Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cat's Eye (1988)

Margaret Atwood
Cat's Eye (1988)


Cordelia and Grace and Carol take me to the deep hole in Cordelia's backyard. I'm wearing a black dress and a cloak, from the dress-up cupboard. I'm supposed to be Mary Queen of Scots, headless already. They pick me up by the underarms and the feet and lower me into the hole. Then they arrange the boards over the top. The daylight air disappears, and there's the sound of dirt hitting the boards, shovelful after shovelful. Inside the hole it's dim and cold and damp and smells like toad burrows.

Up above, outside, I can hear their voices, and then I can't hear them. I lie there wondering when it will be time to come out. Nothing happens. When I was put into the hole I knew it was a game; now I know it is not one. I feel sadness, a sense of betrayal. Then I feel the darkness pressing down on me; then terror.

When I remember back to this time in the hole, I can't really remember what happened to me while I was in it. I can't remember what I really felt. Maybe nothing happened, maybe these emotions I remember are not the right emotions.I know the others came and got me out after a while, and the game or some other game continued. I have no image of myself in the hole; only a black square filled with nothing, a square like a door. Perhaps the square is empty; perhaps it's only a marker, a time marker that separates the time before it from the time after. The point at which I lost power. Was I crying when they took me out of the hole? It seems likely. On the other hand I doubt it. But I can't remember.

– Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye, Section IV, chapter 20.


Toronto was never dull, for me. Dull isn't a word you'd use to describe such misery, and enchantment ... In my dreams of this city I am always lost. [14]

He doesn't write his name, or dirty words, as other boys do, as I know from snowbanks. Instead he writes: MARS. Or, if he's feeling up to it, something longer: JUPITER. By the end of the summer he has done the whole solar system , three times over, in pee. [68]

"We have long attention spans," I say. "We eat everything on our plates. We save string. We make do."
She looks puzzled. That's all I want to say about the forties. [89]

Cordelia is digging a hole, in her back garden where there is no sod. She has started several holes before, but they have been unsuccessful, they struck rock. This one is more promising ... She's very wrapped up in this hole, it's hard to get her to play anything else. [106]

In the endless time when Cordelia had such power over me, I peeled the skin off my feet. I did it at night, when I was supposed to be sleeping. ... In the mornings I would pull my socks on, over my peeled feet. It was painful to walk, but not impossible. The pain gave me something definite to think about, something immediate. It was something to hold onto. [113-14]

The snow angel has feathery wings and a tiny pin-head. Where her hands stopped, down near her sides, are the imprints of her fingers, like little claws. [185]

Josef tells me he once shot a man in the head; what disturbed him was how easy it was to do it. He says he hates the Life Drawing class, he will not go on with it forever, cooped up in this provincial backwater teaching the rudiments to morons. "I come from a country that no longer exists," he says "and you come from a country that does not yet exist." once I would have thought this profound. Now I wonder what he means. [305]

The past isn't quaint while you're in it. Only at a safe distance, later, when you can see it as decor, not as the shape your life's been squeezed into. [363]

– Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye. 1989 (London: Virago, 1992).

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