Never Trust the Silence VI
This is the sixth 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.
Games Grownups Play
Wednesday was going to be a blur. I spent breakfast setting up a laundry schedule. I should have put Ki in charge of it, but she had errands to run. I did not guess what kind. I usually do not ask. Ki is more a lodger than a helper half the time, but that is fine. Ki can not drive. This is common among younger people, particularly women. No one has bothered to teach them. Fuel is scarce and expensive. Public transit is either free, or chits are super easy to come by. We have house carts for moving heavy loads. Our transit accomodates them. I still needed a driver, and I needed a second helper, if the driver could not cook or the cook could not drive. Ahava would be gone in twenty-four hours, and she was too young to condemn to the kitchen once school started.
I bundled the entire brood except for Moses into the car and we had a crowded but not too chaotic ride down to the Fulton County Family and Children's Court. Marilyn met us with Amber, Caramel, Yoni, and Hulda. Yoni wore his hearing aids and gave everyone a wide eyed and wide eared stare. "They're not taking me away from you," he told Amber who smiled and hugged the boy. "We're all going to keep our visiting rights," explained Ahava. Shlomo-Yitzakh stared down at the floor. Did his large gaggle of siblings embarass him? Did he really feel he was one of them? There were no right or even good answers to these questions, given that Shlomo-Yitzakh had experienced a different growing up and had lived apart from the family for a year.
We encamped in the back of the court room. Marilyn and I took care of the bathroom and later boredom breaks. Yes, it was boring. Yes, there were a lot of children ahead of Matter of Burden, Daggim, and Weisman as we were called due to mulitple last names. There was a big crew from Ed-Branch, Kathe from the Creators, and two Portal Priests as well as Suri, one of Nadine's lieutennants, fresh from the Interior. The other cases dragged on and on. They must have put us last to tire us out or maybe to make me angry. I would not put it above court officials to do this given that I had exasperated a criminal court judge back in May. Sometimes one has to be a trouble maker.
Finally, I too needed a boredom break. I went walking out in the hall with Ahava. I wondered if I should thank her for learning to bake and filling in for Akiba. She'd been a pretty good eldest sister. She could go back to New Jersey feeling proud of herself. Instead, she asked if she could have the last spot on the laundry schedule.
"Are you planning to sleep back on the trip to New Jersey tomorrow?" I asked her.
She shrugged. "I just like to stay up late. I also want some computer time. Chevy is going to order some supplies on the net and she's paying me back."
"You kids are good at arranging stuff," I complimented my oldest foster child.
Just then two grumpy faces looked up from a formica table they had taken over as their own preserve along with half a dozen faces that were grimly watching a game of cards. It was the multi-deck slap and tap game. Some up some down and "Please, play that hand again," said a tall girl with braids tight as little knobs, very wide cheek bones in a nearly diamond shaped face, and greyish, chocolate brown skin.
"I need air," I told Ahava and no one. We went outside. I felt something in my purse. It was that beat up paperback of the Illustrated Man. I wondered if I could read a bit while every one else' court proceedings went on. I gave up on the idea. I had nothing to say. The waiting was wearing me down.
Fortunately, it ended. We took our own sweet time with Ed-Branch defending Kayla's right to visitation and continuity. Ahava was all ready placed as was Shlomo-Yitzakh. The same was true for Quil. C-Branch went next. They explained that they had all ready taken custody of Chevy due to a history of neglect and the threat of psychological abuse as indicated in Ahava Burden's profile.
Then the Ed-Branch legal team took the stage again, this time in defense of the older siblings' right to stay in touch with Yitzi, Yoni, and Hulda. Then it was time for the Portal Priests who without a lawyer spoke on defense of Amber and how she and Hulda had bonded and how Hulda was bonding to Yoni. the Guardian ad Litems went last of all. Speaking for the younger children once again.
The judge than asked to meet with Marily and me in chambers. I felt my throat go dry and tight.
"I'm going to give you ladies one year," the judge laid down the law. "One year for what?" I thought angrily. "WE HAVE DONE NOTHING!" I was confident enough of that.
"The court and DFACS and Fulton County will keep sending out notices to the Weismans to appear. Marilyn and Antonia will continue to ask for visitation. Antonia will bring Yitzach to synagogue so he can see his father. We have to give the Weismans time. The law says so
"Now off the record, I doubt the Weismans will respond. If they have a change of heart, we'll all know, but they are a militant couple. They also have expressed no desire to see their children in even a supervised or informally supervised setting. Am I right?"
I nodded. "I can't take their parental rights today, but I think this is heading towards a TPR for the younger children. The older ones are in clan custody. Kayla and Elasheva have the strongest branch encouragements I have yet to see. I consider them to have branch custody and be taken for the purposes of placement. That just leaves the three youngest children.
"Hulda is bonding with Amber and Caramel. Once Amber gets placed, the two children will go with her as a family. The county, both counties, need a compelling reason to remove a child from the mother who placed her on her tits. Amber gave Hulda suck, so Amber is Hulda's mother unless Leigh really cooperates and even then, the law will respect Amber's bond.
"There is evidence of both physical and medical neglect in Yonatan's case. Marilyn, you seem good at working with a partially deaf child..."
"If you'll beg my pardon, Your Honor," Marilyn knew how to talk to judges. "Yoni wears hearing aids now and cann hear normally. He's a talker like his big brother."
"That's good news, and a compelling reason to keeep Yonatan with you."
"Would you like me to make a play for him, your Honor?" asked Marilyn.
"Yes," the judge replied. Then she turned to me. "Yitzakh's case is more complicated. He remembers his parents. He remembers a caregiver named Abishag. He is dealing with a lot of loss. He is also the most mature of the younger kids and in some ways the most unscathed. Keeping him in the neighborhood and keeping him near his sister in a home that is friendly to placed siblings is in his best interest and will help him deal best with his loss. I am going to recommend therapy for him. I feel he is going to need it.
"We also need to be planning some sort of permanency for Yitzakh. Antonia, you know what this means."
I imagined sending Yitzi to Canada to Toussaint and Abishag's base in Montreal. Then something stopped me. Abishag loomed large in Yitzi's mind and no where else, except my imagination. I smiled. It was not a smile of joy. "Oh God!" I cried out.
"Do you want custody of Yitzakh?" asked the judge.
"Not the way it was now!" I wanted to shout. Yitzakh could never be the second child that Moses (formerly Albert) needed. There was eleven years between them, and Moses was all ready placed. Also, I was not Yitzakh's first choice for a parent. He wanted Abishag. He wanted his mother. I was his siblings' friend. He did NOT call me "imma." Still, what could I do? It had to end somewhere. Yitzi needed a stable home. Poor Yitzi.
"It's not what I want. It is what is good for Yitzi. The community won't like my trying to adopt him, even if it is the best thing we can do."
"The community is going to need to realize that it gets to keep Yitzi if you get custody of him." The judge made it sound easy and painless. I knew it would not be. I did not think things would go so far. I wondered how I could keep working and keep Yitzi. I wondered what would happen when a second child, one I did not nurse, bonded to me.
"I've never applied to adopt a child," I explained. "I have no husband."
"That won't matter."
"And what about what happened to Moses this spring?" I asked.
"It doesn't matter. You weren't convicted of a crime, were you?" I smiled. Then I let my face rest in my hands.
"How long does an adoption take?" I asked.
"About fifteen to eighteen months if you start today. You'll go through the paperwork and inspections and home studies before the clock runs out for the Weismans. Once a year passes, we'll set the termination in motion, and it should go fast."
"All right," I said and I looked at Amber and Marilyn. We were going to keep the family together. That was the goal. The judge ruled on Kayla and Elasheva, and postponed proceedings for ninty more days as he would for a whole twelve months, on Yitzi, Yoni, and Hulda. It was not until I got outside the courtroom in the blazing, early afternoon sun that I realized that the family was still together and going to be for quite some time. I also remembered I had other errands to run.
After lunch, I took Yitzi down to Ed-Branch. He spoke on the red , plstic, cell phone with Abishag. "We were in court today. A nice lady asked if I missed my Imma and I told him yes. I miss my abba too. I also told her all about you and Miz Antonia who takes care of me now. She couldn't see how there were three ladies in my life. She can see I have seven brothers and sisters, but not three grown ladies. Isn't that weird?"
"What does Abishag say back?" I asked.
"She said she is coming home at Sukkot," Yitzi replied.
"Six weeks, " I said into the air. Inside, EdBranch I met with Hamida deLang who introduced me to Liselotte Walterwalker who was going to work as Orphia's assistant and my baker. Liselotte was out of college, at loose ends, with a hospitality degree from Eastern Carolina University. She was a pro. She was Jewish. She was also descended from Comoros Islanders. Her maternal grandmother was Jewish and her maternal grandfather had converted, but the grandfather had reall descended from Comoros Islanders from Mauritius who had somehow emigrated to Upstate New York. A great grandmother had sunk the family's roots into the Mohawk Valley when her fantastic grades in high school and college earned her a scholarship in the days before the Company. Later her family, like my own, became many generations EdBranch.
They were at the end of EdBranch New York City's reach. Walks Upon the Water of Sylvan Lake, located in Sylvan Beach, New York, Liselotte's mentoring house, was affiliated through EdBranch Ithaca, not EdBranch New York City. That meant it had kept its affiliation when EdBranch New York City contracted last summer. Unfortunately, EdBranch Ithaca had to bow to Scholars Union rules, and Liselotte had lost her postion as one of the clan leaders because she lacked a master's degree. A mentoring house alum with the proper credentials took her place. This left Liselotte wounded.
I did not care as long as the woman could bake bread. I did not mind making three trips with my car to move Akiba's things to a house in Decatur called the Annex where EdBranch Atlanta deposited its excess staff, and moving Liselotte's things from the Dorm House to Christmas Lane.
Then I headed down to Houston Mill Road. This was going to be a very ugly errand. I found Shifra at home starting dinner. Her two children by her husband's first marriage were amusing themselves in the living room. Red headed Chaia sorted cards while two year old Shimon played with a cobberl's bench hammering plastic shapes into holes and then flipping the bench over so he could pound again.
"I'm NOT working with Orphia again!" snarled Shifra Silverman. I grinned. I was not letting Ms. Silverman any where near my kitchen.
"I need a chauffeur. I'm willing to pay you both in chits and the use of my car to run your own errands. All you have to do is faithfully take Yitzi to the Female Employee Center Nursery for the afternoons and pick him up before 7pm and bring him back to my house. My staff can watch him if I'm not home. You'll hardly see me. You won't see much of Orphia. You can deal with Ki or Liselotte if you like."
"Ki is the avodeh zara priestess," complained Shifra. "Who or what is Liselotte?"
"EdBranch, Jewish, from Upstate New York, and able to bake bread and cakes for me. I need a baker."
Shifra shook her head. "Does she have any tatoos like the last one?" Some people never leave middle school.
"I don't know. I haven't seen her in a tank top." Suffice it to say we sealed the deal. Monday all the kids would be back to school. Monday, I would be back to work. Monday was an eternity away.
Ahava, Chevy, Ellen, and Kayla watched Liselotte mix up a bowl of starter in the kitchen. This was going to be a very sour and stinky rye starter. Landbrot was Liselotte's specialty. "My father loves sour bread," she explained. "His grandmother raised him on it."
"Sour bread is yicky!" Yitzi shouted.
"It's not what you think," Orphia tried to explain. Liselotte just shook her head. She had tan skin, bushy eye brows, straight black hair, and black eyes. It was hard to picture an Asiatic looking woman making sour rye, but hey, it takes all kinds. I missed Akiba, but hopefully my favorite lost soul of a baker would find herself and move on to better things. Hopefully, Abishag would reappear at Sukkot, and Shimon and Leigh Weisman...well they had a whole year didn't they?
Baby Sea Turtles
My foster family disappeared in clumps and faster than I could react to their going. Moses and Quill were the first to go. They joined me for breakfast when I had tea before dawn while Orphia and Lisleotte cut up vegetables and discussed the Shabbos menu. The two colleagues were still feeling each other out. Ki sorted mail in the living room. Moses asked me to quiz him one more time on math, while Quill moved the boys' things to the living room. I walked them to the mall and said goodbye to them at the subway. Only on my way home did I feel like crying.
By the time I returned, the second group of foster children was ready to leave: Shlomo-Yitzakh, Ahava, and Chevy. I drove the three of them to the stick port. Ellen came along for the ride, but carried no return ticket so she stood outside security with me as I felt a light, grey emptiness. I longed for Yitzi's plastic cell phone or one just like it. Whom would I call? I wans't going to call any one. There was Ellen. I waited for her to cry, complain...She did nothing. She clung to her somewhat dirty, homespun bag with her dead, baby sister, Charlotte's soul inside it. I decided to drive her home. Were she a different kid, I would have plied her with ice cream, but somehow that seemed trivial, and I only thought of it after the fact.
By the time I got home, I realized that Kayla was also not going anywhere. I had two left behind girls on my hands in addition to Yitzi. I had to do something about this, but what? I should of course have gone a nd talked to Hamida deLang, Kohana Pascal, and Athalie Stonecrock. Placement Specialists can be very useful at times, but I realized that the Parental Support Center on East Ponce would be extremely busy with frightened parents. I also realized that EdBranch was also busy with children sent to it by other underground railroads or spirited away in the night, children who had had enough. A kid had to be pretty desperate to want to be taken, but I could understand some of that desperation. I had seen the back side of it for two weeks.
EdBranch did not have to worry about a six year old in stable, branch foster care who would be going to school closer to where I lived, at least for the first part of a long, extended school day. As for Ellen....she needed Ahava. I knew that much, but I still thought that if I could wait a few days to twist arms, so much the better. Of course that meant she would start school at DMag (Druid Hills Magnet Academy). This is where Kayla would go for afternoon and evening programming, so Ellen and Kayla would be schoolmates for part of the day. If Ellen was going to start school at DMag on Monday, then maybe she should stay one to two weeks in Atlanta. I could understand that. I did not think I would get her to New Jersey to start at SCAS on Monday. It just wasn't going to happen.
I resolved to speak to each girl privately and see how much they wanted to be taken before I took action. I reminded myself that Kayla might like staying with Yitzi and in a community to which she felt ties, and Ellen did not have quite the same, impatient conception of time that I did, or the same need for her life to move along at a rapid and punctual clip. Meanwhile, I had another task. It was more than possible that Moses, Quil, or any of the other children had left something behind. I inspected Ellen and Ahava's bedroom first. Ahava had done her laundry in the wee hours of the morning and taken everything except a travel size bottle of shampoo. Quil and Moses had also made a clean sweep of things. Chevy left behind a pair of pants and three shirts and two undershirts. I'd take these to Kathe who could send them on to her nurturing team, yes all the way back to Hobart, Tasmania. Someone travelling through the interior, could easily transport the small package.
Last but not least, I checked the room Shlomo-Yitzakh and Yitzi had shared. Shlomo-Yitzakh's dresser drawers and closet were empty. I checked his nightstand and then noticed three playing cards fanned there. There was black joker, a King of Hearts, and an Ace of Spades. They looked ordinary enough, but my mind filled with too many images of children playing that strange slap and tap game. I picked up the cards. I wanted to see if they all belonged to the same deck. They didn't but that is not what arrested my eyes when I turned them over down and dirty. It was the images on the backs of the cards.
The first iamge was of sea turtles emerging from eggs. Sea turtle mothers bury their eggs in the sand and leave them. Baby turtles make their way to the ocean that will give some of them life (Most of them will perish. It is a cruel world for them, and they grow up alone in it without parents on their own) without parental help. Poor baby sea turtles, yet there are children not unlike the sea turtles. I remembered Ahava at ten, ostracized by her community left to the succor of EdBranch which filled her weeekdays and her stipend for the weekends along with whatever hospitality the community sometimes offered. I thought of Shlomo-Yitzakh cut off and disowned nine thousand miles from home because he refused to take part in a murder and had informed about it. I knew the story third hand and also first hand from parts of his profile. It had made news back here in Toco Hiills. I remembered Chevy who just let herself be taken after several years of shoplifting to survive and cynicism to protect her. She'd simply had enough. She was too good for this place. Better to take your chance with the sharks as you look back at the darkened shore while the light of a full moon guides you out into the waves.
I slumped down on Shlom-Yitzakh's empty bed. I was clammy with sweat. I shook all over. At some level, a part of me understood everything. The second card was a graphic, photo of a boy's mutilated face. The nose was black, purple, blue, and broken. The lips swollen, split, and brown with dried blood. One eye was swollen shut and looked like a misshapen olive or prune plum, yet, I recognized the forehead, the crew cut, the look in the one good eye. I knew whose face this was. I had seen this picture before. I let my face rest in my hands to stifle a scream that made my throat hurt. Had Quil given permission for this picture to be used? Why? I did not want to ask what this image meant. Did it mean repaeted beatings, one beating too many, the threat of physical discipline? Could it be physical discipline at home, at school, or any other place? Did the perpetrator matter. Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair so I can climb the golden stair. Break for the stairway while the tower door is open. You are a sea turtle running for the waves. Your boyfriend is probably dead. Your mother is armed with a sharp instrument. Ravaged hair or a ravaged face, the difference is the same.
The last image made my gut hurt. I wanted to crumple the card which I held in my shaking hand. It was a black circle with a careful, double white border and a tiny white center outlined in deeper black. Around the white center danced a spiral of red and orange flames. It was a compound of two symbols, a ball of fire and the dark womb of the earth, of something taken in, made safe, and waiting to be born or resurrected. And it bloomed forth like fire every where people of any age stood on their own conscience fighting authority that threatened to kill or hurt them, despite fear, despite consequences. It was the cry for freedom and independence and damn those silly consequences! Put your life on the line. Let the earth swallow you up. Don't believe in the signs. Better the fire ball should devour you, than you not leave the world your eloquent silence, your nonviolent resistance, your wonderful plea in the form of a question: "Arent' all mean holy?"
I had seen this symbol on documents I had translated for the company, and seen it in Rio in the temple behind the apothecary in the neighorhood halfway up the hill. "You will understand this," one of the priestesses said to me in Luso Portutuese. "It's in your Bible." She was right, except Culto de Datanho took the story of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in the Biblical book of Numbers (called Bamidbar in Hebrew) and gave it a fresh, relevant, and utterly modern interpretation. It then took that interpetation a step further. In Rio, the Culto was a form of Umbanda, which stressed reincarnation and speaking with "all spirits of the earth." All should be free to make contact in whatever way proved useful.
How, in the name of HaShem had Culto de Datanho penetrated Toco Hills? Yes, I knew the symbol because I had tasted of this forbidden fruit for a single night, but...Could this symbol refer to me? Could this symbol refer to the Culto's message of free thought? Did it have some other meaning? I put the cards together. I was not sure to whom to send them.
"Are you OK Imma?" asked Yitzi. He stood in the doorway clutching is red, plastic, toy cell phone.
"Tell Abishag I'm fine," I sputtered. Then I sat down on the bed again. After lunch, I read "Zero Hour" by Ray Bradbury. Yes, I should have read it sooner. The story is about children getting revenge on benighted and perhaps cruel parents by cooperating with aliens who promise them domination and give them a game of "Invasion" Following the aliens' instructions, they build a kit that lets the aliens invade and cause carnage. The parents, with whom the author is of course sympathetic, never catch on to their fate.
Well adults here had trouble figuring out about the cards and the underground rail road, but the children knew the code, and in other parts of Atlanta. I remembered the children in court yesterday playing the slap and tap game. "Play this hand again;" for this hand can change your life. At midnight the moon will be full. At midnight in comes the tide and you can swim with it if you are brave enough. Gather on the beach and wash away the blood of a beating. Wash away the memory of neglect. Take your chances with the sharks of Portal Priests.
I had all ready mentioned the underground railroad and faced disbelief. I was NOT a benighted parent. I also knew that nobody planned for our deaths, only their own survival in body, mind, and spirit. Who was I to stop any of this?
Still, I shared the adults in the story's rage, or the rage they must have felt when it was too late. Besides, in Atlanta, there were no aliens. You could think of the Portal Priests that way if you want, but why stop there. Extend your rage to the Creators and to EdBranch. I could climb into parental shoes when I needed to. It was a matter of time. That was why there was a huge security system around the Parental Communication Center but the Dorm House...well it would probably need security too. I shook my head.
Here I knew how it would end. People here did not use guns. Instead, they would find a kid with the cards after they half figured the game out, and I knew the rest. I thought of Yoram, Baruch, Adam, and the rest of that crowd. I thought of ten year old Chaia, Shifra Silverman's stepdaughter. I thought of the face of Quil staring back from the card and I wondered if there was a way I could act again.
Rabbi Grossman is at the door. I hear him ring the bell. I see Liselotte come and get me. Rabbi Grossman does not look one bit happy. I let him inside. "Why?" he begins. "Why what?" I reply. This could be any number of questions.
"Why did you go to court against this whole community?" he spells it out. I blink. "I went to court yesterday to argue to keep the Weisman siblings together or at least make sure they all had visitation rights." What went on in the judge's chambers is no one's business, but Amber's, Marilyn's and my own.
"Why did you bring suit against Beth Jacob Village?"
"I did what!"
Rabbi Grossman shoves a legal paper under my nose. It is an injunction forcing Beth Jacob Village to allow me and all other EdBranch personnel on to their property to attend services. Well hallelujia. "This is EdBranch's legal department. I had nothing to do with this," but I sure wish I did. "They were busy in another court room while spent most of the day rotting in family court. You can ask Judge Purcell nad the bailiff. Sorry, I had other business at court. Quite frankly, I wouldn't sully my hands with a matter like this. I'm glad the judge decided in my favor, but I wouldn't have taken action. You can believe me or not."
"I almost believe you," Rabbi Grossman answered. "I guess you're going to teach your class again."
"I guessed I had to make a comm phone call. Believe me I'm the last to know. Also we were now going to have guests for dinner tomorrow. I needed to tell my crew." Rabbi Grossman watched me place the call to EdBranch. I got told to call the Parental Communication Center out on East Ponce. I call there, and Hamida DeLang was more than willing to speak to me. Yes, she wanted my class. Yes there were three girls, just girls this time, who want to attend services. I thank her and hang up. I delivered the news of extra seats to my crew. Rabbi Grossman shook his head.
"The community does not want EdBranch children in our synagogue," Rabbi Grossman explains though it was way too late for that now.
"What's the community going to do?" I all ready knew, but did Rabbi Grossman? \I pondered placing another call to Hamida deLang.
"They view EdBranch children as a corrupting influence."
"The children will not play slap and tap with cards," There, that was the long and short of it.
"What is slap and tap with cards?"
"A code disguised as a harmless game. Each card in the deck has too meanings, maybe more, and many more in combination, but the minimum is two, one for its up side and one for its down side. Shlomo-Yitzakh left three cards behind. I'll get them. You'll understand better when you actually see the cards."
Shlomo-Yitzakh was safely back in Haifa, Israel, and if he could never return, I told myself, it was safer for him. He was the most likely to seek out his father and Rabbi Fleischman, and you know the rest. I got the cards and showed Rabbi Goldman the King of Spades. "Now turn it over," I instructed.
Rabbi Goldman gasped. I explained about the boy with the disfigured face. "Are you sure this is Quil?" Rabbi Goldman shook his head. Mesira does not cover danger to life and limb. Beatings were an ugly secret. This card brought the secret out into the open.
I then showed Rabbi Goldman the Queen of Hearts. "Turn it over," and I waited. "Turtles," Rabbi Goldman did not get it. I explained to him about how turtles are not around when their young hatch. "Are you sure this card means neglect?" asked Rabbi Goldman. There were small beads of sweat on his face.
"It could mean independence or impending neglect. It could mean dissatisfaction and loneliness. It could mean too many siblings. Turtles are R-selected."
"It means an organism has many offspring and only a few survive. Nature takes care of the surplus."
"Jews aren't like that!"
I said nothing. I showed him the last card, a black joker. That was appropriate. Rabbi Goldman turned the card over and nearly dropped it. "Where did you find this?" he asked.
"In Shlomo-Yitzakh's dresser drawer," I answered.
"Do you know what this is?"
"Yeah. Culto de Dathanho."
"It's primarily a form of Brasilian umbanda, spiritualism. I spent a year in Rio long ago and nearly went native." I smiled.
"This is very dangerous."
"Free thought is. Standing up to authority at the risk of one's life.... That is scarey. You can't control people willing to die for what they believe, can you? You resort to fireballs and earthquakes, but that just proves you lost the argument."
"Yeah, we've got a problem. Whose cards did you say these were?"
"I found them in Shlomo-Yitzakh's dresser after he left. I don't know whose cards these are."
I continued: "The EdBranch girls do not play cards. They have no reason. If a child wants to be taken by EdBranch, he or she walks to the Dorm House or takes ARTA there and knocks on the door. There is no need to arrange takings."
"And these...cards arrange takings."
"Yes, there is a game wtih slapping and tapping. The child has to play the hand, putting down cards in different orders and slapping and tapping them to communicate a message. It's a message that can change his or her life, so the child has to play the same hand twice to confirm it. Then the dealer gathers up the cards, carefully in a specific order. That's how they send the message on to the Portal Priests or to their mole in this neighborhood."
"Do you know what you've just said?" Rabbi Goldman asked.
"You're asknig me to play the hand again and I will. The cards are a code that children use to arrange tame takings for those who wish to be taken. You want it any plainer? The EdBranch girls don't play the game because EdBranch has its own system."
"They have a local creche. There's no need for them to play the game. I don't know all the rules of the game. I don't know who the ring leader is."
"And what do you suggest we do?"
"Have a meeting with the children once school starts. Ask them what we can do to make their lives better. These cards are a cry for help. If there are children willing to die at the hands of HaShem, there are also children here willing to take a beating. Violence won't solve anything. Making a martyr out of a few children won't help either. I might also forbid playing cards in school, on synagogue property etc... You'll drive the game underground, but you'll make it less frequent. That's only a stopgap measure though."
"A stopgap is better than nothing."
"Maybe," I answered. "I'm not sure Moses wouldn't have gotten a better education had he been taken at seven or eight. There's simply no way to know."
"He has some kind of exam tomorrow," Rabbi Grossman commented almost absently.
"It's his high school entrance exam. If he passes, he's going to get a first rate education."
"Better than day school or yeshiva?"
I smiled. I thought of Shifra. I thought of how Moses struggled for the first few days with problemmas practicas.
"I'm beginning to think so. That said, Kayla and Yitzi are in day school Kayla will go to after school program at D-Mag. Ellen will attend D-Mag and the after school program there. Yitzi will go to the Female Employee Center in the afternoon for his after school program. I'll get to compare all the programs head to head."
Rabbi Grossman shook his head. "We have to do something," he replied to me and no one.
"Beatings will not work. And to inform on a beating is NOT mesira," I reminded the rabbi.
"A beating may frighten children back into line. Not every one is a fanatic. Honor they father and mother is one of the commandments."
"Does one dishonor parents by running away?" I asked. "Many of these children are under thirteen."
"It's for their own good," Rabbi Goldman continued.
"Excessive physical discipline is assault under the laws of Georgia."
"Is this a threat."
"It's a statement of fact." I picked up the card with the picture of one of my foster sons on the back and turned it back up so his mutilated face showed. I put it down on the dining room table between us and I slapped it hard.
Blessings, Curses, and Tongues of Fire
Late Friday morning, I walked with Yitzi only to the interior. We went through the New Mall. Shabbos was a long ways away. I did not worry abou the EdBranch girls being safe. The blood the community wanted, if indeed one could call it a community was not theirs. They were strangers. They were a nuiscence. I was glad for the walk to the Interior. I was glad because I needed to clear my head after the morning's first errand. Katha, Station Chief for the Creators was not hard to find. She considered herself the equivalent of a Portal Priest, and the Portal Priests worked with her whether they liked it or not. I told her what was waiting to happen like thunder clouds on the horizon. I gave the names of the children I knew who were at risk of being caught. She listened. She then got the Portal Priest who was sitting around and made her listen to my story again.
"We're going to have to deal with this," answered Katha. "It won't be good, but it will happen."
I spoke briefly with Akiba and I left after that. She told me I was brave. I just felt scaird, and then I felt nothing. I arrived at the Crossroads around 1pm and walked the last mile and a half to the school. Yitzi talked about how the big men planned to beat up Baruch, Yoram, Adam, and the rest of the group who had sat at my dining room table eating contraband food for the heck of it and planning on getting cards into and out of neighborhood houses were good, well settled kids lived. It had been on audacious plan, but now it was going down in a hail of blood, guts, and wild adult vengence.
I was glad Moses was well away from all of this. I was glad even if he emptied bed pots for the rest of his life and washed old people's butts. I knew he'd hate that work, but maybe he could find other work. Maybe he could make his own work. Maybe he could attend high school with the priests and nurses in training at the Wounded Crane Temple. I sat with Yitzi on the small swath of emerald, green grass outside the Consolidated Cross Roads Academic Center. Yes, it had a nice long name with a nice American spelling. At 2:15pm the test ended and the eighth graders filed out. Bee Hill came to meet Moses. I had seen her once or twice. Her brown hair was half grey. She wore pale colored robes sometimes with tapered pants beneath them and matching shoes that were down at the heal. She asked Moses if he wanted to go out to eat those sandwiches he loved. He said he needed to see his scores. Bee was welcome to come back later.
She did not leave. We sat on a bench under the trees. We were supposed to make small talk, but none of us had anything worth saying. I was glad Shabbos did not begin until nearly eight pm. I would not have time to shower or change. I would sit with three nervous girls walked to services by a nervous Placement Specialist. Everyone would treat the girls as if they carried leprosy, but hey, they were the side show. They were innocent, but they were a reminder of worse. The real goat was all ready to have a red thread tied to its antlers, and a wild crowd was ready to chase it into the desert and to a cliff where they'd throw it over the side if it didn't jump. The goat for Azazel was never supposed to return to camp, and once its blood lust was satisfied, HaShem would forgive the congregation. Yom Kippur could not wait.
"I think the scores are up," Moses informed us. A teacher in Scholars Union burlap stood in a half open door way beckoning the small, tense crowd inside. A large piece of paper listed students by their fisrt names. There were no social security numbers or even student IDs. The last names were clan names here. I looked half way down the sheet. A score of eighty or better was passing. That was the cut off. A student needed an eighty on the English/reading test, the culture/history test, and the mathematics test. Moses score on the math test was an eighty-nine. I felt relieved. He had worked so hard for that. His score on reading was a ninty-three and his culture/history score for his Fifty Stars adjusted test was a perfect one hundred. All that reading in my extensive library for reluctant male readers has paid off.
"Thank you Imma" my son told me, and we embraced. "This is going to be better than Choate," Moses added. "Choate doesn't have this kind of entrance exam." I squeezed Moses hard. I smelled his bitter, male sweat smell, exhaustion, fear. I asked if he wanted to come home for Shabbos, and then I wished I hadn't. "You let Aunt Bee take you out for empanadas," I back tracked. "The neighborhood is going to explode. One of the rabbis found some leftover cards, and one of them had Quil's face on it. The other was the Dathan and Abiram symbol. The third was the sea turtles."
"Oh shit," sighed Moses who understood. "Whose cards were they?"
"They were left in Shlomo-Yitzakh's dresser."
"Shlomo-Yitzakh didn't have any cards!"
"I don't know how they got there." This was true.
"Baruch is a total asshole. I'm sorry Aunt Bee. I know you don't like vulgar language."
"Baruch is very brave. I think he got careless and tired of living a double life."
"Are the grownups going to go crazy?" It was a rhetorical question. I nodded. Moses agreed to stay in the Interior for the weekend. I watched him and Aunt Bee walk away. I took Yitzi home and made it just in time to fall in with the Friday night crowd.
Rabbi Goldstein did not wait until Saturday to speak on the Torah portion. He spoke on the blessings and curses painted in plaster on Mount Ebal and Mount Gerir. He spoke of what happens when Jews turn to avodeah zarah (idol worship) and of the community's obligation to "take action." In this community now there were aldults who were influencing children to desecrate the name of God and to practice something that pretended to take itself from Torah but which was complete and utter perversion.
I dug my hands into my nails. Tonight we were going to catch those children and the adults who stood behind them. This was not "Zero Hour." Like Moses in the book of Exodus after the burning of the Golden Calf, Rabbi Goldstein asked for brave men to stand up to lead the charge. I watched Shimon Weisman, Rabbi Fleischman and others I did not know, men who had populated my lawn and learned quietly as part of a protest. They were quiet no longer though they said nothing. Even the women who used the female side of the snctuary for chit chat were silent, but the silence screamed. I stared at the floor. Next to me, one of the EdBranch girls teeth chattered. I took her arm and whispered in her ear. "We're immune."
I wasn't sure of that though. I listened as Rabbi Grossman, yes, Rabbi Grossman read out the instructions. "Gather up everyone who is willing to follow you and form groups of seven to ten. We'll go house to house. We're looking for playing cards with divers pictures on the back. We'll be searching every bedroom. Parents you can help us. We expect you to help us. We are going to confiscate the cards, but first I want all the children between five and fifteen to stand. Form a line. Two women in our section got up. Several men also got up and moved toward the back of the sanctuary. One or two went outside, and then they shut the doors.
"When I give the signal, all the children will walk out into the foyer and line up with their hands on the wall. I want all of you to walk out single file. If you are innocent you have nothing to fear."
I watched the doors at the back of the sanctuary open. Liselotte from my crew, and Athalie Stonecrock from EdBranch glanced at our charges. They were not sure they wanted to walk out with the rest of the group. I was sure they had no cards on them, but they were not the only children here. I tried not to look at the shivering girl as I reached into my skirt pocket. I removed the card with Quil's disfigured face on the back. I held it up. I stood on my seat and held it over my head. Several children looked up. I reached with my free hand and tapped the card. I hoped kids saw what I was doing. More kids looked up. The signal was beginning to get through.
I glanced at Athalie. I wondered how to ask if she had a comm phone on her person. There was no way to discretely make a call, but this was a case of lives on the line. I knew that the moment I saw several boys refuse to leave the sanctuary. Fathers and strangers tried to drag their sons toward the door. One boy tried to get something out of his pocket. Quick hands found the offending object and they the boy screamed as two men dragged him into the foyer. Athalie calmly reached into the neck of her blouse and squeezed a thick piece of jewelry that I thought had been part of her rolled collar.
A woman in the seat next to us glared. "What are you doing?" she asked.
Athalie did not answer. "Rabbi!" our adult seatmate called out. The shivering girl hid her face in her hands as if poised to receive a blow. "Abishag, we're in big trouble," Yitzi said into his red, plastic, toy cell phone. Athalie squeezed her collar again. "Let's make a run for it," announced Liselotte.
That made sense. The five of us managed to squeeze up the aisle. Girls and boys were both delaying. Out in the lobby, men and women strip searched the more docile chiildren of the appropriate sex and every so often dragged one int othe middle where strong men tied them up with their arms behind their backs. Rabbi Fleishman stood guard. He was an expert at the tying up and so were two of his buchrim (students).
Other, stalwart buchrim and young husbands and a few middle aged matrons stood guard by the locked doors. No one had any weapons yet, but they were around. Another phalanx of buchrim and associates guarded the stairs and the rear doors. I walked toward the front door. It was as good a door as any. I saw Yaakov, his nose faintly askew from the beating that Quil had given him before Rabbi Fleishman and Shimon Weisman had given him worse. "Yaakov, let us out please," I asked. He pretended not to hear. Several of the women smiled awkwardly. Another child screamed and cried as a sturdy man dragged her to the center of the foyer to be tied up, to there await their fate.
"Law enforcement is all ready on the way," I stated.
"Will you tell that to the rabbi?" asked a plump man with a blonde beard. "I'll tell it the whole world," I snarled. "Now pelase let us out."
"What did you say?" Leigh Weisman asked the question. She was no longer a blank.
"You heard it all ready. Law enforcement is coming."
"Haven't you learned your lesson once or maybe they never taught it to you." Leigh Weisman spat in my face, but did not lay a hand on me. Shifra Silverman did. I felt her twist my arm and two other women, both strong and tough from their gap years in Israel pulled me toward the crowd of victims in the center of the room.
Yitzi screamed and shrieked. I saw Leigh reach for him, but he jumped back. "Don't hurt Miz Antonia!" he yelled. Then he talked into his cell phone. "A-bee-shag! We need you! Please! You've got to come here now!"
Shimon Weisman taunted his son: "They have eyes that see not. They have ears but hear not. They have feet but can not walk. They have noses but can not smell. They have tongues but can not speak. Those who make them and rely on them shall become like them." This was lost on Yitzi but not on me.
Meanwhile more children joined me in the center of the foyer. I tried to see if I recognized any faces. Yoram and Adam were unscathed, but Baruch was caught. So too was Chaia, Shifra Silverman's unlucky step daughter, and also the girl in thick black tights who had watched the bubble cars two weeks ago. It was a motley bunch, a chance sample, a convenience sample. By now parents and the curious had come out into the foyer. Several collected their innocent offspring. Others stood and oggled their guilty offspring. Other parents held their hands in sympathy. The doors to the night opened. I called out to Liselotte. I told her to take all the children home. It was not safe for them. I told her to bar the doors. We had nothing to hide, but I did not want any one in the house.
At least the children would not see what would happen to me, and I was under no illusions. I might die this night. I knew that much.
"You are very brave," said a French speaking female voice. I looked around, and then realized the voice was in my head. The French was oddly accented. It was Quebecois French with something else added. The B was badly pronounced. "Oh merde," was all I could think.
I watched as more parents took their children home. Other children filtered out without their parents. Finally, the adults kicked the rest of the children out chasing them through the door. They were not to watch what would happen next. Then I heard the doors of the synaoguge lock again. Next to me, a boy prayed in Hebrew. A girl sobbed silently. I stared at the floor. I thought of Moses. I was glad he was safe. Leigh and Shimon Weisman made a grab for me, but Rabbi Goldstein stopped them. They grabbed a skinny teenage boy instead. He had bright red zits on his face and terror in his eyes.
"Gabriel," Rabbi Goldstein began. "Who gave you the cards?"
Gabriel to his credit said nothing.
A stout bucchur who worked for Rabbi Fleishman walked up to the boy. His hands were behind his back because they held a sawed off broomstick through which there appeared to be some sort of spike. The spike was a sixteen or twenty penny nail or maybe a bigger one. Maybe it was a screw with a bolt, blunt, and sharp at the same time. The sawed off broomstick had once been yellow like the color of a school bus, but now it was worn with cracks, crazes, and grooves. "Answer the question," snarled the bucchur.
"The boy's half deaf!" a brave child shouted. I thought of Yoni.
"He'll hear this," the bucchur snarled. He wielded his weapon like a baseball bat and connected with Gabriel's head like a ball. The first blow left gouges in his flesh that took several seconds to bleed and a purple bruise that closed one eye.
"Who gave you the cards?" the bucchur repeated. The boy said something but it was hard to understand. The bucchur beat him several more times in frustration and then gave up.
He and Rabbi Fleishman grabbed Baruch. "Who gave you the cards?" Rabbi Fleishman began. Like Dathan and Abiram in Parshas Korach Baruch said nothing. He stood white faced, staring into space. A pale, slightly overweight boy with a good placement. "Why him?" I wondered. I watched as he squinted his eyes and whipped his head back and forth. The firt whip like motion dislodged his glasses. The second motion freed them completely. "Heh," sighed Rabbi Fleishman. "Let's try it one more time. Who gave you the cards?"
Silence. The bucchur brought his weapon down on Baruch's skull tearing scalp and hair and probably leaving behind a bruise amid the blood. The next swipe tore some of Baruch's ear and made his head swing. I tried to turn away but knew I needed to bear witness to remember details. I imagined myself in court, if I survived. I was going to be next or third or fourth. "Tell them. They're going to kill you!" a girl cried out. Baruch blinked back tears mixed with blood.
"Who gave you the cards?" Rabbi Fleishman asked for the third time. "If you talk they won't beat you!" cried out the girl. Baruch pretended not to hear. I counted the blows. I think there were five or six. By now two more bucchrim with spiked broomsticks had stepped foward. They each beat on Baruch a bit. Then Rabbi Goldstein called a halt. "Let him watch for a while," he suggested. I heard Baruch throw up. I was sick now too in sympathy. I hardly felt Leigh Weisman and Rebbitzen Fleishman grab me and drag me forward. The bucchrim handed them bloodied weapons.
"They played cards in her house," accused the blond, beareded bucchur. This was not exactly true, but they had talked strategy and pretended to be talking about brisket when an adult walked by. "How many pounds of brisket!" I called out to Baruch. Baruch looked up. He looked at me through eyes swollen by his beating and answered in a weirdly loud voice. "Six pounds!"
"Was it beef or bison!" I shouted.
A blow hit me on the side of the head. Much to my surprize it stung rather than hurt. It made me see stars rather than hurt. There were several more blows. No one was bothering to interrogate me. Leigh was just getting in her licks. "Buff-al-o!!!!!!!!" I heard the shout far away. "Les Sirenes!!!!!!!" shouted a French speaking female voic ein my head. A seal is hard to kill. A human is also hard to kill.
And I was not clubbed to death, though it took me a long time to realize it. I lay dazed on a stretcher at Grady with an IV in my arm and a doctor shining lights in my eyes. "Buffalo et la sirene," I said to him. "Culto de Datanho."
"Do you know where you are?" he asked me.
"Some kind of hospital. I don't know which one. I got beat with broomsticks."
"You were lacerated with nails too. Ugly weapons."
"They were fine without the blood on them."
"Fine, what day is it?"
"It's Friday night or early Saturday morning. I need to see a clock."
"And who are you?"
That was a very good question. First, I was a damned fool who had taken one hell of a beating. I was now a face on the back of the card. There were now several cards in the deck. The deck was by no means full, but somehow law enforcement or Interior Security or both had managed to arrive. "I'm Antonia Mandel, but right now I feel like shit." Actually I felt like one big ball of pain. I felt like I did right after I gave birth to Moses with about as much exhiliration. I tried to sit up but felt nauseous. "Is Leigh Weisman in jail?" I asked.
The doctors said they did not know. I thought back to embracing my son earlier today. Then I thought about the other children. Shlomo-Yitzakh and Chevy were on the other side of the world. Quil was deep in the interior. Ahava was in New Jersey. Kayla, Yitzi, and Ellen were question marks. "I need to know about Yitzi, Ellen, and Kayla!" I screamed. Then I cried. Then I retched. Nothing came up. I had done all my vomiting while half conscious.
I had a concussion and was out of work for two weeks, but I did not know that at the time. Athalie Stonecrock came to visit with Kayla and Yitzi along with Ki and they filled in the details. They had escaped unharmed. Security now guarded the house. The neighborhood was under martial law. There were Sherriff's patrol, military reservists, and Interior Security patrolling the streets. Some adults called them Nazis. Some damn fool had spray painted a swastika on our garage door during the night. Baruch was alive. He too had suffered a concussion, but he was conscious. He may have suffered a bit of brain damage beyond the single concussion, but time would tell.
I stared up at the ceiling. Ki said she was sorry. I held her hand. Liselotte asked me what I most wanted to eat in the whole world. I said I wanted a big mug of trimate but it was illegal in Atlanta and would probably get the whole hospital in trouble. Ki stroked my hair. "You'll never guess who came with the rescue crew," Ki told the story.
"What rescue crew?" I asked.
"Interior Security. They appeared when the sky ripped open with big white thunder claps Friday night. There were Portal Priests with them. Apparently they take care of their own. And there were Creators. It was a joint project. Your poor Creators finally got the respect they deserved. Anyway, they had medics and such. They got the injured kids and adults out of there and untied the other kids. Law enforcment arrested a whole bunch of rabbis and their students. And yes, Leigh and Shimon Weisman are in jail pending trial if that makes you feel any better, but you'll never guess who was part of the rescue crew from the Creators. "
"Abishag Philippi," I sputtered.
"Close, it was Toussaint Philippi, Abishag's husband. I got him to visit Yitzi. The kid was thrilled. What went on with him and Abishag?"
"He loves her," I answered. "Children aren't sea turtles. They don't want to be seat turtles. They only swim out into the waves if they have to. My voice caught. " I leaned into the pillow and cried.
Lost Time -- Precious Time
For the first time in my life, I missed the first day of school on Monday. By then I realized I was not all there. A concussion makes the world spin. It's easier to sleep or just stay still. It's OK to think of nothing. Bits and pieces of the beating came back to me from time to time, but they felt like they belonged to some body else. Corliss came by to see me. He was worried. He worried too much. I told him that the deed was done, and he was here after the fact. He called me a bitch. We were both in fine form. There is a reason we are divorced.
In the middle of this, a psychiatrist came to see me. She had blonde hair that was turning white instead of grey. It was a pretty color. She played with her big pony tail that nestled like a friendly animal outside her lab coat and nearly across one breast as she asked me questions. Apparently, I was going to receive neuro-restorative therapy which is standard in the case of a concussion. The brain can not regenerate nerve cells but raw cells (sort of like stem cells) can grow into fresh nerve cells and help preserve and relearn function. It's the wiring up part of the whole process that is tricky. Sometimes too many cells form weird connections. Usually the useless connections die back, but it takes a week or two at least, sometimes longer.
As a result, neuro-retorative therapy can make those who receive it just a little bit crazy in a temporary way, and there are risk factors for who goes the craziest. The psychiatrist asked about my use of street drugs and hallucinogens. I smiled. I asked her why she was asking someone with a faulty memory about these things. She said that distant memory was likely to be pretty good for someone with my level of impairment. I shrugged.
She then asked me about altered states of consciousness, hypnosis, trance, meditation, out of body experience. "Not in a long time," I smiled as I answered.
"When did you experience any of this?" she asked with an utterly straight face.
"Not since I was in college and spending a year studying in Brazil," I told her and she asked me to describe my experiences. And I told her my tale of Culto de Datanho and my visits to the house of Umbanda in the hills, but not the favelas, on the weekends I did not take the bus to Recife. I told hera bout my past life memories, the long train trip to the middle west, the garden nursery, the poker games, the buying trips to St. Paul, the impossible snow, the main with two missing fingers. All the memories of that time flooded back more easily than what I had done in the last two hours. I wondered if the sensory deprivation of being stuck in the hospital had anything to do with it or whether the concussion had knocked something loose or just the trauma of receiving a beating had played with my head.
The psychiatrist smiled and leaned back. "How would you feel about signing yourself in to the psychiatric ward?" she asked.
I think I laughed. "You'd be there for observation as a high risk neuro-restorative patient. Once you finished the therapy and appeared stable, you could return home and even cotninue as an out patient. I'm saying this because they are better equipped with things you might do or say once treatment starts than staff on a regular medical floor." The doctor made sense. I pictured myself surrounded by baffled nurses while speaking Portuguese or Yiddish or Hebrew. It would be embarassing to get my languages mixed up and have every one think I needed to be in a straight jacket. Psychiatric ward nurses might understand a few crossed wires better and cut me more slack. There are advantages when people all ready believe you are crazy. I thought of King David feigning insanity before Abimelech and agreed to the transfer.
Monday afternoon, before I had time to think about it very much, they started the neuro-restorative therapy. I remember signing consent forms. Medical people call neuro-restorative therapy minimally invasive, but they also say turning a baby is minimally invasive. I ended up with a needle in my spine both times though this time it was an upper spine needle and through it the dotors threaded a very thin tube a bit wider than a thick human hair. Through that tube went a liquid with pluripotent proto nerve cells that would enter the brain through the brain through the cerebro spinal fluid. They also came with an attractant that would lead them to damaged areas. I did not understand all of this or how it worked. They let me watch some of it on a screen, and it was a colorful show.
I was on my stomach, head turned to the side. Nurses kept asking me how I felt. Some people get nauseous. I just thought it was a pretty show. I think I imagined it was happening to somebody else. When the therapy was over, the nurse carefully and securely capped the thread-like tube. She explained that I was under no circumstances to take any showers. The tube was taped to the back of my neck. I was not to mess with it. I'd be coming back for more doses of cells and attractant in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours as soon as the doctors knew these had taken. I did not ask what would happen if the cells did not take.
Back on the ward, I had a visitor. It was Tamar Myerson, Baruch and Golda's mother. I did not expect her. I knew I was supposed to feel embarassed. I just felt drained. I asked what she was doing at the hospital. She said her son was receiving neuro-restorative therapy on the adolescent ward and that she wanted to see me. She had just taken Yitzi to his afternoon day care session so he could learn deportment. They just don't teach proper manners at Torah Day Academy. I wanted Yitzi to be a well-mannered boy. Ed-Branch had taken Kayla to afternoon program at D-Mag. Ellen was all ready up at D-Mag for afternoon program. Everything was working like a well-oiled machine in my absence.
"I'm losing my last two children," Tamar Myerson began.
Did she want to blame me? I knew I was supposed to say I was sorry, but I just looked at the ceiling. It was nice, white, rough tiles, nothing special but cleaner than I expected.
"Baruch is going to a house in Montreal when he is well enough to travel. It's a secular, Scholars Union house, international, but with religious accomodation, everything but the food and they say they compromise on food since he doesn't have to eat anythign he detests. OK...I understand, he'll go to college and maybe have a better shot at a job. I'm not that dense, not really. I guess that's a motivation...."
I closed my eyes. The world behind my lids was a lovely, cinamon brown due to the fluorescent lights.
"I can understand it," Tamar continued. "Baruch is old enough to think of the future, but Golda. She's only ten. I know she liked music, but is being able to sing in front of men when you get older that important?"
"Where is Golda?"
"Boston. It's a combination education music house. I asked why. Golda wants a career on the stage. You can't really have that unless you can perform in front of a mixed audience. Her religion did not let her. She hated the religion for that. The Placement Specialist at that center on East Ponce said that maybe now she can 'make peace with her faith' when it is not so strict. OK...maybe...I guess there are girls who get star struck, but we grew out of it. We had to but now...
"All the rules have changed, and what do we do with the new rules...Are you awake."
I opened my eyes. "It's OK if you're too sick to understand. They say the therapy takes a lot out of you."
"The first step with the new rules is to keep from starving," I replied.
"Yeah...I guess that makes sense, but then the children..."
"Mine was sent to the interior on a court order last spring. He passed his exam. He's going to be studying administration in high school and college. It's a big relief. That was the last good thing before everything went crazy on Shabbos."
"And what about the rest of us!"
"First, don't starve. Second, don't let your children starve. Third, there is going to be a future so that means work and school. At the top of the Mazlow Pyramid of Needs are things like meaning and self-actuallization and faith. Maybe they start further down. Maybe it's not really a pyramid at all. Maybe it's like a plate of food with a bit of an entree and a side dish and some desert. People need a full meal and a full psychological and spiritual belly."
"For someone who has had a concussion, you can sure be glib."
"I'm just trying to be honest. I'm too sick and tired to lie."
"I believe you, but what about Mordecai?"
"Who's Mordecai?" Had I missed something.
"Shifra Silverman's husband, Mordecai Lieber."
"What about him?" I could not remember Mordecai Lieber beating me, but he could have been one in a faceless sea of armed men with broom sticks with spikes riven through them, nasty weapons. Nasty weapons. Nasty weapons.
"He lost his daughter."
"Chaia is dead!" I sat up. The room swam. Bright red lights flashed in front of my eyes.
"No she vanished, same as my Golda. She's his only child by his first wife. How does that feel?"
"Is Chaia back in Israel?" I asked. I thought of Cinderella escaping an evil stepmother. I watched the dazzling lights in front of my eyes change from red to blue. I liked the red better, but I did not have a choice in the matter.
"Nobody knows where she is?"
"Have Shifra and Mordecai been down to the Communication Center on East Ponce?" I asked.
Tamar Myerson shrugged. "Tell them to go there," I said. Of course there was a chance Mordecai was divorced instead of widowed and that Chaia was only speaking with her mother or relatives back in Israel. Drag a child 9,000 miles and give her an uncertain future and a way out and...
Ray Bradbury got it all wrong in Zero Hour. The children who left did so with a reason, and they left. They did not fight, except that leaving was in itself an act of defiance, and what would happen when the children realized they had won out against their parents? The thought made the lights in front of my eyes flash like white bands of summer lightening. I waited for the thunder.
That night Charlotte Savina came and talked to me. She spoke an oddly accented French. I did not speak Inupiat and she did not speak English, and she was mostly her old, grownup self instead of the baby who had died, but the two were tied together. You can be more than one thing at the same time I told her in French. I wondered if I were speaking aloud. I knew the doctors and nurses who were monolingual would be baffled. I laughed. Charlotte asked me what was so funny. I said it was funny that most people never acquired more than one language when it was not all that difficult.
Charlotte said she found it funny that people in the land of trees, grass, and rain had an obsession with counting, seconds on a clock, faces on cards, numbers on ship's instruments, even cold and heat were numbers. "Always the numbers," she sighed. "You make those things alive and they are terrible that way."
"Also counting can make you impatient, not a good thing you know. I'm glad Ellen has not picked up the habit, but parts of her remember, and Tricia remembered the old ways, and we tried to revive them. People are glad when they don't have to count everything and all the waiting doesn't hurt so much. You have to wait. Not everything happens right away or when you want, you know..."
"What are you waiting for?" I asked.
"You all ready know. You just don't like the idea because it feels too complicated for you."
"You're waiting for me to come home from the hospital," I said.
"That will happen when it happens. It will happen too soon because you think you will be totally cured."
"Do you see the future?"
"I try to let the future take care of itself. I wait for it. That's different from seeing it and walking to it like down a path."
"If you can see the future, you'll know the right path to take."
"Maybe, but you still haven't answered my question. What am I waiting for?"
"You're waiting to get reborn."
"I'm waiting to become family for Ellen again."
"That means you'll be going back to Alaska."
"Ellen's family is here in Georgia and New Jersey now. She has an older sister. It is good to have an older sister and she needed one. Soon Ellen will go to live with her sister. Soon there can be three sisters instead of two."
"First you catch your hare," I responded.
"What does that mean?"
"Well the birds and the bees operate in Alaska don't they?"
I explained it further."Corliss is remarried for the second time. He's taken. I'm nearly forty years old. There aren't going to be any more children. Moses is going to be an only child and stay that way."
"I wasn't thinking of making you my mother," answered Charlotte matter of factly.
"Well Ahava is not old enough to have a baby, even if she's physically capable. Besides would you want Atilla Saprophyte as your father."
"It's an ambitious name," Charlotte mused, "but you're missing an obvious parent, one would welcome a child, even if she had to lie in bed throughout the pregnancy and even if it is her ninth."
"Are you FUCKING CRAZY?" I asked.
"No, just pragmatique," Charlotte answered.
"Well there's one small problem. Leigh Weisman is in jail. She could do it with a guard I suppose, but do you care...You'd get hybrid vigour that way."
"Don't count the seconds."
"You think they're going to let her out?"
"They call it bail," Charlotte reminded me.
Some time after this conversation which was one sided and out loud, much to my chagrin, a psychiatric nurse asked me for a translation. I said that it was embarassing and I'd prefer to keep it private. He asked why. He feared for my welfare.
I gave him the transltion telling him the story of Baby Charlotte who wanted to get reborn and whose choice of mother who was one of the people who had beaten me over the head, was currently in jail, which of course was a minor inconvenience.
The nurse than asked what Leigh Weisman was planning to do once released. "I don't even know if she will get bail," I asked. I also told the nurse that Leigh would probably spend her time politically active as a poster child of nonJewish and company and Portal Priest repression and anti-semitism, even though she had gone to jail for assault that she had committed against me. That was extreme Jewish religious politics. The nurse asked how I felt about the politics. I said it was laughable and I was glad my house had security. Yes, I missed home.
Then he asked why my foster daughter's dead baby sister wanted to be reborn by Leigh Weisman. It was time for a long lecture on the Inuit world view and how Ellen considered Ahava an older sister as did Charlotte so it made sense for Charlotte to want to join the family.
"Why doesn't this dead child want to be your daughter?" asked the nurse.
"I'm divorced and don't have a husband. Leigh is married. It takes two to make a baby. One has to be practical in these situations." The nurse rolled his eyes, and I now officially had auditory hallucinations.
The nurse asked if Baby Charlotte had asked me to do anything or told me anything about myself. I said that she said I was impatient, but no she didn't give me orders or anything like that. There wasn't much I could do if a walk down the hall left me nauseous. "Bebe Charlotte est plus pragmatique!" I added. Then I translated it back for the poor, monolingual nurse.
"What did Baby Charlotte ask you to do when you got out of the hospital?" asked the nurse who was not through with either of us yet. "Nothing," I asked. Then I told him it was just too early to ask for such favors. I guess he must have really considered me bonkers. I did not get any privileges. I was glad there was a fish tank on the ward. I tried to find out the names of the fish and to see how far I could wak before the world spun. The next day they were going to start physical therapy.
"I want to Fly!"
I had a diagnosis: "psychosis -- due to neurorestorative therapy." I had no privileges. I had a goal. I wanted to fly. I did not really want to fly since that is impossible. In fact, it was doubly impossible because when I went to physical therapy, there was a wastebasket by the treadmill. I could walk slowly. I could even walk up hill. I had a bit of trouble walking backwards. When I started to run, I got nauseous and then I vomited. That was the reason for the waste basket.
Behind the treadmills, in the middle of the gym were the balance beam, vaulting horse, still rings, and other equipment. I got to see Baruch on the still rings. He could skin the cat, hang upside down and even sit through the rings and fly. Well, it was swinging, but I could remember it as flying from taking gym in middle school in this life and even exercising in a gym way back as the self who grew up in New York and moved to Minnesota to help run a garden nursery and feed salesmen cake and wine. Watching Baruch on the still rings made me cry. Not even having Kayla and Yitzi home in Toco Hills without me or Chaia Lieber's plight brought tears, but I wanted to fly.
I even dreamed about flying. This made Baby Charlotte laugh. "You think more deeply than you think you do," she told me.
"Not too pragmatique." This made Baby Charlotte laugh some more. Then she said that being pragmatique wasn't everything. "By the way, Antonia, you may want to read the newspaper. It came while you were in the gym throwing up."
"How is Baby Charlotte?" asked the psychiatric nurse when I came by the nursing station. It was my luck he was on duty. "You're going to love this!" I told him. He blinked. "She told me to take a look at the newspaper."
"We only get the AJC, is that the paper?"
"Probably," I answered.
"Are you well enough to read?"
"I'll do it near the waste basket. I'd hate to be a janitor in this place?"
"What about you. You're doing all the vomiting?"
"It's part of healng from a concussion."
I got the newspaper. I looked through it. On the local news page was an article that stated: "Violent Felons Released from Overcrowded County Jail." I thought of Joseph's assent from Pharaoh's dungeon in the book of Genesis. If I were Baby Charlotte I would have laughed. Instead I felt my head swim and my belly lurch and heard a noise of something thumping on the floor. I looked up. Another patient, an African American lady with chocolate skin wizened with wrinkles and hair like white fuzz shoved a wastebasket next to my chair. Nobody likes a chain puker, even one who wants to fly.
I took a deep breath and kept reading. I read slowly. My stomach flip flopped. I ignored the nausea and kept reading and... Leigh and Shimon Weisman were among those freed. There was simply no room for them, and not enough staff to guard all the prisoners. County and local governments were perpetually, financially starved. This was not news. This was not even funny news. I brought the AJC back to the nursing station and remembered to put the wastebasket back. I had not thrown up. I new what I needed to know.
As for the rest, nothing much happened and that was a good thing. I took Baby Charlotte's advice and stopped counting, and while I did not lose track of time, I let time spread out and carry me. Kayla and Yitzi visited me late in the evening. Tamar Myerson took them. She had been acting as my driver. I had the good sense to thank her. Her son was nearly ready for release and going to Montreal. She was actually glad of that. Seeing me made her feel "grateful." I thanked her for bringing the children. Ytizi wanted to know how soon Sukkot was. I knew I could not tell him to "stop counting." I said it would happen in five weeks. That did not help him much, but it helped a little. Kayla said she liked school. She gave me a get well soon card which I could read easily. It was large print. I found it too painful to read most things, though more often than not, the wastebasket placed beside my treadmill was now empty, and I was doing crafts for fine motor function. A few of those did make me vomit.
I had had three doess of neurorestorative and the doctors wanted to give me a fourth. Since I had psychiatric sequalae and got very nauseous. They needed to space out the treatments. I remember the neurologist apologizing for keeping me in the hospital this long. "Il doit q'on a la patience," I told him and then realized he was monolingual and translated it. He laughed, though I doubt he found what I told him funny. He then said I should keep my good attitude. It was not exactly a positive attitude.
"What do you want to do?"the psychiatrist asked me.
"I want to fly?"
"How are you going to fly?"
"On the still rings in physical therapy?"
"And what about the Weismans?"
"Kayla and Yitzi still live in the House on Christmas Lane."
"I mean the parents."
"I am Kayla and Yitzi's foster mother."
"I mean Leigh and Shimon."
"I read they were out on bail in the AJC. As for the rest, she's got reduced fertility, so they do what comes naturally."
"And what then."
"Who knows. It could be months from now. Nothing could happen. I can't see the future."
"Can Baby Charlotte see the future?"
"Any one can see the future if they wait for it patiently. Time is a river. We are all flowing toward the future."
The psychiatrist realized I had talked her into a dead end. She said I was beginning to show some insight.
I did a lot of throwing up after my fourth neurorestorative treatment. I also realized that I stank and for the first time really wanted to do more than take a sponge bath. I realized my hair was greasey. I asked Kayla how she could stand me. "Ellen told me not to say anything," the child truthfully replied. "She said to pretend you were out in the bush and there was not enough water for baths. You know the Arctic is a desert."
I said I did. Kayla worried I would not be home for the High Holy Days. I said it was very possible. I spent Selichot night in the hospital. I was running backwards in short spurts on the treadmill by then and I could run forwards for ten minutes before vomiting. I had sewn a small leather pouch in Occupational Therapy. One of the nurses had washed my hair with waterless shampoo. She had also given me a clipper to cut my toe nails.
"Selichot is the first high holy day, and then comes Rosh HaShannah, and then Yom Kippur, and then Sukkot," Yitzi counted in front of me when Tamar Myerson brought him. "Sukkot is when Abishag comes back." It was almost a song. "Bye bye bunting. Daddy's gone a hunting to get a little rabbit skin to put a baby bunting in." I remembered holding a girl baby in my arms and singing that song and I remembered singing it to Alfred who is now Moses. The memories came simultaneously as if they both belonged to me and were equally important. You can be omre than one thing at one time.
"It's not good to count," I explained to my foster son. "It makes you impatient. Abishag will return when she can. She will talk to you at Sukkot, but she did not say she would return. Do you understand?"
"She said she was coming back!" Yitzi reminded me.
"She said she could talk again. She's been very busy."
"She's been working."
"It's a secret, a very important secret."
"Like being a spy, a secret agaent," explained the well read Kayla. Oh Kayla, thank you.
"Abishag is an engineer," explained Ellen with whom I shared Baby Charlotte.
"So I said she was LIKE a Secret Agent!" Kayla retorted.
"Yeah, but that's not what she's really doing."
"What's she doing?" I asked Ellen.
"She's figuring out how the portals work in the malls."
"How do you know?" Ellen smiled. "It's just my opinion," she backtracked. "But Bonnie says that Creators and Portal Priests are enemies because the Portal Priests won't accept the Creators as their equals which they are. Actually Creators are superior to Portal Priests, because Creators work and don't rule. Well their's 'portal' in the Portal Priests name isn't there?"
I had no answer. I hoped for Yitzi's sake that Ellen was all wrong.
I also hoped I could run without puking soon...and that, yes, I wanted to fly.Antonia Mandel
Grady Hospital Behavioral Health
Atlanta, GA 30029AB123
The End of a Small World
I eventually did get to fly. It took another two weeks, which meant I spent Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur in the hospital. Some time during the days of awe, the physical therapist said I could try the still rings. I did a skin the cat and a few of the other exercises I remembered from middle school. From there, slipping my legs into the rings and pulling myself up. From there it was just like swinnging and yes the motion made me nauseous and the first time, I threw up on myself. The second, third, and fourth time were better. The physical therapists all said I had a positive attitude. That meant I would have a complete recovery and was well on the way to one now.
I can't say I cared about the recovery. After all, I only wanted to fly. I could read the paper regularly. Ellen shared her Sun Stays out Late with me translated into English, and her print offs of the Barrow Gazette. Was she looking for her parents. I talked on bucket of bolts which Liselotte gave to Tamar Myerson to bring to me so I could have a conversation with Chevy down in Tasmania. There were emails from Ahava in Highland Lakes, New Jersey where she got to lead some of the service for RoshHashahhan and a lot of it for Yom Kippur. There were letters from Shlomo-Yitzakh detailing prayers said for my recovery and a very impressive set of high holy day preparations. He hoped everyone was well. Every one was a wreack, but what could any of us do?
Quill wrote me talking about his sports teams and working as an umpire for the little kids, a job he really liked. Then there was Moses' mail, weeks of it I had been too sick to read. He was enjoying psychology, applied ethics, and his other high school courses. He had developed good study habits and time management. He still ran errands for Bee when he could, but she wanted him to concentrate on schoolwork now. His favorite moments, he told me was when he was alone in the refectory late at night but not too late, but before he planned to study. He had an empanada with him. He did not tell me what was in the empenada. I noticed that. He would eat his private dinner while reading either a novel or his applied ethics and then move on to heavier studying, but the quiet time with good food and a good book pleased him in a way he would not ha ve enjoyed a year or two ago. I was not sure what to make of it. Was Moses learning to fly too?
"Your daughters want to be taken," Tamar Myerson explained to me one afternoon, a day or two after Yom Kippur. This had been the schedule, so it made sense. I asked to let them tell it to my face, and I'd give them my blessing. Tamar could either put them on the MARTA bus for the Dorm House on Ponce or drop them there. This was after all a tame taking, and it should have happened weeks ago. Tamar sighed. "You're not sad about this!"
"Hell no. I am Ed Branch remember?"
Tamar sighed. "What are you going to do when they let you out of the hospital?" she asked. I felt the ground open up in front of me. I had wanted to go back to work, but I'd been in Grady nearly a month and wasn't sure I was strong enough even now to make the commute. I'd have only one child at home so it would be easier, but still, did I even have a job? "I guess I'll have to figure it out," I said.
Three days after Yom Kippur, Tamar Myerson brought Ellen and Kayla and I wished them well. I asked how their packnig was coming. They said Liselotte was helping them. "I'm glad I'm not going back to Alaska," Ellen told me. I did not know what to say. She said she would be glad to be with Ahava. Kayla for her part knew she would still be near Yitzi and Yoni. "He knows a lot more words now, Aunt Antonia,&quoit; Kayla informed me. I smiled. Sure the girls had my blessing to be taken. They were not baby sea turtles. They would be home in a few months and I needed less responsibility if I was going to go back to work.
My main worry was Yitzi and Abishag. She was going to make the phone call on Sukkot. Yitzi was going to learn if she was going back to Montreal and coming out from hiding. And if she wasn't.... I tried explaining all this to my psychiatrist and much to my surprize, I got a forty-eight hour pass to go home provided I did not drive a car. Tamar picked me up and even invited my helpers, Yitzi, and me, all that was left of my once large household to dinner in their succah. Then around ten pm I set up bucket of bolts and the conversation and video began.
"Oh Abishag!" Yitzi cried. "You don't know how much I missed you! I'm so glad you're back!"
"Please don't get too excited, Yitzi," she said. "I need you to listen to me very carefully. Can you do that?"
It took a good ten minutes for my foster son to calm down.
"OK, I'm very lucky and this is very good news. We got a lot done this fall, and that means I am staying out on the prairie in the secret spot all winter. I AM NOT GOING BACK TO MONTREAL. Do you understand me."
There was a long awkward silence. Then Yitzi cried out. "THAT'S NOT FAIR! YOU PROMISED? Is your work more important than me?"
"Yes," Abishag answered.
"WHY? You're not really a SERCRET AGENT!"
"I need secrecy though and yes, this is very important work. It matters to every one in the world. I'm sorry Yitzi, even if you don't believe that. I really am sorry, but you have Miz Antonia and your older sisters. Love them and think of me. I'll be back after Passover."
"That's not until spring!" sputtered Yitzi.
"I know that. This is very important work," Abishag explained.
Then she said her goodbyes and the screen went blank and the study went dark and quiet. I cried. Yitzi cried. We held each other. Then I needed to throw up and barely found the waste basket. "God damn you Abishag!" I thought. "God damn you for leading Yitzi along all summer!" Of course she hadn't led him along, and she had more work than working as a minder to protect Chevy and Kayla and to make sure Chevy had a safe place, a job really to use for a cover to talk to other Creators. She'd been as honest about all of this as her secrecy would allow. She'd done nothing wrong.
Still I was the one left holding a sobbing Yitzi in my arms, feeling his tears wet my shirt. "Imma, you smell disgusting." Yitzi told me. I knew I stank. I'd been over a month without a shower, over a month lost to a blow on the head, and that no good creature, Leigh Weisman was now out on bail. I stroked Yitzi's soft, sweet smelling, blond curls, that were much cleaner than my own hair. "We're all you've got Yitzi," I told him even though I knew it was no consolation at all.Antonia Mandel
Grady Hospital Behavioral Health
Atlanta, GA 30029AB123