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  Chapter 1 from
What Avigayil Found

By Miriam Elias 



Chapter One

She clutched it in one hand, wedged between other letters, several flyers, and some junk mail, with no inkling of what she was holding or what it would come to mean in her life. With her chin clamped down on the letters to prevent their slipping, she used her other hand to fasten the storm door, and then the house door, against the icy black night.

“Anything interesting for a change?” Her mother, already busy in the kitchen with the post-Shabbos cleanup, sounded dubious.

Avigayil dumped the pile of mail onto the coffee table and fanned out the letters.

“Nothing much here,” she called out, trying to make herself heard above the sound of running water. “A bar mitzvah invitation, the yeshivah newsletter, flyers for Macy’s and A&P, bills ... oh, wait! Here’s something from South Africa!? Wow, nice stamp!” She picked up the legal-sized envelope and brought it to her mother.

Mrs. Kaplan straightened up from loading the dishwasher, and, wiping her hands on the little terry towel attached to her apron, peered at the letter.

“What’s that all about?” she mumbled. “Who knows us in Johannesburg? It’s some kind of law firm: ‘Benton, Cox and Green, Jr., Solicitors.’ Probably something to do with Tatty’s new project at work, though why they’d send it here and not to the office beats me. The mail isn’t usually very exciting ... I can’t imagine why we run downstairs every week the minute Shabbos is over, just in case. It’s always the same old stuff.”

She sighed and turned back to cleaning the counters. “Put the Havdalah things together, please,” she called over her shoulder. “Tatty’ll be home in a minute.”

Avigayil added the letter to the pile, and as she set up the candle, cup, besamim box and matches, she thought about South Africa. It’s summer there now, she mused; that’s hard to believe. I’d hate to have Chanukah in the middle of a heat wave, but I guess everyone’s used to things the way they live them.

“Hi! Gut Voch!” Shuli, flushed and sparkling, dashed up the stairs, bringing a freezing gust of wind in her wake.

“So where’ve you been so long? I need help around here!” said Mrs. Kaplan.

“I went home with Chaya Sarah after Bnos, and stayed to study for mid-terms.” Shuli flung her coat and scarf over a chair. “Her braces are coming off this week, just in time for Nachum’s chasunah. Great timing, no? What’s there for me to do?” She slumped down on the couch as if too exhausted to wait for forthcoming orders. “Hey, Avi, how come you didn’t go to Chany’s house? I saw the whole ninth grade piling in there right after Bnos, but not you.”

Avigayil shrugged her shoulders and clamped her mouth shut. It was none of Shuli’s business.

“What are you doing tonight?” she asked, switching the focus back to her sister.

“Chaya Sarah’s mother said we could have the kitchen to ourselves tonight and we’re going to bake for the Aufruf. They’ve bought a whole bunch of molds that were on special, so we can make some gorgeous chocolate creations, too. We’ll have a blast! And you?”

“Nothing.” Avigayil shrugged again. It was becoming quite a habit. “Oh! I hear the car. That’s Tatty,” she said.

Mr. Kaplan was the president of the small shul they attended, and there were always dozens of reasons why he had to remain there longer than anyone else. A tall, heavy man, he took charge and accepted responsibility as naturally as others preferred to dodge such burdens. Whether in his home, his business or his shul, he was ruler, but he was nevertheless loved and respected by family and employees alike, due to his unique kindness and deep understanding in all his dealings.

Gut Voch!” his voice boomed. “Sorry I’m late, but I had to set up for tomorrow’s breakfast meeting with the building committee. The plans are really coming along, baruch Hashem. Soon it’ll be time to enlist the ladies. What do you say, Sue?”

“I couldn’t care less about colors for carpets and bathroom tiles,” his wife answered, as she came into the dining room and sat down at the table to hear Havdalah. “But when you’re up to planning the kitchen I certainly have some ideas of my own. The way things are now you can’t have more than two ladies working side by side without bumping into each other constantly. And the mess! There’s nowhere to put anything. It’s awful!”

“That’s what our minyan’s famous for, real togetherness.” Mr. Kaplan laughed and began to pour the wine. Avigayil held the candle and Shuli shut the light. Their father’s beautiful voice filled the room, and then they joined him in singing Hamavdil and Eliyahu HaNavi. Mr. Kaplan often acted as baal tefillah in addition to his other duties in shul. He frequently remarked that all Kaplans sang – it was in their genes, he insisted, a birthright – and it was true. They loved to sing, and were adept at impromptu harmonizing.

Some hours later, with Shuli fast asleep in the twin bed next to hers, Avigayil, still tossing and turning, thought she heard her parents mention her name.

‘They never analyze Shuli,’ she mused. ‘They’re always concerned and upset about me. I wish they wouldn’t worry so much. Not everyone has to have millions of friends. I’m okay the way things are. I wish they’d all just leave me alone.’

* * *

The next day, Sunday, Avigayil got home from school at one o’clock. There was no sign of Shuli; she had probably stayed on for Clubs. Making her way through to the little sewing room off the kitchen, Avigayil called:

“Hi, Ma! How’s it coming?”

“Hi, Avi!” Mrs. Kaplan looked up from her work and smiled. “I think you’ll like it,” she said. “The skirt’s almost finished, see?” She held up a navy blue garment, shot through with faint markings of burgundy. “It’s the most delicious fabric I’ve worked with for the longest time. Maybe I’ll make you two vests; one like the skirt, and one all burgundy.” She removed her glasses and stretched. “Phew! I’ve been sewing for about two hours; I can’t believe it. Let’s have lunch, and after we’ve eaten, I have a surprise for you!”

“A surprise?” Avigayil sounded skeptical. It was probably another of the many plans hatched for her ‘entertainment or social life in general. “Why does it have to wait until after lunch? I just can’t bear the suspense,” she said sarcastically.

“This one’s worth waiting for, I promise,” said her mother. “Grilled cheese sandwiches for two?”

The kitchen was awash with bright winter sunshine. Avigayil, munching on her favorite sandwich, found herself relaxing in the warmth of the moment, her mother close by sipping a cup of hot tea, and seemingly occupied with her own thoughts. For once there were no questions as to how her morning had gone or what her plans were for the afternoon. What bliss!

She reached for the bowl of fruits, taking one clementine and rolling it across the table toward her mother; then she began peeling another for herself. Perhaps now was a good time to have it all out, she thought.

“Were you and Tatty discussing me again last night? I wasn’t listening on purpose, honest! But I’m almost sure I heard my name come up.”

“We’ll just have to improve our whispering techniques,” her mother smiled. She stood and began collecting the cutlery and glasses. “What else did you hear?”

“Nothing really.” Avigayil looked up at her mother with a pleading face. “I wasn’t trying to listen in, but I’ve just gotten to the point where I’m almost waiting for it by now. I know you’re worried about me, and, like, I haven’t managed to convince you that I’m really okay!”

“Why don’t you bentch,” said Mrs. Kaplan, “and then I’ll give you your surprise. It may answer your questions about last night. And then some!” she added with great emphasis.

 
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