Seven-year-old Danny looked across the table at his mother, Malkah.  It was almost the Sabbath, and she was making soup.  Stripping the meat from the bones of a boiled chicken, she dropped the pieces into the pot of broth.  Slices of carrots and parsnips were already bubbling in the broth.

  Cuddling his cat, Kittel, Danny asked, “Are you really blind, Mama?”

  His older brother, David, looked up from his book.  “What kind of question is that?  Do you think Mama’s been joking all these years?”

  “I think Danny is teasing us,” smiled his mother.  She turned toward her little boy.  “I told you how I lost my sight when I was a little girl and had a bad fever.  Don’t you remember?”

  Deborah, the oldest of the children, explained.  “Danny was with me at the butcher’s this morning.  We heard Mr. Levy,” that was the butcher, “praising Mama.  He lifted his hands like this, and told all the women at the counter, ‘That wife of Menashe!  How much she can see!  How much she can see!’”

  “What did Mr. Levy mean?” asked nine-year-old Benny.  His soft eyes shone.  He loved stories about his family. 

  Deborah took two candleholders out of a drawer.  Rubbing them on her apron, she came back to the table.  “He meant that Mama understands things that other people don’t.  She’s special.”

  “Am I special?”  Danny jumped out of his chair.  “Can I see and still be special?” Everybody laughed.  With his sparkling black eyes and ears that stuck way out, Danny was just like his papa, who told him, “You’ve been our special Danny since the day you were born.”

  Deborah put a platter of fish on the table, and right away, Poppy, Benny’s cat, jumped up.  Behind her came Rose of Sharon, David’s cat.  Their noses quivered as they bent over the fish.

  “Poppy!  Rosie!”  David shouted.  He was afraid they would get some of the tiny bones stuck in their throats.

  The two little cats scooted off.  Offended, they settled themselves in front of the stove beside their brother, Schmaltzy, and wouldn’t look at David.

  “Mama,” began Benny shyly.  He wanted to ask, “Am I special too?” 

  But Deborah interrupted him.  “It’s time to light the candles, Mama,” she said.

  At that reminder, his mama said, “Benny, go get Song.  Bring her in, so we can say our prayers for her.”

  Song was too stiff to move around on her own anymore.  She spent her days on Danny’s bed.  Her nights, too.  He was so small that she was in no danger of being kicked or tumbled.

  When Benny put Song, cushioned on a pillow, on his mama’s lap, she lifted up her head to lick a piece of apron.  Benny and Deborah patted her cheeks and chest.  David stroked her tail.  Everybody could hear her purring.  Then Deborah took Song into her arms so that her mother could light the Sabbath candles.

  At the first words of the prayer, “Blessed are You, O Lord, our God,” Kittel seated herself on the table.  She stared into the candles without blinking.  The family had never seen her do that before.  Danny tried to pick her up, but she avoided him.  She sat with her eyes fixed on the two flames, even through the prayer over the bread and over the cup of wine. 

  When the family stood up, pushed back their chairs and wished each other, “Good Shabbos,” there was none of the hugging and kissing and teasing one another that usually followed.  Their “Good Shabbos” sounded hollow, as though they were really saying, “Sad Shabbos” or “I-can’t-believe-it’s-Shabbos.”

  Deborah said bravely, “We have to face it.”  She looked around the table, and her voice choked up.  “Song is in pain now.” 

  “I heard her cry for the first time on Monday,” volunteered David.  He had been chanting Hebrew prayers to her, and the soft little sound pierced his heart.

  Benny sat with a white face.  He couldn’t stand the thought of Song in pain.  She was Poppy’s mother and the sweetest cat.

  Danny pushed his soup bowl away so hard that the spoon fell to the floor.  He put his head down on the table and wailed.  He wouldn’t stop until Kittel went over to him and licked his ear.

  The family finished their meal without saying very much, and they went to sleep early.  In the morning, Benny was the first to wake up.  When he tiptoed over to Danny’s bed, Song was there in her usual place, but she was not the same.  Benny backed out of the room, went slowly to his parents’ room, and shook his mother’s shoulder.  Swinging her feet onto the floor, she took Benny’s cold hand.  “Show me,” she said to Benny.

  When they got to Danny’s bed, Malkah picked up Song’s little body.  Benny saw that she had gone to sleep on one of his father’s shirts.  The two sleeves hung down from his mama’s arms.  “Darling Song,” crooned Malkah.  And she kissed Song between her ears over and over.

  Benny heard steps behind him.  It was David, Deborah, and their father.  All of them had tears in their eyes.  Putting one arm around Benny, his father said, “I’ll get the shovel and dig a place under the old oak tree.”  That was where the family had buried Honey, Song’s mother.

  As Danny stirred, Kittel jumped down on the floor and stared at Benny.  “Mama,” said Benny, “Kittel wants to tell us something.”

  But it was Danny who told them.  “Mama,” he said, rubbing his eyes awake, “last night, I woke up in the middle of the night.  The sun was shining on my bed.  It was bright from here to here.”  He grabbed his mother’s hands and held them out about two feet apart. 

  Danny pointed to the foot of his bed.  “Song was there, Mama,” he said.  “But a strange cat came out of the ceiling.  She walked down the sunshine, and her paws made little sparkles where they touched.  It was a pretty yellow cat with white feet.  She jumped on my blanket and went over to Song.  She licked her face.  She licked her whole body, and she kept on licking it.  When she finished, Song got up.  She stretched out her paws and yawned a big, big yawn.  Then the yellow cat ran back up the sunshine.  And Song ran behind her.  Mama, she wasn’t stiff anymore.”

  As tears fell from his mother’s eyes, Danny finished his story.  “They went right through the ceiling.  Then the sunshine disappeared, and it was dark again. What I want to know is, who was the other cat?  And where did she come from?”

  Deborah answered his questions with another question.  “Danny, if you were feeling bad and your tummy hurt, who would you most want to see?”

  ‘Mama,” said Danny. 

  “That’s right,” said Deborah.  “Now, think about Song, who was old and in pain all the time.  Who would she most want to see?”

  “Her mama,” Danny decided.  He thought for a moment.  “The other cat was her mama?  But where did she come from?”

  “From God,” said his mother.  “He sent her down from Heaven.  Heaven is on the other side of the sky, just beyond the sunshine.”

  Danny’s face brightened up.  “Are you sure?” he asked.

  Everybody’s head went up and down.

  “Are you sure for sure?”  Danny wanted to make absolutely certain.

  “We’re sure for sure,” chorused his family.

  “Wow!”  Danny threw off his blanket.  He leaped into his papa’s arms.  “I think,” he shouted, wiggling like a monkey, “this is a very, very, very good Shabbos.”

© Lynn Butler Schiffhorst 2008

A Cats Purr

"Cats make one of the most satisfying sounds in the world: they purr ...

A purring cat is a form of high praise, like a gold star on a test paper. It is reinforcement of something we would all like to believe about ourselves - that we are nice."

Roger A Caras

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