Recap: Papa left for Paris, and Bayla hears her grandmother say it’s dangerous to travel there now. Later, on the radio, she hears a frightening voice. Her mother tells her it’s an evil, evil man speaking.
That night, Mimi started coughing. “I wish you didn’t get so many colds,” I said.
“I know.” Mimi wrapped an extra blanket around herself.
We were lying in bed trying to go to sleep.
I was not falling asleep.
“What’s wrong?” Mimi asked. “Am I keeping you up with my cough? I can go in the living room to sleep.”
“No, it’s just that I’m worried. Grandma and Mama are talking about something very scary. I can tell. They stop talking about it when I’m around, and they won’t answer my questions. And that voice on the radio. Mama looked so scared. It sounded menacing the way the man spouted his words softly and then his voice rose in hysteria. I don’t know German, but it sounded evil.”
Mimi cleared her throat. “Bayla, stop. Don’t you remember what Papa taught us last year when I was so sick?”
I suddenly felt ashamed. Mimi coughed and whispered, “Hashem is always there with us, every step of the way, in darkness and in light. We don’t have to worry.” Mimi touched my shoulder. Papa says that Hashem can bring a y’shuah k’heref ayin.”
“The blink of an eye,” I echoed. “I remember,” I said. I thought back to last winter when Mimi was sick with pneumonia. We were all so scared we might lose her. I couldn’t bear it. Mimi was my best friend. We all sat in a vigil, helping Mama care for Mimi and reciting t’hilim round the clock until, baruch Hashem, her high fever finally broke. It had been the scariest time I could remember. Papa had sat with me and Mimi on the couch. She was wrapped in layers of blankets and the fireplace was roaring but she shivered and shivered.
I was so frightened for Mimi that I could barely breathe.
He’d held both our hands and said, “There’s no reason to fear anything,” and then he said, “Hashem is always there with us, every step of the way, in darkness and in light. We don’t have to worry.” Hearing him say it had calmed me. “You’re right, Mimi, thank you.” I turned over and finally fell asleep.
The next morning, Mimi was coughing nonstop and her cheeks were flushed. Mama sent me to the garden to gather herbs for a cough remedy.
Fraidy followed me into the garden. “See, Fraidy, this is the licorice root.” Fraidy repeated the words. “rissse rut.” “Yes.” I ruffled her curly red hair. “Mimi sick?” She asked.
“Yes, but Hashem will make her better.”
Poor Mimi got sick so often.
Just then, Mama called to us. “Come girls, Papa is home.” We rushed inside. Papa’s cab pulled away. He strode inside, carrying his suitcase and a large package.
“Papa!” I ran into his arms.
“Careful,” he laughed. “This is breakable.” He put down the package on the coffee table. Fraidy jumped up into his arms and we had a family hug. “Where’s Mimi?”
A weak voice called from the bedroom. “I’m here, Papa.”
Papa put Fraidy down and held her hand as he entered our bedroom. “You’re sick again, Maidele?”
“I have a present for you.” He brought the package into the bedroom. First, he pulled out a smaller package from inside and handed it to Mimi. She was too shaky to hold it, so he told me to open it for her. It was a beautiful snow globe with a tiny silver flute inside. I shook it and snowflakes filled the globe around the flute.
“I love it, Papa! Thank you!”
Mama stood in the doorway. “What a lovely gift from France.”
“Did the doctor come?” Papa asked.
Mama said, “He’s on the way.”
She shooed us out of the sick room. “I will stay here with Mimi. You girls go see in the living room what Papa brought you.”
Papa carried the package back into the living room. Worry creased his brow, but he smiled at us and handed Fraidy a soft rag doll wearing a pale blue bonnet with a floral print, and a matching jumper. Her eyes were painted blue with dark lashes and she had long, yellow yarn hair. Fraidy took the doll and squealed with delight.
Then Papa handed me a small package. I tore the tissue back to reveal a bound pink notebook. “This is for you to record your thoughts and ideas. Maybe you’ll write some poems or stories. You have a good eye for detail and imagery.”
I was surprised and pleased by the compliment. “Thank you, Papa.” I kissed his bearded cheek.
Mama came into the room and asked me to serve Papa dinner.
Fraidy and I sat near him and watched him eat his chicken soup and then munch on his meat dumpling.
“Delicious, Sarah,” he called to mother in the other room.
“Tell us about France,” I asked. “Did everything go well?”
Papa sipped his black tea. “Well, it went very well, Bayla. I hope to have an exhibit with some of my metal sculptures there in a month or so, G-d willing, and the government purchased a load of my metals, so I’m doing well, baruch Hashem. France is a lovely country. I visited with my sister Aimee while I was there. She sends her love and I saw Sophie, too.”
“Oh, I remember Sophie,” I said.
Papa pushed his plate back and looked at me with one of his penetrating stares. “Bayla, actually there is something I wanted to tell you about Sophie.”
I was surprised at Papa’s sudden seriousness. Fraidy climbed onto his lap, clutching her new doll.
“Sophie was in an accident recently. She was badly hurt, and she is still recovering. She hasn’t been able to walk yet. She needs our t’filos.”
“That’s awful. Poor Sophie.” I thought of my beautiful dark-haired cousin. Sophie was the same age as Mimi, a year younger than me. How horrible for a 13-year-old girl to not be able to walk. “Will she get better?”
“So, that’s the thing.” Papa hesitated. “The doctors, they had many specialists look at her. They all confirmed that there is no nerve or muscle damage, but she must begin to exercise and do what they say, or she may lose the ability to walk again.”
“So, she must work hard and get back her strength,” I said.
“Yes, Bayla, only she isn’t doing any of the exercises and she refuses to walk with the crutches to help her regain her balance and to walk.”
“She’s too despondent. Aimee told me that Sophie was the star dancer in many school plays and now she is so sad and feels so hopeless that she’s basically given up.”
“So, Bayla, listen to me. You can help Sophie.”
“I will daven for her, of course.”
“Yes, yes, we will all daven for her, but Aimee asked me – she begged me – if you or Mimi could come and visit Sophie. She thinks a visit and encouragement from one of you would help pull her out of the sad cloud she’s in and help her to start exercising.”
Visit Sophie? In France? It was so far away. Mimi would be the one who could do it. Mimi had the strong emunah and she was good at helping people.
Papa interrupted my thoughts. “Mimi can’t go. She’s too sick, but Bayla, you could do this tremendous mitzvah. It will just be for a couple of weeks until Sophie gets back on track. Will you do it, Honey, for your cousin?”
Mama walked in just as Papa finished asking me.
“Do what?” Mama asked. She tucked a stray hair into her tichel.
When Papa explained the situation to Mama, she sat down and sighed. “I would hate to have Bayla go but she could help Sophie. It sounds like pikuach nefesh. Poor Sophie may never walk again. Sadness is a disease in itself.”
“Shimon Zev would accompany her on the train. I wouldn’t send her alone.”
Just then, there was a knock on the door and Dr. Gross entered, clutching his medical bag.
Mama and Papa escorted him into the bedroom where Mimi lay so feverishly. I cleared the dishes and showed Fraidy how to help me wash and dry them.
I thought about a long trip all the way to France to stay with Papa’s half-sister Aimee and her husband Uncle Dan and Sophie. I remembered a few visits there from my childhood. Their house was like a castle. It was so big with high ceilings and chandeliers. They had a lot of servants and a huge playroom packed with every type of toy a little girl could want. Sophie had a huge dollhouse and piles of porcelain dolls dressed in silk party dresses. She had a whole suitcase of fancy doll clothes and shoes. I remembered how fun it was to play with all of that when I was little. She also had a swing set that was bigger than the one in the school yard.
We’d visited them a few times around Chanukah time and we’d brought latkes and Bubby’s home-knitted scarves. I remember thinking our gifts would not seem so special to people who had so many things, yet Tante Aimee accepted them with such enthusiasm. She was a very kind person and so grateful for everything. That was how I remembered her.
I wanted to help her and Cousin Sophie, but I didn’t want to leave Mama and Papa and Mimi and Fraidy. I would explain to Papa that I just couldn’t leave now. I didn’t want to go. He would understand. He would have to understand…
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes the community column for The Queens Jewish Link and she writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivahs and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.