Mathpart Fendler sat watching the cat. The cat sat watching Mathpart Fendler.
“I wonder why the cat is watching me,” thought Mathpart. The cat stared back, unblinking.
They stared at each other a long time, the cat and Mathpart. They were both do-nothings, who preferred sitting to working. They were both lazy, both well-nourished, both given to stark simplicity of thought. They had much in common.
But Mathpart sat and thought a thought that he had been thinking for years. It had to do with the cat’s upcoming mealtime. Mathpart had long ago realized that the cat never had to get its own meals. The cat, in fact, simply sat all day, or did whatever it wished, and food came to it. In fact, the cat was a success, thought Mathpart. The cat did not have to desire things. Things came to it.
And why wasn’t he, Mathpart, a success? He had thought about this. The fact that he had never succeeded in school had been often viewed, and the fact that he had never found any work in town, but these things didn’t mean success to him anyway. He had inherited enough of a farm to keep food on the table, and his work for Dr. Padeyevsky gave him the elementary luxuries. But, thought Mathpart, he had had to work for these things, carrying and planting and tending and harvesting.
The cat looked at Mathpart. Mathpart looked at the cat. And Mathpart realized that he, Mathpart, should by rights be the more successful of the two. For, after all, wasn’t he more important than a cat? He was almost sure than an evaluation in the favor of men above cats was somewhere in the Bible. And if it was in the Bible, it was true. So that was settled.
And yet, thought Mathpart, I’m feeding that cat.
The cat continued to look as the reedy figure of Mathpart got up from its chair and went into the kitchen. As the refrigerator door opened, the cat slowly put its four feet under it and stretched, mouth wide in a pink yawn, and as Mathpart set out the bowl and called “kitty-kitty,” the cat trotted with neat steps from its lounging place and obediently lapped, emitting a brief purring noise between drinks.
Mathpart opened the refrigerator again and brought out an orange. He dearly loved the taste of the fresh juicy pieces; they were a crop he couldn’t grow himself, and had much value to him. For a long time it had seemed clear to him that, if he were the cat’s God, and furnished the cat with bowls of milk, then his God should furnish him with bowls of oranges.
With this thought in mind, he went to the back door, which was the main door of the shaky-walled old house, and put his head out, craning his neck to look up in the sky for orange bowls, a ritual that he had performed every evening for a long time.
He looked fairly carefully at the colors of sunset. The sky had not yielded up any oranges this time, either. Mathpart shook his head as he sat down at the big round table, beginning to peel his orange. It did seem unfair that there should never be any oranges for him. Maybe, just maybe, Mathpart’s God had retired. Or was dead. Mathpart squirmed with discomfort at the very thought. That was blasphemy! That was lack of faith!
He walked back to the refrigerator and stared at the oranges within the wooden bowl. In sudden resolve, he turned again to the kitchen door. He would look harder, much harder, this time. With the feeling of a successfully concluded resolve making his actions precise, Mathpart went through the door to his back stoop, and began to sweep the evening sky from side to side, holding his hands around his eyes like binoculars. On the second sweep, he located a bowl, at a very high altitude. No hand, somewhat to his disappointment. But at least he had found the bowl of oranges that his intellect had told him would be there some day. The great bowl seemed to him to be coming directly towards him, which was perfectly proper; still, the excitement of being visited by the hand of God began to seep into his mind, and he took the three back steps at one stride as he began to run to meet the orange supply. Ten paces later, he abruptly about-faced and raced back to the house, tripped over the doorsill, and fell into the kitchen, spooking the cat; he picked himself up and closed the refrigerator door. Turning again, he rushed in earnest out the door and across his garden, being careful not to ruin any of his plantings. The barbed-wire fence that kept the livestock out of the garden came at him in the deep-evening light; he caught an overall leg in it and detached himself. He ran on, until he’d come to the edge of his property and could see, across a small stream that marked the boundary of the Padeyevsky estate, a large pasture that the great bowl of fruit seemed about to land in. The bowl was still descending, and Mathpart could see its light. It seemed to have some religious significance; he began thinking about a religion where he was the spokesman for the Giver of Fruit from the Sky. His heart beat high as he watched the glowing bowl, and there developed within his consciousness the first expression of a religious fanaticism that had lain latent in him for many years. “The great golden fruit in the sky,” he thought. He had always wanted to be a religious fanatic, but he had never before had the inspiration.
Now he would certainly be able to indulge his starved appetite for ritual and drama. Perhaps he should wear a white robe on Sundays. Or, no, maybe an orange robe would be better, he thought. Hadn’t he seen a newsreel or a movie about some religious men in orange robes? Were they Buddhists? Well, they were one of those heathen religions, anyway. Their orange robes wouldn’t rule out his being outfitted with one.
The bowl of oranges drew closer and closer. It seemed at least a hundred feet in diameter, and he stood in awe, thinking of the terrific amount of delicious juice that could be procured from a bowl of oranges of such proportions. Spontaneously there rose in his throat and mind his first prayer, and he spoke it aloud: “Glory be to God on high, for He has certainly this day given me my daily fruit.” And he knew in his soul at this instant, beyond any doubt, that there was a God. “And they thought God had died,” he shouted. “Wait til they see this bowl of fruit!”
The bowl hovered swiftly closer, a symbol of the worthiness of man and the bounty of God. “Just wait til Sunday.” He spoke to the bowl, giving voice to the culmination of his existence. “And they stuck up their noses at me because I wore overalls to church. Just wait until Sunday, I’ll be giving testimony!”
The vision rose before him, and he was on the highest pinnacle, his dearest dream achieved. No more was he that lonesome country child, whom his parents had deposited with his grandparents and never picked up again. No longer was he the isolated occupant, now grown, and his grandparents dead, of this rickety farmhouse and two hundred acres of poor forest and pasture land. No longer would he be stupid Mathpart Fendler, following a mule and feeding his cat. Now, he would give testimony at the church and he would pray, and the people in the town would all know that he, Mathpart Fendler, was the man who deserved his own miracle. Yes, a miracle. Wasn’t this beautiful, shining bowl of fruit a miracle?
His eyes closed in the inward contemplation of these delights, but he abruptly shook himself from reverie as a new thought struck him. He didn’t have any witnesses. What was a miracle without witnesses? As he looked around desperately for a witness he saw that the bowl had come to rest on three legs which had grown out of its bottom. There was sudden confusion in his mind as he took in the fact that the bowl was not full of fruit; in fact, it was closed across its top surface, in a slightly rounded configuration.
Mathpart did not panic. He was stern with himself; this miracle wasn’t going to get away because he’d lost his head. Perhaps it was a covered dish. Certainly! There would be birds to protect the oranges from, on its trip down through the heavens, and rain, and pieces of dust floating around. Of course it would be covered. He was contemplating the problem of removing such a massive lid when, quicker than the eye could follow, a sliding door opened in the side of the bowl. Two people stepped down from the bowl to the ground, a tall blonde man and a woman of the same height and fairness. He could see them clearly in the glow from the bowl. The girl looked, to Mathpart, somewhat like Esmerelda Sweetwater. But she couldn’t be. She’d never wear one of those get-ups like those two had on. Some sort of coverall that shimmered silver in the light. And tight? Why, it was indecent, that’s all. And, it hit him, what were people doing walking out of his bowl of oranges?
Mathpart was wild with rage at the intruders. As he watched them, the bowl balanced on its slender tripod and then retreated, going far more quickly than it had come, depositing not one orange, not even one, for Mathpart Fendler. Instead, thought Mathpart, it had probably been taken over. Yes, that was it. Taken over by some low stinking Commie agents. Those two were Communists. He glared at their backs over his concealing veil of stream-edge shrubbery. His indignant and rampantly suspicious eye picked out two others that were coming towards them. That girl looked like Esmerelda too, as well as he could see in the deepening evening light. They were probably all in disguise, thought Mathpart. Well, he wasn’t going to stand for this!
The foursome met midway across the pasture’s expanse and Mathpart couldn’t make out what they were doing. He crossed the stream at a wet, creeping gait, and drew closer to them. They seemed to be hugging each other, all four of them. Just standing there, indecently hugging each other, not moving or speaking. Mathpart used the time’ to get within hearing distance. But they weren’t talking, just standing. Finally they broke away from each other and stood, all four at arm’s length, still silent. Mathpart stared as hard as he could at them, all so tall and slim in the half-light. They seemed four of a kind, and very, very attractive. Probably handpicked for some plot, he reminded himself, and figuring on winning our confidence with their good looks. His resolve to deal harshly with these dirty Commies deepened at this.
One of them spoke. It was a male voice. It said, “Welcome to Earth.”
There was a short silence. Then the same voice said, “My name is Theodore Behr. This is Esmerelda Sweetwater. We are overjoyed to have you with us.”
“Esmerelda Sweetwater a dirty Communist spy,” marveled Mathpart. He could hardly believe it of that pretty young thing. The two that had stepped from the bowl of fruit spoke. “We greet you in the love and the light of the one who is all. We bring you our spirits and our bodies in service,” they said in unison.
Mathpart was thoroughly confused by what they were saying. Was it some part of secret Commie code? He got a bit heartier inside at that thought. Maybe he was overhearing some kind of password that would break up the whole dirty Communist threat to the U. S. of A. Hey, that would be pretty good. After all, what was more important, when you came right down to it? God, or the obliteration of Communism? He felt definitely cheered.
What were they saying now? They seemed to be doing more standing and looking and holding hands. They were all smiling. The man who had spoken first kept starting to speak and then stopping. Finally he said, “I had a little fifteen minute welcome speech for you, but it seems pointless now. But we are at your service. Shall we go?”
There was another stationary silence. Then Esmerelda spoke. “If you care to, we can go directly to the house where you’ll meet another friend. Is there anything you care to do before leaving?”
“No,” said the pair, smiling still and remaining where they were. There was a further pause, while the four stood and beamed and Mathpart crouched at the edge of the thin woods by the stream, muttering their words over to himself so he wouldn’t forget them. Then the boy with Esmerelda Sweetwater turned and walked towards the far end of the pasture, from where they had first emerged. Esmerelda and the pair from the bowl followed him. When they were far enough away so that Mathpart could follow without being overheard or spotted, he hurried in clumsy furtiveness after them, in time to see them get into an old car.
His mind worked with what was for him uncanny speed; it had been so stimulated by the thoughts of the afternoon and evening that it seemed to him to be working like a hero’s brain. He felt like he was in the movies. It would work perfectly. They had to backtrack almost to the main road to get off the old wagon road that they were on, and then they had to drive past his driveway in order to reach their residence, or get to the highway, either one. Well, then!
Mathpart’s legs, for years moving only as fast as a mule walked, fairly flew under him as he headed back to his farmhouse, and his
L.C. Smith double-barreled shotgun. He’d fix those Commies. Yes sir, yessirree bob, he’d fix those dirty lowdown subversive fascist traitor Communists. He galloped into his back door, putting the cat into a tail-thickening swivet during which she ran around the circumference of the kitchen ten times and attacked the sink. Mathpart grabbed the L.C. Smith, loaded it from the box of shells he kept near the gun, headed out again, and went headlong into the tall weeds that obscured the eight-foot drop to the road. A vine took his ankle, and down went Mathpart, rolling onto the road at the same time Theodore rounded the corner from the wagon road. Theodore’s reflexes were admirable, but the road put the car into a skid, and just as Mathpart began to struggle to his feet, the front bumper of the car nudged him none too gently, as it came to a halt. The blow knocked him back down and as he went, his shotgun was discharged into the air. Notwithstanding this slight miscalculation, Mathpart indomitably waved his shotgun and struggled again to rise, scrambling out from between the car’s front wheels. “Don’t move!” he spluttered. “I’ve got you covered!”
Esmerelda screamed “Mathpart, don’t shoot! It’s me, Esmerelda Sweetwater.”
“Dirty Communist spies!” Mathpart yelled. In a blind rage, he leveled the gun at the car.
Esmerelda caught her breath. “Stop him!”
The man from space emerged from the rear door on the near side of the car, stepped between Mathpart and Esmerelda, and looked directly into Mathpart’s eyes.
Mathpart had started to turn the gun on the intruder, but found himself instead putting the gun butt on the road. His expression turned from one of frantic anger, first to confusion, and then remorse. He looked at the man for about thirty seconds. Then he backed away. “You ain’t no Commie.” He looked down at the road, then at Esmerelda. “He ain’t no Commie, Miss Sweetwater.”
“Of course not,” said Esmerelda. “Whatever made you think he was?”
“Well,” faltered Mathpart. “Well-he looked like a Commie from a distance, but … well, he ain’t no Commie.”
Behr, out of the car already, moved towards Mathpart. “How can you tell,” he asked him.
Mathpart scratched his head. “Well, he’s just good. He’s just good, that’s all. And Commies ain’t good.”
Esmerelda said, “Was that why you were shooting at us, Mathpart?”
He nodded. She got out of the car too, and went over to put an arm around him. “Well, we’re not Commies. Come on back to the house with me. Let’s see if you’re hurt.” She led a thoroughly chastened and humbled man away to his kitchen, still shaking his head and looking back over his shoulder at the two beings who had emerged from his bowl of fruit.