Victory Gardens – Chapter 55

Novel

Manny and Mutty are reunited.

*   *   *

After reaching the front of the line and sending off the telegram to Papa and Mama Rothstein (“That’s it?” Manny had said, examining the form after tugging it out of Zayit’s hands. “Alive and well? That’s all you have to say for yourself?”) Zayit shepherded the two men out of the building and into a nearby café he knew of. He had never seen two brothers behave as strangely as these. If it had been any member of his family, despite their reserved natures, there would have been hugging, kissing, tears and laughter. The Rothstein brothers were almost hostile to one another. Mutty was sinking so far into himself under his brother’s wrath that Zayit wondered if he would ever again emerge.

He hoped that by explaining to Manny in detail all that had happened and describing Mutty’s experiences, Manny would begin to view his younger brother with compassion. He understood Manny’s anger, understood that it was really a form of relief. However, he hoped to get him to express that relief in a kinder way so he didn’t destroy the boy’s fragile state of mind.

Zayit and Manny spoke for a long time. Mutty would get up from time to time to refill their small cups of hot black coffee. He had learned to savor the bitter taste, and over time had decreased the amount of sugar he added until he could just feel its bite on his tongue. He would join in the conversation from time to time, amazed at the risks and discomforts Manny had undertaken just to come and find him.

“Thank G-d you’re alive,” he said, turning to Mutty, finally. “Papa and Mama were sure you were. Papa even said that you were just playing your usual games, and that you would turn up eventually. Like a bad penny.”

Zayit, who thought he had succeeded in breaking Manny’s wall of coldness toward his traumatized brother, could hold back no longer. “Mr. Rothstein, please! I understand you are my guest here, but I must insist you treat your brother with a little more respect!”

Mutty looked embarrassed. “He doesn’t mean anything by it,” he said. “It’s just him. I know he loves me deep down in there somewhere.”

Manny grimaced. “I do love you. We all love you, but you have caused us so much trouble! I had to leave my wife, my business, just because you were too lazy to send a telegram!”

“But from what you said, you wouldn’t have received it until after you left New York anyway. Isn’t that so?” said Zayit. “And you can’t deny that the zeppelin voyage must have been thrilling.”

“It was,” Manny admitted. “But we’re going to have to take a long, boring boat trip back home. I’m going to book passage for both of us tomorrow.” He drained the remains of his small cup and puckered his mouth as the dregs reached his lips.

He stood up to leave, and gestured to Mutty to stand as well. When he didn’t rise, Manny looked down at him, puzzled.

“What’s the matter now?” he said.

“I’m not going home with you,” he said quietly.

“Pardon?”

“I’m not going home now.”

“I beg to differ,” said Manny. “You most certainly are coming home with me. Papa and Mama are waiting for you, and I must return home to Esther.”

“You can go. I’m going to stay here in Eretz Yisrael for a while.”

Zayit was amazed, and secretly very pleased, that Mutty was standing up for himself. He had a feeling the boy was leaning towards a decision like this, and he had been careful not to try to influence him one way or the other.

Emanuel sat down and stuck his face very close to Mutty’s. Little drop of brownish spittle flicked through the air as he spoke. “Listen to me, Mutty. We care about you. But the time for this nonsense is over. Papa sent me here to find you and bring you home, and that is what I intend to do. We have already wasted too much time and money worrying about you.”

“I hardly think—” Zayit began to intervene.

“Mr. Zayit,” said Manny, turning now to the older man. “I cannot describe to you in words how much I appreciate all you have done for my brother. Your chessed and ahavas Yisrael know no bounds. But right now, this is a family matter, and I’ll have to ask you, if you wouldn’t mind, to step back and let me take over. Mutty is my responsibility.”

“I understand,” said Zayit, “but that is no reason to hurt his feelings unnecessarily, to speak harshly to him.”

Instead of replying, Manny turned to Mutty. “Let’s go.”

He put some money down on the small café table, insulting Zayit to his core as he did so, and walked out of the café. He was so certain Mutty would be following behind him that he didn’t even bother to look back to check. Had he done so, he would have been surprised to find Mutty, breathing as hard as if he had just run a race, seated solidly in his chair, his lips pressed into a grim imitation of a smile. 

To be continued . . .