A MATTER OF FAITH Kae at Farmer's Market

Kae Bender

Cat Story Logo.

© Copyright 1997 by Kae Bender

A piece of red yarn held the cat in check as the two little girls clambered out of the Toyota's backseat. They tumbled over each other and their own feet. Peggy called goodbye over her shoulder to her mother. She pulled a knit cap tight over her blonde curls to keep out the biting wind that had sprung up.

Melissa's wavy brown hair whipped about wildly in the wind. She tried to toss a wayward strand back over her shoulder with an impatient flick of her head. The action only further disturbed the gray and black tabby cat in her arms. The cat squirmed and tried to pull out of the girl's possessive grip. Melissa nuzzled her suddenly cold nose into the cat's neck. She crooned to the cat, "Do you want to stay outside, Samantha? It's getting awfully cold!"

"Come on! Put her down and let's go!" Peggy interrupted, tugging impatiently at her companion.

"Wait, Peggy! I've got to untie this yarn first!"

The long red string dangled from the cat's flea collar. Melissa tugged at it, but the knot held firmly. Finally, she bunched the cat in her arms, took the long piece of yarn in both hands, and pulled; the yarn tore apart raggedly, leaving a short stub firmly knotted to the flea collar. Only then did she set the cat on the ground.

Samantha raced frantically across the yard to the woodpile at the back of the lot. Giggling and talking, the girls hurried into the house and stomped up the cellar stairs. In the warm, steamy kitchen above, Melissa's mother heard the commotion.

"Melissa? Is that you? Mark called. They're going over to Jerry's later, so he wants to eat early. Bring up that six pack and put it in the freezer. Mark'll have a fit if it isn't cold!"

Mark and Melissa's mom had only been married a few months, and Sue was always trying hard. On the cellar stairs Melissa wrinkled her nose and grimaced at Peggy. Maybe she could keep Peggy over for dinner again as a buffer against the discomfort. She whispered in Peggy's cold-reddened ear.

Giggling, the girls burst through the doorway, sighing with relief as they entered the warm room. "It's cold out there!"

"I know; at least the beer won't be hot." Sue bent over the stove to check a steaming pot. Melissa mimed wiping her brow, then scowled as Peggy started to laugh. Without looking up, Sue went on, "It's supposed to get down to the teens by night. Where's Samantha?"


"Well, I guess she knows what she can take. At least she'll be in when she's ready to eat!"

Melissa turned from the refrigerator. "Can Peggy eat over? What's for dinner?"

Sue paused to turn down the stove. She was glad to see that at least one member of the family was making friends in this new environment. She laughed in relief, answering, "Spaghetti, and I don't see why not. You two are certainly inseparable lately!"

As both girls ran down the hallway to call Peggy's mom, Sue grabbed another place setting and rearranged the table. Fixing the salads, her thoughts drifted. She mused about how things had changed since her whirlwind marriage that past summer. Mark had certainly swept her off her feet and into another world. A lump formed at the back of her throat. Sue dismissed the unformed thought by swallowing purposefully and turning her thoughts to the cat. It was hard to believe that Samantha had only joined the family eight weeks before. She seemed as much a part of their routine as Mark -- and easier to accommodate.

It had happened just before Thanksgiving. Someone down the block was moving, and the confusion had disturbed the family's cat. Like any good mother, the cat had taken her babies away from the danger, and the four had ended up in the vacant lot behind Sue's house. The kittens had come nosing around the back porch to check things out.

Melissa had spotted them right away. "Oh! Look! Kittens!"

Sue remembered glancing out the window, wondering where these bits of fur could have come from. They had seemed so tiny; but when Melissa begged to be allowed to feed them, it became obvious that they were no longer nursing.

Cute and playful, the kittens drew lots of attention, but when anyone approached, they ran quickly back to the edge of the woods. The mother cat set the example, and none of her kittens would let anyone touch them.

It was the next afternoon before their owners were identified. Linda from next door came over. "Have you seen some kittens out here?" she asked Sue. "The Coreys' moving men scared off their cat and her kittens."

"Oh, so that's where they're from. We've been giving them a little milk. Melissa was afraid they might be starving."

"I thought I'd seen them back here. Anne asked me to put out some food over at our place, but that stray we feed must of scared them off. Let me give you some food for them."

Sue smiled, "Thanks. I didn't know what cats eat. Mark said they're carnivores, so we gave the mother a little leftover steak; but the kittens seemed too small." She took the plastic baggie of cat food. "When will the Coreys be by to pick them up?"

"Tomorrow, I guess," Linda had shrugged.

"Great," Sue had replied, calling after Linda, "Thanks for the cat food."

And Linda had gone home, leaving Sue to cope with her daughter's growing affection for kittens who would be leaving soon.

But tomorrow came and went with no Coreys. Soon the girls had named all the kittens: There was Patches, the calico; Shadow, the almost white, definitely not gray, but somehow sooty-looking male; and, of course, Samantha, the dark striped tabby. From the beginning, Samantha had been the friendliest and, Mark said, the smartest. Of course, maybe it was really just the most curious. At any rate, when Sue called them for dinner, Mama -- as the girls called the mother cat -- came, bringing her three kittens. But it was only Samantha who ventured near the people when the meal ended. And even she dashed away when they came too close.

A week went by with the girls and the whole family becoming familiar with the ways of cats. It was almost a disappointment when the Coreys finally came; and when no one could capture the elusive cats, the girls celebrated a reprieve.

Another week went by, with the cats living in the woods and eating on the back porch. The girls didn't let their chance slip by: Slowly, very slowly, they crept closer and closer to the kittens until two were caught and kept inside overnight. For the next week, the game continued, until Samantha seemed to allow herself to be caught with increasing regularity. She became affectionate and responsive, and by the time the Coreys again returned, she had captured the hearts of the entire family.

Sue chatted about the girls naming the kittens as they made one last attempt to find the calico. Mrs. Corey must have taken this as a sign of weakness and -- with only the shadowy male already spoken for -- sensed a likely sucker. She offered the cat -- for free. Sue would have gracefully declined, but Melissa and Peggy prevailed with imploring eyes.

"Ple-e-e-ease! We'll take care of her. We'll feed her and clean up after her and play with her. Can't we keep them?"

Even though she foresaw herself taking care of the animal once its newness wore off, Sue convinced herself it would be all right. After all, Mark didn't seem to mind the tabby.

"Oh, all right. We'll keep Samantha, and since we can't seem to find the calico, I guess we can take her for Peggy-- if your Mom will let you!" Sue had agreed to the ecstat= ic delight of her young petitioners.

And so they had become a cat household.

Over the weeks that followed, Sue's internal predictions came to pass:she fed the cat; she cleaned up after the cat; she tended the cat and looked after her. And insidiously, she began to grow fond of the cat.

Likewise, Samantha learned where her bread was buttered. She wound around Sue's feet when Sue walked; she purred when Sue approached; and she jumped onto Sue's lap and gently kneaded her chest with soft paws when things were quiet at the end of the day.

In the weeks that followed, life returned to normal. After the first unnerving days of having a cat, things settled back into routine. Only now the routine was slightly altered: Instead of the alarm waking Mark for his day at work, Samantha meowed loudly from the cellar stairs.

Instead of scraping plates into the disposal after dinner, Samantha's dinner plate was filled. Instead of skipping the pet food aisle at the grocery store, Sue clipped kitty litter coupons and added cat chow to her shopping list.

The girls came in from school and played with the cat. They picked up library books on everything you need to know about cats and training your cat. They put the cat out and let the cat in. And pretty soon it seemed like there had always been a cat.

So after their spaghetti dinner, like any other night, the dinner scraps went into Samantha's dish. But this time, unlike other nights, the dish went untouched. Samantha didn't push open the doggy door and climb the cellar steps. She didn't fling herself at the back screen and scratch up a ruckus that got the door opened. She didn't meow loudly and wake up the family.She didn't come home.

In the morning, Melissa worried about the cat. "It's so cold. Where would she sleep?"

"Don't worry about her, Honey," Sue soothed immediately. "Cats have their own built in fur coats, and nature takes care of them in the cold. Remember when she was a baby? Her mother taught her how to live in the woods. She'll be back soon for her breakfast." Reassured, Melissa went off to school, and Sue went about her daily chores.

Since she and Mark married, Sue hadn't worked-- not so much by choice as the job market in the small town where they had moved. It irked her to be unable to find a job when a career had been so much a part of her life for so many years, but Mark approved. Wholeheartedly. To please him, Sue had let her applications dwindle, though her ambition continued to tug at the edges of her conscious; and, even though unemployed, Sue would tell her friends when they infrequently called, she was never out ofwork! So Samantha was not an item of continual concern during that first busy day. In fact, it wasn't until Melissa returned from school that Sue realized that Samantha still hadn't come home. Even as doubt and worry began to invade Sue's mind, she calmed her daughter, promising that Samantha would be back shortly and in fine shape.

"Perhaps someone saw her out last night and worried that she was cold, so they took her in," Sue reasoned. "And they just haven't put her back out again yet," Melissa nodded, satisfied. Her concern evaporated; and off she went, content in her trusting faith.

Sue, on the other hand, sat with the mending on her lap and Samantha on her mind. She worried. What if Samantha were injured? What if the meat she had the other night had gone bad before Samantha got around to eating it and she was lying somewhere with food poisoning? What if some sadistic boys had found her? What if she were stuck up a tree and waiting to be talked down, as had happened before? There were so many things that could be wrong. If only she knew. She just hoped that Samantha was okay.

Mark arrived home for dinner just at twilight. Instead of coming in quietly through the cellar, he raced up the back steps, a beer already in his hand, and pulled open the kitchen door.

"Sue! Come'ere quick!"

She ran to the door, drying her hands on a dish towel. Fear clutched her stomach and clouded her face. Her mind raced, frantic that Mark had stopped again for one too many with the guys and now the police were on his trail. She hurried out onto the back patio, glancing furtively up the driveway.

"What is it?" She pushed her hair back from her eyes with the back of one hand to follow his pointing finger. Up in the branches of a very tall oak tree in the woods that backed their lot was a huge bird. Annoyance mingled with the relief that flowed through her veins. She had seen the bird once before, from the breakfast table as she sipped her morning tea, sitting in unemployed tedium, trying to stretch the grocery budget to accommodate Mark's taste for jumbo shrimp and fresh-squeezed orange juice. That morning, she had first thought that it was an owl. Then, later, she thought maybe it was a hawk. Now, it was merely relief: It wasn't the problem she feared and it wasn't a dead cat.

Automatically, she fixed Mark a drink and told him about the missing cat. He shrugged and downed a long swallow. His reaction was not what she expected. A smile dawned in his eyes, "D'you know what hawks and owls eat?"


"And little cats."

"Oh, Mark. I won't think that." Sue's eyes darted around the kitchen, looking for something to distract her. She busied her hands stirring the macaroni.

Mark changed the subject abruptly, "Where's Melissa?"

Sue shook her head. "She and Peggy are out circling the block looking for the cat...But they should be back any minute!" she added hastily, remembering that when they weren't eating right away, Mark expected Melissa to be there to entertain him. He had developed a habit of teasing Melissa and tickling her and laughingat her discomfort. Hearing their laughter from the kitchen, Sue had thought at first that it was genuine affection; and Melissa, after so many fatherless years, had loved the attention. But lately, Sue noticed a reluctance on her daughter's part and a growing propensity to invite Peggy to stay for dinner. On those days at least the episodes were skipped or the humiliation shared. And Sue now realized, even with the cold, the two girls were spending most of their time outdoors.

When Melissa and Peggy came in just in time for dinner, they had no news to report on the cat. With barely washed hands, they sat down to plates piled high with macaroni and cheese, chatting animatedly about their adventures. They had been all around the block, but no one had seen Samantha. They had even mapped out a plan to continue the search the next day around the surrounding blocks.

"We told them our address but not our names," Melissa assured her mother proudly.

Sue was shocked. Such training they got in school these days! "They're your neighbors! I don't think it would hurt to tell them. After all, they live just houses away!"

The girls squirmed uncomfortably. Melissa had been raised in the city. Her mother would have been proud -- then -- that she had remembered her lessons so well. "Well, they know where to come if they find her anyway!

The dinner conversation palled for a moment, but soon thoughts of the discomfort and of Samantha were forgotten. Life went on.

It was pitch black in the bedroom when Sue awoke. She turned and squinted at the illuminated dial of the digital clock. 4:54. Did such a time really exist? She rolled over and tried to return to the deep sleep from which she had been dragged, but thoughts of Samantha assailed her mind. At least she wasn't dwelling on Mark so much.

As the days went by, her list of what ifs had grown. None of them offered much comfort. She lay quietly on her own side of the wide waterbed, alternating worries. She wondered when she had stopped finding comfort in Mark's arms, when she had stopped reaching out across the expanse of tightly stretched sheet to nestle against him -- and why he never did either. She hated this bed with its heated, undulating depths that never left her feeling warm or loved. Sue felt tears forming for all that was missing in her life. She told herself that she was crying because Samantha was still lost.

The sky outside the curtains grayed to a wintry dawn. Mark came awake, chatting beside her. Seven o'clock already? She sluggishly crawled from between the covers. It never ceased to amaze Sue that Mark could wake so buoyantly, seemingly unaffected by the alcohol he consumed every night.

She never functioned well in the early morning, whether she drank or not. Even when she had to get up and off to work, her staff had always left her alone to wake up with her morning tea. She put her hand to her head and winced at the noise.

"You know," Mark said in his pert morning banter, "I never thought I'd miss that silly cat waking me up every morning, but I do. Dumb thing, going out and getting herself killed like that."

"Oh, Mark. Don't say that. You have to have faith! I've been up for hours worrying about her."

Sue took two aspirins.

Sue got the family breakfasted and off to their daily activities. With a load of laundry in the washer, she geared up in hiking boots and parka to brave the wind chill for another walk through the woods in search of the cat.

She wasn't sure what she was looking for or what she hoped -- or feared -- she would find, but she scanned the ground and called plaintively. "Samantha!"

There was no sign of the cat. No footprints in the frost. No bits of fur or trail of blood. No body. No response from the quiet forest except the tiny scuffing sound of birds.

Sue commuted between the laundry room and the woods all morning, but again to no avail. She peered into the woodpile. She walked along the property line. She traipsed through the undergrowth, dead in the winter cold. She called and looked and searched until her feet were numb and her teeth chattered endlessly.

From the warmth of the kitchen, she continued her search with her eyes and her mind. But in her heart, Sue knew it was over. She reached for the phone book and dialed the Humane Society, the Rabies Unit, the Sanitation Department. No stray cats had been reported in her neighborhood. No dead ones had been picked up either. No news. Now it was just a matter of time.

She stared outside aimlessly, at a loss what to do next. The house work didn't tempt her away from the ordeal. In desperation, she pulled the want ads section from the heap of morning paper scattered on the table in front of her. It had been weeks -- maybe months -- since she had scanned the columns.

She was tired of waiting. Waiting for Mark's income to improve. Waiting for financial security. Maybe it was time for her to take the initiative. At least checking out the ads felt like progress.

There was nothing ideal, but Sue circled three items anyway and set up her typewriter facing the kitchen window. She typed distractedly, leaping up at intervals to explore still another false lead. She even checked the tube leading from the drainpipe, remembering that Samantha and Patches had once played in it when they were kittens. No stuck cat. No cat. Nothing.

By dinnertime, the letters were mailed, but her last threads of hope for the cat were fraying. Another dinner that Samantha had missed. More than two weeks. Too long.

Mark popped open another beer can; "Face it, she's been here every night for dinner since she was a baby. She just isn't coming back."

Mentally, Sue agreed. She was almost ready to concede defeat. "I suppose you're right." But even as her rational mind was giving up, her inner self clung to the desire to hope. She scraped the dinner dishes into the trash, a sigh of resignation pulling her shoulders down.

Her next morning settled into its boring routine: Sue sat at her desk, trying to pay enough bills without overdrawing her checkbook. It hadn't been hard at first, when Mark was still bringing home the money he had promised. But soon after the wedding, things started to go wrong. First, he said, the interest rates were up; then he talked about the end of the year slump.

Sue wondered if other salesmen had as much bad luck finding qualified buyers. Commission sales just weren't all they were cracked up to be. Sue would have preferred a smaller but steadier income. The wild fluctuations from month to month and the seasonality of it all were a constant struggle. She had always been used to a steady salary and felt naked without a bank balance.

For a time, thoughts about money preoccupied her; but after a while, her mind strayed back to the cat. She found herself wishing there was someone she could confide in, someone to talk it all over with; but since they had moved in, she had barely managed to meet the neighbors, let alone make friends of them. Housewives were an alien breed, and she was lost in a small town. She felt isolated and alone, without even a cat to comfort her. She sighed.

Her memory took her back to another time when all had seemed hopeless. Her mother had been a girl scout leader. She had planned a special outing for her troop, an overnight trip to Philadelphia for the Fourth of July. The plans were made, the reservations in, the money raised, the permission slips signed. But suddenly, the money was missing. $286 collected from a sale of handcrafted afghans the girls had made, gone.

They had searched everywhere: the bags, the books, the car, the room where the troop met, the route from there to home -- everywhere. The money was lost. There was no hope of replacing it. The trip would have to be cancelled.

But just before they were ready to call the girls, the troop's co-leader, Marjorie Bainbridge, had slapped her forehead, "Of course! Don't call yet! We can try Saint Anthony!"

Sue remembered her mother's look of confusion. They weren't a religious family, and saints were the farthest thing from her mind at a time of trouble. Words had tumbled out of Mrs. Bainbridge's mouth about times when Saint Anthony helped people, rescued the situation, found things for people. The stories about people her mother knew were almost persuasive.

When Sue's skeptic mother had still looked unconvinced, Mrs. Bainbridge had gone on, "You just promise him money if he helps you find what you've lost. It won't cost us a thing if the money doesn't turn up." And somehow her mother had agreed to try it. After all, what had they to lose? They promised the Saint a reward to help them find the lost money, to let them take the girls on their long-planned trip, to save the day.

And sure enough, half an hour later, there it was. An envelope full of ones and tens and change. Stuck in the side pocket of her mother's purse, right where they had looked at least seven times before.

Saint Anthony. Sue considered the thought. She could give him a try. But that was silly. She didn't even believe in God. How could she believe in something as silly as a patron saint of lost things? Still, what did she have to lose? Sometimes it helped to believe even if it was silly. Maybe he found cats as well as money.

A fickle ray of hope flickered in her heart. But then her blooming hope faded as she recalled the other time she had tried Saint Anthony.

She was newly separated then, with the baby not quite three. Living in a ground floor flat in the city, scrimping and saving, adjusting. They were doing all right, just the two of them. That night, she had come in from work, tired as usual. Melissa had been restless after a hectic day at the preschool, but as Sue prepared dinner in the kitchen, the apartment had grown peaceful and quiet. How it escaped Sue's notice, she was never sure; but when dinner was ready, she called Melissa--and got no response.

Sue went into the bedroom to find her daughter. Instead, she was met with an absolute disaster area: jewelry boxes open on the bureau, their contents scattered about and Melissa, standing in the midst of the mess, fingering the chains and bracelets on her wrist in absorbed abstraction.

"Oh, Melissa!" Sue had shouted in exasperation. Melissa had jumped in startled surprise, not quite falling from her perchon the chair she must have laboriously dragged up to the chest. Discarded jewelry lay about everywhere -- on the dresser top, in the drawers, on the floor. Rings and pins and earrings. Sue took pity on her little daughter and went over to rescue her from the chaotic disarray. Gently, she told Melissa, "These are Mommie's. We need toput them away now."

Obediently, Melissa helped. Soon all the rings and things were collected and sorted and stored back where they belonged -- everything but Sue's diamond engagement ring. Sue had searched over the drawers and floor again and again. She moved the chest and turned back the rug. She shook out Melissa's dress and undershirt. She got down on her hands and knees and peered under the baseboard. Finally, she said to Melissa, "Did you see a ring like this?" -- and showed her daughter one with an oval-shaped stone -- "only with a white stone in it?"

Melissa nodded her head gravely.

"Do you know what happened to it?"

Again Melissa nodded.

"Can you tell Mommie?"

Melissa nodded. "I had it and I put it on my = finger."

"Where is it now?"

"I dropped it."

Patiently, "Where?"

Melissa, who was still standing on the chair in front of the chest, pointed down.

"Right here?"

Melissa nodded again.

"Did you see where it went then?"

Melissa nodded.


"A monster came and took it."

Wonderful. Sue sank down on her bed and buried her face in her hands.It hadn't been a great marriage, but the ring had been nice.

So she had tried Saint Anthony, offering him money,promising more than she could really spare. Again and again she had tried. But nothing had ever happened. They never found the ring. When they were packing to move one time, she had found a rhinestone in one of the packing cartons, and she had wondered in passing if that was Saint Anthony's idea of a joke. But she couldn't really believe in him.

Now, here she was, half a dozen years later, with nothing to believe in and no hope left for her cat. With her luck, if there was a saint, he would just dangle a substitute in front of her -- like maybe a picture of a scrawny tabby in the Humane Society weekly ad. Still, she had nothing to lose.

After all, she had tried everything she could think of to do on her own. Sue stared into the fire and turned the search over to the saint, mentally promising Saint Anthony money if he would find her cat -- in good health. She paused. But did he do animals? Maybe, she added, he could get -- who was it that did animals? She wracked her brains -- Saint Francis, was it? Anyway, she promised her saints money; she even explained how she'd send the money to church with Peggy's mom, who was Catholic. And she reminded them that she couldn't believe if there was never any reason to hope.

She peered out into the darkened yard. Nothing moved. She woke up early and listened. No cat called from the cellar. She scanned the roadside as she drove along. No animals scurried in the underbrush. She gave up the search. Her saints had failed her.

The next day, she shopped, avoiding the pet food aisle. At home, she put away the cat toys that still littered the family room. She took apart the scratching post and packed the catnip away in a box. She washed the cat's dishes and put them away. She took the order form for the name tag and the application for a Friends of Animals spaying certificate and filed them in her desk. She packed up the bags of cat food for the Humane Society but decided to wait until after dinner to throw out the cat food containers she kept accumulating in the freezer.

The school bus dropped Melissa at the corner. Sue went to meet her at the door, "Keep your coat on. We have to get these books back to the library, and then we can swing by the Humane Society to drop off..."

Sue was distressed by the look of sadness that overwhelmed Melissa's little face and slumped her whole young body into an attitude of defeat. It filled Sue with compassion to see her daughter feeling as hopeless and depressed as she did herself. She wanted desperately to fix it all for her.To undo all the wrongs she had committed in running -- ruining? -- their lives. Sue burned with the sad acknowledgement that there were things she just could not control. Things that she, on her own, could never make right. She thought about the loss of the cat and hated to admit defeat. She realized that she had been refusing to admit defeat about a lot of things lately. Things that maybe she could do something about -- things she could change. In that instant, Sue resolved to do everything in her power to rectify the mess she had made and to make up to Melissa for the pain her mistakes had caused. She hugged her grieving daughter in understanding, a silent promise of love rebinding them into the team that they had always been before. "I can't do it all by myself," Sue heard herself say, "But things will be all right."

Melissa's eyes hid tears, and she nodded in despairing hope.

They dawdled at the library, slowly looking over the stacks. Melissa finally picked out a book about a valentine cat. At last, they could delay no longer; they drove on slowly, neither commenting on the glorious flaming sunset.

As Sue pulled open the door to the Humane Society shelter, a small sign in the window caught her eye. "Business Manager needed. Information within." Hope again tugged at her heart. Maybe things worked out for the best after all. Even without the cat, all was not lost.

The receptionist greeted them warmly, with a smiling, "What can we do for you today?"

Sue felt the hope prickle along her spine. "Well, two things really. First, our cat has disappeared. It's been several weeks, and I just don't think she'll be back." Sue felt Melissa stiffen and slip away toward the kennels. Blindly, Sue thrust the bags of cat food onto the counter,"We thought you might be able to use this."

The receptionist thanked her profusely, and Sue smiled awkwardly, trying surreptitiously to wipe her brimming eyes. "Um, also, I saw the sign in your window?" Sue trailed off at the blank look from the woman behind the counter. Feeling suddenly unsure of herself, she went on, "I've been a manager -- before. When I lived in the city. And I was, well, just wondering about the job?"

"Oh, of course," understanding dawned in the other woman's face, "the help wanted sign. That's not for us. It's from the Society. Not just this shelter. We have five other locations around the county -- plus the administrative office downtown. Let me get you the sheet the headquarters people left about it. You can call them for more..."

A shriek interrupted them. Sue raced toward the kennel, sure a mad dog was ravaging her baby through some flimsy wire fencing.

"Mommie! Mommie! Quick!"

Melissa's urgent cries echoed through the empty dog room where Sue instinctively sped, searching for her child. All thoughts of jobs and lost cats were abandoned. Fear and panic battered at her heart as Sue skidded into the cat room, letting the voice lead her. She stopped short, collapsing against the heap of her daughter's frail body.

No vicious beast was tearing Melissa limb from limb. No rabid teeth marks punctured her exposed skin. No fear or panic at all -- only her joyous daughter, pressed against the wire cage, nuzzling a gray and black tabby cat: a tabby that stretched its paw through the wires, touching the girl's coat, her arm, her face, anything that came close enough to reach -- a tabby with a bit of red yarn dangling from its flea collar.

Moments behind Sue, the receptionist came, fearful of the scene that had caused such heart-rending cries. Hand to heaving chest, she paused in the doorway, arrested by the tableau of mother and child -- and cat. The little girl sprawled across the floor, fingers entwined in the cage wires, whispering welcoming noises to the obviously responsive tabby cat; the mother knelt, hugging her child, with tears of joy sparkling in her eyes.

"Oh! You found your cat!" the receptionist beamed. It didn't happen often enough. "You're really lucky, you know. We got that cat in not five minutes before you arrived."

All the way home, Melissa crooned to the cat, checking the black tip of her tail and the leopard spotted belly and the little bit of red yarn still knotted to the flea collar. Sue smiled and went straight to the kitchen to fix a bowl of milk and a dish of leftovers. But first, she stopped at her desk and tucked away the shelter's job announcement.

Tomorrow, she thought: There's hope for tomorrow. Then she found an envelope and slipped in all her cash, sealin= g it tightly. Across the front, she wrote with a flourish: "Saint Anthony."

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