Karen Campbell Prough
Darlene lifted a cardboard box from the back of the small trailer. The Florida sun warmed her sleeveless shoulders as she walked around her car and deposited the box on the porch steps. “Whew, I’m almost done.”
A cat bounded past her and went up the steps. It meowed and headed straight for Darlene’s five-year-old daughter.
“Mommy, an orange cat!” The girl dropped to her knees in front of it and held out her hand.
“Brooke! Don’t touch it. Get up.”
“Why?” Large blue eyes emphasized the single word.
“Because—it might be sick.”
The tiny-framed child jerked her babyish hand away from the marmalade cat and jumped up from where she had been kneeling. “He’s sick?” She lifted a heat-flushed face. Her brow wrinkled with concern.
“I didn’t say he was sick, just that he might be. You must be careful with stray animals.” She waved her hand at the cat. “Go home, shoo!”
“He looks nice.”
“Yes, but don’t touch stray animals. Come in the house, now. Mommy has to unpack all the stuff we brought with us.” She bent to retrieve the box. “You look hot. This Florida weather is going to be murder on us. It’s not like back home in Ohio!”
“What’s … stray?” The little girl followed her into the house and pulled the door shut behind them. “Mommy, what’s stray?”
“It means he doesn’t have a home.” Placing the heavy box with others already covering the surface of a round table in the middle of the quaint dining room, she groaned and rubbed her lower back. “Oh … I won’t be able to move tomorrow.”
Brooke shoved an old chair—dated by its metal frame and vinyl seat—to the table. She climbed on the chair and surveyed the boxes. “That’s like us, Mommy. Are we strays?” Her hands pushed tangled blonde hair out of her troubled blue eyes. “Huh?”
Startled, Darlene stared at her little girl. “Oh, no, Honey! We aren’t strays! We have … this house … and stuff the previous owners left behind. It’s ours. Remember? You went with me to sign all those crazy papers. Come here.” She lifted the girl off the chair and hugged her close. “No, baby, we’re not strays. Daddy’s insurance money helped us buy this little house. And I now have a good job. That means we’re going to be okay! You and me.”
The child squirmed in Darlene’s tight embrace. “Then, can we let the cat stay with us so he won’t be stray? Please?”
“And … he must stay outside.” She set the girl back on the chair and studied the clutter around them. “I hate starting over,” she murmured, suddenly fighting tears. Emotions and memories crowded in on her. In the past, there had been a strong back and willing arms to lift all the boxes and help unpack.
“Mommy? Are you sad ‘bout this house?”
Darlene tried to smile while brushing a tear from her cheek. “No, baby, it’s a mess in here but this is a nice house. Want to help me unpack a few things before you have your bath? We must find the towels and washcloths. Come on dirty face; let’s see if you can find the right box.”
Giggling, Brooke slipped off the chair and ran down a short hallway to a pile of boxes on the floor. She pointed. “Here! This one. You drew a picture of a potty on it. See?”
“You’re so smart. You remembered. Great Grandma Hendricks will be proud when I tell her. We’ll go see her tomorrow. She lives only a few miles away.”
“Does Great Grandma know Daddy went to heaven?” The child’s smooth forehead kneaded into a frown.
“Oh, Brooke … yes, she knows. She feels very sad, but she’s happy because Daddy is waiting for us in Heaven.”
“Does Daddy have cats up there?”
“Cats?” Darlene inwardly groaned. Why do children come up with these types of questions? “I think Heaven might have cats. Remember, I told you the Bible mentions the army coming out of heaven? They’ll be riding horses when our Lord comes back to earth to fight the bad guys, so … why not also have cats in heaven?”
A delightful smile lit Brooke’s face. “Orange cats?”
“Yes … perhaps.” She patted her daughter’s head. “Now, let’s unpack.”
Two hours later, most of the boxes were empty. The remainder of their belongings and furniture would arrive by way of a moving van the next morning. Darlene opened the front door to check the little trailer one more time and almost stepped on the small cat.
“Oops! Orange cat you are living dangerously.”
The cat meowed and jumped to a small weed-filled container near the porch. It resembled a metal water trough. With a huge yawn, the cat stretched and then curled into a ball, as if to say … I’m here to stay, love me or not.
“Oh, thanks, cat. I really didn’t need you adding to my food bill. I hope you eat mice. Because otherwise, you’ll need to find another home—with rich owners.” After skirting around the container that the cat had claimed, she got the last items from the trailer and went back into the house. The sun had dipped behind the tall pines near the house but sunlight still managed to filter through to the small yard. A few palmetto bushes had encroached on the yard, growing in from the surrounding woods.
Brooke jumped up from where she was playing with toys on the floor. “Can I go out on the porch and talk to the cat?”
“Just talk … no touching. Okay?” Darlene set a saucepan on the stove top and smiled over her shoulder. “I’ll fix supper. Don’t go off the porch.”
“I won’t. I’m going to show the cat my big frog.” She bent to pick up the bright green toy. “I think he likes frogs.”
Five minutes later, a scream of fright made Darlene drop a spoon on the floor and run for the door. “Brooke!”
Her daughter stood in the middle of the narrow sidewalk, her hands covering her eyes. Darlene swept Brooke up in her arms and angrily scanned the ground for the cat.
But not twelve feet away, the marmalade cat suddenly sprang straight into the air, avoiding the strike of a pygmy rattler. Landing on its feet, it slapped with one paw and bounded in another direction. The snake coiled, seemingly in confusion, and then sidled sideways toward a clump of palmettos.
Darlene hugged her crying child and carried her back to the porch. “Are you hurt? Did it get you? Show Mommy, please!”
With sobs shaking her slight frame, the girl shook her head. “No, cat jumped over it.” She twisted sideways in Darlene’s arms. “Is my cat okay?”
The cat ran up the sidewalk, gave one meow, bounded into the dirt-filled container, and gazed at them with large expressive eyes that reflected the brilliance of the setting sun. Brooke wiggled out of Darlene’s arms, tears forgotten, and ran to grab her toy frog.
“I want to give this to my cat. He chased the bad snake away.” Without waiting for permission, Brooke approached the stray and tucked her toy next to its side. She patted the purring cat’s head. “Hear him? He likes it. Now he won’t be lonely tonight. He has a toy and a new home. He’s not a stray no more.”
Darleen knelt and kissed Brooke’s cheek. “That was nice of you.” Tentatively, she held out her hand to the cat. “What will you name this brave cat?”
“Orange Marmalade—like on my toast. But we better just call him Orange.”
“And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.” Revelation 20:14 KJV
Thank you for reading my short story. Pictures were taken by my mother. She had cats hanging around her yard. They had been abandoned by people across the street. The story is fiction, not based on any facts–not even ones about snakes and cats. 🙂 Remarks about the story may be left by scrolling downward and filling in the comment space.
© Karen Campbell Prough
(No text or inserted images may be reproduced without the written consent of the copyright holder.)