Mutty follows Mama’s instructions to seek permission from Manny to open the envelope. He decides to send a telegram to Manny. However, he does not know how aware Manny is of Papa’s condition, so he chooses his words carefully.
“Huh,” said Manny, almost forgetting to tip the delivery boy.
“What?” asked Esther. She was puttering around the kitchen, trying to make order out of the diverse objects she had unpacked and laid out.
“Telegram from Mutty.”
“I don’t know. I feel like there’s a message here underneath the one he sent, but I can’t figure it out.”
“Can I see it?”
The minute Esther saw the brief but meaningful message, she understood immediately what Manny was only sensing. She realized that the moment she’d been dreading had come: She was going to have to tell Manny the truth about his father’s condition. She recalled the tense exchange with her brother-in-law, and, true to the words she’d spoken then, she’d answered Manny’s questions about his father as vaguely as she could. By focusing almost exclusively on her own activities since he’d been gone and amusing him with tales of her sea journey, she’d managed to distract Manny from inquiring further about Papa. She decided to bide her time, and see if the moment of truth could be pushed off.
“Who is Hugo Eckener?” she asked.
“That’s the thing. He’s the captain of the airship, the one I flew on in August when Mutty went missing. Why would he be contacting Papa now? We paid him in full. And why can’t Papa open the letter himself? Why is Mutty asking my permission?”
Esther felt the color drain out of her face. Manny was looking at her closely, and he didn’t fail to notice the change in her complexion.
“All right,” he said firmly, pulling a chair out for her to sit. “What’s going on?”
“It’s really nothing,” she said.
“It’s clearly something,” he disagreed. “Let’s hear it.”
“I’m not keeping anything from you,” offered Esther, lamely.
“All right, if you say so. Then just answer me one question. Pretend we are seeing each other back at the port, and once again, I ask you, “So, Esther, baruch Hashem you’ve arrived safely. Tell me, how are Papa and Mama?”
Esther looked down at her fingernails. “Well, I’d say that Mama is fine, and that Mutty arrived safely, even though you didn’t ask about him.”
“And then I’d tell you that Papa is not well.”
Manny took a moment to absorb this large piece of news. It was like trying to swallow a piece of apple without chewing it first.
“Meaning?” he asked, his voice a tight fist.
“Meaning that when the market crashed, and Papa lost everything…”
“Yes, I’m aware of that already. What happened?”
“Papa didn’t take the news very well.”
“What does that mean?” asked Manny. He felt like his nerves were dangling on the edge of a cliff. “What does it mean to not ‘take the news very well’? Explain yourself.”
“Don’t shout at me,” said Esther, stalling for time — even one more second would be good.
“I’m not shouting!” But he was. “Just tell me what happened to my father already!”
“I can’t really explain it. He just stopped, like a clock winding down. One day he was Papa, and then the next day he was a little less Papa, and by the time I left, he was a shell of himself. He doesn’t speak, he doesn’t daven, he barely moves.”
“And you let me send Mutty home to that without telling me?”
“What was I supposed to do? He’s not sick. He’s in shock. I thought he’d get over it sooner rather than later.”
“That was a pretty big thought. What am I going to do now? We have to go home!”
“No we don’t. I just got here. I’m not leaving right now. Mutty and Mama can handle it. Papa will get better.”
“How do you know that?”
“I don’t know! I just do!”
Manny sat down, finally, his hands and arms dangling low, his head almost resting on his knees. “This was a very big thing to keep from me.” His voice was so soft Esther could barely hear him.
“I’m sorry Manny. I honestly believed I was making the right decision in keeping it to myself so that you would not be distracted from your learning.”
“I know that,” he said, raising his head slightly. “I can’t even be mad at you. I know you meant well.”
“I did! I truly did!”
“But Esther, we still have to go home. I must take care of my father.”
“It’s not feasible right now,” said Esther. “I can’t get back on that boat again for at least a year. I still feel it rocking when I wake up in the morning.”
“How can that be? You’ve been here for weeks already.”
“It just is. We’re not going.”
“Oh, but Esther,” Manny crooned. “I’m also sorry. Because we are most definitely going home.”
To be continued . . .