Never Trust the Silence V
This is the fifth 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!
To return to QC-L, please click here.
The blackout meant that Yitzi did not get to talk to Abishag until close to Midnight in Georgia. When the conversation started he was groggy, since he had fallen asleep and I had awakened him. Kayla and Quil had just stayed up late. They older children lurked in the doorway and Yitzi and both the Bucket of Bolts and his toy cell phone took center stage.
"I'm only going to be able to talk to you for three more days, until Shabbos" remembered Abishag who knew that Yitzi could not really count yet.
"Why are you going away again?" Yitzi half screamed. He was not half-asleep any more. I felt sick.
"Work," replied Abishag.
"Your work is more important than me!" Yitzi never forgot how to play that game. Thank you for nothing, Leigh Weisman.
"It is," Abishag did not bite as her voice fed out of the speaker. Quil shifted his feet. Kayla stared into space. Ahava retreated to the kitchen with Ellen since there was no way they were going to get any computer time with Abishag and Yitzi at center stage.
"Why is your work more important than your children?" Yitzi aimed his blow. It was a good one, one designed to wrench tears of loyalty and manipulation.
Abishag answered. "My work is going to help many people, not just one or two, and some of those people will definitely be kids. Understand?"
"I don't believe you!" cried Yitzi whose face was starting to redden.
"Please Yitzi, it's going to turn out for the best. I wish I could tell you more..." Quil grunted. "Can I speak to your brother and sister?" Abishag asked.
Abishag, I realized was better with the older kids. She and Quil chatted about applied ethics and how it helped him understand, and how psychology also helped him understand his life and his feelings. "If you understand your feelings, you won't get so angry so easily."
"I hope so," Quil responded. "I don't want to kill any one by accident, or on purpose."
Kayla and Abishag talked about furnishing and decoration. I did not hear all of the conversation because I sat with Yitzi on his bed. Shlomo-Yitzakh was out late at the Kollel. I would just have to trust him. I held the crying Yitzi in my arms. I did not want his relaationship with Abishag to become a bad dream. It felt like one that Tuesday night after the thunder storm.
Wednesday morning, Orphia, Akiba, and Shlomo-Yitzakh had an argument. Shlomo-Yitzakh asked for meat and pastry for Shabbos. Orphia said he could bat five hundred. She wanted to make several peach kuchens that were dairy. Ahava stood permforing surgery on the afflicted peaches, throwing the bruised and mouldy parts into the compost pail that was going to the Torah Day Academy compost pile. Shlomo-Yitzakh sighed. "You didn't grow up Jewish," he told Orphia. "You don't understand."
"What religion were we raised?" Orphia asked. "Southern Baptist?" Akiba snorted. Ahava shook her head.
"You have no respect for tradition. Even in Haifa we have meat and pastry on Shabbos," Shlomo-Yitzakh explained.
"Well don't look at the ingredients on the pareve pastries," Akiba advised my oldest foster son, and she scrunched her nose in disgust for emphasis.
Shlomo-Yitzakh shook his head and went to check the kettle to see if there was water for tea. He asked Orphia to give him space at the sink to fill it. Just then there was a knock at the door. Orphia left her post in the kitchen to answer it. She returned to the kitchen wide eyed as behind her followed Hamida DeLang. I wondered what I had done to merit this visit. I had not disobeyed a direct or implicit order since the week before, so I could not really be shitcanned, at least not yet.
"Good morning Antonia," Hamida was all smiles. Her face which is made of brown leather crinkled when she smiled. "And how are you doing Shlomo-Yitzakh?" She handled his name as if it might break. "Fine," Shlomo-Yitzakh replied and then he glanced quizzically around the kitchen. "I need to borrow Akiba for a few days," explained Hamida who needed only to explain herself minimally.
"Excuse me," said Akiba, "But I've got kuchen dough rising on the back porch."
"When can you have it finished?"
"It will be ready for its second rise in about an hour."
Hamida looked less than pleased. She was after all the head of EdBranch Atlanta, and whatever she wanted it was more important than several pans of peach kuchen for Shabbos. Perhaps there was some kind of banquet, and she wanted an ace baker. "Is there any way someone else here can finish the pastry?" Hamida wanted Akiba and wanted her now. That was why this was an in person visit with a driver. This was a pick up that felt way more like a stick up. Oh, where was my tri-mate when I needed it? It was illegal in Atlanta, Georgia.
"Orphia and Ahava can finish the job," Akiba knew that orders were orders. "How long will you need me?"
"Anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Pack some clothes and get cleaned up," Hamida ordered, and Akiba disappeared down the hall.
Shlomo-Yitzakh licked his lips. "I need an adult who can cable up and put together a bank of internet-capable computers, and keep them reasonably secure in case some fool wants to sabotage us."
I nodded. "I don't know what you've heard, but children have been disappearing. Some call it stealth takings, but there is no siren, and you don't always feel the pull or the stick sickness. It's a few children here and there, often from crowded places, usually from public places. It's happening all over the country and probably all over the world. It started t his weekend. The children are of course unprepared. Many times they are hidden. For some it's a first taking or the first in a while. Several other branch leaders and I are going to set up a contact center where we can get contact with the children and put them in contact with their parents, phone, comm mail, postal mail, possibly visits."
"Are there any taken children in your creche?" It was Ahava who asked as she mechanically prepared peaches for pastry filling.
"Yes, and at the dorm house since it's not a large group," Hamida answered.
"How long do you think this will go on?" asked Orphia.
"Your guess is as good as mine. It's apparently the way the Portal Priests do things in the Interior, and they want the rest of us to get used to it. We have to show them the way things are done in Fifty Stars."
"Well at least Akiba's fortunes are looking up," quipped Orphia. "You think we got enough peaches Ahava?"
"Depends how many you want," the girl replied.
Several tense minutes passed, and then Akiba reappeared in the kitchen. She did not have a duffle or pack with clothes in it. "You really think you can stand to have me working for you again?" she asked Hamida.
"You're good with computers and I need every capable hand I can get?"
"So you're going to use me until you can't stand me any more and fire me again just like last time" Akiba folded her arms. Bits of body art stuck out under her tank top. She had not bothered to change. She had not bothered to pack. Did she want to be punished, or did she simply not care? "You don't own me Mizz deLang. Nobody owns me. My clan won't take me back, but if you throw something away, you can't have it back. Got that?"
"Akiba, you are not the same person I terminated because I did not have enough work for you," Hamida tried to explain.
"I see. I'm useful now," Akiba sing-songed. I wondered if there was a way I could get my best baker out of the kitchen before she did irreprable harm to her future. I was still wondering that when Akiba added: "Well FUCK YOU Mizz DeLang," and she turned to go, but Hamida slipped in front of her.
"A-kee-bah," said the head of EdBranch Atlanta. "Those were the very words I said to the mother who nursed me upon her tits."
"And I bet you're real sorry now...." Akiba looked for a way to get passed the head of Atlanta EdBranch.
"No," answered Hamida. "I'm not. Not one bit." Akiba still looked for a route of escape, but the only one available was the back door. The living room by now had filled with an audience: Quil, Moses, Shlomo-Yitzakh, Kayla, Chevy, and Ellen. All had gathered to see Akiba massively and publicly shitcanned.
"How come?" asked Shlomo-Yitzakh who held a cup of black tea in his hands. The story of cursing one's parent, especially a mother who had nursed you, always ended with contrition on the part of the child.
"My parents kidnapped me," Hamida began. "You have to understand, I am forty-four years old. That means my parents were the first generation to live under the company, and they did not grow up in a mentoring house or were in one that functioned in name only. Eventually, the Caompany in Florida cracked down. I managed to earn my EdBranch encouragement before that, but my parents were...not supportive. I got hidden from a few takings. I missed Nationals when I was ten and again a year and a half later. My father's family had roots somewhere between Binghamton and Utica, New York on Route 12. Any time you have depopulated or rural country, the Company works at a disadvantage. I knew that, and I knew I wanted to be EdBranch. It was that simple."
Hamida deLang paused and looked around. Ellen raised her hand as if she was at school. "What did you do?" she asked.
"I all ready told you. I cursed my parents, to their face."
"And what did they do back?" Ellen edged closer to Hamida. She wanted to slip into the kitchen so she could look this adult who had cursed her very mother in the eyes and see what sort of character lurked there. She nuzzled up against Hamida and tried to squeeze into the kitchen. Hamida let her pass.
"They never got a chance to do much. They tried to keep me from having any money. They stole my aytiem card. I reported the card as lost, so I could get another one. They would not let me listen to music. They called it tough love. I escaped out a window on a weekday afternoon. I got a replacement aytiem card, and spent all my money on a bus ticket to Atlanta where I knew the Dorm House was. I knocked on the Dorm House door. I begged them to take me in. They put me in foster care until I was old enough for a mentoring house.
"My parents did not speak to me until I was in my second year of college. By then my father was quite ill. I traveled up north to spend time with him before he died. I remember his funeral. All sorts of people loved him, including my mother."
"And did you say you were sorry?" This time it was Ellen who asked.
"No," replied Hamida.
"But she put you upon her tits!" Ellen all but screamed. For some reason she looked as if she could cry. Her eyes shone with tears. I tried not to look at them because they suggested dark chasms of pain.
Hamida shrugged. "I'm even sorry to the Elder and I cursed him worse than just a few cuss words. I cursed him ten times worse. I called him a drunk and the Spirit of Misdirection that kills people by getting them lost, but I'm STILL SORRY!"
"Why!" I asked. "The man killed your baby sister." A fact was after all a fact.
"He gave me the Old Tongue. He would sing the old legends and I learned them. I learned to talk Inupiat around the time I learned English or maybe a bit after. The Elder's words painted pictures of stories that came alive inside me. There were so many stories, old legends, and stories of when the first white men came in boats that could break the winter ice, and of the men who came for oil, but could never call our country home. And stories of the ones who went away like my great aunt, Tricia. You undersatnd.
"And when I was three the Native Tongue people discovered me. And when I started to learn to read, they had a lady teach me to read over the computer and later we would go to Barrow for supplies and I would spend the day with Mizz Sara. The Elder said that reading and writing would kill the Native Tongue, but it made Inupiat bigger. We are adding words. We are adding speakers. That is what the Native Tongue program does, but it was the Elder who gave me the tongue and then...." Ellen choked on something that brought hot tears to her swollen and angry face. She doubled over with wracking sobs. I put my arm around her. She shook until she found her voice. She turned to Akiba and Hamida. "Cursing people is really stupid you know, even if the curses are true, because it can't fix what they did. My sister Chrlotte died of the measels because nobody got her vaccinated or took her to the hospital in Barrow. You understand? No curses can make her alive again. She wanders with me until she can be born again and alive again. The Elder did that, but curses are useless. You just say them when you're angry."
"Ellen," Hamida squatted down beside the child. "Do you know what the word, betrayal means?"
"It's when someone you trust does a very evil thing," answered Ellen. "It doesn't matter if they're stupid or mean or both. The thing is evil and it hurts and you loved them so it hurts more."
"Yes," Hamida answered. A good vocabulary can be very useful. "Your Elder betrayed you and your sister. Betrayal is very hard to live with. My parents, particularly my mother, betrayed me. She did it by taking away the future I wanted and acting in blind fear. I don't want any other children to live with the kind of betrayal that has been part of my life. That is why we need a communication center so the parents won't be afraid."
"I'm sorry," Akiba said to the air.
"You're not sorry," Hamida told my soon to be expastry chef. "I have to earn your trust again. The whole of edBranch has to earn your trust again. Maybe we can do it if you can give us a chance."
Akiba stared at the floor. "I haven't packed yet," she said.
"Go pack. I can wait," Hamida answered.
Ahava is Setting Fire to the Kitchen!
After I lost Akiba Wednesday morning, more bad news followed. Caramel, Amber, Hulda's wetnurse' daughter, had a doctor's appointment, so we could not visit Yoni and Hulda in Avondale Estates. I took any children who wanted to go swimming. Ahava wanted to go, but she had to stay with Orpheus and cook, and Ellen stayed to help and because she liked Ahava. I got to take Kayla and Chevy to the pool. Quil went to read with Moses so he would not be lonely while he studied for his exams. Shlomo-Yitzakh trailed over to the Kollel. I reminded him of Bucket of Bolts and gave him Ki's cell phone so he could call in should he find himself with his father or Rabbi Fleischman again. It was strange but true, that of all the foster children Shlomo-Yitzakh was in some ways the most vulnerable. I could watch Kayla and Yitzi, the two nonswimmers at the pool.
Somewhere along the line, probably in Tasmania, Chevy had learned to swim. She swam by herself in the deep end of the pool. She kept her own counsels until it came time to rest in the sun. Then she and Kayla argued over their next project. "What are we going to with all those bath bombs we are making?" Kayla asked. "Use a few. Wouldn't you like a nice, relaxing piney woods scented bath?"
"They'll shitcan us for stinking up the bathroom."
"Not if you wipe out the tub after you finish," I intervened, "and let's see if the tub plug works."
"You want me to test it?" Chevy asked.
"Sure right before lunch," and I meant it.
"I hate the piney woods bath bombs," Kayla complained to every one and no one. I guess it was her turn to complain today. I didn't mind really. "They are the prettiest ones to look at, but they don't smell the best." No one interrupted the child with wet, uneven, blonde hair. "Which are your favorites?" Chevy finally asked.
"The mango apricot ones," Kayla said.
"OK, you picked that scent out."
"It's a good smell. What's your favorite smell?"
"It depends on what mood I'm in. Last winter, it was cinamon, and Christmas spice mix, and somtimes cranberry."
"They didn't have cranberry at the store. I liked the pear though."
"The pear bath bombs are ugly. They're boring white."
"They're cream color and you're right. They don't look good, but we're talking about smells." I closed my eyes and stretched out on a towel. "Want to do more origami?" Chevy asked her younger sister.
"Origami is hard."
"Not if you do it step by step and follow the diagrams."
"What will we do with all the little folded things?" Kayla asked.
"Put them on a string and hang them in the window."
"What will we do when the window gets full?" asked Kayla. I was beginning to catch the younger child's deeper meaning. Crafts were somehow less meaningful than board games. OK, I was not sure about that. Maybe it was time to teach both girls to cook, if Kayla wanted something really useful. I suspected Ellen was in the kitchen to add new words to Inupiat. That was not bad work if you could get it.
"There's the window in the living room."
"And when that gets full."
"I think we'll be out of paper before then." I smiled and suppressed a laugh.
"What's so funny?" asked Chevy.
"Your pragmatism," I answered.
"What's pragmatism?" Chevy asked me.
"It's like being practical. It's a fancy word for that, but being practical is a good thing!" Kayla protested.
"Making stuff is practical and so are crafts," Chevy bolstered Kayla's argument against my twisting familiar language and values.
"Yeah, but running out of space may ot be practical so Miz An-toe-niah was being sarcastic, weren't you."
"I was being facetious. That means I was making fun at you, but only midly so. I was finding your earnest pragmatism mildly amusing."
"Well there's nothing wrong with crafts. Origami teaches about shapes and ratios and bath bombs teach about chemistry and measuring!" Chevy glared at me with deep kid contempt. "Why is learning languages and vocabulary somehow better. You're just collecting words and making new ones." I could not keep the excrement eating grin off my face.
I thought about the kids who called me The Mimic. I sat up and wondered if it was time to wander home for lunch. I suggested that it might be good for both Chevy and Kayla to learn their computer Basics. Ellen in particular was a computer hog. Basics would harmonize well with Moses' studies. Chevy said she preferred origami. She wanted tolearn to make the box and the vase. "Why not build a kite and fly it?" I suggested. This meant one big project instead of a project that made a lot of small things. Chevy blinked. "I don't have the supplies or the instructions."
"I can see you get both," I told my foster daughter.
"Does that mean we go to the library this afternoon?" Kayla's face brightened.
"Why not?" I asked and Kayla had the decency not to ask if we were walking. Instead she asked: "Are we taking Ellen with us?"
"If she wants to go. We are even taking the boys with us if they want to go. Yitzi is definitely coming with us." That should settle things. Kayla glanced around as she walked. I had a feeling I was going to get told how boys had cooties. I believed the same thing at her age. Later I learned to say that boys were gross and uncivilized. I even believed that when I was in high school, at least until some time in eleventh or twelfth grade. Ahava, for some reason, had no such belief. She had male friends and brothers and.... I pushed amorphous thoughts of Ahava and sex out of my mind. She was still too young and girls outnumbered the boys in the Ed-Branch tribe.
I helped get out lunch on the table. Ahava had cut up a large bowl of vegetables for killer kasha casserole. Kasha, roast buckwheat, was a traditional Jewish delicacy. A kasha casserole would be perefect for Shabbos. Ellen had six new words to add to Inupiat. Kitchens were vocabulary pits. Nouns ruled, I thought as I took a bite of my peanut butter and craisin sandwich. I had just made hamotzi, the blessing on bread, and the food was in my mouth when there was a knock on the door.
Ki got up to answer it, but she was just in for lunch and worked hard enough. I could take the heat. That was when I saw Rabbi Goldstein, the head Rabbi at Beth Jacob Village, and unlike Hamida deLang, I had a feeling he was not going to say "not yet" if I asked him whether I was shitcanned. I let the rabbi in and offered him a peach or pear. He wanted neither. He looked over my kitchen and my crew who were eating. He gave Ahava a hard and ugly stare which she did not need and which she returned. Then Rabbi Goldstein looked around. I supposed he was wondering how to talk to me in privacy. That was not going to happen.
"Missus Mandel," he finally began. "I would prefer that you and those foster children who have been taken and your son not attend services at Beth Jacob Village."
"What have we done?" I inquired. Talk about getting shitcanned. I was utterly impressed in a negative sort of way.
"It was a decision of the governing board." Rabbi Goldstein sounded quite official. He reached into the inside pocket of the charcoal colored suit jacket he wore despite the heat and took out a sealed envelope. I ordered it. It was an official letter signed by the board and the rabbi banning Moses, Ahava, Shlomo-Yitzakh, Quil, Chevy, Kayla, and me from Beth Jacob-Village property including the Kollel. If we showed our faces there or set foot there, any one on the board or any member was free to telephone the police and have us arrested for trespassing.
"Well," I smiled. "I wish we had a copy for all of the kids, since this is a large family here and most of them read. I gave the letter to Ahava who shook her head, who passed it to Chevy who said: "holy shit!" who passed it on to Shlomo-Yitzakh who gasped and so on.
"Interesting letter, huh," I addressed my brood. I watched Rabbi Goldstein shift from one foot to the other. I don't know what he expected, and I was kind of glad of that, because he was about to get what just might be a surprize. "Well, you know this house is private property. It's my residence because DFACs, EdBranch, and the Portal Priests rent it for me. That means, I can decide who gets to come in and who leaves."
"Are you ordering me out?" asked Rabbi Goldstein.
"He's mighty quick on the uptake," quipped a Quil whose nose was still knocked out of joint because his father or Rabbi Fleischman broke it.
"I think Quil has said it all," I continued. "Please leave now before I call the police, and you are not welcome here." That was that.
"So much for Shabbos," Quil was the first to comment.
"Shabbos happens whether there is a shul or not," Ahava replied.
"How are we going to daven without a minyan."
"Try a conservative synagogue," Ahava told her brother. "I think there's still one in Virginia Highlands."
Shlomo-Yitzakh sighed. He stared into space. "I'll go with you if you get your studying done," Moses caught on.
"I'll go Saturday morning."
"I can serve Shabbos supper. You can go Friday night too," Orphia offered. "I'll serve the meal. You'll eat when you get home. We'll just do lunch cold and maybe we'll all go."
Orphia had a natural knack for leadership.
"What's for Shabbos dinner?" asked Shlomo-Yitzakh.
"Killer kasha casserole," replied Ahava. "And peach kuchen for dessert."
"Ahava did all the filling on the peach kuchen," Orphia spoke up. "We're also having spinach salad with cherry tomatoes on the side, and roast string beans and carrots with new potatoes. Sound good?"
Shlomo-Yitzakh said nothing. Then he asked: "Whose idea was this?"
"Akiba wanted to make kuchen, and Ahava here wanted to make kasha. I kind of put the concept together. That's what a steward does."
"It's supposed to be imitation traditional food..."
"Traditional food is not going to happen if you want decent baked goods," Ahava explained. "If you want angel food and sponge cake, or cookies made with disgusting fake fats....or you'll just eat fruit for dessert, you can have roast chicken."
Shlomo-Yitzakh snorted. Then he caught himself because Quil was looking daggers at him for what was close to an outburst. The afternoon crawled by slowly. Ahava made deviled eggs piping the yolk mixture into the whites. I took Chevy and Kayla to get a book on kites at the main branch of the library and later to walk around Atlantic Station. The place was nice and empty because this was a weekday afternoon. The sun shown hot.
I came home to find Ellen practicing her native tongue and Shlomo-Yitizakh, Baruch, Quil, and Moses having an animated argument. "Moses needs to study," Quil explained. "His high school entrance exam is very important, understand?"
"Quil's right," Moses backed him up. "We'll have to discuss this later."
"Have you spoken to Ahava?" Baruch asked.
"She's a good girl. I wouldn't," Quil answered.
"Doesn't matter. We've got all types. Some kids like to learn. Shlomo-Yitzakh and me. Some kids love general studies and could care less about learning. That's Quil. Some like both. That would be Ahava, and some like neither. That used to be you, Moses."
"I've got work to do Moses pleaded. Besides, I hear your imma is having brisket for Shabbos."
"She's having brisket all right. She bought six pounds of it from Atlanta Kosher."
That was just what Ahava, Orphia, and I needed, three boys deserting in search of fresh meat. I walked back toward Quil and Moses' bedroom and opened the door unannounced. Three faces looked up at mine. I had to remember that the Kollel was now off limits to Shlomo-Yitzakh. That hurt. Suddenly, I decided not to yell at the boys for being ungrateful. I asked them how they were doing and politely reminded them that Moses exam was extremely important.
I suggested they come to the kitchen for a snack. They followed me in sheepishly, Quil, Shlomo-Yitzakh, and Baruch. "So," I began deflating the defection as I offered fruit or rusks or bread and spread of choice, "How many chairs does your Imma have?" I directed the question at Baruch and as I did I caught a whiff of him. He needed either a shower, a clean shirt, and/or some deoderant, probably a combination of all three. His round face, coated in a halo of fat, was pink and his crew cut colorless. He had dark brown eyes wiht thin brows and a kind of hooded appearance.
"I never counted them," Baruch replied. He shifted from one foot to the other. "It's all right Miz Anotnia," Quil jumped into the breech. "Baruch hasn't invited any one yet. He was just talking about food, OK?" I shrugged.
"What's for dinner?" asked Shlomo Yitakh. "Deviled eggs, creamy pasta and vegetable salad, and sauteed greens, carrots, and bell peppers. Dessert is choice of fruit," Orphia proudly recited the menu. I tried not to look at Shlomo-Yitzakh who did not return my gaze.
Baruch though asked if the deviled eggs were those eggs with the yolks put back in them. He had been watching Ahava work and now he watched her clean up. "Yes," Ahava answered him. "They're called deviled because we be-devil the yolks with mayonaise and either mustard, relish, or both, and spices. Sound good?"
"I like to eat," Baruch confessed.
Ahava turned back to the sink. Yitzi was describing making deviled eggs in detail on his plastic cell phone. He had spent all his time in the kitchen and was thrilled with what went on there. I thought of his conversation tonight with Abishag and dreaded it. Somehow though, the conversation did not happen Wednesday night. Yitzi fell asleep shortly before sunset, and I simply did not wake him.
Thursday morning, Aunt Marilyn told me over the phone that Hulda had an ear infection and the family had a new foster toddler with impetigo. The town house in Avondale Estates was quarantined for at least three days. She was sorry. I wondered if she was making a play for Yoni and Hulda. She didn't need to restrict vistiation for that.
I ended up taking Yitzi, Ahava, and Ellen to the pool. Shlomo-Yitzakh went off to find Baruch. Quil and Moses studied and read together. Chevy and Kayla had their kite project to plan though they did not have half the supplies they needed. I realized we would probably get them eruv Shabbos. This would keep everyone busy. It was good to have every one busy.
The pool was quiet in the morning. I took Yitzi in the shallow end so he could splash around. He was too young to teach to swim, but he loved the water. His plastic cell phone was on a towel. In the shade on the opposite side of the pool, several neighborhood mothers whom I recognized sat huddled with small children close by. These included two girls whose crayons were melting in the sun and a boy about Yoni's age, who played with a toy fire truck and a toy chenille.
There were almost no older children at the pool except for Ellen and Ahava. I squatted down to wet myself all over to cool off. Yitzi laughed. "You can try it," I coaxed him ready to grab him if he forgot to stand back up or lift his head. Suddenly I saw one of the neighborhood women was signaling to me from the shadows. "In a moment," I told her.
When Yitzi got bored, I walked him over to the shadey spot. "Hasn't anybody told you?" an older woman who was with the younger ones asked me. She had frazzled greyish hari and wore a long caftan over what may or may not have been a respectable, one piece bathing suit. There were varying concepts of tznius, the Hebrew term for modesty, in Toco Hills.
"Do you mean about the brisket?" I asked.
"No, I mean about the children," replied Adina Sorensen. She was the mother of one of the drawing girls. Her child would be one of Yitzi's classmates in less than a month, but they would not be in class together because Torah Day Academy is sex segregated.
"You mean Ellen and Ahava?" I assked. The two of them were swimming in the lap lane and disturbing no one. If any one had a complaint against them...
Could this be about my being banned from schul. I did not put it past Rabbi Goldstein to be indiscrete. "Not those two," Adina Sorensen continued. "It's the ones who have gone. Vanished. Five of them so far. Two on Monday, two on Tuesday, and one last night. Shifra Silverstein. She just vanished from her bed. You have to be very careful, Bru-nay."
No one had called me Brunei in a while. Antonia was more common and I really did prefer to a fake Hebrew name. I said nothing. "All my older fosters are all ready taken, and my youngest is too young," I explained. I was lucky and exempt and cursed all at the same time. That was OK with me.
"She's got a point. It's not going to matter what happens to those children," said a woman with a long neck and frizzy, light brown hair cut too short and mutilated by head coverings when she was not at the pool. "You can ask her if you want?"
"What do you want to know?" I was starting to feel uncomfortable. My feet burned, even though the ground in the shadowy space was cool.
"I'd like you to do me a favor," asked Adina.
"What sort of favor?" I inquired.
"You go into the inner mall. You even take children there," Adina began. "Can you get me some pareve chocolate chips? I'll even pay you for them." Not everybody was having peach kuchen. I had another errand to make. I could make it this afternoon with Chevy and Kayla in tow to buy their kite supplies. I asked Adina how many pounds of chips she wanted, what variety, was there anything she or any one else had needed. I also told them that Orphia, my steward did the marketing on Sundays and would be happy to pick up additional small items.
Yitzi told the women about Kayla and Chevy's kite project. I told the ladies that it would be no trouble to buy chocolate chips at the Inner Mall and bring them back with me. I could understand their fear of the place. I used to fear it too before I worked in the Interior.
That was why I got home just before dinner with Chevy and kayla who had dowels, nylon, special glue, sharp scisors etc.... Chevy was explaining how Kayla could cut with fabric shears if she didn't run around with them. Dinner was leftovers. Baruch was an in-promptu guest. I sat down wind of him to spare Ahava who had so far kept her mouth prudently shut.
After dinner, Ahava made kasha and composed her casserole. She coated the kasha with egg and let it cook dry to seal it before adding the water. When she added the water, a great cloud of steam mixed with the smokey smell of cooking grain. "Imma!" screamed Yitzi. "Ahava set the kitchen on fire."
"She did not!" laughed Orphia. "Did too!" Yitzi bounced up and down, and then the house became quiet. I took Yitzi with me to deliver several varieties of pareve chocolate chips to Missus Sorensen. The neighborhood sky was full of stars. Almost no one was out and about. A few lights in the off-limits Kollel blazed and winked.
At ten pm I booted Ahava off the computer so I could use it to phone Abishag in Alberta. Yitzi had a lot to tell her, which blissfully kept him from complaining. I did not remind him that this was the last time he'd talk to Abishag for what was again more than a week, and yes, I was grateful the boys would be eating Ahava's kasha for Shabbos.
In all of this business with the order of protection from Rabbi Goldstein, the taking of Akiba, the errand for Adina Sorensen, and Chevy and Kayla's kite project, I had forgotten about the favor I owed Ellen. eruv Shabbos I wanted every one to rest before the ten mile round trip to the synagogue in Virginia Highlands. That meant I owed Ellen a favor that was long overdue. The only problem was that I did not know the tune to the Cher Ullman/Cher Bono's song about the unfortunate, half breed, Chrokee Indian girl. I asked Ellen to sing it, which meant that Quil, Moses, Baruch, and Shlomo-Yitzakh had to dispurse their club of scholarship into the back bedrooms. Sorry, but I really did owe Ellen.
I watched Ellen. She did not need the sheet of lyrics. She stood as if before an invisible microphone, and the moment her voice escaped from her mouth, something strange happened. It was in her hands and her body stance. She knew the motions of a trained performer on a stage. I wondered if she had been in any plays or talent shows, and from what I knew of her history, I knew she hadn't. Staring at Ellen, for a moment I saw another face in my mind's eye. The face was round, and the body that came with it round shouldered. The eyes were green, but the cheekdbones were high and round, the nose flat and well padded against the cold. If any one had looked in the woman's mouth, they would have found her teeth had extra veins in them and were very strong. Her hair was jet black and very straight. Her body with its round shoulders was nearly hairless. She carried extra fat on her belly and breasts. Fat insulated against the bitter cold, that one did not discuss, because cold and the long nights of stars brought the seals whose intelligent spirit lived on in their rich red meat and in the minds of the hunters who stalked them on the ice. Was the ice coming back? Did one really still have to worry about polar bears and orcas?
In my vision, I could see the crude little bar where Tricia performed. The stage was unfinished plyood. Most of the men and women never took off their parkas or woolen coats. The heat roared, but an occaisional draft made its way inside to stir the flames in the cheap citronella candles on the table. The smell of citronella did not drown out the odors of dirty coats, tobacco, or stale beer. On the side of the stage stood scantilly clad women, covered in blankets and leg warmers until they could perform. Quite a few danced in leg warmers and mocassins instead of heels. Some, especially the white ones, wore impossibly high heels, pasties, and bangled panties. One native woman wore a garter belt. They were all actresses in the same company.If there were men in their lives, they were dates. This was not a place of prostitution, though it was a place of low and lusty performance. There are many sorts of performance. Those in the audience had their variety, and Tricia had a voice and stage presence. She was good at what she did...
...And then the vision was gone. "You want to try to sing it with me?" asked Ellen. I reminded myself that Ellen accepted Tricia thoroughly. I shivered. I tried to suppress a memory of my own. It was a long time since I had thought of that night in Rio when I was ninteen. A lot happens in twenty, years I began to tell myself which was my way of putting the memory back on its dusty shelf. I was not ever going to forget it. I knew that much.
Ellen began to sing again. This time I concentrated on the words, and looked past Tricia. I had work to do. I told myself that. I believed it. I sung the song four or five times with Ellen and then by myself and then I switched from English to French, first haltingly, and then I had the lyrics. Ellen said I was excellent at learning songs. I realized that somehow this was high praise. I sang the song twice in French. Then I looked around to see if there was any body else in the room. I asked Ellen if Baby Charlotte had heard the lyrics. "She was listening," Ellen replied.
"What does she think?" I asked.
"She thinks Share didn't know what she was talking about when she wrote the song. Whites treated metzis very kindly. There are still whole metzis communities in Canada today."
"Maybe the United States in the early twentieth Century was different. You know the Cherokee lived in the South." It was time for a geography lesson and a lesson on the trail of tears. I wondered if I could arrange another visit with the psychiatrist for Ellen, but wondered if it would do any good. Ellen needed a doctor that she could trust, not just one who would not label her as utterly crazy.
We made the long walk to synaoguge late Friday afternoon. Kayla who did not go with Chevy, who had lost faith, talked about making the kite which they would fly on Sunday. "Chevy is afraid other kids will want to tear it up. Kids here can be very jealous you know. Most of them sit in school all day and learn stuff they hate. I'm lucky, I like to read..." I had no answers. I would be talking to some very angry parents as an agry parent myself if any one bothered Chevy and Kayla with their new kite. I had seen the kite, it was beautifl, scarlet and pink flowered nylon on a ring shaped frame with two tails for keels and a double string tied in the center of its complex frame.
"Chevy wants to make a triangle box kite next," Kayla went on. "It looks a bit like a pyramid except it's four sided and kind of boxy. It's very complicated. I'm not sure we'll have time She goes back to Tasmania on Thursday."
"There's always next time. You have to make sure the face kite flies first," I could be pragmatic when I needed to be, and no the word was not always sarcastic.
The walk to the synagogue in Virginia Higlands was brutal even though the weather was cooling with the approach of evening and the walk back was under a lovely saphire night. Ahava liked to walk. Ellen was stoic. This meant Kayla fell in and couldn't complain. Moses and Shlomo-Yitzakh therefore had to hold up their ends. They discussed the halacha of Jewish law of not walking beyond a certain distance on Shabbos. In large American cities, the permissible distances for walking became much larger. "People will think we are very pious for making this long walk," Moses boasted. Shlomo-Yitzakh grunted. I thought of the bus rides I would take from Rio to Recife when I was nineteen to have dinner and attend services at Chabad. I needed religion all alone in a strange city, and once again back in middle school at age nineteen.
I had not expected it to happen that way. I had signed up for a year in Rio to learn about Brazilian culture with which I had fallen in love, and to also improve my Portuguese, which quickly became fantastically good. That meant I could go places where my dorm-mates in the same program which originated out of McCalister University in the midwest, could not or were afraid to go. I could buy bus tickets. I could eat in local restaurants with the natives and away from the beach. I could shop and haggle in native markets. My dorm-mates by contrast, were there for a vacation thinly disguissed as schooling. Some were just lost in a strange city as they struggled with the language which came easiest for me. It wasn't long before the rich girls and the lost girls, picked on the one black swan in a flock of white ones. I became The Mimic again. Yes, it was the same exact name.
I began to spend more time away from the dormitory, except to sleep and attend classes. I spent my Shabbos' in Rio, and my time wandering the city and studying in the University Library, not in the dorm lounge which was only good for using the computers. I could even use the computers on the "real campus" as I thought of it in English or the universidad as I really thought of it. My dreams were half in Portuguese, much they way they are now, only back then it was all Luso Portuguese, the Fifty Stars Brazlilan variant of the language.
Recife meant history. Recife meant Chabad. Recife anchored my life in America to a life in Brazil into which I was fast going native. I could have gone all the way native. I knew that. The thought no longer frightened me. It was just the way I adapted. I accepted it just like Ellen accepted the part of her that was Tricia, which was partially why I could accept Ellen dead, baby sister Charlotte who lived in a homespun bag. In Virginia Higlands, Charlotte would hear Hebrew and English. She might ask how Judaism was different from Christianity. Ellen would have to ask Ahava and me for answers and relay them back. We were all enabling Ellen, but Ellen's attitude and my own enabled a crazy situation to become one that could live in harmony with the sane world. That was fine. In the end, that was really the best outcome.
We reached the house around ten pm for Shabbos dinner. "I'm starving," Shlomo-Yitzakh confessed. "You're supposed to be hungry," Ahava reminded him. "You're not supposed to talk about being hungry," Ellen advised them. "Unless you're really hungry," Kayla said. Yitzi told us all how he missed us and how he missed Abishag. "You can talk to Abishag at Sukkot," I told Yitzi but Sukkot was a long way away.
Sitting in our living room was Baruch. What was he doing here? Why wasn't he home enjoying brisket? How had he invited himself? "Baruch came here to visit Shlomo-Yitzakh," Quil explained. "Did you have a good supper?" I asked him.
"No one here has eaten yet," the self-invited guest replied. I said nothing. Orphia had all ready set an extra place at the table. The killer kasha was room temperature and all the better for it. Baruch praised it as excellent. He also said he really liked deviled eggs. He wondered aloud if his mother could learn to make them. I reminded myself that Baruch's mother had purchased six pounds of brisket.
And Friday night, I could not sleep. I lay in the darkness listening to Ellen sing in Inupiat. Who else coudl hear her? And then I heard another song. The umbanda ritual was public but not for the tourists. I saw posters advertising it outside the Brasilian paper back book exchange near the Universidad. It was not a place American students went, that and the juice bar up the road. They also had the posters. I was not going to Recife that weekend so I invited my dorm mates. I told them where the ritual would be and that we could take a bus there but have to walk back. It was only three miles. I was strong and healthy. I was not afraid. If we went in a group we'd be safe. If I kept my wits about me we'd be safe.
None of my dorm mates wanted to go to The Mimic's crazy ritual. The RA was not in loco parentis but she worried about me. I boarded the bus while the air was hot and dusty. I walked amid the close packed apartment blocks. The festival was in a basement in a courtyard behind a used clothing store like the sort I sometimes patronized to get African printed tznius skirts to wear to Recife. This was not Recife. This was Umbanda Moderno. The spirits were not just traditiona, Yoruba Orishas, with different names, but a whole host of historical characters from all over the world.
I don't remember much of the actual ceremony. I can still recall the sounds of drums and bells and the big displays of fruits, wines, meats from sacrificed pigs, chickens, and cows, the rampa dura sugar cones the color of dark brown Domino sugar. The women dancing in bare feet. I remember kicking off my own shoes and joining the dance, and suddenly I was dancing the fox trot. I had learned it badly in gym, but now I danced it well. I saw a ferris wheel and factories, long dark sheds exuding smoke. I worked in the packaging department. I had an eighth grade education and was going to high school at night. My hands were covered with paper cuts. My husband; for I was recently married had a dream, take a homsetead. Grow all those new varieties of crops developed at Co-Operative extension and send them by train to the city for big bucks when sold to urban green grocers. We had a short growing season in Minnesota, but the soil was so fertile, it could grow anything. It was a regular garden of Eden. I did not want to leave the city. I had always lived in cities, first Odessa, and now Minneapolis. I'd been born in Odessa and came to the US when I was ten. I was good enough with languages to think in both German and Russian and sometime Yiddish. We were going west though. You can not stop a dream.
My memories changed again to the train. I was telling the story of that train ride in English as I swayed. I wanted to translate it to Portuguese so those around me could understand. I fought to get command of all my tongues and as I did, the memories of that long train ride leaving behind a world that played by one set of rules and emerged at the frontier where tired conservative folks interested only in survival in the same dull ways lived became a part of me. I could never forget it. I could never erase the memory. I talked of the sweet peas that my husband shipped to nurseries, and of the marigolds that were my favorite flowers, all the new varieties of them, and of the cherry tomatoes in four different colors. Oh what a novelty they were. We had a thriving nursery business and sold off most of the excess land to the railroad. We were living on the good side of the depression of 1890, and I had looked it up. Somehow, I too had had another life over a hundred years ago in what might as well have been another world. I thought of that new part of myself that was an old part of myself that had always been there as I walked back down out of the hills and the moon was sunk low. I did not have to worry about walking home late. People were all ready rising before dawn, and by the time I returned to the dormitory, the tropical sky was pink with brief and hazy sunrise. I had stopped at a bakery to get a filled jelly pastry for breakfast and a hot cup of coffee with milk and plenty of rapa dura. It tasted much better than white, American sugar.
I sat in the lounge eating the breakfast that belonged to two lives. The RA came out and asked if I was OK. I told her I could not have been better. Sometimes you just accept what happens. You don't try to figure it out. I know my family came from eastern Europe about twenty years later and settled on the east coast. The midwestern Russian Jews with their taste for garden farming and nurseries and new varieties of plants, were someone else. They were me, but not my ancestry. Maybe we have many ancestries and many selves and many beginnings, and a past we only half know until it becomes part of our present. Ellen is right. You can be many things at once, and you can either irrationally fear or just live with the discovery. I chose the latter course, and then went on with my life. I needed Chabad more in the present than the past that Umbanda gave me. Well, maybe I needed that past too to help me with my present.
Saturday morning I thought we got the jump on the heat for the long trudge to Virginia Highlands. Atlanta is hundreds of feet above sea level, but it would be more than a month until mornings were cool enough to make this walk pleasant. My stoic companions, Ahava and Ellen, in a way just made it worse.
There was a children's activity for the younger kids, but Kayla, the only one young enough to particpate (The walk was just too long for Yitzi who stayed behind with Quil, Chevy, and Orphia) complained afterwards that the teachers would not the younger kids play outside due to "kidnappings."
At the kiddush table adults talked in whispers about the "disappeared children." There had been two in the last two weeks. I did not tell them that six children had all ready vanished in Toco Hills. I was glad it was Shabbos.
My brood and I walked back in the heat of the day to a neighborhood baking under late summer torpor broken only by the sound of occasional tires on baked asphalt and the whirring of air conditioning.
"I'm so hungry I could eat a bear," complained Moses.
"Bears are treif" I told my son.
"That was one lame joke," Moses answered.
"Speaking of hungry," my son continued. "I wonder if Baruch will be waiting for us."
"Why, his mother bought six pounds of brisket," I explained.
"Six whole pounds of brisket," Shlomo-Yitzakh sing-songed.
"Was it beef or bison brisket?" I inquired.
"I didn't ask," Shlomo-Yitzakh battled back the conversational ball.
Males can be remarkably uncurious at times. And yes, Baruch was waiting for us at the house on Christmas Lane. I asked him how he had enjoyed his mother's brisket. He said he was waiting for us to return home to eat. Orphia had again set out a place for him.
"You must love Orphia's cooking," I joked with the fat and serious young man.
"I like Ahava's cooking too. That kashas was really excellent and those deviled eggs."
"We're out of deviled eggs," Orphia announced.
"OK, let's make kiddush so Yitzi can hear about it. Moses has to study!" bellowed Shlomo-Yitzakh. I felt proud of my boys, and my girls too.
In some ways, the late lunch on Saturday was much better than the one the week before. I did miss the Ed-Branch girls and Jacobina who was probably back home in Buckhead with her secular parents, but the boys made interesting talk about the parsha. Shlomo-Yitzakh got to talk about his clan in Israel. Moses talked nervously about Auntie Bee and Quil described applied ethics which he liked much better than Judaica. "I want to study psychology in college some day," he told the table.
Then I asked about Baruch's mother's brisket. "Why are you so interested in the brisket?" this time it was Quil who derailed me...well almost.
"We used to be in the meat business, remember?"
"I remember," Baruch chimed in. "You were the one that got my imma to buy that awful turkey."
"What's wrong with turkey? It's cheaper than brisket and it's good meat?" asked Orphia.
"When you slice it up the first night it's fine, but then, you have leftovers for days," Baruch explained.
"I love leftover turkey," sighed Orphia.
"You would...You're the one that gave imma that recipe for pareve tetrazzini with all those slimey peppers in the sauce."
"What's wrong with turkey in sauce with macaroni?" asked Moses.
"Eh....it's the sauce."
"I take it you don't like Turkey Peruvienne or Turkey Osso Bucco either. I made that almost once a week when Moses could bring in the turkey drummies."
"The only sauce I like on my turkey," Baruch explained "is Thousand Island."
"Do you put Thousand Island on your brisket?" Orphia asked him.
"What's with the brisket?" asked Shlomo-Yitzakh.
"People here are poor, and my imma bought six pounds of it. We have some leftover that I'll get...I'm sure."
When Shabbos finally ended, I called Mizz Marilyn who was still under quarentine and called Hamida DeLang to see if we could deliver some peach kuchen, leftover kasha, and spinach salad to Akiba and her coworkers at the Multibranch Communiation and Parental Support Center (Yes, that was what they called it!) in Decatur near the Farmer's Market.
In the cool of the night we rode in the car. We was Moses, Ahava, Ellen, Yitzi, Shlomo-Yitzakh, and of course me because someone had to drive. The Center was a store that had been commandeered. In the parking lot a crowd of teenagers and adults clustered around intricately made moulds of bent wood that they were trying to fill through a home made funnel suspended in a a wood frame. The funnel was for what looked like liquid concrete made up in an oversized painting roller tray. The group pouring the concrete and the specators, all of whom were in dirty work clothes and worked by a bright outdoor light, twittered and argued in a low key buzz with a few salty epithets thrown in, but on the whole they cursed a lot less than Ed-Branch youth.
"There," said a smallish man with a thick brown mustache. "That one's full, Now Nate, haul me the next mould. This concrete's going to dry so we've got to load 'em all up."
"Less talk and more work!" howled a plump female who sent plopped down the second mould at mustache's feet. A grey haired woman who was very tall and very thin opened up the Center's door and beckoned us inside. It was then that I realized that someone had replaced the plate glass windows with one way translucent plastic. "Fancy," I let the word escape.
"We need good security here," announced another tall woman even taller than the thin grey haired one who let me in. Grey hair walked with a limp. It was hard to judge her age. She had olive skin, a long nose, high cheekbones and black eyes. Her hair was stringy and lank. She wore a blue sweat shirt turned inside out. I would find out that air conditioning did not agree with her. The taller woman had very broad shoulders, pink skin, and lustrous brown hair worn in a pony tail that revealed handsome, gold earings that matched the gold chain about her long neck. Her eyes were hazel.
"So what can we do for you this evening?" big and tall asked.
"We're bringing cake to Ah-kee-bah!" Yitzi blurted out.
"You're bringing cake to every body here and even the visitors. We SHARE everything," big and tall explained.
Tall grey hair shrugged. Akiba came out from behind a petition. She was in a tank top, and not caring who saw bits of her body art. She glanced at Yitzi and then at the rest of us. Ahava gave her the food which she helped set out on a table in the break area that she showed us. "There's good people working here," she told Orphia.
"Hamida deLang works here," Orphia quipped back.
"Mizz Hamida works here as little as possible," Akiba answered.
"Lucky you. I saw her flag on the wall. Twelve creches, one Ed-Branch to find them all. One Ed-Branch to bind them. One Ed-Branch to rule them all, and if they bitch, don't mind them."
"Oh puleeeez!" complained big and tall grey hair. "Tolkien was a racist prick, and your parody sucks."
"This is Francoise Guitirez, almost PhD in history from University of Ohio, undergrad from Yale or whatever they are going to rename the place, and now working as oral historian and geographer," Akiba made the introduction.
"Actually I'm messenger and gopher but it is better than being chit monkey and house cook."
"I love being house cook. It's great work if you can get it. Anyway," added Orphia. "My official position is steward."
"I was the head baker and pastry chef in another life, but Pharaoh lifted my whole self from my former place of employ and put me to work setting up the magic machines."
"Well your little boy seems to have a magic machine of his own. He's chattering away," announced big and tall as she entered the break room to see what we were discussing.
"Yitzi got a toy comm phone as a gift when he was in foster care in Scottdale," I told bigger and taller.
"I see...That kid talks a mile a minute. I just sent him outside your oldest girl to watch them make the security barrier."
"Is that what those moulds are for?" I asked.
Bigger and taller nodded. "I don't want any one ramming their car with or without explosives through our front window. It's strong enough to repel stones and dog turds, but I don't think it could take a vehicle impact."
"Who would want to..." I stopped. There were angry parents out there, and scaird ones and that was a bad combination.
"This is Katha Bruno by the way," Akiba finally remembered to introduce us. "She's the Station Chief for the Creators of the Southeastern United States."
I gasped. Creators are as rare as hen's teeth and there one was. Just then Francoise interrupted us. "Gobble, gobble, gobble," she stage whispered.
"I like my turkey in sauce Peruvienne," commented Orphia.
Francoise pretended not to hear. Katha told the woman who was just a bit shorter than herself. "You take care of it." Francoise slipped back out into the main office. A moment later she returned with a Portal Priest who was probably genetically stuck. She stood close to two meters tall or maybe a bit more. I looked to see if she was wearing heels. She wasn't and her shiney, shaven head, did not add an inch to all six feet and five inches of her. Her hands were also quite large with immaculate, pale nails. She lifted one as she spoke.
"Where did the food come from?" she started with the small stuff.
"Akiba's former employer brought it," Katha answered. "I'm sure it's fine. You are welcome to some."
The priestess pretended not to see it. "This is impressive, but why are you mixing cement at night in the parking lot."
"We're making vehicle barriers," replied Katha.
"So no angry parent drives a car through the glass."
"There is no glass in those windows. You've put in some kind of plastic."
"Yes, but the more passive security we have the better. The barrier when it is done will look like decoartive fencing. We are going to paint it red and blue to match the metal trim and put solar lights in it."
"So you always try to be clever."
"No, we usually succeed."
"How has bizz-in-ess been?"
"Two families tonight. One with a taking only a few hours old."
The Portal Priestess smiled. Then she turned grim and faced Katha. "Did you see the device the small boy is carrying?" she asked.
"It's a toy cell phone," I replied. "Yitzi is my foster son. He misses the house keeper who took care of him in the spring and talks to her all the time on the plastic cell phone. It was a gift from his foster family in Scottdale."
"Who was the house keeper?" asked Katha.
&quiot;Abishag Philippi," I answered.
Katha turned back to the Portal Priest and led her back out into the main office. "Temimah, please bring up the geographic display. We've got a few clusters, but only one within Fulton County.....We know about the Fulton cluster because it mostly sef-reports."
Akiba took a piece of peach kuchen. "Ahava did a good job with this," she told me.
She munched cake and looked at Moses. She asked him how the studying was going. He said he was going to work hard until Sunday evening and eat dinner with his father. The math was coming along. It no longer felt so pointless.
"I always had a love-hate relationship with math when I was in school," Akiba answered.
"I'm glad I won't have to do as much math as a scholar girl," Moses sighed.
"You ready to have women whip your butt all your life?" Akiba bantered. Shlomo-Yitzakh blushed. Akiba shrugged. Yitzi returned inside with Ahava, and I guessed it was time for us to go.
Late Saturday night Moses studied and then asked me to quiz him. Even later, I heard Ellen singing in Inupiat to her dead, baby sister. I thought about the stealth takings and wondered what a parent could do to prevent them. The parents who talked about them were not the victims. Those who were ended up in a secure office on East Ponce deLeon in an industrial strip of Decatur. I wondered if Katha and Francoise and all the rest told parents how to keep younger siblings or older ones from being taken. I wondered if they knew. I thought of the amazingly tall giant of a Portal Priestess, and decided..."No," I thought. "That could not be right!" though Ed-Branch had a long history of creating tame takings, but this wasn't just Hamida's interns going through profiles. The Creators were mysterious and the Portal Priests. I swallowed. Katha was right about the red and blue security barrier. She and her cronies down on East Ponce were going to need every bit of passive security they could create.
I slept in for the first time that I could remember on Sunday. I know I slept in because my son woke me, saying there was a rabbi at the door to see me. It was rabbi Goldman, the one who had defended me and made the protestors see reason and who offered to give the party line to the religious instruction classes I could no longer teach. Thankyou Katha and friends. I stood in a long spa robe blinking in the sun. Rabbi Goldman apologized for waking me and then said we needed to talk it was urgent.
I invited him into the dining room because Ahava was kneeding bread on the kitchen table and generally wreacking the place. Ellen watched sitting on a reading stool. I closed the kitchen door. The boys were studying or reading. Chevy and Kayla were somewhere up to no good, but right now I did not care.
"Yesterday and last night," Rabbi Goldman cut to the chase. "Five children in this neighborhood were kidnapped." Long live the passive voice!
"You must know something."
I smiled. "I was in Virginia Highlands for most of the day and then I was tired from walking twenty miles this weekend. There isn't much I know," and that was a dirty, stinking lie. I had no reason to lie. I needed a cup of tri-mate, but that was illegal in Atlanta.
I got out Katha's business card from the paper pile in the kitchen and give it to Rabbi Grossman. Then I told him about a large cluster of kidnappings in Fulton County that were "self-reporting." "That's Toco Hills," I explained.
"You're saying the people at this place on Ponce de Leon are responsible for the kidnappings?" Rabbi Grossman hadn't expected to hit pay dirt this quickly.
"No," I backtracked. "They have tamed them though and gotten in touch with whoever is doing it so that the kids once taken send their information about where they are back to the computer system that handles profiles. Then branch placment staff can read the profiles and get in touch with the children and put them in touch with their parents. That's a tame taking. The next taking will go back to the same location or will get the location information back to the parents very quickly. The next taking will be at a known time and in a known spot. That is what is going on on Ponce de Leon. I don't know anything else."
"Is it safe for me to go there?" asked Rabbi Grossman.
"Yes," I said. "Just don't act belligerent and don't drive your car through the glass. I'm not sure the security barrier is dry."
Katha and the Portal Priestess could shift for themselves as far as I was concerned. I might be making life hard for Akiba, but Akiba's problem was with Hamida. I doubted they would tell Rabbi Grossman much more than I knew, and the operation in Decatur was designed to be public and tame. Beyond what you could see or the fact that kids from Toco Hills got their wherabouts into the database quickly, there was a whole big puzzle left for Rabbi Goldman or any one else with the brain power to solve.
Question number ones was: How can five kids disappear in the middle of a blazingly hot Shabbos in August? I knew that one of the girls was thirteen and effectively placed. I did not know the other children and youth because nobody had told me their names. Were they older as well, or were there six year olds in the group, or were they some age in between? Did age make a difference in who was vulnerable? Did being hidden or placed in a local house make a difference? And why did nobody feel the stick sick or see the usual excitement that surrounded even the takings in Dahlonega last week? I could ask more questions than Rabbi Grossman, but I wouldn't come home with any more answers.
The Sunday Scare
Of course I could not help thinking of the thirteen and a half year old girl who was taken. Yes, she was that old, younger than Moses by a few months, but old enough to be his schoolmate though they had never sat in class together because Torah Day Academy separates the boys and girls. She was Kinneret Silverman, one of Shifra Silverman's four younger sisters. Shifra also had two older sisters, one of whom was married and living in Israel.
In another life time, about two years ago, Shifra had worked for me as a minder. She was taking a break from college. She was not awful enough to fire. She was polite, obedient, dossile, and of course well armored, but unlike Ahava, there was nothing intellectually alive beneath that armor by the time she started working for me. At the time I had an Ed-Branch woman taking a year off from Georgia Tech who was a passable cook with almost comically gallant manners working for me. She and Shifra did not get along. Shifra made ugly jokes. Sylvestra, my cook at the time, had a typical, Ed-Branch girl, potty mouth.
Sylvestra's cussing offended Shifra, and had Shifra been a different sort of employee, I might have cared. That I didn't spoke mouthfuls. Since I was still a full time Company employee at the time I hired Shifra, my minders used the house cart to go shopping. Shifra hated pushing the house cart through the streets, but she did it because I insisted.
It quickly became apparent that Shifra could not cook. She fought when she worked for Sylvestra, but Sylvestra could hold her own. I told Shifra: "If you let Sylvie teach you, she won't cuss you out." It never quite sank in.
I put Shifra to work cleaning. She did that without complaint. I thought of the Hebrew slaves working on Pharaoh's pyramids. That was not a good thought. When Shifra got done cleaning or when she had a lunch break, or at the end of the day, she found her way into my book collections. The modern language titles that were not in English did not interest her, but the English ones...and some of the Hebrew ones....that was another story. There is a Yiddish word for useless and harmful pursuits that distract from one's faith and religious practice: narishkeit. That was what Shifra called many of the books and she asked why I had such narishkeit in a good, Jewish home.
I explained about reluctant readers, college literature, intellectual curiosity, and invited her to borrow anything that might interest her. Dov Weisman (who would one day be Quil Quercus) often borrowed all manner of reading material. Shifra was horrified.
Then there was the shopping. When Shifra took the cart, she returned with only seventy-five percent of the shopping list. Often items that should have been purchased in a variety of flavors and styles (pickles, fruits, tomatoes etc...) came back as complete duplicates. Sylvestra would explode when items she counted on were missing.
I finally took to writing shopping lists in detail for Shifra who then complained and whined that we asked for too much detail and too many different things. "Shifra, where are the condiments?" became a joke that had a sting, when sandwiches went without relish and salad without olives. "Shifra, the pantry is either empty or boring," complained Sylvestra."When I open it up I want to cry, but I know who did the shopping."
Worst of all, whatever education Shifra received refused to sink in. I know Shifra had receuved something resembling a decent education because she had done her K-8 at the same school as Moses. "Shifra, I asked for twenty-five percent Bartlett pears, twenty-five percent bosc pears, twenty-five percent ida-red apbles and twenty-five percent any other interesting looking fruit," I remember opening the crisper drawer because I really did not want to hear Sylvestra curse out Shifra for the hundreth time. "Shifra do you know what a bartlett pear is?" Sylvestra had given Shifra a rather humiliating introduction to fruits 101.
"There's the yellow pears that get all bruised up," Shifra replied.
"Now what is a bosc pear?"
"The ones with the ugly brown skin."
So far so good. "Now what about ida red apples."
"They're red and they're not sweet. Sill-ves-tra can cook with them or we can eat them with meals which you do."
"OK, why are there only Red Delicious apples in the fruit bowl if you can recognize these fruits."
"How do you buy twenty-five percent of them?" Shifra asked.
"Well if I had one fruit," Sylvestra chimed in. "How much would twenty-five percent be?"
"They don't sell fruit by percents."
"They sell everything by percents. The whole world is percents. If I had four fruits, how much would twenty-five percent be, how many pieces of fruit?"
Shifra blinked and shook her head. And yes, I did teach her that percents were fractions, and that twenty-five percent was four even portions, and thirty-three percent was three even portions and I wrote grocery lists using fractions and parts or putting the conversions on the bottom. I also had to explain that free choice was exactly that. Usually with fruit it was bananas which always found a home.
I lost Sylvestra (She returned to college for summer session) shortly after Shavuos the year Moses was in seventh grade. Orphia replaced her. The kitchen at the Oakes exploded. "Shifra you FUCKING IDIOT," (Shifra's name looked to permanently expand to four words from one.) Orphia would begin. "I asked you for five pounds of zucchini squash. Why did you bring me five pounds of cucumbers....I asked you for heritage tomatoes in three colors, not hot house red tomatoes. I asked you for white peaches as well as yellow ones. They have white peaches...Since when do nectarines grow fuzz...I said we were putting out a tray of pickles and crudities for Sha-bus. Sha-bus and you're the one who's so FUCKING religious."
"I made up your trays, OK?" Shifra stood her head bowed under Orphia's righteous anger. "Yeah, you made them up all right. When you're making up a tray for a Shabbos meal, you don't just slop the stuff on there, you put it out nice. Now watch how I do it..."
For a few seconds the kitchen was weirdly silent. I watched Orphia her face flushed with cooking and righteous indignation at Shifra's lack of aesthetic sense, as she arranged crudities, pickles, and olives. "OK, now bring me some of those smaller tomatoes for a garnish...."
"That's not how you do it!" Shifra said into the air.
"What do you mean, that's now how you make a garnish?"
"Not a garnish, Shabbos."
"You want something special?" Orphia could think very fast at times.
"Not me...Look Shabbos is supposed to be meat and wine. The rabbis say, not fancy plates of vegetables pretending to be a very fine meal. There's supposed to be chicken and Jerusalem kugel."
Orphia made a face. Noodles with sugar and salt and lots of oil and not much else were not really healthy enough for a good Shabbos table. "I didn't think the Rabbis worked in the kitchen?" Orphia laughed back, and Shifra started crying. We'd co-opted her faith. A couple of weeks of working with Orphia, and Shifra vanished. She called in sick three days in a row and then gave up even on that. I sent back the few things she had left here and asked Hamida deLang to send me another Ed-Brancher at loose ends. Akiba entered my employ and we had lots of home made bread and cakes, turnovers, pasties, pot pies, etc...
I did not miss Shifra as an employee. I missed her younger siblings. As an employee with family in the neighborhood, Shifra was free to invite her younger sisters. The family was probably in economic rough shape, and the younger girls regularly got to eat "extra pretty food," as Shifra called it because she could not bring herself to call a Shabbos meal "narishkeit." The older girls were like carbon copies of Shifra. They never borrowed books. They were bored because there were no dolls. More than once they brought a toddler sister with them whom they fussed over like a baby. That toddler was probablynow nearly school age. I remember her arriving in a stroller.
Kinneret Silverman had been in seventh grade that year and just bas mitzvahed. She wore greys or browns. I thought of her as a sparrow or a junco. She always asked to help in the kitchen. She asked me if I ever missed having additional children. She also asked about Corliss, but so did many middle school girls. I told her that only the first child was free. After that you needed a stable life and a good living to support the next additions to the family. Corliss and I divorced when Albert (now Moses) was a year and a half old. That meant no more children, but it was better that way. I was really sorrier that my marriage had not worked.
"You would rather be married to a [UNMENTIONABLE THREE LETTER EPITHET] than have lots of children?" asked Kinneret.
"Yes," I replied and that ended the conversation. Kinneret loved to talk religion and quibble over points of practice or discuss the most esoteric and ugly parts of the weekly parsha or repeat the rabbi's sermon which she thoroughly enjoyed. I was surprized she was not in Israel, but her parents had placed her locally. I suspect she had a scholarship. I wonder if she knew what twenty-five percent of four pieces of fruit was. I had never asked. Now I wish I had. I realized sadly that Kinneret would not work as a minder for me...or would she.
Sunday morning Ellen and Ahava wen to do the marketing with Orphia. My house now had two house carts and Ahava was a champion at wheeling them. I watched my crew and Ellen head up the road. I showered and left the children with Ki. We'd go swimming afterward I told them.
I knew where the Silverman's lived. I had returned Shifra's detruitus there two years ago. I may have eaten there, an utterly unremarkable meal made according to the dictates of long forgotten but remembered by rote tradition.
A tired looking Avigail Silverman answered the door. I said I was sorry. I knew I had to say it. I asked if she had any news on Kinneret's whereabouts. If the takings in Toco Hills were tame, Kinneret had probably spoken to her mother on the phone or sent her a comm letter.
"She says she's in Philadelphia," Avigail Silverman told me. "Why?"
"I don't know her well enough to give an answer," I answered.
"The neighborhood has to stop this," Kinneret's father thundered. "They have to get these kidnappers and make an example of them. The Talmud says a kidnapper is a rodeh and you know what you can do to a rodeh." I tried to imagine Kinneret's father committing murder and decided that a communal beating and stomping would be more to the taste of the community's men, but not where the world could see. They'd drag the victim out in the woods first, and the victim would be female, not much older than Orphia, a priestess doing her job or an unlucky driver. She would plead for mercy. She would receive none and in the end, there would be more takings or perhaps security entering the neighborhood to "pacify it."
I walked home shaking despite the heat. On the field behind Temimah Girls Academy on LaVista, I saw Chevy and Kayla surrounded by a knot of girls in black dresses, some of them in opaque tights despite the heat. I wondered if the girls ganged up on eachother. I walked closer to the group. A titter of gossip wafted through the hot Georgia air.
"And the white bubbles landed in the moonlight, and Dafna, Rivka, and Lia all got in. The rest of us ran away, but those girls just went."
"Did you try to stop them?" asked Kayla. "I almost got on a chenille for a taking when there used to be big takings, but then I remembered and ran home. I could have stopped somebody."
"We were afraid," answered an older girl in black.
"I wasn't afraid," said a girl in a sweaty white shirt tail and thick, black tights. "Those girls were rashot [Hebrew word for plural female sinners]. They'll burn in gehinna [Hebrew word for Hell]. Any one who fears HaShem won't go near those bubbles or their sorcerers. That's what they are: Sorcerers. Understand?"
"Excuse me," I barged in. Angry eyes looked up at me. "I bet you know the sorcerers," black tights led the charge.
I smiled back. "I wish I did," I replied. "They're called Portal Priests and I've met some of them, but I can't say I know them. Now, Dafna, Lia, and Rivka, the three girls whom you saw climb into bubble cars, do you remember if they had anything with them besides the clothes on their backs?"
Black tights blinked. "Yes," she said. "They were carrying little gym bags and one girl had a shopping bag, and Rivka had that stupid book of fairy tales. My abba won't let me read fairy tales. He says they are from the [UWRITEABLE FIVE LETTER EPITHET]."
"Can you tell me Dafna, Lia, and Rivka's last names?" I asked. Black tights was my best friend. She gave me the information. She did not ask why I wanted to know, but what I knew now was surprizingly helpful. I nearly ran all the way to Calibre Woods and found Naomi Grossman at home.
She filled in a few more missing pieces as I explained that three or four of the takings this weekend had been tame. Rivka Klein was eight years old. Dafna Shapiro was twelve, and Lia was ten.
The three girls had known where to meet the bubble cars Friday night, had their bags packed, and were ready to go for pickup. That explained the lack of the stick feeling. At the house, I took off my sweaty visiting clothes and put on shorts and a t-shirt. I packed my bathing things. I knew the pool would be nearly empty. I told myself the water would feel good. I told myself it was OK that the pool was empty. I listened to Chevy tell me about getting her and Kayla's face kite into the air for the second and third time while the good, little religious girls watched and marveled.
"They know there's other stuff out there, but they don't want it. Rivka Klein was different. She wanted all the good stuff in those fairy tales. I just want to make things...." Chevy caught her breath. Kayla sat with her head down. Her uneven blond hair shielded her face. What was she thinking?
"Do you know what Dafna and Lia wanted?" I asked. "Dafna was home schooled," Chevy responded. "Lia was learning disabled. That's what people said. What do you want to know?"
"As much as you'll tell me Chevy. You'll be going back to Tasmania in four days."
"I don't live here so I don't know much."
"What do you know."
"Pretty much what I told you."
"OK, how did Dafna, Lia, and Rivka know the bubble cars were coming to pick them up and where to get them and when to come out. I don't think they were waiting all night in the field."
"I don't know," Chevy answered. "The girls said itw as magic, but that's bullshit. It's bullshit, Kayla. Somebody tipped them off, but I don't know who and if I knew..."
"I'm glad you're going home to Tasmania," I told Chevy.
"You don't think Atlanta's my home any more?" she asked.
I shook my head and smiled. "Do you want to kick me out and send me to the creche?" asked Kayla.
"I think you're going to be safer there," I told her. Of course no one attacked us at the pool. We even walked home safely, though the silent streets seemed to hum.
As soon as I was showered and dressed, Moses asked me to quiz him on math. He wanted to show me he made progress. He had even learned to convert degrees into radians. It's just a formula, and you don't have to know any higher math to use it. Unit conversions are a big part of mathimaticas practicas. I gave my son several story problems to work.
I watched Chevy sketch out plans for a complicated triangle box kite that she would not have time to build. She said she could always take the plans back to Tasmania.
Quil lay on his bed reading. Ahava kneeded bread dough and Ellen told her stories about the brave bunny who lived in a garden of plenty and outwitted the human hunter who thought he was so smart, but was really an arrogant fool.
Shlomo-Yitzakh was missing. I felt sick and frightened. I imagined him bruised and bloody somewhere. I thought about visiting the off-limits Kollel to rescue my foster son, but then decided he might be somewhere else. I walked to Holly Lanea and knocked on the Meyerson's door. Baruch's abba, Philip, answered. Baruch and Shlomo-Yitzakh were learning in the office off the den. The house was serene in its air conditioned coolness. Pictures of older siblings who were now mainly in Israel and either married or studying in yeshiva covered the walls. Baruch and two sisters were all that remained at home, and Baruch had a secure, tuition-paid, place in a local house. Baruch's abba even asked me about Moses. I said Moses was going to his father's tonight for dinner and an overnight stay. "It's his reward for boning up on math."
Baruch's abba blinked. "He has a very important high school entrance exam eruv Shabbos this week," I explained. Baruch's abba had the grace to wish my Moses luck.
That evening, I was glad to get in the car and give Moses a ride to Druid Hills. Chez Corliss et Famille was all lit up and Corliss' third wife, greeted me effusively asking if I was all right. There had been another kidnapping in her neighborhood. All the parents were keeping their children at home. I said that was a good idea. I did not tell her about the five stealth takings in Toco Hills this weekend. I wondered if I should warn her to make sure her four kids, Moses' half siblings, were happy and well placed. Then I thought of the placement staff and Portal Priests who were risking their lives on behalf of the children who were less than happy. I also prayed that the truth took its good sweet time coming out.
Chewing through the Wire
I could not get Ahava or Ellen to go swimming with me Monday morning. Ahava was in the kitchen making two cakes, one of which was going in a portable cake safe to Akiba and the ladies on Ponce as a gift. Ahava loved giving gifts. Akiba and Orphia had taught Ahava to bake, and in a few short days she had grafted herself on to my help. They were closer in age. They were ideal, boon companions, and where Ahava went Ellen followed. There was not much I could do about that.
Ellen for her part sat on a stool and told the story of Peter Rabbit, but this was not Beatrix Potter's tale. "And Peter found the place near the garden where Farmer McGregor kept the tame rabbits. Actually, it was his kids who kept them. They had black fur, white fur, silver fur, and fur the color of aprikah. There was even one rabbit whose fur was a wonderful chocolate brown and soft as the moss in the forest."
Ellen's Peter did not know what a carpet or a blanket was. He was a creature of the woods and wilds, or more precisely the land of trees and vegetables. I wondered what Chevy and Kayla were doing. Actually, Chevy was the ring leader and head trouble maker. At least she cleaned up her mess these days. "The black and white rabbit with the Dutch stripe like a baby bunting explained to Peter: 'We can't come out of our cages. The humans lock the door.' 'It is for our own safety,' said mossy brown rabbit. 'If our cages were open we would leave and then we would go in the road. Vander' He's the rabbit with the black, blanket marking, 'Vander tells the story of the car with eighteen wheels that flattens bunnies dead, don't you tell those stories.'" Just what I needed. Roadkill.
"'The stories are true,' Van Der Rabbit replied. 'The stories are true, but if you tell other stories, you won't be scaird of the cars and you'll be able to cross the road.,' Peter explained. 'You mean the cars won't run us over,' asked Mossy Brown bunny. 'No,' Peter said. 'The cars will still be there, but you won't be scaird. You'll run across the road as fast as you can, and then you'll find meadows of clover. And you'll find does and bucks, wild ones, and you'll find eachother and you'll mate and have lots of babies which is what you are meant to do. You have ears that can hear the cars, and legs that can run fast. You don't have to be afraid. You also have all the vegetables you can steal here in this garden. Why listen to those terrible stories when you can make better ones and be brave and strong and we can become a mighty tribe of rabbits."
"'You're saying with the right stories, anything is possible,' Van Der Rabbit listened to Peter.
"'I'm saying the right story can help you reach your dreams. Do you want to try it. I want to help you,' Peter pleaded.
"Van Der Rabbit agreed. He wanted to learn some new stories and he missed Mossy Brown who was his favorite doe. The humans locked them in separate cages because they did not want the rabbit tribe to grow large and multiply. Maybe the humans were secretly afraid of the rabbits.
"Peter began to nibble on the chicken wire of Van Der's cage. He had long sharp teeth just like he had fast back legs and long ears that could hear just about everything. He chewed and chewed and soon he had a hole in the cage, and Van Der squeezed out. Next he went to work on Mossy Brown's cage, and then on the Big Boy Giant's cage and soon he had all the rabbits in the cages free."
I walked back into the hallway and found Kayla and Chevy in the study. Chevy told me that Shlomo had slipped off to Baruch's house. I knew this all ready. Orphia and Ahava had found an empty tea mug in the sink, soaking in the suds of good faith. Chevy had finished her schematic drawings of her newest kite project and was teaching Kayla how to make origami flowers. Kayla looked tired and frustrated. "Who wants to go swimming?" I asked the hard working pair. "I do," Kayla looked embarassed. "Why not..." sighed Chevy pushing away her project. "You have to clean up or imma will hate you,&quiot; Yitzi reminded the girls.
That left Quil, but where was he? Quil would have had no desire to go to the Kollel. That was a major relief. He also would not be looking for Shimon Weisman or Rabbi Fleischman, but where was he? Dov had so many friends, including Moses that I had no idea where he might be. Still I dressed, walked down to Lavista and walked among the houses. The hum I had heard yesterday had become a tense pall that hung in the air. I could hear the air conditioners whirr. In the distance, a dog barked. Windows were closed. Lights were dim. Doors shut. There were no children in yards or on lawns. I walked back on to LaVistta from Jody Lane and saw a troop of six boys coming up from the High Flyer with small paper bags clutched in their hands. They were motley, late middle school and maybe a few high school age boys. Some had short hair. Some had long hair. Three wore kipot. Three did not. One boy had tzit-tzits, ostentateously sticking out like the dirty drawstrings of a laundry bag.
"Mixed multitude," I thought and I pushed the thought away and then fished it back. I let in the boys. "Why didn't you tell me where you were going and that you were leaving?" I lowed the boom on Quil and did not care if his friends saw. This was a safety issue. It was a minimum of discipline. "I didn't want to upset you Miz Antonia," Quil told me.
"You'll upset me less if you go out."
"I'm allowed out?"
"You're placed. You're nearly settled. Why should I worry?"
"Some of the rabbis hate placed kids," responded a boy whose bare head was a mass of golden curls. He wore a polo shirt that was a size too small and graced with horizontal, burgundy stripes on a clean white background and kahki pants too low on his hips. On his feet were scuffed black loafers. Was this the latest fashion?
"I realize that, but there are six of you. Do you think those cowards would attack a large group of boys, especially one who is not afraid to fight people bigger than he is.&quiot;
Quil started to blush. I smiled back at him. He agreed to let me know when he went out, and then the boys headed into the kitchen. They promptly headed out into the kitchen which was in use. They settled in the dining room. Ellen came out to join them delivering paper plates, bowls, and towels. "Orphia says to put a towel under your plates. She thinks you have nonkosher food."
Quil emptied his bag and held up red and yellow wrapped beef jerky slice and Slim Jims, a kind of treif beef stick.
"Did you steal those?" I asked.
"I bought them. My sister made me rich."
"I thought your parents got your card," I was treading on soft, sensitive ground, but I no longer cared. All the boys had candy, snacks, dried meat, sodas. This was a power breakfast, middle school bboy style. "I told the Portal Priests what happened to me and they killed my old aytiem card and got me a new one. Ahava kept sending money. I don't have to steal. I can buy stuff. I treated my friends."
"Quil, you are very gracious," I said, pretending not to notice the abundance of treif including a bag of pork rinds. The kid eating the pork rinds was so fat he was almost round and had greasey black hair, swarthy skin, and a white, needlepoint kipah on his head, held in place with the regulation, silver hair clips. He ripped open his bag of treasures and popped two into his mouth. He talked with his mouth open. "We going to Michael's this afternoon?"
"Maybe," blond curls answered back.
The boy enjoying pork rinds was named Adam. He was in a tuition-paying yeshiva house at least on paper. Oh well, hypocrisy starts young and rebellion at least is honest, and in this case harmless, maybe even harmless on a spiritual level. I recognized a small boy with glasses as Uriel who definitely had a paid place and who was utterly bilingual in Hebrew. The other boy in a kipah, this one blue velvet, and the one with tzits-tzits was named Yoram. Yoram ate an apple and drank a Coke. I suspected he was the most religious of the lot. Perhaps there was some tacit rule among this group of boys NOT to discuss religious belief or practice.
"We need to send someone over there to see if it's OK," Quil responded. "They don't have a phone any more do they?"
"I don't think so," Yoram responded. "Who wants the job?" asked Quil.
I went back into the kitchen. "'When I say go it's go!' shouted Peter to all the rabbits from the cage. Suddenly Mossy Brown spoke up. 'Look behind us,' was all she said. Peter turned back. Here came Farmer McGregor and his two children. Farmer McGregor had his gun, but he wasn't going to shoot his children's pets. 'Benny, Vander, Carli....' a sweet human voice called out. 'Don't listen to them!' shouted Peter. 'Do you want to go back to those cages.'
"'What about the cars?' asked Karli who was also aprika colored.
"The Creator made you with ears to listen and legs to run. Does and bucks were made to make a mighty tribe. Think of your purpose. Check that the road is clear, and run.' Just then there was a mighty roar. Peter knew it was trouble. It was a big, eighteen-wheel truck. The rabbits frozen in the grass, but that was better than crossing the road. Farmer McGregor's kids approached Mossy Brown. The little girl reached to pick up her pet; for that's what Mossy Brown was. 'My poor Lia bunny!' the little girl wailed. 'Mommy is going to take you home.' She picked up Mossy Brown under the collar bone. Mossy Brown kicked with her big back feet, and then when she could not get free, she sunk her two front teeth into the little girl's arm.
"'Youch!' the little girl screamed. And then she cussed out Mossy Brown and said how dare she bite the hand that fed her. 'The hand that fed me also put a lock on my cage. I'm outta here,' Mossy Brown told her so-called human mommy. And with that she dashed across the road. The other rabbits followed all inspired by Mossy Brown's courage. 'Now of course, we will have a new story,' Van Der Rabbit told Peter and the others We will tell the little bunnies about Brave Mossy Brown who bit the human who tried to put her in a cage and who wasn't afraid of the eighteen wheels even after she saw it with her own eyes.'"
For some reason, I really liked this story. I watched Ahava mix chopped dates into cake batter. "She got rid of those dates we've had in the cupboard for over a month," Orphia complimented her young helper. "At least the pantry isn't lonely and boring any more," I answered. "That was a long time ago. I'm glad she left and we had Akiba," Orphia told me. "I don't miss Shifra one bit. What happened to her."
"I can ask," I smiled and returned to the dining room. "Gentlemen," I asked. "Do any of you know anything about Kinneret Silverman's older sister, Shifra. She used to work for me."
"She hated your guts," said Yoram who was not afraid of a little lashon hara. A little lashon hara after all is good for you.
"That does't surprise me. Actually, she hated Orphia and Sylvestra more, but I'd like to know what she's doing these days."
"She got maarried in Israel but she and her husband came back here. They're in an apartment on Houston Mill Road. You going to look for them?" Yoram was a curious one.
I shook my head. "You boys may want to avoid Shifra and her husband," I replied. "There are some very vengeful people in the community."
"There are some grownups who are real assholes," Adam explained it. "Shifra and Yechiel are not the worst of them." Quil nodded. "We either travel in groups," he explained or we try to use cut throughs and back yards, and we know who to stay away from. We have to be careful. We all ready figured that out."
I reminded myself that all young men and most younger women feel themselves to be immortal and perhaps invulnerable. As a grownup, I knew otherwise. It was time to be the grownup on the scene. I went back to my bedroom to change into a skirt and stockings. Nobody was going visiting today. I returned to the kitchen and told Ahava she would have to deliver her cake gift via ARTA. She said that she didn't mind. I did not think any one would attack Ahava. She was only visiting and had been out of the loop for several years, but one never knew. I still could not bring myself to lock her down.
Four Good Kids
I took only Yitzi with me when I went to pick up Corliss. Actually, Ytizi caught on very quickly we were not going down into Druid Hills, but all the way to Intown Atlanta. "Where 'we goin?" he asked looking frightened. Where was his plastic, toy cell phone when he needed it. He had it with him, but somehow it failed him. I thought out an oath and just kept driving.
"We have another errand to run first," I said. I wasn't sure I'd find anything but a closed up Dorm House with everyone on vacation, but with the state of constant, stealth takings, I didn't think all the action would be on East Ponce back in Decatur.
I parked. I buzzed in. I headed to the administrative suite, where a dark skinned, African American woman, probably fresh out of college and in need of work manned the desk. I flashed my Wounded Crane ID card and said I needed to speak to either: Athalie Stonecrock, Kohana Pascal, or Hamida DeLang.
"Wow, up and down the whole chain of command," commented the sentry who was only pretending to be a receptioist.
"It's about the stealth takings in Toco Hills." I glanced back at Yitzi who shifted from foot to foot looking like he needed to pee. Of course he didn't. He was just uncomfortable, scaird, and trying his three year old's version of a white knuckle. I realized without guilt that Yitzi was old enough to remember this trip for the rest of his life.
I hardly noticed that the receptionist/sentry actually sent for somebody, and it was Athalie Stonecrock. She came out in blue jeans and a white camisole with blue trim. Her nails matched the denim in her jeans. On her feet were turquoise slippers trimmed with sequins.
"What can I do for you?" she asked not seeming at all put out at the surprize visit.
"I need as much profile information as possible on four girls from Toco Hills. They all had tame takings this weekend."
"If the takings were tame why do you need info?"
"Because I'm looking for patterns in the takings. I want to see who's behind them."
"You won't find any patterns," Athalie replied.
"Why are you so sure?" I asked.
"It's obvious. There are always multiple players at work. The Company copied a lot of what the 53 Stars priesthood, but it was never as ruthless or as thorough. That's the only difference. Now think of all the branches."
Wow! This was one excellent effort at sending Yitzi and me to play in the traffic. "I realize that," I answered, "but I also know we have a fairly homogeneous demographic."
"All females, all somewhat religious or with religious parents, all but one decent students, one leisure reading six year old. That means they could be majority Ed-Branch or Scholars Union. Also all the takings in Toco Hills or the vast majority of them have been UNUSUALLY tame. Katha Bruno let that one slip. There's a good chance these four, or at least three of them had the same people setting them up."
"You think it's us?" asked Athalie.
I shrugged. "It's not us," she answered. "I can tell you why. THIS IS REUNION. We believe in placement at fourteen or at least after sixth grade. We believe in orderly takings. No taking during Reunion can be tame."
"Also, we do things on the cheap," the receptionist/sentry chimed in. "If we wanted to take kids locally during Reunion, we'd let them take ARTA down here and knock on the door."
"Would kids really do that?" I asked.
"It happens," answered Athalie. We have half a dozen kids from a hundred mile radius right here in the Dorm House. It's not a bad arrangement. They don't arrive stick sick. They have a known address. Parents can visit and drop off things. A few will even go to their old schools. It doesn't get any tamer than that."
I handed Athalie my list of four names. "So are any of these four girls here?" I asked.
"No, not that I can tell," replied Athalie. "Let's go check profiles." We walked down the hall together. "Personally, I don't like the way this is being done any better than you. It gives EBA a very bad name, along with all the other branches that go along with it. Scaird parents are crazy parents. Kids don't need that. They need helpful parents. Even if the kids are doing a lot of creche time, they still need supportive parents." Athalie ran out of steam, and pushed open a small office door.
Yitzi found a kid size rush bottom stool, and parked his butt there. Finally, he began a conversation with Abishag. "Abishag, we're in the Dorm House. Miz An-to-niah is going to find all the lost girls. There are four of them. The Priests took them away. She and At-allie are going to look for them on the computer. The girls went away in bubble cars. The priests came on wings and carried them off. They rode dragons and swans. They said: 'My Imma put a lock on the cage even if she fed me on the tit.' They said, 'I'm too big to bite my Imma but if you stop me, I will break your nose and your ribs. And if you try to cut off all my hair, I'll cut all your hair off too and see how you like it!'"
We started with Kinneret's profile. She was in Philadelphia, walking distance to Chabad so she could continue to practice her religion. Her profile specified that she wanted to continue doing son. "Religious fervor" is the favorite Ed-Branch expression, though her house was Scholars' Union only. That was "very common in the Northeast" Athalie explained. The house was a scholar clan with an aesthetic/artistic bent. I saw pictures of it in the profile, including large murals on its garden walls. I thought of Kayla and something inside me hurt. I stared at the floor. I took a deep breath.
Dafna Shapiro came next. She was twelve and "learning disabled," except her profile said she wasn't. She was at a creche in Utica, New York run by Ed-Branch Ithaca. I didn't know there was an Ithaca Ed-Branch and Scholars Union. "They run Nationals or host them, but used to not do much else, since EBNYC wanted to run the whole state, at least until last year. There were apparently always a few upstate Ed-Branches. I don't know why. Then last summer, a lot of the upstate branches broke free and took over abandoned area any where they could find it just like Ed-Branch Atlanta does. Ithaca Ed-Branch is very aggressive, not that Hamida minds. They do super work."
Dafna had apparently been put in the general Utica Creche, a complex of buildings on the West Side of the city. She'd been brought through the Interior by priests whom she'd told she wanted to go a thousand miles from home. Utica fills the bill quite nicely if you look on a map.
Dafna had spent some time at Magic Mountain first, up in the Adirondaks. Students from Ithaca Ed-Branch ran routine health screenings and educational profiling on all children with incomplete records. That was how Dafna fell into the net. A battery of tests and Dafna's own memory revealed that she had suffered hearing loss due to meningitis at age four. Someone did not have health insurance or had neglected to take her to the doctor. Fitted with a good implant, Dafna was finally going to regain her hearing or enough of it to catch up on schooling.
Dafna had a few other issues. She needed eye glasses. She needed a tutor. She had attempted to call her parents, but they had lost their land line. She had sent them a letter, and Ithaca Ed-Branch and Scholars Union had themselves gotten in touch with the parents. For some reason, Dafna made me think of Moses.
Lia Cardozo came next. She was ten. She was in Barrow, Alaska. "What the!" I all but screamed. "Yup, it's an Ithaca Ed-Branch and Scholars Union site. They don't call it a creche. A lot of Native Tongue is set at Cornell, and there's a big program in Alaska."
"Did Lia also ask to go as far away as possible?" I asked. "Apparently not. It's just a random placement. Lia likes whales and polar bears. I guess that is good enough reason to send her up north. And yes, the parents were notified. No, they are not happy. No mention of religious accomodation. There isn't one for Dafna either. Not every kid cares you know..."
I wished there was some place to sit down. I all ready knew all I needed or thought I did. "Rivka Klein is in Oxford England. Young Scholars Union of the United Kingdom is the sponsoring agency. This is the land of fairy tales. There is nothing like getting your wish six months out of the year, is there? No mention of religious fervor or accomodation. The parents won't be happy even if this is what Rivka clearly wants..."
"I want to speak to Abishag!" Yitzi interrupted us.
"And none of these takings went through here," I concluded.
"They weren't tame either. Not really, kids reported seeing Lia, Dafna, and Rivka get into bubble cars that floated off into the sky."
"Portal Priests handled the pick up. It's in the profiles," Athalie replied. "We don't operate like that. We want kids to be responsible for their own choices. In the end, it makes things easier. It's one less issue."
"What this means," I sigh, "Is that someone else is co-ordinating the takings and the Portal Priests have some way of getting to the kids who want out or who think they do..."
"There's just one problem with that." Athalie grinned like the cat with the canary in her feathered belly. "Portal Priests float around like turds in a punch bowl, and in that neighborhood....I've heard stories. There's some sex segregation especially in high school, and men who live in all male groups have a brutal side they keep in check, but it's there, under the skin. They pretend it isn't, but under stress..."
I think about Quil. "There's an inside job then," I replied. "But who in that neighborhood would risk their lives working for the Portal Priests?" asked Athalie.
I swallowed. If the community had not so brutally exiled Ahava when she was ten, she would be a very good candidate for an inside contact. Someone had to know the four girls, be able to visit their houses, unquestioned, talk to them without arousing suspicion and then pass them the taking details. That meant..."It has to be another child," I said. "Adolescents believe they are immortal and invulnerable. That's who would take the risk, but why? How does such a kid hide?" I asked aloud.
"What do you plan to do if you find out?" asked Athalie.
Part of me almost said "tell the parents." Then I stopped. I'd have to let the offender know that she was going to be exposed, and give her time to go to ground. Of course that would not spare her parents the community's wrath, but it would stop the takings. It would also put every kid in Toco Hills under lock down.
"I'm not sure," I answered. Then it hit like a burning flash. "What if the Portal Priests' mole was in my own house?" I told myself "NO! It could not be, or could it?" Ahava had every reason to work for the Portal Priests under cover. She had "very good middle school memories," thanks to Ed Branch Atlanta, and why not give kids the same? Quil and Shlomo-Yitzakh were both estranged from their parents. Moses too was doing better in the Interior than he was working for me as a part time meat thief, and I after all exposed him to getting arrested. I had four suspects under my nose.
There was one problem. Two of my suspects had alibis. Ahava did not roam the neighborhood. She had grafted herself to Orphia to help in the kitchen. Shlomo-Yitzakh spent his time learning with Baruch Myerson either at my house or his friend's. And then Moses had that exam so he was either with his nose in a book or at Chez Corliss. That leaft Quil. I couldn't blame Quil. The Weisman's all ready hated me.
Still, I did not like Quil's style of vengance if that was indeed what it was. Besides, Quil would arouse suspicion if he spent a lot of time with girls. The same was true for all the male suspects. The mole had to be female...or maybe there were multiple moles, one of each sex. That would work. Well, that left me to search for the male mole among Quil or Shlomo-Yitzakh.
I couldn't really blame Quil, I went back to telling myself as I drove toward Druid Hills to pick up Moses. It was time for lunch. The visit was over. It was back to the books. At least Corliss hadn't tried to take Moses on a "family outing." At least I didn't have to drive to Dahlonega.
Chez Corliss et Famille was on lock down. Corliss third wife told me there had been another kidnapping in the wee hours of Monday morning. That was less than twelve hours ago. News travels fast.
Corliss told me with some disappointment that his son had spent half the visit with his "nose in a book." "What's so fascinating about arithmetic?" he complained. "It's just rote work. You know it rates very low on Bloom's taxonomy. It's all memorization."
"That's how they teach it in Fifty-Three Stars," I answered. Moses, was off the hook, too busy, though he could free range with the best of them, not that he didn't have great competition. Shlomo-Yitzakh seemed to know the neighborhood well, and Baruch was there all weekend begging for food. Wait, hadn't Baruch's mother served brisket and offered it with Thousand Island so there were no offending sauce, or maybe she made the moist roast with peppers. Meat and peppers was delicious to most people, but Baruch was finicky in the way of certain fat people, especially kids. He preferred deviled eggs. He liked Akiba and now Ahava's baking. He....
"Damn!" I cried.
"You cussed Imma," Moses smirked and then grinned. It was a giant and wonderful joke. All I knew was that nobody was going swimming this afternoon.
Bone, Gristle, and Flesh to Pick
No one was going to buy kite supplies either. I laid down the law to Chevy over lunch. I suggested she learn computer basics instead. She whined that Ellen hogged the computer. I offered to make sure she had time. She glared. "Some day you canuse CAD-CAM to make mechanical drawings," I dangled the sweetest bait I knew to avert a melt down.
"I enjoy drawing by hand. It helps me think. Hand drawn diagrams are beautiful."
"How come we can't go to the pool?" asked Ellen.
"Ahava can take you. Then Chevy can work on her basics."
"I don't want to work on the FUCKING computer!" wailed Chevy who was gunning for a fight."
"Then make origami." That ended the fight.
"Just keep the place quiet," Moses pleaded. I need to study."
Quil announced that he would read with Moses. Quil's job of good influence sidelined him a lot I thought. Shlomo-Yitzakh and Baruch both did their share of getting around even if it was only between my house and his or was it. There had been a whole clan of boys travelling between their homes, Publix, and my house. How much other traveling had they done? They had spent the morning playing softball at someone called Michael's house. Who was Michael? What was his last name? I felt overwhelmed. Quil was a good influence now. His morning outing was over, and if I did not question it...Why should I question it?
I let my face rest in my hands.
"Imma, are you all right? Shlomo-Yitzakh inquired.
"No," I confessed. "Can we talk privately after lunch?" I figured I had to start somwhere. I told myself this was not going to be that difficult.
"Am I in trouble?" asked Shlomo-Yitzakh as I closed my bedroom door. The house had sunk into quiet, with Chevy and Kayla folding paper, and Moses and Quil reading. Ellen read to Ahava and Orphia in the kitchen as they cleaned up and started dinner prep, but they kept the doors closed. Later they would take a break, go to the pool, and swim.
I reminded myself that Shlomo-Yitzakh had an alibi for Saturday night, but that didn't matter. He'd be back in Israel in a few days. He'd be safe no matter what I learned. That felt like a relief. I was starting out very easy.
"No, I just want to be careful what I say about other adults in front of the other kids," I told him.
"What did you hear?"
"I did not hear it exactly. It's more like what I didn't hear or didn't see. Sometimes when adults and kids run out of money, they lie out of pride."
"Tell me about it," sighed my oldest, male foster child.
"Well I see that the Myersons are putting up a pretty good front, but are they all right?" That was the way to begin.
"What do you mean?"
"I want to know the truth about the brisket."
"Oh is that all. Just don't ask me if it was beef or bison. You forgot veal, Imma. Maybe it was veal. It could also be lamb. Maybe they make lamb brisket."
"Quite obfuscating!" I demanded.
Shlomo-Yitzakh blinked. "Was there really any brisket?" I asked the boy.
"You think Baruch lied?"
"Someone may have told him to lie."
"No one told him to lie. His mother bought a brisket."
"And then he came here to eat."
"He likes it here. I always liked it here. Ahava and Quil loved it here, even when it was the Oakes. We loved it."
"Look Shlomo-Yitzakh Weisman, either you come clean about the Brisket or I go talk to Mrs. Myerson."
"She'll laugh in your face."
"I'll take that chance. And you're free to go ahead of me and talk to Baruch if you need to tell him anything."
Shlomo-Yitzakh blinked. "You heard me. You're going back to Israel on Thursday and you've been avoiding the BJV grounds. That means you'll probably be safe. Baruch has a paid place or a scholarship and he needs to keep those. Also if he's betrayed the community's trust, and that is an if because I don't know, he'll need to flee. Understand?
"Baruch's been a good friend of yours this Reunion. You probably were friends before you went to Israel. You need to talk to him and make sure he can protect himself. You owe him that."
Shlomo-Yitzakh stood silent. He stared at me. "You're made of stone, Imma" he said at last.
"We're going to handle this together," I told my foster son. "You take care of your friend. I'm going to learn the truth. The Portal Priests shouldn't be taking children in the dead of night, even if the children want to leave. Parents have a right to keep their families together."
"Yeah, like my Abba and Imma."
"Do you think Mr. and Mrs. Myerson are like your Abba and Imma?"
"And what about the Shapiros and the Silverman's and the Cardozos?"
"I don't know all of them. Yes, there are good parents, and grownups have to stick together."
"Fine, then you go warn Baruch if he needs it. We can go to the Myerson's together. I'll start with small talk. That will give you time to talk to Baruch." Shlomo-Yitzakh opened my bedroom door and went out into the hall. He headed into the room he shared with Yitzi. He closed the door.
I waited. I knocked. Yitzi let me in. Shlomo Yitzakh sat on his bed, a book on his lap. It was a Tanakh and he was praying the Psalms. I gave him ten minutes to finish his prayers, and then we were off.
We said nothing as we crossed the sun brittle lawns beneath a fiery sun. I don't remember if I heard a humming in my mind or the whirr of air conditioners. The neighborhood seemed frozen in silence, like a trap with the spring loaded and ready to strike the unwary rat in search of stinky cheese.
We knocked on the Myersons and Mrs. Myerson answered the door. "It's good to see some people out and about," she said after exchanging pleasantries. "All the fmailies are so scaird. We have a parents' meeting tonight at BJV."
"I'm officially banned from BJV."
Mrs. Myerson made an unhappy grunt.
"You need to talk to Rabbi Grossman. He can unban you so you can go talk." Mrs. Myerson did not have to tell me what the meeting was about. I had insights to offer. The only question was diid I want to offer them. I tried to tell myself that I was doing the right thing, protecting this woman and her husband from doing something they would regret.
"Actually, I didn't come here about the parents' meeting. I came here to get your help in doing a favor for my boys. They love meat, and Baruch said you had a killer brisket recipe."
"I haven't made brisket in ages," sighed Mrs. Myerson.
"What about last weekend. Quil and Baruch mentioned that you bought a six pound brisket at Atlanta Kosher."
"Oy, that was a sick joke! We barely had chickens for my husband and I. Baruch and Golda ate at friends' houses. I don't know what we'd do without home hospitality at least some weekends. I'm sorry. I wish we could afford enough chicken or you stil had those lovely turkeys. The turkey really was good. I miss it."
I stared at the floor. "Kids make insensitive jokes," I apologized. Then I glanced over her shoulder. In the living room Golda, Baruch's younger sister, practiced the piano. She was ten, the same age as Lia Cardozo who was now in Alaska. Did Mrs. Myerson know where a child her daughter's age had gone?
"Is there somewhere we can talk privately?" I began. Mrs. Myerson pulled the kitchen's bifold doors closed. Of course Golda could be listening, but she continued to play the piano. I resolved to stop talking if the music did. I wondered if Golda slipped out around the neighborhood as easily as Baruch. Golda and Baruch could form a bridge between the genders. Was I imagining things?
"You're not going to like this," I began, "but I've talked to the people at the Parents Center on East Ponce. They are keeping track of takings all over Atlanta. They say the takings in Toco Hills are very tame which means the kids know they are going to be taken, they know where to meet the transport, and even pack their bags."
"You're saying they want to be taken?" I let it sink in and nodded.
"Why!!!!" cried Mrs. Myerson, forgetting the walls had ears. "Aren't they happy here?"
"The ones who get taken aren't. Not enough money. A bad fit with the faith. Not much of a future. Unemployed parents. It effects different kids differently."
"But Baruch and Golda are happy. Mordecai is in New York City, and therest of my children baruch Hashem were grown and out of the house before this whole mishagas started."
"I'm not worried about your children being victims, Mrs. Myerson," I continued. "But we both know that Portal Priests stick out like sore thumbs. They have shaven heads. They wear robes. You've seen them even if you don't want to admit it."
Mrs. Myerson nodded weakly. "That means they need agents in the neighborhoods, kids or adults who fit in and escape detection and notice."
"Are you saying???"
"I don't know who the moles are," I confessed, "But there's a mole among the kids. Now this is what I know for sure."
"I think I've heard enough lashon hara." spoke Mrs. Myerson whose face was starting to redden.
"No, I'm just starting. I want to give you what evidence I have. Last Wednesday, I found Moses, Baruch, Shlomo-Yitzakh, and Quil all in a conversation. They were talking about who to tell and who to let in on some kind of plan or secret. I don't know what the secret was. When I came around, Moses, my son mentioned to Baruch that you were serving brisket for Shabbos dinner, and Baruch went along with the story saying that you bought six pounds of it at Atlnata Kosher. The brisket derailed the whole conversation. I never learned what the boys discussed together except they wanted to tell whatever it was to Ahava. That's all I know. When I asked about the brisket no one knew anything. It was a lie, a ruse, some kind of code word."
"You have a very over, active imagination, Brunei," At least Mrs. Myerson did not call me Dibri. I guess that was a relief.
I went home feeling chagrined. I suspected I was personna non grata at the Myersons. I felt a bit stupid to tell the truth. My evidence was just hunches. Perhaps, though, the boys would learn not to lie about food in my house.
I walked into Calibre Woods feeling hot and dizzy. I knocked on Rabbi Grossman's door and his wife let me in. Rabbi Grossman was learning. This was a great form of recreation for males in this community. I'd been learning too...learning how stinking little I knew.
"I'd like to be able to attend the parents' meeting at Beth Jacob Village tonight. It's off limits to me right now," I explained after the small talk which left me unbelievably weary. Oh, could I use a tri-mate! They're illegal in Atlanta, but maybe not for long.
"I can even give you a quid pro quo."
"Where did you learn to talk legal?" asked Rabbi Grossman.
"It's Latin. My specialty is modern, Romance languages. Here is what I know..." I explained about Dafna, Kinneret, Lia, and Rivka. I told all I had learned. "You may be able to get in touch with Ithaca Ed-Branch and Scholars Union. They have their own name. They're aggressive."
"Why did they take little Rivka all the way to Alaska?" asked Rabbi Grossman.
"She said she wanted to see polar bears and whales. She has some say in where she goes."
"But so far..." sighed Naomi Grossman. "What would I do if they did that to one of my children?"
"Talk to them on the phone. They let you. These takings are all tame."
"Then the parents who let their kids stay are going to be enemies of the ones who want their kids back," Rabbi Grossman drew his own conclusion. "Why are you on our side?"
"The Weisman children are staying with me are there due to a family issue and DFACS. Other than that I'm a parent. Moses was placed via court order. It was that or juvenine jail." Check your facts please!
"You can put pressure on Ithaca Ed-Branch and get these children back if you want to try. Ed-Branch houses don't force any children," I explained.
"That still leaves four other children," Naomi Grossman kept score.
"We can get profiles on them," I threw down the reward, "but if you bring back taken children, there is a good chance they'll run again. These kids went willingly."
"Why?" Rabbi Grossman all but thundered.
"They're not happy here, bad economy, bad houses, don't like their school, think they have a future elsewhere. A tame taking works when the child wants it. Otherwise parents can succuessfully hide their children.
"Parents need to talk to children and still accept the taken child's siblings. If we isolate families with one taken child, soon the siblings will want to e taken too..." I was out of breath. I was shouting at the wall. Nadine at Wounded Crane Center thought it would be easy to set up a Caring Order. What did she know? She'd grown up in a world where taking was utterly accepted.
"All right, you can come to the meeting tonight as my guest," Rabbi Grossman gave me what I wanted. Then of course I was not sure I really wanted it. Oh well, I did not have much of a reputation in the community to start with. I really couldn't make it much worse.
Part of the Problem
The meeting Monday night was a mistake. I sat close to the aisle. It was separate seating. Moses was home studying like mad. It hurt to think about that. Maybe I let it hurt for the first time. Life is not fair. I kept telling myself that, not that I had done much to help. I realized that now. That we had come within three months of my son's escape to Choate and life as the son of a semi-independent father didn't seem to matter, though I told myself it did as Rabbi Fleischman droned on. Yes, Quil was in the audience across the aisle from me. He sat with Baruch Myerson and Shlomo-Yitzakh. Yitzi and the girl children, including Ellen, sat with me.
Predictably enough, Rabbi Fleischman talked about the necessity of tschuva (repentence) and tefilah (prayer), and then he got to the good stuff. Well it was sort of the good stuff. "What we need is resistance. This is like Eretz Yisroyel in the time of the Macabees. It's the weak against the strong, the pure against the impure, the righteous against the sinners. We know who will win, but we begin by sticking to our values, Torah True Judaism." I bit my lip to suppress an angry smile.
"That means no mesira. That means no cooperation with those who cooperate with the so-called seck-u-lar authorities. It goes without saying, it means no avdodeh zara [Hebrew for idol worship].
"In this community there is at least one family who has resisted to great sacrifice. They had eight children. Now DeKalb County has taken all of those children away."
Do I have to tell you this was patently UNTRUE. Shlomo-Yitzahk, Ahava, Quil, Ellen, and Chevy all had clan and branch foster care. DFACS did not interfere with them, and interfered minimally with Kayla who was also Ed-Branch. Yitzi, Yoni, and Hulda were another story.
"Several times, authorities from the County have tried to contact these parents to arrange for supervised visits and indoctrination classes so they can have their children back, but like the brave parents in Spain and Great Britain who drowned their children rather than have them Baptized this family has bravely said 'NO!' That is what all of us must do. We must follow the Weisman's brave example. We must band together and shut out the collaborators...."
I glanced at Naomi Grossman. Her face was impassive. As we left the synaoguge, she pulled me aside. "Don't worry, Antonia," she told me. "We're going to work something out."
I had nothing to say. All I could think was that Rabbi Fleischman and Shimon Weisman had seen their children and had not even approached them. Yitzi for the first time had not asked to see his father. He also was not using his plastic cell phone to call Abishag. I hated this silence, but if anything came out of my mouth, it was going to be a scream. I entered the house, and Moses wanted me to check his math. I gave him problems and watched him solve them handily. These were problems that would have defeated him four or five days ago. I tested him on memorized formulae and problems that required drawing diagrams and constructions. I tested him on number and set theory. Mathematicas is a broad subject in the Interior. I was glad that Moses wanted to show me his progress. I desperately needed the distraction.
"Dad's family is running out of money." Moses' words hit me like a bolt out of the blue.
"How do you know?"
"I could hear him and Patti talking under their breaths. They pretend the kids don't understand. They forget, I'm fourteen. The grandparents have their real estate and investments, but everything has tanked. The world is just too uncertain with all the takings and the Interior. You understand? They talk about money for college. They've all ready writeen me off since I'm taken. I'm glad I'm taken. I have a more certain future than my half siblings, you know that?"
"You need to pass taht exam on Friday," I brought my first and only son down to earth.
"I'm going to make it. I have to make it."
I wanted to hug Isaac but just then Bucket of Bolts rang. I answered. It was Naomi Grossman. I didn't need this. She was heading up the female escorts for female children. Under the new rules of resistance, no child was to travel the neighborhood unescorted. They could be snatched on the street after all. This is going to make the takings late at night, I thought. I did not tell Naomi that. Since I liked the pool, and was unafraid of mixed bathing (Oh she put it so nicely and sweetly?) could I take little girls to the pool so they could swim? It was a decent enough invitation. I also had the fuel for the trip and a car that could hold four or five little wriggly things in swim suits with beach bags and sunscreen.
I said I could handle pool duty on Tuesday afternoon. I'd bring my bigger girls with me. I said that Wednesday was out. There was another custody hearing for the younger Weisman children and I needed to be in court, a procedure that would probably take all day. I remembered the last time I had been in court. I kept telling myself that Wednesday would be a piece of cake. Thursday would also be chaos, but eruv shabbat would be great, and next week even better.
Naomi worked everything out. I got off the phone feeling weirdly sick and scaird. I did not sleep well Monday night. Tuesday afternoon, I comandeered Ahava and Ellen and packed five more girls into my car for a trip to the pool. The oldest one asked if I would walk around in a bathing suit in front of men. I replied that a bathing suit was what one wore at a swimming pool. Swimming was healthful exercise and not disrespectful. The girls at the pool were well behaved. I encouraged the three who could swim to take the deep water test with the lifeguard. Then I alternated between supervising the shallow water and deep water while watching the action on our collection of towels and resin chaises. The girls were wonderfully well behaved, and I doubted there would be a broad daylight taking at the pool in front of everyone. Takings had been tame, but that could happen at any time. I thought of going to see Akiba this evening. I wasn't going to learn anything new.
I noticed girls from amother all female escort group arrive and camp next to my group, the ones who spent their time on dry land. A girl who was swimming laps with me pulled herself out of the water. She thanked me for keeping her company and encouraging her to get exercise. "I'm going to still be beautiful when I'm thirty," she told me and tossed her sodden, black hair. Then she walked over to the group on the towell who were playing cards. It was an odd game. It must have been a new game. It used more than one deck. I could tell because the different decks had different color backs with different color varied illustrations. The game involved some cards up, some cards down, and some cards tapped or flipped hard on the towel covered concrete. The players glanced up at me and went back. Only two girls played. The rest watched. Then two other girls played. I thought about war and double solitaire and other one or two player card games. Flip, flap, tap, went the cards. It looked like a harmless and quiet pursuit. I dove back into the water and swam two more laps.
I climbed out half and hour later and lay down on my towel. I was drowsy. I put on sun screen and curled up. I meant to watch the girls playing cards, but instead, I watched another card game. My husband, Oskar, and his friends, whole sale flower and nursery buyers from the sububurbs of the growing cities, liked to play cards. It was poker It was blackjack. I knew both games, but these were not women's games. There was money to be won or lost. At least the men were not in a saloon drinking whisky. My husband eschewed strong drink, preferring beer or California table wine and that is what I served our guests. Since it was summer, I made claret cup or sangria. I had recipes for both of these in my cookbook. I sat in the kitchen listening to the game, hoping the men even though only mildly intoxicated on wine and eating the cake of domesticity, wouldn't lose so much money or win so much there would be bad feelings after this. Oskar had tried explaining to me that high stakes, cut throat games were a male thing, which was why I was not allowed to play. I was a woman who just "played cards for fun and skill." My husband had nothing against this sort of card game. We sometimes played with other like minded couples, but the games with business associates were not my place. I served the wine punches and baked the cakes and stayed in the kitchen. Our son and daughter came out to observe. They needed to see how business was done, my husband felt, and high stakes cards were business, not pleasure.
I woke up covered with sweat and shivering. I felt guilty. I counted the girls. Two were missing. I told myself to check the pool. Ellen was swiming laps with one of them and the other two were chasing a foam ball with a couple of the girls from the other group. A female escort in a long terry cloth robe and ill fitting wig told me that she had covered for me. "You must have been tired. You swam and swam, and the sun is so hot."
"Yes, the sun is hot," I said. The card game was still happening. "I want you to play that hand again," said a red haired girl who had been dealing when I went to sleep. Her hair and bathing suit were dry. I don't think she had been in the water. Oh well, if a kid wanted to come to the pool to play cards in a bossy sort of way, who was I to disrupt that. Still, I interjected: "I don't think you swam at all."
"I have a cold," little red replied. She sat back immodesstly on her little girl rump. How old was she? Ten or eleven, the age Ahava had been when she defied the establishment by speaking truthfully about her taking and paying an awful price. I tried to picture little red doing the same and blanked. That was not a good feeling. Then I saw a familiar and unwelcome face. She was now quite plump with scraggly dark brown, shoulder length, hair peeking out from a dirty white, teichel (cloth head covering that is a cross betweena bandana and a snood) shot through with silver thread. She wore a dark brown caftan, that still did not conceal her lumbering grossness. She had more muscle under that fat than Leigh Weisman, and a kind of brute animal strength that I had once harnessed to push grocery carts. Hazel eyes in a sharp but well padded face sized me up.
"I can't believe they put you in charge of children!" she began. Little red looked up. I shrugged.
"I'm an expert in takings and hiding children from them. I hid my son for thirteen years, remember. You used to work for me."
Shifra Silverman shrugged. She looked down at little red who looked up at her. "Chaia, it's time to come home," she announced. Chaia did not move. Instead, she carefully stacked the cards, not in their own decks by color, but she carefully took up the hand dealt from right to left, putting the right card on the bottom, the next one on top of it etc... all face down. Then she sorted the rest of the cards into their own colored decks. She had rubber bands for keeping everything straight. I admired her care and conscientiousness. Shifra stood with large hands on her hips looking impatient and unhappy. She asked how I could stand the sun. I said I liked the heat. Swimming was wonderful for relaxing tense nerves. Shifra shook her head. "You don't care if men look at you."
"I'm nearly forty years old. I'm a silver fox." I wanted to laugh but my throat felt too tight. I realized I probably should bring all the girls home. It was a long trip, dropping kids, here, there, and wherever. I felt hot and tired by the time I let out my own four girls. In the house, Quil, Baruch, and Shlomo-Yitzakh along with Yoram and Adam were having a six person card game with an involved discussion. "It's a lot of low cards," sighed Yoram. "After last night, it's to be expected," Baruch answered. "How many hands did Shmuel play?" Quil asked. "He says six, but he talks out his ass," Yoram answered.
"This new game must be very exciting," I commented. The conversation stopped. "It's a good game," fat Adam found his tongue.
"Good as fried pork rinds?" I stuck it in.
"Better," answered Adam.
"Tell me," I asked. "Do unfinished games carry on from one day to the next?"
"I don't know," Adam sighed. "We were just telling your cook what my Imma bougght for Shabbos," Baruch interrupted.
"What did she buy?" I asked.
"Turkey breast. Orphia asked if we had a whole bird and wanted the legs and the liver. I had to tell her 'no.'"
I stared hard at Baruch and then went into the kitchen. This time Orphia confirmed Baruch's story. She'd been watching the card game. "It must be a new one. Moses sat in on it for a while, then excused himself. It really tempts him, but he's got that awful exam."
"At least he knows what is what."
"Have you ever read 'Zero Hour' by Ray Bradbury?" my cook and steward asked me.
"I must have missed that one," I replied.
"Akiba recommends it. It's in the Illustrated Man."
"Didn't Ray Bradbury write books over a hundred years ago?"
That meant his work was in the public domain now or had been released or was perhaps reprinted. A library search turned up several copies of the Illustrated Man. The library was open in the early evening. I asked who would like a trip to the library. Kayla took me up on my offer and Chevy had books she needed to return. "We're not going to our regular branch," Kayla protested as soon as we were out on the road.
"Who said we were going there?" I asked.
"You're no fool, but you need to stay out of certain things," Chevy told me.
"What sort of things?" I asked.
"They're not your business. Just stay out of them. Act like all the other dumb adults. You're only going to hurt people."
"Chevy," I said. "The big game is tomorrow in court. Whatever else is going on....I don't even know what it is."
"And you're not going to know."
"Chevy and Kayla, grownups aren't as stupid as you think they are. If they were, there would be no colleges."
"Shifra Silverman is an asshole," Kayla observed. Chevy looked daggers at her. I pulled into the half empty library parking lot. At a table in the children's section, two girls played cards while another gtroup of children quietly watched the game. I glanced over their shoulders. The game used multiple decks of cards. Players put cards on the table, some up, some down. They slapped and tapped the cards different numbers of times. "Play that hand again," the dealer instruced the player doing the slapping, tapping, and arranging.
I found what I needed and checked out the Illustrated Man. I also got two nature books for Ellen. I had a hunch neither Ellen nor Kayla would be taken any time soon. The stealth were more important and baffling then official takings. Ellen and Kayla could stay put a week or two and start school here in Atlanta.
"Imma you're shaking," Kayla commented as we got back in the car. My teeth were chattering. "Let's pray Tehilim [Hebrew word for the Psalms] tonight. Your younger siblings have a day in court tomorrow."
"Our parents have a day in court," Chevy corrected me.
"Do you think they'll show up?" I asked.
"Our parents are assholes," was Chevy's reply.
"One day I'm going to grow out my hair and no one will know that Imma cut it," mused Kayla. Her comment hung in the air conditioned, automobile silence.
"I didn't realize the Silverman's were back in every body's good graces," I said over dinner Tuesday night.
"Well, Shifra just came back from Israel," Shlomo-Yitzakh explained the gossip he heard from other boys. Adam and Yoram had stayed to dinner. That was fine with me. They were too old to be taken, or maybe they had their own way of slipping through the cracks.
"She's too young to have a ten year old daughter or even a six or seven year old daughter," I replied, thinking of little red.
"Her husband was a widow," Yoram spoke up. "Chaia is from his first marriage." Well that explained it. I wondered how much a ten year old kid liked being taken to another country and stuck with a new Imma who was young enough to be an older sister rather than a parent.
In fairy tales it is the poor step daughter who has the revenge. In Ellen's stories, Mossy Brown has the courage to bite the hand that feeds her. Rapunzel races out of the tower and makes a new life for herself selling and demonstrating board games at the local mall. I decided I DID NOT WANT to read the Zero Hour story in the Illustrated Man. I told myself I was too tired, yet I could not sleep. In the darkness, Ellen talked and sang in Inpuiat to her dead baby sister.
Remember her? There was no accidentally open door, brave Peter Rabbit ready to change the story, or Fairy God Mother for Baby Charlotte. She was dead now, lying under a pile of stones, on some forgotten stretch of beach well north of the Arctic Circle and the Brooks Range. I pulled up my duvet and shuddered.