Zayit delivers the news to Motti and Breindl that Kalonymous has run away from Esther and Emanuel Rothstein’s house. A search party has not yet turned up the missing boy.
* * *
“I’m sorry, Breindl.”
It was shortly before sunrise, and this was not the first apology he’d offered. Neither of them had slept, and Breindl had not said a word since Zayit’s departure the night before.
“I know you asked me not to send him away, but I did what I felt had to be done. Maybe I made a mistake, but maybe I didn’t. I believe it will all work out fine.”
Breindl turned around to face him and Motti was shocked by what he saw. She had kept her back to him the whole night, and when he saw her now she looked distraught. Her cheeks and eyes were swelled and puffed with tears, the ends of her mouth hung down as though they were being tugged, and she looked like she’d aged years in one night.
“What’s happened to you?” he cried. “Why are you taking this so hard?”
“I don’t know,” she sobbed. “He was a part of me. I accepted him completely, and I had a feeling that something like this would happen if we let go of him too early. I was being so careful, trying to draw him close. It was too soon; the glue bonding us hadn’t set all the way.” She sighed heavily. “He won’t be back.”
“Of course he will. What about Hershel and Dovid’l? Do you think he’d abandon them?” said Motti.
“He would never see it that way, because leaving them was not his choice. He was taken away from them, and there’s a big difference. He probably assumed that he wouldn’t see them again, even if he had stayed at your brother’s. He knows we’ll take good care of them, even if we didn’t do as good a job with him.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Motti, forcibly lowering his voice. “We did a great job with him! Who else would have agreed to take those boys in, give them a home and food and —”
Breindl sat up, her shoulders hunched and heavy. “Motti. Once we took on the job, it was up to us to do it all the way. A hundred percent. If anything goes wrong, there is only ourselves to blame. Don’t give yourself credit for doing what we are put in this world to do.”
“I’m sorry. Breindl, I didn’t know you felt this way. Please, forgive me.”
“I forgive you, Motti. I am not questioning your decision. I’m just very sad and worried.”
“He could be sitting with Esther at the breakfast table as we speak,” offered Motti.
“Maybe,” said Breindl. “Maybe not. But life must go on.”
* * *
“Tell me again what happened,” said Emanuel, later on in the morning. He had slept surprisingly well considering all the drama that had taken place, and was not surprised to find his breakfast waiting on the table after he returned from shul. Esther managed their home so well, and everything had its routine.
“I keep going over it in my mind,” said Esther, pouring Emanuel’s coffee into a glass and adding a spoonful of sugar. “I had given him a Marcus Lehman book to read, and he was so excited. He loved the books, and they were even in German.”
“Interesting,” said Emanuel. “Then what?”
“He sat down to read the book on the floor in your office, and I told him he could take as many books as he wanted but that we had to go out of the room.”
“Wait a minute,” said Emanuel. “You didn’t mention this before. You just said he got up and ran out while you were talking with him.”
“Right,” said Esther. “But it was after he asked me if he could stay, and I said to him that he couldn’t, because it was your private room and children didn’t play there. That’s when he got really upset. He turned all pale and started apologizing, and then he just ran out the door, like he was afraid or embarrassed.”
Emanuel covered his eyes with his hand, hoping to mask any inkling of expression that may have been forming there.
“He reminded me a little of Breindl when she was young,” said Esther. “She would get like that when she thought she was doing something wrong. I don’t know what made me think of that just now. Wait, Emanuel, did I do something wrong?”
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” said Emanuel carefully. Talking to Esther could sometimes be as delicate a matter as a surgical procedure. “You like things to be a certain way, and that’s how it should be,” he said. “Some people don’t take well to that kind of structure.”
Esther turned around and looked Emanuel straight in the eye. “You think it was my fault that Kalonymous ran away.”
“G-d forbid,” said Emanuel. “It’s no one’s fault.” He could feel the storm heading his way and felt powerless to stop it.
“If we would have taken them home from the port, as we had originally planned, then maybe none of this would have happened.”
To be continued . . .