In the dim light from the full moon, she could tell her sister, Liesel, was already up and dressed or she had slept in her clothes. It was cold in the room. Her small feet hit the icy floor, and she began to shiver. She put her dress over her head with Liesel's help and then stood still while her older sister buttoned the tiny, shiny black buttons running down the front of her bodice.
She heard whispering in the next room and then her mother was there with her coat.
"Here, put this on and don't take it off unless I tell you to."
Her mother guided her small thin arms into the sleeves of the old gray wool coat that had once been a fine new coat with matching hat and muff, and a favourite of her sister's until she out grew it. Now it belonged to Lily and even though it was oceans too big for her, she loved the way it smelled of winter, and it was delicately scented with the rose soap her sister had once used to bathe, before the rationing had begun. She placed her hand onto the bedside table feeling for her gilt and enameled locket, a very special gift from her grandmother. Then she remembered. Her mother had taken it away from her and put it on top of the pile on the dining room table with the other family heirlooms.
Now the coat was heavy with the pieces of jewelry her mother and Tanté Annie had sewn into the hem. The same aunt who had sewn the yellow star onto her coat sleeve when she had turned 10 last month.
Two days ago her Uncle Dolek had arrived from Lodz. She didn't hear what the grownups were talking about, but she remembered her mother's tears.
Now her aunts and uncles appeared in the doorway. Tanté Annie handed her a parcel tied with twine, then gave her sister a book bag stuffed with food they had hoarded, even though they could have been shot.
Now she had her shoes and stockings on and her mother was trying to feed the brown laces through the eyelet, but the aglet was missing and the cord frayed.
He father's shadow fell over them.
"Come, we have not time for this. I told you to keep everything ready. She should have slept with her shoes on!"
Her mother tucked the laces into the shoe and gave her a pat on the cheek.
"That will have to do, Liebchen"
With Uncle Dolek leading and her father the last, they went single file down the dark staircase of what had once been their own home. Now they shared it with other families, people they didn't even know, before the occupation.
As they walked quickly and silently down the wet deserted street, she thought of her grandmother whose picture was inside one half of the locket. In the other half was a picture of a man she had never seen. It was her grandfather. He had died before she was born.
The night of her birthday as she lay in the bed she shared with her sister, she opened the locket and saw that the picture on the right side of the locket, the image of her grandfather, was not there.
She looked in the bed and on the floor to see if it had slipped out. Then when she looked at the left side of the locket, she was surprised to see that her grandmother's picture had changed. She was young and smiling and had her arms around a young soldier.
Lily looked over at her sister sleeping beside her, and decided Liesel had changed the picture as a joke.
Lily put the locket back onto the table and went to sleep. The next morning when she went to put the locket on, she peeped inside and saw her grandmother's familiar face gazing out at her and grandfather’s picture was back where it belonged.
One morning, in the days that followed her birthday, when Tanté Annie had helped her to fasten the clasp, she hugged her and told her that they had received news from Lodz that Gran had died in her sleep the night of Lily’s birthday.
Tanté Annie and her mother took turns holding her until her tears were spent.
That night when she took the locket off she slipped her fingernail gently under the gilt edge to open it and as she slowly lifted one side, she heard faint music emanating from inside the locket. She looked first at her grandmother’s side of the locket but it was bare. She quickly turned her eyes to her grandfather’s side and there they were. Gran was dressed in a long velvet gown, she had feathers in her hair and Grandfather was in formal attire. They were dancing. Lily watched them fascinated. A slow waltz was playing. Lily turned the locket over and over again in her hand trying to discover if it had a miniscule music box inside.
Lily carefully closed the locket so the music would not awaken Liesel. That night she fell asleep with the locket in her hand.
In the morning when she found the locket down at the foot of the bed, she opened it and saw Gran and Grandfather in their proper places, solemnly gazing out at the wallpapered room.
After that, every time she opened the locket at night, they were together doing something fun with each other. Gran and Grandfather in a garden. She in a beautiful puff-sleeved, ruffled white dress, her long hair flowing out behind her, laughing; he in a linen suit pushing her on a wooden swing. Resting in each other’s arms on a picnic blanket. Sometimes, they were in a gaily painted rowboat on the Vistula, Grandmother’s parasol filling the frame. Grandfather in a bowler hat, rowing, his sleeves rolled up with striped garters.
Lily had never told anyone what she had discovered. Tonight as she scrambled along the cold dark street, she was certain she heard the first delicate strains of a waltz.
I have been invited to read this at the Community of Jewish Writers in Niskayuna, N.Y. on May 11, 2011.
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My Buddha Garden
Honey (The Christmas Bear)
out on a limb
It's hard to swallow with a lump in your throat
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Dance As If No One Is Watching
The Halloween Slumber Party
How Important is One Vote?
Rebel Without a Curse
In These Rooms
Things are more like they are now than they ever were before
You Are What You Eat
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Similes To Make You Smile
Cooking Conversion Table
I Said Coffee
Things I'll do now that he's gone
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Sea, I Love the Way You Tremble
Early Morning Haiku
A New Haiku
Will You Remember?
Wild Dark Love Song
All he's left me
Memories of Japan for etouffee