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Freefall: Chapter 36

Miriam Zakon

Moe delivers a kosher food package to Rob Morgenstern — who turns out to be the rude woman from the train

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

T he children were coming!

Annie thought about Moe’s recent letter, describing his brief encounter with the orphans: I saw the children for a short while. They are certainly interesting. The little girl, Malka, is a dear, likes to read, is very polite and ladylike — Annie, she reminds me of you. But the boy! Apparently he keeps running away, won’t say a word to anyone, doesn’t listen to adults. Hey, he reminds me of… me! (Ha ha!) Good luck to you, Sis. I think your posting in this war may be harder than mine!

She shrugged away Moe’s warnings as she took a final look at the children’s room. Naturally the boy was upset — his mother dead, his father a soldier at war. But in a new place, making new friends, surrounded by warmth and comfort, the memories of that terrible night would fade.

Your memory of Mamma never faded. Ever.

Of course, she didn’t expect the children to forget their loving mother. No one could take a mother’s place; she knew that better than anyone. But with all the care they would get from the boarders, and Papa, and herself, they’d be fine.

For days, the hotel had been bustling with preparations for the “yesoimim.” The boarders, their energies fueled by their frustration at the many setbacks in the war against the Nazis — the reshaim who’d turned them into penniless refugees and who were reportedly perpetrating horrifying crimes against beloved family members who hadn’t escaped — had done all they could to make the two orphaned children happy. They’d lovingly set up a bright and airy bedroom for them.

Mrs. Sorscher, with memories of her lovely salon that the Nazis had looted and destroyed, knitted two thick blankets, yellow for the little girl, orange for the boy.

Mr. Eisen, whose favorite nephew had lost a leg in a U-boat raid, pulled himself away from war maps and built a sturdy bookcase in one corner.

Miss Bamberger, whose father, a respected doctor, had disappeared on Kristallnacht and never been seen or heard of again, bought cheerful framed pictures, which she could ill afford, of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. (To Annie’s surprise, Yeruchum didn’t say a word about the goyishe images he’d never allowed in his own children’s rooms.)

Harry Cohn had laboriously walked down the boardwalk, returning out of breath but triumphant with two fuzzy brown-and-white stuffed dogs.

Mrs. Horn, of course, had busied herself in the kitchen, cooking up foods she felt the children would enjoy: peppers stuffed with chopped meat, fried chicken and mashed potatoes, salami and eggs, and a gorgeous mold with fruit cocktail shyly peeking out from the raspberry jello.

Aunt Cele, who’d heard about the children’s arrival during one of Annie’s rare visits, sent pretty lace curtains for the room’s large window.

Annie herself had, after a long day at the Yard, climbed up to the hotel’s boidem and found, in its dusty recesses, a box of the books she’d loved as a child. They fit perfectly into Mr. Eisen’s shelves.

And Yeruchum? The owner of the Freed Hotel was even more taciturn than usual, his brow furrowed with — concern? Sadness? The weight of responsibility for two young children?

No one, not even Annie, could say.

The Freed Hotel awaited its children.

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