‘Rescue Kitten’, a short story
by Bernard Brandt
“…A little cat ghost, padding patiently around in limbo, trying to find that familiar, friendly lap…”
–Story idea given by Robert A. Heinlein to Theodore Sturgeon in a letter dated 11 Feb ’55
“More precisely, the person who performs a mitzvah, who prays or directs his mind toward the Divine, in so doing creates an angel, which is a sort of reaching out on the part of man to the higher worlds. Such an angel, however, connected in its essence to the man who created it, still lives, on the whole, in a different dimension of being, namely in the world of formation. And it is in this world of formation that the mitzvah acquires substance. This is the process by which the specific message or offering to God that is intrinsic to the mitzvah rises upward and introduces changes in the system of the higher worlds–foremost in the world of formation. From here, in turn, they influence the worlds above them. So we see that a supreme act is performed when what is done below becomes detached from particular physical place, time, and person and becomes an angel.”
–The Thirteen Petaled Rose, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
–In memory of Theodore Sturgeon.
A Short Story by
The kitten walked through the door, and then turned to sniff at the closed door that it had passed through. It was a very small creature, perhaps a few weeks old by its size, though it had remained at that size for ages. It was a gray, tiger striped tabby, a wisp of a thing, that could barely be seen at all, except perhaps in the full light of a noon sun.
The kitten walked from the closed door to the hospital bed in the middle of the room. In the bed was the still form of an old man. The kitten could see and hear the old man breathe, so it made a short leap from the floor to the mattress of the bed, and soon pushed its way under one of the hands of the old man, which lay motionless at his side. The kitten rubbed its head against the palm of the old man’s hand, and began purring. Soon, as though by reflex, the old man’s hand began to move, in a weak and feeble attempt to pet the purring kitten.
After a while, the door opened, and a nurse came into the room. She looked at the old man in the bed. She could not see the kitten, which had stopped purring and was still and quiet in its surprise, but she could see the ineffectual motions of the old man’s hand. She paused for a while, then shook her head, and left the room, closing the door behind her.
There were two words written on the door through which both the kitten and the nurse had passed. Those two words, of which the kitten would never know the meaning, read: ‘TERMINAL WARD’.
* * *
The kitten woke, and found itself both alone in the room, and on the floor. The bed and the old man in it had gone. The kitten yawned, stretched, and went off in search of another friendly hand or lap in which to lie and be petted.
It soon found one, in another room. This time, it was an old woman in another hospital bed. The kitten jumped, and soon found itself on top of the belly of the woman. Though her eyes were closed, her hands reached toward the kitten, and they began gently to stroke the kitten. The kitten closed its eyes with pleasure, and both preened and purred as the old woman gently petted it. This went on, though the motions of the woman’s hands slowly became more and more feeble.
And then, it happened again. Suddenly, a great light began to form inside the old woman. Without knowing why, the kitten hissed in fear, arched its back, and leaped from her to the floor below. As it looked up, it saw that the light grew, enveloping the woman in its golden glory, and then ascended above her body, passing through the ceiling of the room, and leading far beyond upward.
And the kitten was overwhelmed by a flood of images from its past. The little girl in the hospital bed with her poor, bald head. The boy with his limbs in pulleys, and encased in plaster. And the numberless men, women and children that the kitten had been with, until the light had taken them from it. And then it saw The First One.
The kitten was in the middle of this image now. The image was of a small girl child in the back seat of a car, with a grey tiger-striped kitten in its lap. The hum of the car’s engine and the motion of the car were like that of a mother rocking her child in a gentle lullaby.
And then, with a crash, everything changed. Things tumbled, horribly. And, when they had stopped tumbling, what had been the roof of the car was now its floor. The kitten and The One both lay upon it. The kitten could see The One whispering words, with her eyes tightly shut, but it could never know what those words were. The One continued to whisper them over and over again, though with each repetition, they grew weaker and weaker.
The kitten tried to move, but something was keeping it from moving. It watched though, as it saw for the first time that light, enveloping The One. The kitten tried all the harder to move, and at last, it pulled away from what was keeping it from moving. But by that time, the light around The One had faded, and the kitten was alone. It then sniffed at the small, bloodied rag-doll, that had once been a kitten. And it sniffed at the larger, twisted, crumpled mannequin, which had once been a little girl. And it sat there, waiting, waiting, waiting, for The One to come back and to pick it up again.
* * *
The kitten emerged from this flood of images like a creature that had been nearly drowned by great waves. And it hurt. It did not know why it hurt. It only knew that it did. And so it cried out, and cried until it had cried itself to sleep.
* * *
The kitten awoke again, and found itself no longer in the hospital, but out in the open air of a cold sea shore in noon sun light. This did not surprise the kitten. Things like that had happened all too often in its long existence. The kitten shook itself the rest of the way awake, and then padded off in search of someone to be with.
It soon found that someone. He was an old, lean man who sat very still at a stone bench, facing the sea. The old man had his eyes open, but it did not seem that he was looking at anything, except perhaps for the white waves of the slate gray sea, as the waves broke against the shore. It was as though the man, having denied the eternal energies during his life, now could not dare to look at them above him, but could only gaze out to see them in the play of the waves upon the shore.
The kitten walked up to the old man, and miaoed, but as usual, there was no response. With a brief leap, it clambered up onto the lap of the seated man. The old man took no note of it. The kitten looked, briefly saw that it could see the stone bench through the faint, grey form of the old man, and then crawled under the hands of the man which were folded upon the man’s lap. There it remained for a very long time.
After that time, the kitten felt the hands of the man begin to pet it. The kitten purred, and remained purring for another very long time. Then suddenly, the man stood up, still holding the kitten in his cupped hands. The thin face of the man, with its wispy gray beard, began to smile down upon the kitten as it looked up at him. A great light began to form around both the man and the kitten, but for the first time ever, the kitten found itself inside that light. And since it was being held, the kitten was not afraid of that light.
Then the man spoke, and though the kitten could not know the man’s words, it was one with the joy and the love of those words, as the man said:
“Thank you, small one, for waking me. Now, let’s get you Home.”