No Sanctuary

 

 

No Sanctuary

By Gloria Garfunkel

 

 

1. Arrival
 
Lying flat on the grass where the table would be, I gazed at the criss-crossed wooden slats, cornstalks, pine branches, and shafts of sunlight that composed the magical roof of the sukkah, a hut where my family would eat for the next eight days, on the festival of Sukkos, a fall celebration of the Jews wandering in the desert for forty years to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. The eighth day would be Simchas Torah, representing the joy of receiving the Torah.
 
“It’s the opposite of a gas chamber,” I thought, deeply breathing in the sweet country air. Like a clubhouse, the sukkah could be easily blown over by a big wind, yet it felt so much safer than places like windowless public bathrooms, that I was always afraid would somehow fill with poison gas, especially if there was a strong smell of disinfectant. I held my breath and watched the people around me, to see if they were okay, before I took a breath. If no one was there, I’d either leave or breathe slowly.
 
Once, when I was in Hebrew school, I went to the bathroom, and with that sick disinfectant smell I began to feel faint, the inside of my head getting cold, my vision darkening to a pinpoint of light on the brass doorknob of the bathroom. I pulled the knob with all my strength.
 
This is what it felt like for them to die, I thought about my gassed relatives. I could barely pull the door open and stood in the hallway panting. My mother was waiting for me and looked shocked.
 
“You’re white as a ghost!” This scared me even more. I really almost did die. “As white as a ghost.”
 
“Stop saying that,” I pleaded.
 
“It’s something in the bathroom. A smell. A gas,” I cried.
 
She stuck her head in and said she felt sick, too. She called the rabbi and his secretary, but they smelled nothing. We had no idea what had happened. The theory was that it was either carbon monoxide from the nearby garage, or a cleaner mixing chlorine and ammonia to create toxic gas. Either way, it bothered no one but my mother and me, making it suspect whether it was real.
 
But ever since then, I have never trusted public bathrooms, even in school.
 
This was the beginning of my panic disorder, at age six. I could bring on that faint feeling whenever I thought about it, for the rest of my life. For a while, I wouldn’t leave my bed at all. Gas chambers had invaded my brain that summer.
 
But out here, in the fresh country air, there was no gas. The air was perfect. I could breathe deeply, happily.
 
While I lay on the grass, my mother was driving all the way from Faraway Farm in Greenhouse Station, New Jersey, to a New York airport to pick up her sister, Aunt Ibika, with Uncle Tito and their daughters, Gita and Esther, who had all flown to visit us from Tangiers just in time for Sukkos, five days after the repentant solemnity of Yom Kippur.
 
My grandfather, Zeidika, and my father had built the sukkah on Sunday. Its three walls of knot-holed, splintery gray planks were hinged together and leaned against the house as the fourth wall. The expanded family would eat all meals there for eight days and nights, on a makeshift table of long boards and sawhorses decorated with embroidered cloth, just as autumn nipped the air in 1959. The house wall opened to Zeidika’s and my step-grandmother Magda’s kitchen window, for easy passage of food. A blue canvas tarp flapped in the doorway.
 
“They’re here! They’re here!” announced Lucy, my younger sister, aged five.
 
And out of the car piled the four relatives I had only seen until then in black-and-white photographs taken in a lush garden full of palm trees. Tito and Gita had the dark skin of Sephardic Jews; Esther and Ibika the fair skin of the rest of our Ashkenazic family.
 
The adults laughed and cried and hugged, while we children watched each other warily. My mother gave us each a large doll that looked like us. My aunt gave us miniature tea sets and beauty kits.
 
That first day, the reunited sisters chattered away in Hungarian, as they did in the weekly letters they normally sent each other from afar. My cousin Gita and I, both aged six, just watched each other, as my cousins spoke only Spanish and Ladino, a Jewish form of Spanish.
 
 The next day, before the holiday started at sundown, I helped my mother, Aunt Ibika, and Magda wrap short strings around little jars of sweet red wine and honey to symbolize a sweet year, apples and tiny brown pears from the surrounding orchards to represent the harvest, and gourds from their cornucopia garden for abundance. Tall Magda stood on a step-ladder to hang them from the roof slats as the rest of us handed them over. The table had been assembled early that morning by Zeidika.
 
On the sides, Gita and I competitively created chains of colorful construction paper. We hardly spoke, and mostly giggled and showed each other what we made. We folded cut-outs to hang along the walls: Jewish stars, Torah scrolls, snowflakes, flowers, and my favorite, chains of people holding hands. My goal was six million people, for the adults were all concentration camp survivors, but I achieved only six hundred, because Gita was so slow and meticulous. This was still way more than we needed. I felt distressed to find a few of my own people in the kitchen trash can, but decided not to make a fuss, because there was already so much hanging from the flat roof and tacked onto the walls, glinting and swaying in the breeze, there was no room for more. My mother sculpted sturdy tin foil vases that she tacked at all the corners and in the middle of each wall. Aunt Ibika picked flowers with the five-year-olds, Lucy and Esther. The little ones filled buckets from the hose so my mother could drench the stems as Aunt Ibika arranged the intensely red, orange, and yellow zinnias from my father’s garden.
 
After we were done decorating, Gita and I, born a week and an ocean apart, retreated to the large attic bedroom that I shared with Lucy. Gita jabbered in Ladino, while I spoke English. Showing replaced telling, even as we kept up our incomprehensible chatter to each other. Gita traced the journey from Tangiers on the world map hanging on my bedroom wall. She started way at the top of Africa in Morocco, just across the Mediterranean Sea from Spain, using her red-nail-polished pointer finger and delicate gold-braceleted hand to boast about the long route they had taken here by plane across the Atlantic Ocean. I admired the tawny glow of her skin against the gold, her coal-black hair and eyes, and wished I looked like her.
 
2. Night
 
At the table that night, the assembled family laughed while passing the abundant feast through the window and around the table in the sukkah. Boxy Uncle Tito plodded through Spanish-accented English, while exuberant Aunt Ibika flitted among Spanish and Hungarian, Yiddish and Ladino, with English as needed, seamlessly binding the conversation of all these displaced Jews from different countries. Only Polish was omitted, a language my father had forgotten to speak because of his traumas, speaking Yiddish and broken English instead. In the darkness of night, the sukkah sparkled like an inside-out Christmas tree. It was contained like a fort, but with no locks, an ocean and years away from the disruptions of Gestapo giants barging into homes, sorting family members from Hungary and Poland into multiple horrible places.
 
Here in this sanctuary America, the sukkah was a room both inside yet outside, a hut just big enough for a family to crowd around a table laden with food while breathing fresh air. It was the opposite of this family’s war past, when both of my parents’ families had been taken to Auschwitz. My grandmother, Gittel, after whom Gita and I were named, was sent straight to the “showers” with her four youngest children, to be gassed to death. My mother and Aunt Ibika, teenagers,  clutched each other while starving for a year in camps. My father had survived four years afflicted by Nazis in Poland, two in camps and two in hiding.
 
After the war, the surviving sisters spent two years in Paris while waiting for papers to come through for immigration to America. Zeidika traveled first to America, to make money to bring his two remaining daughters over by ship. To the sisters, living in Paris after the war felt like a dream, like they were camouflaged among regular people, my mother at seventeen and Ibika at sixteen, on their own, sewing in a dress factory. Tito was a wealthy Spanish Jew vacationing in Paris. He had black eyes, shiny like ants, and pomaded hair, a stocky man with thick square-rimmed glasses and a smile of square white teeth.  My mother still told everyone she would never forgive him for stealing her only surviving sister to Tangiers.
 
Aunt Ibika lived with servants among palm trees and verdant gardens, a lavish life I only glimpsed in the photographs that occasionally arrived in Ibika’s weekly air mail correspondence. Those letters were the only things that ever stopped my bustling mother in her tracks. Whatever my mother was doing, when a letter from Ibika arrived, she sat down, read and reread the letter, laughing and crying at once. I had never seen my mother as happy and relaxed as she was since Ibika arrived.  
 
Gita and I did not resemble each other at all. We were opposites. Gita was vivid, her father’s eyes and hair matching her black patent leather shoes with no scuff marks. Her olive skin contrasted with her frilly white pinafores and anklets, her ears pierced with engraved golden balls. Compared to her, I felt barely distinguishable from the air around me, my pale skin and freckles topped by a haze of translucent blondish fuzz, my eyes the vague blue-gray of a stormy sky. I felt invisible.
 
Esther and Lucy clung to their mothers, who were inseparable, chattering and laughing in Hungarian with Zeidika, and switching to Yiddish and Ladino when husbands were nearby, then English and Spanish for the children. Magda, usually the center of attention, was more on the sidelines than I had ever seen her. She fake-smiled but looked grumpy, shunted from the limelight.
 
After dinner, we returned to the house where the women did the dishes. Gita and I played side by side, though not together. We jabbered away, as if in conversation, while not understanding a word of each other’s language. I preferred to play with dirt and bugs, and Gita favored swings and dolls and was constantly washing her hands with soap. Our mothers would push us to play together.
 
“This time is so precious,” my mother scolded me. “Get to know your cousin. You never know when you will get a chance to see her again.”
 
“She is like a little doll,” my mother marveled over Gita, with a sparkle in her aquamarine eyes I had never seen until Ibika arrived. The black-haired doll my mother gave Gita became an appendage she refused to let me touch without washing off contaminants. My blonde doll was bald and naked by the end of that day. Aunt Ibika had given us miniature china tea sets and beauty kits. My teaware was in shards and my beauty kit in shambles within the day, while Gita’s sets remained carefully preserved as if never opened, though I did witness her setting a tea party for Lucy and Esther, and then carefully replacing each cup and saucer in its original nook in the box, as she glimpsed with her ever rounder black-orb eyes, dirty me arriving with my bug-and-grass jar. Gita kept her toys hidden, for she thought that once I destroyed my own toys, I would hunt hers down.
 
3. Bathroom
 
Newly risen from sleep, I locked myself in the bathroom the first morning of Sukkos, before the farmhouse full of visitors stirred in the direction of the only bathroom on my parents’ side of the house. Perched on the toilet seat, I drifted in reverie. Dust fibers meandered in and out of the sunlight streaming through the window. My skinny legs dangled from the pink seat, toes not quite reaching the rug.  Folded towels nestled neatly on shelves and hung from shiny steel racks, pastel colors of sunset. Not a germ in sight.
 
Golden hairs glistened like baby chick fur on my twig arms. I felt weightless, a dust particle suspended in the light of God, who was everywhere and always, and therefore even here, in this unsacred space. I inhaled the scent of Ivory soap and freshly grouted tile, then exhaled, breathing God. I flushed my poop down to the cesspool buried just outside the frilly pink curtains, camouflaged under a backyard Eden. My pristine toilet was connected by one flush to a black hole into hell.
 
Did my mother ever warn me not to play above the septic tank, or did I just manufacture the horrific possibility myself, of drowning in a pool of swarming poops because the rusted lid did not hold? I could not remember. But I had once witnessed the alarmingly flimsy lid excavated from under the springy grass when the two farmhouse toilets ceased flushing. A truck arrived, resembling a cement mixer, flattening the lawn near the swings in order to sink a flabby tube into the muck, sucking swirling stench into its bulbous back. I decided right then that nothing could be worse than drowning in that tank lurking under the bathroom window, ever ready to swallow me up, exactly like the events in my parents’ recent past that perpetually crouched outside my peripheral vision, too close in possibly reversible time and space for me to ever feel safely out of reach.
 
These were the two worst possible ways of dying, I had concluded. First, drowning in a vat of festering feces like in that cattle car where my mother’s family was packed so tightly they had to stand in the screaming dark with no food, water, or toilets, slimed with excretions and death, so that when the door slid open after three nights and days, the passengers did not so much disembark as disembowel from that train, spewing like the intestines of gutted chickens on our farm during slaughtering season. The Nazis had to sort the already dead, like Great-grandmother Clairel, from the barely alive, like Grandmother Gittel and her four littlest ones, and those few resilient ones like my teenaged  mother and Ibika who had a little more work potential left in them.
 
The number two worst way to die was being my hungry, thirsty, exhausted like Grandmother Gittel and the four littlest children, having survived the cesspool train ride, then being tricked into stripping off their filthy clothes, getting their heads shaved to remove head lice, and funneled into a giant room, all bunched together, naked, waiting for water to flow from shower heads, and instead breathing poisonous gas (as if the head lice had made a difference). These were definitely the two worst ways to die.
 
I had gone over these options daily for as long as I could remember. They existed as an undertow, ever threatening to sweep me off my feet, suck me across an ocean of time and space, and land me right smack in the middle of those horrors. It was as if the timeline of my life stretched like a rubber band, threatening to snap me back to before I was born, to the moment when each of my parents had left their homes for good.
 
“You never forget. It’s always there,” they each had told me many times. This was true for me, as well, though I never felt entitled to say so. I just feared that time was reversible. The past was never over, just hiding in the dark. Time could go in either direction. How else to explain the vividness of memories from before I was born, and the nightmares resembling my parents’ experiences that haunted me nightly?
 
4. Gas Chamber
 
By the time I was six, I was well aware that contemplating God in the bathroom was forbidden by the Code of Jewish Law. To ward off God thoughts, I was required by Orthodox rabbinical decree to distract myself with counting, rhyming, or seeking images of nature. But I resisted warding off God thoughts. The very prohibition compelled me to think exclusively of God in this most unholy of rooms. So in defiance of the Code, the bathroom was my Sanctuary of Truth, where God and I silently held each other accountable for sins, at least during the day, when I felt braver than at night.
 
For if God was everywhere, I had concluded, then He was here with my poops, even in them. And if that were  true, then He had also been present in that cesspool on wheels, the three-day cattle car ride to Auschwitz, where Great-grandmother Clairel had died, drenched in poop, pee, blood, sweat, and vomit. He pervaded that locked trap where Grandmother Gittel and her youngest children screamed for His help before dying from poison gas wafting from showerheads. He was the only one in the universe with the power to save them, but he refrained.
 
Compared to God’s guilt of murder to the sixth-millionth degree, I thought my measly sin of thinking about God in the bathroom laughable. But since my thoughts were transparent to His Giant Eye, I felt as exposed as a tree standing alone in a field was to lightning. So I vacillated between defiance, usually during the day, and terror at night.
 
To me, the Code of Jewish Law was just a rabbinical cover-up, wishful thinking, absolving God of all blame for not rescuing my relatives. Only I could see this, like the little boy in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. God and poisonous excretions were not mutually exclusive. There was no separation between His Holy Presence and Impure Thoughts and Things. Great-grandmother Clairel, Grandmother Gittel, and my mother’s little siblings had all breathed God, excretion, and poisons braided together like challah, as they died like the flies my mother periodically eradicated with Raid, after shooing the children from the farmhouse while holding her hand over her mouth and nose. If He was everywhere, He permeated the gas chambers and cattle cars. If He were  absent, then He was not, in fact, everywhere, and so my thinking about Him in the bathroom was not even a sin.
 
Certainly, a Godless universe would be a relief from the relentless scrutiny of His critical judgment. But I knew that God the Unmerciful was guilty and that He existed everywhere and always, never hesitating to sacrifice His Chosen People for mysterious strategic reasons, like pawns in an invisible chess game with millions and millions of pieces.
 
In my Sanctuary of Truth, during the light of day, I attempted to outwit Him, escape his Master Plan, even though I knew that He knew exactly what I would do, before I acted. So on this particular Sukkos morning, about to brush my teeth, I instead suddenly pulled my hand back and turned the sink faucet on and off six times, a ritualized effort to escape the prison of His determinism and do something unexpected. But no matter how many times I repeated this ritual with last-second variations, I felt defeated, certain He had expected me to do the unexpected, and that no matter what I did to escape His will, I was forever trapped inside it, like a fly struggling to escape a spider’s web, becoming ever more entangled.
 
In my more vulnerable moments in bed at night, my death fears crept out of the darkness as defiance fled to more sanctified places. I bargained for life, resolving to strive for perfection in deed and thought, in exchange for another day, a week, a month, of life, fully aware that six million Jewish souls, probably all better than me, had previously begged for their lives to no avail. It did not benefit my case that the terror I felt in the face of His fierce judgment and exacting standards was equally countered by a rage that propelled me toward evil deeds, like teasing Lucy, hoarding candy, randomly sticking my tongue out at smiling children from the back seat of the car, and even once pulling the wings off a living fly, forcing it to wander around in circles like a concentration-camp inmate until it died. Both parents had seen people in camps “drop like flies.” Though the fly episode wracked me with pity for the victim, I knew that none of my small-scale crimes were comparable to those God had committed against my relatives.  I realized, too, that He never appreciated my pointing this out.
 
A sense of doom thus pervaded my life inside my family’s meticulous edifice of Orthodox Jewish ritual, a despair of ever measuring up as worthy of life in their stern God's universe. I felt as likely to die in childhood as so many family members before me. Yet alongside this resignation resided a tenacious refusal to give up trying to live, remaining vigilant to God’s sundry whims. For one thing, I never played in the grass above the cesspool, just in case God had rigged the lid to collapse. I always held my breath until I was certain only water flowed out of the shower head in the bathroom, just in case God had arranged for the plumbing to secretly snake through the walls, connecting the gas stove in the kitchen to the shower head in the bathroom. And I always fell asleep with my hands over my chest, so I could cry out to my mother for help if I ever had a heart attack. For my mother was a survivor of all that God had  inflicted upon her, and was, therefore, the strongest woman in the world.
 
5. Sukkos Morning
 
On this first morning in the sukkah, the only showers present were leftover light rain spatters, so that water droplets pearled like silver moonbeams on the transparent plastic protecting a white linen tablecloth bordered with colorful flower chains my mother had embroidered on long summer afternoons. These were the sorts of dwellings Jews had lived in after their escape from Egypt. I supposed the leaky roof was less of a problem in the desert. My mother wiped away the water to sit and eat.
 
Everyone wandered in for the special Sukkos blessings over the lulav, which consisted of a large palm branch woven together with a myrtle branch on one side and a willow branch on the other, all held in one hand, and the esrog, a citron that resembled a giant lemon, in the other. People  held them together as they prayed, waving the leaves and the etrog towards the four corners of the earth.
 
I rolled my breakfast coffee cake into little dough balls that I popped into my mouth just to irritate Magda, who had made the delectable cake. I leaned my head against the back of the chair and gazed up toward pieces of sky as the sun streaked down, glinting off tiny glass jars hanging from the ceiling. Around them, gourds and apples twirled on strings. Around me hung the construction paper chains of people holding hands. Though this was the first day of Sukkos, spider webs already nestled in all four corners, catching the slowed-down flies of October and decorating the sukkah with them.
 
Tea, platters of pastries, and bowls of fruit were served in the sukkah. The coffee cake had big swirls of chocolate. There were sticky cinnamon-raisin buns, honey cake, dried figs and apricots, and fresh pomegranates, a new fruit for the new year. Aunt Ibika kissed and hugged everyone as she served them pastries, fruit, and drinks. She was the most affectionate person I had ever met. I had never seen my mother and grandfather so happy and so alive, nor my self-centered step-grandmother quite so surly.
 
“Isn’t my sister wonderful?” my mother chirped, and everyone enthusiastically agreed. My mother seemed so reserved in contrast to Ibika that it was hard to believe their claim that as children in Nyirbelteck, Hungary, my mother had been the active tomboy who constantly defended her gentle sister, Ibika.
 
“If anyone bothered me, your mother would wait for them in a tree and jump on them when they passed,” said Ibika, laughing.
 
“I always gave my mother such a hard time,” my mother added. “Oy, I wish I had been a better daughter.”
 
“You were both wonderful daughters,” said Zeidika, beaming. “And still are.”
 
“What was life like then?”
 
Ibika said, “It was beautiful, with rolling hills and farms, like around here. There was one shul in town and two churches, about seventy-five Jewish families, and twice as many Christians. My father supported us with a small seltzer business and also rented a flour mill along with two Jewish partners, both wealthier than us.”
 
 My mother said, “I was born in l927 and Ibika was born less then than two years later, like you and Lucy. We were always very close. I was a tomboy, always in fights, always getting hurt and scaring my mother. Once I got bitten near my eye by a horse, and grabbed a tomato from the garden to keep it from bleeding. When she saw the tomato she almost fainted, thinking my eye had popped out, but it wasn’t that bad, though I still have this scar. Ach! I gave my mother such a hard time. I was not a good daughter at all. Ibika was just the opposite, such a sweet nature, always an optimist, to this day, even after everything.”
 
“Did you have any pets?” I asked.
 
“Many cats. Our mother loved cats,” said Ibika.
 
“And Bodri, our white sheepdog. He was so loyal that he refused food from everyone after we were taken away, and he starved to death on our doorstep,” said my mother.
 
“No, no, he was shot by the Germans, remember? He was the dog that was running after our truck and they shot him to death,” said Ibika.
 
“No, I’m sure our neighbor told us after the war that Bodri had starved on our doorstep from grief.”
 
Though I wanted to know the truth, because waiting and starving was so much worse than getting shot, they dropped the subject and flitted on to other things. Like the fact that the situation for Jews in Morocco was getting worse.
 
“We are thinking of moving to Israel,” said Tito.
 
“Israel? But that’s not so safe either,” said my mother.
 
“Yes, but the Muslims in Morocco are getting very, how you say — aggressive — toward Jews. There have been many incidents,” Tito replied. “We really have no choice. Jews from all the Muslim countries are, how you say — flocking — to Israel. It’s impossible for us to exist in Arab lands.”
 
Everyone was silent for a long moment. Not again.
 
6.  Crime and Punishment
 
When everyone dispersed, I lingered, inspecting a spider’s web glistening with dew. Gita wandered in with that doll of hers, Manuela. I pointed to the baby spiders and Gita leaned over next to me to observe them. She was so absorbed that my nose rubbed up against Manuela’s shiny hair. As if possessed with a will of its own, my hand grabbed Manuela’s arm and tugged the doll away from Gita. I swung the doll over my shoulder, gripping it tightly as my legs sped to the farmhouse. Gita shrieked behind me all the way, and wedged her shiny shoe in the bathroom door before I could slam it shut, so that she managed to wiggle herself in before I could lock  the door and prevent  the drama that followed.
 
I dangled pristine Manuela by one leg over the toilet bowl, lowering her head towards the water in fits and starts, punctuated by frequent flushing. Gita screamed and gesticulated. Her angry uncle’s pounding and yelling vibrated the door. I moved in slow motion, as if in a trance, torturing my cousin and the doll, finally dipping the tip of a black ringlet into the whirlpool.
 
I was as startled by the actual contact with water as Gita. There was a split second when time reversed and I felt as if I had suddenly become the doll herself. Gita seized her defiled doll from my shocked hands, and ran sobbing into her the arms of her father, who was  waiting right outside the door. She squealed and he mumbled in distressed Spanish. Then I heard Uncle Tito shout in English: “Well, if she dipped your doll in the toilet, we will just have to flush her down the toilet to teach her a lesson.”
 
I was out the door like a bullet, running as fast as possible to save my life. Portly Uncle Tito panted like an ogre not far behind, chasing me twice around the farmhouse, cornering me in the sukkah, my safe haven. There he shoved me harshly against the spider’s web, squashing all the spiders’ babies in my hair. Then he swung me over his shoulder like a doll. He marched me to the farmhouse, growling in a stern voice, “Now I will flush you down the toilet, and you will see how that feels.”
 
This is my execution, like Abraham carrying Isaac, like my relatives on the trains and in the showers for no reason at all, I thought in a panic. In my case, I felt there was a reason: I was a mean little girl, guilty of tormenting my innocent cousin and that stupid doll. I felt I deserved to be flushed down into the cesspool of my nightmares.
 
“No, please don’t, I’m sorry, I’ll be good,” I beseeched Uncle Tito, the way I always, in the dark, begged God for my life.
 
Uncle Tito hauled me through my parents’ bedroom where they were reading newspapers in bed, as he announced, “Say goodbye to your daughter. I am flushing her down the toilet.”
 
“Help me, help me,” I pleaded breathlessly between sobs. But my parents did not register concern. My pain, unless an actual bloody wound, was forever invisible to them. They had no idea of my nightmares of the same things happening to me as happened to them. Even if I had told them, they would surely have said that those were only dreams, and meant nothing compared to the reality they had lived through. They thought of their children in safe America as free from the burdens of their own pasts. I saw myself as a weakling, frightened by my own thoughts, while they were strong survivors of God’s worst afflictions.
 
My mother glanced up briefly from her newspaper and chuckled as if she thought Uncle Tito was joking.
 
“Tito, leave her alone,” was all she said before going back to her reading, making no effort at all to save her elder daughter’s life.
 
“Now you will know what it feels like to be flushed,” Uncle Tito pronounced.
 
My worst fear. “I’m so sorry. I’ll never do it again. Please don’t flush me. Please.” The words barely escaped my aching throat. I could not catch my breath.
 
He dangled me head-first above the toilet bowl, while my cousin watched, clutching her doll.  I imagined the whirlpool sucking me down into the cesspool, down the toilet hole, like Alice down the rabbit hole. This so riveted my attention that it did not occur to me that I would not fit. And why should it? Alice changed sizes several times during her journey. Children changed sizes all the time.
 
Though I knew it was hopeless, I begged for mercy. I promised to be perfect, just like I did with God at night. And as my hair neared the swirling water, a miracle occurred. Uncle Tito stayed my execution.  
 
After Sukkos, Aunt Ibika’s family returned to Tangiers. I couldn’t have been more relieved than to have volatile Uncle Tito and finicky Gita gone. But my mother returned to her usual sadness after  her sister’s departure. I often caught her crying while cooking. I found Gita’s china set and beauty kit hidden behind the couch, methodically filled them with dirt, and stomped them to pieces. I could not track down the doll — until I saw smirking Gita clutching perfect Manuela in the next picture sent from Tangiers.
 
 

 

Copyright © Gloria Garfunkel 2014
 
Gloria Garfunkel is the daughter of two Auschwitz survivors. She has a Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Relations from Harvard University. She has been a psychotherapist for over 25 years. She writes short fiction and has recently published over 50 stories.


 

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