A challenge: make the case for it mattering, which cat it is at the end. (Extra credit). 😉

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okay, so the padrone offers "his wife" a cat, a big fat cat that is so big it curls against the maid's body, like a child curls in the womb. let's get that out of the way. he also offers her solace. and he offers her service.

i'm hung up on the padrone in this story and have been all along. i'm stuck on his solitude. can you imagine being an old man, serving patrons in a good hotel in the years following WW1? your country is a fucking mess in the aftermath and the tourists come visiting, particularly the american tourists who, although they entered the war late, didn't fight on their own land? europe was flattened in WW1.

then there's how the padrone is pinned at his post--there's no one to take his position. all the young men are dead and there's an entire generation missing from the social strata. what can he do? he sits at his post and he watches. he's a soldier. he's doing his duty. i could cry.

my thoughts are with the padrone. i love a strong secondary character. i think they're often the subconscious of the story. think of Georgie in 'Emergency' by Denis Johnson. he functions in a lot of different ways and, in some ways, carries the whole story by introducing hope at the end when he says "I save lives."

i don't know what i'm saying. i haven't had my coffee. it's NYD. happy new year!

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What a terrific ending. She has, in the end, obtained her putative desire, but in the midst of searching it out, we've learned it isn't really the cat she wants, but rather what the cat represents: namely, to be living a different life than the one she is presently living and to have some agency in effecting that reality. The cat's arrival therefore highlights how woefully inadequate the cat itself is. The fact that it was brought to her by the hotel employees and still, I think, won't really make her happy, highlights to me how there is no way any amount of money or status can buy her happiness; her life needs a more fundamental or elemental change.

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Ooof, I did not expect my reaction when the cat arrived at their door. First i wondered: is this the same cat? It has to be the same cat, or it doesn't count. The American wife didn't want just any cat, she wanted the cat she felt connected to.

Then I got a sinking feeling. Wanting a cat is one thing, getting a cat is another. Just like she had wanted the short hair (maybe), and the husband, and the trip to Italy... and those things turned out not to satisfy the real need. I expect the cat will turn out to be a nuisance, complicating their travel plans and their ex-pat lives. A disappointment, just like everything else that was supposed to be good and is not.

The ending feels satisfying and unsatisfying at the same time - I got what I wanted from the story, but now I'm not sure I want it.

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What a weirdly epic ending. As a medical student, I'm skewed towards reading this short story through the lens of service. There are a few primary service relationships at work: padrone-wife, maid-wife, wife-cat (she wants to save the kitty), and wife-husband (she cuts her hair for him, he "offers" to rescue the cat for her). Implied service relationships are also playing out, like commitment of the artists to their paintings and the nationalism symbolized by the war monument. Until the story's end, none of relationships have any pathos for me. As George writes, there are many places where we can read these moments of people doing things for others as artificial and fundamentally selfish. (E.g. The maid and padrone are nice to the wife because of money, husband cares more about wife's looks than her as a person, wife only cares about the cat because it's cute/she's needy.)

There's something about the image of the cat struggling in the maid's arms that activates a feeling that I only get in the hospital, like when a dying patient asked me to steal an Uncrustables for them or when an attending read a poem out loud for a patient recently diagnosed with dementia. Service, going above and beyond to help a vulnerable other, is a beautiful human thing. Sorry for being a kiss-up, but it's why Morse needs to jump in the water at the end of "The Falls."

With the pandemic, people are rethinking their relationship to service industries. As someone who is on leave from medical school to pursue an MFA, I certainly am. This padrone and maid are in a situation where they can by all means do the bare minimum required of their work. Yet, how do they respond when they see a woman run into the rain to save a random cat? Why does the maid's face tighten? Why should we make people feel that they are of "supreme importance," and how is that accomplished?

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Jan 1, 2022·edited Jan 1, 2022

There is a vast chasm between the cat and the idea of the cat, the fact and the fantasy of it, which the American Wife is now forced to confront. She gets what she wanted, but there is no way it can live up to her expectations. I smile at the ending, but also somehow hurt for her.

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Mostly I am boggled that so many people can read the same short story and experience it so differently. Who are these characters in this story? What are they thinking? What are they like? What is this story about? What is the author saying? What an illuminating exercise to see how our experience of life (or a story) is so varied. I find this a bit scary -- and also very interesting. The story (or life) means what it means to each of us and it's by communicating to each other about our perspectives that we discover our differences -- and sometimes our similarities. No one is right or wrong. There is not a definitive answer. This experience has helped me see this more clearly than I have before. For me it reinforces how important it is to be curious and to listen to each other. Thank you, George, and everyone.

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Jan 1, 2022·edited Jan 1, 2022

It feels almost like a punchline, this big swinging tortoiseshell cat that I’d been picturing as small (because “kitty”) and plain black (I don’t know why) and somehow elegant (because of its identification with the woman).

As others have noted, this may be a different cat altogether, but even if it’s the same cat it’s a different cat—no longer out there, helpless, an idea, an object of projection, but real, here, now, needing milk and a litter-box.

And really what she wanted was to save the cat herself, to be a protector and a savior, rather than the saved. But in the end she remains the saved, the protected, as the paternalistic padrone has the cat brought up to her, and she is still a child, not the woman she wanted to be.

Why was it so important that she not get wet? Because rain could lead to a cold, maybe, and she is unalterably in the role of the protected, the sheltered—not one to run through the rain in a cape, the hero.

The most interesting aspect, to me, is that she is complicit—she likes that the padrone fusses over her and serves her. Hemingway could have easily made her dislike all the fuss, but she would have been a more one-dimensional character.

She is trapped, and part of the trap is her own desire.

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First, Happy New Year, George! What a lovely way to begin 365 days.

Second, "what else does this [ending] give us?" In the first truncated version, it's unsatisfyingly ambiguous: outside of, as you mention, the symmetry. What happened to the cat? Why did we go through all that for "symmetry"?

At least for me, the final version satisfies with a beat that I'm curious if any of my fellow Story Clubbers also felt: Damn do I want to see the look on the wife's face after the maid delivers the cat! Does she smile and then stick her tongue out at her husband?

Because Hemingway doesn't write it, it's left for each reader to imagine for themselves. It's almost a form of co-creation, and that's a delicious feeling.

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I knew there had to be more. This ending feels exactly right; the wife's expression of her desire is answered not by George but by the Padrone and the maid. It may or may not be the same cat, but at least the Padrone acknowledges her desire. It feels like a different cat because it is large, not a shivering wet kitty. We don't really know. The maid bringing the kitty feels both like gift and a rebuke, somehow, of her earlier whining. Now she has to own the things she wants.

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She wants and wants and wants. How many times is that verb deployed? And she gets what she originally wanted. Sort of. And then the cycle of want starts again.

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I’ve posed the question to Mary Ellis- we just read the story together. She’s 13. She says “yes it does matter.” “The cat that the American wife originally saw was most likely abandoned and in need, whereas the big, tortoise shell cat brought to her most likely has a loving home. If the cat that is brought to her has a home, then the abandoned cat will still be in need. And this leaves the American wife with the same longing she had at the beginning.”

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Jan 1, 2022·edited Jan 1, 2022

I feel terrible saying this, but the ending feels almost sarcastic to me. "Oh, you wanted a cat? Well, here it is, or "a" cat, anyway. Maybe it's the same one. Maybe it isn't. Oh and by the way, the maid got soaked getting it for you, your husband doesn't want it, and here you are in a hotel room with a soaking wet cat."

I mean, it's sort of "gotcha" to me. Very unsettling.

So those are my first thoughts. Will read over to see if I can get to a more satisfied reading of it.

Editing to add: and maybe that's what life often is. Giving you responses, but not the ones you were expecting (both me and the woman).

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Wow, what a great ending! The wife is actually offered the chance to take some responsibility—she’s faced with taking care of a cat. And a big cat, too! And who knows how that will work out? Maybe she will find out whether it was really the cat she wanted or whether it was something else—maybe a different life, a different way of being, a different husband—or maybe something indefinable that will always keep her in a state of yearning and neediness. I’ve softened my attitude toward the woman (even though at the same time I also feel more exasperated by her) because we’ve all experienced that feeling of yearning for something when we have no idea what that something is—and we grasp at all kinds of things we think we want, and none of them turns out to be it—kind of like the general angst and pining of being alive. (And it’s so interesting to see the absence of yearning in the husband—he’s content to be in his own imaginary world, probably reading about other people who are yearning. And he’s annoyed by his wife’s yearning in real life.) So it’s possible she won’t really want the cat at all. Or maybe she’ll discover that what she was yearning for is to have more agency, to be more herself, to become a woman, so that maybe taking on the responsibility of the cat and feeling the joy of being with the cat will help her finally grow into a whole person—not just an image of what her husband wants her to be, and not just a child who needs to be cared for.

The padrone (who went from being called a “hotel owner” to a “hotel-keeper” to a “padrone”—moving more and more toward the paternal) and the maid (who stays a “maid”—women may sometimes have less patience for childlike women like the American wife) seem to be a kind of father-and-mother pair—they’ve taken the young woman under their wing(s) (even though the maid may be a bit more reluctant to do so), and together they actually give the young woman what she says she wants, which turns out to also be what she actually may need—responsibility.

At the end the American wife is now the “Signora”—“a married Italian woman, usually of rank or gentility,” according to Webster’s—so maybe the padrone and maid have decided to view her with more respect, or to see her potential as a mature woman. Or maybe the wife is finally thinking of herself more that way, and, as she says, she wants to no longer look like a boy—meaning she wants to be a woman.

The Signora also now realizes that if she walks around saying she wants something then she should be prepared to actually get it. Sometimes getting what we want is the biggest lesson we have to learn in life, in part because things never turn out the way we imagine them, and in part because we will then have to live up to the responsibility of our dreams—it’s a test of our commitment.

The ending is perfect—it’s so human. It’s funny (we’re thinking “Ha, ha, now what will you do now that you have this big cat?”) and it’s hopeful (maybe the wife will come into her own because maybe she’ll take on the challenge and be happier).

The ending also surprises us by giving us (as readers) what we wanted, even though we weren’t sure what that was. In reading the story, we imagine all the things we want from it (just as the wife imagines all the things she wants), and then there’s the ending. As soon as I read the ending, I knew that was the ending I wanted. So the story embodies what a reader does in the act of reading.

And the ending is so accepting of life and all its yearning. It’s an affirmation—or at least an acceptance—of yearning, at the same time it’s an affirmation or acceptance of its opposite—peace and contentment. So it’s an affirmation of opposites. It’s an acceptance of all of life.

Thanks for giving us this story to read, George. That was great. I totally see now why this is a masterpiece.

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So the agency here, at the end, is given to the males. George stops reading and gives the order to whoever has knocked, to come in. The wife says nothing. The padrone has ordered the maid to bring a cat to the signora. One woman is doing what she is told, the other is silent - having just poured out her thoughts (and yes, I found myself warming to her a little - about one degree above freezing). The maid speaks, at least. The only silent one in the scene is 'the wife.'

And that hulking awkward cat - insistent of my attention in both its shape, weight and colour - hanging as it is down the maid. Isn't it wonderful! Wonderful in that THIS cat is almost comic, certainly bathetic - a complete contrast to the sheltering, shivering little mite that we envisage stuck under that table? What on earth will she do with it? I am reminded of the allegedly 'Chinese' curse (or one of them) - 'May you find what you are looking for." or 'Be careful what you wish for - you may get it...'

Wow. There's so much to unpack here. It is extraordinary.

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We got escalation, all right.

Why is this better than truncating the story at the light coming on in the square? The light is really nice but it’s also a static thing. It’s not going to do anything but hang out there being a pleasant contrast to the dark and the rain.

The arrival of the cat in the hands of the maid delivers many possibilities and questions in one living, unpredictable parcel. Things are about to pop off, and that’s all we know. And we get to feel and wonder about a lot of things on our own without being spoon fed.

(Like: “Is the wife happy? How long will she be happy? What will George do? Why did the maid find and deliver that cat instead of giving up and going back in when the wife did? Was it of her own volition, in some kind of act of recognition and kindness? If so, will our girl recognize this on any level and be warmed by it? Is this a good thing, this cat showing up?” And probably more things, too, but none of that in so many words while reading it. This is all blended together in one quick dose of a complicated feeling. Wonder and satisfaction are there but more, too.

I liked the light a lot but the light was a pleasing note. This is not only a chord with a lot of harmonizing (and pleasingly dissonant) notes in it, it’s a chord progression, making a feeling.

I remember learning from Leonid (that wonderful Russian acting teacher I had once) the difference between emotion and feeling. Emotion, he said, is like one simple note, and you can stir it up pretty easily. Feeling is more complex, like a symphony, and all you can do is make the conditions for it to arrive and hope not to scare it away.

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