Travels With My Cats by Mike Resnick
I found it in the back of a neighbor’s garage. They were retiring and moving to Florida, and they’d put most of their stuff up for sale rather than pay to ship it south.
I was eleven years old, and I was looking for a Tarzan book, or maybe one of Clarence Mulford’s Hopalong Cassidy epics, or perhaps (if my mother was looking the other way) a forbidden Mickey Spillane novel. I found them, too-and then the real world intruded. They were 50 cents each (and a whole dollar for Kiss Me Deadly), and all I had was a nickel.
So I rummaged some more, and finally found the only book that was in my price range. It was called Travels with My Cats, and the author was Miss Priscilla Wallace. Not Priscilla, but Miss Priscilla. For years I thought Miss was her first name.
I thumbed through it, hoping it at least had some photos of half-naked native girls hidden in its pages. There weren’t any pictures at all, just words. I wasn’t surprised; somehow I had known that an author called Miss wasn’t going to plaster naked women all over her book. I decided that the book itself felt too fancy and feminine for a boy who was trying out for the Little League later in the day-the letters on the cover were somehow raised above the rest of the surface, the endpapers were an elegant satin, the boards were covered with a russet, velvet-like cloth, and it even had a bookmark, which was a satin ribbon attached to the binding. I was about to put it back when it fell open to a page that said that this was Number 121 of a Limited Printing of 200. That put a whole new light on things. My very own limited edition for a nickel-how could I say No? I brought it to the front of the garage, dutifully paid my nickel, and waited for my mother to finish looking (she always looked, never shopped-shopping implied parting with money, and she and my father were Depression kids who never bought what they could rent cheaper,
or, better yet, borrow for free). That night I was faced with a major decision. I didn’t want to read a book called Travels with My Cats by a woman called Miss, but I’d spent my last nickel on it-well, the last until my allowance came due again next week-and I’d read all my other books so often you could almost see the eyetracks all over them.
So I picked it up without much enthusiasm, and read the first page, and then the next-and suddenly I was transported to Kenya Colony and Siam and the Amazon. Miss Priscilla Wallace had a way of describing things that made me wish I was there, and when I finished a section I felt like I’d been there. There were cities I’d never heard of before, cities with exotic names like Maracaibo and Samarkand and Addis Ababa, some with names like Constantinople that I couldn’t even find on the map. Her father had been an explorer, back in the days when there still were explorers. She had taken her first few trips abroad with him, and he had undoubtedly give her a taste for distant lands. (My own father was a typesetter. How I envied her!)
I had half hoped the African section would be filled with rampaging elephants and man-eating lions, and maybe it was-but that wasn’t the way she saw it. Africa may have been red of tooth and claw, but to her it reflected the gold of the morning sun, and the dark, shadowy places were filled with wonder, not terror.
She could find beauty anywhere.