“Sometimes I’m glad I’m blind,” joked Malkah.  “I can’t see scary stuff.” 

She and her friends, Hannah and Rachel, were sitting together at the table in the Girls Room of the orphanage, getting ready for Purim.  Hannah had picked up a horrid-looking mask and was making it jump out in front of Malkah’s face and Rachel’s.

“Ooh,” cried Rachel, pretending to be scared.  “You made a really good Haman.  With his wild hair and red eyes, he looks mean enough for anything.”

Malkah’s kitten, Song of Songs, slipped off Malkah’s lap and onto the table.  She swatted at the mask with her little paw. 

“That’s Haman,” Malkah explained to the kitten.  “A long time ago he tried to kill all the Jews.  But a Jewish girl called Esther got the better of him, and he was the one who ended up in trouble.  That’s why Jewish girls and Jewish kittens make fun of him today.” 

Thump!  Honey, Song’s mother, jumped onto the table.  Walking up to the mask, she butted it with her head.  Not to be left out, Davy, Rachel’s kitten, and Itzy (short for Isaac), Hannah’s kitten, joined their mother on the table.  The two little black and white cats sat stiffly upright and stared fiercely at the mask. 

“Speaking about bad people,” said Rachel, “Mrs. Wolff told me that two mean-looking boys have been hanging around the old barn.  She said their eyes were as cold as ice, and they stared at her like she was dirt.  I hope I don’t run into them.”

Malkah shivered.  It was people’s meanness that had killed her parents and brought her to the orphanage.  “I wish the Prophet Elijah would come here,” she said.  “The Rabbi’s wife told me that it was Elijah who helped Queen Esther stop that awful Haman.”

“Look at Honey,” said Rachel with a note of alarm in her voice.

“What’s the matter with Honey?” cried Malkah.

“She’s listening to something outside,” answered Hannah.  “Her ears are moving.  And she’s turning all around as if she’s upset.”

“Honey, come here,” called Malkah.  She stretched out her hands to the mother cat.

Thump!  Honey jumped down to the floor, but she didn’t go to Malkah.

“She went out the back door,” Rachel said.  “Now she’s running through the trees.” 

Malkah stood up, and her hands were shaking.  “Honey never left me before,” she whispered.  For more than two years the yellow cat had been her little sister, riding in her pocket, sitting on her shoulder, going everywhere with her.  Why had she run off?  A bolt of fear went through Malkah like lightning, and she cried out, “Honey’s in danger!”

Pushing aside her chair, she chased out of the room and down the back steps after Honey.  She stopped only to call out to Hannah and Rachel, “Close the door so the kittens don’t get out.”  Then she too ran through the trees.

“Wait for us,” cried Hannah.  Checking to see that the three little cats were safe inside the shuttered room, she slammed the door behind her.  She and Rachel flew over the snowy ground after Malkah.

Malkah was far ahead of them, running like someone possessed.  She didn’t knock into a single tree or trip over an icy root.  She let love guide her, and it took her right to the barn at the end of the fir trees.

The old barn had a broken, jagged roof, and it stood out against the white landscape like a dark blot.  Fresh footprints in the snow showed that two people had just been there. 

Hannah and Rachel caught up with Malkah at the barn door.  She had pushed the top half of the door open and was struggling to climb in.  The two friends lifted her up until she could drop down inside.  Then they gathered up their own skirts and hoisted themselves over.

Holding each other’s hands, the three girls crept along between the dark stalls, until Hannah, who was in the lead, cried out in shock. 

Malkah knew what that meant.  She had seen Honey!

Since the truth could not be kept from Malkah, Hannah said, “There’s a heap of dirty straw outside the last stall, and Honey’s lying on it.  There’s a chain on the ground in front of her.”

As Hannah whipped off her shawl so she could put it over Honey, Malkah said in a choked voice, “Don’t cover her head.  She isn’t dead.”

“No, she isn’t,” said Rachel slowly.  She had eased past Malkah, so she could kneel down by the little cat.  “But she’s barely breathing.”  She held up the hand that had stroked Honey, and even in the dim light from the broken roof, she could see the blood on her fingers.

In a terrible silence, the girls stood still, their hearts broken.  Then out of the silence came the most unexpected sound.  Chirp!  Chirp!  Chirp!  And another Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!

“Sparrows?” wondered Rachel, looking up at the roof.

“Too cold for sparrows,” said Hannah.

Rachel watched six little chirping creatures fly around the hole in the wooden beams.  When they dipped down right above the girls, she called out in surprise, “Why, they’re not birds. They’re letters! They’re H, A, M, O, R and another A.”  

The letters flew close to Honey, and Hannah said to Malkah, “They’re circling over Honey, just like the Rebbetzin’s hands when she blesses the Sabbath candles.”

As the chirping letters left the wounded cat, they flew in a straight line right past Malkah’s face.  “Oh,” she cried.  For the third time in her life, the blotches in her eyes were gone, and she could see!  She saw Hannah’s pretty face and Rachel’s freckles and warm smile.

Looking down, she saw Honey.  She was partly covered by Hannah’s shawl, but even the yellow fur of her head was stained with blood.  When Malkah bent down to kiss her, the other girls knelt too, forming a circle of comfort around Honey. 

They only looked up when they heard hoofs coming clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop toward them.  As the girls watched, a donkey put her head around the stall behind them.  Her ears went straight up like the milkman’s donkey, and her nose was a plushy black nose like his.  But her eyes were different.  They shone with a wise and tender light, and the girls knew she was their friend.

The donkey waved a front hoof, like someone saying hello-how-are-you, and a great peace came over Malkah.  She stood up, curtsied and said, “Lady, I believe God sent you here to save the life of my cat.”

Four knobbly knees lowered themselves as the donkey bowed to Malkah.  “I am Hamora, the personal donkey of the Prophet Elijah,” she said.  “I trot around the world bringing help to suffering animals.” 

At Hamora’s kind words, Malkah burst into tears.  “Why did Honey come to this terrible place?  Why didn’t she keep away from the mean boys who did this? She should have stayed home with me!”

“Animals go where they are needed,” responded Hamora.  “Your cat knew that the boys were planning to attack you.  On an earlier visit to this village, they had found out there was a blind orphan here.  When he heard that, the older boy rubbed his hands and grinned, ‘Can’t see?  Has no family?  That’s the kind of girl I’d like to meet.’  Today they came back to do their damage.  So Honey went to bring love into their presence, hoping their hearts would change toward you.”

Hamora went on.  “When the boys saw Honey, the younger one shouted, “That cat lives in Jew-town?  That cat’s a Jew too.”  He swung a chain through the air and brought it down on Honey.  What he didn’t know was that older boy had had a cat when he was little and saw his brother torment it.  He got so angry at the younger one for hitting Honey, that he grabbed him by the shoulder and shoved him down the length of the barn, spitting curses all the way.  Then the two of them made fast tracks out of the village.  You have nothing to fear now.” 

Realizing how much bravery and generosity Honey had, Malkah cried out, “Honey, you will live!  You will live!”

Hamora told her, “A cry that is uttered with all your heart shakes the Tree of Life.  When the roots are shaken, the branches are stirred, and waves of new life flow out through the branches to heal any wound or fever.”  She nodded at Malkah, and her nod said, “This is for you.  Take heart.”

To the girls’ surprise, right beside Hamora appeared a huge and beautiful tree.  It was so much taller than the barn that they could not even see the top of it.  But on the thick green leaves of every branch a cat was stretched out.  There  were orange and white and black cats, long-haired and short-haired cats.  Their eyes were closed, and their ribs rose and fell in a quiet breathing.

On the branch that was closest to Malkah, Honey was dozing peacefully.  Her paws were relaxed, not drawn up in pain, and a golden glow shone from her fur.  There was no sign of any wound, and her sleep was natural, not feverish.

When Malkah tore her gaze away from Honey and looked at Hamora, she was startled to see a tortoiseshell kitten and two black and white kittens standing between Hamora’s hoofs.  The kittens were Song and Davy and Itzy.  Their gaze was fixed on their mother, and they radiated a great sense of peace.

“How did you get here, you little thing?” Rachel asked Davy, reaching over to scratch his ears. 

“Didn’t we close the door on you?” Hannah asked Itzy, as she stooped over to pick him up.

When Malkah knelt down and Song leaped into her arms, Malkah said, “They’re laughing at us.  They’re all laughing at us.  Can’t you feel it?”

Although the girls couldn’t see any change in the face of Hamora or the kittens, they could feel something different.  Sparkling bubbles of laughter were floating all through the barn.

“If we thought closing a door could keep God from bringing Honey’s children to her side, we were silly geese,” teased Malkah.  And this time there was human laughter in the barn, as the girls agreed that yes, they were silly geese. 

“Thank you,” said Malkah to Hamora.  “I’m going to take Honey home with me and keep her well wrapped up until she gets better.  And I’m going to give her even more kisses than usual.”

“May God’s great name be blessed,” said Hamora.  And little by little, she faded out of sight.  As soon as she was gone, the blotches came back into Malkah’s eyes, and she was blind again. 

“Help me wrap up Honey real tight so she doesn’t catch cold,” Malkah asked Hannah.  As Hannah was double-wrapping Honey in her shawl, Rachel looked at Malkah with curiosity. 

“Do you mind not being able to see now?” she asked.

“No,” said Malkah, cradling her beloved Honey, “God can see us, and that’s all that matters.”

© Lynn Butler Schiffhorst 2008

 


Dogs Come when Called

"Dogs come when called. Cats take a message and get back to you."

"Of course, every cat is really the most beautiful woman in the room."

Edward Verrall Luca (essayist)

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