Recap: Germany has taken over Poland and declared war on England and France. Bayla realizes that she can’t go back home to Poland now, and she is very worried about her family. She remembers to give a painting to her cousin from her mother, but her cousin’s reaction to the gift is strange.
I was stunned. What a strange reaction to the beautiful watercolor painting Mama had sent to Tante Aimee and Sophie.
I was debating if I should ask Tante Aimee about it, when someone knocked at the front door. The butler escorted two girls into the room.
The hallway was perfumed with the scent of fresh lilac, cut from the garden, and displayed in several crystal vases on marble end-tables.
One of the girls who had ambled inside had brown hair cut to above her shoulders and wide, dark eyes. The other girl wore her dark hair down, with a ribbon tied around it. She was gazing around.
The girl with brown hair stared at me.
“Who is calling?” the butler asked.
“Aliza Barens, and this is my cousin Jessica. We’d like to visit Sophie, please.”
The butler turned and headed towards Sophie’s room.
The brown-haired girl, Aliza, spoke to me. “Who are you?”
“I’m Sophie’s cousin,” I said in French.
“Where are you from?”
I told her.
Her eyes widened. “You’re lucky to not be there now.”
The butler’s shoes clicked on the marble floor. “I apologize, Miss Barens, but Sophie is indisposed.”
An expression of disbelief flashed in Aliza’s eyes. “Are you sure she won’t see me? Just for a few minutes?”
The butler shook his head. “I am sorry.”
The two girls headed back towards the door.
“Nice to meet you,” Aliza said. Her cousin mumbled the same and they left.
I sauntered to Sophie’s room. “Can I come in?” I stood in the doorway.
“You can come in, but not that girl.”
“Why? She seemed like she just wanted to visit you. Why wouldn’t you see her?”
There was a long silence. Sophie’s eyes filled with tears.
“You don’t know what I’ve been through.”
“No, I don’t, and I want to know so I can help you.”
I handed her a handkerchief and she blew her nose. “I’ll tell you the whole story. I’ll tell you why I can’t see those girls and why I was upset by your mother’s painting.”
Suddenly, Sophie’s father burst into the room. “Sophie, Bayla, we must pack immediately. We are leaving France.”
“What?” Sophie asked. We both stared at each other in shock.
“Germany attacked France and it looks like it won’t be long. I don’t have time to explain. The Rebbetzin was here and she urged the Jews here to leave. We’re heading to England right away. The servants are packing up. Please put together whatever you need in a small suitcase. We’re leaving within the hour.”
My whole body started to shake. The Germans were coming. I rushed into my room and began throwing things into a small valise. Shimon Zev? I ran into the hallway looking for my uncle. He was on the phone. “Excuse me, my brother?”
He nodded and gestured with his hand to show he’d already called him.
I packed my T’hilim, my siddur, my flute, and my journal, along with a few blouses and skirts and various other items of clothing I would need. The cook was frantically packing up a large cooler of food. Everyone was packing.
In what seemed like only minutes, we were loading the car. Shimon Zev appeared with his suitcase and we all piled into the car. Feter Dan carried Sophie into the car and folded her wheelchair. The butler and Nanette offered tearful goodbyes. They said they would try to keep the house going until we could return.
Tante Aimee was wringing her hands and trying to look brave. I squeezed her hand. Feter Dan was at the wheel. His hands gripped the wheel so tightly they were ghost white.
Tante Aimee whispered to me. “We will drive to a port and then take our yacht across the Channel into England. It’s not that long of a trip.” She put her arm around me.
We could hear the whistle of German aircraft. We drove on back streets. “Please say T’filas HaDerech,” Feter Dan called to us. I recited it with tremendous kavanah, as a loud whistle faded away, followed by an ear-splitting explosion.
The back dirt roads were bumpy, and there were lots of people walking with bundles and suitcases.
We drove and drove. Sophie was silent, and she held her mother’s hand.
Shimon Zev spoke occasionally to my uncle. Mostly he had his nose in his Gemara. I couldn’t imagine how he could learn on this bumpy ride.
I asked Hashem to keep us all safe. My heart was thudding against my chest. As we drew closer to safety, I thought for a second that Sophie was just about to open up to me when we were interrupted. I hoped that once we settled, G-d willing, in England, she would still want to tell me what happened to her.
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.