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Stories to Stir your Soul...


The Buddha's Hand - Jack Galmitz



Jonathan Ryder looked out his back window and saw a stranger in the vegetable field. A woman - and to judge by her appearance, one of the residents of the adult home. She was heavy-set and about fifty and she was in a state of ecstasy. Initially, he thought that she was a foreigner and the flowers of the melons were for a recipe. She had a handful of the yellow trumpets of the
pumpkins- to- be in one of her hands and was rummaging through the vines for more. He thought of shouting out and frightening her away when she continued to tear away one flower after another from the thickened stems, but the words caught in his throat. He just wasn't sure.

The woman kept looking around to see if anyone saw her as she pushed her way up the incline to the railroad tracks. The sky was darkening and in the distance there was a lightning bolt that landed somewhere in the far hills. Maybe, she'll be struck by lightning, Jonathan thought. Then, the woman suddenly began to walk triumphantly along the narrow road the farmers had built for entering and leaving the field and in an instant disappeared out of his sight with flowers in her hand.

Jonathan surveyed the field, counting the remaining melon flowers as if they were stars in a personal account. Enough remained and the dark green leaves that had begun to brown were ignited by their presence. He wondered what the woman would do with the flowers. His wife had once collected dogwood blossoms that the rain had knocked from the trees, then cleaned them, dipped them in flour, and fried them. He remembered the pleasant taste and the even more pleasant surprise at finding such use for fallen flowers. Perhaps, the woman knows old country recipes that call for pumpkin flowers. She looked as if she had come upon quite a catch , he thought.

The rain had begun to fall heavily and he went to the porch to see if any of the cats were outside. He counted four; two were missing. He called out their names, but none responded. He gave up and sat down at the desk looking out on the porch and watched the rain. The drumming on the aluminum awning concentrated his thoughts. The rain was sweeping out the year's dying. It came in gusts and Jonathan watched as it unfailingly found the weakest leaf
stems and pulled the red leaves off the branches. The trees were already half emptied and the rain soaked the boles black.

Jonathan bent over and pulled open the desk drawer that contained his writing materials. He took out a small notebook and his pen and opened to a fresh page. He thought about how to phrase what he had experienced and began to speak the words silently, listening to the play of sounds as he replaced one word with another. When he achieved the relationships he was searching for he tried it aloud. Then one more time. Then he wrote it down in his notebook.

A lightning flash
Catching a thief
In the melon patch

He smiled. He would send it out with his next batch of haiku to one of the publications he subscribed to. It was good. He looked around to see if the two missing cats had returned, but they hadn't. He began to worry. He got up and went to the porch door and called out: Mim, NuNu, where are you? Come home! When the cats didn't respond he tried again. Then again. Then he stepped out onto the slick wooden deck and began to search.

The rain soaked his face immediately and its coldness was painful. He looked over the cats' favorite hiding places, but they were not there. His shirt was beginning to drench through and he lifted the wet covers his wife used to protect the old furniture that she put out on the porch. Looking up at him from the shelf of a bookcase were the eyes of a gray and white kitten. It was NuNu.

"What are you doing?", he asked her. " Are you crazy?" She was four months old and he picked her up and carried her into the living room and shut the porch door behind him. That left Mim.

Mim had gotten lost before when he fell from the coping of the roof and three stories down. Jonathan was worried. He went out and began searching the stairwells of the building, guessing the cat might have snuck out when his wife had opened the door to go shopping. He went down the three flights of stairs calling Mim as he went. At the bottom of the stairwell, he looked under the stairs and into the boxes stored there, as Mim had hidden there once before. The cat was not there. He went to the first floor and looked from door to door, hoping the cat had got confused and was waiting outside of the wrong apartment. When he reached the far end of the hallway, he began climbing the stairwell on the South Eastern end of the building, calling out for Mim as he climbed. But, no luck.

At the top floor, he opened the door to the roof to see if the cat had climbed through the broken windows and got out. He peered around the air vents and went to the elevator room. The cat wasn't there. From the roof, he looked down at his own overhang, but couldn't find him. He looked down at the vegetable field and called out the cat's name, but nothing stirred. The sky
had cleared, but night was drawing on and in the deepening blue it would be hard to find anything.

He went downstairs to find his wife, Lu Shi, arranging cans of cat food in the battered closet they used for storage. "I can't find Mim", he told her. "I think he's fallen again." "Did you look outside?" she asked.
"No. I didn't want to get any wetter than I already am. I looked through
the building."

Lu put down what she was doing and began to look through the house calling Mim, Mimi, in a high piercing tone. She opened one closet door after another. She looked on chairs that were pushed under tables. She went out on the porch and called and called. "I'm going outside to look," she said.

From three flights up and in the parking lot he could hear his wife's voice penetrating all of the places a cat might hide: through the fence of the collision shop, under cars, in the brambles beginning to thin, in the waste places of the field behind the clusters of drying morning glories that bordered the vegetable field. For a while he didn't hear her and then he heard her
again from higher up. He leaned out from the coping and she was beside the railroad tracks calling out the cat's name. "Come home, Lu," shouted Jonathan," He'll show up eventually. Come on, it's getting dark. I don't want you out there."

She paid him no heed but climbed down through a fence into the thickest part of the brambles to look for Mim. He watched her as she forced back wiry branches and nearly lost her footing in the uneven earth. He couldn't stand to be idle while she worked so hard, so he went out again and retraced the steps he had taken earlier to see if he had missed something. Nothing turned up. He went outside to bring his wife back.

Lights were beginning to go on in the parking lot and on the street. Lights were already turned on in the building and in the buildings across the road. Jonathan walked to the back of the building and looked through the links of the fence into the vegetable patch to see if the cat was hiding there. He went the length of the fence but found nothing. He called out his wife's name and she returned the call. "Anything?" he shouted. "Nothing," was the reply.

Lu appeared at the far end of the field and walked through it looking dejected. When she reached Jonathan she took his arm and they went together into the building.

It was late and they decided they would find him the next day. In the living room, Jonathan lit incense before the Buddhist altar and prayed for the recovery of the cat. His wife joined in for the prayer. They prostrated three times and beseeched the Buddha to locate Mim and bring him home to them. Then they went to sleep.

The next morning was Sunday and they slept in a little later than usual. Mim was the one who usually woke them for breakfast and without his weight on them they slept soundly. Jonathan got up first as was customary and went to feed the cats. They came without quite the usual frenzy and Jonathan mixed the meat in the cans with the rice set aside for this purpose. He fed them one by one: Ami, NuNu, Shamim, Yang. Then, he had to switch to dry food for Snow. He put out fresh water, watched for a moment, then began to make his coffee.

Throughout the course of the day, Jonathan and Lu took turns looking for Mim. There was just no sign of him. By the time evening came again, each of them must have searched a dozen times. By the time Tuesday came around, they hadn't given up hope, but they weren't as enthusiastic in their search, either. Each one had begun to blame the other. "You always open the door without watching," Jonathan accused. "You're always involved in yourself and
don't keep your eye on the cats," accused Lu.

Then, on Tuesday night Jonathan looked at the thangka of Shakyamuni Buddha that hung on the wall and it gave him an idea. He thought, 'If everything is a Buddha field, then in the field of the thangka will be the location of Mim. And, as my ordinary mind is the Buddha and the mind is everything, then the Buddha will point out to me where to find Mim.' Jonathan felt this reverently and stood before the image of the Buddha seated on a throne with his right hand in the Bhumisparsa mudra, the gesture whereby the Buddha invoked the earth to witness his enlightenment.

'Buddha, where is Mim? Where is Mim, Buddha? Please, help me find Mim.'

Jonathan emptied his mind. He looked at the quadrants of the thangka. He was drawn to the Buddha's right hand, to the place where the fingers pointed to the earth to bear witness to his truth. He turned away from the image and then turned back to see if the same response held true a second time. His eyes were cast onto the same small space just below the Buddha's fingers. That's it, he thought. Now where in relationship to the building is that spot? It's the
base of the building. In the lower corner.

Jonathan ran down the stairs, Lu yelling after him. He ran through the parking lot and then he heard a sound. It was a crying, a loud crying, and it was coming from around the bend of the building. Jonathan reached the corner of the building in the back and under a window, hidden in a rose bush, was Mim. The cat was frightened and crying and uncertain when Jonathan approached. "Mim. It's me," Jonathan said as softly as he could. Mim moved a fraction towards him and then Jonathan knew it was alright to reach out to touch him.

As he picked up Mim to take him inside, he looked out at the darkness of the vegetable field. In the moonlight, two raccoons walked through the stubble of tanned stems and roots across the field. They moved strangely and laboriously. And they were huge. One appeared to weigh forty pounds. They ambled along as if no one was in sight and Jonathan felt fear. He held Mim tightly. If he hadn't found Mim, would they have attacked him? They had such large, sharp
claws and teeth. And they were known to carry rabies. He quickly surrounded Mim with his arms and carried him upstairs.

Lu was ecstatic when she saw them. She fed Mim and leaned over to watch him eat. The other cats came over slowly, to smell him, to satisfy themselves that he was one of them. In the night, from the shed of the collision shop, they heard a fearful sound, as if wild animals were fighting for their lives.


- Jack Galmitz
GALMI7[at]aol[dot]com

2 Comments:

At 5:03 AM, Anonymous nitin said...

nice imagery. u can almost feel like u r inside the story. good work.

 
At 9:13 PM, Anonymous patrick walsh said...

...the Jack G story is the best cat & buddha story I^ve read.....a bit like Herman Hesse
stuff only less metaphoric and enjoyable for that.

 

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