Because I used to spend all night reading instead of sleeping as a result of the Watership Down fiasco, I quickly read my way through my entire collection of books, but I simply read them all again, and again, and again. Because of this, I have a startlingly good recollection of many of my favourite stories of my childhood, and one of those short stories that has stayed with me to this day is the story of the chocolate kittens.
Basically, there was this little girl who needed to get a present for her brother whose birthday it was the next day. After going shopping, she bought him a box of chocolate kittens. As a child, I often used to buy these kittens myself; I think they were packaged slightly differently 20 years ago but they looked something like this:
Anyway, the little girl couldn’t sleep that night because she kept thinking about the box of chocolate kittens in her room that she was about to give to her brother the next day. Perhaps I felt a special affinity with this because I, too, would stay up all night, and I, too, liked chocolate of any form. After a while of tossing and turning, the girl decided that her brother wouldn’t mind if she ate ‘only one’ of the kittens, so she did just that. A while later, she reasoned that, since she had already opened them, she may as well eat another, since two is only one more than one. As you can probably imagine, she ends up eating the whole box. The next morning, she admits to her brother what she did; she gets in a huge amount of trouble, and both of them cry.
For some reason, this story made me unimaginably angry for many years; perhaps it was the fact that it ended sadly and there was nothing happy about it, but it seemed like more than that. The story so vividly took the reader through the girl’s reasoning process during the night that you felt like you were there with her, and so in the morning where she has to admit wrong, her guilt was also the reader’s guilt. The purpose of the story seemed to be to make the reader feel bad about what the girl did, and thus, bad about themselves, or about something bad that they had done
It was only very recently that I decided to read the story again. I expected to feel a surge of guilt with every page, but I didn’t feel that way at all. In reality, it was a very basically written story without the emotional journey that I had remembered. Also, at the end, instead of everyone crying, the girl admitted her mistake, and the parents, rather than being cross, were very proud of her for coming clean and found it almost funny; they revealed that the chocolate kittens were unimportant, as, in fact, they had bought her brother a REAL kitten for his birthday, and the story ended with them all happily playing with their new pet.
It says much about my mental state as a child that I seemed to completely misunderstand the message of this story; it wasn’t about guilt at all, it was about honesty, and forgiveness. It was strange for me after agonising over the feelings of guilt that came from this story for many years to realise that the feelings had not come from the story, but must just have come from me, and something that I had done, and I only remembered the story through this veneer of guilt. What had I done? Perhaps I’ll never know. Fairly complex emotions for a 7-year-old!