She couldn’t sit still. The mention of a living prophet had aroused in her a great enthusiasm. As I continued the lesson, the woman was up again and again, her hands flying as she asked for clarification and elaboration. She wanted to know everything she could about David O. McKay and his calling.
“He’s a prophet,” I repeated. “Like Jeremiah or Moses or Peter.” The concept was powerful, and she wanted desperately to understand.
“How does a man get to be a prophet?” she asked?
I spoke then of years of preparation, and talked to her of obedience and faithfulness and study and prayer and service–those qualities that enabled a man to fulfill such a calling. “But the most important requirement is that he be called by God,” I explained, “because he receives revelation from the Lord and delivers it to the people. He is the conduit to us for the words and the will of God.”
“How does he speak to you? I mean, how does he let you know what the Lord says and what he expects? When he has a message, how does he deliver it?”
This was a missionary’s dream. It was 1967, and in nineteen months of proselyting and teaching in Brazil I had never seen anyone so excited about the restoration of the gospel and the idea of a living prophet. She seemed aflame with a need to know the present word of God.
“Every six months, the Church holds a General Conference,” I said. “People attend from all over the world, and President McKay speaks, usually three or four times, during the days of the conference.”
I could see in her eyes a great desire to sit and listen to the living words of a living prophet.
“But, does everyone attend?” she asked. Then, thinking of herself, she added, “What about those who can’t come to conference?”
I smiled. This woman was a joy to teach. “The Church publishes a magazine called the Improvement Era, I responded. “A month or two after conference, the entire proceedings of the conference are published in one of the issues. Everyone who wants to can get a copy and read the talks.” But there was more, and speaking of the magazine had reminded me. “That isn’t all.” I was nearly as excited as she was now. “Every month President McKay writes the editorial in the Improvement Era. Every month we get a written message from the Prophet of God.”
“That’s wonderful!” she said, and I agreed. In my mind the faucets were running, the baptismal font already filling. She said she had one more question. I didn’t mind. After nineteen months as a missionary, I could answer any question about living prophets that an investigator could ask. Any question, that is, except this one. As she spoke, I saw the plug being pulled, the water draining from the font.
Her eyes shining with delight and anticipation, she asked, “What did he say last month?”
In the center of Phoenix, high amid the rocks and riches of Camelback Mountain, sat a most unusual cul-de-sac. Only three houses occupied the substantial property, and they were perched precariously on the hillside. But what houses they were! Mansions, palaces, places of abode infinitely beyond the capabilities and even the dreams of those who inhabited the vast sprawl of city below.
Three widows lived there, each rich beyond caring. Their husbands, who had all passed away, had been men of tremendous wealth, leaving their wives not only the prosperity of continuing business interests and wise investments, but also the redundant security of huge insurance settlements.
As the months passed, a subtle competition began. One day a white-haired matron parked a new Lincoln in the driveway of her home. Within a week, a Jaguar and a Mercedes appeared at the other houses. One woman put in a new pool. Her neighbor tore out a piece of the mountain to put in a larger one. The third found room for a collection of pools cascading from level to level in engineered channels (even though she hated to swim), and then added a massive deck and a hot tub for good measure. Before long the women were engaged a wholesale, but hopeless “battle of the bucks.”
One morning, the woman who disliked swimming sat at her window and pondered the situation. She saw how absurd it all was, and realized the impossibility of prevailing. In this conflict of currency none of the participants would ever run out of ammunition. But the woman knew that she could not simply surrender. There had to be another way.
As she sat deliberating, a small, gray cat leaped to the rocks at the edge of a pool and walked toward her along the top of the glazed ceramic tiles. When he saw her watching, he sat and returned her gaze, a remote, feline intelligence shining behind his eyes. After several moments he slipped away and was gone.
But she knew then what she was going to do. In the following three weeks the woman tried every device she knew to entice the cat into the house. Her efforts always ended in failure. He was frequently in the neighborhood, even in the yard, but he seemed indifferent to her appeals, her delicacies, her frustration. One evening, while sitting on the rear, upper balcony and enjoying a vibrant Arizona sunset, the woman heard a gentle purr and felt the brush of fur against her legs. She looked down and the cat was there, seated at her feet, regarding her with that same distant wisdom. She knew, somehow, that he had come to stay, not in response to her will, but to his own.
The time to implement her plan had come. She arose and entered the house and he followed. She went to the living room, placed the cat on a stool, and began to try and teach him how to talk.
Certainly the work was tedious. She had expected that. Certainly it was time-consuming. She had expected that. But she was willing to spend the time, as was the cat. He sat on the cushion during the lessons and regarded her with a solemn mirth. But he would not respond; not with a purr, not with a meow, not with a sound of any kind.
For eight long years she worked with that cat, eight hours a day, and he never said a word. By then the task was extremely frustrating, and she had not expected that. But one hot August afternoon, it happened. Near the end of one of their sessions, she threw her arms in the air, leaned back on the couch, and glared at the cat. “Aren’t you ever going to say anything?” she asked.
“Yes,” said the cat. “Get out of the house.”
“What?” the woman cried. “What did you say?”
“Get out of the house,” the cat replied, in perfect, though slightly accented, English.
The next moment the woman was running down the street.
She found her neighbors and demanded that they follow her home. They complied even though her behavior was strange. It had been strange for several years. When they were all on the couch, the owner turned to the cat, which was still waiting on the stool, and said, “Cat, speak.”
And he did, with some anxiety. “Ladies, get out of the house.”
The neighbors were shocked into silence, and the widow had her cat speak again to erase any lingering doubts.
Clearly the competition was over. This unbelievable phenomenon, in fact, brought a sudden and substantial unity to the three acquaintances. They saw at once that their duty was to present this marvel of marvels, this talking cat, to the people of Phoenix and the world. They called everybody, invited everybody, and ordered refreshments.
Television stations, radio stations, and newspapers sent reporters . . . everybody who could come came to hear the talking cat.
When the lights were on, the mikes were checked for voice levels, the cameras were rolling, and the photographers were snapping pictures, the woman turned to the cat and said, “Cat, speak.”
And the cat responded, “Please! Get out of the house!”
Everyone was astounded. They cheered and yelled and drank punch. They ate cookies and interviewed the owner for the next newscast and the afternoon editions.
Amidst all the commotion, the cat slipped unnoticed off the stool and walked out of the house. He sat down in the middle of the street. After only a moment, there was a mild earthquake, hardly enough to spill a glass of water on level ground. But this house was high on the mountain. The foundation shifted, a wall began to crumble, and suddenly the house was sliding down the hillside, a great confusion of brick and wood and rocks and noise.
There were no survivors.