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Illustration from What is the Full Moon Full of

Shulamith Levey Oppenheim

Cricket Stories

Cricket Magazine has graciously allowed me to post this story. Click here to go back to the list of stories.

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"Yaja"

“It must be the wart on my nose that did it.’ Yaja´s tail drooped between her legs as she stared into the clear stream along the side of the road.  Winter had been a bitter one.  Now the heavy snows, lying for months like a down comforter on the hills that rose and crested out of sight, were rapidly melting in an unusually warm March sun.  Yaja sloshed a few feet, then stopped for short brisk laps of the icy water.

She hadn´t been thinking of much else these last three months.  Why had her owners done it?  After Loo died at an age ancient even for a cat, and after the mourning was over, the three of them had settled down to a most agreeable existence.  The children, two boys and a girl, were grown and on to their own lives in various parts of the country, but close enough for frequent visits.

“How´s Yaj?’ were often the first words from one of them on entering the house.  Then spotting her by the couch, her long golden coat soft and immaculate from daily brushings, they would stroke her ears and muzzle.
Or it was:

“Don´t forget Yaja,’ when the moment came for a walk through the woods and up to the pond.

She even enjoyed it when they tied a kerchief lightly around her head and called her “Old Missus Yaja,’ followed inevitably by a flush of hugs and kisses.It was a good life.

Then one day in late November, Mrs. O arrived with a box containing–of all things–two sick kittens.  Two very sick bits of black and white fur, bony, all eyes and whiskers.  And Yaja felt her life change.  Instantly.  Not that her meals were less tasty or punctual.  Nor were there fewer brushings interspersed with the usual expressions of affection.  Nor did the long leisurely walks cease.  No, it was more a feeling.  And the phone calls.  She knew what was being said:

“How are the kittens?’  “Did the new antibiotic work?’  “Are they eating?’  “Are they sleeping?’  What did the doctor say?’

Doctor!  The veterinarian–a fine caring man, gentle, good to Yaja, but you´d think he was some kind of miracle worker, the way they went on.

That was how Yaja saw it.  And felt it.  Why had they done this?  She could only conclude that she, Yaja, was wanting.  She had been animal enough for them and suddenly she was not.

“The wart on my nose.  That´s it.’

Yaja lifted her head as Mr. O attached the leash.  The gruff lumbering of the approaching school bus was the signal for this precaution.  Ever since she was a puppy, ten years ago, something in her forced a leap and violent barking each time that yellow vehicle rolled up the road.

This same urge had taken hold of her when she first laid eyes on those feline intruders.  An immediate decision had been made to keep dog and cats separated.  Newcomers downstairs in a room off the kitchen, Yaja upstairs, except to eat.  Constant vigilance by all to avoid confrontation.  But what had keep niggling at her these three months was the reason for bringing them into the house in the first place.

They had reached the front porch, and Mr. O, detaching the leash, was shaking out a green-striped piece of toweling to wipe Yaja´s paws.

“Felix!’  Mrs. O, known as Fred for a reason never clear to Yaja, came up the stairs two at a time and opened the screen door.

“Felix, they´re finally, definitely better!  It´s really working, poaching the chicken and boiling the hamburg.  And the medicine, of course.  You see,’ and she kissed her husband noisily, “they´ll soon be onto regular cat food.  Oh, it does pay in the long run, doesn´t it?’
Mr. O looked up with bemused affection at his wife, then continued drying Yaja´s legs.

“Remember how raggle-taggle Yaja was when she came to us?’
Mrs. O knelt down and took the dog´s muzzle between her hands.  “That´s right, you were a mess.  All ribs and matted hair, frightened of the least sound.  You´d been left out in storms to shiver in whatever shelter you could find.’  Her voice was a whisper.  “Even beaten.  So when the S.P.C.A. got you, we brought you home–and, now look at you.  Why, even that wart on your nose looks like a glamorous beauty spot!’

Good heavens!  Yaja stared up at her mistress as if she had suddenly materialized before her eyes.  She pulled away from Mr. O´s grip, draw her muzzle back, and raced down the stairs to settle under the diningroom table, her refuge and thinking place.

She could hear the kittens romping about in their confinement.  Their mews and scratching were having a new, strange effect on her.  The words of her mistress kept going through her head.

She did recall those vague frettings that seized her whenever she saw a man with a stick.  And there was no doubt, thunder and lightning sent her shaking and whimpering to whomever was closest.

And now, it was true, she lived in a world full of affection, bowls of dog food mixed with delicious table scraps, fresh air, exercise, and a stuffed chair all her own.  She could wander the house wherever and whenever she pleased, while those two kittens had been shut up in one small room.  For three months!  If she had known . . .

Yaja shifted onto her left side, nose resting on her front paws.  Yes, to be utterly truthful with herself, she had been jealous of those kittens, terribly jealous.  She closed her eyes.  Suppose Loo had made Yaja´s entrance into the family as difficult?  What then?

Yaja scrunched deep into the pile rug, drawing her paws close to her ears.  Yes, it was clear, she had to do something.  And so it wasn´t long before Mr. O found her standing half in the kittens´ room, half in the kitchen.
“Fred!’ Mr. O called.

Sam, long-haired with a broad face and snub nose, was lying on his back directly under Yaja´s nose, one oversized paw in the air, ready for play.  Suniya, delicate and short-haired, with tepee ears and a white circle like dried milk next to her mouth, sat high on the ironing board that extended out from its wall closet, watching.

“No, no!  Let them be.’  Mr. O grabbed Mrs. O´s waist as she raced past, about to pull at Yaja´s tail.

“Yaja´s all right.  She´s accepting them.  I told you, give her a few months with the sounds and smells filling the house, and she´ll come ‘round.’

Come ‘round!  Yaja poked Sam.  With a long, thin meow he rolled under the ironing board.  In a split second Suniya was down, and together they scrambled up onto the couch and behind a stack of pillows.

Yaja turned and pattered across the kitchen back to her place under the table.

She´d come ‘round.  But they should know it was only a start.  What was that saying?  Slow and steady wins the race?  Bit by bit.  She knew she couldn´t take large doses of those furry electric balls, but bit by bit, in her own way, at her own speed, she´d get to know those kittens.  After all, what did she really have to worry about, now that she knew the whole story?

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