I still haven’t figured out what possessed my son to bring a cat inside the house. Unlike his siblings, he has never once clamored or cajoled for a pet. Unlike his siblings, he has never once fawned over an animal. I save photos and videos of pandas to a folder for my daughter to coo over. I routinely forward my older son articles about fish, octopus, or other sea creatures. I don’t bother saving any animal-related photos or articles for Jiminy Cricket, because I know he’s not interested.

Once I took my children to a goat farm during kidding season. The youngest and oldest were rapturous with joy as they nuzzled newborn goats. Jiminy Cricket stood off to the side with his hands jammed deep into his pockets and politely declined all offers to hold a baby goat. A couple times I took the kids to a live butterfly exhibit. The rest of us stood forlornly with outstretched hands, trying in vain to get a creature to alight on our fingers. The butterflies floated right past us and straight to JC, who stood there – a picture of suffering – his body shuddering with visceral horror and disgust as they landed all over him.

The boy has never even warmed up to any of our own pets:

When he takes the dogs out for their morning constitutional, he squeamishly wraps the torso of the one who refuses to walk down stairs in a paper towel, so his hands don’t actually have to make contact with his fur as he carries him to the yard.

So why would this boy insist on bringing a cat into the house? I can only conclude that he was overpowered by some potent feline bewitchment.

And how are things working out, you might be wondering?

Well…the words pussy whipped spring to mind.

For the first month or so after my son insisted on bringing the cat in, she didn’t budge from his bedroom. She stayed on a cat bed in the corner of his room unless she had to use the kitty litter, which he had set up right next to her bed. When I suggested moving the litter to the bathroom so it wouldn’t have to be in his bedroom, he demurred and said he didn’t think the cat would feel comfortable having to leave his room.

After she’d been with us for some time, I asked my son if she was starting to explore her surroundings a little more.

“Yes!” he replied. “Now sometimes she’ll come up to me when I’m working at my computer. At first I’ll feel her little velvet paws on my legs…and then I’ll feel her slowly sinking her claws into my flesh! Sometimes I’ll come into my room and I’ll need to sit down to do some work, but I can’t because she’ll be sitting on my chair and she just stares at me and she won’t move.”

“So do you kick her out of the chair?”

“No!” he said, clearly signaling with his tone of voice how preposterous he found that notion…”I just go away and come back a little later.”

After another few months passed, I started to hear strange thudding noises at night. Eventually, I figured out that it was the cat running back and forth, up and down the hallway. I’m convinced she’s in training…probably to murder my son while he sleeps.

“I think the cat needs to get some more exercise,” I proposed to my son. “Why don’t we try to let her outside for a little? I bet she’s really bored in your room, and would love to go out for a bit to stretch her legs!”

“I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” he replied.

One fine morning, I decided to insist. “Let’s just try to let her out for a little bit! We’ll let her right back in as soon as she wants to come back!”

“OK,” he said dubiously. He made his sister carry the cat down the stairs and to the door. He said he was afraid the cat would scratch him, but I’m pretty sure it’s because he didn’t want her to think it was his idea to make her go outside.

The minute the doors opened, the cat leapt out of my daughter’s arms and tore back upstairs to my son’s room, where she’s remained ever since. (Except of course when she trains in the hallway to murder him).

Like clockwork, the minute we sit down to dinner, the cat starts paging Jiminy from the top of the stairs.

“Oh,” he says, a guilty expression washing over his face, “Excuse me.”

He hustles up the stairs bearing food to the cat, as she continues to yowl at him the entire way. I swear to you, it sounds like: “Get. Your. Ass. Up. Here. NOW.”

He responds, “I’m coming. I’ll be right there. I’m on my way.”

In a much lower voice so she won’t hear, he mumbles: “Geez. I’m going as fast as I can. You don’t have to keep yelling at me.”

He comes back down the stairs and asks, “Mom, next time you go to the store, could you buy some more Fancy Feast, please? I like to alternate it with the Iams so she can have some variety.”

“Sure, Jiminy. Gotta keep the cat happy.”


You looking at me?



“It’s alive!”

Two people who are very close to me have asked if  “A Snake Tale” is a true story. The short answer is: NO!

On the other hand, a lot of the story details were drawn from life. Most significantly, all the gory information in the story about how snakes are fed is absolutely true…These details gave a framework to the story that struck me as a good way to explore some interesting ethical questions.

Here are some other things that are true:

  • Our landlord’s daughter in Carrboro, NC had an albino snake named Orangina that she asked us to take care of, but it was an albino corn snake rather than a Burmese python. I insisted that they find someone else to take care of her, because I couldn’t bear the thought of having to feed her. All that year I kept accidentally pulling out dead frozen mice in Ziploc bags that had been tucked away into the back recesses of the freezer.
  • I was a docent at a science museum when I was in college. There were two boa constrictors on display at the museum. In the basement of the museum was a tankful of mice who were fated to one day become dinner for these snakes. In my head I can still hear the squeak of their wheel as they endlessly ran by the harsh yellow light of a bare bulb. A coworker told me that she came to work one morning after the snakes had been fed the night before, and she saw that they hadn’t eaten one of the mice. The mouse was nestled comfortably, fast asleep in the coil of one of the snakes. I’m not sure what actually happened to that mouse, but I think we can all agree on what should have happened. If there is even a shred of justice in this world, that mouse would have been shipped off to live out the rest of its natural life vacationing on some breezy, warm isle with a frozen margarita in one paw and a trashy novel in the other, and being waited on by attentive cabana boys.
  • In Carrboro we had a kind, but slightly kooky neighbor (this could describe a large percentage of the population of that lovable town, by the way). One Sunday afternoon he knocked on our door. He told us that he had just killed a copperhead snake and that the kids should come over to see it so that they would know what to look out for. As we crossed the street to his house he explained to us that to make sure it was a copperhead and not an innocuous look alike, he had held out a leather gardening glove toward its head. It had struck at the glove and he saw venom dripping. At that point he whacked it with a shovel, almost but not quite decapitating it. He warned us in advance that it was not going to be a pretty sight. In his backyard we saw the bloody remains of the copperhead. I didn’t want to go anywhere near it, but our neighbor cheerfully said, “You can touch it, kids!” To my absolute horror, all three of my children rushed up to pet the bloody dead snake. Suddenly, my son Nicholas shouted, “It’s alive!” I shrieked as I saw that the snake had indeed started to wriggle. The neighbor assured me that it was in fact dead, and that it was a primitive nerve reflex that kept the snake’s body moving even after death. I was telling this story to a friend, who told me that he had once completely severed the head off a snake and its jaws continued to open and close for a few horrific minutes. I’ve since learned that you can get bitten by a dead snake!
  • Burmese pythons are often kept as pets. They have become an invasive species in the Florida Everglades, probably because pet snakes were released or escaped into the wild. They get so large they have been known to eat prey as large as alligator or deer.
  • My sister called to tell me that after reading my story she thinks I’m a creepy sicko. Hello?! FICTION?!
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