Recap: Benny adopts a cat and names it Kot. Feter Dan tells them that they must prepare for a blackout. They will practice going into the Anderson Shelter.
“It’s a drill, but we will have to go into a shelter in the garden if a siren goes off.” Feter Dan was looking at Tante Aimee.
“I hired someone to put up the Anderson Shelter tomorrow.”
Feter Dan cleared his throat. “Aimee, they’re asking for able-bodied men between the ages of 17 and 65 to become home guards. The grocers, teachers, bakers, railway workers – men who were too old like me, or too young like Shimon Zev, are being asked to help guard the sea fronts and patrol the fields for German paratroopers shot down.”
Tante Aimee gasped.
Sophie and Mimi were playing Scrabble in another room so they hadn’t heard what Feter Dan said about the home guard army. I worried about Shimon Zev and Feter Dan. It sounded dangerous.
Later, Sophie tugged on my arm. “I hate this. I hate that we had to leave our home in Paris and now this, blackout and sirens and shelters. It’s not fair.”
Mimi glanced at me and then she shared what Papa taught us. “Hashem is always there with us, every step of the way, in darkness and in light. He’s our shadow, so we don’t have to worry.”
Mimi motioned for me to come close, and then she whispered in my ear. “Tomorrow is Benny’s birthday. I saw it on his affidavit. I want to do something special for him. Let’s ask Tante Aimee if we can bake cupcakes.”
It was hard to fall asleep that night. I heard the adults whispering in the living room. I kept wondering if we would have a blackout. Would bombs come near us? Tension was in the air. I tried not to think about German bombers. I tried to think of Mama and Papa and our garden filled with butterflies.
The next morning, before the children came, Mimi and I asked Tante Aimee if we could bake cupcakes for Benny’s birthday. “I think that’s a lovely idea. We don’t have much sugar left. They’re rationing it. But we’ll bake one cupcake for Benny and one for Fraidy.”
Mimi brought Benny into the kitchen. “Do you want to help us bake your cupcakes for your birthday?”
“Yay!” Benny jumped up and down.
“I have food coloring,” Tante Aimee said. “What’s your favorite color?”
“Okay, we’ll make blue frosting.”
Benny helped put in the ingredients and stir, and then he and Fraidy licked the batter. We had to cut down the recipe, so it would be the right proportion for just two cupcakes. Sophie sighed. “I miss having cake and good sugar. When will this horrible war end?”
When the kitchen smelled like sugary cupcakes baking, we shooed Benny out, so we could set up his party.
Mimi had designed a big sign that said, “Happy Birthday, Benny.” “it would have been fun to make the party with all the kids from the playgroup, but we didn’t have enough cupcakes.” Mimi slid the pan of two cupcakes out of the oven. Tante Aimee brought us some birthday candles.
We called Benny in and sang Happy Birthday. “Make a wish,” I said.
Benny closed his eyes. He scrunched his nose. “I wish my mummy and daddy would come here with me.”
Mimi and I exchanged glances. Mimi had told me that she was pretty sure that his parents were shot by the Germans. It was hard to keep from letting my feelings show. “Shouldn’t we tell him the truth?” I whispered to Mimi.
She shook her head. “He’s too little.”
He blew out the candles.
He and Fraidy enjoyed their sugary treat.
Afterwards he hugged Mimi. “Thank you. I love it.”
“Happy birthday, Benny,” she said.
Only a few children came for the play group that afternoon. “People are staying close to home,” Tante Aimee explained. She was busy knitting scarves for the soldiers. Two other ladies came over to join her.
Sophie sat in a chair and demonstrated with her feet as she described ballet steps. Fraidy giggled and glided gracefully across the room. She loved the attention and she loved to dance.
Mimi played some lively songs for the children and we played a game of musical chairs.
The day wore on and nothing out of the usual occurred. “See: Hashem is protecting us. Nothing is going to happen,” I said.
Benny ran into the room holding Kot. “She’s hungry,” he said.
Tante Aimee explained that cats don’t eat as often as people and she had already been fed.
The children were all picked up early, and then Sophie and Mimi read together and I took my pink journal and sat out on the terrace to write. Lately, it was a magical time for me. I’d find myself deep in the story I was writing, thinking about the characters and what was going to happen. “You’re a writer, Bayla,” Mimi said.
I liked the sound of it. I wondered if it was true. Would anyone ever really want to read my stories?
When Feter Dan came home from Minchah, he told us that we had to have a practice going into the shelter in back.
“An alarm will sound. It’s very loud. You have to teach Fraidy and Benny what it means.”
We explained it to them. Benny held Kot tightly as we all filed into the backyard. The shelter was like a small metal tent. It had space inside for all of us. Feter Dan had put in some lights and flashlights, and there was even bedding and some cots and chairs.
“We can bring some books here, too. We don’t know how long we may have to go in here,” he said.
Sophie was frowning. “I don’t like it. I don’t want to go in there. Let the Germans hide in shelters.”
Neither of her parents responded to her complaint.
I didn’t like it either. Mimi told us that in the zoo, they’d had to hide for long periods of time and listen to Germans in the house speaking. “It was really frightening. This isn’t as bad,” she said.
“I hope you’re right,” I said. I didn’t like the idea of bombs flying around.
We all hurried out of the shelter and headed back into the house.
After dinner, Feter Dan left for Maariv. It was when he came back that the first siren blared. At first, I thought it was a fire engine, but as the sound grew louder and insistent, and the high screech pitch rose and fell, I had to hold my ears, and from the look in Tante Aimee’s and Feter Dan’s eyes, I realized that this was a real alarm.
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.