by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
Aram stared out the window of the small cottage. Even at nearly midnight the village seemed like daytime with a brilliant moon illuminating the night sky. As welcome as the nighttime breeze might have felt to any of his neighbors, it did nothing to warm the boy. He drew his legs close and wrapped his arms around in a self hug as the aches inside felt almost too unbearable.
A dog down the lane barked loudly, evoking a sad sigh. The last of all his losses seemed to be the cruelest since his father had made sure the boy would have at least one friend at the event of what proved to be an inevitable passing. With no one left after his sister died, the puppy had been at least a small promise of hope. But promises are not only meant to be broken, but some of them never had any hope to begin with. The little dog was playful and frisky and rash; and Aram bade farewell to yet another promise as the puppy ran into the path of a Cossack who paid no heed to where his horse had run. The boy shook his head in sadness and perhaps more than just a bit of anger.
Aram Sokol greeted the dawn after a nearly sleepless night. A day of reflection would be welcome as any gift his father might have bestowed. No studies for the day and no friends meant he would be all alone in his own home; undisturbed because no one would care enough to seek his advice or offer a smile with a nod of wanting to be anywhere near him. But alone meant finally undisturbed as Aram walked slowly to the closet in what had been his sister’s room; a rough burlap curtain that had given the girl privacy in life and then in her passing.
He pushed the curtain back, revealing the sum total of Ester’s life. A spinning wheel stood in the corner; dusty after nearly two years disuse. Sewing lay incomplete on her bed; sad testimony to the pain the boy bore daily. He picked up the dress and bit his lip. A dull green it might have been to some, but to Aram it was vibrant and alive. For a moment he was transported to the recent if painful past; remembering the last words Ester spoke to him alone…..
“Promise me? I… I know Mama would say this if she were still here.”
“But what about Papa?”
“He loved you, lybi… I think he almost knew.” Ester pronounced as if things were always meant to be how we feel instead of what life had brought them both; lives either ended too soon or promising to last all too long. Aram shook his head as the tears flowed freely. They had very little time together; even less by themselves as the cottage would be filled with well-wishers who would soon become mourners. Ester reached up weakly and grabbed her brother’s hand and squeezed as her gaze fell upon the dress that lay draped across her legs; olive but not drab to either sibling. A gift from one and a treasure to another.
“Hold it up so I can see?” She smiled through her own tears; as valiant a gesture as Aram would ever behold. He winced at both her touch and the endearment, but she would have none of that.
“Only once, mein shvester?” She smiled weakly and the boy nodded; a reluctance that was too shameful to keep and a need too urgent to set aside. He held the dress up against his body.
“There you are, my sweet Yehudit,” Ester beamed proudly; both at the fine detail of the stitches and finer detail of the creation that stood next to her. She sighed and smiled and gripped Aram’s hand tighter until her grasp grew weak. He looked down and saw that her eyes were filled with life and sightless in one moment. Shaking his head, he spoke her name as Ester breathed her last. He didn’t hear the knock at the door as he fell onto the bed and cried….
The young woman stood nervously as the ferry landed against the wide river bank. She had just set foot on the dirty road leading up the shore when a light touch to her shoulder provoked a start. She turned and found a kind looking woman smiling at her.
“Traveling alone can be very…. Imprudent, lyb pyrrand, yes? Maybe you and I should travel together?” The woman said as she nodded. The young woman went to speak but the older woman held her hand up in caution.
“You can’t be too sure who to trust, Lybi?” She stepped close and pulled the girl’s scarf up and a bit tighter around her neck. The girl wore no sheitel. and a wool hat had been pulled down over her decidedly short hair. Kissing the girl’s cheek softly, the old woman cooed like the protective grandmother she must have been to someone else.
“I can’t call you Anschul or Dovid, myydl. What is your name?” She pulled back and winked and smiled once again. The girl lowered her head.
"Your name... My name is Eitel Kotler, but you can call me Bubbe Eitel. We all have names."
“Miryam? Ruti?....No….Let me guess? Yehudit?” The girl wanted to run away
“Well, Yehudit, we shall travel together as far as our paths agree. Will that be all right?”
Yehudit looked at the woman as she eyed her up and down and for the first time in her life she knew that everything would be all right. And she spoke with a brand new confidence borne of the love of Tevye and Devorah and Ester Sokol; only one word, but a password of sorts that would bear her entry to a whole new world.
To be continued...
Papa Can You Hear Me?
from the motion pictureYentl
The song was composed by Michel Legrand,
with lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman.
As performed by Itzhak Perlman
Artwork adapted from
by Steven Levin
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