‘Can’t You Get Me Out of Here?’ by Julia Strachey

I tracked this story down after reading the remarkable Julia: A Portrait of Julia Strachey, which her lifelong friend Frances Partridge compiled from Strachey’s papers and her own recollections and diary after Strachey’s death in 1979. As a writer, Strachey was more often frustrated than accomplished, and her few short stories have never been collected.

There’s so much going on in this story it’s really a tour-de-force. It starts with a description of how Strachey (clearly the unnamed narrator) reads to her near-blind father from The Times. “Pass on!” he shouts whenever she hits a headline he’s not interested in. Then she recalls how a tree frog accidentally leapt into a large bowl of pasta while she was lunching once at an Italian hotel. “I am a tree frog myself,” she writes:

And I can confirm that it is indeed a brash curiosity about queer-looking-things-far-glimpsed that starts a tree frog’s nervous speckled legs to twitch. I know it all—the lunatic leap out from the scaffolding into space, the brief whiz through colored airs, then the landing down in the dark, among yielding, treacherous, slithering things. I know the seasick and obsessional floundering around tangled up in those writhing strings, the panic, and the desperation in the cries ‘Where am I?—Can’t you get me out of here?’

It ends with an account of how she and her husband once dropped off a friend’s dog at a kennels. Her description of the animal’s fear of the unknown is almost visceral and leads to a meditation on the responsibility of humans to care for other creatures that is more powerful as any animal rights tract.

First published in The New Yorker, included in Stories from the New Yorker, 1950-1960, Simon & Schuster, 1960