CHAPTER ONE: “We Need a Kitten"
I was clipping my way around the side of the church, nearing the cornerstone with “1942” etched into it, when I saw the white box. I could have sworn it had not been there an hour before, when I had first arrived on the premises and gathered my weeding tools from the shed in the rear parking lot. I was using a pair of old, hand-held clippers; they reminded me of the ones my mother always used when she trimmed the flower beds outside our house. Frankly, there was an electric clipper with the appropriate power cord in the shed. It was the one that most of the lawn volunteers used because it made the chore of trimming easier. But I had not been after fast and easy today. I needed hard, physical work that would let me expel some of my pent-up frustrations. The old yellow shears were doing their work and blisters were forming on my right hand.
I stood for a moment to ease the crick that had developed in my back. Now that I had reached the golden age of forty, aches and pains were beginning to develop in various parts of my body. I feared that rheumatoid arthritis, an inheritance from my mother, would be my fate and I was ready to fight it tooth and nail, the way I fought against most things that had, in the last ten years, brought chaos to my neat and controlled world. I was rolling my shoulders and eyeing up the stretch of flower beds before me when I spotted the white box, sitting squarely on the front steps of the building. It reminded me of school box lunches and, from where I stood, did not appear to have any kind of label or writing.
Curious. But not enough to make me leave off my chore; I’d get to the box when I reached the end of the flower bed. I knelt back on the old bathroom rug I was using to protect my knees from the ground and hefted the clippers. Most of the lawn care volunteers for our expansive church grounds were men. I was happy to let them operate the tractors and the mowers, careening over the fields like boys on summer break, but I liked to week. It kicked up my allergies and embedded dirt under my nails, but I liked seeing the brightly colored blooms in their neat and tidy beds on my way to work each day. I imagined that visitors and passers-by might see the flowers as a symbol of welcome and come join our ever-dwindling congregation.
Plus, being on my knees gave me the added advantage of time to pray.
I was being pretty successful at ignoring the curious box when I heard a sound. Slight, soft. I looked up and towards the box and saw it jump. Not a huge, gravity-defying leap, just a small, short little hop, like the Mexican jumping beans I remembered my brother having when we were kids. There were little, tiny animals in the beans, Marcus had told me. They lived in the beans for their entire short and jumpy lives. It was an early disillusion in my big brother to find out that the beans actually held the larvae of a small moth who jumped to try and release itself.
I hadn't seen any jumping beans lately, at least not the Mexican kind. Probably, I thought, some humanitarian group that protects moths had them outlawed. If only we gave as much thought to humans.
Back to the box. As I stood and watched, it moved again. Just a little. More a shake than a jump, I realized. And then, a faint, faint sound—like drying—was emitted from the box.
My mother senses kicked in. While it had never happened around here, infants had been left on the steps of churches; churches were regarded as safe havens for the drop-off of unharmed but unwanted infants. It would have to be a very small baby to be tucked into such a small box, I thought, but possible. I dropped the clippers to the bath mat, straightened from my crouch, and hurried towards the box. Motherhood is as much instinct as biology; I began to offer soothing words to the jumping and crying box as I neared it.
“Shhh. It’s okay. Everything’s okay. I’m coming, sweetie.” My own child was far past the days when he required soothing platitudes—okay, maybe no one was ever really past that stage—but the words came naturally.
The box had been left right at the front door, on the top step. It jumped a few more times as I approached it and I feared it might drop off the step. I hurried a bit, continuing my litany of comfort. The box stopped moving and crying and I felt my own heart skip a beat. A torrent of thoughts ran through my mind, most in the form of bold headlines: Baby Found on Local Church Steps; Dead Baby Found on Local Church Steps; Officials Looking into Death of Baby Found on Church Steps. I reached the box in a nanosecond—as Jeffy would say—and opened the lid, a difficult feat since I was still wearing gardening gloves.
And there, nestled inside on a pink blanket, its little nose equally pink and its little mouth opened in protest at such shabby treatment, was a gray kitten. There was a plastic pink collar around her neck and fastened to it—unbelievably—was a note. The kitten mewled when she saw me and reached out a gray paw, touching my gloved hand. I pulled the note from her collar, peeled off my gloves, and unfolded the square of notebook paper.
Please take care of this kitten, the note said. You need her.
Using both hands, I picked up the mewling bundle. She snuggled into my arms and began purring. I stroked her kitten-soft fur and thought it through. The whole situation seemed to be both ludicrous and miraculous. Bringing the kitten to my cheek, I felt the corners of my mouth turn up into a smile. Her purring became louder. I felt like purring myself.
I had no idea where the box, the kitten, and the note had come from, but I did know that the unnamed writer was right:
We did need a kitten.