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Freefall: Chapter 5

Miriam Zakon

“I’m sorry, Yeruchum. I didn’t know you were estranged from your wife’s family.” Darker and darker. Family?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

shiur

 

"Papa.” The word came out from Annie’s mouth, but the voice — suspicious, perhaps even accusing — belonged to someone else.

A “little tzadeikes” did not use such a tone with her father. But just now Annie didn’t feel like the little tzadeikes Papa had always urged her to be, the one she had always hoped to become. She felt perplexed. Bewildered.

 

Betrayed.

“Papa, who was my Aunt Cele?”

Yeruchum Freed, schooled in the ways of disciplined, deliberate speech, rarely answered a question in a hurry. He weighed his words, carefully sifted them for any trace of forbidden speech. But his hesitation now, it seemed to Annie, was different.

Her father didn’t know what to say.

Rachel Levine broke the silence that had fallen onto the parlor like stormy darkness. “I’m sorry, Yeruchum. I didn’t know you were estranged from your wife’s family.”

Darker and darker. Family? Her father had one brother, and a mother still alive, but they lived in far-off Lithuania. For Annie these relatives were nothing more than a faint sound coming from afar: a letter here and there (though, she realized with a start, there had been no letters for some time); occasionally, a carefully posed photograph spilling out of an airmail envelope. She longed for different, robust sounds: the noise of boisterous cousins, the concerned voice of an aunt, the loving words of a grandmother.

Had they existed nearby all these years, without her knowing of them? And why had her father — a figure of absolute truth and integrity — kept them hidden?

The musical chime of the doorbell startled all three.

“Excuse me,” murmured Yeruchum, vanishing swiftly to answer the door. Annie looked at Mrs. Levine, uncertain of what to say.

Yeruchum returned a few moments later, followed by a dignified figure with salt-and-pepper hair, a carefully groomed mustache over heavy lips. He wore a fine gray woolen suit and a felt fedora that suited his round face.

“Mother, how do you feel?” he said, taking in the scene with shrewd eyes.

Rachel propped herself up on her elbow. “Hello, Sammy. I’m being taken care of very well and I feel fine, thank G-d. Let me introduce Yeruchum Freed, whose hospitality I am enjoying.”

Sammy’s face registered surprise. “Yeruchum Freed? Why, hello, it’s been so many years…”

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