Recap: There was a strange noise in the middle of the night, but Yehudis decided not to call the police.
Three weeks later…
Summer was winding down. The light had that early fall promise. I always felt sad when the days grew shorter and winter approached. I love sunshine and summer and I don’t like cold weather.
I’d been thinking about my lack of baby photos and baby stories. “You don’t look like her.” I thought of Sari’s words when she saw my mother’s portrait. There was a simple question I could pose to my father or my grandmother. I could just go and ask it, but… Did I really want to know the answer to that secret question I’d been harboring for so long?
Grandma Henny was away now. She went to stay with her sister in Chicago so she could rest and her foot could heal.
School was starting tomorrow. I wondered how it would be in this new school. I tried not to think of Tema and my friends at my old school.
On the first day, Sari met me in the hallway and pulled me into the eighth grade classroom...our homeroom.
Chevi waved at me. She was sitting on the other side of Sari. The first teacher, Miss Cohen, introduced herself, and then she showed us the class novel we would be reading, and she told us to bring in a journal. “Writing is a joy. It’s a gift and I want you to feel that way.”
I felt a bubble of excitement. I love journal writing. This class was going to be amazing. I could tell.
We knew that Miss Cohen had written several popular Jewish novels, so we believed she liked writing.
“I don’t want to be a writer,” a girl named Ada called out.
“Ada, so nice to meet you. We have class rules,” Miss Cohen said in a firm but friendly voice. “You are welcome to voice your thoughts and opinions, but you can’t just call out.”
Ada raised her hand.
“Yes?” Miss Cohen asked.
“I don’t want to be writer. So why do I have to bring a journal. I don’t like writing.”
“I’m glad you asked that question. I see you don’t like writing and you don’t want to write in a journal.” Miss Cohen sighed. “Alas, you will have to write in one because that is a class requirement. However, you are not required to like it. Though, I hope one day you will change your view and start to enjoy writing. But, Ada, even if you don’t want to become a writer, writing is such an essential skill for everyone. You need to be able to write well as you progress through school and in any profession you undertake.”
After English, Mrs. Berg came. She was a middle-aged lady with a short curly sheitel and a big smile.
“Now we will have mathematics. You girls are so lucky to have me as a teacher because I give challenge questions and I make you think. Mathematics is such a clean, wonderful subject, full of right answers. I love those right answers.”
I liked her energy and her enthusiasm for math. Mrs. Berg began teaching us how to solve difficult word problems using formulas like rate distance and time. I’d learned those in sixth grade and I didn’t see why we had to learn them again, but I sat trying not to look too bored.
After her explanation for a word problem and then her slow, tedious demonstration of the formula for the girls who were asking for help, she said, “Who would like a challenge problem?”
A few of the girls said, “Chevi would. She loves challenge problems.”
A smile played on Chevi’s lips.
Mrs. Bergman then rattled off a problem. I listened and I quickly began making calculations on a paper. I felt that joy I feel trying to solve a really hard math problem:
Four children have small toys. The first child has one tenth of the toys, the second child has 12 more toys than the first, the third child has one more toy of what the first child has, and the fourth child has double the third child. How many toys are there?
Sari leaned over and whispered in my ear. “This is way too hard. I can’t even begin it.”
I began calculating. The world went away as the numbers flowed from my head to my paper.
Mrs. Berg said, “I see some of you aren’t even trying. Come on, please; at least try.”
There were a few groans.
Ada raised her hand. “It’s too hard for us.”
I noticed most girls were sitting not even trying. Chevi was furiously scratching away on her paper.
“Chevi will have the answer soon,” one of the girls called out.
A timer buzzed. “Time is up,” Mrs. Berg said. Now who has an answer or a possible answer?”
No one raised her hand.
Chevi was still writing on her paper.
Should I answer? I glanced around. Then slowly I raised my hand.
I felt everyone watching me.
“What’s your name?” Mrs. Berg asked.
“Yehudis Strollinger,” I heard myself say.
“So, Yehudis, do you have an answer?”
Chevi was staring at me.
Maybe I shouldn’t say it. Chevi would have the answer soon.
“Go on, tell us what you got,” Mrs. Berg urged.
“Thirty toys,” I whispered.
“How did you get that?”
“x : the total number of toys
x/10 : the number of toys for first child
x/10 + 12 : the number of toys for second child
x/10 + 1 : the number of toys for the third child
2(x/10 + 1) : the number of toys for the fourth child
x/10 + x/10 + 12 + x/10 + 1 + 2(x/10 + 1) = x”
A few girls gasped. “Whoa, we have a new math genius in our class,” Leora, a girl with a long dark ponytail and glasses, called out.
Chevi glanced in my direction. Her cheeks were flushed, and I suddenly regretted what I’d done.
After class, Chevi called Leora and Ada and Sari to come walk with her. I stayed a little behind in the hallway. “Sari, can we come to your house today for a meeting?” Chevi asked. “We have to work on some more of the graphics and I need the yearbook committee’s input.”
Sari nodded. She glanced behind and spotted me walking alone.
“Yehudis, you come, too.”
“She doesn’t have to come ’cause it’s just about the graphics, not the writing,” Chevi said.
I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. Chevi was purposely leaving me out.
“Come anyway,” Sari said brightly.
“Thanks, I have to go somewhere after school,” I said. I wasn’t going to push myself in where I wasn’t wanted.
After school, I watched the four girls heading towards Sari’s house, chatting together, and I trudged home alone towards the house – the yucky, old, haunted house. I kicked some dirt as I walked. Why did we have to move to this awful place?
I missed Tema and my friends.
Maybe I should ask Tema if I could live with her this year. I didn’t want to keep going to this awful school anymore.
When I got home, there was a note on the hall table, and underneath it the journal from Marietta.
“The librarian said you could borrow this. I have to work long hours this week and I wanted you to have this to read. Be careful not to smudge anything or spill on it by mistake. Love, Aba.
This was exactly what I needed now – some distraction from my troubles. I sank onto the nearest chair, opened the journal, and began to read.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of A Bridge in Time (Menucha Publishing, 2021), Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers, 2020), 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. Fiction serial Jewish Press Falling Star (2019).