Hermits Rock

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Out tonight after listening to a meditator talk on the radio about awarenessing (“He wasn’t very enlightening,” K said; “Right,” I replied, “he was enlightened”), and jogging near our old place, which remains porchless and tarped on the roof (how very good it was to get out of there), I heard a barred owl calling. One spring when we were camping in the Catskills, we sat an hour by a fire and listened to a pair of owls call to each other. Their chattering was exciting, and it was comforting, and every time I hear owls—or see them, as one night when we came home, I saw one sitting on a wire outside our front door—I feel there is something right in this world. That’s one thing, anyway.

Lately I have been thinking about both compassion and sympathy. But that’s writing is for another day.

For now, instead, a story. “Our Cat Enters Heaven” by Margaret Atwood, which I borrow now from the SoMA Review, and which you can buy in Atwood’s short story collection The Tent. Somewhere there is a recording, which I heard on the radio, of Atwood reading it; in her wry voice, it’s quite good. You’ll see why.

Our Cat Enters Heaven

Our cat was raptured up to heaven. He’d never liked heights, so he tried to sink his claws into whatever invisible snake, giant hand, or eagle was causing him to rise in this manner, but he had no luck.

The ground under the tree was littered with bitten-off angel wings. When he got to heaven, it was a large field. There were a lot of little pink things running around that he thought at first were mice. Then he saw God sitting in a tree. Angels were flying here and there with their fluttering white wings; they were making sounds like doves. Every once in a while God would reach out with its large furry paw and snatch one of them out of the air and crunch it up. The ground under the tree was littered with bitten-off angel wings.

Our cat went politely over to the tree.

Meow, said our cat.

Meow, said God. Actually it was more like a roar.

I always thought you were a cat, said our cat, but I wasn’t sure.

In heaven all things are revealed, said God. This is the form in which I choose to appear to you.

I’m glad you aren’t a dog, said our cat. Do you think I could have my testicles back?

Of course, said God. They’re over behind that bush.

Our cat was very pleased. Thank you, he said to God.

God was washing its elegant long whiskers. De rien, said God.

Would it be possible for me to help you catch some of those angels? said our cat.

You never liked heights, said God, stretching itself out along the branch, in the sunlight. I forgot to say there was sunlight.

True, said our cat. I never did. There were a few disconcerting episodes he preferred to forget. Well, how about some of those mice?

They aren’t mice, said God. But catch as many as you like. Don’t kill them right away. Make them suffer.

You mean, play with them? said our cat. I used to get in trouble for that.

It’s a question of semantics, said God. You won’t get in trouble for that here.

Our cat chose to ignore this remark, as he did not know what “semantics” was. He did not intend to make a fool of himself. If they aren’t mice, what are they? he said. Already he’d pounced on one. He held it down under his paw. It was kicking, and uttering tiny shrieks.

They’re the souls of human beings who have been bad on Earth, said God, half-closing its yellowy-green eyes. Now if you don’t mind, it’s time for my nap.

What are they doing in heaven, then? said our cat.

Our heaven is their hell, said God. I like a balanced universe.



this is what i don’t get about cat-lovers… i know my cat would rather eat me, claw me, and generally have its most umpleasant way with me… but still i will love them and purport that they are better than dogs

No, cats would rather eat, claw, and be unpleasant to smaller more helpless creatures. I think Atwood makes that quite clear. They’re quite loving if you’re bigger than they, dump food in their dish every day, and generally provide a warm surface or two on which they can sleep. I would not say they are better than dogs, just different.

I never had a cat, but growing up I had a dog with a cat-like personality: self-interested, aloof, oblivious to commands, and completely disloyal. She was maddening to deal with sometimes, but it was impossible not to feel periodic affection, precisely because of those difficult attributes.

Precisely, JH. J’s being a rank speciesist, in spite of the fact…

(The discussion linked to in 4 is a monstrosity and needs to be put out of its misery.)

the government needs to put it out of it’s monstrosity?

yeah, you liberals always wanting the feds to step in…. i would prefer it if the church stepped in and cleaned the mess up with the holy office of the inquisition…

but that’s just me

I should clarify that I meant the discussion as a whole and not J’s contribution to it.

The initial post linked to in 4, however, as well as its predecessor, is pretty good. A little too meta for my taste, but sometimes meta is needed.


OK, enough of your cat hating and critical ways. Let’s love on the story some:

Do you think I could have my testicles back?

Of course, said God. They’re over behind that bush.

Anyone who says that’s not great is a liar.

Sorry about the hijacking, the story is great. I love how God throws a little French in there. What exactly was the author’s purpose in that, I’d like to know.

She’s Canadian. What do you expect?

of course god speaks french…

that too was quite funny, though not as funny as the testicles.