“Can I take Honey outside, Mama?” David asked.  “I’ll keep her in the sun.”

Honey was the family’s first cat.  She was very old now. She slept most of the time on the bed of David’s parents, lying on a blue shawl that belonged to his mother, Malkah.

  Malkah walked to the back steps and moved her hands outside the shadow of the roof.  Because she was blind, she felt for the sunshine instead of seeing it. 

 “Yes, David,” she said.  “It’s warm enough.  Carry Honey over to the oak tree,  but don’t put her down.  The ground is still too cold.”  The oak tree had been Honey’s favorite scratching post when she was able to get around on her own.

  David took one of his old shirts into his parents’ room and wrapped up the little cat until only her head stuck out.  Her yellow fur was very thin, and her eyes were filmed over, but she gave him a loving look before her lids closed again. Then he double-wrapped her in the shawl. 

  When he cradled Honey’s frail body in his arms, her daughter, Song of Songs, jumped stiffly down from her place next to her mother. She was almost as old as Honey, but she trotted behind David out the door.

  “Rosie!” called David.  He never went anywhere without his own cat, a calico called Rose of Sharon, who was Honey’s oldest granddaughter.  Rosie looked up at him from the bottom of the back steps.  She stopped grooming the last inch of her tail and sat up, her ears twitching.

  “I’m coming too,” called Deborah, David’s older sister.  She jabbed her needle into the apron she was making, put the apron down on the kitchen table, and went to the back door.  Schmaltzy, the gray cat who was her faithful shadow, followed her.

  Around the corner of the house came Menashe, David’s father, and David’s little brother, Benny.  They had set out earlier in the wagon to pick up a few things from town.  “Why are you back, Menashe?” asked Malkah, recognizing his footsteps.  She had not expected to see her husband before lunchtime.

  Menashe scratched his head.  “Poppy was behaving very strangely.”  He was talking about Benny’s black cat, Poppyseed.  “She kept jumping off the wagon and running back to the house.  When she had done that six times, I thought there might be something wrong with you or the children.”

  Malkah shook her head.  “David was just taking Honey outside to get some sun.  It’s so warm today.”

  Her husband nodded and smiled at David.  “It’s more like summer than spring,” he said. 

  Putting one foot in front of the other very slowly, David carried his precious bundle down the steps and into the field behind the house.  Right behind him walked his parents, Deborah, Benny, and the four cats.  Nobody wanted to be left out. One by one, they all walked toward the big oak at the side of the field, where a little family of sparrows was chirping.

  Just as they reached the tree, something happened. 

  A hill appeared out of nowhere.  Where there had been an open field with fences, there was now a steep slope, thickly planted with oaks and maples and chestnuts. The trees were so beautiful, they made David think of angels, if angels could have branches instead of wings.  Unseen birds called and answered one another from the depths of the trees, and the air turned as pink as dawn.  The sweet smell of summer was everywhere.

  Beneath the canopy of birdsong, David heard the sound of hoofs bounding between the trees, but he couldn’t find any animals.  Close by, he noticed a small patch of air waving back and forth, as though a group of friendly tails were wagging as they passed through it.  There was the soft scratch of a paw against his knee, and an invisible tongue licked his elbow.

  Happy, but a little confused, David bent over and put Honey down gently. The grass was so thick and warm here, it couldn’t hurt her to be on the ground.

  As David straightened up, there was silence for a moment.  Then voices rang out from the treetops.  Bright and clear as the voices of angels, the trees were singing a song of welcome.  They were telling good news to the whole world, from the hill itself to beyond the clouds.  With joy and satisfaction, they sang, “The Princess Honey is coming home!” 

  The neatly-wrapped bundle that David had set down on the grass did not stir.  But as he watched, a shining golden shape that looked like Honey slipped out of her yellow fur.  The shape leaped onto the lowest branch of a heavenly oak, then onto the next branch. From there, she made wide jumps to tree after tree, always going higher. 

She moved so quickly and smoothly that her leaping was more like flying. 

  David said to himself, “The trees are calling Honey.  They’re taking her away from us!”  Half of him was unhappy, and half of him was excited.  He watched her  as long as he could, until she blended into the brilliance at the top of the hill.  When she was one with the Light, the angels’ voices died away, and the birds began to sing again.

  David started to cry. 

  As he turned his head to look for his Mama, he saw her body sway in a storm of silent tears.  She had told David how, since the time she was his age, Honey had been her little sister, riding in her pocket or sitting on her shoulder. David too could not remember a day without Honey. 

  Then, just as sunshine and blue skies can follow a storm, his mother smiled.  With tears still running down her cheeks, she raised her hands above her shoulders and prayed in a voice that rang with joy, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from which comes my help.” 

  Menashe patted David’s back.  “Honey’s soul is with God now,” he told the children.  “She’s climbing His trees.”

  He and Deborah, David and Benny took each other’s hands, while the four cats stood perfectly still.  All of them faced the hill, which was already beginning to fade from sight. 

  And the only bird that could be heard was one little brown-and-gray sparrow hopping by David’s shoe.  The day had become ordinary again. 

  Menashe reached down and picked up the shawl that held Honey’s body.  His wife took his arm, and the family walked slowly back to the house.  Nobody wanted to talk, until David called, “Look!”

  At the top of the back steps stood Kittel, a white cat who was Honey’s youngest granddaughter.  She had stayed inside the farmhouse, watching little Danny, who was playing on the kitchen floor.

  The other cats flowed up the broad wooden stairs.  Rosie, Poppy and Schmaltzy circled the white cat and then drew back before their mother, Song of Songs.  Song went up to Kittel, putting her nose to her daughter’s nose and rubbing her cheek against hers.  The fur of each cat –black, white, gray and calico – shone as if it had been polished. 

  “The Light is inside them!” observed David.  He stared at his parents and then at his brother and sister.  “Don’t you see it?” he asked.

  “Yes, I do,” agreed his mother dreamily.

  “Mama, how can you tell that, if you’re blind?” David asked.  Then he remembered something.  “You could see back there,” he told her.  “You saw the trees!  How could you see them, Mama?”  He had to know. 

  Stroking David’s cheek, his father explained, “Your mother sees by God’s  Light.” 

  “Is that sunlight, moonlight, or candlelight, Papa?” teased Deborah.  Her face was still wet with tears.  She felt so upside-down from the strange but wonderful thing that had happened that she had to joke.  She wanted her father to joke back, so everything would be normal again.

  “It’s none of those, my wise daughter,” grinned Menashe.  “King Solomon says it is the light God created on the First Day, before the sun and the moon and the stars.”

  “Papa’s becoming a rabbi,” shouted David and Deborah together.  Menashe winked and bowed.

  Malkah put back her head so that her whole face could be touched by the warmth of the sky. “We can thank Honey for giving us this gift,” she said.  “When Heaven came to take her spirit, the Light didn’t go away. It’s staying with us for a while.”

  Deborah, who had gone up the steps to feed Danny, turned around at the top.  “Why is that?” she wanted to know. 

  As she asked the question, Song of Songs came back down the steps.  One by one, the other cats followed her, and they all circled around David.  Rosie sat right on his shoe so he could feel her friendly weight, and she stared up at him with confidence. 

  David knew the answer to Deborah’s question.  He picked up Rosie and buried his face in her soft fur.  Then he looked up at his family.  “Because we loved Honey so much,” he said. 

© 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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