A hallway ran through the center of the old house with porches front and rear. It was one of those brief interludes when the women were not in the kitchen, either preparing a meal or cleaning up after one.
I was in the kitchen alone, momentarily forgotten after a slap or shove. Be still! Be quiet! Four years old, my eyes rolled back into my head, the darkness that kept me safest.
Then I was not alone. I could feel it. But not the usual, that sudden violence that moved me from one spot to another. Compelled to emerge from the depths of my sanctuary, I opened my eyes.
Oh! Beautiful color and light!
I was entranced. Enchanted. Alive.
A scrawny gray cat sat a few feet in front of me, watching me with emerald eyes. Her tail moved gently, the tip curling up in an arc like a beckoning finger. My heart soared with the kindness in those eyes. An unfamiliar delighted smile creased my face. She stood at my feet. I stroked her from head to tail, as if I had done it forever.
The silky softness of her fur melted the coldness that constantly surrounded me.
She started walking away.
No! Don’t go!
My heart was breaking.
She took a few steps, stopped and looked back at me, took a few more steps and looked back again. She wanted me to follow and, for the first time, I moved without permission. I walked along with her but stopped when she entered the open door of the pantry. I was already doing so many forbidden things!
The cat went to a cardboard box, sat and looked over the edge, then looked at me. I waited, yearning to touch her again, knowing it would not last. The cat looked in the box, looked at me and mewed. She wanted me to see what was in the box! I walked over, knelt and cautiously looked inside.
Oh! An exquisite puddle of newborn kittens, brown, white and gray, took my breath away. My spirit came alive with rainbows and flowers and music!
The cat mewed again and leaned toward me. She was inviting me to touch her babies. I reached and they instinctively flipped to their backs with tiny razor claws slashing at the intruder.
I drew back, ashamed.
Then the most wonderful thing happened. The cat made a soft sound and the kittens immediately relaxed. She looked at me and made a similar soft sound.
I knew it was okay to touch the kittens and I did, for as long as I could, while the cat watched over the helpless little ones.