Motti reads a file about the boys’ rescue in Denmark. He takes the boys on a journey, hoping to learn more about their past. Kalonymous interrupts Hershel just as he is asked about their mother.
* * *
Motti spread out the large cloth, and the feast Breindl had prepared. There was the bread, hard-boiled eggs, herring, peaches from Zayit’s orchard, plus cinnamon yeast cake for dessert. There was hot tea and cool water. The boys ate until they were stuffed.
“This reminds me of Berl and Fisch, when we first got there, remember? All that food they gave us?” Hershel was stretched out entirely, his hands clasped behind his head. Motti wished he could make himself invisible. The less they noticed him, the more they would talk.
“Clotty cream!” said Dovid’l. “Geshmak!”
Kalonymous smiled along with them. He too missed Berl and Fisch, but thinking about them brought back the pain as though it were yesterday. As the memories deepened, he grew more somber until he too was lying on the ground. His small head was face down, and his back was rising up and down in tiny heaves. Hershel and Dovid’l surrounded him instantly, one brother on each side, one small hand on each of Kalonymous’ shoulders.
“It’s okay, Kalonymous,” Hershel whispered. “It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.”
“It was!” Kalonymous turned his head to face his brother, his eyes and cheeks wet with tears. Motti sat back, shocked at the scene unfolding before him.
“No,” said Hershel. “No.”
Kalonymous sat up quickly, suddenly remembering Motti sitting a short distance away. He wiped his eyes with his hands and gently pushed his brothers away.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’m fine now.”
Still, they sat by his side, reluctant to leave him in his sorrow.
Motti was bewildered. It was the first he was hearing of this Berl and Fisch, and that was when he realized that perhaps he was hanging back too far. It was the first time he had seen Kalonymous cry, and it dawned on him that the stoicism he displayed was little more than a façade. Kalonymous was a bag of tears, and even though Motti and Breindl cared for the boys with true devotion, they had not yet gotten to the heart of the matter. Motti recalled the strange statement in the file Emanuel had given him, that when the boys showed up in Copenhagen they were covered in blood that was not their own.
Motti took a deep breath. He knew he should wait for Breindl and her loving touch, but he could not hold back. “Yingelach,” he said. “Kalonymous, Hershel, Dovid’l, it’s time to tell Fetter Motti what happened before you came to us. Tanta Breindl and I very much want to know.”
“It’s too sad,” said Hershel. Dovid’l nodded solemnly in agreement.
Kalonymous stood up, brushing off his trousers as he spoke. “I think it’s time to go. It will be dark soon, and I know the fetter doesn’t like to travel at night time.”
Kalonymous was right, of course. He often hurried home from his last stop of the day so he would arrive home before dark. He had no words with which to argue, so he began to gather up the leftover food and pack it away carefully in the sack Breindl had sent with him.
The ride back was silent. Kalonymous sat at his side this time, and the two little ones huddled together on the back bench and eventually nodded off. Kalonymous sat up straight as a board.
“Kalonymous, you and your brothers are very precious to me and Tanta Breindl,” Motti began.
Kalonymous nodded. It hadn’t hurt so much telling Zayit about Berl and Fisch, and he wondered why he could not speak about it with Motti. Deep down he knew that Fetter Motti was so tender that his heart would break if he knew the truth.
“Perhaps one day you will trust us enough to bring us into your heart.”
Kalonymous was mute. He could not pry one word out of his mouth — they were all trapped in his throat. It was hard to breathe.
“Until then, we will care for you like you are our own sons.”
A flash of memory struck him then, of Berl and Fisch laughing uproariously as they cavorted with their new charges. “Berl!” called Fisch. “Can you believe it? Sons!”
Berl had nodded, and his normally grumpy expression transformed for a moment into pure joy. “It’s been a long time since we’ve laughed like this. We are so lucky.” Children were climbing up their backs like they were mountains, and it was a glorious moment.
Motti had been watching Kalonymous carefully as the scene played across his face. “What is it?” he ventured. “What are you thinking about?”
“Berl and Fisch.” His voice was barely a croak. “They also called us their sons. We loved them and they loved us.”
“Where are they now?” asked Motti. They were coming closer to home, and Motti wished time would stop for just a moment, but the donkey traipsed on.
“I don’t know,” said Kalonymous, but in a way, he did. He jumped off the wagon and walked the rest of the way home.
To be continued . . .