Victory Gardens – Chapter 97

Novel

Esther and Manny agree to put off returning to the United States until after their child is born.

 

Manny and Esther’s happiness was dimmed when Esther developed complications and was prescribed rest for the time being. Shwester Selma  had come around to the cottage a number of times already to check on her progress. While there, she’d put up a soup, wash the dishes, and sweep the floor. She actually made housework seem manageable, and even a little fun. It got so that Manny wanted to try his hand at it. Later on he realized it might have been her way of letting him know that more was expected of him during this trying period. And indeed, in a short time, Manny had brought the housework under control and derived satisfaction from doing so.

In fact, he discovered, as he mastered the art of primus lighting and egg checking, that there was both art and science when it came to cooking and that he seemed to have a talent for it. He tried to surprise Esther with something new and interesting to eat, unaware that she preferred eating a roll with butter.

His escapades in the kitchen were the only thing that kept him from withering with worry and fear. He’d received a return telegram from Mutty.

 

TO: MANNY ROTHSTEIN

ECKNER WARNS OF THREAT TO YOUR SAFETY. STOP.

SAYS HEARST WANTS TO TALK WITH PAPA. STOP.

PAPA CURRENTLY UNABLE TO DO SO. STOP.

PLEASE ADVISE OR RETURN HOME IMMEDIATELY. STOP.

YOUR LOVING BROTHER.

 

Manny noticed that he and Mutty were signing their telegrams the same way, as loving brothers. Their time together in Eretz Yisrael had  been well-spent in terms of their establishing a mature relationship that separated them from their childish rivalries and allowed whatever disagreements they may have with each other to be dealt with accordingly. The other thought that flitted through his mind was that despite its importance, the wordy telegram had probably cost a fortune, and he hoped Mutty wasn’t wasting the money Manny had entrusted him with.

He chided himself on worrying about something so minor when he might, in fact, be in some real danger. If Jens’ warning hadn’t been sufficient, this new piece of information — that Mr. Hearst wanted to speak personally with Papa — added a new layer of tension. He wondered what could be behind that request.

Living in New York among so many other Jews, he’d been relatively insulated from the kinds of virulent, even deadly, anti-Semitism that existed in parts of the United States, and of course in the rest of the world. Occasionally someone would refuse to do business with “Rothstein the Jew,” but he never let it bother him, finding that there were more customers willing to do business with him than those who weren’t.

But this sounded ominous. He wondered whether Hearst had any anti-Semitic leanings.

Surely when Papa had arranged passage for him on the airship he’d done so in good faith. Manny’s obviously Jewish name had been entered into the manifest at the last minute, but as far as he could tell, his conduct throughout the journey was blemish-free and blameless. The only thing that had gone awry was that last-minute photo of him that made it onto page one, but was that really an issue? Obviously, however, Mr. Hearst was upset about something. He felt the worries piling up on him like so much landfill: Papa, Esther, Jens, the baby (Mein G-tt! his mind exclaimed. Baruch Hashem, that one of my worries is about a baby!), Mutty, and — Mama! He’d heard nothing directly from her since his arrival in Eretz Yisrael, and perhaps she was the one who held the key to his regaining his serenity.

He decided then and there that the moment he returned home he’d write her a long letter, describing all his worries. He recalled his promise to Esther to keep their news a secret, but he did not know how he could keep the news from Mama and still enlist her help. He’d ask Esther again if it was all right if he just told Mama.

As he walked back home his mine churned and twisted. Go or stay? Fight or flee? But what would they be fighting or fleeing?

Besides, they couldn’t flee right now, in any case.

Manny had always prided himself on his cool-headedness, particularly in a crisis, and now here he was, reacting like a flighty child. His thoughts were unclear. It was as if someone had turned out the lights in his head, leaving him to feel his way around like a blind man.

There was nothing he could do today except continue to keep an eye out for strange individuals or danger, as he had been doing since meeting with Jens.

And as overburdened minds often do, he began to think about what exotic meal he’d prepare tonight for supper. Maybe he’d stop off at the shuk and buy an eggplant. He’d never had one before, and it looked interesting. He’d heard that eggplant was the Israeli version of the potato, and the thought of distracting himself with concentrated food preparation was appealing. Eggplant was manageable and Hearst was not. The choice of which to think about was an easy one to make.

To be continued . . .