Never Trust the Silence III
This is the third page of a continuing story. It's time to hear from another point of view, so let us set the scene in Atlanta. The narrator goes by several names, but remember, Dibri is an ugly name. Brunei is the name people use when they want to pretend she is part of the tribe (You'll find out which tribe). She doesn't use the name her parents gave her, and her real name is Anotnia. She is a complex person with a complex history. Life is never simple, and in any time or place, you have to be suspicious of the sounds you don't hear and the secrets you don't see. Never trust silence!
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Flopsie, Mopsie, Cottontail, and Yoni
Sunday morning Ellen went shopping with Orphia and Akiba. Ki returned to the interior to meet with those from her order/clan, and I took Yitzi to see Yoni and Hulda in Avondale Estates. The babies were sleeping this time. Amber, the teenage wet nurse, lounged on the couch watching them sleep. "Mizz Marylin is at church," the girl told me. "I don't like taking two babies to church. Besides some of those ladies look at me funny. I mean, I'm making the best of my situation, but they don't see it that way."
I nodded. My own scandal involved "marrying out," but I could sympathize. "We can't take Yoni to church," Amber went on. "DFAX told us not to because his mom hates Christians. That's part of her religion, and he could be going back to his mother. We don't know yet. It takes sometimes a whole year before they decide."
I watched Yoni playing on the floor with a stuffed animal. He wore only a diaper. His face was clean. I greeted him, and he paid no attention.
"That kid is in a world of his own most of the time," Amber sighed.
"Don't you want to call imma this morning?" asked Yitzi of his younger brother. Yoni looked at Yitzi.
"What do you want imma to give you?" Yitzi was persistent, but Yoni was suddenly all there.
"It's like their own private lanaguage," sighed Amber.
"It's Toco Hills slang," I answered.
"That boy doesn't pay attention to any one else. Marylin even threatened to whup him, not that she'd do it very hard or even really do it, but nothing....He just looks at the ground or stares right past her."
"We all ready have juice and boubala. See right there...boubala," Yitzi pointed to the stuffed bear.
"He boubala," Yoni answered.
"Boubala means doll in Hebrew," I responded. "So what can we ask for?" Yitzi was fully enjoying his game.
Yoni rubbed his face and stared at the floor. Then he looked up. "I wanna go for ride. Wanna see abba! Wanna see Kayla!"
"Wow!" commented Amber.
"OK, we'll call for a taxi. Ever rode in a taxi?"
Yoni looked perplexed. "Wha'sss tak-si?" he asked.
"It's a car or a shen-eel. You call them on your phone and they come and get you. The driver asks where you want to go and he takes you there. Then you pay him cash money. Sound good?"
"Wanna go see abba!" Yoni protested.
"We're going to call for a cab to see abba," Yitzi soothed his baby brother.
I sat down on the floor among the little boys. I took off one of my shoes. I'd need a cell phone too. "Ready to call the taxi, Yitzi?" I asked.
"You have a funny phone," Yitzi told me. I noticed that Yoni looked up when Yitzi spoke but not when I did. Yitzi was also speaking mostly English.
"It's a very poor cab company," I told my foster son. "They can't afford good phones, but this one works. Come on, Yoni wants to see abba." Yoni rocked on the floor. He hadn't really lost interest. I knew he hadn't when Yitzi began to place the call to the taxi company. Hello Taxi."
"Avondale Estates Cabs How May We Help You?" I chirped. Again, not response from Yoni.
"Missus Taxi, my brother wants to see his abba."
"Well where does his abba live. There are millions of boys in Atlanta with abbas."
"I have to ask him," Yitzi explained. "Yoni, where do abba and imma live?"
"The Oakes in Toco Hills," Yoni answered. His speech was a bit garbled but his answer was dead on accurate. I wondered if Yoni could hear Yitzi better than he could hear most grownups. There was a way to find out.
"OK," I pitched my voice an octive higher. "I can send a driver to pick up you boys and take you to Toco Hills to see your abba. I'll be by real soon."
"Thank you," answered Yitzi. "Come on," Yitzi coaxed his brother. "We have to get ready for the taxi. Do you have your coat?"
Yoni shook his head.
"Do you have your boubala?" Yitzi was no fool.
Yoni nodded. I knocked on the floor and called out "Taxi," in a high voice like what a little kid would use.
Yoni gave a squeal of joy. "I gonna see abba! I gonna see abba! Abba! Abba! Abba!"
"Your gonna wake the babies," muttered Amber. I did not care. Yitzi and I got up and joined Yoni's dance of joy, and then I had to figure out how to do the sound effects for the cab. If I pitched them too lown, Yoni would not hear them. No problem. Sometimes you just set verisimiitude aside. I pantomimed the driver and even threw in squealing breaks. "We have to get the brakes fixed on this stupid cab," I complained in falsetto.
"Is it safe?" Yitzi asked.
"It got you here didn't it?" I made sure to keep my voice high enough for Yoni to understand.
"I wanna see ABBA!" Yoni called out. "We need an abba I said sotto voce to Amber. Amber grunted with disgust. "He doesn't listen and he doesn't mind."
"He will if you use a high voice," I said in a low voice that went by Yoni.
"Sheeeeeeut!" squealed Amber. Yoni stared at her. She laughed. Her high giggle also caught him. "I'm your abba!" Amber sing-songed sweetly and shrilly. "I'm so glad to see you. You are my baby boy. I missed my baby boy. A man should miss his baby boy." Yoni stared at Amber eyes wide with an unreadable emotion. "Come on inside. We have koo-gall. That's what you say you like to eat, and see-re-al too...right."
&quiot;Where's Hulda?" asked Yoni.
"She's back with Amber at Avondale Estates. I'm abba. Hulda needs the tit. Amber takes very good care of her."
"Amber is a good girl," sing-songed Yoni. Then Yoni hugged Amber as he would have wanted to hug his abba. For a moment I tried to imagine Shimon Weisman giving Yoni peeing lessons. I realized it would be Yitzi who did that job, or maybe one of the other older brothers. I felt an unexpected lump in my throat. The game broke up, and Amber went to get the boys snacks in the kitchen. Yitzi refused his because he said they weren't kosher. I counseled Amber not to be offended.
We sat next to one another on the couch while the boys ate. We said nothing which was fine. I did not want to voice my thoughts. Yoni Weisman was partially deaf. Had he been born that way? It was possible. Had he had an untreated infection or series of infections? I knew who had not taken him to the doctor. I thought of Ellen and her siblings. It was easier than thinking of Leigh. I was glad to be heading back to Toco Hills when the visit was over. I needed a way to get my own thoughts in order.
We went swimming Sunday afternoon. Ellen read the story of Peter Rabbit at pool side and swam with a kick board back and forth at least a dozen times. She also practiced floating and floating with kicking. It would be a while until she was a strong swimmer, but it was not for want of diligence. Ellen finished Peter Rabbit and told me why Peter was the one good rabbit and his mother was grossly unfair to him. "Those other rabbits won't be any good at finding food. Peter, goes where the food is. He'll eat and be strong if someone doesn't shoot him or a wolf doesn't eat him. It is better to eat and risk being eaten than to starve, you know?"
Beatrix Potter's animals never starved. I did not want to explain all of this to Ellen. Instead I told her that the rabbits in the tale of Peter Rabbit were allegorical. Allegory is where something stands as a symbol for something else. It's a kind of literary play acting. In this case, the rabbits were human children with a human mother. As humans they had to respect private property. "Now do you understand?" I asked.
Ellen looked disappointed. "Why not make up a story about real rabbits?" she asked. "Real rabbits are interesting than children who are pretending to be rabbits."
"People write rabbits as children because rabbits are cute like children."
"Yes, but rabbits have their own lives." I thought about suggesting a nonfiction book but instead suggested Aesop's Fables. The animals were people in those stories too, but still retained a bit more of what Ellen might recognize as alive. After all, if your family and parents' friends hunted seals, you gained respect for your prey's intelligence without imaginining it as human. That made sense, and it was better than thinking about Yoni.
Monday morning, Orphia cut up the excess peaches and nectarines. We did not have many papayas left, and it was kind of the end of the season for them. Akiba helped her. The two women made soft conversation. I sauntered into the living room where Ki read. None of the children were awake. I pushed the curtain aside and saw... a large crowd of men on the lawn with no women and children. I felt my throat tighten. The men were wrapping tefillin around their arms. These are phylacteries used with prayer shawls for prayers on weekday mornings. Sunday the rioters had taken a day off. Today they were back, and it was different. Different was not good.
I pondered whom to call. I had between a half hour and forty minutes until schacarit, the morning prayer service, was over. I knew 911 would be useless. DeKalb County had gotten sick of guarding me, and everything seemed safe. It had probably been safe until the Ed-Branch girls invaded Beth Jacob Village. It still should have been safe, but certain elements in the community needed scapegoats. I set up bucket of bolts and sent an emergency email off to Nadine, the High Priest for Wounded Crane. She could get security. I also comm mailed Nino. Then I phoned rabbi Manasseh Goldberg and explained what was happening on my lawn. No, it hadn't happened yet. Yes, I believed it would because today there were no women and children, just mostly younger men spoiling for a fight. Rabbi Goldberg asked me whom the lead ravs were. I said I recognized Rabbi Fleischman, but I did not see Shimon Weisman. I had looked. Yes, I had looked.
Rabbi Fleischman by himself was enough bad news. Rabbi Goldberg said that he was all ready through davening and would be right over. I stepped outside. The morning was chill with the promise of rain. Summer would soon be over, but later today, temperatures and tempers would boil. Later this morning temperatures and tempers would boil. I listened as the men prayed. I understood Hebrew well enough to see they were sticking wtih the standurd liturgy and not making up anathmas though they did offer up a prayer for the kidnapped children. The prayer service began to peter out. I saw a man point to me and laugh. Some people never leave middle school. High school is much better.
I slipped back inside. Rabbi Goldberg's eight year old car pulled up. I smelled real petroleum fuel. Where had he gotten that? I asked no questions. Most of the crowd made way for the Rav. There were a few discussions, and for most of the next hour, the men took out books and learned sitting in folding chairs on my lawn. They made interesting guests. I even sent out Orphia and Akiba to offer them fruit. There would be no entertainmet this morning.
Meanwhile, both DeKalb County Sherriff's patrol and Interior Security in skin tight, scarlet spandex arrived. The men looked up nervously, and then they kept praying. I had security the rest of the week. That made my life a lot easier. It was going to take a long time to get rid of the demonstrators on the front lawn.
Meanwhile, I had breakfast with Ellen. I told her that I wanted to take he for a swimming lesson this morning. She said she did not mind. That meant I got to do Mommy and Me swim with Yitzi who was only learning to like the water. I did not ask Ellen if swimming was more work than translations. They were probably too different for comparisons. Ellen was averse to comparing most things. That was fine with me. When Yitzi, Ellen, and I returned from the pool, the demonstrators were gone. Some of them might have still had jobs. Meanwhile, as Orphia put out the fruit, woven wheats, and nut butters for lunch, the comm phone rang. I grabbed bucket of bolts in the study. An unfamiliar female voice sounded a bit staticy and far away at the other end of the line. She was Ms. Dennis, a social worker from Fairbanks, Alaska. She wanted to know how Ellen was doing.
"Ss well as an be expected," I answered.
"We're very concerned about her. Has she had any therapy yet?"
I explained that the answer was a "no" because there was no point in setting Ellen up with a therapist until she was living at the Creche at Highland Lakes. I did not think she was in immediate crisis.
"You are aware the child is severely delusional," the social worker told me.
"I'm aware that Ellen has suffered a tremendous loss. She only talks to her baby sister at night and in a language no one but she can understand."
"And what about Trisha?" asked the social worker.
"Ellen, apparently believes in reincarnation. So too do some Jews, and I'm Jewish. Is reincarnation a normal part of Inuit religious belief?" I asked.
"I'm not sure, " answered the social worker, "But there is a difference between folk tales and reality don't you think."
"Some of our rabbonim (I used the Heberew on purpose) take the concept of gilgal, one who has been reborn for a purpose, quite seriously. "
The social worker groaned. "I guess we can leave matters alone for ten days. There is not much we can do from Alaska. Aside from singing at night, is Ellen acting out?"
"Ellen is not acting out including the singing at night. She does it softly and I'm usually the only one who hears it."
"OK.... Do you know the story about Trisha?" the social worker would not give up.
"She was an Inuit girl from the North Slope with an Ed Branch encouragement. She started out in Fairbanks for high school, and stayed on. She did not finish at University of Alaska and got involved with drinking and drank herself to death. She's a kind of cautionary tale. " I left out the parts about Sonny and Cher disks and about Tricia/Trisha liking to dance. These were Ellen's additions to the story.
"You know then..." the social worker sighed.
"Was there are real Trisha?" I asked.
"Do you think there was?"
"I guess we need to find out..." We left the conversation at that. There was probably one very unhappy social worker up in Fairbanks, and one very curious foster mother. Savina, is a Romanized name. There are variant spellings: Sevin, Savin, Tsavin, Tsivin, Savigne for a more French touch etc... I searched Trisha with those last names in Google and came up with obituary for Fairbanks Alaska dated about thirty years ago. It listed the cause of death as hepatitis C. Trisha was thirty-six years old. That meant she was one of the first kids mentored when the Company came to Alaska.
I called Kohana Pascal. I suspected she was Ellen's Placement Specialist. I was right! Kohana often had the difficult cases. I askd her to look up the profile for a Trisha Tsavin. That was her name at birth. Her clan name would be different, not that there were clan names in those days. They were initiation names. Those days had only ended last year, but a year can be an eternity. Kohana got back to me with the information. Yes, there was a Trisha Tsavin also called Tunnerk Tavina and later Tricia Tavina which was also her stage name. She had ended up as an exotic dancer. She indeed had a problem with alcohol, but more of a problem with dirty needles, and poor medical care. It was a shame. She'd probably gone back and made something of herself if she had received decent medical care. She was ambitious even if her first attempt at University had failed. She was just too far from home and a bit too cut loose in the world. The clan she came from (in the old sense of the word) were a band of traditionalist holdouts, and had offered zero emotional support to their Ed-Branch daughter. "Tout c'quil change," I thought.
Well Tricia was a cautionary tale. Ellen had heard it. Ellen had internalized it, and....Ellen had some residual memories of something Tricia might have known. I thought of the sheet of lyrics tucked into my night stand. I still had a few minute. I grabbed the sheet and began to search for what I could about the song and about Sonny and Cher. That song was over a hundred years old. It was too old to be an oldie and would have been long forgotten by the 2020's and 2030's when Tricia came of age, and certainly Ellen would not know this song or have heard it. That Ellen was quite possibly a gilgal for Tricia was a very distinct possiblity, but that and a dollar and a half or a paid up pass, got you on the ARTA buses. That and all of Ellen's "delusions" still required either a dollar or a paid up pass to get you on the ARTA buses. It is strange to have delusions that don't matter, except to the one with the belief, but in the end, they didn't change what Ellen would have to do and what she did most of the time. I guessed that was a good thing. I took down bucket of bolts and put away the sheet of lyrics. Ellen, who had finished her lunch, wanted to do translations. I left the computer up for her with the projection screen on so she could connect with her teacher in Alaska. I hid the lyrics in my skirt pocket, and headed back to the kitchen to eat the lunch I had missed.
Stop, Look, Listen!
The box of beads sat on the big bio-vinyl covered craft table in the Swallowtail's lounge at the Creche on Ponce. Most of the girls in most of the First-Second-Third groups were out playing the PreNationals in a huge match of firing squad in the courtyard. A few kids were in the computer room. One read on the couch, a book she could not put down, and the rest crowded around the craft table carefully strining small beads of different sizes and shapes on to monofilament line threaded through a needle. A box near the head of the table, guarded by a plump intern, held the clasps and findings to put the professional-quality necklaces together. Tiny hands patiently strung beads on to line. Tiny fingers made knots according to diagrams on a laminated sheet of paper.
Something about the whole craft table irritated me. I had nothing against crafts. I certainly had nothing against how happy they made Kayla. She showed the boxes of beads to Yitzi, especially, the larger varigated beads, baubles of plastic and glass in infinite textures and shapes and colors and combinations. She held an irridescent specimen up to the light. "It looks like oil in a puddle," she observed to a less-than-fascinated younger brother.
"There's more to life than beads!" I wanted to scream. I also wanted to take Kayla aside and explain to her how she should be working on her computer basics so she could type letters to her brothers and sisters, and better learn mathematics, and.... Kayla was female. Girls liked crafts and drawing. I preferred reading, but I sometimes drew. Clay and handicraft held little fascination, and cooking left me cold, but I was unusual that way. Kayla was closer to normal. Kayla was a girlie-girl. I could sympathize with her desire not to play firing squad. Tomorrow there would be grand line dancing lessons in preparation for the mega banquet that would end the season and celebrate the start of reunion on Wednesday night.
Second, I'd never had a daughter. And third, Kayla was only six. For a child her age, learning knots, symmetry, balance, weight, color combinations, and patterns were all useful skills. Beading was as educational as computer basics when you really thought about it, and if it wasn't, it was clearly a beneficial activity.
"I wish I could make something for Yitzi," sighed Kayla, "And Hulda is too young?"
"Why don't you make a present for Ahava?" I asked.
Kayla half smiled as she gave the matter some thought. "When you learn how to do needle work, you can make Yitzi a yarmulke," the fat intern told Kayla.
I had to remind myself that Kayla's interests were not just food, even when she was starving. That said something and what it said was that Kayla was NOT shallow. Only a fool of a male might think that. "Aren't these gorgesous," Kayla pushed the whole box of larger beads toward me. "Just take a look...It's OK if you touch them."
"They're like the treasures in a fairy tale," I said.
"They're like the treasures of the Mishkan," Kayla replied. The Mishkan is the Tabernacle in the Biblical books of Exodus and Leviticus. "I think the Kohan Gadol [Hebrew for High Priest] would have been proud to have some of these in his breast plate."
Kayla was not one bit shallow! Still, she would have to learn how to use a computer. I thought I'd probably have no trouble teaching her to earn her basics. Suddenly, I wanted to get up and stand by the window. The window looked over an alley rather than the courtyard. The alley led to a side street where there was not much traffic. I wished I was in the Dorm House on Ponce, but Ed-Branch Atlanta had outgrown the Dorm House. What a difference a year makes.
I was not sure what I thought. Kayla was the first grouop of kids to be part of the creche system, and it would dominate her entire childhod...what then. Would I have liked living the way Kayla was going to live? The answer would probably have been yse, because until I was ten I went to the local mixed school with lots of rich kids from Bronxville and Scarsdale. Rich local kids didn't really care about academics. I loved words. I loved learning French which I started in fifth grade and continued with immersion at Nationals and summer project, and.... I could pick up snatches of other languages. Later I would teach myself Hebrew when I spent a year living in Rio, but that hadn't happened yet, and what had happened was enough to make me not a prodigy but a freak. The big, popular girls called me The Mimic, as if a talent for languages were some sort of defect.
I didn't get called "mimic" again until the year I spent in Brazil and by then I was glad of my skill with languages. It is a part of me. It is intelligence. When you know l anguages you understand things. That was why a piece of me understood Ellen. Kayla did not seem as interested in languages. She was interested in aesthetics, beauty, how things were made...I was not sure what else. I was surprized that the battle for survival hadn't beat those things out of her, but I was glad they were still there.
I noticed Kayla's hair was still uneven. I knew she needed a haircut. I thought about asking Athalie about that. Maybe Kayla was afraid to have her hair cut. Under the competent kid learning to string beads, adorned in new finery, and talking about gifts for siblings there was.... I tried to picture Leigh Weisman again, and came up onc again with an infuriating blank.
Monday evening, We could not reach Abishag in Alberta. I suppsed this would happen sometimes. I told Yitzi we could try again tomorrow. Yitzi stood still and sad staring at the floor as if it were the most interesting thing in the study, and then he began to cry. It started as groaning and progressed to a full fledged melt down that not even his plastic cell phone could cure. Exhaustion, frustration, betrayal, fear of abandonment, all jelled together making the child howl inconsolably. I held him. I tried to think of the times Alfred (now Moses) had been this upset. I couldn't think of any though I was sure they would happen.
Yitzi's meltdown disturbed Ellen who came and sat next to him. She said nothing. I explained about Abishag's disappearance. It was only temporary, but temporary is forever when you are three. After a couple of hours, I got Yitzi to bed, and lay in the darkness unable to sleep. "Please come back Abishag," I thought.
Stories in the Morning
"No entertainment and that's final!" I read the riot act to my two assistants who were cutting up peaches and plums. Tropical fruit season was over and they thought it better to buy fruits in season. I did not quarrel with that. Food was fine, but this morning we were going to let the expanding and all male crowd provide the show. The assistants were welcome to join the audience as long as they dressed appropriately for an Orthodox Jewish gathering, a skirt below the knees and the shoulders covered. Akiba of course wore a one shoulder blouse which showed just a tiny bit of her body art covered torso. Over this she put a fascinator. I remembered those things. It surprized me that girls and women still had them. Orphia wore an oversize t-shirt advertizing a falafel place in Texas on top of a black skirt that was full of pockets. I dressed as if for work. I even saw that Yitzi looked nice. Ki did not want to go outside, and Ellen did not want to either. She decided to work on translations and readings for Native Tongue and darted of into the study where I left the computer set up to entertain and educate her. No one could quarrel with Ellen's work ethic.
Out we went after we set up the fruit table. Orphia and I took turns serving. Akiba counted the crowd. She said it was about twenty-five men. They had finished their morning prayers and now were forming up into a lecture. I asked Rabbi Goldberg who had come to watch where the women should sit. The three of us took seats on the side after I announced that the men were free to serve themselves fruit salad. I suspected they would leave an empty bowl behind, since some of the men were young and probably a bit starved. Forget hungry! I rememered that tutor Yaakov who was still living at the Weisman's and who was not among this morning's crowd. Poor Yaakov. His was not a position any one should envy. I doubted many of the men close to his age were doing much better.
This morning a portly old rabbi in a caftan, knickers, white trouser socks worn in a way George Washington would have recognized, and a scuzzy silver beard that matched the silver thatch of his eyebrows gave a speech about tsnius, the Hebew word for modesty. He was fast to translate his Hebrew, Aramaic, and Yiddish source materials. I could follow the Hebrew. His translations were fairly accurate. The Aramaic and Yiddish I had to take on faith. Given that he was probably a native speaker of the last language, I was surprized at how little accent he had when speaking English. I listened as the rabbi linked modesty to humility, said it applied to both men and women, and that it meant not drawing attention to oneself. Akiba plucked at the grass and looked bored. Orphia folded her arms defensively. As far as I was concerned, a daily demonstration on my front lawn, albeit my rented front lawn, was anything but modest, though it had remained nonviolent. It was now in its second week, and it was now old, too old.
I pushed the irritated thoughts out of my head as the rabbi, who was not familiar to me, and probably a guest in the community began to take answers from the audience' questions. Someone had taught the rabbi really decent pedagogy. I listened to the back and forth, until a man with a long brown beard and a tweed sport coat that he refused to remove in the heat asked: "How do you feel about those women over there," he pointed at Orphia, Akiba, and me. "lashon hara" I thought. Lashon hara is Hebrew for gossip but it translates as unclean lips, which means it is malicious, and this was lashon hara except I wasn't embarassed. I stood up pretending to help the gentleman make his point. Akiba and Orphia took my cue. The guest rabbi's eyes widened and then he lowered them.
"Sit down ladies," he spoke to us. "You are hardly examples of women who are NOT tznius. They have sat quietly. They are somewhat covered. We'd probably not like it if our wives or daughters dressed like the one with the net shawl, but I have seen mamy, many women in synagogues dressed like them, and by and large they are modest enough. If you are looking for examples of female immodesty, hash v'sholem you aren't going to be able to see it in front of this house."
"Are you aware what this woman did?" asked a plump young man with a crew cut thin enough to let his sweaty, magenta, skull shine through and a thick black beard that was well trimmed and as round as his face.
"Whether there has been an act of mesira in this community is debateable," the guest rabbi told the crowd. Mesira is turning over a fellow Jew to unjust authorities. In cases where one Jew puts others in physical danger or is a thief, one is free to turn such a person over to the police. Beyond that Jewish law gets murky. One could say that the Weisman children who remained at home were starving or severely neglected. This could count as physical danger. One could say I should have worked it out through the community. Maimonides would have criticized me and rightly so for acting with a hot head. One could say my willingness to feed the children was community help as far as it went. Are you tried of going round and round about this. I was just surprized that the guest rabbi got it right. I just wish he avoided the passive voice.
"But that it happened at all was not a good thing," the guest rabbi continued. If I had been sitting on the subway traveling to what I thought of that morning as my old job, I would have agreed with the guest rabbi whole-heartedly. Sitting on the grass in the hot seat of my front lawn, I was not sure I agreed at all. I thought of Yoni whose deafness had escaped not only his mother but legions of minders. I thought of Yitzi with his plastic cell phone and Kayla who fought for the higher ground above animal need with the strength of a hidden tzaddikes. A tzaddik is a Jewish saint. Some are known and some live among the general population and are known only to HaShem.
I stood. "Only time and God will know if what I did was the right thing. Give it time and let Him be the judge." The anger in my own voice alarmed me. I stared at the ground like an adolescent who had just put her foot in it.
"Perhaps you are right but tell me one thing, Brunei." The guest rabbi looked directly at me. "If you are on the derech, why did you marry a THREE LETTER EPITHET FOR NONJEW THAT I WILL NOT DEIGN TO PRINT?"
"Please don't call my exhusband that word. I know it has a meaning in Hebrew that is quite benign but you speak English proficiently. You used it as an epithet. As much as I have differences with Corliss, I resent it when you call him an ethnic slur."
"Do you still love him?" A young man, perhaps a buchur (That's Yiddish for yeshiva student) asked.
"I don't love him any more," I replied, "But he is my son's father. Also I respect his intelligence. I admire his beauty, and my son stays in contact with him."
"Why?" the buchur asked. I was glad he asked. He was asking for others who were more than curious little girls. He was asking because I was something different who practiced their religion, who still believed, but who...had transgressed? Who had transgressed and returned? Who had transgressed and never given up the faith? I was not sure. Fill this in any way you like.
"Because Corliss is Moses' father," I replied. "He has always kept in contact. Look at me. I'm female. A boy needs a male parent."
"But what if the parent is a THAT THREE LETTER EPITHET AGAIN."
"It doesn't matter. It's still his father. Why should I take away a child's father because we couldn't get along? Is that right or fair?"
"Yes, but what about his Jewish education?" The buchur meant Moses'.
"Moses went to Torah Day Academy just down the road. Does that answer your question."
"Then your...ex-husband agreed to bring the child up Jewish."
"Corliss and I divorced around the time Moses was two," I answered. "It would have been a different world had we stayed. He would have been a different man. I might have taken a different road, but a divorce is not a happy thing.
"I married Corliss DePalma for love. I married him because he was beautiful and intelligent. We were both academics or going to be. We did not fight over religion. He accepted my faith was a part of me. I accepted his lack of faith was part of the general run of people around us. He agreed to let me keep kosher. I agreed to give the baby an English name and use that name day to day. I had no problem with that."
"Then why did you divorce?" asked the guest rabbi.
"Discrimination against married women with children. My department refused to give me a recommendation after I earned a PhD. That meant I would have to go back and get a K-12 teaching license or work for the Company who have now been gobbled up by the Priests. Back then though it was the Company. My ex couldn't live with that and the fact that my career wtih the Company still mattered, and that I would have to go through hard times, and not be a stay-at-home wife, and not have another child for a few years until my work became more settled. That can be hard on a man, and I was sure I wanted to straighten out my work. We all ready had one child and plenty of time for another. I'd worked too hard to just give up. " Failure is ugly. Seeing a partner hit a wall like I did twelve and a half years ago is ugly. I didn't have the strength or grace to smooth things over."
"You blame yourself?" the guest rabbi knew just what to ask.
"Yes, it was partially my fault and partially Corliss'. When a marriage dies, usually both partners had a part in killing it. "
"And you stayed on the derech through all of this?"
"As much as I could," I responded.
"What are you planning for the childrens' Jewish education?" asked the guest rabbi.
"Yitzi and Kayla will go to Torah Day Academy in a couple of weeks," I answered.
"And the others?"
"The older ones have arrangements made through Ed Branch Atlanta and Dati Leumi, I replied. If the others are interested, I'll do what I can, but it's up to their branches and clans." I was sorry this was the way I handled it, but I wasn't really sorry. "Some of the children have lost faith," I said. I wasn't sure the buchurim would understand, but the guest rabbi might. He nodded sadly and then switched to Yiddish which I listened to for the sound, not picking up most of the meaning. Some of the verb forms were way too familiar. It is said that Yiddish is a Germanicized Romance language. I thought of the SY dialect (It's NOT pidgin or creole) of Portuguese.
I watched the men stand in small groups talking. We weren't in any of the breakout sessions so I headed inside. That was when Ellen rushed me. "Ms. Mandel! Ms. Mandel!" she cried. "Your computer says you have three missed phone calls!" Ki nodded. "I think it's urgent," my favorite priestlet replied.
In the kitchen Orphia and Akiba were discussing my trial by fire on the lawn. It wasn't a trial by fire. It had been a teaching session. The out-of-town Rav was about to transform me from fallen woman to ordinary but still faithful Jew who had strayed but who was still good of heart rather than a wanton, self-hating, sinner. I could use the good press. Perhaps we would get rid of the daily protest and be able to live a more normal life.
I went into the study feeling somewhat chipper and switched bucket of bolts to phone mode and...There were three missed calls and one unhappy voicemail from Hamida DeLang. Memories of being shitcanned as a teenager, which happened fairly seldom because my house in Ramapo was a decent sort of place, flooded back in a way that made my throat tighten and my mouth taste bitter. "I don't need this crap!" I thought feeling suddenly tired.
I called Ms. DeLang back. She asked me how I was doing. I told her I had the protests on the lawn "under control." She said she had heard about them. She was glad I had a cool head. That was why it surprized her that a Ms. Dennis from Fairbanks, Alaska was so very angry at me. Apparently I had "blown her off."
"I did nothing of the kind!" I could defend myself when I had to. "I simply told her that I did not think it was necessary or practical for Ellen to see a therapist until she was at her creche in New Jersey since that really is her home base. I said she believed in reincarnation and sung to her dead baby sister at night...but Ms. DeLang, if you lost your only younger sibling and you were seven years old wouldn't you be retched enough with grief to do worse? I don't think it helps to get Ellen labeled as something she is not."
"I understand, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs is worried about the child," Ms. DeLang's tone was that of an unhappy teacher.
"What do you want me to do?" I was about to receive an order. I could feel it. There went today's schedule, probably including a visit to Yoni, Amber, Marilyn, and Caramel in the afternoon. Hamida wanted me to see a therapist with Ellen. The therapist was one Ed Branch used for bereaved children. She was "good." This would get the BIA off our backs and a recommendation for someone in the Sussex County, NJ/Orange County, NY area for Ellen who probably could use the help if the therapist was sensitive.
We had an appointment for 1pm. It was a bit after 9am now. There was time for a swim if we were quick about it, but not much else. I called Marilyn to cancel our visit. I apologized to Yitzi. Then I noticed a comm letter. It was from Tussange Bruno, Abishag Philippi's husband. I read it before reading it over a late breakfast of bread and prune butter, woven wheats and sunflower butter, and a few pieces of fruit and of course yerba matte tea for those who needed a lift. Don't we all need a lift.
It was not good news. Abishag was on assignment and while she was safe and well, she would be gone for a week to ten days. This was vile news especially since Yitzi really did not know the days of the week and could not yet tell time. A week could be forever to a three year old. I wanted to hug Yitzi, but the news hadn't sunk in yet. The melt down would come when I least wanted or expected it. I could not prevent it with a hug, and right now, I wanted to cry.
Stories in the Afternoon
"But I miss you so much Ah-bee-shag!" Yitzi told his hot red, plastic, toy comm phone as he sat in the waiting room of a quiet office Buckhead. It was a strange place. It looked like the office of a law firm or private bank that served affluent clients. I thought of Corliss' parents and put the thought out of my mind. It looked like such an office except for the children's toys lying haphazardly about. Neither child I brought to this place took interest in the toys. Ellen wanted to read her copy of Sun Stays Out Late, the local literary magazine/newspaper published in Inupiat by Ed-Branch girls in the Native Tongue program. Ellen sat with her dirty blue jeans legs gathered up in a fortess of kid knees that also served as a reading table. Then the receptionist called her name. She said she wasn't scaird and she could see the doctor by herself. The doctor wanted to talk to her alone anyway. He was a doctor, an MD with a degree in psychology rather than a clinical psychologist with prescribing privilege. Doctors liked medication and labels. I listened to Yitzi's conversation.
"I know you're work is very important but don't I count too? Do you love your work more than me?" I had a feeling Yitzi was going to cry. Instead, he kept talking. "What would you do if I broke my legs or I got real sick? What would you do if I died? Would your work matter so much then!" I grabbed the arms of my chair. There was a lump in my throat, and it was my stomach. "Do you know you're acting very selfish!" Yitzi continued to berate the invisible Abishag. "All you think about is yourself and your stupid job. You know maybe I won't call you when you come back to Alberta. How would that make you feel?"
"Yitzi," I found my cool head. "Would it help if I pretended to be Abishag? Then you could yell at me."
Yitzi blinked. "You can't be Abishag!" he told me.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because she's run away and done a very bad thing," Yitzi explained.
"Where did Ah-bee-shag go?" asked the nurse/receptionist. She had found the whole drama interesting, and a lot of drama probably unfolded in this respectable office. I guess that said something.
"She's far away in the mountains. She cares about her work more than she cares about her husband. She cares about her work more than she cares about her own kid. She cares about her work more than she cares about me. She's just a selfish lady, and when she's old and grey she'll die all alone!"
"Wow!" sighed the nurse/receptionist who looked nervously at the door, not the door that led back to the therapy room, but the front door. If any one else came in for their appointment they were going to get treated to quite a show. "You must be very angry at Abishag," I was in no mood for therapy talk. Unlike his half-deaf brother Yoni, Yitzi had been a very quick study, too quick, and he had had a very fine teacher.
"His mother used to say things like that," I explained. "He's imitating her. It's garbage talk."
"Is it really garbage talk?" the nurse/receptionist was having a good time. Now it was my turn to look at the door.
"It's true," Yitzi rocked on his little feet. "Abishag thinks of no one but herself. HaShem is going to punish her."
"I'm glad Aunt Abishag is not in this room to hear you say those ugly things to her face," I laid down the law.
"But they're true!"
"They're not," I said trying to be calm. I was going to win this argument against Leigh Weisman. I was going to win it now and forever. "All grownups have to work."
"You're not working," Yitzi was quick, no doubt about that. I liked that.
"Only for the next two weeks. Then my vacation is over. I go back to work and you go to school and after school nursery, understand." I knew Yitzi couldn't count days. "Remember how you would never see me because I was working all this summer. I am going back to that place to work some more soon, OK?"
Yitzi stared at the floor. "I have a staff. You'll go to school. You'll go to after school. You'll be busy too. Abishag is busy the same way, understand?"
"She left me alone!"
"She didn't do it for a bad reason. She's a grownup with a job and she's going to be back, probably by next Shabbos, OK?"
Yitzi did not answer. The office had no windows, but it had a big fish tank. Yitzi walked over to watch the fish. "You need to say goodbye to Abishag," I told him.
"Abishag," Yitzi said into the cell phone. "I'm very sorry I said bad things about you, but I miss you so much." My foster son started to cry. It was better this way I told myself. I held him. He shook. He was just a little kid with a short rope and a good vocabulary. I stroked his curls. I was still stroking them when the doctor said he (and this one was male) wanted to speak to me. He said Molly, the nurse/receptionist could watch Yitzi. Yitzi wiped his runny nose with a bare arm. "I'll be back very soon. I just need to talk to the doctor. Ellen is coming out to be with you." Ellen walked quietly out of the therapy room. "Please play with Yitzi," I told my foster daughter. "He can use some company."
"He misses Abishag," Ellen stated.
"That's the understatement of the millenium," I snapped back.
"Do you miss Abishag as much as I miss Baby Charlotte?" Ellen asked her foster brother. "Oh boy," I thought and entered the temple of therapy. "The doctor had a crew cut and a red beard and brown eyes, an interesting combination. He wore a tweed suit jacket due to the air conditioning that made the whole rear office an ice box. What kind of answers did frozen, cold kids give. What sercrets did they divulge and did the confessions keep them warm?
"Your little girl told me some very interesting stories," the doctor began.
"What stories?quot; I asked.
"About a great aunt named Trisha. Apparently Ellen's parents and tribal medicine man convinced her to believe she is the reincarnation of that aunt."
"I know about that," I answered.
"The problem of course is that Trisha drank herself to death."
"She didn't," I answered. "Tricia was Ed-Branch. I had Kohana Pascal check her profile. She died of hepatitis C due to dirty needles. There was a quack doctor either doing breast enlargements or contraceptive injections, and there was a law suit against the second doctor, a class action. Tricia was on that. Tricia was not a drunk. She was an exotic dancer. I think she could sing too."
"That's an odd ending for an Ed-Branch girl, even in Alaska."
"She washed out of college and had to support herself. She did that honorably."
"Your story sounds an awful lot like Ellen's," the doctor observed. Then he smiled. "She told me she was in the world to fix the mistakes she made as Tricia and that Tricia was very smart, and a good person, and had a beautiful voice. Sometimes people take a story meant to insult and turn it into a point of pride. I think that is what Ellen's family has done. They have not exactly been supportive of her encouragement."
I shook my head. "It's worse than that."
"Yes, what has Ellen told you about the dead baby?"
"It's her sister. Her mother named her Charlotte. She did not get the child immunized even though there was money to take all the children to Barrow to get shots. Ellen had the immunizations because Ed-Branch wouldn't release her from quarantine until she got them. Charlotte was not so lucky. Ellen was angry at the adults for not taking care of the kids. She was very angry at the Elder. Maybe that was easier than being angry at her parents. She was living at the other side of the beach when the BIA intervened and gave her back to Ed-Branch. She's pretty much lost her entire family, but losing the baby sister was the hardest. I'd snap too if I had lost either of my two sisters. This was Ellen's only full sibling. She has two half brothers who are much older." I was out of breath.
"You realize," the doctor leaned back in his chair. "That bereavement of this nature takes months if not a year or two to resolve."
"And Ellen apparently has developed a kind of private grieving ritual in which she talks to the dead child."
"She talks and sings in Inupiat," I answered.
"You've heard it?"
"Yes, and Ellen won't tell me what she says or if the dead baby talks back. She says she doesn't. I don't want to pry."
"I don't either," the doctor answered. "When I asked Ellen to tell me what she and the dead baby discussed, she said that it was private and she wasn't telling family secrets to a 'strange doctor.' She says she is not discussing hurting herself or others, and I believe she is not lying. I'm not sure we can call what Ellen does at night delusional. It's an unusual belief, but Ellen was raised in another culture. Ellen also has the insight to engage in the behavior only in private, and to want to keep it secret. I think that says a lot right there. I do think Ellen would benefit from therapy."
"Do you think it would be better if it were based where her creche is."
"The problem with that Ms. Mandel is that I don't know any doctors in rural New Jersey. Let me see what I can find among my colleagues." The doctor handed me his business card.
I staggered out into the office. Ellen and Yitzi were watching the fish tank and asking the nurse/receptionist for the names of the fishes. This was a fascinating game since both kids really did operate on a similar wavelength. If they had been Alfred/Moses, I would have suggested taking them for ice cream. Alfred/Moses would have asked for a cold drink. He liked convenience stores and liked sitting on cement parking barriers and drinking a paper cup of sweet stuff he had bought at the counter with imma's cash money. I couldn't buy off either Yitzi or Ellen. I took them for a couple of walks around the block. The heat was stifling, and the air thick as soup. The sky was grey in a way that blotted out the sun but left the clouds without definite shape.
Ellen studied the sky. "Do you think it will rain?" she asked. "It's too warm," I answered. This was part of Georgia weather which was not New Jersey weather or Alaska weather. "Tell me about the fish in the tank,&quo; I said to Ellen knowing Yitzi would join in too. "I'm going to tell Abishag all about the fishies when I talk to her again," Yitzi proudly announced. I smiled with sweet relief.
Tuesday night Orphia and Akiba refused to obey my order to flip the kitchen for meat meals on shabbos. "It's just not a good idea," replied Orphia who was the spokesperson for my pair of staff. Ki watched silently shaking her head.
"Why not?" I enquired. Moses (formerly Alfred) did not get much meat that was good. While not exactly kosher, he was squeamish about meat in restaurants and would not eat the hot meals his clan provided. He lived mainly on freely available carry out. Even with his brown card, there was plenty available. He and Quil Quercus (formerly Dov Weisman) made a habit of finding restaurants that would serve them, and Quil according to Moses ate everything. I tried to explain to Moses that this was a normal and beneficial state of affairs for a child who did not keep kosher. Moses had his doubts, and I knew how happy slices of freshly cooked London broil would make him. That was why Orphia's intransigence irritated me.
"First, you want two cakes to give away as presents. You asked Akiba for them."
"There are pareve cakes," I felt myself slide on the slippery slope of Orphia's argument.
"There are, but I wanted to make the pineapple cake with the egg whites," Akiba answered. That cake was not pareve.
"That means we'll have six egg yolks left," Orphia picked up the argument. "I thought I'd make three quiches with them. That means cheese. That means dairy."
"That means plenty of quiche," Orphia lay in the final blow. "And we'll have other dishes as well, plenty of food, for the eight children. Big boys like to eat. Adolescent girls also like to eat, and besides, you hate the butcher, and he doesn't much care for you."
I winced. I smiled. I asked for the eleborate menu for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I could have laughed, but I didn't laugh. Orphia and Akiba were pros. My team was better than I was. I reminded myself that Moses would not be the only child in the house, and he did not get particularly good quiche where he was either. He did get a lot of hot filled snacks that I would have considered sandwiches. He was not greedy as some boys were. Quil, I knew would appreciate anything. Ahava was any one's guess. I could not remember what she liked to eat. I knew she preferred fruit to cookies, but that was also true of Yitzi, and not all that uncommon.
Late Tuesday night, the baking began. This was so Akiba could make and frost the cakes on Wednesday morning. Yitzi had watched his sister practice her line dancing and was giddy at the complex things big girls learned. He also askedif it would make her a three letter epithet which I will not print.
I told him: "positively not!" Had he been older, I would have told him to ask a rabbi. The right rabbi would have reassured him. The wrong one had his head up the wrong orifice, but that was another story.
I came home to find Ellen seated on a stool in the kitchen, but instead of reading to Akiba and Orphia, who had the table split evenly between them, she was sitting quietly watching with a concentration so thick I could have sliced it apart but did not want to. Akiba beat the egg whites until them formed soft peaks. On the way to their soft peaks, she invited Ellen to help her with the electric mixer. The dry ingredients and pineapple were all ready to go along with the butter creamed with sugar and pineapple juice. "What if I break them?" Ellen asked. &quiot;I've never done this before." "You won't," Akiba answered. "I'm watching you. I'm not going to let you beat those whites dry."
A few seconds later Akiba observed the egg whites carefully. She said they were ready. They formed soft shiney peaks. They were not dry. It was time to mix the flour into the creamed mixture and then fold the batter into the beaten whites. Folding was done by hand. Folding was careful nerve wracking work. Folding took place after the three sheet cake pans (There were three cakes! Akiba was giving me one to assuage her guilt at disobeying me. That was a sweet gesture!) received their coating of butter and flour. Ellen even got to bang out one pan well away from the precious egg whites.
Then the folding began and Akiba put three pans of finished batter in a preheated oven and started to clean up. On her side of the table, Orphia chopped colored bell pepers. She had been shredding brocoli earlier on a hand grater. This kind of pleasant and obsessive cooking had never been my thing, but now it did more than make my team happy. "Ellen, want to drain the dried tomatoes for me in the collander?" Orphia asked.
"Shouldn't I help Akiba clean up?" the child asked. "I can handle it," Akiba excused Ellen who got to use the sink for a second to pour the tomatoes into a collander and then put the collander on a bowl and get it out so Akiba could continue to clean. "Nice trick," I thought. I couldn't remember that one from my youth. "Where'd you learn that?" I asked Orphia. "Just figured it out," my head steward replied. "Think I should cook a boniato to go in with the brussel sprout and tomato salad?" Orphia asked.
"This one is experimenta," I guessed aloud. Orphia nodded. "It ought to be good though," she asnwered. "With all this good food to eat, we're like the rabbit in the garden," Ellen explained. I thought of another garden, one with a forbidden tree in it, but then again the threat of a butt full of buckshot and/or a whipping at home, seemed more reasonable. Perhaps we all dream of gardens, but for Ellen they were real.
That night I heard soft singing in the hall. It was not on a Western scale. It started again, stopped, and repeated itself. The sounds did not form words I understood. Even the grammar was alien to me. Though I knew bits of some Native American tongues, they were from those who settled in the junles of Amazonia, not those who settled in the high Arctic. Still it was not that hard to figure out that Ellen was repeating the same phrase, slowly at first and then with more rhythm. Then it would start over, then she sang the same several phrases together. It was as if she was either remembering or learning a song, or maybe writing one down when she got the words and melody right.
Several large explosions stopped my evesdropping. I walked back toward the cake smelling kitchen. In the living room, Akiba uttered an oath beneath her ear phones as the television flicked on and off. She had to reset her disk file that she had hooked up. The electronic web connecting her to on demand anime adventures was thin as gossamer. There were several mroe explosions. "Why do they have to make EXPLETIVE DELETEDing thunder?" asked my lost soul, pastry chef.
I saw lightening through the living room curtains. "I'm glad the cake is finished," she sighed as the rain began to pour. It rained on and off through the night and was coming down hard enough in the morning to keep away the protesters. I should have been relieved, but a day with two kids in the house and not much to do left me with a sense of dread. Ellen was up early and we drank matte together silently. Ellen was starting to stink again. She needed a shower, and her shirt needed a wash.
"We're going to need three cake safes," Akiba slipped into the conversation.
"Why?" I asked.
"One for us, and two for deliveries." She smiled. I could see bits of her tatoo sticking out from beneath the camisole style shirt she slept in and worked in early in the morning. This was not really a day for getting dressed. Yitzi came into the kitchen and asked for fruit. There was fruit salad ready to go. Orphia had the routine down pat, and there would be fruit salad at lunch today, if we made it to lunch.
"Maybe we can all go to the mall together," I suggested. It was a thought. The kids were good about walking. We had rain coats, and even Ellen had a light weight winter coat that could keep her pretty dry. "You want company?" I asked Akiba. "I was going with Orphia, but hey you're the boss," she sing songed.
"A question from me is not an order," I huffed back.
"Sure, why not. We're going to make Ellen's day." I wondered why buying a cake safe would make Ellen's day. I had forgotten Ellen in the kitchen last night. The kitchen supply store fascinated the girl. While Yitzi complained about the weather on his toy cell phone, Ellen explored the merchandise and asked the names of assorted tools and devices. "Are there any words for these in Inupiat?" I asked.
"No, we have to find words," Ellen told us. "My mom didn't have a fancy kitchen, even when we lived in the village." Ellen shook her head and stared at the floor as if the memory was buried there. The floor was as good a place as any to look.
That afternoon Akiba made boiled icing. We were running the air conditioner, so she said it would dry after she decorated it with canned pineapple and raisins. Ellen did not want to help decorate the cakes. She said she did not know how to do it and that she would rather watch. "And the rabbit in the garden succumbed to indigestion," I finished a story half aloud and then regretted it.
"Which rabbit?" asked Ellen, "and why would you want him to be sick?" I stared at the child's face growing red with concern that was almost anger.
"I was thinking of you surrounded by food," I told the truth and hoped to be believed.
"I think the rabbit would stop eating when he got full. The rabbit was not stupid. He found the garden and did not listen to his dumb mother."
"You have a point," I thought about the Doctor's explanation of changing stories to give them a positive spin. Maybe I half understood. Maybe I knew nothing.
Before supper, I took Ellen (Yitzi wanted to stay with Ki and watch videos.), Orphia, and Akiba and went first to Calibre Woods to see Rabbi Goldberg. I brought him the cake in the red safe. The cake in the green safe was for the guest rabbi with the big white beard. The one who had lifted up my helpers and me with faint praise which was better than no praise. I was paying Rabbi Goldberg for information. He thanked me for the cake. I warned his wife it was dairy. The little Goldberg kids had never seen a cake safe, so Akiba opened it. They ooed at the decorations on the icing. "Pineapple cake," Orphia told the children. "The best."
Then I asked Rabbi Goldberg where I could find the guest rabbi who had learned on my lawn Tuesday morning. I also asked his name. It was Kohen. Yes, he might have been a kohain a descendent of the Biblical Aaron and the ancient priesthood of the First and Second Temples. In fact, he probably was. Rabbi Kohen was staying with a family in a cluster of mansions behind Torah Day Academy. I had to ask the guard at the gatehouse to call the Minskies and then I had to explain my errand to a skeptical Mrs. Minsky. I hoped the Minskies would eat my food. I did not think Rabbi Kohen would refuse. The Minskies were another matter.
Besides families like theirs made my blood boil. They were rich, and the rest of us could jump in a lake. By the time HaShem got around to judging them, the damage was all ready done. My entourage and I walked up the steps of Minsky Manor and I rang the bell. A boy of about ten with stringy tzits-tzits sticking out of his pants and a rumpled white shirt, opened the door. I announced myself. Several other children crawled out of the fortress of the living room couch and chairs and gave us all the once over. Yes, we had walked. Yes we were a little wet. No, Rabbi Kohen was learning.
"I need to speak to him. It's urgent," I explained after the children had looked at the cake in its safe. Neither the safe nor the cake impressed the children of Minsky Manor. Rabbi Kohen was studying in the basement office. Just then the basement door opened. Rabbi Kohen thanked me for the lovely gift. Then he asked me what I wanted. "I'd like the name of a psychistrist or psychologist in either Sussex County, New Jersey or Orange County, New York," I said. Rabbi Kohen blinked and rubbed a hand over his silvery hair, taking care not to knock of his black yarmulke.
"May I ask why you think you need such a doctor?" Rabbi Kohen responded.
"Ed-Branch has ordered Ellen," I pointed "to have therapy. It's for bereavement. She lost her baby sister, Charlotte, less than two months ago. The child died of measels because her parents did not immunize her or the other children or themsleves."
Rabbi Kohen said something in Hebrew that translates as "God is a righteous judge." I smiled. "Is Ellen Jewish?" Rabbi Kohen asked.
&qut;She's Inuit," I told him.
"That's Eskimo isn't it?"
"I'm native Alaskan," Ellen corrected the rabbi.
"What are you doing in Georgia?" Rabbi Kohen asked.
"Branch foster care," I explained. "Ellen is good friends with the oldest Weisman daughter who will be home tomorrow. She's better off among friends in Atlanta than among strangers in Fairbanks or Barrow."
The rabbi shook his head. He squatted down to have a good look at Ellen. "She seems all right," the rabbi said.
I wondered if the rabbi had no sense of smell. "All right, I do know of a couple of doctors in Orange County. I'm glad you came to me. Does Ed-Branch have a list of doctors it prefers?"
I said I was not sure, probably not for an area so remote. I took Rabbi Kohen's business card on which he had carefully written the doctor's names. We made some small talk and left. "Wow look at the rain!" screamed Yitzi. As soon as we cleared the gate, it began to pour. I wondered who had stuck or unstuck the sky, and I wondered why. It was raining for Reunion. That was plain enough. Tomorrow at this time, my house would be filling with a raggle, taggle bunch of refugee children whose parents could not care for them. It did not matter how mad you were at the parents or what vile punishments you wanted to give them so you could of course distance themselves from such conduct, as if you were perfect. What mattered was to see the kids were safe and comfortable until most of them could go back to their clans or creches.
It really was that simple, I thought as my not quite waterproof rain coat soaked through. Yitzi jumped in the puddles. Ellen did not join him. Instead she squatted beside the places where the rain collected. Was she looking at her reflection. She glanced at the sky and the green grass that glowed radiently from the moisture. "Oh," she said to herself and no one. She squeezed her homespun purse to herself like a womb. "Rain," she said. "There's only one word in English for it."
"No there isn't," I responded. "There's downpour and deluge."
"Deluge is a French word for flood," Ellen retorted.
"You're right. English borrowed it."
"That's polite for stole," Ellen snapped back. "Borrowed is a euphemism."
A good vocabulary can take you anywhere, I thought and somehow that was reassuring. Back at the house, I called Ellen's psychiatrist and gave her the name of the two doctors in Orange County. I also gave them to Ed-Branch to get them cleared. Outside the deluge continued. What were the Powers that Be trying to wash away?
The Masks Slip
Thursday dawned sunny. The protesters had vanished. DeKalb County Sherriff's Patrol drove by but did not stay. We did not need them. I felt relieved and weary at the same time. I sat in the kitchen drinking iced, sweetened, lemon flavor yerba matte in the kitchen with Ellen, while Orphia baked several quiches and Akiba cooked sweet potatoes for sweet potato biscuits. The disk and file player, played anime music softly alternating with the best in a kind of dark dance genre that was mostly drums. I thought of my parents kitchen back in Bronxville, NY. They used to listen to something called National Public Radio. There was still news that was not company news, and it was the news my parents preferred because their parents preferred it. The legacy ended with me. In my life, the biggest news always was personal and always traveled by word of mouth, comm phone calls, comm letters etc...
"When's the fruit salad ready?" Yitzi asked as he careened into the kitchen half dressed.
"That's not a way to greet your family," I snapped back. "Can you at least say 'good morning' or 'hello.' You know there's food for you." I stopped. Yitzi looked around. He said he was sorry and greeted everybody. Then he asked for food. I told him he needed to put on his pants and I straightened his shirt collar and brushed his hair. Ellen watched me, glancing at me nervously. Something told me this kid was going to burst. That made me nervous.
"What is it?" I asked by the time Yitzi, she, and I returned to the breakfast table. "Ahava's coming today. I haven't seen her in so long, she could have forgotten about me."
"Do you really believe that?" I should not have asked.
Ellen nodded. I reminded her that Kayla would come before Ellen, Chevie, and Shlomo-Yitzakh got here. Kayla had the shortest journey, two chenilles or a bus and a chenille to the Vend-o-Mart, or what used to be the Vend-o-Mart when more people had more cash money, parking lot where Druid Hills Road forks off of Claremont. Yitzi might know the spot. It was still a bit unfamiliar to Ellen.
We walked in the morning sun, not saying much. Finally, Yitzi began a toy cell phone conversation with the absent Abishag. "We're going to get my sister Kayla," he began. "She's going to live with us for a while before they take her again. Then she'll be down on Ponce. She won't go away like the other kids. She'll be here or very close for a long, long time."
I looked forward to meeting Kayla in the light of day. I looked forward to her sense of style, her beads, her confident friends. Six is a pretty good age when you think about it. It is the age when you really start being able to read and write and can chin up to the edge of the ledge that separates children from the wider world. Now Kayla would be free to discover that world without worrying about food or the fear of having her siblings beaten or estranged. All that was behind her. It was bad, but it was in the past. I kept telling myself all of this as the chenille pulled up and disgorged four kids. Parents waited for their kids. Only one family had come by car. Ethanol and bio-D were both expensive and not everyone received chits to buy them. They cost a lot more if you paid cash. Most people did not have a permit to use petroleum based fuels, even if they could find them. Atlanta had a smog problem in the warmer months and sometimes in the winter. Bio-D and ethanol burned a bit cleaner or they did if you didn't drive much.
Kayla wore a cadet blue skirt and a striped and paisley blouse in blue, gold, royal blue, and brown. A necklace of small beads formed several strands around her neck and upper chest. Her hair was still uneven. Perhaps her Placement Specialist had decided to let it grow a bit before the hair cut that would even it. That made sense. Kayla carried a plump duffle with a faux petit point design of magenta, star gazer lilies, on a kahki background and faux brown leather handles. I offered to carry it. She thanked me.
Something about Kayla made me think of the princesses in fairy tales, but Kayla was not the sort of princess who complained about walking. She had walked her feet off this summer, and the kids in the Creche walked every where. Kayla greeted her brother Yitzi with a hug, and a squeal of delight.
Then she greeted Ellen. She was going to shake hands with her foster sister and then thought better of it. I saw the hand withdrawn. Then I saw Kayla wrinkle up her nose. "You had that shirt on at Shabbos," the child accused her foster sister.
"Kayla!" I shouted before I could stop myself.
"Yeah?" Kayla answered back. Then she asked: "Don't you take kids for Material Need?"
"I don't want new clothes," Ellen explained.
"Yeah but that shirt smells," Kayla told her.
"I don't care. It's my last shirt."
"You can get more shirts."
"I don't want more shirts."
"What if Ms. Mandel makes you get more shirts. If you wear that to school, they're going to throw you out? Besides, parents are supposed to take you for Material Need. That's what they did for me at the Creche. See, this is all new stuff." Kayla modeled her outfit.
"Well I don't need a lot of clothes," Ellen explained.
We left it at that. I did not explain that I had been able to buy Ellen a bathing suit. I did not tell Ellen's story. I figured that would come out in its own time. We walked back to the house uneasily for several blocks.
Then Kayla restarted the conversation. Stinky or not, she wanted to know about Ellen, who was a fellow girl, close in age and in the same branch, and more similar to her in some ways than Chevie or the two younger boys, and certainly Ahava who was much older. "So what kinds of things do you do in your creche?" Kayla asked Ellen.
"I learned to ice skate the last time I got taken. I also went skiing, cross country. They had downhill too, but I didn't want to try it. Cross country is like snow shoes."
Ellen was out of Kayla's league. "They had the usual games," Ellen continued. "Twister and limbo bar, if you liked that stuff."
"Did they play firing squad?" Kayla asked.
"The boys played basketball and the girls who liked sports played too. There was also soccer, but we only played firing squad in gym."
"What about dancing?" asked Kayla.
"We had square dancing mostly and some social dancing."
"I usually went to the computer room," Ellen confessed. "I've got my Basics, and I'm in Native Tongue for Inupiat."
"A Native Alaskan language. I'm Inuit, that's Alaska Native, like Native American in the lower forty-eight."
"You mean some kind of Indian," Kayla was a quick study.
"Yes, except from Alaska."
"I thought there were Eskimos in Alaska."
"Eskimo is an epithet for Inuit. I'm Inuit, got that. I don't call you bad names for being a Jew."
"I'm sorry," Kayla replied. "I just never met an...In-you-it before. How did you get all the way to Georgia?"
"Stick transport. Any other way would take forever."
"I don't mean that. I mean why?"
"The BIA, Bureau of Indian Affairs and EdBranch sent me. I'm Ahava Burden's friend. They said I'd be better off with friends than with strangers. I can't go home to my parents."
"Why?" There was no stopping Kayla.
I realized Ellen or I could have lied and said that Ellen got sent to Georgia for Material Need. I didn't do that. Ellen told the truth. She told the whole story of her baby sister who died of measles due to lack of vaccinations in the bush camp where her parents and their friends hid from the Priests. "The grownups killed my sister," Ellen told Kayla. "They listened to the stupid, drunken Elder. He is really Na'laqui, the spirit of getting lost. He can kill people, because you can die if you get lost in the bush. You will freeze to death if you run out of food and can't find something to eat. You will just to to sleep on the ice or in your boat and die, understand.
"I had to curse the Elder. You would have cursed him too if you knew how, and I know how. I speak Inupiat, so I know how to say really bad curses. The grownups got mad at me for cursing. They told me to stop. I told them they were murderers and didn't care about kids. Why should I listen to people who let my sister die? The grownups banished me."
"That means they threw you out," Kayla checked.
"Well not all the way out, but over to the other end of the beach where they buried my sister. The Elder even said she had no name, but I know she had a name. My Mom named her Charlotte. Charlotte Savina. I made her name my middle name. I was glad to have my camp by her grave. I didn't want to come back to the main camp. It was just me and Baby Charlotte."
"But how did you eat?" Kayla asked.
"My Mom brought me food. She wasn't going to let her kid go hungry even if she was mad at me. She even asked how I was doing. She said I could come back to the camp if I would watch what I said. I told her I wasn't coming back to the camp. I was too angry. The Elder deserved to be cursed. Mom even asked if she deserved to be cursed. I said not as bad as the Elder but she should have stuck up for Charlotte.
"Then my older brothers and a lot of the other kids got sick. I didn't get sick because Ed-Branch vaccinated me. My brothers got very sick. Some of the grownups got sick too.
"Then the Bureau of Indian Affairs and District Social Services arrived, and they took all the kids. They found I was Ed-Branch and sent me to Fairbanks. They put my brothers in the hospital. One is out now and in a foster home in Barrow. I write to both of them."
"And what about your parents?" Kayla was relentless.
"They're still in the bush. They don't have an address. General Delivery Barrow maybe, but I'm not sure they pick up their mail. They may be afraid to come in to town." Ellen was out of breath. Her story had no ending or rather, it continued here in Atlanta.
"My parents aren't talking to me either," Kayla answered. "Athalie, my Placement Specialist, made me write to them. They never wrote back. We don't have a phone because we had no money. We don't have comm mail because we don't have an internet either. Athalie asked imma and abba to visit me. I haven't seen them except for seeing abba in schul last week. That was the first time in two weeks." Kayla's story had no ending either. I thought of the protestors. I wished now that Shimon Weisman had been among them, but that was not how the story went.
The sun was fierce and hot by the time we reached the house on Christmas Lane. I asked Kayla if she could swim. She couldn't. She had a bathing suit though. I wondered if there was time for a swim, but decided against it. On the refridgerator door was a note. "Have put our stuff in the bedroom and gone out to check out the neighborhood. Will be back in time for lunch -- Moses and Quill." Those fool boys could not be bothered to stay and meet their mother and foster mother! I felt angry. I almost tore the note from the refridgerator when Akiba stopped me with a routine question. I remembered to offer Kayla a cold drink. She took water instead of yerba matte. She sat on a kitchen chair as if waiting for something to happen. I thought about the boys and then realized that it might be good for Kayla to unpack. No, she would be rooming with Chevie. Ahava was going to room with Ellen.
"That's good," Kayla said privately to me. "Cause Ellen smells. She really smells. Can't you convince her to take Material Need?" I shook my head. "You know why," I counseled Kayla and hoped it would sink in past all the armor of pretty clothes and Material Need. "That's the shirt she had on when child protective took her isn't it?" Kayla asked. I nodded. Kayla sank down on the bed. "At least Hulda is still alive. She's still alive isn't she?" I nodded. "What about Yoni?" Kayla asked.
"In Avondale Estates," I answered. I did not tell Kayla that Marilyn and Amber wanted to test Yoni for hearing loss and figure out the cause of that loss. I remembered seeing pictures of Quil (formerly Dov Weisman) after his father, Rabbi Fleishman, and their cronies pounded on him. I thought of Ellen throwing curses down the beach because her only sister had died of measles. I could understand Ellen. That was why I left her alone. Kayla, I told myself was still in self-preservation mode.
"When do I get to see Yoni and Hulda?" Kayla asked. "We'll probably go visit before Shabbos tomorrow," I told my newest foster child. Kayla who could count days and tell time seemed reasonably satisfied. In the study, Ellen had logged into the computer to do some of her native tongue work. I stared at the unfamiliar words formed with Roman letters on the projection screen. I had to remind myself that Inupiat had been a written language for less than two hundred years, maybe a lot less.
A pounding at the front door made Ellen look up. The pounding was sharp, loud and then cut off by a female voice yelling. "I'm coming! Don't break the stupid door down. Were you raised in a barn?" Moses wasn't raised in a barn, but he was used to having a key to the house. I remembered the keys in an envelope in my dresser and the laces on which to string key rings to keep them from being lost. I walked toward the kitchen and then the living room. Quil and Moses were inside now, blinking in the shade of drawn curtains, sniffing the air redolent with good food. It was the first time in six months my only natural son had been home, even if this was not the apartment at the Oakes. "Imma, he began, I need to call Dad."
I dug my nails into my palms and bit my tongue. I had to remember that Moses still had a relationship with Corliss, my exhusband, and that this was NOT a bad thing.
The Riot Act and More
Moses, the son Corliss and I named Alfred, did not get through to his father on the first try. He called Corliss' number at Emory, and he picked up in his office. I got to hear half of a conversation that was way too pleasant for my taste.
"No Dad, I didn't escape," Moses told his father. "They let me out. It's Reunion...vacation, Dad...Yes, I'm going to have to go back. I've got an exam I have to take. Yeah, for high school. They do that in the Interior...I don't think Choate's going to take me, even if I could afford it. Dad, I've got a crinminal record, remember? No, it's OK. I'm going to work in the office...It's better than emptying EXPLETIVE DELETEDing bed pans... No, Imma. doesn't care if I curse. OK..."
Even Quil got bored with this drama, and headed into the study where Ellen was all ready hogging the computer.
"Yes, I want to come see you....I missed you Dad...I can come any time...What's good for you?" I thought of Moses as not quite three year old Alfred. I stood on the phone at the Oakes, pleading with the boy's father to make himself useful and teach my son to pee standing up. Corliss enjoyed his first born son in theory and sometimes in practice, but when it came to being responsible for the nuts and bolts of the child's life.....
I felt my face start to burn as I came back into the kitchen. "We need to see Imma," Kayla explained to Yitzi as they sat on the living room carpet. "Abishag was just a house keeper. Imma is our real mother. You know that..."
"Imma is sick," Yitzi told his older sister.
"Well we can see her any way, now that we are in the neighborhood." She was of course Leigh Weisman not Abishag Philippi.
I sat down on the edge of a chair. "Did Athalie Stonecrock arrange visitation with your mother?" I asked Kayla. Kayla shook her head. "Did she try at all?"
"She tried, but Imma wasn't well. That's what abba told her."
"Your parents are very stubborn," I told Kayla. "But I'll do what I can."
I got up and walked back toward the study. "That's not gibberish," Ellen told Quil. "That's Inupiat. That's my native tongue. I'm Inuit."
"You mean Inuit from Alaska?" Quil asked.
Ellen nodded. "I'm in Native Tongue for Inupiat."
Quil looked up at me. "Do you still have all the books you had at the Oakes?" It was a strange and unexpected question. I smiled and told him that I did. "You didn't have to sell them or anything?" I had no answer. "I just moved everything I had. I was never without some kind of work, even if that work was breaking the law," I told Quil. Quil swallowed. He fidgeted.
"This was a rabbi's house," Quil changed topics. "What do you do if you have a lot of guests?" he asked. "Feed them," I answered.
"And the kids?" Quil asked.
"Why not?" ;I should not have asked that.
"Where does everybody sit?" Quil looked straight at me. I could see where his father's blows had left his nose permanently crooked from a healed break. Other than that, there were no scars. Children heal quickly.
"I have extra chairs in the hall closet. Want to see them?" I really did have a dozen folding chairs, and people could always eat standing up or in the kitchen or outside if the weather was nice. Quil put his hands on the chairs and counted them by touching them. I said nothing.
Moses was off the phone by now, so I asked him to come into my bedroom. "This place is a museum, Imma," he told me as he looked at photos of Corliss, Moses as a little Alfred, and me.
I shrugged. "OK," Moses changed the subject. "What have I done?"
"Nothing serious yet," I answered.
"Good, then you're not pissed off." Was that ever a lie. I was obviously midlly annoyed that my son had breezed past me and barely given me the time of day, but I probably did that to my parents at his age, but that was not why I wanted to have a talk in private.
"Moses," I stopped playing the shitcan game. "You are going to take an exam in two weeks that could change your life if you fail it. Am I right?"
"I've been studying, Imma!"
"Go to your bedroom and bring me your flash cards."
"Yes." Moses slipped out into the hall. Half of me was afraid he'd go looking for Quil in the study and the other half feared he'd head right out the door. He could do that. He had run wild all summer and for the last few weeks of the school year. I was not Bee. Mothers are not bosses, except we are in a way, at least part of the time.
Moses came back with the cards. We sat opposite each other on the bed. I drilled him in times tables. He knew those. I went to the study and returned with pencil and scrap paper. He worked franction and decimal problems. He even solved a few perimeters but had trouble with an area problem.
"You've still got two weeks," I told my son. "Did you bring home the workbooks that you picked up at Nadine's office?"
"May I see them?"
"Why do you think I'm lying?"
"Because you want to get out and run in the neighborhood, hang out at chez Corliss et famille and generally fart around this break. Because you used to fart around in school every chance you got."
"School used to EXPLETIVE DELETED," Moses explained. "It still does, but I don't want to empty EXPLETIVE DELETEDing bed pans for the rest of my life."
"Let me see the workbooks please."
Moses brought them to me. He had at least brought them home. I felt something tight begin to loosen itself in my stomach. "OK, what we are going to do today is have you make a schedule of when you are going to study. I'll print off a schedule form. You need to put in two to four hours a day, preferably closer to four. You can't do that all at once, so you'll schedule several sessions. Those will get first priority. You pick the time and do the work, and I'll otherwise stay out of your hair. You slack off and I'm all over you, understand?"
"How're you going to print the schedule forms?" Moses smiled. He had me. "That weird girl from Alaska is using the computer."
"No problem. I'll ask her to get off for a moment so I can make a print out. You do some thinking about what study schedule you want."
"You make it sound like it's the best thing in the world."
"It's going to be good to work for Bee, and your high school prepares students to be community and house admins. You have the makings of a leader."
"You got me mixed up with Quil, Imma."
"Quil just likes to read."
"Quil's got the imagination. I just want to be out and comfortable and have stuff under control."
"Good enough. Let me get you the schedule forms. I want to see these some time before supper, understand."
"I have the afternoon off then?" Moses never stopped.
"You need to unpack and the rest of the family is arriving."
"They're Weismans," Moses reminded me. "Except for Ellen," I answered. "She's Ahava's friend," Moses replied as if that made her a Weisman too.
I went into the study, bumped Ellen, and started printing off circular schedules. These worked better than grids for many of my students who thought of the daily cycle as a circle. I figured Moses would find them a novelty. Also the fact that they came from work, might let him know I was serious and he should be too.
Meanwhile Quil and Moses held a conclave in the hallway. "So we go up to Doraville. There's another portal there," Moses told Quil. "Abba is working and doesn't want me around. We can go to the arcade. I want to see if I can beat the water gun game."
I gathered seven copies of the printout and wrote the word: Shabbos in big red pen on part of one diagram and part of another. I emerged from the study. "Excuse me gentlemen," I addressed Quil and Moses. &qout;Don't you have bags to unpack?"
"Oh shit," sighed Moses.
"I'm sorry," answered Quil.
"Don't be sorry. Just unpack and we'll have lunch when the rest of the family arrives."
Moses and Quil sliped into their room and closed their door with a loud thunk. It was Moses who heaved it shut. "What was that?" asked Ki.
"Boys," I answered.
Bird House Gourd
I decided that Ellen had had enough time on the computer. I wanted to check my comm mail. I was hungry for some good news. I wanted Abishag to resurface early. There was no mail from either Toussaint or Abishag, but there was a comm letter from Nadine asking how it was going. "They're not all here yet," I thought. "The protesters are gone. I feel we are safer..." I replied. Then I found comm mail from Rejane. She had sent it from a cafe in the large village where she had given birth a few weeks ago. She said that her husband and father-in-law had waited the launch so she could write to me. She asked after Moses which I thought was sweet. He after all had once been my baby. I send a comm letter to Athalie Stonecrock to find out the truth about visitation with Leigh Weisman for Kayla. I was not sure if Kayla was brave or a fool. As long as the visit was short and SUPERVISED it would probably be all right. It was probably all for the best, I hoped. This morning Leigh Weisman had changed from a black hole to a sore spot in my psyche.
I next wrote to Kohana Pascal asking her to help with visitation, and then I wrote to Bonnie Sorensen. While C-Branch types can not do magic, they are good at thinking fast and thinking outside the box. While I was writing Bonnie, I heard the commotion of three kids, two of them heavily laden, entering the front hall and kitchen. "Don't break the door down!" shouted a flustered Orphia.
I saved my unfinished letter to Bonnie and greeted the three prodigal foster children in the kitchen. It should not have surprized me that they arrived all at once. They had simply met at the air port and fallen in with eachother. Chevie, the youngest at age nine, looked the best in her shirt with a mechanical drawing on it and her cargo pants. She carried bulging duffles and multiple packs full of books and art supplies. "I hate being bored," she explained. "Amen," Akiba replied.
Ahava, age fifteen and the oldest, was heavily laden with gifts. There was blue Indian corn and a bird house gourd that had won prizes at the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show. These were now going to decorate this house. I should have been touched, and I was touched, somewhat. Ahava also brought dried fruit for Yitzi. There is something painful about adolescent girls trying to be adults, and either over or under doing it. Only Shlomo-Yitzahk, who had been bar mitzvahed this spring at the Koten in Jerusalem, carried just regulation luggage. He stood pressed against the refridgerator in his clan uniform, dark bluish green twill pants and a light green dress shirt, sea green. His clan mame means flying fish in English. Shlomo-Yitzakh, however, looked like a fish out of water. "What's that?" he asked about the gourd. Ahava filled him in. "Are we going to eat it?" he asked. "Gourds are ornamenta," Ahava answered.
Just then Moses and Quil entered the kitchen. The reunion was nearly complete. I went to fetch Ellen who had gone in the yard to read Sun Stays Out Late for the twentieth time. The thing only came out once every other week, so she had just the old one that had come on Tuesday. Ellen folded Stays Up Late into her pocket and trotted in. She glanced at all her foster siblings, then pretended not to see them. She found a seat at the table and sat with her legs scrunched up. Ahava and Ellen began to update each other on their lives. Once again, I heard the story of Baby Charlotte, the neglectful and culpable adults, and the curses thrown down the beach and written in sand, followed by banishment to a spot conveniently outside the main bush camp. How many times would Ellen have to tell this story? How many times would Ellen want to tell this story? How long until the narrative took on a life of its own? It surely could not be Ellen's only story.
"Shlomo-Yitakh -- " I knew both parts of his name were important. I knew for whom he had named himself -- "Why don't you change into civies. You're at Reunion."
"I don't have any civies," he replied. "Just clan clothes."
Should I have told Shlomo-Yitzakh that this is not Israel. I shrugged and told him we would go shopping for clothes tomorrow. I also asked hinm to stow his bags so we could have lunch. After lunch, Yitzi had an unscheduled melt down. He wanted to go see Yoni and Hulda. I told him he needed to spend time with his older siblings who needed to unpack and settle in. This time Yitzi did not reach for the plastic cell phone. He threw himself on the living room floor and howled. I was afraid it might disturb the neighbors. It was quite a performance. His face turned beet red. He kicked his sneakered feet in the air. Even if I had wanted to comfort him, there was a very good chance, he could kick me by accident. I retreated to the kitchen, and Orphia shut the door after me. "Bullshit," she said softly. "That kid is too old to cry like that. He's doing it for attention."
"I guess he reached the end of his rope," sighed Akiba. "That's why I don't like little kids. I guess he won't hurt himself since he's on the rug and on the floor."
I slumped in a chair. I'd never even seen Alfred (now Moses) throw a tantrum like that, and Yitzi had not performed like that in the strange foster home in Scottdale or when he arrived. What had set it off. Had missing Abishag been the last straw? Then it hit me. Yitzi had seen me paying attention to the older children. Attention like food, clothing, and everything else in the Weisman household had been an abysmally scarce quantity. I opened the kitchen door and said in my voice of adult authority: "When you calm down a bit, you can come in the kitchen." The living room was eerily quiet. Yitzi lay on his side, eyes closed and legs curled up. He did not move. I wondered if he was all right. I was tempted to pick him up and carry him. I fought the impulse down. Instead, I knelt beside him. His breathing sounded OK. I felt for a pulse at his neck. It was there. He was feigning sleep or playing dead.
I decided to let Orphia watch the child, and went down the hall to see how the unpacking was coming along. I also had another mission. I opened Quil's dresser drawer after asking permission. Then I sniffed at his clothes. They were clean. I felt relieved. "Boy Imma do you get off on other kids' clothes?" asked Moses who had just gotten away with saying something ugly and clearly enjoyed it. "This is called wardrobe inspection. You're next."
Moses opened his drawers and I stared to sniff, but something caught my eye. There were only two shirts in the drawer. I knew Moses had more clothes than this. I'd seen him wear them when he came to visit me at work, or was sent on an errand there by Bee. "They're not clean," Moses replied. "You don't want me putting dirty clothes in the dresser do you?"
"You're not supposed to come home from a clan house with dirties. Didn't Bee teach you that?"
"I'm not a scholar, Imma," my son replied.
"Fine," I answered. "You're doing laundry this evening, now let me see your dirty clothes sack Quil." Quil too had brought home mostly dirty things.
At least all of Shlomo-Yitzakh's things were clean. He just did not have much, and I really did not want him roaming around Toco Hills in his clan uniform. Still, the boy insisted he had enough to wear. He ignored my inspection by reading aloud but softly from a large religious book he had brought home with him. Yitzi who had recovered from his temper watched me go through his older brother's wardrobe. He watched wide eyed and silently. Shlomo-Yitzakh pretended the child was not there. Then Yitzi followed me into Chevie and Kayla's room. The girls had given up unpacking and were moving furniture. "Just push it Kayla!" Chevie ordered. "You're not as little and weak as you think." "We're going to get in trouble with Miz Mandel," Kayla told Chevie. "No we're not," Chevie argued back.
"What's going on?" I asked trying to keep my tone neutral. I was surprized not angry.
"We're rearranging the room so we get equal space," Chevie explained. I asked if the girls could take a break to let me examine their clothes. Kayla needed things for the winter, I said. This made the small girl grin from ear to ear. Chevie's wardrobe was in order and clean. "OK, back to work," I told Chevie and Kayla.
I emerged into the hallway only to bump into Ahava who did not look happy. I did not need an adolescent having a melt down. "Ms. Mandel," Ahava began. "Do you have an old shirt or one of Moses' old shirts we can borrow?" "Who was the royal we?" I wondered.
"Why do you need a shirt?" I asked instead.
"Ellen's t-shirt disintegrated. It's got a big hole on one shoulder."
I went to the bin of Alfred's old polo shirts that he wore to Torah Day Academy and handed the old shirt to Ahava who took it to Ellen. The shirt would be too big, but at least it had no holes. Ahava passed her wardrobe inspection though she said she wanted some new things, and Ellen...well I didn't bother. I all ready knew.
I came back into the hall with the wardrobe inspection's done only to see Yitzi waiting for me, eyes wide and face impossible to read, except part of me knew. "Yitzi," I said. "I want to show you something." The child blinked. I led him to the hall closet. I showed him the folding chairs. I counted them. Yitzi could not count, but he knew there were a lot of them. "See when it's Shabbos, every body can have a seat," I said. And I showed him the big dining room table into which Akiba or Orphia had all ready inserted a leaf. "See, room for every body." Then I took Yitzi to the kitchen. I showed him full cupboards and the sink and the step stool. "Orphia will give you a fruit plate every day," Akiba, who said she did not like little kids explained, "And I'll bake breads and cakes for you and all the other children."
"What about Yoni and Hulda?" Yitzi asked.
"They're in Avondale Estates. You'll visit them Eruv Shabbos," I reminded my foster son.
"What if they came here?"
"There would be room enough for them and there would be enough seats, enough food, and enough clothes and toys, understand?"
"I will always see there is enough for everybody."