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14

Never say it.

And there would be other things never-to-be-said. That, in time, vanished into oblivion.

Marea was one of these.

Marea-a sound like music, mysterious.

When Rebecca was five years old, in the summer of 1941.

Later, the memory of Marea would be obliterated by her fathers emotion at the time of Pearl Harbor.

Marea-Pearl Harbor-World War Too (for so it sounded to Rebeccas ears). In that time when Rebecca was still a little girl too young to go to school.

One evening after supper instead of going into the parlor, Pa remained in the kitchen. He and Ma had a surprise for them.

Of Herschel and August it was asked, Would you like a brother?

Of Rebecca it was asked, Would you like two sisters?

Pa was the one to speak so, mysteriously. But there was Ma beside him, very nervous. Giddy and girlish and her eyes shining.

As the children stared, Pa removed from an envelope photographs to be spread carefully on the oilcloth cover of the kitchen table. It was a warm June evening, the cemetery was alive with the sounds of nocturnal insects and there were two or three small moths inside the kitchen, throwing themselves against the bare lightbulb overhead. In his excitement Pa nudged the dangling lightbulb with his head so that the halo of light swung, veered drunkenly across the table; it was Ma who reached out to steady the bulb.

Their cousins. From the town of Kaufbeuren in Germany across the ocean.

And these: their uncle Leon, and their aunt Dora who was their mothers younger sister.

The boys stared. Rebecca stared. Your cousins. Your uncle, aunt. Never had they heard such words before from their fathers mouth.

Herschel will remember them, yes? Uncle Leon, Aunt Dora. El-zbieta, your little cousin, maybe you do not. She was just a baby then.

Herschel crouched over the table to frown at the strangers in the photographs, who squinted up at him in miniature beside Pas splayed thumb. He was breathing hoarsely through his nose. Whyd I remember em?

Because you saw them, Herschel. As a child in Munich.

Mew-nik?-what the hells that?

Pa spoke hurriedly, as if the words pained him. Where we lived. Where you were born. In that other place before this one.

Nah, Herschel said, shaking his head now so vehemently the flesh of his mouth quivered, I wadna. Not me.

Their mother touched Pas arm. Saying quietly, Maybe Herschel does not remember, he was so young. And so much since

Pa said bluntly, He remembers.

Fuck I dont! I was born in the fuckin Yoo Ess.

Ma said, Herschel.

Now was a dangerous time. Pas hands were shaking. He pushed one of the photographs toward Herschel, to look at. Rebecca saw that the photographs were bent and wrinkled as if they were old, or had come a long distance. When Herschel picked up the photograph to hold to the light, squinting as he peered at the couple, Rebecca worried that he might tear the photograph in two; it was like her older brother to do sudden wild things.

Instead, Herschel grunted and shrugged. Maybe yes, maybe no.

This placated Pa who snatched the photograph back from Herschel and smoothed it out on the table as if it were something precious.

There were five photographs, and each was wrinkled, and somewhat faded. Ma was saying to Rebecca, Your new sisters, Rebecca? See?

Rebecca asked what were their names.

Ma spoke the names of the children in the photograph as if they were very special names: Elzbieta, Freyda, Joel.

Rebecca repeated in her earnest child-voice: Elz-bee-ta. Frey-da. Jo-el.

Elzbieta was the oldest, Ma said. Twelve or thirteen. Freyda, she was the youngest, Rebeccas age. And Joel was somewhere between.

Rebecca had seen pictures of people in newspapers and magazines but she had never seen photographs, that you could hold in your hand. The Schwarts did not own a camera, for such was a luxury and they could not afford luxuries as Pa said. Strange it seemed to Rebecca, and wonderful, that a picture could be of someone you knew, whose name was known to you. And of children! A little girl Rebeccas age!

Ma said these were her little nieces and nephew. Her sister Doras children.

So strange to hear Anna Schwart speak of nieces, nephews. Sister!

These attractive strangers were not Schwarts but Morgensterns. The name Morgenstern was utterly new, and melodic.

In the photographs the Morgenstern children were smiling uncertainly. Almost you might think they were looking at you, because you could look so closely at them. Elzbieta was frowning as she smiled. Or maybe she was not smiling at all. Nor Joel, who squinted as if a light was shining in his eyes. The smallest, Freyda, was the most beautiful child, though you could not see her face clearly for she stood with her head bowed. Shyly she smiled as if to beg Dont look at me please!

In that instant Rebecca saw that Freyda was her sister.

In that instant Rebecca saw that Freyda had the same dark, shadowed eyes that she had. And except that Freyda had fluffy bangs brushed down on her forehead, and Rebeccas forehead was bare, their braided hair was the same. In one picture, Rebeccas favorite for you could see Freyda the clearest, the little girl appeared to be tugging at her braid over her left shoulder in the way that Rebecca sometimes did with hers when she was nervous.

Frey-da. She can sleep in my bed.

Thats right, Rebecca, Ma said, squeezing her arm in approval, she can sleep in your bed.

Pa was saying that the Morgensterns would be making the crossing along with nine hundred other passengers on a ship called the Marea, in mid-July, sailing from Lisbon, Portugal, to New York City. They would be journeying then upstate to Milburn, to stay with the Schwarts until they were settled in this country.

Rebecca was excited to hear this: her cousins would be crossing the ocean, that Rebeccas family had crossed before she was born? A strange little story came to her the way such stories often did, like dreams, swift as an eyeblink and vanished before she knew it: that another baby girl would be born, then. The way Rebecca had been born. And so when the Morgensterns came to live with them-would there be a new baby?

It would seem to Rebecca that, yes there would be a new baby in the house. But she knew not to mention this to anyone, not even Ma, for she was beginning to understand that some things she believed to be true were only dreams inside her head.

Herschel said sullenly there wouldnt be enough room for them all if these new people came, Chrissake would there? Bad enough livin like hogs.

Quickly Gus said his cousin Joel could sleep with him in his bed.

And quickly Ma said yes there would be room!

Pa seemed not so certain as Ma, more worried, stoop-shouldered and rubbing his knuckles against his eyes in that way he had, that made him look so tired, and old-seeming, saying yes the house was small, but he and his brother-in-law could enlarge it, maybe. Convert the woodshed into an extra room. Leon was a carpenter, they could work together. Before the Morgensterns arrived, he and the boys could start. Clear out the trash and level the dirt floor and lay down planks for floorboards. Get some tar paper sheets, for insulation.

Tar paper! Herschel snorted. Like from the dump, huh?

A mile away on the Quarry Road was the Milburn township dump. Herschel and Gus often explored there, as did other neighborhood children. Sometimes they dragged things home, useful items like castoff rugs, chairs, lamp shades. It was believed that Jacob Schwart, too, explored the dump, though never at any hour when he might be observed.

The dump was one of the places Rebecca was forbidden to go, ever. Not with her brothers and especially not alone.

Ma was saying in her quick warm voice she could fix all the rooms nicer. She had never gotten around to doing all shed meant to do, shed been so tired when they first moved in. Now she could put up curtains. She would sew curtains herself. Ma was speaking in a way that made her children uneasy for they had not heard her speak like this before. Ma was smiling a bright nervous smile showing the crack between her teeth, and Ma was brushing at her hair with both hands as if the moths had gotten into it.

Ma said, Yes you will see. There is room.

Herschel shifted his shoulders inside his shirt that was missing half its buttons, and said the house was too small for how-many people to live in: ten? Ten fuckin people like in a animal pen, thats bad enough now for Chrissake. The fuckin stove aint any good except for this room, an the God-damn well water tastes like skunk, an me an Gus is always bumpin into each other in our damn room, howre you gonna fit a new brother in it? Shit.

Without warning, swift as a copperhead snake striking, Pas hand flew out to whack Herschel on the side of the head. Herschel recoiled howling his damn eardrum was burst.

That wont be all thats going to be burst, you dont shut your mouth and keep it shut.

Ma said, pleading, Oh please.

Gus who was still hunched over the table, unmoving, afraid to look up at his father, said another time that Joel could sleep with him, it was O.K. with him.

Herschel said loudly, Who in hell is gonna sleep with him, pissin the bed every night! Its bad enough sleepin in the same damn room like hogs.

But Herschel was laughing now. Rubbing his left ear that Pa had hit, in a way to show it didnt hurt much.

Saying, Fuck I dont care, I aint gonna stay in this shit-hole. If theres a war, see, Im gonna en-list. Guys I know, theyre gonna en-list an so am I, Im gonna fly a plane an drop bombs like whats-it-the Blitz. Yeah, Im gonna.

Rebecca tried not to hear the loud voices. She was peering at Freyda, her sister Freyda who (you could almost believe this!) was peering up at her. Now they knew each other. Now they would have secrets between them. Rebecca dared to lift the photograph to the light to look inside it somehow. Oh, she wanted to see Freydas feet, what kind of shoes Freyda was wearing! She seemed to know that Freyda was wearing nicer shoes than she, Rebecca, had. Because Freydas little jumper-dress was nicer than anything Rebecca had. Kaufbeuren Rebecca was thinking in Germany across the sea.

It seemed to Rebecca, yes she could see into the photograph just a little. Her cousins were standing outside, behind a house somewhere. There were trees in the background. In the grass, what looked like a dog with white markings on his face, a pointy-nosed little dog, his tail outstretched.

Rebecca whispered: Frey-da.

It was so, Freydas hair had been parted in the center of her head neatly, and plaited like Rebeccas. In two thick pigtails the way Ma plaited Rebeccas hair that was inclined to snarl, Ma said, like tiny spider nests. Ma plaited Rebeccas hair tight so that it made her temples ache, Ma said it was the only way to tame flyaway hair.

The only way to tame flyaway little girls.

Frey-da. They would brush and plait each others hair, they promised!

It was time for the younger children to go to bed. Herschel stomped out of the house without another word but Gus and Rebecca wanted to linger, to ask more questions about their cousins from Kaufbeuren, Germany.

Pa said no. He was returning the photographs to an envelope Rebecca had not seen before, of tissue-thin blue paper.

Still the moths fluttered around the bare lightbulb. There were more now, tiny white animated wings. Gus was saying he never knew there was cousins in the family before. Damn he never knew there was anybody in the family!


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