We spent the week dreaming of days in pajamas, but instead got up, poured ourselves into suits and skirts, and stood in the living room to receive inspections.
Our big-breasted aunt, tucking us under her wings, wept, thick tears sloshing down her dumpling cheeks. “My darlings,” she said, and we slumped a little, and she pushed at places in our backs until we were straighter, and she pointed her finger to our faces and said, “We. Are not. Alone.” And we thought, “Yes, we have each other.” But we said, “Yes, we have you, Aunt Rose.”
And we went to the kitchen and stood, and auntie said, “Have a nosh. Please, my sweethearts.” So we did; we ate for hours. Latkes that came hot out of the pan, kugel, and bagels and cakes. The people who showed up, they wanted to feed us. They wanted to know we were alive still. Watch us stuff our faces. “Keep going,” they thought. And we did. We ate all day. And there were salads and cookies. And there were plates of lox and trout. And other people ate with us. They stood in line behind us; they let us go first. They let us do everything first except what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to get dressed. We didn’t want to be around. But they wanted to see us; they wanted a view. These orphaned children, how did we look? Different from before?
And search us they did, our faces and our bodies. Did the pastel pink in our cheeks dull? And how oh how could we simply get dressed? They wanted to know how we were and sometimes we answered “Fine,” but they wanted to hear another word, so we said, “Sad” and that they liked. And we longed for pajamas, the soft fleece with the animals skipping across them. And oh how we longed for television. The waves of the screen lulling us into other worlds and other times. Stories about bears and guns and love. But on it went, you and I studying the grooves in the ceiling, our hearts tired, the tears of our family damp on our shoulders. “I’m so sorry,” they said to us. “I’m so sorry,” we thought back.
But today we’re up and out from shiva, the layers of salmon on platters, small plates piled with ruggelah fading in our minds. Today we’re free to run where we want, so we choose the beach, and out we go with the dog, her tail spinning, the wind rustling her coat. “Keep going,” we say to each other, “keep going,” we say again. We run down fast, imprints on the sand from feet and paws for miles. When we stop to catch our breath, we see a helicopter, its blades spinning, and from where we are we can see people, and we say, “Hey,” and we smile, and we look to each other and shout and wave, and we say, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” and wave our hands so wide and free that the dog starts barking, too, and we scream and say, “Hey!” “Hey!” “Hey!” and we jump up and down and we do our best to see them as they climb, and we hope that they can see us, too.
Story by Sophie Rosenblum
Photo by Jen McManus