Victory Gardens – Chapter 117

Manny discovers Zayit at Shaare Zedek in great distress. His wife must travel to America to receive a special treatment, but Zayit doesn’t have the money to get her there. Manny hands over his ship tickets to Zayit, who is speechless with gratitude.


“Nu,” said Papa again. “When are we leaving already? The ship is due in two hours!”

Mutty shifted uncomfortably as Papa called out for the third time. Even though weeks had gone by since Papa sent the ship tickets to Manny, using Manny’s funds before receiving any go-ahead from his brother, neither he nor Mama had worked up the nerve to tell Papa that not only were Manny and Esther not coming, but that another couple would be using their tickets.

When Manny had written to explain that the Zayits were in trouble and that he had handed them the tickets that had been sent for him and Esther, Mutty was surprised and happy that his benefactors  would be helped as they had helped him on the day of the pogrom. At the same time, Manny had left him and Mama with the unpleasant and challenging task of explaining this to Papa and minimizing his disappointment and aggravation.

Per Manny’s request, Mutty had arranged with Mima Faiga for the Zayits to stay in their apartment. Mima Faiga, too, was thrilled to be of assistance, wishing to repay Manny and Esther for their kindness, and the Zayits had no problem staying in a house full of children. “We love children,” they’d replied solemnly when Manny asked them if it would be uncomfortable for them. “It would be no problem at all.”

Mima Faiga had set about making the house ready for their arrival. When she’d come to Mama and Papa requesting some items for the house, Papa had assumed she was preparing it for Manny and Esther’s return.

Papa had asked her when she was planning to return to Rivington Street, and she’d looked at him oddly. Mutty had held his breath, and Mima Faiga, too, had not let on that it would not be the Rothsteins but the Zayits who would be staying in the apartment. She’d only smiled at Papa and turned her attention to Mama as she ordinarily would, and Mutty had distracted Papa sufficiently so that he’d apparently forgotten to question Mima Faiga any further.

At that point, the arrival seemed far in the future. There was a lot of confusion in the house after Mama’s fall. Thankfully she had not been seriously injured; she was taken to the hospital and examined for a concussion and broken bones. Miraculously, there had been neither. Mama was sent home with instructions to rest and call the doctor if she felt unwell.

Just two days without her was more disruptive for Papa and Mutty than either of them could have predicted. Mutty was at a loss how to get good meals on the table, and Papa was both worried and hungry, which, naturally was a bad combination.

Mama got back on her feet much too soon when she saw the disarray that her absence had left in its wake, but precious days and equilibrium had been lost that was only just now being restored.

There was still — in theory — time to explain to Papa that Manny wasn’t coming, and why. Mutty knew that he must break the news to Papa before they left for the pier, but now that he had left it for the last minute, he was afraid that the additional shock would be too great for him. This was yet another time when he wished Manny was here after all.

Yet when he thought of Manny and Esther and their imminent simchah, Mutty was grateful to have a share in their happiness.

Mutty considered giving Manny’s letter to Papa to let him discover the news for himself, but Mutty decided against it. In the past, Papa had been cantankerous but was strong enough to accept the changes that life threw their way. Although the majority of Papa’s faculties had returned intact after what they delicately referred to as the “transition,” a certain stubbornness had set in that was now a ferocious thing that could not be reckoned with, and Mutty was afraid to set it off.

Now he was going to have to bring Papa to the port and what would be then? He had no way to predict Papa’s reactions anymore. He just kept putting off telling him, and putting it off again. Now here they were, the day of arrival, and Papa still believed Manny and Esther were on that ship.

The truth finally fully hit. Keeping the information from Papa because of his own cowardice had been an act of cruelty. Mutty now understood that he had to tell Papa right away, and he scolded himself about his own selfishness. Shock or no, it was time.

He ran out of his room, where he’d been getting ready to go, only to find Mama standing by the front door, wringing her hands and looking very unhappy.

“Mama, what is it? What’s wrong?” said Mutty.

“It’s Papa,” she said.

“What about Papa?” Mutty looked around and noticed there was no sign of him.

“He’s gone. He said he couldn’t wait any longer for you, and he was going to the pier himself.”

To be continued . . .