Honey circled the pine tree, her nose pushing through the fresh spring grass.  Her daughter, Song of Songs, circled the tree from the other direction, and her nose too was on the hunt.  Was Shell, the sassy squirrel, still here? 

 

It was almost a year since their beloved Malkah had married and moved away from the orphanage, but both cats remembered Shell.  He used to sit on the topmost branch of the tallest tree and pitch pinecones down at them with excellent aim.  They chased him, of course, but he always ran much, much higher than they could go.  His chittering little laugh would ring through the branches, making their blood boil.

Chitter-chitter-chitter! From the back of the pine grove came the mocking sounds of a squirrel.  Honey’s whiskers twitched, then Song’s.  Was that Shell?  There was only one way to find out.  They darted off through the trees, flying over the grass as if they were two parts of a single cat.

From the window of the orphanage six-year-old Sadie watched a yellow blur and a gray blur streak past.  “Honey’s back,” she called to the older girls, “and Song too.”

Skipping around in her excitement, she knocked into Chava’s bucket.  Soapy water splashed onto the floor.  “Sadie, watch where you’re going,” yelled Chava.  “I’ll never get these walls scrubbed for Passover, if I have to clean up after you.”

Putting her thumb in her mouth, Sadie retreated backwards.  But she was unlucky again.  She hit the table where Judith was sitting, her needle flashing in and out of a bright yellow cloth.  Judith held up her finger, where a little drop of blood swelled out.  “Look what you made me do,” she cried.  “Go play somewhere else, Sadie.”

Sadie’s eyes filled with tears.  She ran to Esther, who was standing at the stove, scraping it with a knife, because once Passover began, no ordinary flour was allowed in a Jewish home, not even the bits that had stuck to the stove.  Only matzos -- flat, unleavened bread -- could be baked and eaten.

Sadie ran up to Esther and tugged on her apron.  She opened her mouth to say, “Honey and Song,” but she got no further.  Esther exploded! 

“Don’t touch me when I’ve got a knife in my hand,” she yelled.  “Leave me alone.  I don’t want you dancing around me, or I’ll cut myself.”

Sobbing loudly, Sadie ran to the back door.  But 14-year-old Shifra was just coming in.  In her hand was a big basket of eggs that she put carefully onto the floor.  When Sadie tried to wiggle past her, Shifra wheeled around and shouted, “You little dybbuk, you break one of these eggs, and I’ll have you boiled for Passover instead.” 

I’M NOT A DYBBUK,” wailed Sadie.  She threw herself against a tall, blind girl who came through the door behind Shifra.  “Malkah, tell her, I’m not a dybbuk.”

Happy to be back in her old home, Malkah smiled at everybody, while she hugged Sadie.  “Speaking as an old married woman,” she said to Shifra, “I can tell you that it isn’t kosher to eat dybbuks.”

“I’m not a dybbuk,” wailed Sadie again. 

As she stroked Sadie’s hair, Malkah said, “Dybbuks who are younger than seven aren’t devils.  They’re funny little girls who bubble over with love and laughter.”

Except for Sadie’s giggles, there was silence after Malkah spoke. 

Then Judith said, “I was the dybbuk today.  I was sewing a kerchief for myself, when I already had one.  I should have been making it for Mrs. Gutman.”  Mrs. Gutman was the oldest woman in the poorhouse.  “I was being selfish, and I felt guilty, so I took it out on Sadie.”  She pressed her wounded finger against Sadie’s cheek.  “My finger forgives you,” she said.

Chava looked at Sadie and said, “I got the job of scrubbing the walls again this year.  I hate scrubbing, so I took it out on Sadie.”  She touched the little girl’s curls.  “Sorry, Sadie,” she said warmly.

Esther started to laugh.  “I’m dybbuk number 3.  I got mad at Sadie too, even though it’s not her fault that I’m a klutz with a knife.”

Like a schoolgirl, Shifra raised her hand.  “Dybbuk number 4 speaking.  When I collected the eggs at the farm, I didn’t put them the right way into the basket.  Two of them rolled off the top and smashed in the road.  I was mad at myself, so I jumped all over Sadie.” 

Malkah’s smile got so bright, it lit up the room like sunshine.  “You just made a matzo,” she exclaimed.

“We didn’t do any baking today,” said Judith, puzzled.

Feeling for a chair, Malkah grabbed the back of one and sat down.  “What makes a matzo different from ordinary bread?  It doesn’t have anything inside it to puff it up!  It’s plain and simple.  So when you gave your reasons for yelling at Sadie, you didn’t puff them up with a lot of excuses.  You told the truth, plain and simple.” 

“I’m glad we weren’t all bad,” sighed Chava.  Then she grinned, and the other girls laughed. 

Suddenly, Esther called out, “There’s Honey.”  The cat’s pretty yellow head appeared around the edge of the back door.  She came cautiously into the room, followed by Song, who put her paws down just as carefully.  The two cats stared into every corner and around the floor.

“They’re looking for Davy and Itzy,” explained Malkah.  Davy and Itzy were also Honey’s children.  They were two black and white cats, who belonged to Malkah’s friends, Rachel and Hannah.  They left a few months ago when the girls got married. 

Honey leaped up onto the bed where Davy used to sleep when they all lived in the orphanage together.  Song crawled under the kitchen table to the spot where Itzy used to take his naps.  They sniffed and sniffed until they were satisfied that no more news could be sniffed up.  Then they went back to Malkah and jumped into her lap. 

“To go back to what we were just talking about,” added Malkah, “I forgot to say that God honors truth-telling with a special blessing.”

“Who’s going to get the blessing?” Sadie wanted to know.  She swung on Malkah’s arm.  “Will it be me?  Will I get a blessing?”

“Let’s see if the blessing goes to Sadie,” teased Malkah.  She buried her face in the little girl’s curls.  “I bet it will,” she whispered  “And I bet it will happen right after the Seder.”

That night the Seder was “royal,” as Judith said.  The tablecloth shone as brightly as a field of snow, and the dishes were the best ever.  And after Sadie had stuffed herself to the bursting point with apples and nuts, it was time to open the door for the Prophet Elijah.

The Rabbi’s wife led Sadie, who was the youngest of the girls and boys, to the door, while a strange sound – clip-clop, clip-clop – came in through the windows.  The Rabbi and the children looked at one another.

When Sadie tugged the door open, it wasn’t Elijah standing there in the soft spring night.  It was his donkey.  It was Hamora! 

The children knocked over their chairs and ran outside.  While they crowded around the donkey, Honey dashed between their feet and settled herself in front of Hamora.  She began to lick one of her hoofs.

Shifra ran to fetch a pail of water from the yard so Hamora could have a drink, while the others fed her their matzos.  The donkey crunched down the matzos with the speed of true appreciation, and when the last crumbs had been brushed from her bridle, she said to Sadie in her friendly way, “Climb on.” 

After the rabbi helped Sadie up, the little girl begged, “Malkah, hold me.”  So Malkah, with Honey on one shoulder and Song on the other, climbed on behind Sadie. 

Then Hamora gave the four of them a ride among the stars. 

As they passed under the flashing silver beams, Sadie snuggled into Malkah’s arms.  “This is the best thing that ever happened to me in my whole life.  My whole, whole life,” she sang out. 

Honey and Song gave each other a satisfied glance, and their tails whipped wickedly back and forth.  They were higher, far higher, than any squirrel had ever been or ever dreamed of being.  And to prove it, they would soak up all the silver light their fur could hold.  Then, if Shell ran out on the longest, tallest branch in the world, they could corner him. 

And thanks to Hamora, everybody would see it, because they would shine like two bright stars in a treetop! 

 

© 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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