Mutty discovers that Papa remembered Hearst’s words about Esther and Manny when Papa requests that he withdraw money from Manny’s bank account. All three of them are now aware that Esther and Manny anticipate a simchah.
* * *
It was with great trepidation that Mutty walked with Papa to the telegraph office. Papa’s handwriting was still shaky, so he insisted on dictating the telegram in his booming voice.
TO: MANNY ROTHSTEIN
RETURN HOME IMMEDIATELY STOP
SHIFFSKARTEN TO FOLLOW STOP
Mutty took the dictation but hesitated before turning it in to the clerk. “Papa, if you received a telegram like this, wouldn’t you think that some sort of tragedy had taken place?”
“There may be a tragedy. My grandchild is going to be born in a foreign country!”
“Papa, how many times do I have to remind you: It’s Eretz Yisrael! I saw for myself many healthy babies there, both tiny and grown. There is nothing to worry about. Isn’t it possible that you are overreacting?”
“I’ll decide that, young man,” Papa hissed.
Several people turned to look at them, and Mutty’s face turned completely red. He wasn’t about to start explaining too much, but under no circumstances could he send the telegram the way it was.
“Papa, please. Let me just add a few words.”
“Hmph.” Mutty correctly interpreted that as permission and breathed a sigh of relief. Meanwhile, Papa walked, with noticeable effort, over to the wooden benches against the wall and sat down heavily. Even this small trip had exhausted him.
While his father was distracted, Mutty amended the telegram somewhat.
TO: MANNY ROTHSTEIN
He had to stop there for a moment and try to think of a delicate way to word what he wanted to say.
IS THERE BSOROS TOVOS? STOP.
He hoped Manny would understand to what he was referring.
IF YES, PAPA WISHES YOUR RETURN STOP
The real word was “demands,” but it was inappropriate and he wouldn’t write it.
PERMISSION TO DRAW FUNDS FOR SHIFFSKARTEN? STOP
YOUR LOVING BROTHER
Mutty breathed a sigh of relief as he managed to combine two telegrams into one. He paid for it with his own money, which made him feel better.
Mutty took Papa by the arm and prepared to lead him home.
”Where are we going?” asked Papa.
“We’re going home,” said Mutty.
“No, we are going to the bank. We must withdraw the money for the ship’s tickets.”
Mutty stammered for a moment, uncertain how to reply to Papa. His head really was pounding when he told Papa he had a terrific headache, and could they please put off the trip to the bank until the following day?
“What’s a young man like you doing with a headache?” asked Papa. “Headaches are for old people.”
“Even young folks get headaches sometimes,” said Mutty grimly.
“Hmph,” said Papa again, and allowed Mutty to take him home. When he saw Mama awaiting their return, Mutty knew the time had come to confide in her. He could no longer carry this burden alone.
“I think Papa is ready for his nap,” said Mutty.
“I’ll have to agree,” said Papa. “I am a bit sleepy.”
Mutty helped him into bed then turned to face Mama.
“Mama, may we talk?” he began. He sat Mama down and told her the whole story about what Mr. Hearst had said, and how he’d gone to Mima Faiga’s to see if the news was true by reading Esther’s letters.
“You didn’t!” Mama exclaimed.
“I did,” said Mutty.
“She let you read them?” said Mama.
“Of course. But there was nothing in there about besoros tovos.”
“So that’s what you were trying to hide from me. I didn’t even guess it.”
“I’m so sorry, Mama,” said Mutty. “I’m so busy trying to protect everyone, and then I just end up getting everyone upset.”
“Listen to me, Mutty. You’re in no trouble by me. I’m sure I don’t tell you enough how much I appreciate everything you are doing for Papa and me. Thank you so much for everything, Mutty. I know how much you gave up to come home, and I’m aware of the trauma you experienced that we barely acknowledged,” said Mama.
Mutty was about to murmur some polite response, but Mama had more to say. “And under no circumstances are you to withdraw Manny’s money. I doubt he gave you power of attorney so he could ship himself home!”
“What about Papa?” Mutty asked. “He’s determined.”
Mama pulled a chair over to a high cabinet over the ice box.
“What are you doing?” asked Mutty. “I’ll get it. What do you need there?”
Mama ignored him and stepped up high on the chair to reach something hidden up in the closet. Mutty never found out what it was, because the moment Mama reached up she lost her balance and fell crashing to the floor.
The thump woke Papa, who came hurriedly out of his room, his face contorted in fear while Mutty phoned the ambulance. Mama’s eyes were closed and her face was white.
Mutty had to sit down. Why hadn’t he stayed in Eretz Yisrael? He was far too young to be handling these king-sized problems.
If Manny were here, he knew that Mama wouldn’t have fallen. It didn’t make sense, but in his heart he knew it to be true. He needed Manny desperately, and wondered why he overrode Papa and didn’t beg him to return when he sent the telegram.
To be continued . . .