Zayit presents Kalonymous with a large, cleared field, and tells him it is a gift to use in any way he likes. Zayit calls it a “field of dreams.”
* * *
The rain pounded ceaselessly as the Sperling boys hid from the dogs and soldiers on the top of the outcropping. Kalonymous lay stunned for a moment, Hershel’s final pull having knocked the wind out of him. Hershel lay on top of his brother, whether to protect him, revive him, or simply gain comfort he did not know. He waited until Kalonymous caught his breath and helped him to sit up when he was ready.
“Thank you, brother,” said Kalonymous. Tears were rolling down both of their faces, but they were indistinguishable from the rain. Dovid’l was motionless, paralyzed with fear and cold, and Kalonymous knew they could not stay outside much longer.
Kalonymous would have preferred to go ahead alone and search out shelter, but he could not leave the two young boys alone. Grasping their hands, he pulled them forward, and the three of them crept slowly along the thin ledge jutting out from the rockface.
“Slowly,” said Kalonymous. “Carefully. Try to lean flat against the rock so you won’t be seen.” They were all shaking so violently it was a miracle they did not tumble down altogether. After what seemed an eternity, Kalonymous noticed a small, cave-like crevasse that might provide some shelter. The opening was so narrow that Kalonymous had to crawl in sideways.
There was just about enough room for the three of them to huddle together and remain dry. “Quickly now,” said Kalonymous. He settled Hershel and Dovid’l beside him and the only sound that could be heard was the rasp of their breathing as they struggled to catch their breath.
“What now?” asked Hershel.
Kalonymous tried to summon as much courage as he could. “We’ll wait here until the rain lets up,” he said, threading his words with a confidence and certainty he did not feel. “Then we’ll go look for food.”
“I’m c-c-c-cold,” Dovid’l moaned.
“I know,” said Hershel. “Come here, sit closer to me.” But there was little warmth coming from Hershel’s worn and thin little body, and all they could do was shiver together instead of separately. Despite their discomfort, though, the two younger ones eventually dropped off to sleep, their heads lolling against each other and their legs wrapped around Kalonymous.
Kalonymous fought sleep, sitting perfectly straight, afraid to stand or move lest he disturb his brothers. He had no idea what to do next, or from where their salvation would come. He divided the night into 60-second units: sometimes five units together, sometimes ten, sometimes one. He’d count out the units second by second, certain the night would never end.
By the time a strip of gray light fought its way into the dark cave, Kalonymous was in a twilight haze — half asleep and half awake — dreaming they were in a cave at the same time it was actually happening. His legs were stiff, and his stomach was growling so loudly he was sure those vicious dogs would hear it and return. He extricated himself gently from the tangle of his brothers’ limbs.
He stood and shook out his legs and arms, his knees buckling as he stood, forcing him to lean against the wet wall of the cave to keep his balance. Once he felt limber again, he slid through the narrow opening and took a good look around.
He knew they were somewhere in the woods behind the Hohmann’s house, but did not know how far or in which direction they had run. They couldn’t go back, as the place was now overrun by German soldiers.
He knew the Jews were in trouble — their own mother’s capture was surely proof of that — but he did not know how widespread the hatred had become.
In fact, all he could think of was food. Water would not be a problem for the time being — there was water everywhere. He grabbed a handful of leaves and stuck them into his mouth, sucking the moisture from them, the cold rain water rinsing the bitterness from his mouth.
He gathered a handful and brought them back for his brothers, who had roused but were still prone, their mud-streaked faces turned toward each other.
“Where are we?” asked Dovid’l.
“We’re together,” said Hershel, intuiting the correct answer. Dovid’l visibly relaxed.
“Here’s some water,” said Kalonymous, holding out the leaves. He rubbed them gently across their lips, then showed them how to suck out the water. Dovid’l put the leaves in his mouth and instinctively began to chew – he was so hungry his body took over. Kalonymous was about to stop him, but it was too late; Dovid’l was stuffing the leaves into his mouth as quickly as he could. Kalonymous prayed they weren’t poison, as he and Hershel looked from one to the other, realizing that Dovid’l had hit upon a good idea.
They all put the leaves in their mouths, fearful of the taste, but found them only slightly bitter. They ate what they had, then Hershel stepped out to collect some more.
“We can’t just live on leaves, though,” Kalonymous whispered. “We must find food.”
“You will,” said Hershel. Although he’d seen his brother fail, it had in no way diminished Hershel’s belief that his older brother could do anything, and it was this belief that pushed Kalonymous forward even when he felt he had no strength.
“Yes,” he said. “I will.”
To be continued . . .