Animal, Adopt Human Trait - writercize #108

Loyal as a dog.  Clever as a cat.  Skittish as a horse.  

Who hasn't heard a person compared to an animal?  Metaphors identifying animals with human traits, giving them broad characteristics, and comparing them back to humans, is a useful way to paint a picture of a person.  The metaphor evokes a natural association while inferring other characteristics of that animal back upon the person.

When I hear that someone is loyal as a dog, I also might assume they are obedient, or strike back when someone attacks a loved one, or defer to authority.  When I hear someone is clever as a cat, I may assume they are also a little sneaky, independent, selfish.  And skittish as a horse, well I'd assume they are strong-willed and would buck anyone off for getting in their way.

It's not that I've never come across a disloyal dog or a cat that's missing a few of its marbles, but that's the way generalizations are - they discount the exceptions.  Today you get to generalize away and play with an animal characteristic.

writercize:  Pick an animal and give it a human trait.  Now work that reference into a short scene.

Click "read more" for writercizer fictional sample response about a person prickly as a porcupine.  Leave your writercize as a comment!
writercizer sample response (fiction):

Every time I entered my mother-in-law's house, I liked to mess with her a little bit.  On the surface she was a gracious hostess, but I could see the twitch in her eye when she saw a smudge on her glass centerpiece, or when a guest bumped into the book on the coffee table, setting it slightly askew.  She was always so proper, so by-the-book Emily Post, that it was refreshing for me, Miss Scatterbrained, heart on my sleeve, honest to a fault, to see the truth behind the facade.  When I first met her, she said all the right things, but was a little glacial.  After ten years of marriage I still haven't much more than chipped at the ice, but then again, neither had her son, my husband, and that relationship has been going on for nearly 40 years.  

That is, with one exception.  Truth is, after that day, I saw the value in allowing her to maintain the illusion and the polite exterior.

The first and last time I really angered my husband, it was about an incident at her house.  I'd been watching the eye twitch for a couple of years, and I wanted to see if I could push the limits a little bit, liven up the visit.  I wanted to see if I could crack that iceberg right open and get to the heart of the matter.  I didn't really want to hurt her; I just wanted to open up our relationship to something more real so I "inadvertently" brushed past the glasses on the counter sitting out to dry.  I meant for them to clink and throw them off their perfect order, but instead two fell to the floor and shattered.

My mother-in-law rushed to the kitchen, saw the broken glasses on the floor and dropped to her knees, howling like a mother bear who'd lost her cub.  Most of the squeals and screeches could not be understood as any language known to man, but between it all, I gathered that these glasses were the only glasses, the only items for that matter, that her parents escaped with when they fled Germany during the war.  The only link to her family's past.  There were no photos, no letters, no blankets or books.  This relic had meant more to her than anything I possibly could have touched in the home.  I felt terrible, and shrunk down to the floor to cry alongside her.  It was partly out of remorse, partly out of terror in watching this perfectly composed woman decompose so completely right in front of me, and partly out of sadness for her loss.

When the weeping and flailing slowed, she stood up, vertebrate by vertebrate, until her shoulders hunched just below her sagging head, and she made her way up the stairs to her boudoir.  She closed the door without saying goodbye.  

My husband and I walked out the front door, and before we got to the car, he swung around and looked straight at me.

"Those glasses were squarely on the counter.  You haven't had a drop of wine tonight.  Nothing about that could have been an accident  - what the hell was that all about?" he snarled at me.

I averted my eyes.

"I don't know; I guess I just, you know, get tired of her being so perfect and refined and, and a little cold.  It's like she's the person that we never get to know or see.  We enter the house and she's all armored, prickly as a porcupine.  It's like nothing can ever roll off her back; she's proper and polite and distant but I wanted to see something real.  You know?  I didn't mean for anything to fall or break anything.  I just wanted to test her in someway," I mumbled to the ground.

"Yeah, well you tore those spines right off, didn't you?  I've never seen that woman crumble.  Ever.  She may be a little prickly, but there's a reason for that you know.  She was told never to trust, never to let anyone see her weakness.  She was taught to show success, grace, strength.  Her parents were survivors.  They weren't your average middle American family; they saw worse than any human could bear to see, and they came through.  She came through.  She needs to be a porcupine.  It's the only thing she could be to live with what she knows humans can be.  And I thought you were warmth and understanding.  But it turns out you're capable of just as much nastiness as anyone else.  You were the last person I ever expected to shatter my mother, but you managed to do it.  And all for a stupid little test?  You managed to expose the beastly suffering she's spent a lifetime covering.  You.  My wife."

"I'm sorry.  I really, truly am," was all I could reply.

"Yeah, well, get in the car.  We're going home."

I got in the car and we drove home in silence.  The silence lasted for nearly two weeks.  It was my mother-in-law who finally ended it, inviting each of us to a tea at her house, saying she was lonely and needed the company.  When we arrived at the same time, we were blindsided to see one another, but she opened the door, impeccably groomed, perfect suburban smile plastered on her face, and invited us in for tea.  While we sat, she set his hand in the center of the table, set my hand on top, gave us each a nudge and said, "There's never been a divorce or silence in this family.  I don't expect you to veer from tradition.  Now talk, kids."

With that she walked out of the room, and we healed our marriage. 


  1. Wow,,,*eyes are leaking*,,,never judge a book by it's cover comes to mind here. This woman loves you so much, you are a totally blessed wife and daughter-in-law.
    Fantastic post. Remarkable woman, your mother-in-law. I hope you have forgiven yourself, you did in fact, find the real woman.

  2. Thanks Jo. This is actually a piece of fiction, but I am very touched to hear it sounded real enough to be true.

  3. Excellent story, Alana! Well-written and as Jo proved, very believable. Well done!

  4. "When I hear someone is clever as a cat, I may assume they are also a little sneaky, independent, selfish." You heard about me then? ;-)

    Great story!


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