22
Jan

MORNING MATCH - A short story by a visitor - Judy Vaughan

Today, I'm sharing a short story by my writer friend, Judy Vaughan.

Judy  grew up in Northern New Mexico surrounded by sacred mountains and engrossed in the lives of horses and other animals. She left the family ranch for boarding school in Colorado and then attended Carleton College and the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. She has composed stories since childhood, and began to hone the craft of writing after forty years practicing neurology.

Morning Match  

This morning, before I raise my eyelids, the cat’s paw-steps crinkle the surface of the comforter pulled to my chin. His indentations push down. They are somatosensory taps along my thigh. He might be walking in snow while I am the ground below.

A dream vanishes into the ringtone of the smart phone alarm, set today to prompt me to meet the washing machine repairman during a “window” from eight to one. “Ask him to come as early as possible,” I had told the receptionist yesterday though I have no other deadline short of their arbitrary “window.”

Awake now, I give Match his morning hug and cue him back to his sleep-spot on top of the fuzzy acrylic coverlet, folded at the end of the bed. He bypasses it, and jumps to the floor, his crepuscular self on the move at daybreak.

I don a tattered robe and hobble to the kitchen. I push the start button on my single service coffee maker.

Bangs and scuffles make me imagine the repairman at the door, sounds not unlike someone organizing their tools outside the home of a scheduled client. But it’s way too early; It’s just Match banging the door of the linen closet.

I think of all the poems that begin with the author at the breakfast nook, ceramic cup in hand, interrupting their writing to muse over the décor, the kettle or some bird outside the window. On a segue way to a solitary mood.

And there’s my bird through the sliding glass door. In the yard, an overgrown lavender shrub feeds the local hummingbirds through the damp spring. Last year’s nests stand out in the skeletons of my neighbor’s trees, and a green male Anna’s clicks as he explores the clustered back yards in my cul-de-sac. The click call, generated by a pop of air from his throat is as loud as a mobile phone notification.

I open the glass door.

The cat hears it. I let him slip through a narrow opening and crouch behind the locked screen. That’s his catio. He can’t see the bird clearly at his age, but he chirps his attention. I check the latch. Match wants to go out---the loamy smell and the swoop of the birds lure us both. Volunteer lettuce has sprouted in the wine barrel; I might broadcast a few more seeds later today.

He rattles the screen latch again and meows.

“I get it Match, but, no.” I close the sliding glass and distract him with fresh water. I push a cup of Sweet and Creamy coffee through the machine into a souvenir mug that uses three x-es to write “Relaxxx in Ireland.”

Match never wanted to be an indoor cat. As a kitten with a demanding meow, he appeared at my daughter’s home, black with white markings, the most prominent of which was a 5-millimeter spot on his forehead. A dot. Like Match.Com, the dating service that was easing me into grandmotherhood twelve years ago.

Adopted into my home, he was exhausting. His dog-like demand for my attention included biting and scratching to initiate communication. If I kept him busy, he was a lot of fun. As in tricks. He would retrieve small toy mice or bring me a toilet paper roll as a gift. I easily taught him to jump when cued around furniture or through a hoop. Escape was his favorite game, and one day he succeeded. He disappeared.

I sip the coffee and relive the grief I felt. How I let my neighbor convince me to take in an elderly stray and made her take him back the next day. How I told everyone about my “Labrador retriever cat.” For years. Tearing up every time.

Five years later, I got the call. “Did you lose a cat? ‘Match Dot Com’ on his microchip? He’s at the County Animal Shelter. He’s injured. Do you want him back?”

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” I said.

When I lifted his skeletal body from the shelter crate to my bosom, he snuggled and purred. He’d been found eleven miles from my house.

I move aside to let the repairman do his job. I get a rag and clean the grimy surfaces of the washer revealed during the repair. The technician, Gregor, is polite, but not as chatty as I’d want. I’ve only recently learned to restrain myself from asking about national origins. The price is as quoted, and the app on his smart phone processes my credit card. Match leaves his strangers-are-here hiding place seconds after Gregor’s van pulls away.

I reheat the last ounce of Sweet and Creamy, sit back down and open the Mac. Match jumps to the other chair then onto the kitchen table where he looks at me with an owl-like stare. His eyes, once pure green, are now checkered with iris atrophy. They look like the mosaic eyes of a Byzantine virgin. A scar has widened one tear duct. A larger one in his right axilla leaves a patch of skin devoid of hair and warm to the touch. It marks the site where an open wound almost sent him to euthanasia when he was brought in from his five years of feral life.

I must have half a dozen pictures of him on Facebook in this very pose, the owl stare hinting at a possible stealth attack, or maybe just a wise proof-read.

I suspect all those poets had a cat.

*******

Judy lives in Elk Grove, California, and writes with Elk Grove Writers and Artists. Works in progress include her New Mexico memoir, Strawberry Roan. Her stories have placed in short story contests and have been published in NCPA Anthologies.

She is a member of the California Writers Club, Northern California Publishers and Authors, and the New Mexico Book Association.

Contact her at jfbvaughan@comcast.net.

 

15
Dec

The Christmas Miracle

Anthony crouched next to the telephone booth behind the Rescue Mission. He pushed back a strand of dirty hair and wiped a ragged sleeve across his nose. He was sick of hot dogs and beans at the Rescue Mission and their phony Christmas spirit. He hated the sight of plastic Christmas trees, fake Santa’s and the city’s hollow Christmas cheer.

Last Christmas, his family had hiked through snow to cut down a Christmas tree. He and Mom watched holiday movies, sipping hot chocolate. His name was on most of the presents under the tree. He was always the tallest Wise Man in the Christmas Eve Nativity play. Life was good, but not good enough. He had brindled under Dad’s strict rules. ‘Be home by eleven. Clean up your room. No girl friends in your bedroom.’

Feeling that his life was unbearable and the rules unfair, and dreaming of being his own boss, he left home. He’s show them. He would find a job, rent an apartment, and buy a nice car. Such wonderful plans at the time…

Several months had passed and none of his plans had worked out. Without a high school diploma, he couldn’t find a job. Without a job, he couldn’t even rent a room, and the car he wanted? A pipe dream.

He shivered in the cold and pulled a wallet and ring box from his pocket. Now, look at me; a common thief, homeless and hungry. What a fool I am. I want to go home.

Anthony counted the money in the wallet$267. The glow of the light pole glinted off the diamond in the platinum engagement ring. Was it enough? Maybe with the stolen money and if he pawned the ring, it would be enough for a bus ticket home…All the way across country. But, what if Mom and Dad turned him away? What if…? Anthony stepped into the phone booth and dialed the familiar number. The phone rang three times.

“Hello?” His mom’s voice... So warm, so reassuring. Would she…?
“Hi, Mom. It’s me, Anthony.” Tears stung his eyes. “Umm…Mom? Can I come home?”

****
Mark slumped onto his fiancé’s sofa. “What am I going to do? He took everything, all my money and…even Mom’s ring.”

Martha sat beside Mark and took his hand. “Why did you have your mom’s ring with you?”

“I was taking it to have it cleaned after work, but the jeweler’s was closed when I got there.” Mark kicked the side of the coffee table, knocking over a cup. Coffee wicked into the doily, turning the edges brown. He put his hand over his eyes and lowered his head. “It was supposed to be your Christmas present.”

“Oh!” Martha’s face flushed. “Tell me what happened.”

“The kid stepped out of the shadows. It looked like he had a gun in his pocket. He demanded money. I gave him my wallet and then he said, ‘Empty your pockets,’ almost like he knew I had something more. I didn’t want to give up the ring, but he kept jerking his hand, like he was gonna shoot. I took out the ring box and he snatched it and ran. I just stood there like an idiot. I thought I was going to die.” Mark knuckled his eyes.

“Oh, Mark. You could have been killed!”

“Your ring is gone and a weeks’ pay,” Mark groaned. “How can I even make my car payment? Why do these things happen?”

“We don’t always understand why bad stuff happened, but we have to trust that God has a plan. Even when bad things happen, there’s usually some good come out of it.”

“What good can come from this? Mom’s never going to forgive me for losing her ring, and I can’t afford to buy you another one.”

Martha put Mark’s arm around her shoulder. “Give me a hug. I’d marry you, even with a paper cigar band around my finger.”

Mark pulled her into an embrace. It’s my own fault. I shouldn’t have gone into that neighborhood after dark.

****
The bell over the shop door tinkled when a portly man entered the neighborhood pawn shop the next afternoon. He glanced around the shop and walked straight to a glass case filled with rings and watches.

An elderly man stepped through the curtain in the doorway into the back room. “Afternoon.” His head dipped in greeting. “Help ya? In the market for somethin’ shiny?” His eyes danced in expectation as he ran a hand over his week-old bearded chin.

George peered at the rows of diamond rings in the glass case. “Interested in your diamond rings.” He glanced up at the clerk. “And, don’t think you can pull a fast one. I know a real diamond from a chip a’ glass.”

The clerk threw up his hands. “You can trust me. I’m an honest man.” He unlocked the cabinet. “Which one ya’ fancy?”

George pointed. “Third from the left, second row.”

“Nice choice. Bought it off a kid just this morning. His grandma’s ring, he said. Nice platinum mounting, quarter carat diamond. It’s yours for two hundred bucks.”

“Sounds like a lot. Let me see it.”

“So yer’ getting hitched?”

“Nah! Puttin’ a ring on her finger to shut her up. Insurance!” He chuckled. “So she don’t leave me. You know how it is. Women!”
The elderly clerk nodded. “Sure. All alike.”

George held the ring up to the light. “I’ll take it.” He pulled a bundle of bills from his Warehouse for Stout-Men’s breast pocket, counted out nine twenties and laid them on the counter. “$180 cash. That enough?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Bein’ as its cash, it’ll do.” The old man stuffed the bills into his pocket. He produced a silver ring box from under the counter, inserted the ring and handed it to George. “Need a bag?”

“Nah!” George tucked the ring inside his suit jacket. “Got a receipt?”

“The way I figger,” the old man said, “With no need for counting the money so exact, there’s no need for a receipt.”

“Sure great doin’ business with an honest man.” The doorbell tinkled overhead as the cold air struck George’s face. He stooped into the wind and walked away.

That evening, George and Lisa strolled along the snowy sidewalk outside Macy’s Department Store. Lisa stopped beside the display window. She grabbed George’s arm. “Oh, look Georgie. Will you buy me that pretty dress for Christmas? Will ya, Georgie?”

He shook his head. “I’m not gonna buy some dumb dress. I bought you something nice this afternoon.” He reached into his pocket and drew out the silver ring box.

“Oh, Georgie, for me?” Lisa’s eyes glittered as bright as the diamond inside the box. She slipped the ring on her finger. “Oh, it’s beautiful. Now we can get married. Let’s drive to Reno tomorrow! Can we, Georgie?” She touched his cheek and drew his face down for a kiss.

He jerked his head back. His cheeks warmed. “Knock it off, Lisa.” He scowled. “You know I hate it when you get all smoochie in public. For once, will you pretend you’re a lady?”

Her face crumpled. George put his hands on her shoulders. “Hey! I’m sorry. You know I love ya’, Baby. Give me a kiss. Aren’t you my fi-ance’ now?” Lisa wrapped her arms around his stout middle and tilted her head for a kiss. George’s lips barely grazed her forehead. He looked around to see if anyone was watching. The shoppers on the sidewalk scurried past without a glance.

“You call that a kiss?” Lisa waved her ring in front of George’s face. “We’re engaged, right? Well? What do you say? Are we going to Reno tomorrow, or not?”

“Listen, Baby. I got too much going on right now. I hadn’t exactly thought about getting married so soon. Can’t you be my fi-ance’ for a year or two–?

“A year or two? I don’t want to wait that long. Pretty soon, I’ll be too old to have babies, and–”

“Babies? What babies? First you’re talking marriage and now you’re talking babies? I didn’t plan on havin’ no…”

Lisa’s face paled. She pulled off the ring and shrieked, “Just as I thought. The only reason you bought me a ring was you figured it would keep me quiet. Well, it won’t work, George. I’m not waiting a year or two, or a month or two! We’re through!” Lisa pitched the ring into the street where it disappeared under two inches of snow. She whirled and ran down the street, waving. “Taxi!” Lisa jumped into a passing cab and before George had time to catch his breath, the cab turned the corner and disappeared.

George plunged into the street in search of the ring. As he dodged between cars, kicking at the snow, cursing, a cab driver called 911. “Better come quick. There’s going to be an accident. Some crazy man is running in front of cars in front of Macy’s Department Store.”
Within minutes, two policemen had George handcuffed and headed for the station, under arrest for disturbing the peace.

“But, you don’t understand,” George whined. “I wasn’t trying to cause a wreck. There’s a diamond ring out there under the snow!”

“Uh huh... It’s Christmas Eve,” the officer said. “Maybe Santa will tuck one in your stocking, tonight. In jail!”
****
Christmas morning, George was released after a thorough psychiatric consultation determined that he was no risk to himself or society.
In the next cell block, the pawn shop owner was being booked for selling stolen property, the result of an undercover sting operation….

Across town, Lisa sat red-eyed and sniffling, wondering if a George in the bush was better than no George at all...

Martha and Mark attended Christmas morning church services with Mark’s mother…

Outside of town, a flock of crows huddled in a tree near a hill where children swooshed through the snow in new, bright-re Christmas sleds. Roused by the children’s laughter, a crow rose up and swooped over the treetops, across the town square and landed on the warm metal roof of Macy’s Department Store.

As the sun melted the snow, the crow spotted something glittering in the street. He swooped down and picked up the bright object, flew over the park and past the church parking lot where Mark and Martha were walking with other parishioners after the service. Attracted by the crowd, the crow circled back. Now, his attention was caught by a shiny gum wrapper tossed out a car window.

The crow dropped the ring and dove for the silvery paper, picked it up and flew away. The ring plummeted down and landed at Mark’s feet. He leaned down. “What on earth?” Chill bumps raced up the back of his neck. “Why, it’s Mom’s engagement ring…! How on earth…?” Mark turned and looked up.

The sky was empty except for a crow, flying away with a shiny gum wrapper in its beak. “It’s like it fell from Heaven. It’s a miracle!” Mark slid the ring on Martha’s finger and pulled her into his arms.
****
Eighteen hours later, Anthony peered wearily from the window as the bus pulled into an Omaha bus terminal. Will they forgive me? Will they let me stay and go back to school? Maybe I could work in Dad’s store and earn my room and board.

An hour later, Anthony’s mother opened the front door and Anthony stepped into his living room. His dog rushed out, body squirming, tail a-wag. A Welcome Home banner stretched across the fireplace. A Christmas tree sparkled with lights. The aroma of turkey and stuffing wafted from the kitchen. Tears flooded Anthony’s eyes. “Mom. I–”

“Welcome home, son. Dinner will be ready as soon as your Dad gets home.”

7
Nov

Does God Love Cats?

This story was published in the Inspire Victory anthology, 2014. It is also a repeat blog post from February, 2015. I thought you would enjoy reading it again.

I love my cat, Truffie. She’s a gift of joy in my life. Every day, she makes me smile. She loves me unconditionally, even when I’m not wearing make-up or my hair is a mess. She loves me when I’m grumpy or had a bad day. She even loves me when I accidentally step on her tail.

I remember a day that Truffie stopped eating. She lost weight. We took her to the vet twice. Though we racked up $600 in medical bills, the vet’s diagnosis held no reassurance, “All the lab tests and x-rays are normal. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. Maybe we could−”

“No,” I said. “I can’t afford to spend any more money. Not if we don’t even know what’s wrong or how to fix it.”

Five days had passed since she became ill. If something didn’t change soon, there was no hope for her. I took her home. I forced eye droppers full or water down her throat every few hours. She still wouldn’t eat or drink on her own. She had a fever. None of the medicine the vet had prescribed seemed to help.

I began to wonder. Does God care that Truffie is sick?
Sure, we know He cares about our health and our finances and foreign affairs and protecting the troops fighting in far-away places. But does God really care if my cat is sick? Would He take time from His busy schedule of healing folks and finding work for the unemployed, and protecting our troops and trying to make the Washington swamp solve our problems, to heal a cat just because I asked? You see, I’ve prayed about all those things for a while now, but Truffie’s fever? Does He really care? Do I dare pray and expect God to heal her?

I asked my pastor, “Do you think God cares when our pets are sick? Would it help to pray for Truffie?” He told me that on a certain day, people bring their animals to the Catholic Church to be blessed, but he couldn’t think of a Bible verse that specifically says God heals pets, especially cats.

I searched the Bible in hopes I’d find something to prove God cared about the animals and would answer our prayers when they’re sick. Matthew reminds us…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. (Matthew 10:20 NIV) Sparrows... Cats... Not quite the same, but if He cares about birds, it stands to reason that He cares about cats too.

We’re all familiar with God’s blessings and promises. We know He gives us everything we need. Our home... Our loved ones... A job–well, most of us have a job, or we had one, before they downsized the company, and now some of us have unemployment. But not many of us are going hungry or sleeping in the streets, so even in our adversity, God supplies our needs. But that didn’t answer my question. Would it help if I ask Him to heal my cat?

I searched the scriptures for more about prayer and faith. Ask and it will be given to you. (Matthew 7:7 NIV). Was that the key? It went on to say that faith the size of the mustard seed could even move mountains. For truly I say to you. If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move and nothing will be impossible. (Matthew 17:20NIV) That sounded promising. And lastly…how much more will the Father in Heaven give good gifts to those (his children) who ask Him. (Matthew 7:11NIV)

Now, we were getting somewhere. The Bible teaches us that it’s a matter of having faith when we pray, not the specifics of what we pray about.

What did I have to lose? So I prayed for Truffie. “Lord, You know how much I love her. You know how much joy she gives me and You know how it would grieve me to lose her. I’m calling on Your promise, Ask and it will be given…. I place this little cat in Your loving hands, Lord, and ask You to heal her and raise her up again. I have faith that she will be healed because You’ve promised…”

Now, I’m not going to tell you that a bolt of lightning surrounded my head or that the Heavens opened and God’s voice rang out, “Truffie. Rise up and walk,” but the next day, Truffie started to eat. Her mood brightened! She purred! She was on her way. She would recover.

I know that God cares for our cats and dogs and rabbits and horses and all our pets. Not because there’s a specific verse in the Bible that says so, but because we love them and He loves us…enough to want our joy to be complete. He promises that if we ask and have faith, we can move mulberry trees into the sea, or move mountains from here to there, or maybe it’s all about teaching us to take all our cares to the Lord, no matter how big or small and knowing He will hear and answer.

Truffie was eight years old this spring and has never been sick another day in her life. Truffie is living proof. God answered my prayer, and yes, I’m convinced.

God loves cats.

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