by Channie Greenberg
Sara pulled open the door. Orit stood there, bent a little from the loaded pack on her back. Batya held tightly to her hand. Sara scooped up Batya in one arm and extended the other to take her daughter’s burden.
Orit shook her head, preferring to stay encumbered while following her mother into the house. After crossing the threshold, she dropped her bag and ran into the circle that was her mother and her daughter. Somehow, enclosed in that combination of old and young limbs, she made it to the sofa.
She allowed herself to be tucked in with a couch blanket, a downy pillow, and a glass of chamomile tea. From afar, she watched her mother settle Batya in her mother’s office with the very picture books that Orit used to mark with crayons.
Her daughter and granddaughter settled, Sara called the family’s rabbi. She then called Orit’s obstetrician. Sighing deeply, she watched the roundness that would be her next grandbaby rise and fall as Orit slept. A crash from the office refocused her attention.
“Tomato soup, Sprout?” Sara stage whispered, hoping to distract Batya from whatever mess had just been birthed.
Batya ran into her arms. “Savta, you know I haaate tomatoes. Chicken soup, maybe?”
Batya scrunched the cheek on one side of her face toward her ear. She was still learning to wink.
“With noodles?” cooed Sara. She already knew how to wink and briefly, perfectly, closed one of her eyes.
“So be it.”
After lunch, Batya helped Sara prepare the guestroom. They “fluffed” blankets, took two rolls of Batya’s favorite toilet paper — “the pink ones” — from the supply closet, and placed a bottle of the “good” sparkling water on the nightstand. Thereafter, they went into the toy box tucked in a corner of Sara’s office and picked out a purple cow, a striped reindeer, and a plush duck with silky “feathers.” They placed that small menagerie on the guestroom bed.
Batya helped her Savta water the plants in the guestroom window. The two of them also counted, together, the number of cracks in the ceiling plaster that had appeared since Batya’s last visit.
A little later, after placing tens of stickers on the backs of some discarded printer paper, after singing “so many” of her favorite songs from gan, and after eating “just ’nother” oatmeal cookie, Batya settled under the covers in the guestroom. Sara kissed butterflies onto her eyelids and little birdies onto her forehead.
On her way through the living room, Sara felt her daughter’s head. Warm. Orit turned in her sleep. Sara could see the dark, ugly bruise that had been hidden by Orit’s scarf.
Sara walked quietly into her office and shut the door. She dialed another number.
“Again. It happened again.
“Like you said. It’s sooo hard to do nothing.”
“Might never happen. How much can she take? What about Batya?”
The afternoon faded. Sara managed to complete a few pages of text while her dear ones rested. Somehow, writing about that year’s Passover fashions seemed foolish, in perspective.
In the kitchen, she opened and closed the freezer door. A scarf-covered head peered in and watched her. The head smiled.
“Still nothing good enough, Ma?”
“Never ever, ever, Precious. Come here.” She enfolded her daughter and carefully kissed the top of her head. There was no telling where other, hidden injuries might be beneath that fabric or under her clothes.
“Cup of tea?”
“And a sandwich?”
“Deal. PB & J?”
“Doesn’t spoil so fast.”
“Da hates peanut butter and your diet, the one still powering on from thirty years ago, I think.” Orit winked.
Sara inhaled quickly. It had been a long time since she had seen Orit smile. “We make do,” she carefully answered.
“In that case, make it a double, with a side of sliced bananas. Batya napping?”
Sara watched Orit wash, bless and then shovel sandwiches and fruit into her mouth. She broke her gaze long enough to slide a plate of cookies next to her daughter’s glass. Without looking up, Orit ate those, too.
Later, after making certain that Batya was indeed secure in the guestroom, Orit sat opposite her mother on the couch. Opening her pack, she pulled out a construction paper collage. “Batya wanted you and Da to have this.”
Orit placed her hands on her belly. From her position, Sara could see her daughter’s stomach gently undulate. “Any pain?”
“No.” Orit reached for a magazine from the coffee table. “You still get this?”
Sara shrugged. She went back to the kitchen. She opened and closed the freezer some more. Hershel would be home in two hours.
“Savta?” a bright voice interrupted her.
Batya smiled and shook her head.
Batya’s smile extended the width of her face.
“Oh, I know, it’s Yum Yum Gum Drops.”
“Savta, I’m Batya.” She pretended to scold her grandmother, pointing and shaking two fingers at her.
“Right, Batya from the beach. Or is the mountain? The clouds? I think it’s the clouds.”
“Savta, I’m from Holon.”
“Batya from Holon, let’s see who can get to the bathroom first. It’s no fun to drip.”
Afterwards, Batya helped Sara “smash” potatoes. She brought her mother a cup, which was filled halfway with juice, and a small dish of cheese and cucumber slices.
“Ima’s hungry all the time,” Batya confided in Sara before asking if she could put her thumb in the thumbprint cookies they were making.
When her saba, Hershel, got home, Batya ran to him, let him twirl her around, three times, plus one “for good measure,” and then told him she was going to stay attached to his neck forever and ever. He laughed, unclasped her, and bent to give his daughter a kiss.
Orit was tucked in, again, on the sofa. Her newest bruise did not escape his attention. He telegraphed a look at Sara.
“So I said to Reuven,” Orit recited, her mouth half full of chicken, “that maybe we should visit you while our heat isn’t working.”
“And stay for Pesach!” chimed in Batya. “Ima promised.” Her face fell. “Abba is going to miss out on matzah balls! He’s going to miss my matzah ball dance. See!”
Batya jumped down from her chair and spun. She held her arms out in front of her in a semblance of a circle and spun again. “Im, if I’m here, I can’t do my dance for him.”
“We could invite Mrs. Wiskonsky, Mrs. Miller, and Mrs. Brown to watch,” Sara suggested. “We could make our living room into a performance space, um, I mean a place for a show.”
“Hon, the Pesach cleaning?”
Sara shot Hershel a look. “Okay, Shortbread, we’ll hang a sheet as a backdrop and—”
“Saba, I’m Batya.”
“Whatever you say, Twinkle.”
More hugs, after blessings, some sudsy dishwashing, and a bit of sweeping beneath the table followed.
There were no pyjamas in Orit’s pack, so Sara gave Batya one of her soft knit shirts to wear as a sleeper. “Tomorrow, I’ll shop,” was all her grandmother said.
In the morning, after davening Shacharit, Sara again opened and closed her freezer door.
“No eggs in there,” Orit offered.
“Sleep okay, Sweetness?”
“Fine, Ma. Batya takes up so little room and the bed is so spacious. Comfy, too.”
“Baby kick much?”
“Yup, and even showered. I like that lavender soap. Doesn’t make me feel queasy like some others. I see you let Batya pick out the toilet paper.”
“And toast, please. Maybe a little oatmeal, too?” Orit smiled shyly.
“Sprinkled with cinnamon?”
“Sprinkled with cinnamon.”
A short child in a long shirt, which dragged almost to her ankles, appeared.
“Race ya to the bathroom,” Sara offered.
Copyright © 2019 by Channie Greenberg