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Freefall: Chapter 32

Miriam Zakon

“Ah, Bella’s cousin,” Izzy murmured, returning Moe’s determined handshake with a brief, flaccid one. “I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done”

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

T he room was small and, to Moe’s eye, wildly overfurnished. The maroon sofa, the upholstered brown love seat, the plaid and print throw pillows, the mahogany sideboard; everything had a dusty and neglected, and yet at the same time, oddly comfortable air.

The dim sunshine that forced its way through the cracks in the firmly shuttered windows was no match for the dull haze that sat upon the room like a scratchy army blanket. In one corner, enveloped in a cloud of cigarette smoke, Moe saw a man standing, flanked on each side by a child.

They weren’t much to look at, these new-found cousins of his. Private Izzy Klein, dressed in the uniform of His Majesty’s army, puffed nervously at his cigarette, his fingers trembling slightly. The girl had a sallow complexion, her face almost completely concealed by a mop of dark brown hair. Her pale lips seemed to be stretching themselves against their will into the semblance of a joyless smile. The boy, small and slight, looked at Moe with eyes that reminded him of the shutters on the window; closed, shut off to all light.

“Well, now, here are the kind people that are coming to take care of you,” the red-headed woman said in a determinedly cheerful voice.

Moe walked over to Izzy and introduced himself.

“Ah, Bella’s cousin,” Izzy murmured, returning Moe’s determined handshake with a brief, flaccid one. “I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done.”

Ignoring the stab of guilt — he’d done nothing, except for forgetting the whole problem; it was Harry and his father who’d taken care of this — Moe forced a smile. “My father and sister will take good care of the children, don’t you worry.”

“Yes, we’re all going to be great friends, aren’t we?” Mrs. Cohn interjected brightly, her voice breaking through the solemn and dusty atmosphere like a lighthouse on a foggy day. “Now, won’t you introduce us?”

Izzy spoke; the fog rolled in again, dreary and thick. “This is Malka,” he said, gently pushing the little girl forward. The lips again tried their best to smile, and she murmured a shy hello. “And this here is Artie,” he continued, looking toward his left.

There was no one there.

“I’ll get him, Daddy,” Malka said, running out of the room.

Mrs. Cohn and Moe exchanged puzzled glances, the red-headed woman rolled her eyes, and Izzy Klein seemed to draw further into his smoky cocoon of misery.

Malka returned moments later, her hand on the scruff of her brother’s neck like a girl carrying a restless kitten. “Say hello,” Malka said, in the commanding tones of an older sister.

The boy stared, his mouth clamped firmly shut, his eyes two sullen orbs of brown.

“Artie, he doesn’t say very much, but he… that is, we… thank you for taking care of us,” Malka said quietly, still keeping her hand on her brother’s neck.

Izzy shook himself, like a man trying to come out of a deep and nightmarish sleep. “Yes, we thank you for everything,” he said, his voice coming out stronger. “My Artie… he used to… a right chatterbox. I used to have to shush him all the time.” He smiled at the memory, the first sincere smile that Moe had seen since walking into this house. “But since… since his mother is gone, he doesn’t say much.”

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