The old woman was in a lot of pain today. Sometimes it was like that. She knew it was part age and part illnesses. At seventy six years old what could she expect. She was peaceful and enjoyed looking out the windows at the green leaves on the trees that brushed the panes. The sun shined on them and created wonderful shadows and pieces of light. There is something that I have to do she thought. Before I die. I have to write a book. She had been thinking of it for a long time. It was just so hard to start. To know where to start and why she had to do this.
This morning in a dream it had come to her. The reason. The tiny little thing that she could do to make her life worthwhile and perhaps to help even one person to live a bit better than she had.
Such a lost little girl. Such a beautiful little girl, sun bleached brown hair, green eyes, a perfect face, lithe and slim.
The cat sat on the mat. She turned her feline head from side to side. She licked down the front of herself as cats do. The mat was prickly on her bottom. She stretched, yawned and gracefully wove herself down the porch steps. Hot sun, so delicious after the cold winter and spring. Paws sleuthing in the grass. Whiskers shining white. Oh to be a human she thought. I think I was a human in a past life. I was a girl. I had green eyes like I do now. Brown hair like I do now. I walked on two feet, ran, jumped, and swam. Oh what a beautiful little girl I was.
Then she forgot. There was a quick movement in the grass. A grasshopper. It was green and shining. It jumped and she loved things that jumped. With a quick paw she reached out, extending her claws. Grabbed it. It wriggled. She let it go. Now was the game. It would last until the grasshopper finally died. A cat smile curled her mouth. The memory of a little girl was lost. She was only a mere cat again.
KITTY, KITTY. Here KITTY. KITTY KITTY. HERE KITTY.
The cats ears twitched then turned slightly in the direction of the sounds. She turned and bounded through the long grass, over the rotted tree stump, down the hill toward the words. The cat knew the voice, the sound, frail, shrill but ever present in her life. The porch of the small house soon became the only sight in front of her. On the porch the old woman sat in the rocking chair. Kitty bounced up the stairs and almost flew into the soft lap. Kitty purred lightly then slept. Soon the old lady slept too. All was quiet. It was a cool day for a summer day. The sky, now gray and a leaden cloud white started to drizzle rain across the fields. The long grass sighed as it drank. It had been a while and the sun had been hot.
Do you want your dinner? Come on then. We will go inside. The rain is heavy now. A real downpour. The old lady rose painfully, slowly from the chair.
The cat jumped down and placed her paws carefully on the now damp porch floor. Soon the floor would be wet, the rain slanting now and crossing over the porch rails toward the front door. The mat would be wet too. Perhaps tomorrow the sun would dry her mat again. The sun was gone now behind the voluminous clouds. Low thunder rumbled in the distance. A feeble strike of lightning shone for a second in the woods. Scared now the cat ran for the door, over the now wet mat, through the opening where the old woman stood. She ran to her dish and looked up. Soon food would be in it. Soon she could curl up on the end of the old woman's bed on the soft quilt and sleep. Tomorrow perhaps she would find another grasshopper, or a toad, or maybe even a mouse. Before she slept she would listen to the rain and the old woman snore. The thunder rumbled again. Louder now. Then louder still.
The sun was a bright red orange. Kitty sat on her mat. It was early morning and the mat was still damp from the rain but the hot sun had dried it a bit. Sarah rocked in her chair and hummed an almost silent tune. If you were old you would know that it was, “Unchained Melody”. Now she sang. Oh my love. My darling, I've hungered for your touch. A long lonely time. TM Her voice was scratchy and wavered up and down the scales but you could hear the melody. She was old now and she reminisced allot. She thought of the time passed so long ago. She thought of the long years that seemed like minutes now. Minute after minute passing so fast they blurred in her mind.
She turned her head to look at Kitty. Kitty turned her head and pricked her ears up and looked at Sarah. A thought passed between them. Kitty stretched and purred. Sarah stopped her song. They looked long at each other.
Kitty was thinking of the little girl again. She stretched again, making herself into a sleek feline statue. I was a little girl once she thought and she laid down on the mat and slept and dreamed.
Later, Sarah moved about the kitchen tidying up. The kitchen was small and old fashioned. There was one window and the red sun was shining in casting a rose glow on everything. It was hot already. She wiped the perspiration from her face with her handkerchief. As she folded her hanky she noticed her hands. The wrinkles and the fine lines. Her skin was like parchment.
It's time she thought and she glanced at the yellow pad of paper and the pen that had been on the table for several days now. She sat in the white painted wooden chair. Her hand reached for the cover of the paper pad and pulled it in front of her. Her hand grasped the pen and she wrote on the cover in large printed letters. A LIFE. She flipped the cover to the back and sat the pad down again. Her mouth moved into a straight line and trembled a bit. Words are like brushes dipped in paint she thought and she wrote.
Sarah wrote for two hours. Her hand was cramped and sore so she stopped. That was good for one day she thought. I have finally started. Her hand shook and she grasped it with the other hand. Can I do it? Can I ever finish this? Will anyone ever read it. Kitty wove across the kitchen in her feline way and wrapped her body around Sarah’s ankles. Smooth brown fur against skinny, wrinkled parchment ankles. Oh Kitty, I have been busy. Can't you see I have been writing. Kitty said meow. That was the only word Kitty could say. If she could have spoken more words her tongue would have been a brush laden with the brightest and most beautiful colors there ever were.
The year was 1929. Sarah was ten years old. She was a quiet child, moody and sad. Hitler had risen to the top of the Nazi party in Germany. It was May. In a few months the Stock Market would crash and the world would change. Adolf Hitler would become the head of Germany and the horrors would begin.
In America the Great Depression would begin to unfold. In the small town of Plattsburg in the Catskill Mountains it would be a while before they felt the concussion of these events.
They always had enough to eat. There were no treats. No candy, not many cookies or sugary things. Plain food from the garden. Her mother cooked and canned all summer and fall. The family worked hard. There was no running water. No central heat. No bathroom.
She was frightened of the outside world but she had to go to school. School was torment. The children had nice clothes. Most of their fathers were, if not well to do, comfortable. Sarah's father did not believe that children needed dresses or shoes. Just covering their bodies with whatever was available was fine for him. These things were never purchased. They were found. In free used clothing bins, garbage cans and wherever they were available. She and her little brother worked hard, chopping wood, carrying water from the spring in the woods, tending the garden and many other chores. Such was the way of the world for the poor in the small towns of America in the year 1929.
The small house, not much more than a shack was in the middle of woods and fields. A beautiful playground for children who liked to imagine. Sarah loved to imagine. She made paths through the trees and sunny spaces where the wildflowers grew. When she had been very little she had plucked blossoms and stems without the roots and brought them home to plant in her little garden. The flowers had always died and she hadn't known why. She had made the most beautiful gardens and they always wilted and shriveled to the dirt.
At one time, years before, the little house had been the home of an older gentleman. He had made fine gardens and the growth of the years was still remaining. The hardier plants had survived and flourished. Lilacs, Forsythia, Sweet William, and Tulips in the spring. The Lilacs were the best. Sweet smelling and probably planted to sheath the smell of the outhouse behind them.
Sarah thought she should have been a fine lady like the grand ladies in her books. Jane Austen was her favorite writer but she loved all books. She would read any book that she came upon. She had none of her own. She borrowed from friends. She read her grandmothers books that the stern old lady kept in her tall bookcase. She read The Pilgrims Progress but understood none of it and stumbled over the more difficult words. She read Kipling, Dickens, Hugo, Cereal boxes, Popular Mechanics and Newspapers.
She loved when the students received a new text book at the beginning of the school year. At home she read the entire book. At school she was a B and C student. Very shy with no confidence she was afraid to speak in the classroom and if called upon would not say the answer to the questions.
Sarah loved cats. Every wandering orphan cat found a home in her heart. She couldn't take them into the house but she managed to find food for them when they were thin and hungry. She didn't name them. They were feral cats born in the woods. Cats then were not like the pampered cats of today. They were scavengers. Something was very strange. No one, her mother, aunts, uncles or their friends could understand. All the cats loved Sarah. These cats, and sometimes there were three or four at a time, followed Sarah in a line. Scraggly and thin. Heads held high as if they were indeed Princesses, they walked behind her. When the little girl stopped to pick a flower or to examine a small brightly colored stone, they stopped, only continuing when she did. “Sarah's cats” they called them. In the colder weather the cats loved to creep up onto her father's car tires. It was warm there next to the engine that minutes ago had been hot when he returned from a trip to town. They would lie there and bask in the warmth. No matter how many times it happened her father would not remember to check the tires under the fenders before he went on another trip to town. The wheels spun and the cat was flattened. Many tears and a trip to the little cat cemetery that Sarah had made in the clearing in the woods. An old breadbox with rusted and peeling cream paint marked the graves of several cats.
Her father never said a word about it. There was no I'm sorry, no condolences just the blank look that he always had when he looked at her. Her mother scolded her for making a fuss.