Kalonymous hears from Berl how Fisch sustained his injury. Berl recalls that they were rescued by someone in a red truck, and Kalonymous tells him that they, too, were rescued by someone in a red truck. Berl dismisses this as coincidence.
* * *
From the time of Kalonymous and Zayit’s evening conversation, the area surrounding the Zayit and Rothstein homes buzzed with surreptitious activity. Various materials and weatherworn individuals arrived at intervals, with Zayit and Motti coordinating the activities. If Berl and Fisch were aware of the frenzy, they didn’t mention it.
The two continued to enjoy Breindl’s hospitality and the children’s attention. The Rothsteins were captivated by the two strangers, and the three families quickly coalesced into one big, happy one. Berl and Fisch, who for so many years had no one but each other, reveled in the new environment.
Breindl sewed clothing suitable for Eretz Yisrael’s climate and provided the men with healthy foods. As they grew better acquainted, conversation flowed more easily. And one day, Breindl finally asked her “burning question.”
“I see the fondness you and the boys feel for each other, but I’m not sure I understand it. You met as strangers and, yes, you took them in, but so did others. Why did they bond so fiercely with you?”
Berl pondered Breindl’s question, himself uncertain of a solid answer. They’d found the Sperlings as they were in the throes of food poisoning after eating mushrooms picked from the roadside, brought them home and nursed them back to health. Berl and Fisch, orphans for much of their lives, had their own quirky but effective methods of nurturing each, and those methods were automatically applied to the Sperlings. Their circle expanded to accommodate the boys at a time when they desperately needed it.
It was the way of children to live fully in the moment and forget the past, but Kalonymous and his brothers had been unable to leave Berl and Fisch behind. Their parents were gone, they were exhausted, terrified and vulnerable, and the attempt to graft them to the Rothstein family was too drastic for it to really work, although it did provide them with a safe haven for as long as they would need it.
Berl attempted to put the explanation into words while Breindl nodded sympathetically. She could understand the sentiments intellectually, but her heart was having an entirely different conversation. Perhaps they’d made a mistake bringing these two wounded misfits into their lives; the likelihood of Breindl and Motti forming a lasting bond with the Sperling boys diminished with every day Berl and Fisch stayed around. Motti had said it was unfair to make the boys suffer just to soothe their own egos and their desire to win their affection, but Breindl wasn’t so sure.
She chided herself for feeling threatened, but there it was. The thought of having to compete with Berl and Fisch was too much to absorb. After investing so much effort and emotion into rehabilitating the Sperling boys, and even teaching them how to be children again, she was not ready to give up. They’d already lost Kalonymous; losing Hershel and Dovid’l was out of the question.
“Some people wear their hearts on their sleeve,” Berl commented wryly. “You wear yours on your face. Trust me, Mrs. Rothstein, when I tell you we will not impede your relationship with the children. It is obvious to us how they’ve blossomed under your care. We cared for them best we could, but we are not mothers — we too are orphans. We could never give them what you and your husband have. I suggest,” and here he leaned over and placed both elbows squarely on the table, “that we work as a team, always keeping the boys’ best interests at heart. Try thinking about us as benevolent uncles rather than a threat and I think we will all get along just fine. We would never usurp your authority. Or do you think there is such a thing as too many loving family members?”
Breindl smiled at Berl’s reassurances. She believed him, and a seed of trust began to take root. Fisch, ever at his brother’s side, seemed to follow the conversation and agree to everything being said, although he did so with his eyes. Breindl was beginning to understand how Fisch thought, and when she didn’t understand what he wanted or needed, Berl or one of the boys was there to explain.
Breindl was happy to have them there, and when thoughts of the future started to niggle at her, she pushed them to the side. The future would come in its own time. It was impossible to predict with only the tools of the present. Nobody seemed in a hurry, and she was starting to find their benign presence comforting.
With her expanded responsibilities distracting her, she was vaguely aware of the increased activity taking place out in the fields, but she’d had neither the time nor the opportunity to ask about it. She noticed Yehudah’s circumspection and, to her joy, the continuing presence of Kalonymous, but chose to say nothing, unwilling to upset the tranquility that had settled over the household.
To be continued . . .