Mr. Oberley’s Star

Mr. Oberley’s Star

From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul

Mr. Oberley’s Star

I was nine years old the last summer that we lived next to Mr. Oberley. By then, he was retired and living alone— if you could call sharing a house with about twenty-five cats living alone. Early in the morning, I often heard shouts from his porch.

“Where did you come from?” His voice shattered the morning quiet. “Go away, Kitty! The hotel is booked!”

I smiled, knowing it was another stray. Mr. Oberley grumbled and complained, but never once did he turn away a needy cat. Their happy mewing often drifted out his open windows. Mom and Dad called it “The Cat Chorus.”

Mom told me Mr. Oberley used to be a veterinarian. Once, just for fun, he wrote a cookbook for cats. But now he spent his days in the garden, among the daffodils, his arthritic back as stiff as a board. He joked that he was too old to be good for anything but conducting The Cat Chorus.

Sometimes my parents would let me stay up late. One night Mr. Oberley and I sat together, watching the night unfold. We breathed in the sweet perfume of lilacs as lightning bugs flickered like stardust strewn across the lawn. A parade of cats trampled over my stomach before scurrying into the purple dusk.

As the first star appeared, Mr. Oberley squinted into the sky.

“Life is so much larger than we can imagine,” he said. He chuckled softly, rustling my hair. “Usually we think it’s our problems that are so vast. Look, Cindy, sweetheart, look over there.” He pointed to the largest and brightest star.

“One of these days, I’m going to climb that star and make it my swing,” he said. “I’ll ride it across the whole wide galaxy and see everything there is to see.”

My first worry was, “But what if you fall?”

“I won’t fall,” he told me. “And just think, from the vantage point of my star I’ll be able to watch you grow up. I’ll even be able to hear the cats sing.”

I thought long and hard about that. The following day, I told Mr. Oberley, in a most somber voice, that I did not want him to go off chasing stars.

“I’ll miss you too much,” I said. “And what about The Cat Chorus? The cats only sing when you’re here.”

It was true. Last year, when Mr. Oberley visited his sister, the cats had refused to sing at all. I bribed them with their favorite shrimp-flavored treats, but they didn’t give one lousy meow . . . not until Mr. Oberley came back.

“I don’t know,” he said, tiredly. “Having a star to ride sounds pretty good when you have a body as old as mine.”

Later that summer, Mr. Oberley became ill. His niece, Sarah, came to take care of him. The long, hot days passed slowly as I waited for him to get well again.

One day Mom and I brought him some chicken soup. I was shocked to see how thin he had become. He was almost too weak to lift his spoon. The worried cats serenaded him tirelessly, day and night.

The daffodils and lilac blossoms had wilted, but the roses were in full bloom the day Sarah knocked on our door.

“How is Mr. Oberley?” I asked right away.

His niece took a long, slow breath. “He told me to give you a message,” she said finally. “He said you would know what it means.”

“He found his star, didn’t he?” I said, watching her eyes fill with tears. “Mr. Oberley went to ride on that great big old star.”

Sarah nodded yes.

“And the cats?” I asked. “Who will take care of them?”

“I will,” said Sarah. She planned to move into Mr. Oberley’s house with her husband and young daughter, who was my age.

“Now you’ll have a friend,” she said.

“But Mr. Oberley is my friend,” I insisted.

“Forever and always,” said Sarah, wiping her eyes.

After Mr. Oberley’s death, his cats refused to sing— except at night, after the first star lit the sky. And when that great big old star appeared, they sang until their hearts nearly burst. I knew then that it had to be true: Mr. Oberley was up on his star, just as he’d wanted.

Cynthia Ross Cravit

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