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Freefall: Chapter 38

Miriam Zakon

Moe and Rob Morgenstern finally start to talk. The children get hysterical, and Annie and Yeruchum find ways to calm them down

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

T he ringing — shrill, urgent, inescapable — pulled Annie into reluctant wakefulness.

It’s not even six o’clock! Who is calling so early? Abe? Was Abe all right?

She grabbed at the telephone, her voice trembling slightly with anxiety and fatigue. “Hello?”

The voice on the other end of the line was thin and tinny, yet she recognized that refined Viennese accent immediately.

What does Mrs. Sorscher want at this unearthly hour?

“Chanaleh, darling, is that you?”

A stab of impatience. “Yes. What’s the matter?”

“The boy. Little Aharon. Chanaleh, he’s gone!”

“Gone?”

“Your father woke up early, you know, the way he always does. And he peeked in on the children, and Aharon’s bed was empty! And he’s really upset, he’s got some of us looking for him on the beach.”

“The beach?”

“Yes, he’s afraid… the water…” Her voice faded into the silence of unexpressed nightmares.

Annie was fully awake, and already grabbing her clothing. “I’m coming right away.”

As expected, she found the hotel in an uproar. Several of the men had run out to the beach to look for a little boy’s small footprints. The women, wearing robes over nightgowns, were giving advice to each other that no one listened to; Malka was standing among them, pale and silent.

The only unexpected note was Papa: Her father, always calm and thoughtful in a crisis, seemed to have lost his iron self-control. His face was white and his words were coming out in short, sharp bursts that contrasted wildly with his usual quiet, even tones.

“Oy, Chanaleh,” Mrs. Horn cried, “should we call the police?”

In this bubbling cauldron of fear and hysteria, Annie struck a soothing note. “Papa, why do you think the boy has gone outside? Was the door open?”

“No, it was locked, as always. But I found the kitchen window open. Aharon could have climbed out that way.”

She turned to Malka, who’d been more or less overlooked by the others. “Sweetie, do you think Artie would have climbed out a window?”

The girl thought for a long moment. “He’s never done that before.”

“But we’ve gone through all the rooms, and he’s not in any of them,” Mrs. Horn wailed.

Annie tried to ignore the cacophony around her; now was the time not to search, but to think: to think the way Artie would.

“He hasn’t done this since he arrived,” she said to her father. “Did something happen?”

“I wonder… Malka started school yesterday.”

That’s right, her father had told her all about it. Though he would have preferred to keep both children home for the coming year, teaching them the fundamentals of Yiddishkeit himself and giving them time to adapt to their new lives, the authorities had insisted that six-year-old Malka, at least, attend the local public school. They’d relented and allowed her to start kindergarten rather than first grade, but that was the most they would do. Artie, at age four, could still stay home.

You are a little boy. Your mother disappears from your life. Then your father. And now your sister leaves you. You were beginning to feel a little better, but now you are afraid again. And when you are afraid, you hide.

Where could a four-year-old hide?

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