In a Safe Country VI
To return to the main Tacheiru page, click here. To return to QC-L forever, click here. This is the second page of a long, never ending story for Ghostletters The Next Generation. Ask me about them. Here we go....
Traveling in Circles
Chevie did not have a sixth sense, just good sense. Dad was still at kollel if he hadn't yet gone for his pre-Shabbos dip in the mikva, the purification bath. Dad should have a rough idea of Kayla's whearabouts, but I was not so sure. "Dad may be a waste of time," I informed Chevie. "Shouldn't we talk to Dov?"
"If Dov knew where Kayla was, he'd take her to eat. Kayla probably is hanging around with other girls." Chevie had good sense, but girls could hang out any number of places in Toco Hills. Still we headed toward Beth Jacob Village. As I said before, Chevie had good sense. Dad might be attracted to the kollel like a fly to a cow pat, but there were also several playgrounds behind and around the synagogue and often someone opened the gate to give the kids a chance to play while their fathers studied, talked, etc... Sometimes an older kid watched them. Sometimes she didn't. We found Kayla in the playground closest to the kollel building. The older girls who were supervising were in a heated debate over something exciting only to kids in their middle school. These would have been younger sisters of friends I knew, and there was a good chance they were Chevie's former classmates. Several of them looked up and then gasped.
"Chevie!" cried out a girl with a round face and black ringlets. "What are you doing here?"
"Visiting my family," Chevie answered. "It took forever to arrange it. This is... you remember Ahava."
The girls looked uncomfortable. Then I saw Kayla. She came toward us from the monkey bars. She had torn her pink cardigan that was all ready on the way out and her blue and white checked skirt looked stained. Her white polo shirt had today's or yesterday's lunch on it. Her hair was.... Let's just say someone having to comb it out was going to have to be very careful. I did not want to smell my youngest sister. I was sure she stank.
"Chevie!" Kayla cried as if they were the best of friends. I knew they weren't. In our family it really was every kid for him or herself.
"What happened to your face?" asked Chevie. Kayla had a huge gash on her right cheek and a bruise swelling under her right eye.
"I fell off the play set," Kayla answered. Bonnie squatted down. "My parents don't beat their kids," I explained.
"I know that," answered Bonnie, "but nobody has tended this wound. Did you go inside and get first aid?"
"What's first aid?" asked Kayla.
"Disinfectant, soap, water, bandages, ice packs."
Kayla shook her head.
"Were you afraid the grownups wouldn't let you back out again?" Bonnie asked.
That was obvious. I remembered the day I skinned my hand on the ropes and the relief I felt when I could climb them again once my hand was bandaged. That was not how a lot of people in this neighborhood operated.
"Well we can get you cleaned up," Bonnie told my youngest sister. "I don't think your wound is serious. I'm Bonnie Sorensen by the way. but you call me Ms. Sorensen if you like. I am the principal at Druid Hills Magenet Academy. That's the school Ahava went to before she got placed."
"I don't bite," answered Bonnie.
"People tell stories," Chevie explained.
"I tell better ones," Bonnie quipped. "So," Bonnie turned her attention to Kayla. "What are your plans for supper tonight?"
"It's Shabbos," Kayla replied rocking on the balls of her feet which were in a pair of shoes, with squished back ends and run down heels.
"Where are you eating for Shabbos?" asked Bonnie.
"I don't know," Kayla replied. Chevie pulled Bonnie aside. "We'll deal with it. How much time do we have?"
"About ninty minutes," I figured. "Fine, you two are well dressed. How's your stipend Ahava?"
"I've got money," I replied. I wasn't going to run around broke. I was Ed-Branch, and I could manage.
"Fine go over to the shopping center and buy bread, cheese, and whatever else you need. If the kitchen is set up for meat, get kosher cold cuts."
"The kitchen's milchig,," Kayla observed. "OK, it's cheese then. You and Chevie get whatever you need and I'll see you get reimbursed for it. I'm taking Kayla home. May I borrow your keys, Ahava?" I handed the house keys over to Bonnie. Chevie followed me to the shopping center.
"Imma is going to get really upset," Chevie told me as we swept into Kroger's and headed for the kosher food section. All the challah would be gone, but matzoh would work just fine. "You eat matzoh don't you?" I asked my sister.
"Tastes like cardboard," Chevie complained. "Tam tams then, Triscuits. We'll make mezonus." Mezonus is the blessing on grain products other than bread.
"You didn't hear what I said about imma."
"Mom is permanently upset."
"Yeah, but things are out of control. No one knew where Kayla was. Dad is hiding in kollel. Dov is with friends. "
"We have dysfunctional family. What else is new?"
"It's worse than that. You don't care about Yitzi and Yoni, but I saw."
"Are they sick?" I asked.
"There were dirty diapers piled up in a corner of their room. I'm not sure anybody is feeding them regularly. You saw Kayla's clothes."
"I saw Kayla's hair," I commented.
"Then you know."
"What am I supposed to know?"
"Bonnie works for a public school. Now put it together."
"You think Bonnie is going to report our parents to the authorities?" I asked.
"She has to," Chevie shook her head.
"They deserve it." I had no sympathy. Chevie saw things differently. "What would you do?"
"I don't know. Mom has four sisters. Maybe I'd send the little kids on a vacation."
"Kayla turns six in two days," I answered.
"Yeah...and I bet no one's paid her tuition."
"Lucky kid. And Dov has friends out the wazoo, so he's OK. Shlomo-Yitzakh, you, and I all have placements so we're OK. That just leaves Yitzi and Yoni."
"I don't really want to see them snatched."
"Isn't Bonnie C-Branch?"
"It's Creative Team," Chevie reminded me.
"OK, maybe she can work out a creative solution."
"Sometimes, Ahava, there are no good solutions. Take it from a kid who used to steal. Would you mind if we bought some beef jerky for later or tomorrow. I'm not really kosher you know."
Sail this Ship to Shore!
Bonnie spared me from cleaning, but not from cooking. I made pink eyed pea salad with peppers and carrots, and cole slaw with pineapple, a relish tray with roast peppers and olives of different kinds, and we had whole wheat matzoh with two kinds of cheese and mayonaise, Thousand Island, or Dijon mustard on the side. There was ice cream for dessert at Chevie's insistance. She said it would make Kayla happy and picked out chocolate chip which is not my favorite flavor. I picked up fresh bosc pears for everyday dessert and some navel oranges to round out our fruit supply. Xannika back in Highland Lakes would have been proud of me. Bonnie and Kayla straightened up the living room, rounded up, washed, and dried the dishes, and even readied the dining room for the evening meal. Upstairs, two new visiting ladies cleared out the pile of... in the babies' bedroom, bathed them and got them into clean clothes and diapers. They stood behind a doorway gate and greeted us. Behind their gate one of my old friends from fourth grade served as a sitter. I did not envy her. She stared at me, smokey eyes, trying to find something on me, like cooties. "Sorry, no cotties today," I thought. I told her that I thought the room and my two littlest brothers looked great. They did. Chevie could rest easy on their account.
Kayla was in a clean shirt and skirt, white and dark blue, a school skirt rather than a Shabbos one. Bonnie would not have known the difference. Chevie sat on the couch combing out Kayla's hair. There was a gash and a bruise on my youngest sister's face. She probably did get them falling off the play set, or a play set. At least they were cleaned wounds. I turned from my former classmate and opened my parents' bedroom door. Dad must have been going to synagogue directly with Dov. I'd see him on the mens' side. I was not sure what I'd say to him. Mom had both her knees up like low hills. She glanced up at me along with her two visiting ladies, one in a blonde wig and one with greying hair under a black snood. I tried to remember their names, but older ladies weren't really part of my orbit, even before I got kicked out. I thought of Elizabeth and Zabiba and felt something tighten up in my throat. The bedroom felt stifling. I tried to imagine Mom and Dad having a social life here and wondered how any of my younger siblings were ever conceived.
"Excuse me, Mom," I began. Three pairs of eyes stared at me out of the shadows.
"What do you want?" Mom could still wield her own cudgels.
"I'm just letting you know that Shabbos dinner is in the fridge."
"Abba is taking the family out for Shabbos,&qut; Mom countered.
"Dad did not let Chevie or me know. We both wrote you that we were going to be here this weekend."
"Please," stage whispered the lady in the blonde wig. "Your imma is not well. What do you think this does to the baby?"
"Probably nothing," I parried back. "I'm just explaining the schedule as I know it. Now, Dad also didn't give Kayla any place to meet him for supper, so someone forgot about Kayla. Stuff like this happens. I know it's not your fault, so Chevie and I fixed dinner here."
"And what about the EPITHET DELETED?" asked black snood.
"That is Bonnie Sorensen, principal of Druid Hills Magnet Academy where I went to middle school. As you know, Chevie can't be in this house without supervision. Ms. Sorensen is supervising."
Mom groaned. The visiting ladies sighed like good back up singers. "So Chevie, Kayla, Bonnie, and I are going to synagogue. Bonnie is my guest and I don't think she wants Chevie in that area unspervised either. If we meet Dad and he wants to take us out, the food will keep. One of us will come back to the house to inform you. If Dad doesn't take us somewhere, we'll all come back for Shabbos dinner. You can wait and we can eat up here with you, or you can have something from what we made and we'll eat in the dining room later. Is that OK?"
"You always do what you want so why ask me?" Mom replied.
"In this case, you should be glad you have two self-reliant daughters. You did a great job raising us, don't you think?"
Mom sat up but thought better of it. Bedrest during pregnancy must really EXPLETIVE DELETED when you think about it.
"You never listened to me, your abba, your teachers, your rav...All wasted. All gone. There's a reason abba and I did not write to you."
"Yeah you have four other children and in a few months, five."
"You never came back," Mom continued.
"I'm fourteen. I'm supposed to be placed. Have you forgotten?"
"She's not grateful," muttered blonde wig. "Not for all you've done. No children are grateful. That is a mother's biggest sorrow."
"See you after services," I told my mother and headed downstairs. "I don't really feel like going to schul," Chevie announced as she put a fancy comb in Kayla's hair. "If you hang upside down," she advised her younger sister, "This is going to fall out, so bring it back to me if you lose it, OK."
Kayla sat still as a stone. "Still waters run deep," I reminded myself.
"Look the service is pretty, and I want to run into Dad if I can. Don't you think we should check back with him. Dov will be there too."
"She's right," Bonnie stuck up for me.
A few minutes later we were part of a mostly male procession to Friday night services. The female side of the main sanctuary had plenty of room. We sat in a clump in my favorite spot, down by the rail. I remembered how last spring I would look for Shmuel who was often at services among the men. He had been somewhat of a prodigy. Now he was personna non grata. "What happens," I wondered "when," NOT IF all the children are taken? Dov might remain exempt, but was there full tuition for Yitzi and Yoni? I wondered if it was possible to resist takings without being hidden behind a white noise generator in a basement for eight or nine years, when takings came six to eight times a year as they did under the Priests.
I wondered if the rules of the game for when a kid became bad and was exiled would change or if they would change in my family even if other families became more accepting. About a third of the way through the service, I found Dad. He was down near the bimah the alter from which those men called up read from the Torah on Saturday morning. Dov was in a backrow with Ezra Rappoport and Yonatan Marcus, boys from his house and/or school.
The service lasted about an hour and I followed Dov out and intercepted him. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
"You should know. I wrote to you," I was not in the mood to play games with my socially brilliant and academically disengaged younger brother.
"Yeah, but imma and abba didn't say you could come."
"They're my family. They don't have to invite me formally."
"Well Abba and I are going out to eat."
"Is Kayla invited?" I inquired.
"Kayla's supposed to be home with Imma," Dad informed me.
"Why aren't you taking her to Shabbos dinner?" I asked. Dad looked down at me. He had a salt and pepper beard and he was tall. Dov was tall. Neither Shlomo-Yitzakh nor I have much height.
"Girls belong with their mothers. It's mostly boys anyway. It's not tsnius to bring all the girls. I'm sorry, Ahava." Dad used my real name and not my old one. Oddly that felt good and weird. He was not one for lying about reading my mail. "As long as I'm here, will you make some time to talk with me tomorrow?" I asked my father.
Dad blinked. He glanced at Bonnie who had found me in the crowd and was bringing along Chevie and Kayla. "All of you are here," Dad explained as if to himself. "Why did you come back?" he asked.
"Chevie asked me. She wanted to see how Dov and Kayla were doing." It was a pleasure not to have to lie.
"Well you've seen. How long are you staying?"
"I'm going home Sunday afternoon, and so is Chevie."
"What about Imma?"
"No one told me she was unwell, and I have school. My clan leaders won't let me stay here to care for her. Chevie also has school. None of us live nearby. I think you need to hire someone for the two youngest boys."
"You have it all taken care of," sighed Dad.
"Given my lack of information, I'd say yes," I tossed back the conversational ball.
"Dad, can we make time to talk?" I was feeling desperate in spite of myself. Dad was on the spot. He was on it in public.
"Yes," sighed Dad. "Three o'clock is that good enough for you?&qut;
"It's fantastic. Shabbat Shalom Dad," I told him.
"We're outta here," cried Cheive once we hit the fresh air.
"Smells like sopring," my younger sister continued. "It's fall in Hobart. The seasons are reversed. Wow, was that service boring! I can't believe you like to daven."
"What's not to believe?" I answered.
"Abba loves to daven and to learn," Kayla joined our conversation. Her comb had come loose but it had not fallen out. Chevie made her stop so she could do an emergency hair repair.
"You either like Judaics or you don't," I explained to Chevie and Kayla. "It's just a matter of choice and for some of us taste."
"We Jews have neshamot [Hebrew word for a special sort of soul that is superior to that of those of other religions.]," Kayla explained.
"I don't believe that," answered Bonnie.
"Of course you don't. You're a EPITHET DELETED!" Kayla had learned that word from my parents and probably her friends at school and even the teachers.
"Excuse me," I did not wait for Bonnie to pounce. "EPITHET DELETED is a very bad word. It's an insult. You owe Ms. Sorensen an apology."
"It just means nations," Kayla knew the drill. I was impressed.
"Not when you speak English it doesn't," I explained. "When you use a Hebrew word in English conversation you are either saying that what you have or do is special or superior to what everyone else does, or you are using it as an insult. EPITHET DELETED is an insult, understand?"
"You're wrong," Kayla held her ground.
"No, Ahava is right," Chevie took up my side. "Kayla you called Bonnie a name even if you think it was a polite name right?"
"I just said what she was," Kayla responded.
"OK, then you called her something right?" Chevie hung on.
"I did but it's what she is," Kayla was unfazed.
"How would you feel if somebody called you a name because they didn't like what you said. Maybe 'dirty Jew?'"
"I'd know they were stinking anti-semites and Nazis," Kayla replied.
"OK, so you'd be angry enough to call them names back, even if they said they were speaking the truth," Chevie dug in.
"Kayla," Bonnie delivered the coup de grace. "It's an ugly thing to call people names just because they disagree with you. That's all I did and you called me something ugly, which may or may not even be true. You don't know my religion. You just know I'm not Orthodox right?"
Kayla stood and asked: "Are you Jewish?"
Bonnie replied she wasn't but it was wrong to call her a bad name just the same. "Do you want somebody doing that to you?"
Kayla went silent. I wasn't sure how much of Bonnie's and my lesson had sunk in.
In my parents' house, Kayla helped Chevie set the table. I went upstairs to check with Mom and found her asleep and the old ladies camped out in the hall gossiping across the gate with my former fourth grade friend.
"Did Mom eat all ready?" I inquired.
"She did. You're not really supposed to have dairy for Shabbos. If we had known you were coming, we would have brought food."
"Don't worry about it," I answered. "It's all State Secrets around here, as far as communication is concerned. I'll be in the dining room if you need me." I bounced back down the stairs and helped put out the dinner food.
I made kiddush on ice tea and hamotzi, the blessing on bread on the matzoh. The four of us sat under golden dining room lights at a table that could sit eight. "You know what this is like," Chevie began the conversation. "A scene in that old movie, Citizen Kane. I got to watch it on video last Saturday night. One of the older girls loves old movies so we have old movie nights. Well there's this scene in Citizen Kane where he and his wife who is the singer sits at opposite ends of this huge table and don't talk to eachother."
"You really think it's that bad?" asked Bonnie.
"It's not that bad. All the people who don't want to talk are elsewhere? This is a Creators and Ed-Branch convention only."
"It's not," I protested. "Kayla you're not Ed-Branch or C-Branch yet." Yet, was only a short time away In three days, Kayla turned six. I lifted up my tumbler of ice tea. "To your future, Kayla. There's a fork in the road. Choose your favorite."
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Chevie.
"You know wht it means," I responded.
"You think it's going to be that easy to get Kayla taken?" asked Chevie.
"How long can you resist before the Barn Boss realizes Mom and Dad aren't paying tuition."
"HaShem will protect me." Kayla called down the Hebrew name for God.
"No doubt he will," Bonnie replied, "But the question is: 'What do you want?'"
"I love it here. I never want to be taken."
"I believe you love it," Bonnie answered. "It's your home. You have friends at school, and teachers who like what you do. There are good games with other kids, but do you want to keep getting not invited to Shabbos dinners because a child who isn't even in middle school yet is immodest. Do you want to learn a modern language in school or maybe ride the rides that turn upside down in the amusement park. I don't know what you want, but part of you does."
"I want to be a good Jewish girl," Kayla answered.
"OK," answered Bonnie. "There's a kid at this table who wanted just that. She fought and complained when they took her the first time, and when she got her encouragement, she continued her religious learning when this community made it as difficult as possible."
"Yes, but Imma loves me and she doesn't...." Kayla froze. She stared at me.
"Go ahead, say the rest," I said. "You can say it."
"Imma and Abba don't love you any more."
"Love is not a weapon!" snarled Chevie. "If love comes with threats, it's bullshit. Got that? Imma and Abba like to play games with us kids. It's not fair, but they do it," Chevie sighed. She stared down at her plate. She looked deflated. Then she went on. "If you don't learn to play games back in this house or get somebody to stick up for you like Ahava did, you die."
Kayla didn't answer. She said our food was gross and pushed her plate into the middle of the table. I heard her climb the stairs. I found her in bed with Mom who did not kick her out. I slipped back out of the bedroom and came back to the dinner table. I was not angry at Chevie. "The sooner Kayla is out of here," Chevie answered. "The better it will be for her."
"You may get your wish," Bonnie answered. "I'm just wondering where Kayla's friends are tonight."
"I thought of that too," Chevie continued.
"It's Mon on bedrest," I explained. "When I was Kayla's age, I spent about half my Shabbos at home, but Mom was well and there were guests. Sometimes I ate afterwards. Sometimes I skipped a meal. It didn't kill me. With Mom sick though it's different."
"I think they are due to clean out neighborhoods in Atlanta again," Bonnie took the conversation down a grim road.
"This is not the only neighborhood where parents' hide children or use local houses."
"What if people walk away from The Company. Atlanta is still a Company town. Takings in the United States are voluntary."
"Off the grid you..." I stopped the cliche.
"The question is how many adults are equipped to survive with their families off the grid."
"In this neighborhood, it's not so different than being semi-independent," I explained.
"Someone just has to manipulate the economy than," Bonnie answered. "The Priests don't play by the old rules any way. Their world is totalitarian. They want everyone in the system, no exceptions. Also we don't have an equivalent in their world. Creators are unique to this world. Governing team has been back and forth with the Priests to let us operate. They've even declared a few of us Priests so they don't have to deal with us further. If we were more agressive at recruiting, they might have issues with us. Ed-Branch should thank whatever gods it worships for the Scholars Union. It's easy to have a twin." None of us replied. I wondered how much clan/Company/Priestly politics Chevie heard around her dinner table in Hobart.
We ate dessert and said the blessing after meals. I found Kayla upstairs playing with the babies who had woken up. She was the new big sister. That was reason enough to want to stay. I suppressed my envy and headed out, locking the door and shouldering my duffle. Bonnie had her car parked at the shopping center. We piled in for the one and a half mile ride to her house where we would spend the night.
"Let's hear it," Chevie sing-songed: "The music at services is beautiful. The prayers are bee-you-tee-full and uplifting. Services are social. We get to see Dad and Dov. Did I get everything?"
"No," I answered. It was Saturday morning and we were walking to Beth Jacob Village from Bonnie's house. I did not have to convince Bonnie that we got more out of services if we walked to the synagogue. She booted Chevie and me out, and then brought up the rear. "You get to give Kayla another of your great hair jobs," I told my sister.
Chevie snorted and then laughed. "You're not as dumb as I think you are," was Chevie's version of a compliment.
We reached the house. Mom all ready had her visiting lady and a skinny woman who had brought her own five year old was visiting the babies and keeping their room from descending into a pit of filth. I found Kayla not even dressed yet with half finished breakfast on the table. "OK, Kayla," I gave the orders. "I want you to find a clean undershirt and clean blouse that looks good with your blue skirt. You can look gorgeous when you put a mind to it."
"I don't want to look gorgeous," Kayla protested. "I want to look tsnius" Tsnius is the Hebrew word for modest.
"Well you can be both at the same time. A nice tailored outfit does wonders for you and is quite modest." Kayla was learning fast she lost arguments and scurried off to get dressed while I did pennance at the sink.
Chevie supervised the makeover. That is why Kayla wore her school shoes. They were simply in better shape and went well with the dark blue skirt and striped navy and gold polo shirt. Kayla picked out two gold combs with navy blue flowers on them. The girl had taste. She sqatted on her flexible haunches while Chevie combed brushed and carefully tucked combs into place. "If one of these falls out, bring it to me and I'll put it back, OK," Chevie gave lessons in high maintenance hair care. I envied she could reach Kayla.
Bonnie Sorensen led our procession down LaVista. She walked like she owned the street in her criinkled scarlet skirt, white nubble sweater and matching scarlet jacket. We were her minions, in our brands of shabbos chic. We took our places down by the rail. Why not get a front row seat? Behind me I could feel my former friends from fourth grade. We had not gone to middle school together. I reminded myself of that fact.
Of course the morning service was long, and sooner or later nature called. I headed for the nice overheated restroom near the door. Two of my exschool mates were all ready there. So too were some friends of Chevie's. We all crowded in, and pity the poor woman who came in to simply do her business. We got through ours fast and took over the two couches for nursing mothers. Most nursing mothers were home. I thought of Mom bedridden for fear of a miscarriage and stared at the floor.
"You OK, Ahava?" began Malka, the girl who had babysat for the babies today. I did not feel that Malka had done all the work. I had shopped for and cooked a meal. Chevie did Kayla's hair. Kayla and Bonnie had straightened up.
"Yeah," I answered.
"You miss Toco Hills?" Malka was not teasing. I could sense that much in her words.
"Not really. Chevie was the one who wanted the visit."
"What's the EPITHET DELETED doing here?" asked a gold haired girl who liked to suck on stray strands. She wore all black. This was supposed to be modest, but Zabiba and Elizabeth said it was "very adolescent." I thought about that.
"I can only have supervised visitation, and EPITHET DELETED is an insult. Most people are not Jewish. You don't have to find an ugly name for it."
The crowd in the bathroom tittered awkwardly. "What are you planning to do here?" the girl with the foul tongue asked.
"Stay utnil tomorrow and go home to New Jersey," I replied.
"Do you think we should do something?" asked Chevie.
"I think if you go over to the other side you can't really come back," said a girl with brown freckeles, matching brown hair, and glasses with brown, plastic frames.
"I think you're partially right," I flipped the brown girl's argument, just as the bathroom door opened and an older woman with a full tank walked in.
"Kinneret," she called to the girl with the pony tails. "Why aren't you davening?"
"I needed to pee," the child replied.
"And how long does that take?&qut; her mother asked. Then she noticed Chevie and me. "Do you girls have some place to go for Shabbos?"
"We have food at the house," I replied. "And what about your little sister?" It was plain an invitation was in the works. Kayla had followed us inside and none of the big girls had dared kick her out, but she knew her place in the conclave. "We just have matzoh and cheese," Kayla spoke up.
"Actually we have a bit more than that, but thankyou so much for thinking of us. We'd be delighted to be your guests for lunch," I heard several of the girls snort.
"Why are you laughing when Ahava is trying to be polite?" brown girl's mother asked her bathroom audience.
"They teach her very courtly manners in her public school. I remember when we'd have you for lunch the last few years."
I remembered those lunch dates as well. Missus Liebow invited some of my siblings and me about once a month. I had even eaten Rosh HaShannah luncheon at her home the fall before last.
I took Ms. Liebow aside and explained Chevie's supervised visitation. Ms. Liebow had no problem including both Bonnie and Kayla. She said it was good to see Kayla in schul. I couldn't argue with that.
Lunch at the Liebow's ended about 2:30pm and I drifted toward Beth Jacob Village on my own. I needed to see Dad. We had a three pm appointment and I had my history which I had been reading last night. I'd be caught up in my humanities nad have to immerse myself in math and biology on Sunday night. I tried not to think about that. I let myself into the kollel and eyes turned. I found my way to an isolated table, since I needed to read my history silently. That was where Dad found me. He looked at what I was reading. "Does it say bad things about Jews?" he asked.
"It's about the Russian Revolution and Civil War," I told Dad which was the truth. I even showed him the chapter I was reading. "Do you still learn, Ahava?" he asked me. I nodded. I told him it was mainly chumas and tanach.
He asked if I wanted to be a rabbi. I told him the wordw as "rabba" but the answer was "no."
"Then what do you want?" Dad began.
"I want better communication. I had no idea Mom was on bedrest."
"And what would you have done had you known?"
"Written her more often or called her if she would pick up."
"And do you think that would have been good for her."
"I'd probably just stick to writing, and writing or speaking to you doesn't have to upset Mom."
"But you wouldn't come home to help."
"My clan leaders will not let me."
Dad groaned and shook his head. "Dad, a clan is like yeshiva, but secular. I'm in the Scholars Union, but I still learn Judaics. They think it's great because it's in another language."
"I might come back to visit more," I added if you were hospitable. "You have no reason to treat me as an enemy. You have no reason to cut off Shlomo-Yitzakh either. We're your two best children. We're the ones who care about learning and davening and faith. We're the ones who are still at it even without a parent constantly behind us. He's in a dati leumi house in Haifa and I have a Judaics teacher and I go to a public school for scholars. That's pretty close to the way you wanted your kids to come out. It's closer than Dov and it may be closer than Chevie, though she's different in her own way."
"You're asking me to forgive you aren't you?" Dad sort of caught on.
"I can't do it," he answered his own question. "Only Ha Kadesh Bar'achu can do it."
"Then why hold a grudge if the grudge is God's to hold?" I was nearly in tears. My glib tongue was indeed giving out.
"You have a point," Dad sighed. "So is that all you wanted?"
"If you really deliver on it yes," I responded. "Write or phone me back when I write or phone you or Mom, and let me know about things. Honesty on both sides. And do the same for Shlomo-Yitzakh." Dad hesitated. We both noticed that heads at the kollel's study tables were turning. Outside the glass doors, a small girl in a navy skirt and striped polo shirt was having an argument with a ramrod straight standing woman in flaming scarlet, flanked by a girl with a magenta and green striped blouse worn over a grey skirt and bright green sandals over bare feet with pink polished toes.
"And just what do you mean that a nonJewish woman can not enter the kollel. Watch me do it," bellowed Bonnie who pushed open the doors and strode in followed by a nearly crying Kayla and a somewhat amused Chevie who could not wipe the grin from her poor face.
"Mr. Weisman,&quiot; Bonnie had found her target, and it was Dad. "We need to speak about Chevie."
"I have nothing to say to you," Dad stiffened.
"Would you like to work toward unsupervised visitation?" Bonnie asked.
"Let's talk outside," Dad was not going to have this conversation in the midst of the kollel, and I did not blame him.
I wathced as Bonnie laid down the law on behalf of Chevie and Kayla.
"You'll be happy if the priests take them next week," Dad all but spat.
&quiot;I don't care if you hide Kayla. In the short term hiding works, and you may be able to keep it up for several years," Bonnie smiled. "What I do care about is that when she is home, she is fed and clothesd and looked after adequately. I also expect the same for Chevie when she visits. That means you need to hire a full time housekeeper. Your wife is not well. Then she will be burdended with a newborn and two small children. She needs regular domestic help. I can send someone if you like, someone Jewish with references. You'll hire her at an agreed on rate. She can act as visit supervisor as well, or you can select and hire the help."
"You have no business telling me how to run my house," Dad replied.
"Your daughter currently is restricted to supervised visitation until your house is a safe and hospitable place for her."
"You have no business making threats."
"What threats? This is happening now."
"Abba," Chevie cut in. "Do you want Kayla to have to beg and steal for her food?"
"Beg and steal. My children don't beg and steal."
"No," I commented. "We get invited to other people's houses and charitable folks give us 'extra food' from the corners of their hearts. I taught Dov that term. It's mine." I felt my face flush with an odd memory. I kept the powerbars in a shoebox on top of my closet and later bought whole packages of cookies, some of which I gave to Kayla, whom I knew was sometimes hungry. I understood that much. It was just the way things worked and I felt guilty for my stipend at the age of ten.
"Kayla begs and she may be stealing," Chevie pulled the argument back into the hot zone.
"I don't steal!" screamed Kayla.
"We'll find out," Chevie looked daggers at her sister. Dad looked uncomfortable. He still followed us home. He stopped to talk to Mom who wailed. I hadn't seen Mom with a full blown meltdown all weekend. Dad was a better audience than two uncaring daugthers. "What have you been doing to Imma?" Dad asked me.
"Not much," I quipped back. "I haven't had a chance. I made dinner last night. Bonnie cleaned up. We took Kayla to services twice. What else is there to do?"
Dad shook his head. "You know Imma is quite sick."
"She's on bedrest for a bad pregnancy," I answered.
"How would you feel if she lost the baby?"
"I'd hope and pray she survived, and I'd know it was not my fault. If Mom is that fragile, it would have happened anyway."
Dad did not answer. He sighed letting out all his air and then headed into what was once my bedroom. It had also been Chevie's and Kayla's room. Now it was only Kayla's room. I was not ready to see this. Seeing Mom really hadn't bothered me. I remembered her, so I was used to her. My old bedroom was a different matter. Fortunately, Kohana had cleaned out everything, including the pictures I had left on my walls. I had some really good artwork. It was right on top of the boxes that arrived in New Jersey along with enough books to require an extra shelf. My resser and closet space were utterly empty. Kohana had even stripped my bed and laundered my bedding or at least put it in the hamper. I sat on my bare mattress. Chevie's side of the room was in chaos. It was just as she left it until someone, a guilty part who liked pretty combs in her soon-to-be six year old hair, had gone treasure hunting and refused to clean up. Maybe she'd brought Dov along for the ride. It must have been some ride. I stared at the floor.
"OK, Kayla," Chevie began. "Where's the extra food?"
"I don't have any extra food," the child whined.
"Bullshit," I said. "Even I had extra food. Friends' parents and cafeteria ladies used to give me stuff. I'm sure they've done the same for you. Even Shlomo-Yitzakh had extra food when he lived here."
"You bought cookies for me," Kayla answered.
"Then you have extra food," I closed the case.
"No I don't."
I glanced at the closet. The top shelf was my hidey hole except for fruit which I put on the windowsill. I remembered the nearly, rotten apples from day school and the better ones from people's homes. Later, I had fruit from the supermarket, and good fruit from D-Mag. The fruit was a gift, but Kayla preferred cookies. I kept my cookies and nonperishibles in a shoe box on my closet shelf. The shoe box was gone, and the shelf was empty. "I liked to keep my food under the bed or behind the dresser," Chevie explained extra food 101 to Dad.
She began by checking both those places but true to Kayla's word, there was no food there. Of course there wasn't. There was a lovely hospitable empty dresser. I tried the two small drawers on top of my old dresser. I found a box of combs and bows that wasn't mine. "Pretty stuff," I told Kayla. She pretended not to hear. I tried the first large drawer. Nothing. The second drawer though was full of something hidden by undershirts folded neatly. I pulled one up. I did not think a rising first grader would need a second underware drawer or keep it this cleanly. Kayla probably fished dirty undershirts out of the hamper all the time, or better yet, simply reused the ones thrown on the floor.
I peeled back the layer of shirts. "No!" moaned Kayla as I uncovered a neatly arranged horde of assorted goodies. The obligatory power bars and cookies were there, some wrapped in napkins, but there were also bags of Superblast, Doritos, and Tom's chips. I knew from my own shopping that a lot of brands of junk food went without hecschers. "Who gave you the money to go shopping?" I asked Kayla.
"This food is treif. We'll have to throw it out," Dad said.
"Do you think someone in the neighborhood gave her this?" Chevie steered back the conversation. Dad held a bagof Tom's Salt and Pepper Potato Chips in his hand. He examined it. He checked ingredients. He put down the bag. "Kayla," he asked and then he squatted down to be at eye level with his youngest daughter. "Where did you get money to buy this?"
Kayla said nothing. "You won't get in trouble for this," Bonnie promoised, but Kayla did not trust Bonnie.
"People don't steal food because they are evil." It was Chevie to the rescue. "Sometimes they do it because they are hungry. Sometimes they do it because they are angry people aren't feeding them or paying attention to them. Sometimes they do it so they can pick what they want to eat. Eating what you like makes you feel in control and that someone is listening to you, even if it is only yourself."
Kayla started to cry. She pulled out her shirt tail to wipe her tears. "If people feed you and ask you what you want to eat, you won't have to steal. I promise we'll get that for you, and for Dov." Kayla sniffled.
"You're not Jewish any more!" Kayla yelled at Chevie and probably also at me.
"Kayla," Dad took his turn. "Did you take food and not pay for it?"
"Yes," said Kayla ina barely audible voice. "I'm sorry."
"Why did you take food that didn't belong to you?"
"I don't know," Kayla hung her head. Then she looked up. "Dov taught me about extra food."
"I'll speak to Dov too. He should be old enough to understand." Dad rose slowly. "What would you suggest I do now?" he asked.
"Hire a full time house keeper to see the children are fed regularly and get a choice in what they want to eat. This should stop the theft." Bonnie's answer was good though it didn't fix the emotional situation. "These children also need therapy, but getting them fed and keeping their clothes clean will probably go a long way. I can help you find a Jewish housekeeper who understands kashrus."
"And do you know what this costs?"
"You pay tuition for Dov, but don't pay anything for your oldest son or your two oldest daughters any more. You might be able to swing it. If child protective finds out about the way these kids are living, it won't be pretty. Hiring a housekeeper will save you a lot of trouble."
"You're threatening me."
"I'm a mandatory reporter," Bonnie lowered the boom. In a way, it was masterful. Of course Bonnie did not get Dad to write me regularly. The house would still be full of state secrets, but three small children would have good food, clean clothes, and decent adult supervision. "The best solution for the most people," I thought somewhat ruefully as we walked back to Bonnie's. She gave me two hours to study and then Chevie, Kayla, and I all went out late night to the ice cream pit near Brinjin's in Moquias. It's name was Frost Petal Garden. I had peach brandy ice cream in a dish. Bonnie had pistachio gelato. Chevie had chocolate cherry chunk supreme, and Kayla ate three quarters of a dirt sundae. She washed her face in the bathroom and smiled. Chevie did an emergency hair repair on her. Those hair repairs were worth their weight in gold. "We're getting you a housekeeper who knows how to do kids' hair," Bonnie announced.
"Will the housekeeper be C-Branch?" I used the wrong word, but no one cared. Bonnie said that the housekeeper would be a Creator. Creators could often troubleshoot better than anybody else. We had travelled on foot to Moquias and now had four miles to walk back in the nmiddle of the night on beautiful, silent streets. A scene like this would have made me cry, were I alone. I am sentimental and emotional, but not like Mom, though I could have learned something from her. It was possible. I sunk back into my studies. At four inthe morning, I was the last one to bed and also the first one up. I drank strong, spiced tea in Bonnie's kitchen. Chevie and I had put Kayla to bed last night. We remade her bed to make the bedding and she slept in her undershirt because she did not have a clean nightie. "I think Kayla steals hair ornaments," said Chevie at breakfast. "I thought of that. It's poignant," commented Bonnie. Poignant was a good word.
We went to eat with Dad and Dov at a kosher restaurant on Sunday and returned to our homes Sunday afternoon. Dov wrote a week later with news of a housekeeper. Bonnie had called three days earlier. The housekeeper at least would take calls and answer mail and relay news. Her name was Abishag. I thought of her as an older version of myself, or maybe a younger version of Bonnie. Kayla would write and tell me she had three kinds of corn chips with dinner during the week. She also wrote to tell me of the fairy tales Abishag read to her. Dov meanwhile got thrown out of his Yeshiva for stealing food. Whether this was Dad's doing, or his own desire to come clean, break away, atone etc... I could not tell. I did not know Dov well enough. Dov stayed in day school and lived at home. I knew it was just a matter of time until the siren went off. The children might hide. The children might go. One siren would follow another, like water wearing on a rock. Could one get habituated to the siren song? I hoped it was possible. It would make things easier for the two siblings at home. It would not strain their relationship with Dad. It would buy time.
The next taking came with advance warning. It was two days after Purim, eruv shabbat my comm phone rang just as I was eating breakfast. "Who would call me so early in the morning?" I wondered. The answer was that it was either Abishag reporting an emergency (Probably my mother going into labor) or else someone who was fifteen hours ahead of me and forgot what time it was in the Eastern United States. I grabbed the comm phone. I breathed a sigh of relief to hear Chevie's voice. I forgot to tell her I was busy getting ready for school.
"There's a taking going all around the world," she told me.
This seemed absurd, but it was possible. I supposed it had always been possible. The Priests, unlike the Company, dreamed very big, and then put their dreams into action. "How do you know?" was still all I could answer in response.
"It happened two hours ago in Hobart and it's happening in Japan, and it's all ready been through New Zealand. The Nurturers think it's moving east to west. When it hits 11pm local time, there it is. I don't know if this is true or if it's just my hemisphere."
"Japan's in the Northern hemisphere," I told my sister so it wasn't just Oceana. I knew that much. "I'm going to call Abishag," Chevie told me. "Good idea," I answered. I wasn't sure what to do next. Amaryllis and Ondina were not sure if this was just an Eastern Hemisphere taking or something else. "Why should I believe C-Branch just because they're C-Branch," Ondina quipped. I wasn't sure. I listened for the terrible siren as I rode to school that morning. Whether, Chevie and the Nurturers down in Tasmania were right or not, there would be no kids staying at the Garbage Dump except those who had landed there with there unlucky parents. Boy, that building really lived up to its name in late March. I was glad the ice was too soft for skating, though Jewels and Tweetie were stir crazy from lack of ice fishing. Someone had tried to set a fire to the Garbage Dump. Someone else had thrown a couch out the window and a few other adults had done copycat defenestrations of chairs and one table. A few old books added to the pile of broken furniture now covered in heavy snow. Adults also littered the lawn with broken bottles, shattered several windows which now were covered with warping plywood boards. I tried not to look at the Garbage Dump. I hoped that a maintenance crew of better behaved adults would clean the place up and fix whatever these nasty adults destroyed before kids lived in the place again.
I made it through the school day and tried to negotiate with the roto-tiller man who lived in a clan of agricultural workers and former farmers. He did not want to till six community garden sites. He said he would be too busy when the weather became warm enough some time next month. I went off in a funk to tend my seedlings in the SCAS biology greenhouse. The SCAS greenhouse was also the home of our rescued pointsettias. Why throw them out when we can rebloom them. 4-H was the home of lots of good and practical projects. Too bad we couldn't get all our gardens roto-tilled, but I'd keep working at it.
I got to help cook supper that night by making cole slaw with radishes and bleu-cheese dressing, of which Aurora took a small taste. Bleu-cheese dressing was fine, but it needed croutons and lettuce she told us. "Lettuce is not a winter vegeatble," Zabiba tried to explain. She packed some of the slaw in a container to take to Princeton where she planned to spend three days. I said I would miss her, and I would. I walked her to Seckler Center to catch the local tram and then got started late on my studying, and at eleven pm.... I picked up my books though I knew it would be useless to read. I got on my coat and headed for the basement. Odem followed me inside and then Aurora. "We don't want you going crazy all by yourself," Odem explained. "I even brough the wastebasket," said the ever practical Aurora, "and I put a liner in it."
Suddenly there was a knock at our locked basement door. "Do you want to come in?" I asked the knocker. She could come in, but we weren't coming out. I was sure of that. &qut;Can you come with me. They're going to take my son," Elizabeth said. I sometimes forgot, Elizabeth had a seven year old child. The boy lived with his parents at America's Clan, but he was not cut out for that kind of life. He was an unhappy kid, something that Kayla seldom was and that Dov was only privately. "Takings are voluntary," Odem found the words.
"My boy needs to find his place," Elizabeth told us. "I'd like someone to help me see him off."
"What about your husband?" asked Aurora.
"He left all ready. The boy is scaird. I'm going to get him and we can all go together."
I came out of the basement. Elizabeth was a clan member. Her husband was a clan member. If you wanted your child to follow you, and there could be good reasons for it, he had to be taken, even if the taking was at 11pm on a cold night in March. We walked across the still untilled garden plot to America's Clan and passed through their clean, institutional kitchen that did not smell good, and then up to the third floor. The boy, who had blond hair and brown eyes sat shaking on his bed. He had lost his dinner in the waste basket. "Come on Joseph. It won't be so bad," Elizabeth coaxed her son off the bed and down the stairs. "You did it last year when we lived in Maryland."
I tried not to listen, and soon we were walking quietly, easily, fairly mindlessly the truth be known, up Tranquility toward the Urgent Care Clinic that had once been a general store. There would be buses there to take us to some site set up like a carnival. Yes, there they were, school buses letting out acrid Bio-D smell and making the whole parking lot stink rancidly. My stomach gave out. I found a place in the bushes to lose my dinner. I felt lighte headed after it was gone. I was glad I had managed not to stain my coat. We all got on the same bus. The boy who was stick sick buried his face in his mother's chest. We sat around Elizabeth, a guard of honor. In the light of cars and buses flashing in the window, Elizbeth's face was chalky pale.
Our bus moved out on to the road and within a block vanished into the Interior. The North Jersey Mall looked as it always did. Was it open 24/7? Maybe it always was. We climbed off. Priests were there, Portal Priests and other orders. They shpherded the crowd between buildings and then through an archway that led down to a courtyard that was two stories below the main mall. I could see the main mall looking down at me like night windows, like a row of eyes. Were there people watching us? Half the parking lot was a crowd. The other half an array of vehicles. "Unplaced kids, six to fourteen. Six to fourteen only!" called out a priest who must have had a microphone to amplify his big, male voice.
Other priests prodded and sorted the crowd apart. There were velvet ropes separating the milling crowd from the vehicles. At several gaps in the ropes, kids poured out. We edged closer to the ropes. "All you have to do is pick a vehicle," Elizabeth explained. "It has to be the one that feels best to you. This is very important. If it works out well, you go to the same place next time and again and again, until you trial when you are in middle school." Aurora sighed. Odem stared at the ground. I thought of Chevie and Shlomo-Yitzakh. We had old women instead of middle schoolers at Burden of Dreams, but the middle schoolers would be here one day. I knew that much.
Finally, we approached the gap in the ropes, and Elizabeth let go of her son. She had had her arm around hm. Now she only held his hand or maybe he refused to let go. "Don't be afraid, Joseph. You can call Burden of Dreams house any time they let you use a phone. You can ask them to use a phone. You can tell me where I am. You need to do this. Please, Joey. You need a clan of your own some day." Joseph was crying. He was still a young enough kid to cry.
"It's better than being on the road," Elizabeth pleaded. "You know what being on the road is like."
"I love you mommy," Joseph told Elizabeth and he let go of his mother's hand and hugged her. Elizabeth held her son for a long time, then both let go of eachother, and Joseph headed toward the buses. He kept walking and did not look back. Elizabeth stood at the ropes watching him until she said she couldn't see him any more. Then for us it was over. We walked back through the crowd, under the archway, up the ramp and back between the buildings. I helped us find our way back. The siren either had stopped or was not so loud. I was even hungry. "Want to see if the food court is open?" I asked.
Odem said she was up for it. Elizabeth said she could use a drink. We found the Italian cafe where we had heard the man on the accordion. Elizbath drank fancy coffee and the rest of us had fancy Italian sodas. "I wonder if they'll take my brothers," Aurora said absently. I checked my watch. It was 12:05am. It was six hours into Shabbos. It was 11pm in the Central Time Zone. "I think they just started," I told my roommate.
"My sister is all ready placed," Odem said to no one.
"That's a good thing," Elizabeth answered.
It was around two am when we got home. At three am, when I had just fallen asleep, my comm phone rang. I grabbed it. It was Abishag. "There was a taking tonight," she began.
"I all ready know," I replied.
"Late night takings are unusual."
"You can say that again."
"The rabbis tried to hide the children, but they botched it. Beth Jacob Village sticks out like a sore thumb and so does the day school. The priests came in with law enforcement and bused all the children to the Moqui Gate on Ponce."
"Then they took Dov and Kayla," I wanted this phone call over. There was nothing I could do, and if Mom misscaried or died because of this, well, it was not my fault, but someone would find a way to blame me, and maybe it would be my fault because I was a bit of a pig and had started it all.
"No," Abishag answered. "When the children reached the mall, there were buses to take them. That was the way they did the taking. It was tame. The kids were in the interior and there were transports to start sorting them. Dov was with an older boy, the one they call Ben Dibri. He's a good kid, but there's no football team for him."
I knew about Ben-Dibri. He was twelve and Shlomo-Yitzakh and even I used to say uncharitable things about him, because his interests ran to football rather than Judaics and he was built like a tank and he had a way of playing the fool. Somewhere along the line, Ben-Dibri got thrown out of Dov's yeshivah and religious house and stuck in day school. Ben-Dibri is an uncomplimentary name referring to the man who picked up sticks and was condemned to death in the Biblical book of Numbers. He was said to be the son of a loose woman and an Egyptian man. The loose woman talked too much, hence the Dibri. Ben is Hebrew for son. Ben-Dibri earned this less than complimentary nickname because his mother was divorced. Make of that what you want. I don't know who started that ugly name, but it stuck even when he was in pre-K and kindergarten.
"And Kayla was with Dov," Abishag continued. "Ben-Dibri took Dov, Kayla, and a couple of their friends and hid them all in one of the men's rooms at the Moqui Mall. They stayed in there until the transports left and the sirens stopped. Then Ben-Dibri used a comm phone to call me. Dov must have given him the number. Your father and I came down and got the children. Ben-Dibri's mother wants to make a party for her son this Shabbos. What do you think?"
What was I supposed to think. "What happens next time?" I asked and then wished I hadn't.
"That depends on whether Ben-Dibri realizes his chances might be better elsewhere than Toco Hills. It also depends on whether the mall staff lock the restrooms. Excuse me, there's a call coming in on the other line. Can you hold?"
What choice did I have. Ten minutes later, Abishag returned to our conversation. "That was my exhusband," she told me. "My daughter is in Iquitos, Peru. She's been there before. She was in Manaus on her first two takings, but the house in Iquitos is a better fit. They also keep her current on all her immunizations."
"I didn't know you had a child," I said.
"Only half the time thsese days," Abishag replied. "That's why I'm troubleshooting. Moonbeam lived with my husband's family up in Montreal."
"How old is she?"
"Nine," answered Abishag. "No, she doesn't remind me of either Dov or Kayla. She reminds me of you, but she's not Ed-Branch. She's International Harmony which is related. IH/SU." The SU stood for Scholars Union.
"This community needs to find a better way to hide its children," sighed Abishag.
"You let your daughter be taken," I flung the words at the housekeeper/troubleshooter/Creator.
"My ex-husband, daughter, and I wall want it this way," Abishag responded. "Dov, Kayla, and your parents are different, and Chevie, Shlomo-Yitzakh, and you are different in a third way. I don't stand in the way of any one's choice."
"Are you going to help Dad find a better hiding place?" I asked.
"Yes, if the people who run things here will listen to me," Abishag replied.
"Are you serious?" I sounded desperate because I was.
"Yes, my job is to troubleshoot. I'm a professional." I thought I could hear Abishag laugh but it was only her exhusband who wanted her back on the other call. I bade goodbye to the troubleshooter and walked down to the kitchen. It was several hours utnil I'd head passed the wretchedness of the Garbage Dump and then up the hill for services with the Rabba. She needed me as a chazzan. Think of that what you will.
On the refridgerator door was a fresh piece of paper marked off in a grid with names of younger siblings on the left and lots of blank space son the right. I saw Joseph's name and shuddered. I saw Xannika's cousins. I saw my fellow Burden of Dreams members drinking tea or coffee and holding a vigil that would never end.
The next morning a fresh pile of ruined furniture adornded the snow and weeds outside the Garbage Dump and the hulks of several burnt out cars still smouldered in the road. There were police vehicles parked and a labyrinth of crime scene tape. I had to take the long way to the synagogue down Upper Highland Lakes Drive and past Seckler Center. The road around the lake was blocked off by Vernon and Sussex County's finest.
The Boy Who Wanted to Fly
Joseph was no longer afraid. Instead he felt a dull ache inside. He remembered his last taking in Maryland, nearly a year and a half ago. He had not been too young to be taken. He had been a few days past his sixth birthday, and that made him old enough. Anyway, being little had not been his problem. He was still little at seven, but little kids could have ideas and wants. He had learned that during the first taking. He had found himself in an amusement park. A lot of kids found themselves in the same park. Some went in the fun house. Some watched shows with their fravorite TV heroes or cartoon characters. Some rode the kiddie rides or the ordinary adult rides.
Joseph, however, gravitated to the extreme rides, the roller coaster that turned upside down. The sled ride that plunged down a nearly vertical track for hundreds or maybe thousands of feet, the rocket car that turned upside down in mid air and just hung there, the roller coaster that rose like a great, ice blue, steel mountain to an impossible point. Joseph got in line for the impossible roller coaster. He did not care that he was one of the few little kids in the line. He waited patiently staring at the wild trajectories the cars followed on their tracks and hearing and feeling their whoosh inside himself. He smiled. Every adult he had spoken to had lied to him. People could fly, all it took was the right steel track and the special cars to ride it. Now, he too was going to soar updside down. At long last the line reached the entrance to the roller coaster that turned upside down in a great metal loop. A silhouette of a child in black wood stood guarding the ride's entrance. Joseph read out the words next to the silhouette, though their language was plain without him sounding them out silently. YOU MUST BE THIS TALL TO RIDE.Joseph knew he did not measure up. It was not fair! He hoped the operator would just let him on, but the plump gtirl who made sure all the passengers were safely strapped into their seats, turned him away. "Please," he pleaded. The girl reminded him of his mother. "I'll be good. I won't horse around. Just once...please!" Even Joseph's tears, and he had cried much to his shame, would not disuade the girl, but Joseph would not leave. He got out of line and stood next to the ride and then he watched the roller coaster twist and turn its passengers upside down. Maybe if there was a boy or a man running the ride, they would have understoodd and realized how much he needed to fly. He would not scream. He would not get sick. He would understand that people did not have wings and that it took metal and wood and engines, and oil and gas. His father sometimes fixed things. His father just could not build the things that made people fly.
At the impossiblely tall peak roller coaster, there was a white silhouette of an impossibly tall child. This time a man with a mustache helped the passengers who looked scaird. "Why be scaird?" thought Joseph. "You're going to fly in the greatest machine. They let you fly. They won't let me fly!" "Stand against the sign," the man with the mustache commanded. Joseph stood. He strained on tip toes. He stretched his back. "Please," he mouthed. The man with the mustache shook his head. "You have to grow a bit," he gently advised Joseph. "Can I just watch then, somewhere up close?" the child pleaded. The man with the mustache let Joseph through a gate at the side of the ride. Along the great ascent to the tallest peak, two operators watched the track. "The kid can't ride, but he wants to watch. Can you let him stay if he's quiet?" the mustached man asked? A man and a woman who served as guards glanced at Joseph. They shrugged and motioned him to a spot near the tracks. A spot where he could feel the rumble, a spot where he could turn to watch the cars ascend up the wooden track to the tiny pinpoint at the top of the spire. Joseph never left the ground, but he felt the machine take flight, and he flew inside his bones, and in his memory.
Joseph could still feel the flight, when he finally left the ride to find a place to relieve himself. It was getting toward sundown. Joseph realized he was hungry, but he wanted to make sure the operators would let him back in to his special place. When the operators' shift ended, they took Joseph with them to eat in the employees canteen. Later that night, the rides lit up with bulbs, and Joseph got to stand with the helpers who guarded the loop of the upside down roller coaster and at the edge of the rocket ride that hung suspended in the air. A woman at the rocket even told him he could watch the rotor and introduced him to another female who helped escort him back to one of the hostels where children stayed during the taking. Joseph paid no attention to the robed priests. He got breakfast in the hostel and then found the rotor, and later the spire coaster, and then a different ride. He was on his own for lunch by the second day of the taking, and he stopped at a souvenir stand, because everyone would ask for his keepsake. He picked out three shirts with the spire coaster on them, one for him and the others for his parents.
He would tell them about the rides, but when he told them, they did not understand. In fact, they were disappoitnted. "You spent three days just watching amusement park rides?" they asked. Of course he had watched. He was not old enough to fly yet, and they weren't just rides. They carried a person higher and faster than they could go, and they felt it, the wind in their faces, the push of gravity against the seat, the creeking of the metal and restraints that kept them flying rather than falling. Why couldn't the adults understand how imporant all this was, and more importantly, that it was possible?
Joseph knew he would not be able to fly during this taking. He had not gotten that much bigger in eighteen months. Worse yet, this taking was in a mall, and most of the vehicles ranged in the first row of transports to points unknown were school buses, or big buses, tame things despite their decorations and the costumed hosts inviting gullible, kids aboard. Those kids did not know about flying in their hearts, thought Joseph. He kept walking. He made it to the second row of vehicles. These were smaller. One had a trout leaping on its side. He thought of Jewels and Tweetie, the two boys in his mother's clan house. They liked to fish. This would have been for them, but Joseph was sure that he did not want to spend his life or his recreational hours sitting on the side of the lake waiting for a fish to commit suicide fooled by bait or a lure. Another truck had antenae sticking out all over it and blared dance music. Dancing was for girls!
Among the row of vans were beat up pickups, cars, an open bed truck and tired looking adults. Joseph was aware he had reached the end of the line. Conventional wisdom, or what the other kids at school said, was that these were the bad clans, the evil ones, the ones with no status. They were trolling for desperate kids. Joseph was not desperate! He just wanted to fly. Then he saw the car. It was off to the side in what was a fourth rank of vehicles. Most of the cars here were beaten up and there were even clans with no cars at all. Poor clans, or poor clan branches, with just a guide holding a flag. "Who would go with such guides?" Joseph thought with disgust. Other cars in the fourth rank though were special. There were cars with gleaming, chrome, jet turbines, an antique car that was over a hundred years old, a truck that was a wagon full of hay bails, but Joseph's car was better than even the car with the turbines.
The car was of irridescent black material that undulated and lay low to the ground. It had a central single fin like that on a great sail fish and great exhaust pipes. Its windows were smokey and tinted like insect eyes. It did not seem to be made of metal, but rather of something soft and supple, nearly alive. Joseph edged close to the vehicle. Maybe it could fly. Maybe it could dive through the earth or fit through imaginary, small passageways. Maybe it could win races on impossibly steep mountains or travel in outer space. Joseph edged close to the car, and took his hand out of his pocket. With cold fingers, he caressed the smooth, surface, that felt warm to the touch rather than cold the way a car's metal usually felt.
"What are you doing here?" a gruff male voice asked. Joseph looked up. The figure behind the voice, wore a short coweled jacket of shiney black cloth over matte grey-black work pants. His feet were clad only in black socks. Joseph looked around. There was no silhouette stating a height requirement he could not make. "I am looking for someone to go with. I'm in a taking," Joseph told the owner of the voice. "I really like your car," the words tumbled out.
&quiot;Really," the gruff voice rumbled from the hood. The man in shiney black squatted down so that he was on eye level with Joseph. Joseph put both his hands in his pockets but did not run. The man reached up with a yellowish hand and pushed back his hood to expose his face. It was a hard bitten face, older than Joseph's father's, and full of wrinkles and sunburn. They eyebrows were starting to go grey. The head was shaven like a Priest's. The man's eyes had bright red irises. The irises seemed to be on fire.
"Can you see in the dark?" Joseph asked.
"Do you want eyes like this?" the man answered with a question.
"It depends what they do," Joseph kept his gaze locked on those magnificent, red irises. "Do they give you x-ray vision?" he asked again. He might annoy the man "playing twenty questions," but he couldn't help himself.
"They eyes help me read code. They're electronically enhanced," the gruff man answered. "If you want eyes like this, you'll have to work very hard. Are you willing to work?"
"I'm willing to do what I'm told and not horse around," Joseph answered.
"That's a step in the right direction," a younger male voice spoke up on Joseph's behalf.
"What about working?" the gruff man asked.
Joseph thought about the men and women who had guarded the rides a year and a half ago. That would be a great thing to do when he got older. Right now he knew he'd have to content himself with sweeping the floor, putting out the trash, making his bed, etc... but at least it would lead somewhere good. He would learn the secrets of making people fly, which was even better than just flying. "I'll work very hard," Joseph told the man with the red eyes. "Then wait by that pole," the man directed him and poitned with a long, yellowed finger. Joseph now realized there was dirt underneath the man's fingernails. He was going to work in a shop probably or maybe get to see adults making the great flying machines there. Joseph smiled and walked toward a shadowy pillar near the rear of the courtyard. Two older boys, one with long hair and antoher with a crew cut stood sullenly by the pole. One boy had a puzzle that he worked incessantly. The other stood with arms folded over a light colored sweater. In addition, there was a girl with glasses and a pink sweat shirt. "Did girls want to fly too?" Joseph wondered. He did not think they wanted to fly, but there was Odem who ate animal guts, so maybe there were flying girls too.
Joseph took his hand out from his pocket and reached beneath his sweater. He still had on the t-shirt in which he often slept. It was the one with the great blue spire of a roller coaster on it. He could not ride it yet, but he could wear it close to his heart, and in his dreams, he flew on a track in specially made cars. The secret of flight was for those who wanted to know, and if the man with red eyes was right, it was also for those willing to work.
The Old Lady was a Stone!
Joseph's rectangle on the chart on the refidgerator remained blank for a long time. A long time of course is relative, but most of the squares filled within forty-eight hours. Since Zabiba was down in Princeton, Elizabeth had a room to herself. That meant her husband could come and visit and of course stat the night. Older adults have social lives. You may think that is funny because they sometimes tell seventeens and eighteens that they can't have them when they too are almost adults, but they have them and in real life...well this time I couldn't hear anything, but I saw Nathaniel, Elizabeth's husband, at the kitchen table two mornings in a row. He sat there half dressed as if advertising it. Oh please!
In a way of course Nathaniel was good for Elizabeth. I imagined him taking her in his arms and letting her cry on his shoulders. Older adults have romantic social lives. One does not outgrow romance when you think of it. That meant poor Zabiba, who was divorced was either very lonely or very secretive, but maybe she had her work. When Zabiba returned, she, Amaryllis, Ondina, and Elizabeth made unhappy grownup talk in those fearful pitter-pats that in many ways was worse than tears. I tried not to listen which of course was futile, especially since they had these miserable conclaves right in the kitchen, and I had cooking duty.
Then along came Odette who was on three week break during trimesters. Odette took over the cooking, but at nineteen, nearly twenty, she was old enough to be admitted to the serious adult circle. She too pitter-patted, and I tried desperately not to listen. The worst part of course was that Elizabeth would not cry. I mean your child disappears and you should sob, scream, howl, tear out your hair, and the world will understand. They'll know you are not doing it for attention. You are letting your feelings show. You need to have some feelings. What do you want to be, a stone of course? Elizabeth was a stone.
She was a stone even after the priests came to our house. There were Portal Priests in white robes. There were San Rio Priests with their neon hair and characters on their tunics. There were Scholars Union Reps who for the first time I could remember were here to do something other than make trouble, and there was Hamida DeLang, the head of Ed Branch Atlanta. They had their conclave in the kitchen. Odette served them tea bread with dried cherries and hibiscus tea. They did not eat much. The talk was serious. Then the whole squad including Amaryllis and Ondina decamped for the interior.
That left Zabiba and Odette as adults in charge of things. They kept the cooking shifts from turning into fighting shifts and Zabiba talked about her work because I asked her. With all the attention to Elizabeth who deserved it, she ran the real risk of playing left out even though she was working hard and doing what most of us dreamed of doing some day. Zabiba talked about running the first small scale batches of her experiment and that the results looked good. She showed them to me on her data crystal. There were lots of numbers but also three dimensional molecular diagrams, singly, and clinging together hand-in-hand like strands of some gigantic basket. Plastic was really a kind of flexible basket weave. "The cows here make so much milk that it can't all be sold for food, and if you make cheese with it, whey is a byproduct. What is there to do with it? Making plastic or fuel out of it is about your best choice."
Meanwhile, Odette took Xannika's ingredients and made the pot pie we had planned for Shabbos. She believed that Elizabeth would return home with good news. I pictured her returning home with Joseph. I helped wash and cut up the vegetables, then I got out of the kitchen carnival and went upstairs to study.
On the evening of March 28, 2084, Elizabeth and her entourage returned from the Interior. She looked tired. She took a black marker and wrote on Joseph's rectangle. "Illusion Priests Central Creche 7-10 Days. No phone contact or email. Restricted area." "What happened?" I asked Elizabeth who collapsed in a chair. Her face was ashen. "Joseph has an encouragement that doesn't believe in making contact with parents. The priests say it is high status, white or silver cards. That puts them way up in the Interior's hierarchy." Elizabeth gave up talking. She let her round, sand-blasted chin, rest on her hands which had surprizingly long and pretty fingers for someone so old.
"Elizabeth," I felt like telling her. "It is time to stop putting a good face on it. Go ahead. Everyone will understand if you cry. You are not a stone. Tell me you are not a stone. I would cry in your place. I know I would."
Instead Elizabeth found her words again. "I can send him letters and packages. He can write me back and probably will. He is a good boy that way. In a way this is better because clans and houses that make kids write, sometimes give parents very foced letters or form letters. You understand?"
"Why don't you cry?" I finally asked.
"There's no need," Elizabeth shot back. "My son is safe. He will be back in seven to ten days. He's in the Interior, that's all. He wasn't happy with my husband's clan and he didn't like this one. He needs to start working on being placed so when he's twelve or so, he'll have a place to go."
"Since when did placing middle schoolers become the new normal?" I asked.
"It always was that way outside Ed-Branch that waits until kids are fourteen."
I did not want to get into this kind of argument. Maybe denial gives a parent protection. Maybe that social life upstairs or in the back of a car with Nathaniel was more important than what happened to Joseph though Elizabeth could never admit it in polite company. That was just the way it was. We kids could often appear selifsh and be seilfish, why would we outgrow it when we became adults?
Elizabeth did not care for the pot pie. It had no meat and chard was not her vegetable. Xannika did not bemoan the loss of her chard and we had plenty of flour. "I'll think of something else for the weekend," she chirped. Yes, Xannika could chirp. She was being forced to phone and write her mother AND her father. Her own family relations were nearly as bad as my own, maybe worse, since I had been "home" two weeks ago.
Elizabeth did write her son and he wrote back. She did not send him his Teddy Bear since it would arrive after he left. "My son has trouble sleeping at night," Elizabeth explained. It was Saturday afternoon. Joseph had been gone a week. Do you want to ask whether Elizabeth loved her son? I believe she did. Good intentions sometimes yield awful results, and besides that everyone has their own emotional reactions. Aurora could be stoic. Odem pretended to be stoic, but she was closer to my own way of thinking. Me, I was a waterworks, and had my own mother to thank for it, and my mom, well she had learned to use her emotions as a tool, but that was Mom and you only get one unless your dad divorces and remarries and or you have aunts to whom you are close.
On Sunday, nine days after Joseph's disappearance, Dad called me, not Abishag, Dad. Mom was in the hospital. No, she had not miscarried. No, she had not given birth. Yes, she was out of danger and under the doctors' care. No, I could not come home and watch the household. That was why Dad had Abishag. At least we were too close to the last taking for there to be another. I thanked HaShem for that. There was enough chaos in my life I did not need more.
On Tuesday, Joseph returned. Amaryllis had made me write to my mother in the hospital. I used publishing software to create a greeting card. I did not have a lot to say, and pictures made it easier. The nurses, at least, would understand that I cared, not that I cared. Mom needed to stop having babies. this whole difficult pregnancy was an accident waiting to happen. It was not malingering on Mom's part. She really was laid up, and a miscarriage could really kill. I felt sorry for her and my siblings. I am glad the Creators (Hey I got the name right! They deserve to have the name write!) had made sure Abishag was there so the other kids were safe and well fed and could put together normal lives with their friends from school. I hoped Kayla wasn't stealing any more.
Joseph wore a charcoal t-shirt tucked into black pants. He had a plastic bag with him containing extra and other clothes and a few keepsakes. The weird thing about Joseph was that someone had cut his hair. They had not shaven his head or even given him a crew cut with a razor, but they had cut his hair as short as you can cut it with a scisors. Jewels called Joesph's new hair style a "scissor crewk." I tried to figure out whether Joseph had lost weight. I think he just stood taller, but he didn't do stupid things like fight moves. He did switch schools. He did not go to SCAS but he went to a larger school than the elementary in Vernon, one that would make sure he had rigorous mathematics. That meant he would often come over to ask his mother or Zabiba or Odette for help in the evenings. If Joseph did not stick with his studies, he would lose his encouragement, and from what everyone could tell including his mother, he liked where he had been.
Maybe Elizabeth did not have to cry, though she sometimes after all of this, acted unhappy that Joseph had to stay in school until five pm like a scholar with activities. He went to something called "Group Games" where he ran obstacle courses and worked on various group problem solving activities. He came home exhausted and still had to do his homework and his study quota for which Elizabeth insisted that as a licensed teacher she could sign. Joseph was as hard working after all as any Ed-Branch kid and a lot less demanding of his various needs. What bothered Elizabeth and what I did not catch with all my stupid worries about emotions was that Joseph DID NOT have a stipend. An Ed-Branch child put on the scholars' (or Ed-Branch) curriculum and sent to activities after school would have been given a financial management course and handed cash. Money is freedom. Money means not having to steal. Money means you can survive weird and bad situations. I know all of this first hand. Joseph simply had high status and belonged. Elizabeth was able to say that this was not enuogh.
Meanwhile, I had strange news of my own. A Scholars Union Rep had collared me as I was giving out garden plots at a 4-H meeting on the first Wednesday in April. I went out in the hall, wondering what kind of trouble I'd found. I really had been too busy to do anything untoward recently except perhaps vent my dissapointment that we could only get three of our six plots roto-tilled for community gardens. Maybe I had made too snotty an argument. I can be snotty which is the adults' word for an assertive adolescent.
I stepped out into the hall prepared for the worst. "Ahaba," began a male Scholars Union Rep. Like Ed-Branch, most Scholars are female. "Your brother is about to undergo a very important religious coming of age ritual at a sacred Temple in Jerusalem, Israel in three weeks." My brother was going to be bar mitzvahed at the Kotel (The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem). That had been Dad's plan for him since he started pre-K. I was glad his clan was taking him down from Haifa for the ritual and celebration. I ndded.
"Well Shlomo-Yitzakh and your mother is ill, and your father won't leave her side. Dati Leumi is a partner to Scholars Union just like Ed-Branch. We are willing to pay your transportation and send you to Israel to be with your brother during his rite of passage." I did not cry. I smiled an excrement and Comet eating grin that would not leave my face. If it would not have disturbed the others at their extracurriculars, I would have jumped out of my skin for pure joy and whooped loud enough to bring the school down. If I had had the ability, I would have turned hand springs and cartwheels.
"Thankyou so much!" I cried, and the words came out choked and the tears flowed. I am a very sentimental person. I am not a stone, and that night, I cried more. Chevie called me and told me that the Creators were also sending her to Israel for Shlomo-Yitzahk's bar mitzvah. "Why are you crying?" Elizabeth asked me. "I'm relieved that my brother is getting something he wants and that he has family that will share his joy." I too found the words.
Lots of Time to Think
In the weeks before Pesach (Passover) and my brother, Shlomo-Yitzakh's, bar mitzvah, the Priests cleaned the last of the adults out of the Garbage Dump. I don't know where they went. My guess, and it is probably accurate as far as it goes, is that they ended up trialling for various clans along the East Coast and in the Interior. After the adults were gone, the Purple Coyotes and other maintenance and work clans repaired the damage. One week before Pesach my fellow clan members and I returned the extra uniforms, bedding, books, toys, and wall hangings to the EBA/SU section of the dormitory.
During those weeks, I did a lot of thinking. I thought when I turned the porch light on our community garden, one of the ones that didn't get roto-tilled and dug in the dirt by hand. Sometimes Xannika dug with me, since niether of us did much cooking during this time. Odette was carrying us. She said cooking killed time, and she had two more weeks to kill before returning to Dartmouth. We worked in the soil at night because it was when we had the time we had for working it. We also started a compost pile with kitchen scraps. The pile lived in a huge dark breen, bio-plastic container. Turning the pile was my special job, but more often, I dug dirt.
Sometimes Joseph who was not yet ready for bed and done with his studies, and to put it frankly, quite bored but antsy came to watch Xannika and I at our chores. "Why don't you get a machine to do it?" he asked. I explained that America's Clan who had the other half of the garden would not share their roto-tiller. They were also growing sweet corn. We were growing blue Indian corn which would have kernels the color of onyx, but it would make its kernels until August. The sweet corn was a bit earlier. Still the leadership of America's Clan was afraid that our "stupid play garden," (Yes, they called it that) would contaminate their real and serious effort through cross pollination. We refused to grow the same boring crops as they grew. We did not have enough room to pretend to have a commercial garden. If America's Clan wanted to play big farm and think they were cool for it, fine with them, but EXPLETIVE DELETED it if we were going to do the same thing! We could turn our soil by hand.
"Why don't you get the other 4-H kids to help you?" asked Joseph.
"Do you think that I'm a general who can order people around?" I asked back. Xannika just winced. "Besides," Xannika backed me up. "The other kids who didn't get their garden plots roto-tilled have to do what we're doing."
"Who's going to make sure they're doing it?" Joseph asked.
"If they want to grow stuff, they have to work on their soil. We talk about it in school."
"Yeah we talk all right,&quiot; snarled Xannika. "That pig, Jacqueline... " Xannika paused to make a few porcine grunts..."got her uncle to roto-till her land, but didn't share the favor."
"Life is not fair. We'll do a good job up here," I said.
"Aren't the masters angry at all this fighting?" Joseph would not let up.
"Dear little Joey," Xannika knew the boy hated the dimminuative of his name. He was a first born, an only child, and a big brother at least to himself. "The adults in charge of us have their own issues and problems. As long as the land gets dug, they could care less, so we dig, got that?"
Joseph did not know the word: "patronized." No doubt we wounded his seven year old pride, but he was being a pain in the rear end.
Actually, Joseph made me think of what my life might have been like if my parents had waited a while before having the next kid. Long ago, I had been a first kid, an only kid, and a big sister first to myself and then t Shmuel, who is now Shlomo-Yitzakh. A child who speaks early is a child who remembers. Dad had no sons back when I was small, and he took me to Beth Jacob Village every Saturday morning. It was our time. He could have held me in his arms, but mostly he let me ride on his shoulders so I could see the men unroll the Torah scroll on the bimah (a large desk in the middle or front of a synagogue that serves as an altar, though it is designed mainly for reading.). I also danced with the men when they shuffled their feet around the bimah on Friday nights. I did not notice back then that I was wearing the same scuzzy skirt and sweater or blouse every week. In the winter, I frequently slept in my undershirt. I would say I was cold and just not change out of it until I felt like it. Sometimes back then, Mom caught a whiff of me. Usually, it was a babysitter who told me that I stank. I would argue I didn't. I hated to be called names.
Still it was a pretty good time. Soon I would not be the only kid. A baby was growing in Mom's tummy and taking away her lap. It was a big baby, and I was afraid it would burst her open. I did not tell any one about this fear, and Dad did not tell me that there was a safe place for the baby to come out between Mom's legs. One day in April, shortly before my second birthday, my mother started screaming in the bathroom. The thing in her belly was trying to claw its way out or just tear her open. Mom was about to pop like a balloon!
Another lady who was watching me, took Mom to the hospital at Emery (I know there is another spelling for it, but everyone in the neighborhood, especially the kids called it The Emery). I was born at the Emery myself. I rode in the back of the car while Mom moaned. I curled in a ball, too afraid to cry. I got left on a bench while they filled out all the paperwork to check Mom in. Then the lady contacted Dad. When Dad arrived at the Emery, the lady took me home. She said Mom was going to be all right. By tomorrow she'd be back with the baby. "He's going to split her open," I complained. The lady assured me that the doctors would keep that from happening. I was not sure I believed her. I did know I was very hungry, but nobody made me dinner.
At 5am on April 14, 2071 my borther, Shmuel (now called Shlomo-Yitzakh) was born. He was tiny, helpless, red, and ugly. He came home in a blue bunting with white stripes that reminded me of a prayer shawl in reverse. That weekend, Dad took him to synaogue and he was welcomed with a great party. All the men sang for him. They broght him down to the bimah where a mohel (a ritual circumcizer) awaited. They took off his diaper. I wondered why they were changing him on the bimah since that was a holy place. If you didn't drop prayer books on the floor, you didn't change baby's diapers on a bimah, but Shmuel's diaper was clean. I looked. I had recently graduated from wearing diapers to wearing regular clothes. Diapers were disgusting even when they were not soiled. On the disposible white mat on the bimah, baby Shmuel kicked his little feet, a gesture that was both cute and weird. He could be a happy baby as long as he was fed. That made sense. He was not much of a playmate, but every little kid got younger brothers and sisters eventually, so now I had one of my own.
Because Shmuel was a boy, he had very ugly private parts. His penis stuck out his testes hung below it, isntead of being neatly tucked in like my own privates. Boys were very unlucky to be so ugly between the legs. I did not see the mohel preparing his knife. It was a small thin knife, smaller than the knives adults used to cut up meat. It was all over very quickly. He cut a small piece of skin that surrounded Shmuel's penis like a loose fitting casing off. The wipes he used to clean my brother got bloody. Shmuel screamed and howled. His face turned purple with crying. Dad's father held him, but didn't do a good job. Eventually Dad agot him and did a better job. Eventually, he calmed down. I was glad no one had ever done that to me because I did not have a penis. Fortunately, Shlomo-Yitzakh (formerly Shmuel) does not remember getting ritually circumcized.
Chevie who followed Shlomo-Yitzakh in the birth order of course was not ritually circumcized either. Girls had naming ceremonies. A father brought his daughter down to the bimah and announced her name, but nobody took her diaper off or did surgery on her, and the baby usually slept through the routine. Girl babies were very lucky that way.
By the time Chevie had her naming ceremony, I was all ready a student at Pre-K in the Day School. My mornings began with waiting for the breakfast ladies to give me a bowl of sweet cereal or not so sweet ceral that I sugared myself. If I was lucky they had honey or banana for the cereal instead of it all presweetened. I liked honey, banana, and later peaches or nectarines, but those were rare things. The lunch ladies also gave kids free power bars and always made sure I took extra. I would show up at school hungry, but not afraid because the lunch ladies fed me. My clothes were old, but our family was growing. There were three of us now. By the time I was in first grade, there would be four. Dov was the baby, the last born.
Somehow, I did not expect Kayla. I was eight by then and craved fruit which I never got enough. I wished I had more than three shirts to wear to school, and favored my black and white one. I had to sneak under shirts out of the hamper and recover dirty clothes to extend my wardrobe. I did not think I smelled that bad, and most of the time, adults, even those who gave me power bars out of pity or let me pick my own snack which was usually fruit at their houses after school, pretended not to notice. Sure, I know now, they noticed. I thought of Kayla with the combs in her hair. I wish I had had her pride, but I had my stomach and my intellect. The rest of the world faded away.
By the time, Yitzi and Yoni were born, I no longer cared about having more kids in the family. I was not upset. I had my own issues. Having been kicked out of Torah Day School, and attending Druid Hills Magnet put me at a distance from the younger siblings, and I believed the distance irreperable. I still do because I'm a thousand miles away here in New Jersey. I don't miss kids I never really got to know. For me Kayla is truly the last kid, and the new one won't tear up Mom's belly, but he or she has put Mom in danger. It's not the baby's fault, but part of me resents it all the same.
By the time, Yitzi and Yoni were born, I also had money and didn't have to beg food. I bought what I needed. I fed Kayla whom I knew was depending on the lunch ladies. I let Chevie, whom I believed was Mom's pet, fend for herself. Dad did a pretty good job taking care of the boys, and they had their own network of friends. I no longer felt I was a big sister. I still really don't, except maybe there is a way for me to take back the role. Maybe, you can stop being a big sister and still be a sibling. I'm a sibling to Shlomo-Yitzakh. I even stayed a sibling to Shlomo-Yitzakh/Shmuel when I was still in Atlanta. When I turned twelve, I had a bas mitzvah. I got to deliver a speech at the synagogue. Kohana Pascal and our Barn Boss twisted the rabbi's arms, figuratively of course, and Ed-Branch and the Creators and the school fund paid for a feast of kosher wraps and cookies and cold drinks to be brought to Druid Hills Magnet Academy where we celebrated with a DJ from the Dorm House, an intern named Li-Av who had recently become a Placement Specialist. Li-Av loved all sorts of videos and popular music, though she had Jewish songs too for the occasion. She sat at a big table and fed files from data crystals and sticks to a huge sound system. She also had a rented light show. We had a real dance in my honor.
And Shmuel came to celebrate. He came with his entire class and their teacher. The teacher had decided that since I continued to "learn" (Learn Judaics) "against all odds" someone needed to recognize my accomplishment and heroism. Besides, I was still a believer. It was possible for a kid to go to public school and still be a pretty good member of the faith, and quite frankly, I had more enthusiasm for it than most. Shmuel and his class all wore white shirts and black pants like a clan uniform. They clung to the back of the hall when the music started to play. They stared bug eyed as girls took the floor. Bonnie Sorensen approached Shmuel's Judaics teacher and held out a scarf to him. She knew about shomer negilla (The custom of not touching any female other than a wife or relartive), but she could still dance with a scarf. She asked the chaperone to dance so as to set an example for the boys who clearly did not know what to do.
The chaperone looked around him and realizing he had no graceful way to refuse let Bonnie lead him. The boys watched and then some of them broke away and edged around the room toward the DJ table. I think Shmuel was among them. Li-Av spoke to them softly. I don't know what she said. To this day I don't know, but the sight of a female DJ baffled the boys. For one night, we all sat, and ate together and celebrated. I always thought of my bas mitzah as better than family, but now I think of it as having been a family event with the one sibling with whom I shared a love of learning and who maybe made an attempt to understand me.
In a few weeks, I would return my favor to my younger brother. Shlomo-Yitzakh (formerly Shmuel) would be getting his dream, and I would be there in Jerusalem to see it as would his younger sister. None of us were without family. We had to remember that. And yes, I felt bad that Joseph did not have any younger siblings. It would have been good for him to see that others thought and did things differently, and still got them done. I could understand that getting things done was very important to Joseph. It was important to me, and probably to Kayla. With Chevie and Shlomo-Yitzakh and probably Dov, I think they only cared about getting certain things done. Still I could understand all that, and I wondered if there was a way I could ever become the big sister of what would soon be eight children again.
Takings are Voluntary!
On day three of Passover 2084, there was a taking. I did not pick up the telephone call from Chevie which came during school on day two. SCAS, like all public schools, did not give time off for Passover, and like most scholar academies, it did not give time off for Easter either, though the Spring Break Week, was half days of classes combined with either study hall or projects. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in the greenhouse or taking long nature walk/hikes. I love outdoor eduaction. I needed to move especially now that the lakes no longer had ice for skating and it was still way too cold to swim. We walked a lot on the slopes of the abandoned ski area and sometimes out in farmers' fileds where last year's corn had yet to be gathered for this year's silage or making into fuel or plastic.
The comm phone call came while I was in class, and while I was struggling to stay awake. I had endured one seder at the Rabba's and would be helping officiate at yet another one. Even though the Rabba was not Orthodox, she was spirited in her faith and practice. Our seders thus ran until one or two in the morning and at six am I was up to catch the short bus back to school which I attended drowned in a haze of exhaustion. Yes, I missed the phone call, but what good would it have done me?
At 2pm on day three of Passover 2084, the siren sounded. Students around me stood up dazed. Slowly we went out into the hall. Someone from the office announced on the loudspeaker where we could find the buses. The buses would take us to the Taking even though all we could do is watch the younger kids get placed. Kids from the elementary and middle school would get placed. I knew that. I knew that young kids from elsewhere would soon arrive at the Garbage Dump. The Rusk Room was now the makeshift Passover dining hall. Yes, the taken children who wanted to, could still eat matzohs. Most would come from the Northeast and twenty to thirty percent of our intake population in Ed-Branch was Jewish or of Jewish extraction which is the popular expression, since most Jewish kids grow up oustide the religion. Yes, I find that sad!
I did not want to go to the taking. I did not have to be there. Joseph knew where he was going and was probably relieved to go there. Elizabeth knew wehre Joseph was going and would make sure he had his teddy bear so he could sleep more easily in a strange bed so far from home. Who knew if it was really far from home? With stick transport and portals, distance is pretty meaningless when you think about it. I thought about where to go and started walking toward the green house. I was not sure why, but it was a friendly and safe spot. If I was going to get sick, I could vomit into a bucket.
"Ahava! Ahava!" a voice called out. I saw Odem with Aurora.
"I'm going to the greenhouse," I sputtered.
"Why?" asked Aurora.
"I don't want to go to the taking."
"OK, we'll come with you," Aurora was a quick study, and Odem who said nothing was even faster. They asked why Chevie hadn't warned me. I said I did not know and then realized that the holiday had interfered with our communications. So it went. We were placed. We did not have to worry. The obnoxious sound that was both a lure and a driver would pass. Soon, blessed silence descended. I was sick to my stomach, but had not lost my lunch. Odem threw up instead. She washed out the plastic recepticle in the green house sink. I checked on the pointsettias, and made sure the automatic timer for closing their part of the greenhouse off from light was still working. I checked on the seedlings and watered the few that needed it. Odem cursed and complained about her guts.
Then we wandered out of the greenhouse, picked up our books, and headed out of the school. It was a beautiful spring day, just perfect ofr a walk to downtown Newton, New Jersey. The roads were nearly empty, but the birds sang again. Many had returned fromd down south. In the town square were assorted feeding stations for them. The Priests wanted to restore and encourage wildlife wherever possible. Slowly this region of the country was returning to its eighteenth century state except where people farmed it. That felt good.
We waited in the transport stop for the bus home. A nonworking soft drink machine stood rusting behind the benches. There were many relics like it probably scattered all over the Northeast. The thought made me sad somehow, but you don't get much of a choice about the world in which you live. The soft drink machines represented the Company, and the Company had ceded Sussex County, New Jersey to the Priests six months ago, and my comm phone rang. I grabbed it. The voice on the other end of the line was not Chevie's.
"Hello Ahava?" said a friendly female voice that I did not immediately recognize.
"Who is that?" I asked.
"It's me, Abishag."
Abishag! Of course it was Abishag! There had been a taking in Atlanta too. There was probably a taking all over the world. The Priests, after all, thought big.
"How are Dov and Kayla?" I asked. I had to ask. I was not afraid to ask, but I was afraid of the answers.
"They're both here," Abishag answered. "Dov was out in the yard playing with his friends. I told them to come in and that they did not have to go with the taking. They stayed in the living room."
"Did any of them get sick?" I asked.
"Not this time."
"And what about Kayla?" I asked. At two pm kids would normally be in school, but in Toco Hills, the Day School gave kids Passover week off as a vacation. Of course Passover had also wreacked havoc with the "New Plan" for resisting takings, a plan that was partially Abishag's creation. Really, the plan was quite simple. Instead of having oine gathering place to hide children during a taking, one place that law enforcement, the portal Priests, or the Company could easily find, there were now a dozen "Safe Houses." Unfortunately, some families still went to Israel or Miami Beach or New York for Passover. That meant not all the safe houses were open.
Niether Dov nor Kayla had a safe house. Dov had been at home, but Kayla had been with her friends. When the siren went off, the girls had headed toward LaVista to find a bus to take them to the taking site. It had just seemed like the thing to do. Chenilles and ARTA buses ploughed up and down LaVista. They stopped wherever kids or adults gathered on the corner. A yellow chenille pulled up at the corner of LaVista and Bramble. Suddenly, Kayla remembered she had a loose comb in her hair. She started to fuss with it to put it back into place and she came back to her senses...well sort of. Remembering her hair made her remember she did not want to be part of the taking. She became frightened and started to cry. Her friends got on the bus. She screamed: "Lo! Don't do it! No!" Hebrew mixed with English in a tongue loosed by animal fear. Then seeing her friends sucked into the bus which waited with doors open to take her she knew not where, Kayla took her errant comb in her hand and ran away, her face puffy with tears.
By the time she reached home, the child's teeth clattered so hard she could hardly speak, and when she tried to tell her story, the words came out as a polyglot scramble drowned in sobs. At Abishag's urging, Kayla washed her face. Then of course she started crying again. Abishag made the child wash her face again and helped restyle her hair. Kayla cried afresh, then after a few minutes she was able to get the story out. Then she got sick in the toilet bowl. Abishag gave my second younger sister Coca-Cola syrup and gingerale and now she "was coming back to her senses."
"Would you like to speak to Kayla?" Abishag all but chirped. I felt a warm sense of gratitude. Rather than be sucked in by my sister's maelstrom of emotion; for like me Kayla is emotional and not a stone, Abishag had calmed the child. Like me, when I tore my hand on the ropes in fourth grade, Kayla would have to climb again. Kayla would be fine for at least one to two weeks. A taking meant no takings for a while afterward. That was really good when you thought about it.
"If she wants to speak to me,&quiot; I told Abishag; for Kayla and I were not on good terms. I was the enemy. I am always the enemy.
"I think she'll be glad to talk to you. Your father hid at kollel during the taking and is not home yet. It would be good for Kayla to talk to family."
"Hello Kayla," I began.
"Hi, Ahava," said a tired sounding little kid voice. The littleness of that voice made me ache in side.
"You were very brave today," I found the words.
"Thankyou, are you still going to Shlomo-Yitzakh's bar mitzvah?"
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," I could be honest. Takings don't stop the world. They just don't. Besides I was all ready placed. For Kayla it was going to be different, and it was going to be different for eight more years, at least. That was longer than her short life time.
"Everybody here is brave," Kayla said. "Abishag is really brave. She didn't get upset or anything. Now she wants to make a party for Dov, and Dov's friends, and me."
"I think that's an excellent idea."
"Yes, but what about my friends?" I thought Kayla would cry again, but she was pretty much all cried out.
"They'll be back in less than two weeks. Abishag may even be able to find out where they went."
"She said the same thing. She said I might be able to write them letters, but that's not the same as me. I got out. They didn't."
"You were braver and tougher than they were," I tried to be honest. "I know it's hard not to feel guilty about that, but please, the Priests won't hurt your friends, and you'll see them again. You did what you knew was right. They did what they wanted to do. I know that's hard to live with. It was hard when everybody else wanted me to say that the Company tortured us, and it was not true. I wasn't going to say bad things about people who tried to respect my religion and treated me well. I was brought up not to lie. You were just two when this happened. You can't remember it, but when you resist, it is always scarey and it always hurts afterwards. That's normal."
"Then why doesn't Abishag cry?" I was not ready for this question though I should have been.
"She has no reason to cry. It won't help her care for you. That's her job, to care for the bigger kids. The minders care for the babies. You let Abishag do her job. She's on your side."
We said a few more words and then wished one another well. That evening, I walked with Odem, Aurora, Jewels and Tweetie to the Garbage Dump. I did not find Ora. Li-Av one of the placement specialists looked her up in confidential mode. "She's in Maine this taking. She went there last time when this center was closed. She really liked skiing so she went back. She wants a placement farther from home than New Jersey anyway."
"Why?" I asked.
"It's in her profile," sighed Li-Av. "I'll read it to you: 'The child is angry at her parents for not taking the family off the grid. She feels her parents have betrayed her by not preventing her placement and takings. Therefore, she says if she must be placed, she wants it to be far enough away that her parents can't visit her. The center at Machias, Maine offers outdoor education and sports which Ora enjoys. Ed-Branch Atlanta will attempt a placement in rural Maine."
I ached inside. I could see Ora in her pink down jacket and hot pink or hot green pants or leggings. I could hear her lusty voice singing about the fair young maiden and the sailor who knew all manner of obscene act so that little kids could sing dirty words as a pleasant protest about adults who dragged them around or who stood by and left them to their fates. Of course Ora had never written me. She had been long gone. She had been looking out only for herself, and unlike Kayla she did not cry.
Ellen from Na'haquit was missing too. Li-Av looked her up for me. She was simply not part of the taking. Her family had left its tiny village in the Alaskan bush and moved further into the wilderness. Maybe they could live off the land. Maybe they would help her stay current with her Inupiat, but somehow I did not think this would happen. They might eat, but Ellen's agile mind would starve, and her soul would live in fear. Off the grid....is a world unknown and primitive. It may not be the world Ellen wanted, but Ellen had followed. "I hope Ellen is all right," I stammered. "It's heading toward spring and summer even in Alaska," Li-Av answered. "I think she will lose a year at least." I had no answer for that.
The Kuba found the Passover dining hall and asked for a big piece of matzoh. In her church, she explained, these were communion wafers. Getting a whole big piece of matzoh with honey or apple butter was a treat. I knew from school that many older people and balae tsuvim (Jews who become religious as adults) love matzoh crackers. They really aren't as horrible as some kids make them out. I got used to eating them along with those grateful for the big crunchy things. The Kuba and I sat across the table from one another. We did not have much to say. She has spent her one taking away at the creche in Atlanta, and said it was big and scarey. She liked being out in the country much better. I wondered where the Kuba would be when she turned fourteen, or more realistically twelve. I tried to picture her as a placed adolescent and failed. I was not sure why my mind drew a blank. Maybe because I had to explain that in a day and a half I was leaving for three days in Israel. Seeing Shlomo-Yitzakh's bar mitzvah was important. I had family. Of course the Kuba had family too. She was the eldest of four and her mother was as fecund as my own.
Unlike Aurora, no one would ever drive the Kuba to Lawrenceville. She would probably end up one time zone east of her parents where there was still green on the ground and sky overhead and farms and animals nearby. She would discuss religion and maybe baffle the clergy. Some children just have happier roads than others, and all roads are different. I was glad Chevie, Schlomo-Yitzakh, and I were placed. I was glad Yitzi and Yoni had decent minders and were too young. Dov and Kayla were unknowns, but Abishag would protect them for now, and I would always miss and remember Ora and Ellen from Na'haquit.
The Boy in the Green Shirt
Two days after the Passover taking, I took a day off from school to travel to Warwick. Amaryllis and Zabiba saw me off on the overland transit which took me as far as New York City, where I caught a local subway to the International Stick Port in Queens. From there, I arrived a few minutes later in Israel, except half the day had vanished. Ben Gurion Stick Port, did not look that different from the Stick Port at Hartsfield except messages on boards and screens were written in both Hebrew and English and all the signs were in Hebrew. I liked that.
I realized that four or five years ago, a journey to Israel was the dream of a lifetime, and probably waiting for me after I finished high school. Now, about a month away from my fifteenth birthday I was there, but without parental blessing. I found my way to the restroom and did my business. I walked slowly out into the lobby with my duffle and on my reasonably good behavior. The official in a black suit jacket, black dress pants, and a white shirt stood with the antsy and restive Chevie next to him. Chevie was dressed in chocolate colored slacks and a yellow shirt with a large silk screen of a moth splashed across her chest. I was in a travel skirt and avacado, emerald, and orange striped long sleeved t-shirt with a jewel neck. The official looked me over and smiled. He asked if I was Ahava Burden. I told him I was. He conducted the mini-interrogation in Hebrew and introduced himself as Yosaif, a Dati-Leumi representative and also a member of the Scholars' Union. I thanked him for paying for my transport. Chevie rolled her eyes.
Still the good gentleman led us to the ground transportation counter and got us vouchers for the bus to Haifa. The rest was going to be easy. Chevie and I sat next to eachother on a bio-ethanol bus with a sour smell and too much air conditioning. Chevie managed to pry the window open. "Tasmania is a hundred times better than this stinking place," my younger sister told me. Beyond Tel-Aviv, Israel even in spring was a dry country. The Mediterraneon was blue, but we did not see much of it. I wondered if the Priests were restoring the Holy Land's environment just like they were trying to repair the damage in Sussex County New Jersey.
"You know what this place we're going to is going to be like?" Chevie asked.
"A religious scholar klan," I used the Israeli spelling in my mind.
"EXPLETIVE DELETED. This place is going to give you an EXPLETIVE DELETEDING or-gaz-im, won't it?"
"Nah, I get my kicks at the Rabba's Synagogue in Highland Lakes. I'm even an amateur chazzan."
"Well abba doesn't give an EXPLETIVE DELETED about any of us, no matter what Ms. Sorensen told him."
"Dad is not here because Mom is in the hospital. She's on bedrest with number eight remember?"
"Mom's bedrest makes the world's most fantastic excuse."
"Well at least we're here."
"Yeah, and I'm going to spend two days bored to death and remember, girls don't count."
"Shlomo-Yitzakh's clan is co-ed!" I responded.
"Yeah, separate but equal," Chevie sing-songed.
"Look we go home Sunday morning," I reminded my sister who had no retort except "Boruch HaShem!" Chevie remembered her Hebrew only when the occasion suited her.
Klan Duggim, was not half as bad as Chevie dreaded, and many times better than anything we had in New Jersey or perhaps in Atlanta or New York City. The house was spacious with a courtyard in which grew olive trees and miniature oranges in pots which this time of year, DID NOT have oranges.
The clan had a spacious refectory, and nice double bedrooms, including the guest room that Chevie and I shared. We had fish of various types, a very elegant spring vegetable salad, marinated asparagus, fresh yellow tomatoes, and of course matzoh and fetah cheese for supper. For dessert there was a huge dried fruit plate. I enjoyed being treated as an honored guest. Shlomo-Yitzakh said he was nervous since he was going to perform at Judaism's holiest site. He also asked after imma and abba. I told him that Mom was stable but in the hospital. Dad, was largely absent.
Shlomo-Yitzakh shook his head. "Abba likes to learn," my brother explained. "He likes that more than anything else."
"He loves it more than his EXPLETIVE DELETEDing kids, you a** hole," Chevie set the record straight. No adult yelled at her for cursing, and the kids hardly turned heads.
"Love is not a weapon," I reminded Chevie.
"Yeah, abba just ignores everybody."
"He didn't ignore me," answered Shlomo-Yitzakh. "I used to learn with him, whenver we got the chance."
"You think he'd learn with you now?" Chevie dug it in and gave it a twist for good measure.
"He's angry at me. He doesn't understand what this country can be like in some places," Shlomo-Yitzakh explained.
"Do you forgive him?" Chevie taunted her brother.
"Do you care?" Shlomo-Yitzakh was nobody's fool.
"Why don't you ask about your siblings?" Chevie tried a new attack. I wondered why she of all people had a score to settle.
"OK, Dov still plays sports. Kayla is just a little kid, and the babies...."
"One of them is not born yet and has Mom on bedrest," I told my brother.
"I know that," Shlomo-Yitzakh complained. "But Dov is Dov. Kayla is a squirelly little girl, and I don't really know the youngest kids. There, I said it. It's not that bad. There's a big difference in age between us."
"Kayla resisted the last taking. She made it as far as LaVista," I began the story. "And then she saw the chenille and turned back. The chenille got her friends. When she goes back to school, they won't be there."
Shlomo-Yitzakh sighed. "What can I do?" he asked everyone and no one.
The answer was of course nothing. The female head of Klan Duggim took Chevie aside and asked if she had a skirt to wear for Shabbos and for her brother's bar mitzvah. She said she did. She asked if we were going to wear our clan uniforms. Everyone here was going in uniform.
Chevie replied that she did not yet belong to a clan or house. She had only an encouragement. I said I had brought two clan shirts for the occasion, a t-shirt and a sweat shirt for Friday night. This seemed to satisfy the female leader that Chevie and I were not complete barbarians.
The next morning, most of Klan Duggim, Chevie, and I traveled two hours to Jerusalem by freezing cold bio-ethanol bus that was not as smelly as the airport special had been the night before. Klan Duggim's colores were dark and light green. The girls wore dark green jumpers and the boys wore dark green chinos. Both genders wore man-tailored shirts of sea green Oxford cloth. They made my own livery look cheap, but I didn't mind. We stayed at the Hotel Davitz for Friday night and had a huge meat feast with chicken, brisket, matozh and potato kugel and a large, pareve Israeli salad with avacado, hot pickles, and olives. I still woke up faintly sick in the morning. I dressed hurridly and joined Klan Duggim as we walked across the city. We were like an advancing army. I thought of Nationals last summer, and felt suddenly sad. Back then I had imagined a return trip to Atlanta to see Shmuel get bar-mitzvahed. Now here I was in Israel with Chevie, my once enemy sibling, by my side. Further up in the crowd, a happy Shlomo-Yitzakh chatted with older boys who had had this rite of passage all ready. His care free deameanor reminded me of Dov who like Dad I now realized, was unshakeable. I thought of Kayla, Ellen, Ora, and felt suddenly dizzy, scaird, and sick. I was glad when we reached the Kotel, the site of the Wailing Wall.
We split up, the women and girls heading to the female side and the men and boys to the male side. No one said a word when I snagged a seat by the mehitzah the barrier separating the sexes. The female leader sat down right in front of me and the other girls crowded in to the good seats. There were some older women and a few little girls in black and white on our side of the barrier. The Klan Duggim contingent was a great army in green. The green uniforms really stood out among the black and white of the haredi, ultraOrthodox who crowded around the bimah or altar on the mens' side.
I could pick up some kind of an argument in Yiddish and Hebrew about whether my brother could really read his Haf Tora portion. The squabble put a serious dent in decorum. I winced. Somehow it got solved and the show went on and Shlomo-Yitzakh did not skip a beat. He did not even care that Dad was not there because they had not been on speaking terms for months, and now Dad had a legitimate excuse. I hoped Shlomo-Yitzakh was worried sick about Kayla, but he wasn't. She was too far from him in the age hierarchy and besides Dad had schooled him that females counted for less. Dov too was subhuman, though I shared some of that view with my brother, much to my shame.
I thought about all this at Shabbos lunch and was glad to get a walk through the Old City Shabbos afternoon. If I didn't have siblnigs in Atlanta I could have fallen in love with Jerusalem. if Ora and Ellen weren't crowding my mind like ghosts, I could have wanted to live here instead of Highland Lakes. Needless to say, I did not feel sad making the two hour bus trip back to Haifa after sundown on Saturday though I did feel sad leaving Shlomo-Yitzakh Sunday morning. Like me, and somewhat like Chevie, he had a good placement. He was safe, secure, and could be happy. He deserved to be happy and fulfilled. Yes, that is a great word, fulfilled. Now the big question, the real question, was whether the younger kids, Dov, Kayla, Yitzi, Yoni, and the one yet to be born, could have the same shot at fulfillment as we older siblings. I thought of Ellen in the Alaska wilderness and shuddered. I thought of Ora locked inside her own anger. Then in my mind's eye, I saw Kayla, her face red with tears. Yes, she'd successfully resisted a taking but what would her life be like after Passover when she went back to school?
It was midday on Sunday when I returned to Highland Lakes. I had gained back the hours I had lost travelling seven time zones to the east. It was time to go grocery shopping. It was as if I had never left. By sundown, Passover, would be over and then....I did not think about it. I found it hard to answer Odem and Aurora when they asked about my trip. Yes, Shlomo-Yitzakh was doing fine. Yes, he gave an intelligent speech and his Haf Torah reading showed off his sweet confident voice. My oldest younger brother had wonderful stage presence. I wished though that he realized he was more than just a solo act. I was just starting to realize this myself. I thought of Ora and Ellen as we pushed the carts toward the former general store turned urgent care. Tomorrow, I'd be back in school, still in a haze of exhuastion, and always, it seemed trying to catch up. It might be good to be a solo act for a time. The only problem was, I simply wasn't one.