S he is sprawled on the couch, her lashes at half-mast, a nap a luxurious possibility. But she’s not quite there. She’s in that space between her eyelids, between her dreams, in a den of brown and gold and warmth.

The couch is home, but not her home. This is Israel, her mother’s home. An ocean away from work and the rigors of daily life. She leans back and tucks this last Shabbos over her shoulders like a quilt.

“Ma, I want a doll. You promised we could get one, before we go back,” Riki speaks into her dreams.

Something niggles, agitates.

“Riki, don’t disturb your mommy now, okay?” She hears her mother, Riki’s grandmother, say.

But it’s not okay. Because her daughter wants a doll now and something primeval clenches, burns in her chest. Her eyes fly open, her nap dissolves, the imaginary coverlet slipping off, and with it the calm Friday night, the sky studded with Stars of David.

She is a lifetime away, under a cloudy sky.



Tomorrow is my birthday.

She knows because her birthday is the day after Chanukah, and last night Mommy lit all of the flames in their copper menorah. It is a very small menorah, the kind that some children have, like her cousin Shmuli and her friend Devorah. She doesn’t know why they don’t have a shiny silver one like most other families.

But she doesn’t ask because she knows it will make Mommy sad, just like she doesn’t ask why they don’t have a daddy in their house.

She is going to be eight tomorrow.

The moon smiles into her bedroom. By its light she reaches for the Toys “R” Us catalog under her pillow and locates the magical section entitled Dolls. The page she wants is worn, ragged from so many nights of drooling over the elegant sisters, princesses with dresses of lace and tulle and tiny pairs of earrings, and marvelous heads of hair, one chestnut, one golden. So many nights of hushed breaths of wonder, and her wistful forefinger tracing the merest outlines of the dolls, as if her body’s warmth will make them come to life.

She has never gotten a present. Not one. Not even a new dress. Because there are only girls in her family. Four of them. She is the youngest and Basya is only one year older than her, so she always gets Basya’s clothes, and even Basya gets them from Reila, so they are rather worn by the time she wears them.

But tomorrow is her birthday and maybe, maybe, this time she will get a present?

She peers out into the night sky. She knows the moon is a small sideways smile in the dark, but tonight it is almost completely upturned, it’s almost a frown.

It worries her, this frown, and the sky is so dark and, Hey is it tomorrow already?

She will ask Reila. Not Mommy, because she never disturbs Mommy at night. Even if she is the youngest of the family. The baby, they call her, but she never behaves like a baby because when you are almost eight and your mother has been sad for as long as you can remember, you will do anything to make her smile.

She tiptoes out of the room she shares with Basya and into the dark hallway. It must be late, maybe it is her birthday already? Her heart quickens. The old linen closet looms, shuttered and shadowy. She shrinks against the wall. The door is jammed and it hasn’t been opened in years. In the part of her mind that still believes in fairy tales, she can see a man sitting in its depths. Sleeping, sleeping, only his hair growing month after month. Her father.

Something rustles. It can’t be, it’s not true, he is in America. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 559)