in the story I mentioned that could be placed elsewhere for a better flow.

You have all of the elements to a terrific childhood piece. You have these little details and stories, such as the one about special blackout days, the llama, etc. These details just aren’t…how to put this? They’re not breathing and living yet due to how the structure of your sentences/paragraphs hold them back. If you can fix that, this will be all the more powerful, and I have no doubt about that. Everything you need is already there. Let some editing go a long way and this could be one of the best pieces I have ever read.

Thank you for sharing this! I thoroughly enjoyed it. I almost got teary. :)

That part about the cat was just… Oh gosh.

~K.Anu

Setting Conflict Voice Grammar Sentence Structure

Comment Rating: 5.0

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Good Story. Good Conflict Good Scenes
[email protected] rated this work:

July 9, 2019, 1:46 a.m.

Although I caught a few errors within, they didn’t stop me from enjoying reading Caged Cats. You did several things well: introduced good conflict throughout, good character development, good descriptions of setting and atmosphere. Above all, good story development.
Some things you could work on are: decreasing the length of your sentences. Two sentences came in at 40-words in length. Two others were at 39-words. You shouldn’t have sentences longer than 20-words. You had at least 42 sentences over 20-words. Readers tend to stop reading texts with lots of longer sentences earlier.
Work on editing your sentences, there were several sentences where you could have used less words and still conveyed the same meaning. For example:
My mom would feed and care for her. And so, I left her alone there in the basement, stalking room to room, searching the darkened daybed for me.
You don’t need the word, “there” in the above sentence. Another example of cutting out words is with this sentence:
The mountain lions would never be able to could never leave.
I caught over twenty instances of words and sentences that could have either been omitted or reduced.
Most of the issues I found were at the sentence-level. These are easy fixes. Once you go through.
At the scene level, I would like to see visceral reactions from the characters. This will give the reader more imagery. Visceral reaction is showing versus telling. Something you are already good at. Some common visceral reactions to stressful actions, words or events include:
stomach clenching, heart pounding, rapid and shallow breathing, pulse racing, adrenaline surging, legs weakening, throat tightening, mouth drying, face flushing, chest tightening, hear blood rushing, vision narrowing. I could see you using one or two of these in Caged Cats.
I wonder why you chose the name Caged Cats. The part about Miss Ann, who was dear to my heart, was that she was the opposite of a caged cat. The fact that she wasn’t caged and got out was an alert to Tilda. I liked how the protagonist wasn’t above wondering if her mother was to blame for what happened to poor Miss Ann. Miss Ann tugged at my heartstrings. My attachment to Miss Ann is what compelled me to read further. I was saddened to read she wouldn’t return to the story. Good job.

Comment Rating: 5.0

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the story and the characters were so strong that the few grammar errors barely mattered
van rated this work:

July 15, 2019, 1:49 p.m.

This was a really enthralling story. The comparison of the narrator to the cats, especially Athena, the whole overarching metaphor of a cage-- a great read! I'm assuming this is for the contest (I'm not the judge, obviously) so I hope you don't mind some constructive comments:
The story and the characters were so strong that the grammar mistakes and awkward sentences didn't detract much, but the story would be that much more stronger if you went through and polished up some sentences. On the more positive side, you have some absolutely killer phrases. When I read "it was the first time I abandoned someone who loved me" I knew there was more to this story; that it would be an emotional experience, for sure. It kept me wondering, if that's the first time, does that mean there are more?
And this is just me being curious, but how is the intimacy of a young person and their beloved pet different than an adult's? I'm not sure how exactly this intimacy looks like in this context.
The ending was beautiful. Everything was really well done, but the ending brought the emotions and conflict home. My only suggestion is that the narrator's conflict with the mom and her overall home environment be mentioned earlier, even just for a sentence or two. It would make the story flow more, have a more circular ending.
Your descriptions shone. I felt like I was in the town, I felt like I was staring at the mountain lion right then and there, I felt like I was feeling the anger and despair of the narrator right along with her. That's so hard to do, and I enjoyed the story so much because of it.

Pacing Conflict Originality Grammar

Comment Rating: 4.71

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Distressing childhood story
eva rated this work:

Sept. 10, 2019, 9:05 a.m.

This story was hard to read for a few reasons: first, the story of childhood abuse is quite difficult to handle, especially when the bad guys don't get caught and reprimanded. That always pisses me off.

As the tale unfolds, I found an imbalance to the context-setting descriptions. The opening section is far too heavy on cats and not enough on inner life of the main character, Tilda. It might help if there was more background on the mother-children relationships, and the betrayals of letting the cats escape (rather than all the details about the cats themselves) to showcase how much the girl(s) really needed to feel safe in their home, with their mother, who is so checked out, she's unable to do ANYTHING to make her girls feel safe (her main job in life = epic fail). More details on the mom's poor choices in relationships could benefit how the story builds. The ending scene could also benefit from something different, though I'm not sure what. While I really loved the ending lines: "I would have screamed. High and loud and trapped.", I felt that Tilda could have taken on a different course of action - protected May in some sweet way, physically backed herself into a corner of her dingy room - to showcase how trapped she/they really are with their mother's impulse to NOT protect those who need to most protecting.

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