| Jr. Fiction |

Of Kittens and Counting  

Mendy stalks toward me, hand outstretched. I shriek until Mommy comes onto the porch to see what’s going on

I back away, tripping over the small stool we had dragged out to the succah earlier. I stop when I’ve reached the succah wall and can back away no more.

“Get that thing away from me,” I say, trying — and failing — to keep my voice from shaking.

Mendy stalks toward me, hand outstretched. I shriek until Mommy comes onto the porch to see what’s going on, bringing with her the tantalizing scents of baking challah.

“Why are people screaming?” she asks, wiping her hands on a towel.

I hop sideways and hide behind her. “Because Mendy and Chaim have brought a creature home. And it’s gross and smells bad and is probably covered in fleas and bugs.”

Mommy tries to hide the smile on her face, but I see it peeking out.

“Aw, Yaeli, do you mean the kitten? He’s sooo sweet, just pet him, honey.”

I look at Mommy to see if she’s kidding; she seems to be serious. Strange.

“Ma,” I say, trying to keep my tone respectful and probably failing miserably. “I don’t do animals. I don’t want to even see an animal. Tell them to KEEP IT AWAY FROM ME!!!" My sentence ends in a scream as my brothers wave the kitten in my face.

It hisses at me angrily, like it’s trying to prove me right for being afraid.

The boys crack up and bolt out of the succah. I look at Mommy, and tears spring in my eyes.

“WHY does nobody in this family care about what I want? It’s like I’m invisible.”

Ma looks at me, eyes sympathetic. “Yaeli, sweetie, of course we do. And we see you, and we love you. But it’s just a lot of drama and screaming over a tiny cat.”

I brush my hair out of my eyes, angrily. “Well, that tiny cat stays, or I do.”

“We choose the cat,” Mordy yells through the succah wall.

“UUUUUGHHHHH,” I scream and stalk out of the succah and into the house.

Why doesn’t what I want matter?

I stomp upstairs and plop onto my bed. Sometimes being the only girl in the family feels like a privilege that comes with perks and benefits.

This is not one of those times.

No, right now, I feel like I could use a sister. Someone on my side, for a change. Someone to be there when the boys bring cats home.

I guess I fall asleep, because when I open my eyes, it’s almost dark out. Ugh. I hate that feeling after an unexpected nap.

What woke me?

I listen. “Tanta Brynie! Tanta Brynie!”

Oh, wow, Tanta Brynie and Uncle Yehuda must be here already. Yuntiff isn’t for two days, but my mother always invites her younger sister to arrive early so they can bake together.

Sniff, sniff. Everyone has sisters aside from me.

I run down and give my aunt and cousins hugs. Brynie and Yehuda have the cutest kids, four little blonde girls. They look like angels and act like monsters, but like really sweet, cute monsters.

Chaim pulls on Brynie’s hand. “Come! Look what’s in the succah! Come, come, come!”
Brynie follows him outside to the porch, but she’s chatting with Mommy, and I can see she is totally unprepared for what’s waiting for her in the succah. I know I should warn her or Chaim, but I’m frozen on the sidelines.  And even as Brynie shrieks in horror and slams the sliding porch door shut, I don’t move.

Not even as the door slams on the tiny, helpless cat.

Only as it meows and falls back, do I unfreeze and spring into action.

Brynie is shrieking. “What is it? What’d I do? Did I kill it? Ohmygosh, what just happened?”

Mommy is trying to calm her, and Chaim is shrieking that his cat is broken. Mendy is trying not to cry but his eyes are huge and glistening.

I bend toward the cat, my heart pounding. It’s still moving, but it’s making little puffing sounds that resemble a dying car, not a cat.

I turn toward Mendy. “I refuse to touch that thing. Pick it up gently.”

He shakes his head, terrified.

Brynie steps forward bravely. “I will.”

She scoops up the kitten; it really is cute looking. I just refuse to touch it.

“Is it…?” Ma asks.

I shake my head. “It’s still breathing.”

Brynie grabs an empty container that had housed the tape and stapler for decorations and deposited the kitten inside.

“Anyone know a good vet?”

I went with her. No one else wanted to. The boys were traumatized, Ma was up to her ears in cooking, and Brynie’s girls couldn’t be dragged away from my old dollhouse.

I kept an eye on the Tupperware on the floor. The kitten was curled up, not moving.

“I’m sorry I almost killed your pet,” Brynie says wryly. “I had no idea what Chaim wanted to show me, and I got startled.”

“It’s not our pet,” I say. “I hate animals. If they keep it, I’m moving out.”

Brynie laughs. “Even now?”

I sigh. “I’ll allow it to regain its strength. Then it’s back on the streets.”

“Fair enough.”

The cat had zero broken bones, just suffered from some shock to its system. The vet gave it some antibiotics and Brynie even splurged for a flea treatment. Spoiled cat.

By the time we get home, I’m cranky and tired, and when I see the empty pizza boxes, I’m livid.

“You didn’t save me supper?” I hiss. “I’m STARVING.”

Ma looks at me. “Of course, we saved you pizza, Yaeli, don’t be silly.”

But the pizza is cold, and the cheese is all clumpy and bubbled. I am not amused.

I go to sleep, feeling alone, unloved, and very, very tired.

* * *

There’s something about the first night of Succos. There’s an energy in the air; the crisp feel of fall mixed with the excitement of new clothes, new shoes, and eating outdoors. Everyone is laughing and chatting, bathed in a golden glow. I feel far away, like I’m looking in on a scene from the outside.  An outsider.

Brynie looks around and calls me over. “There she is!” she says to Uncle Yehuda. “The girl who hates animals, who helped save the cat.”

Yehuda looks impressed. “Good for you. And good for that kitten! Lucky guy, getting injured in a house like yours.”

I look at him. “If he hadn’t been in our house, he might not have gotten injured.”

Yehuda laughs, a big loud sound that fills the succah.

“Maybe. But who knows for sure?”

Later, when the boys are tucked into their cots, winter coats zipped firmly up to their ears, and the women are gathered on the succah couch sharing a bowl of chocolate almonds, I look up at the sechach.

A tinsel chain sways in the breeze, and there, right behind it, a star twinkles.

I think about how small and unimportant I’ve been feeling, like a star who is too far away from everyone and everything to matter much at all.

A sound fills the succah. We all look around, confused. Then Brynie laughs. “Guess someone is feeling better!”

It’s the kitten, purring.

“Lucky guy,” I said out loud, imitating Uncle Yehuda from earlier.

Because he’s right. Hashem placed this kitten right here with us, to ensure it gets taken care of.

I look up at the stars again.

They seem much brighter now.

Hashem takes care of the tiniest kitten. I know He placed me right where I need to be.

And just like that, the golden haze includes me too.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 980)

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