Recap: Feter Dan and Shimon Zev are away helping the soldiers in Dunkirk. A group of women come over to recite T’hilim with Tante Aimee. Again, one of the women says she met Bayla before, even though Bayla knows she never met her.
The next morning, clouds covered the sky, but no rain fell. Tante Aimee was trying to be brave. She put us to work tidying the house, and then we had our learning sessions. She suggested she teach me how to crochet. I was excited to learn. A neighbor came over. She said, “They need to evacuate hundreds of thousands of soldiers. It’s almost an impossible job.”
Tante Aimee listened and then she said, “Hashem can do anything.”
The neighbor shrugged and left.
Tante Aimee called me over and showed me how to begin to crochet. She had special needles like the ones my bubby used. This would be a surprise for bubby when she would see I could do it, I mused. Thinking of Bubby made me sad. I missed her so much.
Sophie was an expert at crocheting. She giggled when she saw my struggle. “Hey, I bet you weren’t always so good, show-off,” I teased.
“Well, maybe not. Do you want to do the Secret Garden again? We haven’t acted it out in such a long time.”
I was so happy that Sophie finally wanted to do things together again. I pushed her onto the terrace. We acted out a scene with Mary teaching Colin to stop feeling sorry for himself. We improvised our own script and added our own events into the scene. When we finished, Sophie’s face was flushed and she was smiling. “That was fun.”
She leafed through the book, looking at the pictures, and stopped at the picture of Colin standing up in the garden.
“That’s going to be me,” she said.
“I want to tell you about the accident. I think I need to. Is it okay?”
I nodded. It was so okay. I’d been hoping she would open up about it.
“So, you saw that girl in shul – that girl who came to our house. Her name is Aliza and she was my close friend.”
I worried this might be lashon ha’ra. Sophie seemed to read my thoughts.
“I’m just going to tell you what happened and why I am not feeling close to her anymore. It’s a toeles because maybe you can help me get over the bad feelings.”
“We were vacationing by the Riviera. We go there every year in June, and this past year Aliza was there with her family. I was so excited that my friend was there. My father brings the yacht and we go out riding in it. I invited Aliza to come for a ride on the yacht that day. She came wearing this beautiful silk scarf. It was red and orange like sunset.
“That’s pretty,” I said.
She touched the scarf. “It’s real silk.”
“It’s so hot,” I complained.
Tatty helped us onto the boat. Tatty started up the motor and the boat glided out onto the river. My braid unwound, and as a strong breeze riffled through my hair and brushed my cheek, I leaned my head back enjoying the rush of fresh air.
“Look!” Aliza pointed out a mother duck with a trail of ducklings.
“So cute.” I ran below to get some bread. Then we both tossed bread pieces to the ducks.
The water was an ice blue color. The sky was a blue bowl, cloudless and serene.
It was a picture-perfect day. Later, Tatty threw the anchor near shore and Aliza and I changed into our bathing suits and then we jumped into the water. It felt so refreshing. We swam for a while, until Tatty said, “Okay, girls, it’s time for lunch.” Ima handed out jelly sandwiches and we washed from the river and ate dangling our feet over the edge.
It was such a fun day. We stayed out until very late in the day, and then Tatty headed the boat towards shore.
Later that night, someone was knocking on the door. My parents were out visiting. I was surprised to see Aliza standing in the doorway.
She was frowning and wringing her hands. “Please, Sophie, you have to help me.”
“Come in. What’s wrong?”
“Remember that pretty scarf I was wearing?”
She started to cry. “I lost it. I lost it.”
“I think I lost it on the boat.”
“No big deal. Tatty will get it for you tomorrow.”
“You don’t understand. It’s a huge deal. That scarf belongs to my stepmother. I didn’t ask to borrow it.”
“What?” I was shocked. “How could you––”
“I know. I know it was wrong. But if she finds out––” Her voice trailed off. “If she finds out, my father will be so angry with me. He wants me to be respectful of Ariella.”
“You shouldn’t call her by her first name.”
Aliza sighed. “Please, Sophie, can we go on the boat and get it?”
“Now?” I asked. “I’m in pajamas, and besides, I’m not allowed on the boat at night.”
“Just for me, please. It’s so important. I’ll always remember you did this for me.”
I stared out the window. The night was lit with moon light. I could just get on the boat, look for the scarf, and get right off. I didn’t want Aliza to have problems with her new stepmother. Still, Tatty had always said not to go on the boat without an adult.
Well I was 13. I was technically an adult.
“All right. I just have to change.”
“Thank you. You are the best friend.”
I changed into a skirt and blouse and we headed down to the dock. The water was lapping against the dock and there was the low hum of insects in the air. Far away, we heard the laughter and talking of the adults.
The dock was well lit. Aliza stood by the shore, watching. “Should I come on, too?”
“No, I’ll just go. Where on the boat do you think it is?
“Maybe down below in the room where we changed into bathing suits.”
I climbed down the steps into the hold below. I didn’t bring a flashlight, but I hoped its bright red color would be enough to help me find the scarf.
I looked around. I lifted boxes down there and felt around on the floor.
Aliza called out, “Do you see it?”
I climbed back upstairs. “I’m still looking.”
All of a sudden, there was a tremendous crash. I was thrown off balance and hit the ground hard.”
Sophie stopped speaking. “I don’t remember what happened next, but my mother told me that a few teenagers were out joyriding a boat and they had crashed into the yacht. I landed so hard, I injured my back and I was knocked out. Aliza must have run for help. The next thing I knew, I was in a hospital bed.”
Sophie looked at me with sad eyes. “It’s a horrible story. I hate it.”
“Thank you for telling me. It must be painful to recall.”
“If only I hadn’t listened to her begging, and stood strong. Tatty had said not to go on the boat. I shouldn’t have disobeyed. Then this wouldn’t have happened to me.” She pointed at her useless legs.
“Sophie, you were trying to help a friend. It wasn’t your fault that those boys were out joyriding. True you should have obeyed your father, but it wasn’t such a terrible thing you did. Besides, whatever happens, Hashem is behind it.”
“Aliza came to the hospital and she came to my house when I came home. I was so angry at her. I couldn’t look at her. I know this sounds bad, but I hate her. I don’t forgive her.”
I thought about all the pain in this story. “You know, Sophie, I understand what you’re saying. Anyone would be upset, but really Aliza didn’t hurt you. She didn’t mean for anything bad to happen. Is it really her fault?”
That night, I dreamed of music again: swirling Debussy flute music. I was dancing, and Sophie was there. She was dancing with me, twirling around and around. She was holding a red scarf with orange swirls, and the scarf was lifted up and down as she moved. Suddenly Mimi appeared with her flute, and we both turned and ran to hug her. I woke to someone tapping me on the shoulder.
“Bayla, are you awake?” Sophie was sitting up in bed.
“Are you okay?”
“I had trouble sleeping and I’m sorry for waking you so early, but I need to talk to you.”
I murmured. “Sure.”
“I thought about your question. I have to work on not being angry at Aliza and at myself. Really, everything is from Hashem. I really know that.” She was crying softly. “But, why can’t I walk or dance? I want to walk and dance again.”
I sat up and put my arm around my cousin. “Sophie, we’re going to work on it. We’re going to get you to do those exercises. The doctor said you can walk and dance again.”
“Do you believe it?” She asked.
“I really do, and I’m going to daven hard. Let’s start the exercises this morning.”
There was a pause, and then Sophie said in a soft voice, “Yes!”
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.