Jonah curled up in the closet, the smell of his father’s work clothes wrapped around him. It wasn’t as good as having his pacifier back, but it was the next best thing. Ima had said he was too old for the pacifier, the motzetz, but Jonah didn’t think so. If there were things he was going to get too old for, then he didn’t want to get any older.
He’d gotten the idea of curling up in here from the stray cat that sometimes wandered into their house. Where they lived, the cats always sat on everybody’s window sills, begging for food, and most people shooed them away – “Kishta!” they’d say, making ugly faces. “Go away! Get out of here!” – but some, like Jonah’s father, had a soft spot for the flea-bitten, scarred-up street warriors that had such pathetic sounding mewls. Once, Jonah’s father had let him feed the one-eyed tabby that sat on the shelf outside the kitchen window, where Ima’s plants were. “Aba,” Jonah had whispered, so the cat wouldn’t run away, “Aba, why does it come back after Ima says kishta?” Jonah’s father had said that cats had chutzpah, that’s why. After they’d fed it, and Jonah was pretending to read the newspaper with his father, he saw the cat slink in through the open window. It sat down, right in the middle of the living room floor, stuck out a leg, and started licking it. Jonah tried not to giggle because he didn’t want his father noticing. So he said that he had to go peepee and slid off the couch.
The cat led him to his parents bedroom. It looked at Jonah. It looked at the closet doors. It looked at Jonah. It opened its mouth and made a soundless meow, really as if it knew that Jonah was in on its secret and was trying to keep it from being discovered too. So Jonah opened the closet door and the cat slid right in and settled on his father’s work clothes – big, baggy cargo pants and long-sleeved light-cotton shirts. He was a construction worker, and his clothes all had lots of stains on them, so maybe, Jonah thought, he would never know that the cat had been there.
When his mother had taken his motzetz away, thrown it right in the trash – right in front of his eyes! – Jonah had screamed for as long as he could. His father wasn’t home, though, so this didn’t work. He should have thought of that, but he wasn’t thinking very straight, really, because he was so upset to see the little rubber nipple that calmed him down and helped him sleep when he didn’t want to go to sleep going into the trash with the leftover salad from lunch and the gross used containers of yogurt that his mother was always eating and everything else they’d thrown away since the last time the garbage bags were changed.
His mother didn’t seem to even hear him screaming. She just shrugged her shoulders and turned around and started washing the dishes in the sink. She always told Jonah’s father, even when Jonah was right there, that they paid too much attention to Jonah and that he could do things on his own because he was a big boy now. Jonah didn’t feel like a big boy, and now he knew he never wanted to be one either. Could a big boy fit inside the closet like this? He didn’t think so. The only big boys he knew were mean to him, and he didn’t like that either. If he did have to grow up, he wouldn’t be mean to people. He would be more like his father, nice and funny and smell good. His clothes, even though they were all clean, still smelled like a him and the construction sites he worked on. They smelled a little like sweat, dust, heat and sunlight.
“Jonah? Jonah? Where are you? Jonah! This isn’t funny, come out. Now. Now!” Jonah heard his mother calling him, and her voice kept changing tones, from angry to nice to angry again. It was very hard for him not to shout “Ima!” and run out of the closet and hug her. Because he loved his Ima, of course. She read him bedtime stories every night and she walked to kindergarten with him every morning. But he didn’t want to come out yet because he was angry at her. She’d been mean to him and had thrown away his pacifier and he wasn’t ready to forgive her for that yet.
Once, she got dangerously close to his hiding place in the closet, but she didn’t even think of looking in there. Jonah needed to be very careful not to giggle or meow or anything when she walked near him. As she walked away and he heard her start crying a little bit, he started counting backwards from ten – which he knew how to do – but slowly. Only when he got to zero would he come out. And he wouldn’t tell her where he’d been hiding. It would be his secret. Well, and the cat’s.