Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Family Pet (05/15/08)
TITLE: Trade Off Penitence
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I picked out two kittens and placed them in the towel-lined basket that Mrs. Lowel had loaned me. The kittens gave up on their loud search for nourishment and snuggled into the towel. In the quiet, I sat and wondered at all that had transpired in such a short time.
David and I had been married less than a year when his call came to return to active duty in Iraq. The day before he left, he had given a kitten to his daughter, Jocelyn, for her thirteenth birthday. He returned six weeks later in a casket.
I was a military wife. I knew the drill. At the funeral, I displayed all the required emotions of shock, grief and pain. But somewhere along the way, my outward façade hid a deep-seated anger and resentment toward God. Rather than dealing with my feelings, I encased them within a cement shrine and stopped going to church.
The fragile bond of friendship between Jocelyn and me had been established through David’s efforts. It stayed inside the casket with him after the lid was shut. Neither of us acknowledged the loss. She stayed busy with school and her activities. The rest of the time, she kept to herself and babied the kitten she called Kitty, while I gave in to a compelling need to keep the house spotless.
We led a life of silent toleration until Kitty was about eight months old. While Jocelyn was at school one morning, I attacked my house with disinfectant and scrubbed and cleaned as usual. When I took a break to water my peace lily, I heard a weird yowling outside. Kitty went wild. She tore through the room, knocked over my plant and left a trail of mud behind.
By the time I found her, I was beyond furious. I grabbed her by the scruff of her neck against her wild protests and flung her outside. I had no idea she was mature enough to mate. Jocelyn found her cowering by the door.
“How could you be so mean? Don’t you dare let her outside again!”
I yelled back, “If your bratty cat ever messes up my house again, I’ll throw her out, and she’ll stay out!”
Kitty’s condition soon became obvious. I didn’t care. During the day, I forced her outside, only letting her back in just before the bus stopped each day at three o’clock. Jocelyn wasn’t the wiser until one afternoon when Kitty couldn’t be found. Her anger came out in a verbal barrage, “You did this on purpose. You’re selfish and…and cruel. You’re just jealous of Kitty because my dad gave her to me. I don’t know what he ever saw in you. I hate you!
She punctuated a second “I hate you”, by slamming her bedroom door. I stood in stunned silence as the cement sarcophagus around my heart cracked, and my anger and resentment disintegrated into shame-filled dust. I burst into tears. When I knocked on Jocelyn’s door later and asked for forgiveness, she wouldn’t answer.
That was yesterday. This morning, Jocelyn found Kitty with two stillborn kittens. She wiped away tears and got on the bus without a word.
Desperate to know if there was anything I could do to make amends, I called our neighbor who lived on a farm. “There might be,” Mrs. Lowel said. She told me to come right over. “One of our cats just had kittens.” She pointed to the barn, “Always has a large litter, so I don’t think she’d miss two of ‘em.”
I ran the back of my fingers over the soft little bodies. One was a calico, the other a yellow tabby. “I see your daddy gets around.” I smiled at the irony.
“Now, don’t get your hopes up,” Mrs. Lowel cautioned when I descended from the loft. “Bring ‘em back if this doesn’t work.” I hugged the basket after thanking her and hurried home. “Please work,” I prayed.
It was almost three o’clock. Kitty waited at the door. She turned her back to me; her tail thumped the ground with each deliberate swish. I offered her the basket of mewing kittens and held my breath.
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