Stalker’s Essay Assignment 12, continued
Schloymala didn’t speak, but was so expressive, he still got you on his wavelength. Or he tried to! Chana and I were at our wits end with him; he refused to stay in his crib. We would put him down to sleep at night, and minutes later he was running around the bungalow. She lowered the crib mattress all the way down, to make the climb tougher — but he was out again the next night. How did he do it? We spied on him from behind the door, and caught him in the act! He climbed out of that crib like a circus acrobat. He was so little, but strong, and fearless! He would pull himself up the bars, hoist himself over the rail, slide down to the floor. We would have thought it was impossible, if we didn’t see it ourselves.
We had to do something to keep him from climbing out, and into danger, while the rest of us slept during the night. Chana devised a solution. She picked up some lengths of rope, and tied him into the crib.
It was heartbreaking. We stood at the far end of the room, in the doorway, and watched the dismal scene in silence. He was standing up in the crib, gripping the bars, swaying back and forth, wailing. His tears flowed and he cried — not an angry scream, not a frightened cry or a pained one — but, rather, a cry of utter despair. He tugged at the ropes halfheartedly, having already given up hope. The knots were too tight. I thought he would die of despondency. The sight was pitiful.
“What shall we do?” Chana said.
We had no choice.
Chana untied the ropes and Schloymala was transformed in a split second. The smile was back, his mischievous, impish energy pumping through his toddler limps. Like a little Houdini, he had himself out of that crib even before the last rope had fallen away.
Chana sighed. I smiled.
I put Schloymala down in his crib one night, hoping he would fall asleep and stay put. “Please stay in the crib. Please.” I tried to will him to stay. I hated to think Chana might tie him in again. As I lingered over him, we smiled at each other, the warmth flowing
between us. Then he cooed. He cooed his first word.
He said my name.
He repeated it; he was practicing. But he had it right. The first time I heard it, he had it right. He watched me closely, mirroring my amazement and joy. He knew what he was doing, he knew exactly what he was doing — that darling, adorable tateleh!
“I love you, Schloymala,” I mirrored back.
No one else heard him speak, until the day Chana was walking back to our bungalow from an afternoon outing, with Shloymala at her side. When he saw me under the oak tree with his brother and cousins, the little Houdini pulled his hand out of his mother’s
grasp. Running as fast as his miniature legs could take him, he headed straight toward me, arms stretched out wide for me. I reached out to receive him, and took him into my own arms with joy.
He spoke. One word. He called my name.
I didn’t look at Chana’s face.
I stood over Schloymala in his crib one last time. I tried to explain, not sure if he could
understand my message. I had to end my summer vacation early and go back to the City. My sister was getting married, weeks sooner than expected. I must get back in time to attend the bridal shower, serve as maid of honor at the ceremony. My very-religious-very-observant-rabbi uncle would be performing the ceremony in his own home, in Staten Island.
I told Schloymala I loved him, was sorry to leave him. He lay there smiling, cooing my name, proud of his power, and oblivious to the circumstances. I kissed him good-bye.
Schloymala’s father was driving me to the City a day early. He had burst into Essie’s
bungalow, announcing we were leaving that night; he had to be back in the City and no one could drive me in a day or two. I had to go back with him now. No, there was no time for me to call my parents and let them know I would be early. I threw my clothes into my borrowed suitcase: my modest long-sleeved blouses, my skirts that should have been a bit longer, my bathing suit no man had seen, my summer-yellow cotton nightgowns. I felt dizzy. I wanted to ask Chana for her help. Don’t make me go with him. But that would require explaining why, that would mean hurting her; I didn’t want to hurt her. Chana pressed my last week’s wages into my hand, plus another week’s worth as a tip, and kissed me good-bye on the cheek.
Before I had a chance to think, Rabbi Yitzchok had me in his station wagon, driving down dark country roads, with no one in the City expecting me. What an amazing, acrobatic act he had just performed.
And what a dilemma for me. But in this moment, I couldn’t even think. Fate seemed to have chosen my reaction for me, and it was — freeze. I was holding my breath, waiting to see what happened to me next. Frozen.
. . . to be continued
Also see Stalker, the Music
© Barbara E. Berger, 2011, all rights reserved. “Stalker” is a work of fiction.