The Bitey Cat by

Sarah has a cat. She's only three but it's just hers.
–Kij Johnson - The Bitey Cat [At the mouth of the river of bees] - c.2012

I’m dipping in and out of Kij Johnson’s collection of short stories At the mouth of the river of bees. The Bitey Cat is one of the stories in the collection. It tells the story of a young girl, Sarah, whose parents are not getting on, and her first pet, a cat she calls Penny.

Sarah is only three, but the cat is hers, she is the one that wanted a cat. She actually wanted a kitten, but her mother said no, that Sarah would hold it too tightly and hurt it, so they got an adult cat at the rescue. Sarah picked her because she looked fierce. Sarah knows that Penny, as she calls her, is not really a cat.

She sees something mad and bad looking out of the bitey cat’s yellow eyes and she understands because she’s mad and bad sometimes too… Sarah knows that Penny is really a monster. She is huge and fierce and could kill you any time she wanted except now she’s a cat with spots and stripes and white toes. But Penny remembers. That’s why she’s mad all the time.

I loved this story. It is short, very short, only 6 pages long, but it is just wonderful.

It is told through the eyes of a three year old girl, so the writing at first seems simplistic and easy, but while the language may be, this is writing at its finest. So much is gotten across without the reader even realising.

Sarah’s parents are separating, divorcing, and as a three year old she believes the world revolves around her, so it must have something to do with her right? Her parents are angry and sad and unpredictable. For such a young child it is hard to even begin to understand that. So she gets frustrated. And she acts out, just like Penny.

It is a story that reminded me a little of Neil Gaiman’s story about the black cat that protects him and his family from the something that is out there, The Price1 but maybe that is just because it is a story about a cat that may not really be a cat.

It’s a short story, as I said, and I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t read it, so Show Spoiler ▼

I loved it. Have I said that already?


  1. read it here 

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