This is a piece in thirty-six fragments that illustrates a person’s self-growth, breaking the constraint and expectations of cages. We use cages to confine something that is either precious or dangerous; sometimes it’s both. But there are invisible cages as well, some that we have the opportunity to leave but feel as though it’s not an option. Gillentine’s essay does not follow the logic of time but rather the order of discovery about protection and control in her life. Her parents provide shelter but her mind is a confinement within itself. Her formerly close friend and lover, Randall, wants her parents to get out of their way so that she can live under his rules. Gillentine’s only comfort and refuge is her grandparents’ barn and her guinea pig, Xavier.
It is extraordinary how Gillentine describes Xavier as if he were his own person. He was Randall’s neglected pet until the narrator took him in to recuperate. He is just as afraid as she is of the outside world and he reacts poorly to human interaction. They’re both trapped by doubt and denial, which is how they grow to rely on each other as owner and companion. Through this, Gillentine shows how “Cages are only as safe as their contents.” One immediately understands the frustration of being coddled by your parents in one home, one school. There’s also deep disdain for Randall who declares the narrator’s meds unnecessary, belittling her mental health. Yet through it all she relies on taking care of Xavier to stay motivated. It makes one consider the care and patience we give to our own pets compared to our loved ones. Xavier and Gillentine fear the world will hurt them more than their small enclosure, so they keep the grass in sight but never make contact. Randall’s presence strengthens this as a symbol of abuse with apathetic words and intimidation before he skirmishes out of their lives.
Considering that the timeline is intentionally altered, it is also a nod to inevitable destinies. Gillentine could not see that there was an opening for her after she moved out on her own, after Randall was removed from the scene, and after Xavier passed away. The lines breeze by in such a way that teach many years’ worth of lessons in mere minutes. Sometimes we need to listen to others before locking them away for their safety. Sometimes we should give them room to breathe, space to run. Sometimes it’s about making sure you’re not the one who is a cage unto someone else.
My name is Zoé Nellum and I am a prose editor in Levitate. In my freetime I like to journal and world build for fiction.