Michals destiny, p.21
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       Michal's Destiny, p.21

           Roberta Kagan
 
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  “You can go in now.”

  Taavi had not been present at Alina’s birth. In fact, he’d never seen a woman right after childbirth. Seeing Michal with her hair stuck to her face with sweat, her eyes half closed with exhaustion, holding a tiny bundle in her arms, made his heart swell. If he’d thought, she was beautiful before, now he thought she was not only beautiful, but angelic. He bent and kissed her forehead. Then he turned the blanket that covered the baby. For the first time, Taavi saw his new daughter, and was taken aback by how much the small face resembled his own.

  “What should we call her?”

  Michal shrugged. “What would you like to call her?”

  “Gilde. It was my mother’s name. Would that be all right?”

  “Of course. Gilde is a beautiful name.”

  “I love you,” he said, and sat on the bed beside her.

  “I love you too.”

  Alina was standing at the doorway, her thumb still in her mouth. “Mama? Can I come in?” she asked in a small voice.

  “Yes, of course, come in and meet your new sister.”

  Michal was afraid that Alina would be jealous. But Alina had never failed to surprise Michal. Not only was she not jealous, but she took to little Gilde immediately, claiming her as her own. From the moment Alina saw her sister, she took over and decided to become Gilde’s second mother.

  Chapter 52

  In the very beginning, Gilde slept in Michal and Taavi’s room. It was easier for Michal to breastfeed her that way. Alina was filled with delight when Michal would hold the baby in Alina’s arms, giving Alina the feeling that she was holding her sister. But it was late December and far too cold to take a baby outside, and Alina soon became bored with being housebound. When she went to school, it was a relief to have her out of the house for a few hours. Taavi brought home toys for Alina, and tried to give Michal a break by taking her to the park on Saturdays when the shop was closed. Even though he’d found God, he still had not found religion, and never spent his Saturdays in shul like Lev and so many of his other Jewish friends.

  At the end of April, the weather, although still cold, was mild enough for Michal and Alina to take Gilde for short walks outside. Alina wanted to push the stroller. Michal allowed her to do so, but only with careful supervision.

  Gilde was growing rapidly and so was her relationship with her sister. Alina was busy trying to teach Gilde to crawl. It was a relief that the two children kept each other amused. Michal still had to watch them carefully, because although Alina would never purposely hurt Gilde, she was still a child herself and could be overzealous.

  At night, Taavi sat on the floor with Gilde and Alina. Michal watched him as Gilde climbed on him, laughing and trying to tickle him under his arms. He turned her over and then tickled her instead. Alina was laughing too. Michal smiled. She listened as Taavi sang to the girls.

  “You’ve got to have a little Mazel, because Mazel means good luck.”

  Both girls sang along with Taavi. He’d taught them the little song and they loved it. In fact, this was a song Michal remembered from her own childhood. Her mother used to sing it sometimes when she was alone with Michal and her father was not around.

  They continued singing, “If you have a little Mazel, you’ll always have good luck.”

  Taavi ruffled Gilde’s golden hair, then he put his arm around Alina and gave her a hug. The three of them collapsed into giggles.

  Gilde tried to stand up but she fell back on her bottom. Her lower lip jutted out and she was about to cry. Taavi smiled at her and said “You’re not hurt. You did a very good job of standing up. Pretty soon you’ll be running.” Then he hugged Gilde and she smiled.

  “I got a good mark on my history exam,” Alina said.

  “You are a smart girl. You both make me so proud.”

  Michal could see that the girls adored their father.

  She’d lost track of time as she was standing in the doorway, watching her husband and children play. This was a home. This was the way a family should be.

  Michal walked back into the kitchen to finish cleaning. She smiled to herself. It was good to have Taavi back.

  The days were golden with laughter and love, and Michal should have been in constant bliss. But, she had a debt to pay and that debt was haunting her. Until she repaid it, she would not be at peace. So, one Sunday she asked Taavi to watch the girls. She refused to tell him where she was going, as she knew he would try to stop her. As she left the flat, she turned to him and smiled.

  “Don’t worry. I’ll be back very soon.”

  Taavi shook his head. “I really wish you would talk to me and tell me what you’re up to.”

  “I promise I’ll tell you when I get back.”

  Michal kept her wits about her as she headed down to the docks. Even though it was a Sunday afternoon, the streets were filled with both male and female prostitutes of all ages. Pimps still hovered in alleyways. She took a deep breath and stood up as straight and tall as she could and tried to look unapproachable. Still, she was solicited by men and women continuously. Finally, Michal could not bear to walk the streets anymore looking for her old friend. She found a young woman who looked too sweet and young to be a prostitute. However, Michal was quite sure that she was one.

  “Do you know a girl; her name is Yana? The last I saw her, she was working out here by the docks?”

  “Of course, everyone knew Yana. She was young, right?”

  “Yes.”

  “So?”

  “Do you know where I can find her? I have something for her.” Michal had taken a few marks from her grocery money to give to Yana. She remembered how Yana had once helped her and she wanted to pay Yana back her money.

  “You won’t find her here. She’s dead. They found her in the river. I guess one of her customers liked to play rough. Cut her up real bad.”

  Michal felt sick. She thought she might vomit. Her hand gripped the side of the building and she tried to breathe deeply.

  “Yeah, it was terrible. Everyone who saw it said it was horrible what he done to her. I felt bad. But them things happen on the street,” the young girl said.

  Michal took the money out of her pocket and put it into the girl’s palm. “Go and have a good meal,” she said, squeezing the young prostitute’s hand.

  Then Michal turned and walked quickly back to the safety of her life. Tears welled up behind her eyes as she raced through the section of town where the lost came to sell all that they had left that had any worth. Poor Yana. As tough as Yana had tried to be, Michal knew that the girl had a kind heart. After all, Yana had given her money when Yana had barely enough for herself. Michal was sorry for all of them. But she was filled with gratitude and even a little guilt that she’d been spared.

  Chapter 53

  Two years later, Lev got married for the second time. He met a Gentile girl with an easy smile and a quick wit, who he brought to meet Taavi and Michal one evening. It was an unexpected visit, but Lev and his fiancée, Lotti, brought a bottle of wine and a cake. As soon as Lev introduced Lotti, she gave Michal a hug. Both children were asleep, so the two couples were able to sit on the sofa and talk. “How did you meet?” Michal asked Lotti.

  “I work in a factory around the corner from your store. Lev and I would see each other in the park during our lunch hours. We began talking and one thing led to another … and he asked me to have dinner with him.”

  “At first, she said no,” Lev said and reached for Lotti’s hand. “I think maybe it’s this mezuzah that I wear?”

  “Yes, well, please don’t be offended; I mean no harm. But, I am ashamed to say that my father is anti-Semitic; he was afraid for me to date a Jewish man. We never had long discussions about it; it was just something I always knew growing up. You see, he is still stuck in the middle ages. And he is afraid for me.…”

  “We have lived with the hatred of our people our entire lives,” Taavi said.

  “I don’t hate your people. I love Lev and I wanted
to become a Jew. I told Lev I wanted to go to a rabbi and be converted. Lev refused. He thinks it’s unnecessary. He isn’t that religious, he says, and there’s no reason to alienate my father. It’s a sad thing to watch Lev trying to make friends with my dad. I know that my parents will never accept us. But it doesn’t matter. I’ve lost them; they’ve disowned me. Even so…I wouldn’t change a thing. If I could go back to the time before Lev and I met, I would want to meet him, fall in love with him, and be his wife. Like I said, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

  “Being in love is the greatest feeling in the world,” Taavi said. “I know. I have lived with it and without it, and let me tell you … to love and be loved is the most wonderful feeling in the world.”

  Lev smiled at Lotti.

  They were sharing a second glass of wine, when Lotti noticed the children’s book on the playroom table that Taavi had built. It was a miniature table and chairs that he’d painted pink and white. “Is that a book by Otto Keihn?”

  Just hearing Otto’s name rattled Michal. It took her right back to a time she’d not thought about for many years. She’d seen that children’s book every day. She hadn’t noticed it for a long time amongst the other toys and books that Taavi had gotten for the girls. Because it had been there so long, Michal no longer noticed it. The children had so many other books, and Michal could not remember the last time Alina had requested a story to be read from Otto’s book, “Yes, it’s a children’s fable book by Otto Keihn.”

  “Oh, I’ve heard a lot about him. I’m pretty sure that I heard that he died a few years ago. I think I read something about it in the paper. From what I understand, he was a raging communist.”

  Michal shrugged. “I don’t know much about him. I can’t even remember where I got that book,” she said. She didn’t want to discuss Otto. In fact, she was surprised that he was well known enough for his death to have been posted in the newspapers. When they were together, she’d never realized that he was famous outside of his little community of artists.

  “That doesn’t surprise me,” Taavi said. “Berlin is full of communists. It’s jam packed with people who are devoted to all kinds of political parties. I don’t worry about the commies as much as I do the National Socialist Party. I’m keeping an eye on them.”

  “I don’t think they’re anything to worry about. They’re a small group of lunatics without much influence on anybody or anything. Just troublemakers,” Lev said.

  “Yes, but again, they are very anti-Semitic. Michal and I are from Russia; we know the dangers of anti-Semitism. We have seen pogroms first hand.”

  “That could never happen here,” Lev said. “Berlin is too civilized for something as barbaric as a pogrom.”

  “I would have to agree,” Lotti said. “People are too educated and intelligent here to allow for that to happen.”

  “Maybe,” Taavi said. “Let’s just say that I hope you’re right.”

  “What do you think, Michal?” Lotti asked.

  Michal shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t want to talk about pogroms in Siberia or the possibility of them happening in Germany. She wanted to forget that such terrible things could happen. For a moment, she was lost in a memory. Otto, dear, sweet but confused Otto. He had given her all he had to give. His bisexuality had hurt her at the time. In fact, she was angry with him for what she had considered a betrayal of her trust, but now, as she looked at Taavi, she knew that she’d found her one true bashert … her destiny. And in a very strange but important way, Otto had helped her.

  Taavi studied Michal’s face. He misinterpreted what she was thinking. He was afraid that all this talk of pogroms was leading her thoughts back to that fateful day when the Cossack … He decided that it was best to change the subject quickly. The less time Michal spent dwelling on the past, the better.

  “So,” Taavi said. “Lev told me about your new apartment. It sounds nice.”

  “Yes, you will have to bring the children and come for dinner,” Lotti said.

  “My Lotti is a wonderful cook.” Lev smiled.

  “He’s lying. I’m a terrible cook. But I try very hard. Maybe you can help me learn, Michal.”

  “Yes, of course,” she said, snapping out of her thoughts and back into the present moment.

  “I’d love to learn to bake too.”

  “That would be a good idea, my darling. You’re not such a good baker,” Lev said.

  “You, be quiet,” she said, teasing him. Then she winked at Michal. “He’s telling the truth. I’m a terrible baker.”

  “Come over and we’ll bake. The girls will love it.”

  “I adore children, so it should be a lot of fun.”

  They talked about building furniture for Lotti and Lev’s new apartment. Lotti blushed when Lev mentioned that they wanted to have children as soon as possible because of his age.

  “I’m ten years older than Lotti,” he said. “I ask myself every day, ”What would such a beautiful young woman want with an old man like me?”

  “Oh, you are so silly. You’re not an old man. You’re only thirty-one, for goodness sake. That’s not old.”

  Lev smiled. “You see? Nu? I am lucky?”

  Michal and Lotti became fast friends. For Michal, it was wonderful to have a friend. It had been years since Michal had last seen Gerta, who, until Lotti, had been the closest thing Michal had ever known to a lady friend. Lotti spent many afternoons with Michal and the girls. She told Michal that she wanted to have a child as soon as possible, given Lev’s age. And, to her delight, three months after the wedding, Lotti told Michal that she was pregnant.

  Unlike Michal, Lotti had a rough pregnancy. In her second trimester, she found spots of blood on her underwear. Her stomach was cramping. She didn’t want to alarm Lev. Perhaps it would stop soon. After all, she’d never been pregnant before, and she wasn’t sure what to expect. Lotti called Michal.

  “I’m bleeding a little,” Lotti said. “Is it normal to bleed when you’re pregnant?”

  Michal knew that blood during a pregnancy was not a good sign. “Why don’t I come over? I have to bring the girls with me; I have no place to leave them. Would that be alright with you?”

  “Yes, of course. Please, come.”

  “I’ll be right over.”

  “Michal?”

  “Yes?”

  “Am I having a miscarriage?”

  “I don’t know, Lotti. But, hold tight. I’m on my way.” Michal sat beside Lotti as she lay in bed, terrified that she would lose the child. Alina and Gilde ran around the apartment playing, while Michal spoke softly to Lotti, trying to reassure her.

  An hour later, Michal insisted that Lotti go to the bathroom and check to see if she was still losing blood. “If you are, we are going to have to call the doctor,” Michal said.

  Michal could hardly breathe as she waited for Lotti to return. She remembered helping women who were having miscarriages when she was with Bepa.

  “It seems to have stopped,” Lotti said.

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yes. I used a menstrual rag to wipe myself and it came back clean.”

  “Thank God,” Michal said. “Still, you should lie down and rest. Keep your feet up.”

  Lotti was trembling when she got into bed. “I’m scared, Michal.”

  “I know,” Michal said, and she rubbed Lotti’s head like Lotti was one of her children.

  Finally, Lotti fell asleep. Michal looked at her friend and remembered how she had longed to become pregnant with Avram and how she’d been unable to conceive. She understood how much this baby meant to Lotti and she prayed that Lotti would not miscarry.

  Gilde was a toddler now, she was two and had begun to assert her independence from everyone except for Alina, who she followed around like a puppy. Michal longed for another baby, for the sweet smell of powder and milk that surrounded a tiny infant. But she and Taavi had decided they didn’t want any more until they were able to purchase a home. He wanted his children to ha
ve their own house, with a yard where they could play. It was his dream.

  Chapter 54

  In her seventh month, Lotti woke up with a headache, slight nausea, and occasional stomach cramps. Since her body had behaved so strangely throughout the pregnancy, she thought nothing of it. She got out of bed and began cleaning her house as she did every morning. By noon, she was feeling very ill. Her head ached and she had vomited twice; sharp pains were shooting through her belly. By the time Lev got home from work, she was spotting heavily.

  Lev took Lotti to the hospital, then telephoned Michal. She left the children with Taavi and took a streetcar to meet Lev. When she arrived, she found Lev in the waiting room. His face was pale. She sat down beside him.

  “How is she?”

  He shrugged. “I don’t know. No one has told me anything. I am waiting.”

  Michal and Lev sat silently in the waiting room, both of them silently praying.

  Three hours later, the doctor came down the hall and walked towards them. Michal felt the breath catch in her throat and she coughed.

  “Mr. Glassman? You are the husband of Lotti Glassman?” the doctor said.

  “Yes,” Lev said. “How is my wife?”

  “I’m afraid that she has lost a lot of blood. I can’t promise anything, but because she is young and strong … I believe she will survive. As far as the baby is concerned … I am sorry. I was not able to save the child.”

  Lev’s shoulders dropped and his head hung low.

  “Thank God she’s alive.” Michal rubbed Lev’s arm.

  “It would be wise to notify her parents … just in case … things take a turn for the worse … you understand?” the doctor said to both Michal and Lev.

  Lev nodded. “Can I go in and see her?”

  “Give the nurses a few minutes. They’ll call you in when she’s ready.”

  Lev and Michal sat on the hard wooden chairs and watched the big round clock on the wall. Fifteen minutes that seemed like hours passed, and still the nurses had not come out to allow them to go into the room.

 
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