The Cat in the Cradle

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Ida knew that God had put her on this blessed earth to care for the children who would one day inherit the World which He almighty had created with His own sacred word — but couldn’t the Lord show some mercy on a blind, old, woman in retirement. Martha had told her, insisted in fact, that she not worry about looking after her grandchildren while she went out to the produce market, but Ida knew His signs when she saw them and even if she didn’t, it was clear to even a blind gal like her that those kids’ grandpoppy wasn’t going to be moving his behind off the sofa any time soon.

Arriving at the house Ida could hear the little ones in the backyard making “BANG” sounds as they were most likely pretending to shoot at each other with them new Nerf guns their grandmamma bought for them. Ida walked there to see a boy ’bout eight years old flinging these small orange cylinders from his toy at who Ida could tell was clearly his younger brother.





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“Bang! Bang!” six-year-old Eugene said, fully dressed in his cowboy costume. “You’re dead. Now you have to stay down.”

“No fair!” Jimmy cried. “I shot you first.”

“Nah, uh. You hit my shewiff star and a cowboy’s shewiff star is indestwuctable.”

Unbelievable. Their wooden guns didn’t even have any bullets. Being at her first babysitting job, Ida really didn’t know how to deal with little children. Especially ones like these. Her parents kept her a well kept girl who went to church every Sunday, and she didn’t understand how these dirt-covered boys could get any joy out of making loud noises pointing wooden rectangles with handles at each other while rolling in the mud. She still had two hours left until Mrs. Katowski got back from her visit to see the double feature at the new cinema, and she knew she wasn’t going to be able to take this tomboyish nonsense for much longer. It seemed clear at the time that the best solution was to take their toys away “until you learn to behave,” though that just got them in more of a ruckus.

“No fair!” Eugene said, followed by Jimmy echoing him. Then Eugene dug his already grubby hands into the mud, cradled the loose watery-dirt in his hands, and tossed it onto the brand new blouse her mother had knit for her. “Come on, Captain Cat!” He yelled running away on his pretend steed. Ida was too angry to care about her dress getting anymore dirt on it (or the fact that this boy was so uneducated he thought cowboys rode felines). She ran after him, but she slipped in the mud. She tried to brace herself upon falling but she wasn’t able to because of the wooden blocks in her hand. The boy ran in circles around her pointing. Then the most obvious thing occurred to her. “Bang. Bang.” Eugene just looked confused and she realized how timidly she must have been saying it. She decided to continue on though. “Excuse me cowboy, sir. I think you just got shot.”

The boy fell for the bait. “Those shots didn’t even hit me. You’re lame.”

“Oh yeah,” Ida said back. “Those were magic bullets so they can’t miss.”

The boy laughed. She was getting the hang of this.
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“Put those devil-tools down and get inside your grandmamma’s house before I smack you all with my cane!” The kids hurried inside unable to be sure with her if it was an empty threat. Ida had no patience for small children. The only interest she had in them was to educate them.

“Now,” she said once inside of the house, “I’m going to teach you all to read good using the most important book there is in life and beyond.”

“Not another bible story Miss Holsag,” the younger one pleaded. “You made us read three yesterday.”

“And did you learn why Jesus won’t grant his help to those who don’t learn to share?”
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“But I didn’t get to hit any of the targets yet,” Eugene complained Ida couldn’t believe how hard of a time the catholic-school teacher volunteering at the fair was giving him. They spent all this time waiting on line in the hot sun for the dart-throwing game, and when he misses all of targets she can’t even give a seven year old another chance? Ida remembered how excited he was when his mom gave him permission to spend the day at the fair with Ida.

“Can’t you let him try just one more time?” Ida asked.

“One try per customer on line,” she said.

“Well I’ve been waiting on line for nearly a half an hour, so how about you let me have a turn?” Ida said.

The teacher grudgingly handed Ida the darts. Ida threw a dart not at the target-board but at a hot dog stand, causing the mustard to splash heavily on the adjacent bibles, which people were “encouraged to take if there is not already one in your home.” The teacher (along with nearly every other volunteer there) moved faster than the darts thrown at her station towards the spill. Ida used this opportunity to give the darts to Eugene who threw them immediately, this time hitting all the targets. When the teacher returned, she saw that all the targets were hit and after giving Ida a five-minute lecture on the wickedness behind desecrating the holy scripture and how she was too old to be playing a silly game like this anyhow as Ida pretended to listen (she was too distracted by the smile on Eugene’s face), she let her pick out a large stuffed animal from the top shelf.

“The cat! The cat!” Eugene shouted.

“Actually it’s a tiger,” the teacher corrected. “Did you know that on Noah’s ark…”

“If we take a bible then can we have the cat and go?” Ida had said this. The teacher handed her the toy along with a bible, her mouth a grimace that wrinkled her whole face, and then turned to the next customer.

Eugene led Ida to a face painting station. When the teenage girl there asked what he wanted to be made into, he lifted up his tiger above his head. He let the girl smear orange and black paint across his pale face while Ida sat on a nearby bench and put the bible she had down next to her. She doubted she would ever read it and decided she would probably leave it there.

Once Eugene’s face was completely saturated with paint, he put his fingers into the paint bottles (so he could have claws, as he explained to Ida on the drive home) and leaped to where Ida was, getting paint from his hands on the bible.

The catholic school teacher, who must have still been eyeballing them, let out an “Eek!” as Eugene dashed away.

“You can’t catch me,” he taunted. “I’m The Cat!”
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“I changed my mind. That’s the most boring story you ever told us from the bible.”

“You children don’t know nothing,” Ida scolded. “You think you can just goof off and have fun. Well, THIS IS IMPORTANT! If you can’t bring yourself to study God’s holy word, then He’ll take your life away from you just as surely as he gave it to you. I’ve seen enough tragedy in my lifetime and I don’t want to be seeing any more.”

The children were quiet, and Ida could tell she scared them. She sometimes forgets to restrain herself.

“What’s going on in here?” It was the kids’ grandfather. “Ida what are you doing here, and where’s Martha?”

“She went out while you were sleeping.” Ida said, trying to sound dignified. “Fortunately, I came by to look after the children.”

“We’ll I’m awake now and they’re my grandchildren so how about you leave me alone with them and walk yourself towards the door.”

Ida did as he said. She didn’t want to embarrass herself any further.
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Ida was in the kitchen of the Katowski household on the night of October 14th, 1937. Jimmy’s folks had left her to watch over him even though he was almost 17 at this point because they knew they were going to be gone for the rest of the week. The day was Monday. Ida could feel the steam from the shower Jimmy was taking while she flipped through the daily paper. It didn’t take her long to see it.
Drinking while Intoxicated Takes Lives of Four Teenagers

Yesterday, while on a local Highway, a Ford went off-road and into a boulder in a farmer’s field half a mile out. It was discovered from the autopsy that the driver, age 19, was intoxicated with a 0.17 blood alcohol content, which is more than twice the state’s legal amount for if he was even legally old enough to drink. It is known that the driver was a boy named Eugene Katowski, while the rest of the bodies are yet to be identified. Damage to the farmer’s crops include…

Ida stopped reading. It had been three years since she last saw Eugene. Everything was very quiet. The shower had stopped. The footsteps echoed in the hall as they neared.

Jimmy.
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As Ida walked home in the warm Florida sun, she held her bible against her breast. She could never bring herself to part with it after the incident. She needed something to hold on to.

She released her arms from her chest and let her eyes trace the paw from eighty seven years ago.





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