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When eleven-year-old Cat Kinsey builds a secret hideout to escape her unhappy homelife, she slowly gets to know a poor family who have come to California after losing their Texas home to the dust storms of the 1930s.
The kitchen was hot and smelled of cabbage and bacon grease and Mama was taking forever to finish washing the meat platter. The smell, along with the knot in her stomach, made Cat feel slightly sick. She swallowed hard and wiped her forehead with the damp coolness of the dish towel, before she leaned closer and whispered, "Mama. He's almost done. Ask him now. Hurry!"
Lunch had been over for half an hour. Or "dinner," as Father still insisted on calling it, even though nowadays, in the nineteen thirties, most people called it "lunch." Cliff and Ellen had walked back to the store ages ago, Mama and Cat had almost finished the dishes, and Father was on the last page of his newspaper. Within a very few minutes he would be leaving too. Going back to Kinsey's Hardware where he would stay, as always on Saturdays, until past Cat's bedtime. "Mama. You promised." Cat nudged her mother's arm.
"Be careful, Cathy," her mother said. "You almost made me drop this platter." Holding the heavy china plate with both hands, she arranged it very slowly and carefully in the rinsing rack while Cat watched, quivering with impatience. "It's almost an heirloom, you know. Belonged to your great-grandmother Kinsey."
Cat Kinsey (Cathy or even Catherine to some, but Cat to her friends and in her secret soul) dismissed great-grandmothers and family heirlooms with an angry shrug, and nudged her mother again. Tensing her whisper into an almost silent scream, she said, "Mama! Hurry. He's leaving."
With maddening slowness Mama dried her hands on her apron, and started toward Father. But then, noticing the milk pitcher was still on the table, she picked it up instead. It wasn't until the pitcher was carefully covered with oilpaper, and put away in the icebox, that she again turned toward the center of the room.
Twisting her hands in her apron, she took an uncertain step toward where Cat's father, Charles Kinsey, was carefully folding the newspaper and then arranging his knife and fork neatly across the top of his plate. Cat's heart sank. Mama wouldn't ask him. And even if she did, she wouldn't really argue on Cat's side—even though she'd more or less promised she would.
Father pushed back his chair, straightened his tie, slicked down his bristly gray hair, took his hat from the peg by the door, and settled it firmly on his head. It wasn't until the last possible moment, just as he was reaching for the doorknob, that Mama finally spoke. "Charles. Could I—could Catherine talk to you a moment? She wants to ask you something."
No, no. Cat wanted to shout, No! You want to talk to him. You promised you'd do it. But she didn't, of course. Didn't even dare risk a glance that would come close to saying the words that pushed against her clenched teeth. Mama, you liar. You awful scaredy-cat liar!
Instead she forced a smile and turned toward her father. "It's about Play Day. Everybody's talking about it at school already and practicing and everything, and I'm going to be in the sixth-grade girls' race and if I win that one I might even win the Winners' Grand Finale, too, like last year." She paused—and avoided the issue for a moment by saying, "Everybody says I'll probably win. I'm a lot faster than anybody at Brownwood, even Hank Belton, and—and everybody says I have to win or Brownwood won't stand a chance for the prize money this year." She paused again. Her father's dark eyes were narrowing, his spidery gray eyebrows almost meeting above his nose.
"Yesss?" he said, stretching the word out in a way that made it threaten like a cat's hiss. "Go on, daughter. I know about the fall sports meet. We were discussing it just last week at the school-board meeting. What is it that you want to ask about it?"
Despair tightened her throat. He was going to say no. She knew he was. But she hurried on, the words erupting, tumbling, trying to get out before it was too late. "And everyone, all the girls, everyone but me, they're all going to wear slacks. And I know that Reverend Hopkins preaches against them but Janet says that Reverend Booker says he doesn't think God cares one way or another." That was a mistake. How could she have been so dumb as to mention Reverend Booker when she knew how Father felt about him? Quick. Change the subject. Tell about—tell about what the teacher said. "And Miss Albright says that slacks are ever so much more modest when you're doing sports and—"
Her father spoke then, and of course he said no. Well, not the actual word no—and not to Cat. Nothing to Cat herself. When he finally interrupted her frantic babbling, he only said to Mama, "Lydia, why do we have to go over this again? I thought we'd covered the subject quite thoroughly last year. I've told you, and Catherine, too, I might add, that I quite agree with Reverend Hopkins when he says that women in men's clothing are an abomination."
It wasn't until then that he turned to Cat. "And over and above the issue of women in men's clothing, Catherine, I thought you solemnly agreed that if you got that green dress you wanted so much you'd not ask for anything more until Christmas."
"But, Father, this is—this is different. This is because of the race and—and winning for Brownwood—and not being the only girl there, or at least the only girl who's racing who's not wearing slacks, and ...
Father turned away. Without even waiting to hear the rest of what she had to say he settled his hat more firmly on his head and went out the back door.
Cat whirled to glare at her mother. "It's because of the money, isn't it? He just said that about Reverend Hopkins because he doesn't want to admit it, but it's mostly because of the money. He just won't spend a penny he doesn't have to. At least he won't if it's for ... Cat threw down her dish towel and ran.
"Cathy!" her mother's faint pleading call drifted after her. "Cathy. Come back." Cat kept going.CHAPTER 2
Fast cat. Fastest runner at Brownwood School. And almost as good on the high bar and at dodgeball. And when necessary very good at dodging through cluttered rooms as well. Full speed through the dining room, around chairs, bird cages, and plant stands, and on around tea tables and over footstools in the dim, dusty living room. And on to the front door, to burst out into the sunshine—and down the veranda steps in three daring leaps.
Down the steps and across the semicircle of straggly lawn to where the huge fronds of the old palm tree drooped clear to the ground, making a tentlike shelter. A hiding place where, if you stood very still, you were quite invisible to anyone watching from the house. Or even from the veranda steps where Lydia Kinsey was soon standing, still wiping her hands on her apron and calling in her wispy voice. Calling and smiling now, a pitiful pretend smile. "Where are you, Cathy? All I can see is your toes and your hair."
Quoting poetry again, the way she always did. When she was younger Cat had liked to listen to all the poems Mama knew by heart. But lately it only made her angrier when Mama tried to use some silly little kids' poem to make up with Cat after they had an argument. Silly poems like that one that started, "I'm hiding, I'm hiding, and no one knows where. For all they can see is my toes and my hair." Trying to make a joke of something that wasn't the least bit funny. She couldn't really see Cat's toes and hair, of course, and what Cat was doing wasn't a joke, or a game either. Or the least bit funny.
Shutting out the calling voice, Cat sat down in the dusty debris near the trunk of the tree. Shutting out, too, the fact that her skirt was getting dirty—or trying to ignore it, at least. After a moment she reluctantly lifted the skirt, brushed it off, and tucked it up into her lap out of harm's way—and while she was at it, the end of her braid. Pulling the long, thick braid of almost red hair—brown, really, but with just a hint of red—forward over her shoulder, she shook shreds of palm fronds out of its curly end. Then, as she often did when she was thinking, she wrapped and unwrapped the curl around her fingers—and concentrated on shutting out the sound of Mama's voice.
Actually, Lydia Shoemaker Kinsey's voice was easy to ignore. Nobody, not Ellen or Cliff or Cat herself, and certainly not Father—particularly not Father—ever paid much attention to what Mama had to say. It was likely, in fact, that no one had ever paid much attention to her, even before she became Mrs. Charles Kinsey. In fact, according to Ellen, that was the reason why she had lost her job at Brownwood School and decided to get married instead.
Cat had heard many stories about how Mama had happened to marry Father, most of them from Ellen. "Skinny little bit of a thing," Ellen had begun just the other night, "right out of teachers college—and with that freckly baby face and carroty red hair, she looked about twelve years old. Should have known better than to take on an upper-grade class like the one here at Brownwood. Fifth through eighth grade it was then, before the seventh and eighth grades went to Orangedale."
"I know," Cat interrupted. "You've told me about it before. Lots of times." She knew all about the year Mama had tried to teach at Brownwood. And how both Cliff and Ellen had been in her class, Cliff in the fifth grade and Ellen in eighth. And how the girls gossiped and giggled all day, and the boys spattered ink and threw spit wads. And nobody bothered to do their lessons or learn anything at all.
"And I'll bet you threw more spit wads than anybody," Cat had said to Cliff. It was easy to imagine what kind of a ten-year-old Cliff had been. Cat was certain, in fact, that neither Cliff nor Ellen had been any help to Lydia. Not that Ellen would ever have been rowdy or giggly, but she wouldn't have been friendly either. At least not after she found out that her own father, Charles Kinsey, head of the "well-known" Kinsey family, owner of Kinsey's Hardware Emporium as well as president of the school board, had asked Lydia Shoemaker to marry him. Had asked the scrawny, nervous little schoolteacher to marry him even though he was almost twenty years older, and had lost his first wife less than a year before.
"She told him no at first," Ellen had gone on to say. Cat had been surprised because Ellen usually tried to make it sound like Mama had schemed and connived to get Father to marry her.
"Hmm," Cat had said in a tone of voice she'd tried to keep from sounding too triumphant. "I guess it wasn't all her idea, then, after all."
"Well, not right off maybe," Ellen said.
After Cat considered for a moment she asked, "How do you know she said no at first?"
"Father told me so." Ellen had been sewing at the time and for a moment her face disappeared as she lifted the shirt she was mending to bite off a thread. When it appeared again her lips looked thin, and hard enough to snip off thread all by themselves. "She told him she said no because she was worried about how Cliff and I would feel about her taking our mother's place. You know Cliff was only nine when Mama died."
"I know," Cat said. Ellen had told her many long, sad stories about how their mother, the beautiful and elegant Eleanor, had died of pneumonia when Ellen and Cliff were so young.
"That's what she told him," Ellen went on, "but I think it was just that she really didn't want to be a housewife at all. At least, not until she found out what a failure she was as a schoolteacher. So then"—Ellen's lips curled in a spitefully sweet smile—"when she lost the teaching position she decided to try her hand at being a housewife, after all."
Ellen didn't go on to say it, but the way she rolled her eyes around at the living room's dusty clutter made it clear that she meant that Mama had been a failure at that too. But Cat didn't give Ellen the satisfaction of starting an argument about why Mama didn't do much housework, even though there were some things she could have said if she'd wanted to.
She could, for instance, have mentioned that Mama would probably do a lot better if Father wasn't so tight with money. He wouldn't even buy her a new vacuum cleaner when the old Hoover broke down, though he could have gotten one for cost at Kinsey's Hardware. And it was impossible to keep things clean in such a big old house with nothing but brooms and dust mops. In a big old house that, according to Ellen, had once been "the pride of Brownwood"—but was now a leaky, run-down wreck, because of Father's stinginess.
Or she could have mentioned Mama's asthma and headaches, and how little certain people helped out around the house. But if anyone suggested that Ellen might help out more at home they only got a lecture about the long hours she worked at the store, and how Father couldn't get along without her. Arguing with Ellen just wasn't worth the effort.
Cat shrugged, sighed, and leaned forward to peer out between the palm fronds. Mama had stopped calling now and was just standing there wiping her hands and then her pale, freckled face with her apron. She wiped her cheeks and around her eyes, brushed back some flyaway wisps of curly red hair, and then turned slowly and went back into the house.
She probably would go to her room now, hers and Father's, put a wet washcloth on her forehead, lie down on the bed, and have a sick headache. Mama had headaches a lot and most of the time it was when someone had made her feel bad. Like Cat, for instance. Quite often it was Cat. When she was younger it had always made Cat feel terribly evil and guilty, knowing the headache was her fault.
But not anymore. At least not today. Today she was too angry to feel guilty, or to even care whether Mama was going to be sick. Putting all of it, Mama's headache, Father's stinginess, and even the whole problem about slacks and the Play Day races, out of her mind, Cat pushed the palm fronds apart and got into a crouching position. Ready, set ...CHAPTER 3
Crouched and ready to run, Cat waited impatiently for Father to leave for the store. He must have stopped to putter around at the garage workbench again, because she still hadn't heard—But then, there it was, the rasping grind of the starter followed by the clatter and chug of an ancient, ailing motor. Parting the palm fronds, she watched as the old Model A Ford bounced down the rutted driveway, turned out onto the road, and headed for downtown Brownwood. Cat followed its progress through squinted eyes, her lower lip clenched between her teeth. She hated that ugly old Ford. Right at that moment she, Cat Kinsey, hated—everything. And everybody. Particularly everybody.
"I hate them," she said out loud. "All of them." She'd never said it before. Never even thought it, really, at least not in so many words. But somehow saying it out loud made a difference. A jolting difference, like sticking your finger in an electric light socket. She caught her breath sharply, swallowed hard, and ran.
Across the lawn, through a gap in the pyracantha hedge that separated the house from the driveway, and then on down the drive at top speed with her braid flip-flopping against her spine. Around the old garage that had once been a stable, and from there across the field where Cliff's pony had once lived. No pony there now, of course. Not since Cat had gotten old enough to want one. Nothing in the weed-grown horse pasture except Cat herself, galloping fast and free, pushing herself until her lungs burned and her breath came in hungry gasps. Fast and free to the end of the Kinsey property, over the sagging fence, and on across open land toward Coyote Creek.
Somewhere along the way she began to feel, not good exactly, but at least a little less miserable. It always worked that way. There was something about the fiery burn of leg muscles and the good clean ache in her lungs that tended to deaden other kinds of pain. By the time she reached Coyote Creek Canyon her anger had tamed. Something she could direct and control, instead of a dark, raging storm.
The path down to the creek bed was narrow, winding, and very steep. A trail for wild things only. Wild things like deer and coyotes—and Cat Kinsey, whose descent today was a sliding, skittering plunge, checked only by sudden impacts against bushes and boulders until it came to a jarring finish in the creek bed, in an unplanned sitting position. Staggering to her feet she rubbed her bruised bottom and examined herself for other injuries.
Yes. There was a scraped ankle, all right, and that was just one more thing that was all Father's fault. His fault because her leg would have been properly protected if she'd been wearing slacks. And if she got blood poisoning and died that would be his fault too.
Sighing deeply at the thought of the poor youthful corpse lying in state in Spencer's Funeral Home, she limped across a wide expanse of dry creek bed to the narrow stream. At the edge of a pool she squatted and splashed a little water on the smarting scrape, examining it closely for blood-poisoning potential.
Excerpted from Cat Running by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Copyright © 1994 Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted June 24, 2008
I first read Cat Running when I was in 4th grade. It spoke to me even then, way back when. I understood the feelings in the book. Now I am 24, and I still love this book. It always surpirses me just how much I get out of it every time I read it again. Every chapter captivated me, and that is why I adore this book. Ms. Snyder did a fantastic job writing this book, and its a real shame its not in circulation any more. I really wish they would revive it. When I have children and they grow up, I want them to be able to read the book and get as much enjoyment out of it as I did and still do.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 4, 2008
This book is so interesting !!!! Once you pick it up you can barely put it down!!! It's so good that after you read it you will search for it on Barnes & Noble until you find it!!!!!!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 26, 2004
I would go to the library in my town and check out the book whenever they had it there. It was an outstanding book, and ive read it quite a few times. The dialogue is good, and i like the characters. I would recommend this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 8, 2000
We read this book for our mother daughter bookclub. We had some great discussion regarding migrant workers and things not always being what they appear to be.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 4, 2009
No text was provided for this review.