Recap: Bayla and Shimon Zev’s uncle meets them at the train station in Paris and his chauffeur drives them to the family mansion. They are greeted at the door by Aunt Aimee. Bayla is awed and a bit intimidated by the huge mansion and the servants. She hadn’t realized how wealthy her relatives were.
Sophie was seated in a wheelchair. She had long, dark hair that fell in waves and was crowned with two braids. Her eyes were a sea blue and edged with long, thick lashes. Her skin was so pale she reminded me of a beautiful porcelain doll. I smiled at her. “Bonjour,” I said.
“Bonjour. Vous parlez en Francais?” (Do you speak French?)
I noticed she used the formal “vous” for “you,” not the more informal “tu.” “Mais oui. Tu es belle,” I said. (Yes, you are pretty.)
Sophie smiled. “Tu aussi.” (So are you.)
She asked me to come see her room. I was grateful that my mother had taught us French since we were little.
The maid wheeled her down a long hallway. I followed behind. My shoes clicked on the polished marble floor. The maid wheeled Sophie into the room and I followed. “Vous pouvez sortir,” Sophie waved the maid away. I gazed around the huge bedroom with the large four-poster bed, a dressing table with a lace skirt, a walk-in closet, and a fireplace. The room had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with books. There were beautiful dolls lined up on a shelf; each looked like she represented a different country. “What a fantastic doll collection.”
“My father runs a shipping company, so he brings me dolls from around the world.”
“They’re beautiful. May I touch one?”
“Sure. I like the one with the sari the best.” She studied me with her sea blue eyes. “Did you really travel here from Poland?”
“You know Germany may attack Poland soon.”
“We have a strong army,” I said, feeling a knot form in my stomach.
“Germany is not going to stop, my father says.”
“Please don’t say that,” I said.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. Thank you for coming here. I know you came for me.”
“What’s that?” I pointed to a cover thrown over the top of one of her shelves.
Sophie looked away. “It’s my trophies. I don’t want to look at them.”
Sophie looked down at her legs. “I was the top dancer in my class. I was always the head of dance for every production until…”
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”
“So, tell me about you. What is your special thing you love to do besides taking long, long train rides to visit distant relatives?”
“Mimi is the talent in our family. She plays the flute and it’s absolutely breathtaking.”
“I’m sure you also have a talent.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know what it is.”
“Are you close with your sister?”
I thought of Mimi and a lump formed in my throat. I nodded slowly.
“You miss her. I can tell. You’re so lucky to have a sister. I’m sorry she couldn’t come, too.”
“She gets sick a lot. Mama didn’t want her traveling.”
She pushed a loose lock of her dark hair away from her eyes. “So, I’ll tell you my favorite book and then I want to know what your favorite is. I like to read Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. My favorite right now is the Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I just love how Tom is like a real person. I wonder how authors do that.” She pointed to the book that was opened on her desk. “So, what’s your favorite – I mean most favorite book in the world?”
I didn’t have to think. “I love The Secret Garden.”
“I never read it. I read so many books.”
I told her how my best friend Ella and I would read it together and sometimes act out the scenes.
“I wish we could do that.”
“We can. Ella gave me the book.”
“Yes!” I caught a glimpse of Sophie’s smile. She had the most beautiful smile. It lit her eyes and her whole face shone. “I always wished I had a sister.” She smiled at me. “But now you came, and I have a cousin my age. I’m so lucky. I know we’re going to be good friends, Bayla. I hope you’ll stay longer.”
I thought of Mimi and my parents and Fraida. I didn’t want to hurt Sophie’s feelings, but I didn’t want to stay longer. Papa had said two weeks. I had to go back home for school.
Sophie interrupted my thoughts. “Can you bring the book in here now?”
I headed down the hallway, but there were so many rooms I couldn’t remember which mine was. Luckily, just then Tante Aimee approached me. “I’m so happy you’re here,” she said.
I told her I was looking for a book to show Sophie. She directed me to my room.
I spent a pleasant afternoon reading The Secret Garden with Sophie. She had a flair for the dramatic. I loved hearing her read the dialogue, pretending to be Mary and then pretending to be Martha.
We had just finished a particularly exciting scene when the maid, Nanette, appeared at the door. “Your dance tutor is here.”
“Tell her I’m busy. I don’t want the lesson today.”
Nanette twisted her apron nervously. “Madame will not like––”
“I don’t care.”
“What is a dance tutor?” I asked.
“I took dance lessons since I was very young. Mama keeps having the dance teacher come because she is hoping I will stand up and dance; only I can’t.”
“Let’s do it together. I want to see what a dance tutor does.”
Sophie shrugged. “I’ll push the chair if you like.”
Sophie directed me to a large room with bars on the wall and mirrors. The dance tutor was Mademoiselle Marie. She looked very French with her hair pinned up and her lacy dance costume.
Sophie introduced me.
“It’s a pleasure,” she said.
“Merci,” I said.
She glided over to a record player near the wall and put on a record of soft classical music. She began moving her feet and she pointed at my feet and Sophie’s. I tried to imitate the different steps. “First position, Second Position. Plie releve.”
She pointed at Sophie’s feet. “Try.”
Sophie turned away.
“Cherie, if you please.”
Sophie didn’t respond.
The tutor continued the lesson. Her expression was grave. I tried hard to follow her fancy moves. She didn’t seem to notice what I did.
She moved close to Sophie and said, “Cherie, votre cousine est ici. (Your cousin is here.) Show her now that you are trying. Today, you must move your feet and toes. This is what your mother wants and what the doctor says will help you to dance again.”
Sophie moved her left foot slightly. “Finis! We are finished,” Sophie said.
“It’s not finished,” Mademoiselle Marie said.
“I am finished.”
Mademoiselle Marie turned off the record player and slowly left the room. “I will not give up,” she called over her shoulder. “You were my best student.”
Sophie made a fist and punched at the arm of her wheelchair. “I hate it. I hate it.”
I wished I could do something or say something to comfort her.
She wiped away a tear from her cheek. “Let’s go back to my room.”
I sat in my room feeling discouraged. So many questions floated in my head. Why wouldn’t Sophie cooperate and do the exercises? Didn’t she want to get well? What happened in the accident that hurt her so badly? How would I ever be able to help her? If only Mimi were here. Mimi had a way with people. She got Alexi to behave. People just listened to her.
That night, I dined with Tante Aimee and Feter Dan. Sophie didn’t leave her room and Shimon Zev stayed at yeshivah. I wasn’t sure which spoon or fork to use with each course. It was a relief when the meal finally ended.
Tante Aimee gave me a kiss and wished me good night. I wished Sophie were here to play a game with me or to chat. She hadn’t come out of her room since this afternoon.
I read one of the books Sophie had lent me. After a while, I noticed the room was darkening. I took my siddur and spoke to Hashem: Please help me to help Sophie. I don’t know what to do. You sent me here.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes the community column for The Queens Jewish Link and she writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivahs and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.