'Smoky Night' Editor's note: In the aftermath of a fire, two cats help their owners discover how to overcome differences that seem big - until they get to know each other.

Story Time

November 15, 1998|By Eve Bunting

Outside, the sky is hazy orange. Flames pounce up the side of our building.

Three fire engines scream to a stop. Firefighters jump out, running, pulling hoses. I see our window where Mama and I had stood. The fire hasn't reached it yet.

"Is everybody out?" one firefighter yells.

"Far as we know," another says.

A lady comes up to us. "There's a shelter you can come to," she says. "Everyone follow me."

The shelter is in a church hall. There are cots to sleep on and a table with hot drinks. Two men are making sandwiches. I've never seen a bigger jar of mayo.

We see people from our building. They're talking about who did this. What will happen to us?

"It's a sad, sad night," Mr. Jackson says.

I ask him about Jasmine.

He says he's pretty sure he saw her. "She got out, Daniel," he tells me. I hope he's not just trying to make me feel better.

"Did you see my cat?" Mrs. Kim asks. "He is orange."

"He's the color of carrots," I say, and I almost add, "and he's fat and mean." But I don't.

A girl gives me a mug of hot chocolate. I wish it had more sugar. When I finish drinking it Mama says I should lie down. She's always making me lie down.

People keep coming. Some of them are crying. One woman screams and screams. I hide under my blanket.

Then Mama says, "Daniel! Look!"

And there is the firefighter who was at our building. He is standing in the open door, with the smoky night behind him, and I see that he's carrying a cat under each arm. The cats are howling, too.

"Jasmine!" The blanket's caught on my foot and I'm trailing it. "Oh, thank you! Thank you for finding her!"

"The other cat is mine." Mrs. Kim takes her big, fat, mean old orange cat and holds him close. I'm kissing Jasmine. She smells of smoke.

"Where was she?" I ask the firefighter.

"The two of them were under the stairs, yowling and screeching," he says. He takes a mug of hot chocolate. I like him so much! I wish I had a whole barrel of sugar for his drink.

"The cats were together?" Mrs. Kim asks.

The firefighter nods. "They were so scared they were holding paws."

I grin. "No, they weren't!"

A woman puts down a dish of milk. "Here kitty, kitty," she calls.

Jasmine jumps out of my arms, and Mrs. Kim puts her carrot-colored cat down, too. The cats drink from the same dish. Milk isn't that good for cats, but I don't say that either.

"Look at that!" Mama is all amazed. "I thought those two didn't like each other."

"They probably didn't know each other before," I explain. "Now they do."

Everyone looks at me, and it's suddenly very quiet.

"Did I say something wrong?" I whispered to Mama.

"No, Daniel." Mama's tugging at her fingers the way she does when she's nervous. "My name is Gena," she tells Mrs. Kim. "Perhaps when things settle down you and your cat will come over and share a dish of milk with us."

I think that's pretty funny, but nobody laughs.

Mrs. Kim picks up her cat and strokes him. She's staring at the wall. Maybe she's not going to say anything.

But then she looks across at Mama. "Thank you," she says. "We will come."

Mama smiles.

I reach out and stroke Mrs. Kim's big old orange cat, too. "Can you hear him, Mrs. Kim?" I ask. "He's purring!"

Excerpted from SMOKY NIGHT by Eve Bunting and illustrated by David Diaz. Text copyright 1994 by Eve Bunting. Illustrations copyright 1994 by David Diaz. Published by Harcourt Brace & Company.

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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