Victory Gardens – Chapter 75

Novel

Manny and Zayit have a late-night discussion during Shabbos. Manny is humbled by Zayit’s emunah.

*   *   *

The drive back to Yerushalayim was silent but not peaceful. It was laden with unspoken words.

Of the four men present, Beni was the most joyful. From his prone position in the back of the wagon, on a clear evening like this one he could see stars and even some planets. When Beni was younger, his mother had drawn a picture of the night sky for him. She’d used colored chalk to delineate the different groups of stars, and he’d stared at that chart, which she’d hung up next to the spot in one of the many eaves of their home, where he spent most of his time.

He’d memorized the chart. His mother believed in the power of his mind, and she worked hard to make sure he had plenty of food for thought. The others had no idea how much he was aware of or capable of, but his mother had always known, and there was little that went on around him that he didn’t understand.

These two brothers were a source of tremendous interest for him, and their comings and goings kept his mind occupied. Of course he’d known, the moment Manny had walked in to his hospital room with the wonderful Rabbi Levin, that Mutty was the man’s brother. The similarities between them were so obvious. Somehow, Rabbi Levin had known that Beni would see things he himself could not.

He was happy now because he knew that a change had taken place over the Shabbat they’d spent at his brother Shlomo’s house. He’d kept an eye on the emotional temperature the entire Shabbat, and he’d sensed a shift during the afternoon seudah. The older brother had let down his guard, throwing his arm around his younger brother at different times, serving him drink and food much the same way Shlomo attended to Beni. He knew there was some large decision pending — exactly what it was he was not sure — and that some resolution had been reached but hadn’t been voiced yet. It hung heavy now, in the wagon. Mutty sat by his side, as he usually did when they found themselves together, singing to him in that high, sweet voice, while Beni hummed along in his own Beni way. His heart knew that he wouldn’t see Mutty again, but that it would be all right, because Mutty would be happy.

Handshakes and heartfelt thanks were exchanged as the wagon pulled up in front of the Rothstein brothers’ boarding house. Mutty held Beni close and kissed him on the forehead. Even the less-friendly Manny pressed a hand to his shoulder, and it felt warm and good.

*   *   *

“We need to talk,” said Manny the next evening. He and Mutty were sitting on the tiny veranda that jutted out from one of the windows of the room they shared. You had to climb through the window to get at it, but the view was spectacular, and on particularly warm evenings the brothers curled up on their blankets and slept there.

“Okay,” said Mutty. “What about?”

“Papa and Mama,” said Manny.

Mutty sat up straight. “Oh! What about? Have you heard from them again?”

“No,” said Manny. “But I’ve been doing some thinking.”

Mutty was silent.

“You know,” said Manny, hunching over a little so his face was closer to his brother’s while his body kept its distance. “You’ve gotten a lot better since I’ve been here,” he said. “Not because of me.”

“What do you mean? You’ve helped me a lot!”

“Thank you, but what I’m talking about is time. Every day I see a difference in you that I didn’t see when I first got here. You’re smiling more, taking better care of yourself. Your learning is going really well. You’re young and resilient and it looks like you’re getting back to yourself after all of that tragedy you witnessed.”

Mutty looked thoughtful. “It could be,” he said. “I do feel better. Not good yet, like I was, but definitely better. You’re right about that. But what does that have to do with you and Esther? And Papa and Mama?”

“I’ve been speaking with the Rabbanim these past few days. We’ve had conversations.”

“What about?” said Mutty.

“I told them what happened with Papa and Mama, you know, that they’ve lost all their money and all that. And I asked them if I should cancel my plans to remain here and bring Esther over, and go home to take care of them.”

“So what did they say?”

“Well, they offered another possibility.” He didn’t mention, right then, who it was who had first suggested it.

“What?” asked Mutty. He didn’t know why his heart was pounding, but it was.

Manny took a deep breath. “Mutty, Esther and I, we need a change.”

Mutty nodded. “I know that. That’s why you’re bringing her over, isn’t it?”

“It is, and if things had remained the way they have always been, I’d have been all right with leaving Papa and Mama alone for a year or two.”

Mutty stared at his brother, his heart aware of what was coming long before his mind caught on.

“But the situation has changed, and we can’t leave them alone. And I was wondering, what if you went back home in my place?”

To be continued . . .