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Authors: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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BOOK: Cat Running
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Cat slid down off the ledge. “I wasn’t playing
anything,
” she said. “We were just talking. And what are you doing here? I thought you said”—Cat put on a deeper voice and a real smart-alecky expression—“‘We got no interest in coming back here no more.’ Didn’t I hear you say something like that?”

Zane went on leaning against the door frame. “Yeah,” he said in a sarcastic tone of voice, “I said that, didn’t I? Jist goes to show you how things change, don’t it? ’Cause, as you might could have noticed, I got me a little
interest
right there on that shelf, name of Sammy Perkins. When I got home today Sammy was missin’ agin and I was right
interested
in findin’ out where she’d got to.”

Cat pushed past him and out the door of the cottage. “Yeah, sure,” she said over her shoulder. “So now you got an excuse to come here anytime Sammy’s missing, huh?” She marched to the back of the grotto and, ignoring Zane completely, began straightening up the books on the high rock shelf. But he followed her and, just as if she’d invited him to, he reached up and took down one of her favorites,
Smoky the Cow Horse.
She glared at him but he pretended to be too interested in the book to notice. After a while he turned toward her.

Pointing to a picture he said, “This here Will James feller draws right good, don’t he? My ma took this here book out of the liberry at Perryton onced. She used to read lots of books like this. ’Bout ranchin’ and cowboys and stuff like that. Read lots of books by a feller named Grey. Zane Grey. She really liked his writin’. You heerd tell of Zane Grey?”

“Sure, I’ve heard of Zane Grey. He’s a real famous writer. Cliff—Cliff’s my brother—he reads Zane Grey a lot.” Suddenly getting the connection, she was about to ask him if he’d been named after the author, when Sammy suddenly appeared in the cottage door. Still holding Marianne-Lillybelle, she stood there for a moment watching Cat and Zane anxiously. Cat watched her, and out of the corner of her eye she watched Zane as well, and for the first time noticed that he
could
smile almost like a normal person when he wanted to.

After Sammy had disappeared back inside the cottage he went back to leafing through
Smoky the Cow Horse.
Still looking at the book he said, “What was you and Sammy talkin’ ’bout in there ’fore I came?”

Cat eyed him warily, wondering what he was up to now. “Well,” she said, “mostly she was telling me about your farm back in Texas and how you’re going to go back there someday.”

Zane made a snorting noise. “Might a known it,” he said. “She allays carryin’ on about goin’ back to our farm. And our house. She talk about goin’ back to our house?”

Cat nodded and Zane shook his head, biting his lip. “Dumb kid,” he said.

“Dumb?” Cat said indignantly. “I think she’s real smart for a five-year-old. And besides, that’s no way to talk about your own sister.”

He laughed. “Look who’s tellin’ me how to treat Sammy—after you half scared her to death t’other day yellin’ how you was goin’ to sic the sheriff on her.” While Cat was still trying to think of a good answer he shrugged and went on. “Thing is, she knows we ain’t ever goin’ back to our farm. Heck, she knows it ain’t even there no more.”

“The house isn’t there?” Cat asked.

“Right,” Zane said. “The house and the farm too. They tractored our house down right there in front of us the day we was leavin’. Saw them do it. Sammy saw them too.”

“Tractored?”

“Sure.” Zane was grinning again, but this time his smile wasn’t devilish or friendly, either, or anything else that a smile ought to be. “After the bank foreclosed us they sent out their big ol’ tractor and jist pushed our house flat over. Smashed it all to pieces. All—to—pieces,” he said again, and somehow the nothing smile made Cat see it as clear as if she were watching it in a movie. This enormous roaring, smoking machine smashing the Perkinses’ house while they all stood there watching. Watching it crush the kitchen and the room for sittin’ in that Sammy had told about, and the big front stoop—and the rocking chair. But Zane was still talking.

“And the farm’s gone too.”

“How could the farm be gone?” Cat asked. “Somebody else owns it maybe, but it’s still there. Farms don’t go anyplace.”

“They shorely do. In Texas they do nowadays, and in Oklahoma and Arkansas too. They just up and blow clean away.”

She understood then. “Oh,” she said, “the dust.” She’d read about the Dust Bowl, of course, and she’d even seen pictures of it once in a newsreel. About how the drought and the high winds caused the earth to dry up and be carried away, covering everything in its path with a heavy, dark red dust. Picturing it and at the same time picturing the way Sammy had looked when she whispered the word
dust,
Cat’s throat began the soft, swollen ache that made it hard to talk. She had to swallow hard twice before she could say, “That’s awful. That must have been awful. Standing right there watching while they smashed your house. And all that dust and everything dead and—”

“Hey,” Zane said. His eyes were fierce again and the hard, ornery grin was back in place, wider than ever. “Twarn’t so bad. Not much worse than this ol’ depression here in California, when you come right down to it. Like your pa, for instance. I’ll bet your pa ain’t doing so well nowadays in that big old store of his’n. Don’t see many people in there buying stuff, leastways not when I been in there.”

A rush of anger made Cat’s cheeks burn, and the soft ache in her throat was gone in an instant. “There’s nothing wrong with my father’s store ... she started, and then decided not to go on. Not to even try to argue with a stupid Okie who didn’t know anything about her father’s store or the Kinsey family and how they’d been in Brownwood practically forever and how they knew everyone and everyone knew them.

“Look,” she said, “I don’t know what you’re mad about but ... She did know, though. All of a sudden, just as she was saying she didn’t, she suddenly knew he was angry because he thought she was feeling sorry for him. And she guessed maybe she had been, just for a minute. But that didn’t give him the right to say insulting things about her family. She shrugged. “Why don’t you just get out of here,” she said. “Go on. Get out. Right this minute.”

Zane laughed. Just stood there laughing right in Cat’s face for a few seconds before he turned away and walked slowly to the cottage. From where she was standing at the back of the grotto, Cat could hear him talking to Sammy. Arguing, it sounded like. At one point she clearly heard Sammy say, “Wait a minute. You wait a gol-durned minute, Zane Perkins. I got to tell her good-bye ’fore I go. I got to.”

When they came out a few moments later Cat was pretending to be busy reading
Smoky the Cow Horse.
Zane had hold of Sammy’s wrist, hurrying her so she had to trot to keep up.

“Stop pullin’ on me,” Sammy was whining. “Stop it.” Digging in her heels, she was trying to jerk away when she suddenly gasped and started choking.

“Sammy? You all right?” Zane was bending over Sammy, who was still coughing, clutching her mouth with both hands. “What’s the matter, Sammy?”

The coughing finally stopped, and taking her hands away from her mouth, Sammy chewed thoughtfully once or twice and then glared at her brother. “You dumb cootie,” she said with her funny baby-face screwed up into an angry-cat scowl. “You jist ’bout made me swaller my gum.”

“Gum?” Zane stared first at Sammy, then at Cat, and back again to Sammy. “Where’d you get gum?” he asked.

Sammy pointed. “She gived it to me. She gived it to me brand new. All wrapped up in two papers.” She pulled the carefully folded gum wrappers out of her pocket and held them out for Zane to see.

Zane looked at Cat. His eyes had gone fierce again. “Don’t you go givin’ her stuff,” he said. “She don’t need folks givin’ her stuff.” Then he took hold of Sammy by both arms. “Spit ’er out,” he demanded. “You spit out that gum, right this minute.”

There was something in Zane’s voice that shocked Cat and it must have shocked Sammy, too, because she didn’t argue. She did cry, though. She was sobbing as she spit out the gum and then turned away toward the tunnel. Cat ran after them.

“Sammy,” she called, “come back here a minute. I want to talk to you.”

Sammy looked back, still sobbing. For a minute she looked from Zane to Cat and back again uncertainly, but when Zane turned loose of her shoulder she came slowly back to where Cat had stopped at the edge of the grotto.

Cupping both hands around Sammy’s ear Cat whispered, “I’m going to be here again on Sunday. Sunday afternoon. Can you come too?”

Tears still dripping down her face, Sammy stared up at Cat. She caught her breath in a series of jerky little gasps, like the Model A’s motor trying to start, only not as loud. She wiped her eyes with both hands and her lips curved up briefly in a wobbly smile before she nodded. A weak nod first, but then a firm, determined one.

“For sure?” Cat asked.

Sammy nodded again.

EIGHTEEN

S
UNDAY MORNING WAS COLD
and cloudy and all through church Cat worried about rain. It was past the usual time for the beginning of the fall rainy season and a big downpour was probably overdue. But by the time church and Sunday dinner were over, the skies had partly cleared and it seemed a bit warmer. Much relieved, Cat waited only until Cliff took off for town and the rest of the family had settled down to their Sunday-afternoon reading and naps. Then she asked Father if she could go out to play and when he said yes she headed for the kitchen. She got the paper bag she’d packed early that morning from its hiding place in the pantry and took off running. But when she arrived at the grotto Sammy wasn’t there.

She’d show up, though, Cat would bet a nickel on it. She smiled, remembering Sammy’s determined nod. She felt certain that Samantha Perkins could be a pretty bull-headed little kid when she needed to be. And she probably needed to be a lot, considering the three older brothers she had to put up with. She’ll be here sooner or later, Cat told herself.

After checking all around to see if everything was in place and undisturbed, Cat went into the cottage and began unloading the bag. The dress was on top.

The dress, a pale blue cotton with little white flowers, had been sent to Cat on her sixth birthday by an aunt who lived in Iowa. But Aunt Edna, who hadn’t seen Cat since she was a baby, had made the pretty little dress way too small, which was the reason it wasn’t as worn and faded as most of the outgrown things in the attic. Cat spread the dress out neatly on the ledge and went back to unloading.

She took out the bananas, the sandwiches, and the cookies and arranged them on the table. At the bottom of the bag was the Kewpie doll and the celluloid dog. The Kewpie doll was about two inches high and was made of china. It had a painted-on pink-cheeked face and a fat yellow curl of china hair on top of its big round head. Cat had won it years before at a birthday party, but she’d never been especially fond of Kewpie dolls. The dog wasn’t anything special either. Just a cheap little celluloid toy that looked a little bit like a cocker spaniel if you didn’t look too closely. She put the two little toys next to the food on Sammy’s side of the table and sat down on the ledge to wait. Sure enough, it wasn’t very long before the door screeched open and Sammy came in.

As always she was barefoot and wearing the tattered remains of overalls, and no coat or sweater in spite of the cold weather. But her face was cleaner than usual and her hair seemed to have been combed sometime in the fairly recent past. When Cat said hello she ducked her head, looked up from the tops of her eyes, and whispered, “Howdy.” Then her smile got braver and she said, “Howdy, Cateren.”

“Cat,” Cat said. “People just call me Cat.”

“Oh.” She looked surprised. “Zane says your school, name is Cateren.”

“Catherine, my real name is Catherine, but I like Cat better. Okay?”

Sammy didn’t answer. She’d been edging toward the table and now that she was close enough to see, she seemed to have lost track of the conversation entirely. Looking up at Cat she swallowed hard and wiped her hand across her mouth before she said, “You fixin’ to have sumpin’ to eat?”

“Just a little picnic,” Cat said. “I thought it might be fun to have a picnic. Don’t you?”

Sammy swallowed again. “Me?” she said. “Me too?” And when Cat nodded she immediately started climbing into one of the chairs. Cat didn’t eat much. Actually, she’d had Sunday dinner, the biggest meal of the whole week, not too long before and she wasn’t very hungry. So she mostly just picked at the food—and watched Sammy.

Sammy loved the bananas. “I had a nanner once afore,” she said in between bites. “When we-uns first got to California a man at a gas station gived me one. Only, Roddy et most of it. The man gived it to me but Roddy et most of it.”

But she didn’t seem to like the chicken sandwich, at least not the chicken part. When Cat put one in front of her she opened it up and stared at the meat for a minute before she put it back together and took a tiny bite. She chewed slowly with a sick look on her face and then put the sandwich back on the paper.

“Don’t you like chicken?” Cat asked.

“Chicken?” Sammy asked. “Not jackrabbit? Tastes like ol’ jackrabbit to me.”

“You don’t like rabbit?”

Sammy shook her head hard. “Back home, after the dust started, we et nothing but jackrabbit sometimes. Jist jackrabbit for days and days. And then when my pa ran out of bullets they et—Hoppy.” Sammy’s face had its angry cat look again. “I didn’t. I wouldn’t eat him but the rest of ’em did.” She was breathing hard, eyes narrowed and lips puckered in a kind of baby-faced fury. “I purely hate eatin’ rabbit,” she whispered.

It took quite a bit more convincing before she would eat the sandwich and even then she picked out most of the chicken and gave it to Cat.

Sammy didn’t seem to even notice the Kewpie doll and the celluloid dog until the food was gone. She picked them up then, one at a time, looked at them, and put them back on the table. Cat could tell she didn’t imagine they were for her, but when she noticed the dress on the ledge she seemed close to guessing right away. Sliding down off the chair she went over to the ledge and, standing on tiptoes, ran her fingers around the collar and over the small blue buttons. Then she looked back at Cat questioningly.

BOOK: Cat Running
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