The Cat’s Eye: a Short Story about Elder Nektary

Today, just like a present for the Church New Year, Batiushka Nektary gave us a new semiprecious stone from his inexhaustible little treasure-box, where the precious treasures of his memory are kept.

"In my childhood," he told us, "there were only a few of us in our little dwelling. There was Mommy, me — still on all fours — and our gray kitty. Oh, I tell you, how marvelous was that kitty of ours!... Just listen to what I'm going to tell you about him and me!

"I was still quite a small child, so small that I didn't so much walk as crawl across the floor, but mostly I sat on my chair, though somehow or other I was already able to speak and express my thoughts. I was a meek child, obedient to a sufficient degree that my mother rarely had to punish me. I remember that at that time there were still just the two of us, Mommy and me, living together; we didn't have a cat. And then, one fine day my mother acquired a kitten for our modest household. That round and happy kitty was remarkably pretty, and we quickly made friends, so that you might say we were inseparable. I would crawl across the floor and there he would be, rubbing against me and arching his little back. I would sit at my bowl of food and he would sit right beside me, waiting for his portion from my generosity. I would sit down and he would climb up on my lap and reach his face up to mine, trying to get me to pet him. And I would pet his silky fur with my hand and he would lie down on my lap, squint his eyes, and purr his little song....

"That friendship between us lasted for a long time, until it was dampened by an incident that is terrible to recall even now.

"The spot where I usually sat was at the table, where my mama would occupy herself with sewing, and near my seat a cushion was nailed to the wall, into which Mama stuck her needles and pins. Of course, I was forbidden to touch them under any circumstances — even more so to take them out of the cushion — and I submitted to this ban without question.

"But one time I climbed up to my usual place, and right after me the kitten jumped up into my lap. At that time my mother had gone off somewhere to do the housekeeping. My friend jumped up and snuggled up to me and poked his little pink nose into my face. I petted him on the back and looked at him; and suddenly, for the first time, my eyes met his so very closely. Ah, what sweet eyes they were — clear, bright, and trusting!... They astonished me — before this incident I had never suspected that my cat had such brilliant adornments in his face.... And Here we were, looking one another in the eye, and we were both glad that it was so good for us to be together. And suddenly the thought popped into my head to try, with my finger, to find out what those brilliant little pearls under the cat's eyebrows, which were looking at me so merrily, were made of. I brought my finger up to him — the kitten squinted and hid his eyes. I took away my finger — and again they looked out. This really amused me. Again I poked my finger at them, and his eyes dove under his eyebrows. Oh, what fun this was! But the idea that I had such eyes, and that they would squint the same way if someone put a finger up to them, never even occurred to me. Whether it was a long or a short time that I amused myself that way with the kitten, I don't remember — only suddenly He idea came into my head to vary the fun. The thought had barely managed to flash across my mind when my hand set about to bring it to fulfillment. 'What would happen,' I thought, 'if I took a needle out of my mother's pillow and stuck it into one of the cat's little pearls?' I reached over to the pillow and pulled out a needle.... Just then, Mama entered the room and, not looking at me, began to busy herself with tidying up. I involuntarily refrained from the amusement I had thought up. With one hand I held the needle and with the other I petted the kitten...
"'Mommy!' I said, 'don't we have a good little kitten?'
"'How else can he be?' Mommy answered, 'I wouldn't have gotten a bad one for anything.'
"'And what has he got under his eyebrows — are they eyes?'
"'They're eyes — just like you have.'
"'And what would happen,' I said, 'if I stuck a needle in the kitten's eye?'
"My mother dropped her cleaning and as she turned to me she cried out, 'God preserve you!' And she tore the needle out of my hand.
"My mommy's face was so frightened that I remember her expression to this day. But even more ingrained in my memory is her cry, 'God preserve you!'

"My mother didn't punish me then, she didn't spank me, but only tore the needle out of my hand and threatened me — 'If you ever pull a needle out of the cushion again, I'll chop off your hand!'* From that time on I was afraid even to glance at the forbidden cushion.

"Many years went by. I was already a hieromonk. It was winter. It had turned out to be a nice, clear day. Resting after the noon meal, I was thinking about setting the samovar to boil and taking it easy with some aromatic tea. I had water in my cell but it wasn't fresh.... I poured this water out of the pitcher, took the pitcher, and trudged with it to the barrel that usually stood in the skete by the black porch of the refectory. I was going along peacefully, and not without pleasure, foretasting the joys of the boiling samovar and the fragrant Chinese herbs. There wasn't a soul in the skete garden. It was quiet, deserted....

"I went up to the barrel and saw that one of our old monks had climbed up and was getting a scoop of water for his samovar. Because of a recent snowstorm, the barrel could only be reached from one side, along one path. I quietly walked along this and came up behind the monk who was scooping water out of the barrel. Being busy with what he was doing, and also a bit deaf, he didn't notice my approach. I waited until he finished and thought, 'Why does the ladle need such a dreadfully long handle, and with such a sharp split end? What good is it? It might even hit someone in the eye!'... I had only just had this thought when my monk, with a sharp movement of his hand, suddenly swung the ladle so that the end of the handle moved right towards me! I barely managed to jump back. I still would have been a hairsbreadth away from having my eye poked out, but the unintentional culprit, who had threatened me with such peril, climbed down from the barrel, turned around, saw me and, not suspecting anything, came up to me with his pitcher for a blessing. 'Bless, Batiushka!'

"I gave him a blessing, but in my heart I was annoyed. 'What a lout!' I thought. However, I overcame that feeling within me — he wasn't at fault, really, for the fact that he didn't have eyes in back of his head; and with that I was pacified. Suddenly my heart became so light, so joyful, that I can't even convey it to you. I went to my cell with the pitcher full of water and just about jumped for joy, that I had escaped such terrible danger.

"I came home, heated up the samovar, made some 'fragrant tea,' and sat at the table... and suddenly it was as if a bright ray lit up in my memory the long forgotten incident from my early childhood — the kitten, the needle, and my mother's exclamation, 'God preserve you!'

"Then, it had saved the kitten's eye, and many years later, that of her own son. If I had poked out the cat's eye at that time, I would now be without an eye.

"And just think," Fr. Nektary added to his story, "after this incident they cut the handle of the ladle in half, though I hadn't complained to anyone. It's obvious that all this had to happen, so as to remind my unworthiness how for everything in our life, from the cradle to the grave, we must give the strictest account to God."

From the Recollections of Sergei A. Nilus

Source: https://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/nektary_e.htm