Rena reveals to Suri and Mattel what she knows about the family living in their parents’ house in Jerusalem. They speculate as to what their mother might do with it.
* * *
After telling her sisters the story of the Asoulin family her father had graciously allowed to live for free in his house, Rena’s thoughts returned to them again. She wondered if they knew that their benefactor had passed away, and she also wondered what would happen to them now that he was gone.
She had kept in touch with Natalie Asoulin periodically over the years, by phone and through letters. The only time Mrs. Asoulin had ever phoned about the house was when some pipes broke and the courtyard had flooded. The tiles were ruined and had to be replaced, and Mrs. Asoulin had called to find out if they had any color preference.
“Color preference? Surely you would like my father to send you funding for the cost of repairs,” Rena had said.
“Oh, no,” said Mrs. Asoulin. “Absolutely no. My husband will make all of the repairs himself. It is fine. We just don’t want to pick out an ugly color that you will not like.”
“I’m sure whatever you choose will be fine. I will ask my father for the money and we will send it right away.”
“We will not accept,” Mrs. Asoulin had insisted.
And she had stuck to her word. Rabbi Barkoff had given Rena a check to send them, and it had never been cashed.
She had heard through the camp grapevine that little Maryam was still struggling with her illness, no better for her treatments but no worse either. Rena had sent them a few letters of encouragement, but hadn’t heard back — neither had she expected to. She understood that taking care of a chronically ill child was a full time job. Although many of the children they worked with in camp did not recover from their illnesses, Rena had been particularly attached to Maryam.
She conveyed her father’s message to the Asoulins that they were welcome to stay as long as they needed to.
Rena assumed they would return to France at some point, but they hadn’t. Rena wasn’t surprised. She knew how long it took some families to regroup after crushing disappointment and dashed hopes, and she wondered how long it would take her own family as well.
The next morning, the fourth day of shivah, dawned chilly and overcast. After the minyan finished, the faithful Mrs. Nathan appeared, as she had each morning, bearing fresh rolls, butter, cheese, some large green apples and some of her homegrown cherry tomatoes. She made hot coffee and tea for the women and sat quietly as they ate.
Afterwards, as she also had been doing, she sat herself down in a visitor’s chair and made her daily shivah call. She spoke quietly with Mrs. Barkoff while the three daughters spoke among themselves. When she got up to leave, Rena followed her to the door and outside into the hallway.
“Can I help you with something?” Mrs. Nathan asked.
“Yes. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind contacting someone for me? I’m sure they would want to know of my father’s passing, and that we were sitting shivah here,” said Rena. She handed Mrs. Nathan a small, folded note with the Asoulins’ name and phone number. “Could you give them the information?”
“Certainly,” said Mrs. Nathan. One of the best things about her was her complete discretion. Rena’s main concern was how her mother would respond to their presence, realizing that her mother had already gone to bed — although still awake — while she was relaying the information to Suri and Mattel. Rena didn’t want her mother to have any more surprises.
Turning back, she pulled her chair over to face her mother, and took her hands. “There’s more I need to tell you.”
Mrs. Barkoff’s face paled. “Oh no. What now?”
“Nothing terrible. I just wanted to tell you about the house and Tatty’s mitzvah, and how and why I knew about it.”
Mrs. Barkoff hesitated a moment, and then said, “All right. Tell me.”
Rena repeated the story of the Asoulins again.
“So that’s how I know about the house,” she concluded. “And I hope you don’t mind, but I asked Mrs. Nathan to contact them. I’m sure they would want to meet you and thank you in person.”
Mrs. Barkoff shook her head sadly. “I feel like there is so much I didn’t know about your father. I don’t think I even scratched the surface of who he really was.”
“So it’s okay if they come?” said Rena.
“I suppose,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “Although I don’t know why they’d be thanking me. I didn’t even know they existed!”
“They don’t know that,” said Rena. “And if they just find out from the realtor one fine day that they have to move, I think it will be a shock for them.”
“Move?” said Mrs. Barkoff. “Why would they have to move?”
Rena backtracked, realizing her mother had not yet internalized the fact that she was the one who would be making decisions regarding the property. “It will all depend on what you decide to do with the house,” said Rena. “But I’m assuming they will not be included in your plans, especially if you sell it.”
“Sell it? Sell a house in Jerusalem? I would never do such a thing! After your father went to so much trouble to buy it for me? Here’s where I can reunite with your father when Moshiach comes.”
To be continued . . .