Recap: Bayla and Sophie become friends. Sophie refuses to do any exercises to help herself get better. Bayla worries how she will be able to help Sophie to walk again.
That night, I lay in the luxurious, large bed. I stared out the window and thought about Mimi in our room at home. Was she thinking of me? How were Mama and Papa? I missed them all so much and I’d only been away a few days. I tried to do the gratitude recital Mimi and I did together. Every night before bed, we’d list all the things we were grateful for that had happened that day. I tried to imagine Mimi hearing my recital. “I’m grateful for the safe trip here and Tante Aimee’s kind hospitality. I’m grateful for my cousin Sophie and staying in this beautiful house.
I played a game I do when I have trouble sleeping. I started making up a story in my mind. I made up characters and a setting. I must have finally slept, because the next morning I awoke to a lark singing, and sunlight streaming through the large picture window.
I dressed and took out my siddur to daven. I davened for help to help Sophie to walk.
Nanette appeared and invited me to come to breakfast. “Miss Sophie is waiting for you in the breakfast room.”
I followed her to a sunny room that was attached to the kitchen. Sophie was seated at the table. Her hair was pulled back in a braid. She wore a pretty, pale blue dress that accented the sea blue color of her eyes. “So, you finally got up.”
“Sophie,” Tante Aimee greeted me. “Your cousin traveled all those miles yesterday. Of course, she was tired.”
A different maid served oatmeal and rolls and jam and smoked fish and cinnamon buns. “Would you like some café au lait?” the maid asked.
Sophie laughed. “It’s French coffee. Coffee with milk. Try it. It’s yummy.”
“Merci, oui,” I said to the maid. It felt so strange having food and drinks served like this. I was used to doing the serving at home.
“Today, I want to take you to our garden. It’s almost as beautiful as the secret garden in your book.”
“I’d like that.”
After breakfast, I pushed Sophie outside. “The garden is in the back. This way.” The spring breeze lifted my hair and the sun warmed my cheek as I pushed her down a long path lined with tall cedars and aspens. “Are we almost there?” I asked.
“It’s another few minutes.” We heard nightingales and starlings singing. We reached a clearing and I gasped. There were rows and rows of roses in every color – red, white, pink, yellow – and everywhere all different shades of purple lupine, lavender asters and rows of irises, daisies, sunflowers, and tulips. “It’s beautiful!”
“Like the secret garden?” she asked.
I pushed her inside and sat down on a stone bench. “Which is your favorite flower?”
I gazed around all the flowers. Their perfume wafted through the air. “I love them all. I especially love those lavender asters. I’m not sure why they are my favorites.”
“Mine are the pink roses. I love the shape and smell and the color. When I get married I want to have a bouquet of roses, as well as roses twined over the chupah. Des belle fleurs.”
“You’re already thinking of that?” I laughed.
“Well, you don’t ever think of it? I mean how do you want your future to be?”
“I want to live near my family and I want to have a lot of sweet children who obey me.”
“Sounds nice but there are no guarantees with that. My parents wanted a big family. Instead they only have me.”
“Is it hard being an only?” I asked.
“It’s lonely, and sometimes it’s hard, because all their hopes and dreams rest just on me, but I love them, and I do get a ton of things.”
“Look!” I pointed to a dove that had landed near the little fountain in the center of the garden.
“It’s a good sign.”
“Mais oui,” she said.
I told her what Zeidy had said about the dove symbolizing the Jewish people. It was like Zeidy had sent the dove to comfort me in my new surroundings.
“Let’s make up a story together,” I suggested. “I always do it with Ella and it’s so much fun.”
I began the story. “There once was a beautiful princess with long flowing hair, the color of sunlight. She always wore a red rose in her hair.”
“Why did she do that?” Sophie interrupted.
“She just did. You’re not supposed to ask questions.”
“Well, the thorns will give her a headache.”
We both started giggling.
The next few days passed with an easy routine of breakfast, spending time in the garden chatting, and adding on to our Princess Rose story. We chatted and read from The Secret Garden and giggled together.
On Thursday night after dinner, Sophie and I were playing chess in the living room. Nanette knocked and then entered the room. “Time for your exercises, Miss Sophie.”
“No, go away.”
“Your mother insists. The doctor said that this is the only way you will walk again.”
Sophie pulled away as Nanette reached for her foot. ”No, go away.”
“But your mother––”
“I said, No.”
Nanette shrugged her shoulders and left the room.
“Sophie, why don’t you want to do the exercises?” I asked.
“I’m tired. Please wheel me over to my bedroom. I can roll onto it myself.”
“Have a pleasant nap,” I said.
Sophie turned away from me.
I slunk out of her room feeling discouraged. There was just a week left and I wasn’t making any progress at all.
Tante Aimee was walking down the hall and she stopped me. “Is she napping?”
I nodded. “I’m really sorry but I don’t—”
“It’s all right, Bayla. You need to first make friends with her. Her injury. It’s new. It just happened a month ago. She hasn’t accepted that she has to work to get back her mobility. With Hashem’s help, she will.” Tante Aimee brushed away a tear.
She led me to the kitchen. “Come let’s bake challah together. I bet you do that when you’re home.”
I nodded. I thought of Mama and Mimi and Bubby and how our kitchen smelled when we were baking challahs together. I felt a terrible emptiness inside.
“Shimon Zev called,” she said. “He’ll be coming home tonight after night seder.”
Tante Aimee seemed to know what I needed to hear. I couldn’t wait until he arrived. She had already mixed in the ingredients and the dough had risen. She recited the brachah for separating the challah and she davened very hard. I also davened that I would be able to help Sophie, that Germany would not attack my country, and that I would be reunited soon with my family.
We braided the challahs and brushed them with egg and then we placed them on a cookie sheet to rise some more.
Later, Shimon Zev was there with Feter Dan. We hugged. I felt like part of home was here. “I missed you,” I said.
“The yeshivah is great. I got a telegram from Dovid. He’s in Palestine at the yeshivah already. I really wish I could go.”
I was secretly glad he wasn’t going. I needed him here with me now. “I got a surprise for you.” He pulled out a letter.
“It’s from Mimi.”
“But how could it get here so fast?”
A man from Paris, Mr. Penner, was doing business in Warsaw and he met Papa in shul. They got to talking and Papa realized the man davened at the same shul as Feter Dan. So, Papa asked him to bring a letter.”
We sat down together on the couch and I opened the letter to reveal Mimi’s perfect writing and a sketch at the bottom by Mama of the peonies in bloom.
Dear Bayla and Shimon Zev:
We miss you so much. Baruch Hashem, everyone is well. Bubby almost finished your beautiful blue birthday dress, Bayla. Fraidy is helping Mama plant vegetables in the garden. A stray cat adopted us. She’s gray with a white stripe. I named her Stripe. She romps around with the kitty the Zabinskis gave us. Ella sends her love and says she’ll write once she’s in New York. Her family left yesterday. It was sad watching them go.
Papa’s been away a lot. There’s some worry here about a possible attack, but just keep davening, please.
How is Tante Aimee and how is Sophie? Please write and tell me everything.
I’ve been practicing the Mozart sonata and the Debussy, but it’s not the same without your piano.
I hugged the letter to my chest and tried not to dwell on that sentence about a possible attack.
“Poland is strong with a good army. Germany wouldn’t attack us.”
Shimon Zev shrugged. “Hitler, yimach sh’mo, is threatening. He keeps asking for more and more land.”
We both knew that he already attacked Czechoslovakia.
“Do you think he will attack Poland?” I asked. I couldn’t bear any answer but No. Our family was there.
“I hope not. We have to daven hard for Hashem to keep him away.”
To be continued…
Suie Garbers 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.