Abbys book, p.3
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       Abby's Book, p.3

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  “Hey, hey,” Dad said, “spaghetti and meatballs tonight. You girls can make the meatballs. Nice big ones.”

  I didn’t roll my eyes and say, “I love meatballs,” like I usually did.

  As soon as Mrs. Trono left, Dad whispered to us, “How did the switch at school work out? Did you two trick Mrs. Rothchild too?”

  I couldn’t believe my ears. Dad hadn’t mixed me up with Anna after all!

  “Were you joking when you called us by each other’s names?” Anna asked.

  “Of course I was joking,” Dad said. “I figured if you were switching you had a reason and you’d tell me all about it tonight.”

  Tears welled up in my eyes. “I was scared,” I told him. “I didn’t think you knew me.”

  “Me too,” said Anna. She began to cry.

  Tears suddenly appeared in Dad’s eyes too. He wrapped both of us in a big bear hug. “You two,” he said. “I could tell you apart from the moment I first held you.” He kissed Anna on her forehead. “You’re my Anna,” he said. Then he kissed me. A soft, sweet kiss. “And you are my Abby.” He laughed. “And I would bet my life that the switch was Abby’s idea.”

  “It was,” I said. And I hugged him with all my might.

  While we helped make dinner, Anna and I told Dad the whole story. Dad asked us how it felt to be in Mrs. Rothchild’s class.

  “Everybody acts like we’re the same person,” I said.

  “Even though you wear different colors?” asked Dad.

  Anna and I nodded.

  “I don’t want to wear red anymore,” I said. “It’s stupid.”

  “It’s no fun,” agreed Anna.

  “I want to wear any colors that I want to school,” I said. “Even blue!”

  My dad stopped stirring the sauce and watched us making meatballs for a couple of seconds. “Well, there is one thing you could do that would make you look really different from one another.”

  “What?” we asked in unison.

  “It has something to do with your gorgeous long hair,” he said.

  I clutched my curls. “Cut our hair?!” I exclaimed.

  “Just one of you,” he said. “If one of you had short hair and one had long, it would be very easy for people to tell you apart, no matter what you wore.”

  “I won’t cut my hair!” I said.

  “Me neither,” said Anna.

  “Maybe you don’t want to be different after all,” Dad commented.

  “We do,” Anna and I told him.

  “Think about it, then,” he said.

  By the time our mother came home, Anna and I had done a lot of thinking. We knew it was a good idea. But neither of us wanted to be the one with short hair.

  During dinner, we told Mom about the switch. Like Dad, Mom asked us lots of questions about how we felt when people treated us like the same person.

  “Your father has a good idea,” Mom said. “If one of you cuts your hair, it would help. But the one who has the short haircut shouldn’t do it unless she really wants shorter hair.”

  After dinner, Anna and I went to our room. “I still don’t want to cut my hair,” I said.

  Anna didn’t say anything. She went to the mirror and held her hair up so that it looked short. I stood next to her. We would look different if one of us had short hair. “You look pretty,” I said. And I meant it.

  Anna smiled at her reflection. “I like it,” she said.

  We ran downstairs to tell our parents the news.

  The next day was a holiday from school, and Dad didn’t have to go to work, either. After Mom left for her job in New York City, the three of us ate breakfast at the mall and then went to Hair Today. A beautician named Missy said she could take us right away.

  Anna sat in the big chair. I could feel how nervous she was.

  “It’s going to look so cool,” I said encouragingly.

  “You two have beautiful hair,” Missy said, “but life will be a lot easier with short hair.”

  “I know,” said Anna with a smile.

  I felt a twinge when Missy took the first cut of Anna’s hair. A long curl fell to the floor. As Missy snipped her way around Anna’s head, I held onto the bottom of my own hair, just to be sure that my curls weren’t falling to the floor with Anna’s. Anna kept her eyes on herself in the mirror. The more Missy cut, the happier Anna was.

  Finally, Missy stepped back and grinned at Anna’s reflection. “Done!” she proudly exclaimed.

  As Anna stepped down from the chair, Missy made a little bow to me. “Next,” she said.

  “Not me!” I shouted. “I’m not having my hair cut!”

  As we walked out of the beauty parlor, I saw our reflection in the mirror. We did look different! I would never again be confused with my sister. And Anna and I would never be like Jean and Jan Sanders — the identical twins we met at the shopping mall.

  “Let’s get you two some new clothes while we’re here,” said Dad. “And instead of buying two of everything, how would you like to pick out separate outfits?”

  Anna and I checked with one another and then told Dad yes.

  My dad always had the best ideas.

  I picked out blue jean overalls and a light-yellow shirt. Anna picked out a flower-print dress. We’d outgrown our jean jackets, so I wanted a new one. But Anna wanted a fleece pullover instead of a jean jacket. We each got what we wanted. I couldn’t wait for school the next day.

  When we entered the classroom, Rema and Elvia ran to Anna. “Abby-Anna,” she said. “You got your hair cut. It looks so great.”

  “I love it!” exclaimed Elvia.

  “You look like you’re in third grade,” added Rema.

  For a second, I wished I were the one who had the haircut.

  Finally, Rema and Elvia noticed me. “You didn’t get your hair cut? How come?” Elvia asked.

  “So we’d look different,” I said. “And everyone could really tell us apart.”

  “And not call us Abby-Anna,” added Anna.

  Mrs. Rothchild approached us. She looked happy. “Tell me which one is Abby and which one is Anna,” she said. “You’ll only have to tell me once.”

  I laughed. “I’m Abby.”

  “Good,” she said.

  With our new, separate looks, the kids in the class started treating us like separate people.

  Anna became best friends with Lydia, who took private music lessons. Soon Anna was taking music lessons too. But I didn’t want to take music. I wanted to be a Brownie. So when Anna was at her music class, I went to Brownie meetings with Rema and Elvia.

  October fifteenth was our birthday. It was a Saturday, so our birthday party was on the very day of our birthday. We invited all the girls from our first grade class to the party. Dad and Mom stayed up late the night before making a special surprise cake. I was so excited I could hardly sleep.

  Finally, it was time for our birthday party. Dad organized games for us to play in the backyard. After that, it was time for cake and presents. I couldn’t wait.

  The first surprise was the cake — or should I say cakes? Instead of one cake for both of us and one singing of “Happy Birthday,” we each had our own small cake and our own song.

  “First, Anna’s cake,” Mom said. “Because she was born first.”

  Everyone, including me, sang “Happy Birthday” to Anna. Her cake was shaped like a grand piano, just like the backpack she had wanted for school.

  Then it was my turn. Everyone sang to me as my mother and father presented me with my cake. It was round and decorated like a kickball. I loved having my own cake.

  My very own birthday cake!

  Then the presents. Anna opened one, then I opened one.

  Elvia gave me a game of jacks and some stickers. She gave Anna a tape of classical music for her Walkman. Almost everyone gave us different presents. It was the first time in our lives that people didn’t give us identical gifts.

  Anna and I now agree that our sixth birthday party was the best ever. We both
felt special in our own way.

  It was a sunny morning and I came bouncing down the stairs ready for another happy day. I was wearing jeans, a turtleneck, and a cowboy vest my grandmother had given me for my ninth birthday. Anna walked down the stairs behind me. She liked to wear skirts to school and definitely moved at a slower pace than I did.

  When I came into the kitchen, Dad was setting the table for breakfast and Mom was rushing out the door. “ ’Bye, guys,” she said. “See you tonight.” She checked her watch. If Mom missed her train, she’d be late for work. “Jonathan, don’t forget to give Anna a check for her violin teacher,” she said.

  Dad blew her a kiss, but she was already gone.

  Dad saw me notice that Mom didn’t see him blow her the kiss. He patted me on the head. “That kiss will catch her,” he said. “My kisses always do.” We all laughed at that.

  Dad rubbed his hands together gleefully. “So, young ladies, what’ll it be this morning? Cereal with bananas or bananas with cereal?”

  “Cereal with bananas,” said Anna.

  “I’ll have lactose-free milk,” I said, “with a side of cereal and bananas.”

  Every weekday during breakfast, Anna and I reminded Dad what we each had to do after school. “I have my violin lesson today,” Anna said.

  “I’ll pick you up after school and drive you over to Randal’s house,” he said. “Then I’ll shop for groceries and come back and pick you up.”

  “Don’t forget to give her a check for Randal,” I reminded Dad. We all kidded Dad about his absent-mindedness.

  “Check on the check,” he said with a grin. “Are you with me for all the above, Abby? Or do you have plans of your own?”

  “Elvia invited me to her house to play soccer with the kids on her block. Okay?”

  “Sure,” he said. “I’ll pick you up after Anna’s violin lesson. Elvia lives close to the school, so I guess you guys will walk there.”

  I nodded.

  “Be careful crossing the street,” he said. “There’re some crazy drivers out there.”

  “Da-ad,” I said. “I know how to cross the street. I’m nine years old.”

  “Aa-by,” he said, mimicking me. “Ex-cu-use me.” He was so funny when he talked like that, you had to laugh.

  Dad walked us to the bus stop, like always. I remember every second of that walk — what we all said and how I felt. I especially remember my dad’s parting words. The school bus was coming toward us. “How about spaghetti and meatballs tonight?” he said.

  “Great,” I said. The doors on the school bus opened for us. Before I followed Anna up the steps, I turned to tell Dad, “I love meatballs.” I rolled my eyes at him like I always did when we talked about meatballs.

  I waved to Dad out the window when the bus passed him.

  He blew me a kiss.

  * * *

  A few hours later, I was walking back from the lunchroom with Elvia. “I can’t wait to play soccer,” I told Elvia. I kicked a make-believe ball along the hall. “I could play all day.”

  “Me too,” said Elvia.

  Our teacher, Mr. Kiefer, met us at the classroom door. I noticed he looked very upset, and I wondered why.

  “Abby,” he said. “I need you to come to the principal’s office with me.” The way he said it gave me chills. I knew something was wrong. I was afraid to ask him what it was. So we walked silently down the hall. I wasn’t worried that I’d done something wrong. I was just scared.

  Grandpa Morris — my mother’s father — was in the principal’s office waiting for me.

  What was Grandpa Morris doing here? I wondered. For an instant I thought he’d come to see us at school as a surprise. But I couldn’t hold onto that idea because I could see tears in his eyes. Then I noticed that Anna was walking into the office behind me.

  “Abby,” he said in a choked voice. “Anna.” He moved toward us. I took a step away from my own grandfather. I felt afraid of him. I had never seen an adult look as sad as he did.

  He leaned over and put an arm around each of us. “There’s been a car accident,” he said in a voice cracking with sorrow. “Your father is … was … killed. May he rest in peace.”

  I don’t remember much about the next few minutes, except that I threw up my lunch in the principal’s bathroom.

  Anna and I held hands in the car. I didn’t speak. Anna asked Grandpa Morris if he was sure that Dad was dead. Couldn’t it be a mistake? Couldn’t it be some other man? Grandpa Morris shook his head no.

  As we turned onto our block I remembered Mom.

  I thought, Our father is dead and our mother doesn’t know. How could that be? I felt a wrenching in my stomach again. “Mom’s at work,” I told Grandpa Morris.

  “Your mother is at the house,” Grandpa Morris said softly. “We picked her up at the hospital. Gram Elsie is with her.” So Mom knew about Dad. She was at the hospital. Did Mom see Dad? Was he alive when she saw him? There were so many questions I wanted to ask. But if I asked them it would mean my father was really dead. So I didn’t say anything.

  Anna and I ran into the house. The first thing I saw was my father’s bathrobe. He was standing at the sink. He wasn’t dead. It was all a nightmare and now I was awake.

  The person at the sink turned around. But it wasn’t my father. It was my mother wearing my father’s bathrobe. I felt angry at her for that, but I soon forgot my anger because I was crying and crying and crying in my Gram Elsie’s arms. Anna ran to Mom and put her arms around her waist.

  Our mother wrapped her arms around Anna’s shoulders and looked around the room. Her eyes were red from crying and her voice seemed far away. “How could this be?” she said. “How could this be?”

  The next thing I remember was that Anna and I were sitting on the living room couch with Gram Elsie. I could hear Grandpa Morris on the phone in the kitchen, but I couldn’t make out was he was saying.

  “Where’s Mom?” I asked.

  “She’s resting,” Gram Elsie said. “You and Anna stay down here with me for now.”

  “I was supposed to play soccer this afternoon,” I said to no one in particular. The words popped into my head and I just blurted them out. I felt terrible as soon as I said it. How could I think of soccer, I wondered, if my father is dead? I repeated the word over and over in my head. Dead. Dead. Dead. But I still couldn’t believe it. I still didn’t understand that my father would never be there for our birthday, never again make dinner with us, never laugh at one of my jokes.

  A little later my father’s parents and sister came in. They were all crying. They gave Anna and me big hugs, which made them cry even harder. Mom stayed in her room, but Grandmother Ruth, Grandfather David, and Aunt Judith took turns going up to see her.

  Our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Trono, brought over a big ziti casserole, salad, a long loaf of Italian bread, and an apple pie. They said they were sorry about what happened, but they didn’t stay.

  I didn’t think I would ever eat again. But when Gram Elsie put a plate of food in front of me, I ate it. That night, Anna and I slept in the same bed.

  As soon as I opened my eyes the next morning, I remembered that Dad was dead. Anna woke up when I did and I could feel that she remembered too. We didn’t say anything. We didn’t have to. We knew exactly how one another felt.

  On the way to the kitchen we met Grandpa Morris. He was bringing a breakfast tray up to our mother. “Come with me,” he said. “Say good morning to your mother.”

  Mom was lying in bed. Her face was swollen from crying. She looked so sad that I felt afraid of her, just the way I was afraid of Grandpa Morris at school the day before.

  “Here’s a little something for you, Rachel,” Grandpa Morris told her.

  She shook her head and whispered, “I don’t want anything, Dad.”

  “Drink something. Eat a little,” he said. “The girls need you.”

  “I know,” she said. Mom looked from one of us to the other. “Are you two okay?” she asked. She started cr
ying again when she asked us that. Then she hugged us.

  We stayed with Mom while she ate her breakfast. In the Jewish tradition, funerals are usually held very soon after the death. So Grandpa Morris explained that we’d all be going to Jewish Memorial Chapel for my dad’s funeral service at three o’clock.

  “How will I go on without him?” Mom asked.

  “You will,” Grandpa Morris said. He put his arm around her. “Jonathan was a splendid man,” he said. “We were all blessed to have him with us.”

  “Did he suffer, Dad?” she asked.

  “No,” he said. “The doctor said death was instantaneous, remember?”

  Mom nodded.

  I held onto that idea for the rest of the day. Dad was dead, but he didn’t suffer.

  * * *

  The chapel was filled with people. Many of our relatives were there. I also recognized some people that my mom and dad knew from work. Elvia and her mother, some of our teachers, and our neighbors and friends were there too. But I didn’t talk to anyone. I just stayed between Anna and Gram Elsie the whole time. Grandpa Morris stayed next to my mother. She wore sunglasses and looked at the floor a lot.

  I don’t remember anything about the memorial service, except that a friend of my dad’s from work made a speech. He said my father was one of the sweetest, most thoughtful people he’d ever known, and that his death was a great loss to the community as well as his family. Then my aunt Judith started to make a speech about Dad. But she began crying so hard in the middle of it that Grandfather David went to the front of the chapel and helped her to her seat.

  After the burial we went back to our house to sit shivah for a week. That means we stayed home and people came to visit us to say they were sorry that Dad died. Both sets of grandparents stayed with us. And my aunt Judith was there most of the time too. She only went home to sleep.

  Most of the people who came to see us brought food, then sat down to visit and eat. Anna and I helped serve coffee and cake. Sometimes we loaded and unloaded the dishwasher. People smiled at us, but they looked sad at the same time. And often, when they looked at us, tears would gather in their eyes. I understood that they felt sorry for us because we were kids without a father.

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