You got the cat you came to know as Milton the day that Indonesian man phoned up to say he wouldn’t be meeting you at the Sizzle Steak because your new hairdo reminded him of a hive of blood beetles, which was a bad omen, and while he was at it your perfume reminded him of his momma’s deathbed breath, and finally he spluttered how you make him sad, and that was really the thing of it, this put you off so much you didn’t deign to ask him what a blood beetle was, even though that was the best part of the Indonesian man, the exotic facts he could drop into a conversation, like that time he mentioned in passing that he boiled his shoes every week, and was a blood beetle an annoyance similar to the house roach or was it a horror similar to a flying ant, you don’t know and now you never will, you daubed some hand soap on your pulse points so you wouldn’t smell like breath no more and you went to the Pets 'n Friends and walked straight to the kitten bucket and pointed, a little boy said Uhl, that thing got a noface, and you told the boy Better than too much face, biglips, and you named that cat Milton and you tried not to look directly into its face, cause you remembered the Indonesian man saying how cats can hypnotize you into digging out your own internal organs and offering them up as an afternoon snack.
—from “You and Your Cats”
Lindsay Hunter is a writer living in Chicago, where she hosts the Quickies! reading series. Her collection of slim fictions, Daddy’s, was released in 2010. Her story “You and Your Cats” appears in Unstuck #1.
Interview by Allie Werner
UNSTUCK: How did this story originate? What made you want to write about a cat lady?
LINDSAY HUNTER: Well, originally I wanted to write a story about a middle-aged woman who took a roommate. I wrote that story and it didn't do what I wanted it to do. It was flat. Then, I was asked to read at a local reading series, P. Fanatics, with a theme of "cats." So I kind of molded the two ideas into a Voltron story. And I wanted, also, to explore the impulses behind collecting.
UNSTUCK: Now I have the image of a literary Voltron in my head. Which element of this story would be the arms?
LINDSAY HUNTER: One arm would be a centipede of cats. The other would be the Indonesian man.
UNSTUCK: Do you have any collections of your own?
LINDSAY HUNTER: Yes! Okay, look, I believe inanimate objects have feelings. I am constantly filled with anxiety that I'm hurting everything's feelings. (My husband has the same illness.) Exhibit A: Last weekend when putting the ladder away, we both agreed the ladder shouldn't be shut in a room alone in the basement, but should be amongst other basement flotsam, amongst "friends." So, anyway, that has led to a lot of hand-wringing about throwing anything out. I collect books, folk art, and every every every item I can find from my childhood. You're shrieking into your hands, aren't you?
UNSTUCK: I feel like anthropomorphization of objects is a pretty common instinct, actually.
LINDSAY HUNTER: Really!
UNSTUCK: I mean, I think everyone does it during childhood. We all have a security object of some sort.
LINDSAY HUNTER: I used to, before getting into bed with my first lover (I did just use that word, oh God), put my stuffed animals "to bed" by laying them down on a pillow and covering them with a blanket.
UNSTUCK: I used to worry about certain toys getting jealous of other toys if I played with them more.
LINDSAY HUNTER: Yes. Precisely!
UNSTUCK: Today, I try to keep my stuff pared down to a minimum because I move around a lot, but I can't get rid of books or small plastic toys. Like, the random French fry transformers from 90s Happy Meals.
LINDSAY HUNTER: Oh, you have to keep those.
UNSTUCK: And speaking of anthropomorphism, one of the things I really liked about "You and Your Cats" was that the cats weren't actually anthropomorphized that much. They felt very animal and indifferent.
LINDSAY HUNTER: Right! I wanted the woman to be cat-thropomorphized. Folded into the pack. Is that what a group of cats is called? Pack? Harem? The cats and the woman, they live together out of necessity.
UNSTUCK: A pride? Like lions?
LINDSAY HUNTER: There we go!
UNSTUCK: So she becomes kind of the inverse of dogs dressed in fashionable sweaters.
LINDSAY HUNTER: Right. She is slowly becoming cooled to society. Retreating into her own world.
UNSTUCK: I went down a weird Internet rabbit hole after reading your story, because I decided to Google what cat food tastes like. And I found a very detailed Yahoo Answers thread about it. Apparently it has some human fans. What do you imagine cat food tastes like?
LINDSAY HUNTER: That does not surprise me! I imagine it tastes like chewed Spam. Which itself already tastes chewed. The oil of it coats your tongue, and there are sudden chewy pieces. With every chew you think the word, "doody." Delicious, in other words!
UNSTUCK: I imagined it as a mix of Spam and creamed tuna. With some peas.
LINDSAY HUNTER: Ooh, good call.
UNSTUCK: Why did you decide to go with a second person narration in this story? Did it just naturally go that way during your first draft, or did you shift to it later?
LINDSAY HUNTER: Oh, yeah, it started that way. I rarely go back and make huge changes once I've got a story totally down. As for why I went with second person, I love the simultaneous closeness and distance you can get with it. And for this story, that felt like the right choice for the character. You know her pain, but she is still withdrawn.
UNSTUCK: When I was first reading the story, I also felt like the "you" emphasized the fact that she had no one to talk to. I, as a reader, felt almost complicit in her loneliness.
LINDSAY HUNTER: Wow! I love that.
UNSTUCK: You have a book of "slim fictions" out called Daddy's.
LINDSAY HUNTER: This is true!
UNSTUCK: What attracts you to slim fiction as a form?
LINDSAY HUNTER: Man, so much. I love the immediacy of it. I love how an entire world can be shown in just a matter of moments. Which any great fiction does. Longer stories, novels, etc. There is a world in every sentence. I love the stakes of short fiction. I love how it seems, to me anyway, that word choice is just as essential as plot.
It's like poetry in that way. I had an argument with a professor once about whether or not a story I had written was a poem or a story, and I feel like that is the tension I want in everything I write or read.
UNSTUCK: What are you reading right now?
LINDSAY HUNTER: I just finished The Sisters Brothers and I loved it. Every sentence was so careful and essential. It was funny and violent. Now I'm reading The Vanishers and the language in it feels bright, fresh, new. I am only about 50 pages in but I am enjoying it a lot.
UNSTUCK: Is there anything else you wanted to talk about before we wrap up?
LINDSAY HUNTER: Anyone reading this, be kind to your stuffed animals. Don't write crap. Don't read crap either.
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Allie Werner is a graduate of Reed College. Before joining Unstuck as an Assistant Editor, she read slush for Tin House and interned with American Short Fiction. Her first published story appeared in Storyglossia last summer. She can be found online at A. is A. In her spare time she enjoys coffee and comic books, preferably simultaneously.