Tycho’s Lament. With Apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald.
He approached the plastic food bowl warily, as if it were an unexploded bomb. His nose twitched, seeking out acceptable airborne molecules. There weren’t any. Placed on an inverted bowl, the food bowl balanced several inches off the floor. This saved him from crouching on his arthritic knees, a considerate provision by his owner that he never acknowledged.
To the right of the wet food stood his dry food bowl. This dry food was a source of wonderment for all who knew Tycho. Surely a cat with no teeth could not eat dry food. Yet eat he did. Rapaciously. And at odd and unpredictable intervals. He was as freely acceptable to dry food as he was fussy with wet. Perhaps dry cat food was crack cocaine for kitties: salty and caloric as potato chips for people.
Finding his wet food wanting, Tycho began a solo chorus, an endless and unstoppable cacophony of merciless meowing. Certainly, this would bring a parade of proper offerings, a variety to satisfy his hunger. Or not.
Tycho appraised the man coolly. Although a good benefactor, at least in the past, the man now seemed incapable of providing the right food, at least for Tycho’s ever maturing, refined tastes. And as an antidote for his boredom. Tycho was very bored.
As he got older, Tycho learned an invaluable lesson: an endless selection of food was available, as long as he rejected one cat food can after another. His owner would simply keep opening cans until Tycho’s caterwauling stopped. As he didn’t want to discourage the man completely, Tycho deigned to eat some of the food, at least a little bit here and there. But his pile of undigested leavings, looking like vomit, left no doubt as to Tycho’s disappointment.
Implicit in Tycho’s brain was the thought that nutritional nirvana awaited at the store, only the man hadn’t found it yet. A terrible failing. It seemed paramount, therefore, to keep sending him back for more cans. Food flowed in: flaked, filleted, and grilled. Fish and Shrimp, Tuna and Shrimp, Tuna and Salmon. White Meat Chicken and Tuna Recipe with Wild Rice & Spinach. (In broth). Even offerings from Newman’s Own and Rachel Ray.
Although the man seemed depressed with Tycho’s refusals, Tycho was still confident, especially in his powerful voice. With his encouragement, with a yowl that could prompt 911 calls, Tycho would get the man to do better. Tycho believed in a gastronomical future; it eluded him now but not forever. Tomorrow, in a new grocery bag, a new hope. Until one fine morning —
I submitted this as my second assignment in the Fiction and Poetry course I am taking (internal link) Among a few other requirements, we were to write in the third person. Where the narrator knows every subjects’ thoughts. As a writer of commercial nonfiction this is new to me. What do you think? In a few days I’ll post the critiques I got, which should tell how close I came to the assignment’s goals.
Update: Here are the critiques. These responses are very similar to what would get from an editor or a press. (If you got any feedback at all) Some outlets will like your piece, others not. It’s really a matter of persisting in finding that person or publication that agrees with you. The notes are all overly kind and I am thankful for my classmate’s comments; I could not advance as a writer without them.
The piece flowed really nicely and I like that you made the subject an old cat. And you did what you set out to do – you made a piece that looked at the subject from within and from without. We got a real sense of what was in Tycho’s head without hearing a single word uttered from him (how could we – he can’t speak). I also felt a little bad for the owner as he would never be able to satisfy that cat and we the reader knew it but we could sense the owner’s frustration and persistence to please this persnickity feline.
This was hilarious. Especially as a cat owner. But a few things that jumped out at me:
Preamble: be more specific. POV, Tense, sentence structure, narrator tone etc. This is really really helpful to structure and direct your assignment.
The piece is very entertaining and I can relate on SO MANY levels.
Your story so much reminds me of “Henri-the white/black youtube cat.” Have you see it? IF not, check it out. He was so depressed, ALL THE TIME. Your narrator certainly put a very humorous spin on the mundane and unsatisfying state of being a house cat.
I think what makes your story choice difficult for me, especially when thinking about the assignment, is that your character is feline, and so any emotional state is imagined and more than that, projected by you. Which I think is different from imagining a human character, with human emotions and real life challenges. We don’t “actually know” if cats think about nutritional nirvana and instill hope in the next grocery store. Because that assumes they understand the concept of time… As much as I believe my cat has thoughts like these, we have to admit that it is our own projection onto them.
I would love to see your humor be applied in a narrator that is talking about a human and actual human emotion, which I think would make for a far more complex storytelling and greater ranges of effects on the reader!
I love that you’ve chosen a cat as your protagonist! And chosen one that is aware manipulation of his owner will get him the food he wants. I always suspected this of cats… The narrator’s bemused tone is great, particularly in the first paragraph (“unexploded bomb”), the second (“dry food was a source of wonderment to those who knew Tycho”), and the fifth (“undigested leavings left no doubt as to Tycho’s disappointment”). I would have liked such a narrator’s comment about how or why Tycho was so bored; that section seemed a bit thin, in comparison. Because the narrator is so observant and wry, you’ve piqued my interest in what happens next. I hope you’ll continue this. Oh, a couple minor things: In the 2nd paragraph I think you meant “freely accepting of dry food as he was fussy with wet.”
I always get nervous when writers take an assignment about a human and substitute an animal, because there’s a danger of too much cuteness or jokiness or hiding behind the animal to avoid having to feel too much emotion. But you have not fallen into this trap at all, because Tycho is such a fully formed character. Sure he’s a cat, but he’s complex, contradictory and full of yearning just like us humans. What’s more, your piece is a perfect example of why we all need a narrator to tell our story (even if we’re writing in first person and the character is telling his/her own story): this narrator can articulate all the things Tycho cannot. This narrator finds delight where Tycho cannot. Maybe most importantly, the narrator has a relationship with Tycho – knows him well, can fill in his history as needed, and is tapped into his emotions.
You also did a great job of fulfilling the Yates – this narrator kept his focus on the world around Tycho and on getting the story told instead of going straight into Tycho’s head and staying in that close, dark place. I hope everyone can start to understand this distinction I’m making: the narrator’s job is to tell a story, not to transcribe the character’s thoughts (there are exceptions, of course; see Virginia Woolf’s beautiful novel The Waves, for instance). It’s fun for us readers to get to see the character in action, to watch a scene as it unfolds, to hear what the character says (even if it’s a yowl that could elicit 911 calls). This narrator also has the wisdom to leave it to us readers to fill in all that’s left unstated.
Your narrator’s dry wit and incongruously fancy turns of phrase made me chuckle throughout. And you have some lovely Yates-like punchlines, such as “that he never acknowledged,” and the heartrending “Tycho was very bored.” Somehow my favorite line was a tossed-off parenthetical: (In broth) – such a nicely observed little detail that highlighted the absurdity of Tycho’s dance with his unnamed owner.
Next time — humans, please!