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Freefall: Chapter 33

Miriam Zakon

Artie keeps running away, and Colonel Cohn had doubts about sending him to America, but Malka begs him to let them join their Jewish relatives

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

M rs. Cohn and the children were scheduled to be picked up at 8:45, right before the Colonel’s own departure. At Mrs. Cohn’s request, Moe was in their hotel room an hour early because, as she’d confided to him, she wanted as many adult eyes as possible to watch the little wandering boy. For the same reason, she’d asked room service to bring up breakfast: “There are far too many hiding places in a hotel dining room,” she said with a grim smile.

Colonel Cohn had given Moe a quick nod when he’d entered, but then he turned back to a desk in the corner where he’d been frowning at a sheaf of papers. Malka sat on a window seat, absorbed in a tattered children’s book. Artie sat on the carpeted floor, almost motionless.

When he was about eight years old, Moe once brought home a stray kitten. He’d sneaked it up to his room and smuggled a bowl and a bottle of milk out of the kitchen when Mrs. Horn’s back was turned. He’d watched the little black creature, its harsh yellow eyes darting back and forth, its body — so thin he could make out the rib cage — taut and unmoving. When Annie opened the door a few minutes later, the kitten had bolted, crashing into her in its wild flight and leaving Annie scratched and screaming.

It hadn’t been the first time Moe had incurred his father’s displeasure, and it would not be the last, and he could hardly remember the lecture he’d been subjected to. But now, looking at Artie, his memory of that kitten — its thin, rigid body poised for flight — came back to him. What was wrong with this child?

There was a polite knock at the door, and a waiter entered, pushing a cart laden with the best English breakfast Claridges could offer (though, to the chef’s chagrin, it lacked the sausages, kidneys, and crispy bacon that Mrs. Cohn, in deference to both Moe and Malka, had told him to omit.) The waiter set the dishes on a small table. The Colonel simply took a cup of tea and returned to his paperwork, but the others sat down to eat.

Malka, Moe noticed, took small and dainty bites, but Artie ate greedily, shoveling eggs, mushrooms, kippers, and toast into his mouth (unlike the poor little kitten, who’d refused the bowl of milk, Moe thought with an inner grin.) For the first time Artie looked like a hungry little boy rather than a lost and surly waif.

“Well, children, it’s almost time to go,” Mrs. Cohn called out in her cheerful, matter-of-fact voice. The Colonel stood up. Artie shoved the last crumbs into his mouth, and Malka placed her book into a small battered suitcase. From the same case she pulled out a metal chain. “What in the world is that, Malka?” Mrs. Cohn asked.

“If you please, Mrs. Cohn, it’s a dog lead. It belonged to our dog, Brownie.”

“Oh, did you have a dog?” Moe asked, glad for the chance to speak to the little girl who’d sat so silently all morning, absorbed in her book and her thoughts. “What kind?” “A Yorkie.” “What a sweet breed. Who’s taking care of her now?” Mrs. Cohn asked, as she closed her suitcase and pulled it off the bed. “She… she’s not alive anymore,” Malka said tonelessly.

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