Eight years ago we moved 300 miles from lush, wet western Washington to arid, agricultural eastern Washington. With us came Ariel, a 12-year-old tortoise shell cat. Had I thought to consult the Character Naming Sourcebook before she was named, I might have chosen otherwise; Ariel is Hebrew for “lioness of God.”
She lived up to the name. On moving day she spent 7 hours in the back of the Xterra, housed in a kennel with every necessity. For the first hour she howled, then curled up and slept in the unused litter box for a long nap. She took her revenge and hour before we arrived at our new home, using the litter box mightily in the close quarters of the car.
The first few days were hard for her, living in exile on the laundry porch while the movers unloaded the van and my husband and I unpacked boxes to get settled in. Time was tight. One month after moving we were due on the road for our summer music work and would be gone for seven weeks. Everything in the new house had to be taken care of before we left. One immediate concern was fencing off a section of the back yard so Ariel could go outside.
At about the same time my husband located our posthole digger and rounded up the fencing wire I was struck by an overpowering inspiration to write a story for THEMA Literary Journal’s upcoming deadline. This is not the way I usually work; I’m one of those writers who receives kinder treatment from “fate” if I write on a regular basis, according to a plan. But for once, a muse was calling! I grew surly and obsessed, defied my husband’s schedule for getting the fence done, grabbed a pen and spilled the first draft onto notebook paper (the computers weren’t hooked up yet). I had less than a week to write, revise and polish a short story to meet the July 1 deadline. It was an opportunity I was powerless to resist. The theme was “Henry’s Fence,” and I knew without doubt that my story about a cat named Henry, who was suffering the indignities of relocation, had an excellent chance of being published.
My protagonist was Ariel, though changes were necessary to line up the story with the theme. Here’s the opening sentence of “Henry”:
“Henry was large, orange, fixed and annoyed.”
Writing from a real-life situation and a cat’s point of view, I explored the agonies of displacement and other pet peeves- -opinions on vets, diets, Boston terriers, etc. The compassion I felt for miserably unhappy Ariel freed me to imagine her trials and the feelings that came with them. Poor kitty! Every time we moved a packing box or a piece of furniture, she had to reclaim it by rubbing against it. The work seemed endless, but there was one new joy to relish; napping on the wide, sunny sills of well-screened open windows.
At last Ariel’s fence was finished and so was Henry’s. The laundry porch door opened to the outside world. I submitted the story on time and learned three months later that “Henry” was selected for publication. It came out one year later (THEMA, Henry’s Fence, Vol. 20, No. 2, Summer 2008).
Ariel was the only pet we had when we moved here eight years ago. She never approved of the dog and two cats, all of them rescues, that joined the household during her reign. She passed on in 2010 and is (and will always be) terribly missed.
Subscribe To Susan's Newsletter
Join the official mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from Susan D. Matley. It's free and you can opt out anytime!