C is for Couvelaire


That’s the name of the family in What They Want, Jill Barth’s story in story in Cat Tales, the anthology drawn from last year’s Book a Break short story competition. Quite a family, believe me – seven kids! Sam and Sam, who claim to own me, have just the two, and that seems plenty to me. Of course, you might say, who am I to talk, since I can’t rightly tell you how many kittens I’ve fathered, but at least no one has to change their nappies. But seven babies! Phew! Well, six when the story opens, five girls and a boy, Jean-Pierre.

You remember the kid, of course. Before the war, he messed about in the back of the shop while his mother tended to customers. Jean-Pierre, the boy with the sisters? Yes, the family with the fabric shop. Back then, if you needed fabric in Sarrians you went to Madame Couvelaire. She had big baby-feeding breasts and a melting way with eye contact. It wasn’t only the fabric we were after, but the feeling of being mothered, an urge to taste milk and rest in a dark room. […] 

Isn’t that delightful writing? Atthys Gage, the competition judge, said the story was ‘beautifully crafted with a distinctive, nuanced voice and well-made characters.’ I’m afraid I can’t tell you what happens because Curtis won’t let me but I will say this – the daughters grow up and leave home and Monsieur Couvelaire is sad because he remembers how he cuddled them when they were babies so he thinks, ‘Why don’t we have another?’ and Madame Couvelaire agrees and so they do. But it doesn’t turn out the way they hoped because the boy survived but poor Madame Couvelaire… Oops! Curtis has gone all red in the face, shaking his fists and screaming, ‘Spoiler!’

His father should have known what to do with a crying baby. He’d done it before and he’d done it before and he’d done it before… But now he was out of steam and the war had just begun. Jean-Pierre peeked around the corner to see his father, his back as rounded as a cooked shrimp, bent over the cradle crying. Father and son, both sobbing with earthly force, crying out of painful necessity, desperate for relief. Jean-Pierre knew what to do: Give Them What They Want.

Well, I’m definitely not going to tell you what they want. But it’s not a bowl of chicken gizzards, which is what I would have asked for. Though as Lord High Clawncellor of Taunton, I suppose I ought to have loftier desires, so let’s forego the gizzards in exchange for a world where neither cats nor humans suffer. It’s a funny thing, reading, isn’t it? Gets you thinking about all sorts of things you never thought about before. Did I mention, by the way, that I’m the reincarnation of Sir Thomas More? Cat For All Seasons, that’s me. I’ve just downloaded Utopia, which is very different from Cat Tales but a smashing book all the same.

Jill Barth, incidentally, has a blog, L’Occasion, where she writes about wine, and she’s also working on a novel, Que Faire?, which Curtis says is written in the same enchanting prose as What They Want.

The proceeds from Cat Tales go to two charities, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation. The revenue from sales so far stands at $80 – our target this month is to double that. So please don’t hesitate to spread the word and help us reach that target. And of course, if you click on the button yourself, you can read Jill’s lovely writing and find out What They Want. Thank you!

In a special promotion deal, the price of Cat Tales is just $1.99 for the whole month of April. Available as a PDF (or epub / mobi) complete with colour illustrations directly from this site* by clicking the button below. Also available in print (black & white, $9.50).

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*Buying from this site results in $1.61 after the PayPal commission, as opposed to just $0.70 when buying from Amazon. An insecticide treated mosquito net, which protects on average 2 people for 3 to 4 years, costs $2.50. PLUS, if you buy from this site, you’ll get a personal message of thanks from Curtis along with a short story of his own (in which Nibbles the cat, I’m sorry to say, comes to a rather unfortunate end).

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  1. Perhaps you felt you needed to imply Madame Couvelaire’s fate in order to use the excerpt that followed. You succeeded in adding a layer of pathos, which I think is a good thing, but I also agree you must tread lightly, like fog on little cat feet. Still, you are doing a fine job without any human interference.

      • You are welcome, Smith. Please grant Curtis a bit of slack. Hiss hue is understandable when you consider that you are his face for this challenge, and he hopes to be well-represented. It only proves how deeply he depends upon you.

  2. Thank you for helping me tell this story! You’ve done so much to stand with the writers of Cat Tales, and I appreciate your support.

    I’m so proud to have written this piece, which helps othesr in our beautiful world.

    With my kindest thanks, Jill.

    • It’s a terrific story, Jill. Might you consider sharing, reblogging, or tweeting Smith’s posts to spread the word? I understand completely how odious marketing is to most writers. It certainly is to me. But it really does help to have a street team, doesn’t it?

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