MATOU, MINETTE, MINOU

 ALLEY CATS - 2- 8-alley-cats-dante-breakfast-in-bed-ornamental-table-top-figurine

 From the Alley Cats Collection Item #C5236 Designed by Artist Margaret Le Van Dominguez

 MATOU, MINETTE, MINOU

        Morning twilight uncovers the hamlet of Selsbourg, France.  In an alleyway a white tomcat slinks up to a narrow window in a basement apartment.  A white dove alights beside him.  The tomcat and the dove both peer into the window.  There is light.  The faces of two elderly women appear from inside, animated with delight.  The narrow window is pushed open and the tomcat and the dove enter the basement apartment.

        Once inside the little apartment the tomcat stands on his hind legs and becomes six feet tall.  He now wears black satin pajama bottoms and a black satin pajama shirt that is unbuttoned rakishly.  The white dove perches on his shoulder.

        The two elderly women giggle like children.  They both wear fleece pajamas and sit down upon their bed, holding hands.  It becomes apparent that the two women are sisters.

        The first sister says, “We are always so glad to see you again, Dante.”

        The second sister says, “We are forever so glad to see you, Dante.”

        Dante smiles charmingly and purrs, “You can see me whenever you wish.  Now, what would you like for breakfast, Minette?  (Dante’s pet name for the first sister is Minette)  Minou?  (Dante’s pet name for the second sister is Minou)”

        Minette claps her hands under her chin and chimes, “Champagne!”

        Minou brushes her lips with her fingertips and says, “Strawberries!”

        Dante bows elegantly and says, “Your dreams, your wishes and your prayers.”

        As Dante bows the white dove flutters in place above and waits for Dante’s shoulder to return.  Upon completion of the bow Dante then turns toward the tiny kitchen area.  He walks past the old wood stove and past the stone sink and pauses at the kitchen counter.  He positions a cutting board and places upon it a bottle of water and a bowl of turnip greens.

        Minette and Minou bow their heads and say, “Blessed are You who creates the fruit of the earth and the fruit of the vine…

        When Dante turns around he is carrying a bed tray upon which is a bottle of champagne with two glasses and a bowl of strawberries and a ginger vase of wildflowers from the apple orchards of Normandy.

        Dante places the tray upon the bed between Minette and Minou.  Minette pours the champagne.  Minou then drops a strawberry into each glass of champagne and they both raise their glasses together and toast, “To Mother and Father.”

        Dante nods.

        Minette asks Dante, “Why don’t you sit down?”

        Dante raises one leg and then the other and smiles, saying, “How often do I get to stand?”

        Minou then asks of Dante, “Tell us about Mother and Father again, will you Dante?”

        Dante nods and closes his eyes and begins by saying, “Your father was a good man, a faithful man.  He grew apples and he tended sheep on your little farm that was not far from here.  Your mother was strong and she too was faithful and she sold the apples and the sheep’s wool here in Selsbourg.  Your mother and your father loved you both very much.  You were just little girls.  I was Dante, your beloved cat, always with you.  Your father called the three of us ‘Matou, Minette, Minou’ (Tomcat, pussycat, kitty).

        It was March 1944.  The Nazis had taken northern France in 1940 and made southern France a servant.  In March 1944 a man came to your farm to talk to your father.  The man called himself Jean DuPont.  He was a resistance fighter.

        Jean DuPont said that the Nazis were beginning a campaign of terror, taking reprisals upon civilians living where the resistance operated.  He said, ‘They will be coming to your farm, Joël.  You won’t have much time, maybe a day or so.’

        Chantal, your mother, was listening from the other room and then entered, asking, ‘Where can we go?  We have our young daughters.’

        Joël said, ‘She is right, Jean.  The two of us could live like animals in the woods, but not our young daughters.’

        Jean DuPont lowered his eyes and said, ‘Perhaps you will be spared.  Perhaps you can hide your daughters for a short time.’

        Chantal became like a stone and she said to Jean DuPont, ‘Promise us you will return here when the Nazis have gone.  If, if we are not here our daughters will be, hidden somewhere.’

        Jean DuPont put his arms on the shoulders of Joël and Chantal and said intently, ‘I swear I shall return.’

        Joël turned and went to your family’s prayer cabinet and from a false compartment removed a radio transmitter and gave it to Jean DuPont.  They embraced and Jean DuPont left, saying, ‘God will guide you, Joël.’

        When he had gone, Chantal turned to Joël and asked, ‘What can we do?  What can we do?’

        Joël replied, ‘Now is the time to pray.  God will guide us if we can listen.’

        Joël stood before the prayer cabinet.

        The prayer cabinet had been taken from the little Selsbourg synagogue when the Nazis first approached in 1940 and it had been entrusted to Joël and Chantal and kept at their farm outside of Selsbourg.  That farm was where you were born, Minette, Minou.”

        Minette says, “I have no memory of Monsieur DuPont.”

        Dante replies gently, “You and Minou were asleep.”

        Dante continues, “So your father, Joël, prayed in earnest, as you can imagine.  Then, after awhile of silence, Joël opened his eyes and said, ‘Oh, My Lord, no.’

        Chantal who had been holding her head in her hands looked up and asked, ‘My dear, what is it?”

        Joël swallowed hard and said, ‘I believe God has spoken to my mind.  I have seen clearly what must be done.’

        Joël related to Chantal the vision which he had experienced.  Chantal covered her mouth and with her eyes wide she whispered, ‘No.  No.’

        Joël embraced Chantal and said gently, ‘There is no other way.  It must be done on the night before Passover.  Praise God.’

        Chantal buried her face in Joël’s chest and she cried.

        They had two days.

        On the first day Joël began to dig a hole in the middle of the sheep enclosure.  The lambs born in late winter huddled with their mothers and they all watched this unusual behavior with agitation and with bleating.

        On the second day Joël removed the contents of the prayer cabinet, the Torah scrolls.  He wrapped the Torah scrolls in a sheepskin and tied it and placed them into the hidden compartment where the radio transmitter had been.

        Chantal helped Joël to carry the prayer cabinet out to the sheep enclosure.  Then Joël stood in the excavated hole to brace the prayer cabinet as Chantal tipped it slowly backwards.  They set the prayer cabinet carefully upon its back-side in the hole.

        Chantal and Joël went back into the house and called to you, saying, ‘Minette, Minou.  We eat supper now!’

        You girls were perplexed and you asked, ‘Why do we eat supper so early today?  Is it because of Passover tomorrow?’

        Your mother turned away while Joël smiled with glistening eyes and said, ‘Yes, my kittens.  And guess what?’

        Both of you got excited, saying together, ‘What, what, what?’

        Joël said with mock enthusiasm, ‘Tonight you shall have a special supper of cream and chocolate!’

        Dante says, “Then you girls became giddy with the thrill.”

        Minette says with awe, “I remember that supper.  I remember being so thrilled.  Chocolate!”

        Minou says softly, “I remember as well.  Mother and Father did not have to remind us to wash our hands.”

        Dante continues, “Chantal had prepared two big bowls of thick cream mixed with strong wine and she broke up into the two bowls a big bar of chocolate that she had hidden since the Nazi conquest.

        Before you girls ate, your father asked you to learn a new prayer.  Do you remember it?”

        Minette says, “Yes.  Yes.  I do remember.”

        Minou says, “I do remember.”

        Then Minette and Minou recite together: The Lord is my Light and my Salvation.  Of whom shall I be afraid?  When the wicked came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.  For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall he hide me.  Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.  If to Him the darkness is as light, it is not to me; the darkness comes hard.  Yet I have loved darkness when it suited and rejoiced that darkness covered me.

        Dante continues, “You girls then ate your delightful repast with intent and precision but you girls did not look up to see your mother smothering her own mouth and your father steadying her shoulders and his eyes held closed tight in fervent prayer.

        You girls finished your bowls of cream mixed with wine and chocolate and then your eyelids drooped and you both laid your heads to rest upon your hands on the table.

        When you both were deeply asleep your father and your mother carried you out to the sheep enclosure.  They placed you into the prayer cabinet.  When Joël closed the doors of the prayer cabinet your mother was breathing so hard and fast that Joël thought she was going to faint.

        Joël pleaded, saying, ‘Darling, please, please be strong.  We must finish this as God commands us.  Then we will wait on God with all our heart, please, darling.’

        Chantal watched over her clasped hands as Joël shoveled the excavated dirt back into the hole to conceal the prayer cabinet.  There remained of the excavated hole over two feet left to fill.

        Joël said, ‘Chantal, be very strong, lean on God, lean on God,” and he went over to the cluster of lambs and sheep and he took hold of one sweet perfect lamb and he carried the lamb, who became suddenly very calm, over to the excavation.

        There, with his back to the other lambs and sheep, Joël slit the throat of the sweet lamb and let the blood fall over the site of the buried prayer cabinet which held you, Minette, Minou.”

        Minette announces, “I have had dreams about being inside a dome of blood, but I was not afraid!”

        Minou holds Minette’s hand.

        Dante continues, “Your father placed the bleeding lamb then upon the ground and he turned and rose from the excavation and returned to the cluster of lambs and sheep.  Then, one-by-one, your father took a lamb, carried the lamb into the excavation and, with his back to the rest of the lambs and sheep, he strangled the lamb in the crook of his strong arm.

        At sundown the excavation was a pit of dead lambs.

        Joël took his wife by the hand and walked slowly back to the farmhouse, restraining Chantal from turning and running back to the pit.

        But Joël had forgotten that one last instruction that he had received in his mind.

        That night the Nazis arrived at your farm.  They made your mother and father watch as they ransacked your house.

        Schutzstaffel (SS) Gruppenführer Hans Heinrich himself questioned your father, asking, ‘Where is the radio?  Do not lie to me.  Where is the radio?’

        Another SS officer came and whispered into the ear of Hans and then Hans turned to Chantal and asked, ‘Where are your daughters?’

        Chantal appeared to tremble with anger and replied, ‘We sent them away.  Days ago.’

        Hans leaned close to her face and asked, ‘Oh, really?  Days ago?  And where did you send them and with whom?’

        Joël interceded and said, ‘Please, sir, my wife is distraught enough about being separated from her children.  We were afraid.  We heard that civilians were being punished for the actions of the resistance.’

        Hans said again to Chantal, with menace, ‘Where did you send them and with whom?’

        Chantal cried, ‘They are only children!’

        Hans stood up and said, ‘Now they are only orphans,’ and he was about to make a pronouncement when another SS officer approached and said, ‘Sir, you should see this, outside.’

        Hans glared at your father and your mother and he said to his soldiers, ‘Bring them outside with us.’

        They all came before the sheep enclosure and they saw the sacrificial pit.  A soldier was standing among the lamb carcasses prodding them with his rifle.

        Hans asked suspiciously, ‘And what is this?’

        Your father said, ‘The late winter lambs showed signs of anthrax…,’ and when the soldier who was prodding the lamb carcasses heard that he stumbled and fell and then he thrashed in fear to stand up and jump out of the excavation.  Several soldiers laughed at him until Hans barked at them to be silent.

        Hans then turned to your father and your mother and he said, ‘I hope your daughters are not hidden in the walls of the house,’ and then he hollered to the soldiers, saying, ‘Burn it!’

        Your mother nearly fainted and your father held her.

        Hans said quietly and curtly, ‘Take them away.’

        You see, Minette, Minou, your father had forgotten to smear the lamb’s blood upon the farmhouse.”

        Minette and Minou hold each other’s hand tightly and they weep.

        Dante says, “Do you remember waking up in the darkness?”

        Minette sobs, “Yes.  Yes.  I felt my sister beside me.  I grabbed her hand,” and Minette held aloft Minou’s had, “I was in a box and I didn’t know what was happening.  I began to panic.  Then I heard my sister praying: If to Him the darkness is as light, it is not to me; the darkness comes hard.  Yet I have loved darkness when it suited and rejoiced that darkness covered me.

        Minou says, “I thought of you, Dante, and I remember crying out for you to save us, silly me.”

        Dante says, “Jean DuPont never returned.  But Faith never left you.  I became ‘Jean DuPont’ in answer to your prayers.  I dug you up, do you remember?  I carried you and the Torah scrolls to safety.”

        Minou says, “Yes.  Yes.  I remember watching you carry my sister.  I thought it was a dream.  But who was carrying me?”

        The white dove on Dante’s shoulder flutters her wings.

#

        In a field outside of Selsbourg are the vague remains of a ruined farmhouse and a sheep enclosure covered with wildflowers.  A white tomcat prowls through the wildflowers and a white dove flutters above.

 

 

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But, the most ancient scrolls are kept on: THE TABLE OF MALCONTENTS

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