by Channie Greenberg
Part 1 appears in this issue.
Later, after pointing out the vegetable soup in the refrigerator and the whole grain bread in the freezer, Sara packed up Batya, Helen Ingleson’s spare car seat, and the striped reindeer.
Hours later, Batya burst through the door carrying a twin to the reindeer. “Now they can be Ima and Abba,” she announced. “When’s my Abba getting here? I miss him.”
“Sleepwear, some causal skirts and sweaters, socks, undies and, for you, some warm, long-sleeved T-shirts,” recited Sara in answer to her daughter’s scrunched face. “Oh, Orit, this Shabbat robe, maternity size, also fell in.”
“Ima, I want Ab!! Where’s my Abba?” Batya started to cry. She cried some more and then ran into the guestroom from where she could be heard sobbing loudly on the bed.
Sara looked at her daughter.
Orit tilted her head, gently rubbed her large stomach, and looked directly at Sara. “It’s complicated” was all she said before returning to her magazine.
Sara left the bags of goods by the sofa. She walked into the kitchen, opened and shut the freezer, made a cup of tea in the microwave, and then took that cup of tea onto the sun porch, which was off of the kitchen. Thereafter, she shut the door between the two spaces and allowed herself, too, to cry.
She shrugged off the cold while watching a small, brightly colored bird alight on a windowsill plant. It twittered and chirped about avian matters.
After centering herself and placing her cup in the sink, Sara walked to the guestroom. There, she lifted Batya’s legs onto the bed. Her small grandchild had fallen asleep half on and half off the mattress.
As well, Sara tucked a blanket around Ori, who had also fallen asleep. Orit’s bruise had become an ugly welt. Its swollen, red texture contrasted greatly with her fair skin.
Sara took her Tehillim from the shelf and sat to recite a few pages. She had been saying those same prayers for five years.
Hershel brought home pizza. He had guessed that Sara would forget to cook dinner.
At bedtime, Sara regarded her face in the mirror. It was the same composite of nose, ears, and mouth with which she had wed Hershel thirty years earlier. Yet, its present form was enhanced by the lines at the corners of her eyes, between her brows, and stretching across her temple. The hair that she kept tucked beneath her sheitel was now streaked with silver. She guessed that she had inherited her father’s genes; when her own mother had passed, she had died with a head full of dark curls.
Climbing under the covers, she nudged Hershel. From the soft streetlight, she had seen that his eyes were still wide open. “It wasn’t a genetic mistake that had caused the miscarriage,” she whispered.
“I know,” he whispered back as he closed his arms around her.
“At least she’s made it to the third trimester, this time.”
“Thank G-d,” he whispered, again.
While Sara packed up part of her kitchen, Mrs. Wiskonsky and Mrs. Miller clapped and clapped at Batya, who spun so much that she fell down twice. Mrs. Brown hadn’t been able to make the show, but she had sent an apple cake, anyway. “A special performance deserves special refreshments,” she had written in her note.
Initially, Sara hadn’t recognized young Noam Brown, the bearer of that scrumptious gift. Rather than a button-down shirt and dark pants, he was dressed in his madei aleph, his IDF dress uniform. At her door, he stood tall in khaki pants and shirt. A purple beret was tucked neatly into a strap on his left shoulder. Additionally, he wore the green aiguillettes of a sub-unit commander.
She had exchanged pleasantries with him, had blessed him and all of the other soldiers with safety, and had made a mental note to add an extra chapter of Tehillim on his behalf to her daily prayers. Then she served his mother’s cake and some diet soda to her guests, washed her hands, and resumed packing up her pots and pans. Sara taped another box and reached for her pile of Shabbot table cloths. They would be good cushions for her stemware. She’d leave one out and rewash it for use for the next three Shabbatot.
Both Mrs. Wiskonsky and Mrs. Miller kissed Batya before leaving. They promised to send copies of their pictures of her show to Sara so that her savta could see just what a wonderful ballerina princess Batya was.. They cooed and fawned a little more before leaving. Batya napped deeply that afternoon.
Sara wiped each shelf in her office with a moist cloth. She’d have to ask Batya to “read” elsewhere, going forward, since it was getting more difficult for her to move around her books. Little ones brought little crumbs. “Little kids step on your feet. Big ones step on your heart,” her late mother had said.
As she carried a carton from the kitchen to the storage room, Sara nearly tripped on Orit’s legs. Her daughter, who had fallen asleep in an odd position, had made camp at the sofa. A pile of well-thumbed magazines, many empty water bottles, and a couple of cracker cartons constituted her makeshift shelter.
Shaking her head as she reentered the living room, Sara resolved to work on her and Hershel’s bedroom next. There would be time enough, next week, to clean up around Orit.
A few days later, while Sara was dusting the bathroom light fixture and Batya was “counting” folded bathroom towels, they heard Orit slam the phone. Sara nearly fell from her ladder. Batya began to cry. The sound of the chairs in the guestroom being upended did nothing to calm either of them.
A day later, while Orit sat in the midst of her sofa fortress crying, Batya “helped” Sara clean the guestroom. Batya pushed Sara’s broom as far under the bed as she could reach, collected the dust bunnies caught in its fibers, and then pushed the broom under again. Sara could not tell her that when Hershel took Batya to the playground, Sara would redo Batya’s efforts by sliding the bed over, sweeping fully, and then pushing the bed back into place.
“Ma!!!!” Orit screamed from the living room.
Sara piggybacked Batya into the space where a thin trickle of fluid ran down one of Orit’s legs. A wet spot spread beneath her. Sara dialed Hatzalah and then called Hershel. He got home just before the ambulance took Orit and Sara away. Mrs. Ingelson, whom Sara had also called to watch Batya, insisted on leaving a big slice of potato kugel behind.
A week later, Reuven glowered at Sara from across the simcha hall’s mechitzah. The baby had been named Shmuel. Batya had become a big sister.
After Hershel paid the caterers, Batya screamed for Reuven. His answer was the ugly glare he gave Sara before leaving the building. Batya and Orit cried for days.
Hershel slept on the couch. It was his idea for Batya to tuck in with her savta during the first few weeks when Orit and Baby Shmuel were preoccupied in the guestroom.
Just before Pesach, Hershel took the day off, and, as a special treat, brought Batya to the zoo.
“Little Monkey, want to see another one?”
“Not a monkey, Saba!”
“Oops, I mean Baby Porcupine.”
“Not a pokey pine.”
“A Giraffe?” Hershel stretched his chin toward the ceiling light.
“No. No. No. You’re silly.” Batya ran toward Hershel’s arms. “Can I bring three taffies? I’ve been a good girl.”
Batya allowed Hershel to bundle her into a confining winter coat, a hand-me-down from Mrs. Miller’s children, and to add a hat and mittens. She even allowed him to wrap a scarf around her neck as long as he promised that she could visit the petting zoo, which was full of sheep and goats year-round.
Sara checked in on Orit every once in a while, refilling her supply of sandwiches and water bottles and emptying her trash of tissues and diapers. She didn’t like the color she saw on her daughter’s discarded sanitary pads, but instead of confronting her child, she dialed Orit’s doctor.
At dinner, Hershel, Sara, and Batya laughed over the photos Hershel had taken with his digital camera. In one, Batya went wide-eyed when a sheep licked her cookie. In another, Batya was smiling while riding the zoo train. A race to the bathroom and a goodnight story later, Batya was fast asleep in Orit’s former pillow fortress.
Hershel and Sara stayed at the dining room table talking in soft voices. Reuven’s lawyer had been at the seudat brit milah and had told Hershel that Reuven was weighing charging Sara and Hershel with kidnapping. That man had no idea that Orit’s ma and da had taken photos of Orit’s sleeping face for more than five years and that their collection of bruise and laceration pictures was extensive.
“Did you sweep out the mamad?” was all that Hershel asked.
“I’ll take care of it.”
Sara nodded. There were mere days left before Pesach.
The next morning, when she packed up the last of her kitchen, the phone rang. It was Reuven’s sister on the phone. She wanted to visit her new nephew.
“After the holiday,” was all that Sara said.
Batya revealed herself to be expert in reducing matzah to matzah meal. “Again, Savta, again,” she squealed after filling bag after bag with crushed stuff. She took a special delight in pounding flatbreads into nothing.
Making charoset was less interesting to her. She was too small to cut apples and mashing nuts was harder than was smashing up matzah. She did take momentary delight, however, in “measuring” out the cinnamon.
At the Seder, Batya was young royalty. Decked in a poofy dress that she and Sara had bought together, holiday shoes, and a beautiful hair ribbon, she was every bit a regal young lady. Her cousins, too, were splendid in their vest and ties. Dovid and Suri’s children were, respectively, a year older, and a year younger than Batya. They pulled her under the table with them and attempted to get her to help them tickle the grownups’ ankles.
“Anyone want to act out the plagues?” queried Hershel. Three small heads suddenly appeared.
Esther and her new husband, Yonadov, smiled at their niece and nephews. Seth covered a laugh with a napkin. Elezar looked meaningfully at Simona. There might yet be a Pesach erusin. He had brought Simona to his parents for the holiday. She was sleeping at Rabbi and Mrs. Wiskonsky’s.
Little Yonni threw handfuls of cotton balls at his elders and pronounced the white bits to be hail. Little Yitzi held up an ugly plastic frog and spoke of the plague of amphibians. Batya ran to strike the light switch, to herald the plague of darkness, but Orit, who had just laid a sleeping Shmuel in his guestroom bassinet, stopped her. It was not permitted to turn electricity on or off during holidays.
Batya kicked her mom. “I hate you! I hate Abba!” She ran into the guestroom. Shmuel began to wail.
Hershel pulled a clean handkerchief from his pocket. He handed it to Yonni, who tied it clumsily over Dovid’s eyes and who decreed “darkness.” Sara and Orit went into the guestroom. The family sang songs while waiting for them to emerge. They delayed partaking in the maror, korech, and matzah.
Sara, Orit, and Batya eventually returned. No sounds came from the guestroom.
Later, Batya fell asleep after finishing her bowl of chicken soup. Orit, who had been patting her, too, looked very drowsy. She allowed her father to lift her daughter to the couch, where she, likewise, had lain down. With a single, silent hand gesture, Sara indicated to her other children to leave that sister and niece be.
Toward the end of the Seder, when the family sang “Hallel,” Sara looked across the dining room into the living room at her sleeping family members. She got up from the table and tucked in her daughter and her daughter’s child.
There are many kinds of freedom. For her loved ones, she wanted them all.
Copyright © 2019 by Channie Greenberg