Curled up in a furry circle, Honey dozed on the kitchen windowsill between two pots of geraniums.  Her chin was tucked into her paws, and her tail was curled gracefully over her nose.  But her daughter, Song of Songs, sat upright in a half empty pot, with her pretty tabby face peering out into the back yard.

Both cats seemed peacefully set to stay as they were for hours, until a wail from the next room made them jump. 

  Deborah, Malkah’s seven-year-old daughter, was crying her heart out.  Tears rolled down her cheeks and fell on top of Schmaltzy, a gray cat with white paws, who was stretched out on her lap.  Schmaltzy licked the salty drops, while Malkah rubbed her daughter’s back. 

  “What’s wrong, Dear Heart?” Malkah asked.  “Did somebody hurt your feelings?”  But Deborah just kept sobbing.

  Suddenly, Schmaltzy climbed up the little girl’s chest until his face was level with hers.  “Meow,” he said, staring at her in a way that meant business.  After a pause, he repeated his meow in the same no-nonsense tone.  He was telling her, “Talk!” 

  Deborah gulped.  She knew what Schmaltzy was saying. The whole family always knew what Schmaltzy was saying.  So, between little sobs, she stammered out two names, “Ephraim” and “Mendel.”

  “What about Ephraim and Mendel?” asked her mother softly.

  “They said the Rabbi told them that Jews in heaven wear gold crowns.  I shouted, ‘I won’t.  I never wear anything on my head.  My Mama said I don’t have to.’  They shouted back, ‘God will make you.  If you don’t take a crown, the angels will push you out of heaven.  Your whole family will be there, but you’ll be in the other place.’”

  Understanding began to dawn on her mother’s face.  “The father of those boys is very strict with them.  No wonder they believe God is just the same,” she said slowly.  “But I believe God is more like your Papa.  Papa just wants everybody to be happy.”

  Malkah scratched Schmaltzy’s ears.  “Trust your Papa in heaven,” she told Deborah, “just the way Schmaltzy trusts you.”  She stood up.  “I have to see to Mrs. Meyer’s laundry.  Watch over Benny, and I’ll be home in a little while.” 

One of Deborah’s brothers was at Hebrew school, but the younger one was playing in the potato patch behind the house.

  Malkah blew a kiss to her daughter.  As soon as she closed the door behind her, Schmaltzy jumped down from Deborah’s lap.  Looking back up at the little girl, he meowed.  “Chase me,” said his meow. 

  Deborah got up slowly.  She was still worried.  “Meow,” said Schmaltzy again, and Deborah knew he was telling her, “Stop worrying.” 

  Suddenly, from the kitchen, came mews of excitement.  Deborah and Schmaltzy ran in just in time to see Honey and Song leap between the open shutters of the window, clear the geraniums, and jump into the yard. 

  Outside in the warm sunny air was a flock of butterflies.  Many more drifted down from the sky until the yard was filled with dozens of pink and blue and yellow butterflies.

  Schmaltzy chased outside with Deborah right behind him.  Honey and Song were already in the middle of a cloud of wings, batting at them in a friendly kind of way.  Schmaltzy joined his mother and grandmother, jumping even higher, but the butterflies flitted easily out of reach of the three cats.

  Deborah stood on the bottom step watching them.  She felt shy about going closer.  The butterflies were so pretty.  But they drifted over to her, and as they dipped and circled around her shoulders, Schmaltzy jumped into her arms. 

  The butterflies landed on them both.  The little cat turned his head from side to side, putting out his tongue to lick them.

  The next moment, Deborah felt someone standing behind her back, staring at her.  She turned around.  On the top step were an elderly man and woman with hair as white as snow.  They wore long sky-blue robes encrusted with pearls, and gold crowns floated above their heads.  They were looking at Deborah with the warmest smiles she had ever seen. 

  The woman beckoned to her.  As Deborah came closer, she bent down and kissed her.  The man also bent down and kissed her.  They petted Schmaltzy, and the cat’s purring made more noise than a hive of bees.  He looked up at the bright faces contentedly, as if they weren’t strangers at all but old friends.

  Above the purring, Deborah heard her little brother crying.  “I have to go now,” she said to the couple.  “Benny just fell down.”  She backed away, still holding Schmaltzy.  The man and woman waved to her, and she waved back.

  As she ran around the side of the house, the butterflies began to drift up toward the clouds.  When she reached the potato patch, all she could see was her little brother lying on the ground.  His face was red and streaked with dirt.  “You’ll be OK,” she told him.  She lifted him up, brushed off his overalls, and took him by the hand back to the house. 

  When her mother came home, Deborah grabbed her apron and butted her in the stomach like a little goat.  “I’m glad to hear you laughing again,” said Malkah.

  “I got the answer, Mama,” Deborah told her, “the answer to the crowns.  Bubbe and Zeyde showed me.”  She used the Yiddish words for “grandma” and “grandpa.”

  Her mother put her hand to her heart.  “What do you mean ‘bubbe’ and ‘zeyde’?  Only Papa’s mother lives here.”  She took a deep breath.  “Deborah, my parents are with God.”

  “That’s right,” said Deborah confidently.  “After you left, a lot of butterflies flew into the yard.  Schmaltzy and I ran out to see them.  Then I felt somebody staring at the back of my head.  When I turned around, Bubbe and Zeyde were there, Mama.  They were all shiny, like the sun.”

  With happy eyes, she added, “They showed me that crowns aren’t anything to worry about.  They’re big gold beautiful things, but they’re not heavy.  They don’t do this.”  To show her mother what she meant, she took her hand and pressed it down hard on her mother’s arm.  “A crown is like a butterfly that floats on top of your head and goes everywhere with you.” 

  Deborah frowned for a minute.  “Why did Bubbe and Zeyde come today, Mama?  What’s so special about today?” 

  Her mother sat down on kitchen chair.  She said, with a dreamy expression on her face, “Oh, I suspect they’re here very often.  Let’s ask the ones most likely to know.“ 

  Thump! Thump!  Honey and Song jumped down from the window sill and settled themselves next to Schmaltzy.  Deborah’s mother petted his soft gray fur.  “Isn’t it true that they visit us a lot, Schmaltzy?” she asked.

  “Meow,” said Schmaltzy proudly.  He was saying, “Of course!”  And all three cats wore an expression that could only be described as smug. 

© Lynn Butler Schiffhorst 2008


A Morning Kiss

A morning kiss, a discreet touch of his nose landing somewhere on the middle of my face.
Because his long white whiskers tickled, I began every day laughing.

Janet F Faure

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