L

eah stares, incredulous, at the scenery on the A14 highway from Vilnius. It’s for real. I’m here. In the middle of once-upon-a-time-but-not-anymore country. On a meshigene mission.

So, this is the place Leibel has visited so many times. Wide expanses of brown and green are dotted by barns and silos, with the odd isolated farmhouse perched on a distant fell. Lithuanian cows, if they exist, must prefer to keep to themselves, because the pastures are mostly barren. Under the uninviting sky, cars whizz by at random, though like the cattle, they’re few and far between. Leah wonders where all the people are hiding in modern-day Lithuania. It is a far cry from the jam-packed highways leading in and out of Yerushalayim.

A blue signpost to “Utena” flashes ahead. “Is there still a long way to go?”

Laibel shakes his head as he presses on the gas. “We’re about halfway there. You tired? Why don’t you sleep a little?”

Leah lays her head back and shuts her eyes. After traveling through the night, sleep would be a blessing. But her mind is buzzing and there’s scant space for sleep amid the clamor.

Her mind drifts automatically, not to her married son, grandchildren, or two teenage daughters, but to another mother. What was her name? Vasara? Communication will be choppy, Leibel had told her. She might be ripe for convincing. Or she might not. And she probably knows nothing about anything. Leah sighs. It’s meant to be a zechus, she tells herself. I should be happy to help. And the inward battle rages on.

 

“Please pass the trowel, Daina.” Vasara holds out a shaky hand. She pats at the ground, leveling the earth around the bulb, and eyes her handiwork. Their handiwork. Though the idea was hers.

All morning she traipsed through the wood behind the cemetery, ignoring the headache and the rising nausea while scouting for pretty flowers and plants. Anything that would help fix the damage she had wrought to Daina’s flower patch. Preferring not to dwell on her past wrongdoings, Vasara focuses on the here and now. On how good this joint activity is making her feel. Maternal. Benevolent.

“Whadya think, Daina?” She tilts her head at her daughter and throws an encouraging smile. I’m here. I’m okay. I won’t bite!

Daina gives a noncommittal nod. Not for the first time, Vasara wonders whether or not her daughter is enjoying her company. It’s hard to tell. Vasara’s hand shakes as she lifts another bulb, and she struggles to steady it. She pushes the bulb into a freshly hollowed crater and reaches for the trowel again.

It’s been hours since her last swig and she’s feeling the effects. Not pretty. But Vasara is determined to shackle her erratic behavior, if only for Daina’s sake. Vasara takes a sidelong glance at her golden-haired daughter. Her lithe young hands are wrist-deep in earth, embracing its potential and all it has to offer. A serious expression sits on her face. Vasara would love to know what’s going through her mind but knows better than to ask. Daina doesn’t talk these days. At least, not to her. A cold regret settles in tight rings around her heart. Things used to be different. So much has changed in such a short amount of time. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 616)