Authors: Beverly Cleary
he tabby kitten hooked his white paws over the edge of the box marked,
Kittens 25Â¢ or Best Offer.
The girl with the stringy hair and sunburned arms picked him up and set him down in the midst of his wiggling, crawling, mewing brothers and sisters. He wanted to get out; she wanted him to stay in. The puzzling struggle had gone on all morning in the space between the mailbox and the newspaper rack near
the door of the supermarket.
“Nice fresh kittens for sale,” called out the girl, whose name was Debbie. She usually held the kitten in her arms, and he expected her to hold him now.
“Stupid,” said her brother George, embarrassed to be selling kittens with his younger sister on a summer morning. “Whoever heard of fresh kittens?”
“Me,” said Debbie, as she pushed the kitten down once more. Then she repeated at the top of her voice, “Nice fresh kittens for sale.” She knew she was not stupid, and she enjoyed annoying her brother. The two had quarreled at breakfast. George said Debbie should sell the kittens, because she played with them and that made them hers. Debbie said George should sell the kittens, because she didn't know how to make change. Besides, he was the one who had brought the mother home when she was a
kitten, so that made her kittens his. Their father said, “Stop bickering, you two. You can both sell them,” and that was that.
The white-pawed kitten, unaware of the hard feelings between brother and sister, tried again. He stepped on another kitten and this
time managed to lift his chin over the rim of the carton. His surprised blue eyes took in a parking lot full of shoppers pushing grocery carts among cars glittering in the summer heat. He was fascinated and frightened.
“Now Socks,” said Debbie, as she unhooked his claws from the cardboard, “be a good kitten.”
Socks's orange-and-white sister caught his tail and bit it. Socks rolled over on his back and swiped at her with one white paw. He no longer felt playful toward a littermate who bit his tail. Now that he was seven weeks old, he wanted to escape from all the rolling, pouncing, and nipping that went on inside the box.
Unfortunately, no shopper was willing to buy Socks his freedom. Several paused to smile at the sign, and then Socks found himself shoved to the bottom of the heap by Debbie.
“What are you going to do with all the money when you sell the kittens?” asked an elderly woman who was lonely for her grandchildren.
“Daddy says we should save up to have the mother cat shoveled, so she won't have kittens all the time,” answered Debbie.
“Spayed,” corrected George. “She means he said we should have the mother spayed.”
“Oh, my,” said the woman and hurried into the market.
“Stupid,” said George. “Anyway, Dad was joking, I think.”
This time Debbie looked as if she agreed with her brother that she might be stupid. “What are we going to do?” she asked, as she plucked Socks from the edge of the carton once more. “Nobody wants them.”
“Mark them down, I guess. Dad said to
them away if we had to.” The boy borrowed a felt-tipped pen from a checker in
the market and, while Socks peered over the edge of the carton, crossed out the
on his sign and wrote
“Kittens for sale.” Debbie's voice sounded encouraging as she hid Socks under two of his littermates. He promptly wiggled out. On a day like this his own fur was warm enough.
“Why do you keep hiding Socks?” George tried to look as if he just happened to be standing there by the mailbox and had nothing to do with the kittens.
“Because he's the best kitten, and I want to keep him,” said Debbie.
“Dad won't let you,” her brother reminded her. “He says the house is getting to smell like cats.”
Socks found himself plucked from the litter and cradled in the girl's arms. “Well, at least we can find a good home for him.” Debbie was admitting the truth of her
brother's statement. “I don't want just anybody to take Socks.”
“You don't see a line of people forming to buy kittens, do you?” asked George. To pass the time he had read the headlines of the newspapers in the rack and the label on the mailbox and was starting in on the signs posted in the windows of the market.
Socks tried to climb Debbie's T-shirt, but she held him back while she watched the faces of shoppers for signs of interest. Once a man approached, but he only wanted to drop a letter in the mailbox. A woman paused long enough to look at each kitten and then say, “No, I can't bear to think of anything as warm and furry as a kitten on such a hot day.”
Children entering the market with their parents begged to be allowed to buy a kitten, just one, please,
with their very own money, but no one actually bought a
kitten. “I guess it just isn't kitten weather,” said Debbie.
Socks struggled to free himself from the heat of the girl's sweaty arms. “Be good, Socks,” said Debbie. “We're trying to find you a nice home.”
“Fat chance.” George had finished reading the signs in the window and was even more bored. Special prices on ground beef and soap and announcements of cake sales did not interest him.
A woman with her hair on rollers, wearing a muumuu and rubber-thong sandals, herded three children and a tired-looking mongrel across the parking lot. The tallest, a girl barely old enough to read, shrieked, “Mommy, look! A kitten sale!”
“I want one! I want one!” shouted her younger brother and sister.
Debbie and George exchanged a look. The dog, sensing a long argument, lay down
in front of the market door where customers had to step over him. Panting used up all his energy, and he had none left with which to investigate kittens.
“I want that one with white feet,” said
the boy, who was wearing new swimming trunks.
“I saw him first!” The younger girl shoved her brother.
“Cut it out, you two,” ordered the mother, guiding her brood across the traffic lane.
not Socks.” There was desperation in Debbie's whisper. Socks could feel thumping beneath her T-shirt as she held him closer. “They're the kind that will squeeze him and forget to give him water. I can tell.”
George did not answer, but he frowned as the three children approached. He had good reason to quarrel with
sister, but that did not mean he approved of quarreling.
The oldest of the three joined the squabble. “I get him, because I'm the oldest. You two can have Bad Dog.” The dog, hearing his name, lifted his head, decided nothing of
importance was happening, and dropped it again.
The younger girl, who was wearing her sister's outgrown shorts and blouse, objected. “Just because you're oldest you always think you can have everything.”
“No fair!” shouted the boy. “Bad Dog belongs to all of us.”
Debbie unhooked the kitten's claws from her T-shirt and tried to hide him behind her back. Socks struggled. Until this morning Debbie always had been careful to support his feet when she held him, and she never had squeezed before.
“I want that one with white feet that the girl is hiding,” said the older girl.
“Me too! Me too!” The boy jumped up and down and clutched his swimming trunks, which his mother had bought for him to grow into.
“I know!” The younger sister had found
a solution. “Mommy can buy us each a kitten.”
“That's what you think,” said the weary mother. “One is plenty. We'll take the one with white feet.”
Socks had almost wiggled free when a second pair of hands seized him. He felt himself being lifted. Metal creaked, the hands thrust him into darkness, and he found himself falling. He landed on something smooth in a dark, stifling place. Above he heard a creak and a clang. Outside he heard shouting and the sound of Debbie's bursting into tears. The strangest things had happened to Socks that morning.
“He mailed him!” cried the small boy. “That big boy mailed the kitten I wanted.”
wanted,” contradicted his big sister.
“Cut it out, you kids,” said the mother.
The little sister shrieked, “Mommy, he hit
me!” Now she had her brother in the wrong.
Socks slipped and slid on the letters that crackled beneath his paws as he explored the dark mailbox. The place was sweltering, but it was free from other kittens. For the first time in seven weeks of life Socks had found a place where no one could step on his face or bite his tail. He lay down on the letters to catch up on the rest he had missed that morning.
Outside the commotion continued. “I'm fed up with you kids fighting all the time,” said the mother. “Just for that we won't buy a kitten at all.”
All three children protested. “No fair!” “You
you'd buy us a kitten. You promised!” “Please, Mommy. Just one. We won't fight anymore. Honest.”
“Come along,” said the mother, relieved to have an excuse for leaving the kitten
behind. “I'll buy you popsicles. I need a kitten like a hole in the head.”
This decision was followed by shouts of, “I want lime!” “I want grape!” “I don't want a popsicle! I want a Slurpy.”
Socks was discovering that the heat inside the box made sleep impossible. The chute at the top opened. “Socks, are you all right down there?” Socks recognized the tearful voice as Debbie's even though it sounded loud and hollow. Then she demanded of her brother, “How are we going to get him out? He'll roast if we leave him in there. He'll starve. He'll die!” She tried to cool the box by opening and closing the creaky chute.
“You didn't want a bunch of fighting kids to get him, did you?” asked George. “You want him to go to a good home, don't you?”
“How can we sell him when he's in the mailbox?” asked Debbie. “Nobody can see him.”
“Look,” said George, “it says on the box that the mail will be picked up at eleven twenty-three
The clock in the market says eleven fifteen. All we have to do is wait for the mailman to unlock the box and we'll get Socks back.”
There was a loud sniff outside the mailbox. “Are you sure the mailman will give him back?” Hope and respect for her brother had replaced fear and anger in Debbie's voice.
“Sure, I'm sure,” said George. “The post office doesn't want kittens any more than anyone else.”
“I hope nobody wants to mail a package before eleven twenty-three. It might hit Socks.” The tears were gone from Debbie's voice. “Nice fresh kittens for sale!” she called out, as she tried to fan air into the mailbox.
Socks stretched out panting, puzzled by all that had happened. A letter falling from
above was only another puzzlement, but the heat forced him to mew in distress.
“Hang on, Socks.” Debbie's voice echoed down the chute. “Help is coming.”
At precisely twenty-three minutes after eleven, as he lay gasping on the letters, Socks was frightened by the sounds of keys rattling against metal. Before he could move, the side of the box dropped down and he lay blinking in the glare of the sun before an audience of shoppers.