Search for Absolution
She waited by the foot of the stairs for him, sure that he would come. The winter air was thick with cold around her shoulders, and she huddled against the icy banister. Soon, she’d have to go inside and change. He hadn’t arrived in enough time to help her make a new costume, but that was OK. Daniel was a junior in college now; she understood.
The screen door creaked open with a whisper, and Susannah huddled into herself. She didn’t have to turn around to know who was behind her and what that meant. But her mother chose to make that apparent anyway.
“Susannah,” she started softly. “We’ll be late to the carnival.”
“But Daniel…” Susannah began, tapering off.
Her mother sighed. “Daniel’s probably busy at Brandeis. He’ll come home for Passover. Now hurry.”
Susannah sighed, letting out a faltered icy breath. Her legs shook as she gripped the steel banister for support. Daniel had never missed Purim before.
In her room, she carefully laid out the Esther costume that Daniel had made for her last year. Remarkably feminine for a boy, Daniel had learned to cut and sew from their mother, though Susannah had never shown any interest. “You can still help, though, Susie,” Daniel had laughed, holding the silky fabric up against his sister. “Just stand still and let me measure you.”
Susannah’s Esther costumes were all bright pink, flowy, and tinged with sparkles. Their mother would put her hair up in an elegant bun, and then Daniel would set the tiara atop her brunette locks. “You really are a queen now,” he praised her last year. And he was a prince, even though his character, Mordechai, was really no prince. He made his own clothes too—a silky tunic, elegant pants, and a decadent turban for his head.
“Come, my niece and Queen,” he’d say as Mordechai, extending his arm to her. And Susannah would giggle and clasp onto it, feeling oddly warm and secure given the winter chill.
But now, she continued to shiver as she hurriedly dressed in her old costume. “Susannah, don’t dawdle!” were her only words of encouragement as she hastily tied back her thick, curly hair. Her mother thwapped the tiara on her head in the car.
“Honestly, you spend so much of your time daydreaming,” she muttered, hands tense on the steering wheel as they made their way to the synagogue. “You and Daniel both.”
Susannah and Daniel shared the same dreams, though the girl would never dream of telling her mother that. The two of them never spoke of it themselves, but every now and then, they’d catch each other’s eye, and they’d know. They’d know the other dreamt of foliage turning golden in the woods behind their house, and the taunts and the screams in the distance…
Susannah shook her head violently, and her tiara slipped to the floor.
Susannah’s Hebrew School class was in charge of the cotton candy machine this year. They worked in pairs, one child carefully spinning the fluff onto their sticks, and the other collecting two dollars from the patrons. They were all very excited; the class in charge of the cotton candy consistently got the most amount of money. They’d save it in their account, and then perhaps have enough money for trips to Jewish Museums in Baltimore of Washington DC, or to give a nice gift to the Hebrew School when they graduated.
After Susannah’s shift ended, her mother came to pick her up, walking side by side with the principal of the Hebrew School, Mrs. Goldstein. “How are the profits going, Shoshanah?” the matron asked, using Susannah’s Hebrew name.
“Well, ma’am,” Susannah said quietly, not meeting her gaze. All the work of proper etiquette and behavior seemed trivial without Daniel here to gush over her. “Oh, Susie’s gonna succeed at whatever she does. With that face, how could there ever be any doubt?”
Instead, Mrs. Goldstein addressed her mother. “How old is Shoshanah now, Maya?” she asked.
“Just turned eleven.”
“A-ah!” Mrs. Goldstein’s face lit up. “It’s getting near that time then—when you should start thinking about the bat-mitzvah?”
“I have to admit; I haven’t thought about it much. Daniel’s almost out of college now; I’d love for Susannah just to remain a little girl.”
“Oh, but you can’t stop time, Maya!” Mrs. Goldstein laughed. “Shoshanah must take her place among our people.” She paused, and re-wound her scarf along her neck. “Danyel’s bar-mitzvah was such a joy; even after all these years, I remember it with fondness.”
“Well thank you, Ilana. We were certainly proud. I wish…” Susannah’s mother glanced over at her, concealed by the wind blowing her hair forward. “I wish Susannah had been a little older. To remember her brother’s special day, to remember her father there… that would have been a mitzvah.”
“Yes, well…” Mrs. Goldstein began, as Susannah wrapped her arms around herself. She didn’t feel the need to explain that she did remember bits and pieces of her brother’s bar-mitzvah, young as she was. Perhaps she spent most of her time in the nursery, but about halfway through, someone came to pull on her hand, leading her over to the sanctuary where all of the adults huddled respectfully. Susannah’s stockings itched, and the bow was pulling at her hair, but she smiled anyway; in front of her, on the bimah, stood her brother, Daniel, sheathed in his new, golden yarmulke and tallis, singing a prayer. Their father came to join him, and the two men hefted the Torah into their arms. Susannah wanted to run to them, but the foreign hand held her back.
“Susannah!” her mother cried now. “Come on, let’s get going!” She grasped at her daughter’s hand, turning apologetically to Mrs. Goldstein. “She’s turning more and more like her brother every day.”
“Well, who could blame her?” Mrs. Goldstein said kindly, walking away. “I assume I’ll see you at the Megillah reading later tonight?”
“Of course. Without Daniel, I’m afraid; he hasn’t been able to make it in after all. I do wish he would have called; Susannah waited half the day for him.”
“These young men, they get to a certain age…” Mrs. Goldstein laughed. “Shalom, Maya. Shalom, Shoshanah.”
“Shalom,” Susannah responded, but her mouth suddenly felt filled with sand. What “certain age” had her brother reached? Would this permanently breach their relationship, just as his move to Boston had done three years ago? But Daniel couldn’t abandon her, she thought fiercely, grasping her tiara to her head. Not as they continued to have dreams of the forest and the distant voice…
Susannah opened the door to her bedroom that night, her arms and mouth sore. She dropped her grogger to the floor, wincing at the loud crash it made, reminiscent of all of the noise and revelry that accompanied the Megillah reading. Distantly, she heard the phone shriek loudly and groaned, covering her ears and flopping onto her bed.
“Susannah!” her mother called a few minutes later. “Come to the phone. Your brother wants to speak to you.”
Dread seemed to settle in Susannah’s stomach, pushing away at the fatigue. Slowly, picked herself up and walked to her mother in the doorway, extending her hand for the cordless. “…hello?”
“Susie!” Daniel’s voice sounded hoarse and scratchy, drowned out by the cacophony of sound behind him. He let out a faltering laugh before continuing, “Chag sameach, Shoshanah!”
Susannah nervously twirled a strand of hair in her fingers. “You didn’t come home,” she whined, immediately berating herself. She’d meant to sound angry, to scare him away from college.
“I’m sorry, baby, I really am,” Daniel’s voice slurred. “I had this… paper to finish for class…”
“You could have finished it here,” Susannah pouted.
“No, sweetie, I’m sorry, I couldn’t,” Daniel chuckled, then suddenly sounded even more muffled and distant. “In a moment, man, I’m just saying hi to my sister.”
“Daniel? Daniel, where are you?” Susannah asked, and felt a satisfactory pull to her senses. Finally, she was being sensible and mature with her brother.
“Now? Well, right now, I’m at a… bar, Susie,” Daniel said, sounding uncertain. “A couple of guys and I left to finish the Purim festivities here. I went to the Chabad house to hear the Megillah though, sweetie.”
“Oh…” Susannah faltered, feeling faint. She’d never heard of Daniel entering a bar before. When he was home, their mother would buy a flask of Maneshevitz wine, and the two of them would split it, leaving a small dollop for her. The wine tasted fruity on her breath and she’d laugh louder than usual, launching herself at her brother and nearly toppling his goblet. “Damn, Susie!” he would laugh, not at all offended if she stained their costumes red.
“…Susie?” Daniel was saying now. “Susie? I have to go soon, baby. Tell me about the temple’s party. Did you have fun?”
“The little kids were annoying,” Susannah grumbled. “The ones that put on the play this year. Every time Haman’s name was mentioned, they’d screech and scream for so long that Mrs. Goldstein had to intervene.”
Daniel laughed throatily. “And the dancing? How was the dancing, Susie? Did you still cut a rug without me?”
Susannah’s nose crinkled in disdain. “Aaron Lebovitz asked to dance with me,” she snipped. “But he was horrible.”
“Aww, Susie! Sounds like someone has a crush on you,” Daniel said, something about it striking him as funny. He cackled for a moment before Susannah held the phone away from her in disgust.
“Let me take that, Susannah,” her mother said softly, fingers brushing against her daughter’s as she reached for the cordless. “Your brother’s… indisposed at the moment.”
Suddenly heavy, Susannah sank onto her bed, breathing out sobs. “Daniel, your sister has to go to bed now…” she heard her mother say distantly. “Chag sameach…”
Susannah was reaching for Elijah’s cup when she heard the door slam. “Chag sameach, Ema,” her brother’s deep voice resounded, and she froze.
“Daniel Silverman; where have you been?” their mother demanded, and Susannah hoped that her hands were on her hips. “I told you to call when you were leaving the university.”
“I told you I was coming, Ma,” Daniel sighed, his voice edging closer. Susannah’s fingers stayed splayed across the ceramic cup.
“You said you’d be here in the morning,” their mother huffed. “Here to help set up for the seder… now, you barely have time to wash up.”
Warm breath suddenly fettered to Susannah’s neck, and she trembled slightly into her brother’s bulk. “Chag sameach, Shoshanah,” he whispered. “Let me help you with that.”
Susannah saw his sweater-clad arms reaching above her for Elijah’s cup out of the corner of her eye. She turned on the chair and watched his back retreat into the dining room.
She remained frozen until he returned. Daniel’s face was flushed red by the wind. His silky brown hair splayed backwards, contained by his yarmulke. His sweater, shirt, and thick pants managed to stay sleekly fixed to his body. His chocolate eyes bore into hers.
“Are you gonna stay there all day, Susie?” he laughed, effortlessly sweeping her up and kicking the chair back into place under the kitchen table. “I’m pretty sure we need you to recite the four questions.”
Susannah buried her face into his shoulder, smelling cigarette smoke and their mother’s laundry detergent.
“Have I told you how beautiful you look?” Daniel whispered, setting her down in her seat in the dining room. Distantly, Susannah heard the doorbell chime, and her mother’s brisk heels walking off.
“No—thank you,” Susannah stammered, feeling childish under his gaze. He raised his fingers to the blood-red felt covering her arm, while their mother greeted her in-laws downstairs. “Chag sameach, Ivy, Mort…”
Daniel swept away from her and Susannah suddenly felt cold. “Chag sameach, Bubbe, Zeyde,” he greeted cheerfully, and from the corner of her eye, Susannah saw him sweep their grandmother into a kiss.
“And where’s my medele—my beautiful girl?” their grandfather boomed, sidestepping the others. Susannah smiled and melted into his arms.
“And where’s your mother, Maya?” Susannah’s grandmother asked after she’d squeezed the life out of her granddaughter.
“Oh, she should be here shortly,” Susannah’s mother said, and laughed. “It seems to be family custom to arrive late these days. Daniel didn’t get here until moments before you.”
“Now, Ma,” Daniel groaned, sliding his arms around her. “How could I predict traffic on the freeway?”
“Yes, Daniel, but as I was saying…” another chime of the doorbell interrupted his mother’s complaint, and she sighed in relief. “That must be Mother now. If you’ll excuse me.”
She hurried from the room as her in-laws took their seats across from their grandchildren. Daniel slowly made his way to his chair, his eyes upon Susannah again. “What do you say to me breaking the afikomen and you finding it?” he whispered. “What do you say to that, Susie?”
“I’d say I like that,” Susannah answered and was suddenly grinning, suddenly swept up into the festivities of this holiday that were about to consume her.
The Passover seder always passed in a haze of ritual for Susannah. The six members of the family could not talk freely to one another but were allowed to get wrapped up in ceremony, passed down through the ages. Her grandfather set the pace, chanting from the Haggada, but as one, they ate their vegetables and bitter herbs, and drank through their four cups of Maneschevitz wine, stopping to scoop ten drops out with their knives for the ten plagues of Egypt.
Susannah’s favorite part was the one entrusted solely to her, asking the four questions of why this night was different from all other nights. She chanted out tentatively in Hebrew, looking into her brother’s eyes. His smile was warm and inviting as he patiently waited for his turn to tell the Passover story.
Their grandmother clapped enthusiastically after Susannah had finished, but it was her grandson who brought tears to her eyes. “He looks… so much like his father,” she sniffed, and Susannah turned red.
For 10 years before she was born, Daniel, as the youngest, was charged with reciting the four questions, and their father would answer. Now, Daniel was the man of the house, and Susannah had usurped him as youngest, but the mention of their father still left everyone on edge.
“If you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom,” Daniel faltered, in the middle of recounting how Moses had beaten the Egyptian taskmaster to death. His chair scraped angrily across the floor, and Susannah buried her face in her lacy neckline, once again choosing to ignore the adults around her.
“His death still touches Daniel deeply, doesn’t it?” her grandmother whispered. “It almost makes me thankful that Susannah didn’t get the chance to know him well.”
“Yes, Susannah doesn’t seem to remember much about him at all,” her mother responded, and the girl felt four pairs of eyes boring into her arms. She settled deeper into herself, and the Seder plate of Passover turned to the menorah of Chanukah. Susannah, at four or five years old, was eagerly eying her nightly present, rather than focusing on the shamas in her hand.
“Here, Susie, let me help you,” her father’s resounding voice chuckled. His warm hand wrapped around her small one, and he lit a match. “The shamas now lights the other candles on the menorah,” he explained, moving their hands. “And we say the prayer over Chanukah. Do you want to join me, sweetie? It goes like this—baruch atah adonai…”
“Susie…” another deep, resounding voice sounded, and Susannah startled, jumping out of her huddled state. Daniel’s fingers were propped under her chin, and the adults were staring. “I’m going to finish the story now, sweetie,” he said playfully, all traces of his upset gone. “Is that OK with you?”
“Of course,” Susannah said, and her voice sounded scratchy, as if it had traveled several years in the last moment.
“He’s always managed to get through to her,” Susannah heard her mother whisper to her grandmother as Daniel continued. “Those two have always shared a special bond, especially after their father died.”
Daniel gained back all his momentum as he brought Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt and towards Mount Sinai and Israel. His hands thrashed in the dying candlelight, and his voice surged with the emotion of an age-old tale. Susannah set her chin on her knees, staring raptly at his larger-than-life form until time blurred again.
When he had finished, Susannah’s mother rose to get the chicken platter that the two of them had slaved over all day. The rest of the family trooped obediently to the sink to wash their hands, and say a bracha over the matzah. “I hid the afikomen under your pillow,” Daniel whispered against her ear before joining the adults in conversation.
“So… Daniel. Tell us about Brandeis. Getting a top notch education I presume?” their grandfather asked, his utensils clinking against his plate.
“Yes, Zeyde, of course. I’m kept so busy, I hardly have the time anymore to visit my beloved family.” He ruffled his hand in Susannah’s hair, and she ducked, scowling. “What, Susie?” he laughed. “You want me gone already?”
“And how are you, medele?” their grandfather intervened. “How’s school?”
“School’s fine,” Susannah mumbled, her pride still smarting from her brother’s treatment. Was she just a joke to him? A little girl to placate? She shifted her eyes in his direction. “I’ve had… bad dreams lately.”
Daniel’s fork crashed to his plate, and his hand shuttered.
“Aw no, not bad dreams?” their grandmother cooed. “What were they about?”
“I wake up, wandering in this forest…”
“Susannah!” Daniel suddenly barked. Her self-confidence suddenly popped, and she looked at her brother fearfully. “Isn’t it time you find the afikomen, baby?”
“But Daniel, we’ve barely started the meal,” their mother protested.
“I think… I think Nana’s getting tired,” Daniel faltered. Susannah followed his eyes to the one person in the room who had barely spoken all night, their mother’s mother. She sat awkwardly in their father’s old chair, wearing a thick, woolen dress, with her hair sloppily put up in a bun.
“I be fine, Maya,” she rasped in her Polish accent. “I just a little tired…”
“Nonsense, Mother,” her daughter said briskly. “How inconsiderate of me not to notice this. We’ll step up the Seder, and get you to bed. I assume you’re staying the night?” her tone grew sharp while regarding her son.
“Of course, Mama,” Daniel assured her, but with none of his usual fluster. “I’ll help you look for the afikomen, Susie.”
“But you hid the afikomen,” their mother protested, bewildered.
“I know; there’s just something I need to… discuss with her,” he said quickly, and suddenly swept his sister out of her chair. Susannah’s heart thumped wildly in her chest as her brother led her down the hall, and into her room. Shutting the door with a snap, he leaned hard against it and glared at her. “We don’t. Discuss that.” He hissed.
Susannah stared at him sullenly, though too afraid to voice her opinion. They did discuss it, she thought, just not with direct words. Every Yom Kippur for the past four years had been the same. Daniel arrived home on time, none of his dallying, and none of his good spirits. He’d slip quietly into his tallis and bury his face into his machzor at the synagogue. Susannah watched him for hours last September, partially to keep her mind off of her growling stomach and the constant thought of the break fast. Afterwards, she pulled him aside as their mother stopped to talk with Mrs. Goldstein.
“Do you think… G-d has forgiven you yet?” she whispered.
Daniel’s bewildered grin slowly drifted off of his face. “I don’t think so,” he said dully. “I think I need to ask.. his… forgiveness first.”
“You never talk to me anymore,” Susannah whined now, tears springing to her eyes. “You never come home. And I still have these dreams, Daniel—”
“Sh-sh!” his hand was over her mouth in a flash. Susannah struggled, longing to cry against him, but he dragged her to her bed instead. “Here’s the afikomen,” he whispered urgently, one hand clasping her to him, the other scrabbling about under her pillow. “Here it is, baby.” She stared wide-eyed at the half of matzah that he’d broken off at the beginning of the Seder. “Take it, Susie.”
She willed her breath to slow as she extended her hand to the coarse, unleavened bread. “You cheated,” she said quietly.
“No one will ever know,” Daniel said, with a false note of levity to his voice. “Some things are better kept secret.”
He kept her pressed to him for a moment longer, her cheek against his chest. His next words rumbled like quiet thunder in her ears. “Let’s get back, shall we? Nana really does look like she needs to lie down.”
Susannah allowed herself to be led out of her own room, clutching the afikomen in one hand, and her brother’s fingers in the other.
She woke up, clutching at the blankets as his gargled screams faded with the golden forest. She gasped for breath, her brother’s name on her lips, before she realized he wasn’t here. He was here, she sniffled, feeling returning to her trembling chest, but out with his old high school buddies rather than staying with her.
Susannah quietly shuffled out of bed, her cotton nightgown shifting scratchily at her arms. The hallway hosted shadows in the dim light, but she tamped down her unrest and crept to the guestroom. Her grandparents, always larger than life in every way, were having a “discussion” behind the closed door.
“…lovely seder this year, wasn’t it?” her grandmother was saying. “Isaac would have been so proud.”
“Daniel and Susannah are growing up beautifully,” her grandfather responded, sounding like he was gargling water. “To think; one simple drive home on the wrong day, and he never got to see his children grow…”
“Such a world where an old couple outlives their only son!” her grandmother cried out, and Susannah hurried away from the door, as if her grandmother’s words could come out and bite her.
Halved memories of her mother’s screams when the police called, and Daniel shaking as he held her close were interrupted by sounds from the den. Susannah arched herself on the floor like a cat, curling up behind a large sofa, her hands grasping her knees. Voices drifted from above her.
“…I bought the yahrdzeit candle yesterday, Mother,” Susannah’s mother spoke softly, as if she were afraid she might break. “I light it on Yom HaShoah—the day they’ve set aside for Holocaust victims. Won’t you consider joining us this year?”
“No, Maya,” her grandmother said stubbornly. “Avram is not dead. No proof that he dead.”
“That’s because he was probably incinerated!” her mother’s voice shook. “…Mother, you really must move on. You made your choice to leave; you saved both of our lives. He wouldn’t blame you; he wanted you to go.”
Susannah’s heart turned to ice, as her grandmother responded. “No, Maya. I—”
But the woman’s thoughts were interrupted by a slamming at the door. Susannah jolted, her head thumping on the armrest. Her mother was already striding towards the foyer, where her brother had stumbled in.
“Where have you been?” their mother demanded, grabbing his arm. “You do not come home for Passover just as an excuse to go joy riding with friends! Are you drunk?” She sniffed him angrily.
Daniel laughed, but he managed to make it sound biting. “What more do you want from me, Ma?” he wheezed. “I played the good and loyal son; I participated in the fucking Seder. Can’t I have a little fun on my own?”
“Not when it involves going out at odd hours of the night without consulting me, and coming back with beer on your breath!” his mother hissed. “I don’t know what it is you do in college, Daniel Silverman, but while you are here, you are under my rules. Is that perfectly clear?”
“Perfectly,” Daniel bit off, stumbling slightly. “I’m going to bed.”
He pulled his arm from his mother’s grasp, and spun around. His eye caught on his sister’s, and he froze. Susannah, still halfway between thinking of her father’s death and her grandfather’s, stared into his gaping, bloodshot eyes. Oh yes, she thought quietly. He was probably drunk, probably stoned, probably reckless. But she knew that underneath it all, he was trying to escape from those dreams—from the golden forest and distant screams.
“Susannah? Susannah!” The girl jumped, her eyes traveling upwards to her mother, now looming above her. “How long have you been there? To bed with you, right now.”
Susannah pushed herself to her feet, dusting the lint from her pajamas. She viciously quelled the fear unleashed by the dream and overhearing talk of her father and grandfather by glaring at her brother. Somehow, she figured, he had the answer for stopping this. He could beg for his forgiveness. And if not, he could still talk to her about it. No more games and costumes and compliments and lies. No more running from this truth that the two of them shared.
The next afternoon, Susannah waited patiently until she heard the front door slam behind the four adults. Confident that Susannah could amuse herself, and that Daniel would be asleep for the next several hours, their mother had herded the others out for some “mature time.”
Susannah waited until the blinding light of the forest and the reverberating screams drowned out the silence, and she took out her Hebrew school notebook. The pen was sharp and narrow as she scratched in her brother’s name over and over—dalet, nun, yud, aleph, lamed, dalet, nun, yud, aleph, lamed, until the ink slid across her shaking hands, slitting her wrists like a knife. Sobbing aloud, Susannah banged her head on the table, images from the nightmare mixing with the monster she’d seen growing in her brother, slowly these past five years. Without thinking, she pushed back from the table and stalked to the back door, which led to the place that haunted her memory.
Susannah gulped as her feet led her to the forest she had evaded for half of her life. But if Daniel won’t face it, then I must, she told herself firmly. It was no longer winter, the sparse snow having surrendered to the heat of the sun, which turned everything golden.
When the trees enclosed her, she tried to imagine Hebrew letters etched into the bark, but her mind’s eye wouldn’t do it. This place existed beyond Susannah’s small world of Hebrew school and Jewish ritual, and that frightened her, long before she gave that fear a human face.
She kept walking towards her destination and the screams in her head grew louder, as if she were slowly approaching a staticky television set. Her destination was nowhere near as pleasant, for although she hadn’t laid eyes on it in four years, she still remembered the grainy concrete, as if her face had been smashed into it, or she had perched on it’s walls, smoking pot with her friends.
Susannah shuddered as the dilapidated foundation came into view. Long ago, it was rumored in the community, a hermit built a hut here, which was destroyed in a sweeping fire. Now all that remained was the stone slab of foundation, slightly covered in weeds and moss.
Susannah laid upon it as if it were a funeral pyre, and the sunshine and screams engulfed her. She squinted her eyes shut, trying to escape the inevitable rush backwards in time, but as usual, unable to do it. The stone slab propelled her upward again, running, at seven years old, through the forest. She had just finished her assignment for Hebrew school—to write her brother’s name in cursive-- dalet, nun, yud, aleph, lamed—and now, despite her mother’s orders to stay in the house, was racing off to find her Daniel. She already knew the secret her mother had tried to keep from her—that her brother snuck out to the stone slab to smoke pot with friends—although her mind couldn’t grasp what exactly that entailed, and certainly not the events she actually stumbled upon that fateful day.
Her feet pounded on the uneven ground, and her excited breath came out in spurts. Ahead, she could hear the distant sounds of laughter, so she smiled, and ran faster. Slowly, as if from a dream, Daniel and his friends materialized, lounging across the stone slab, their hands in front of their faces as they passed around the joint. A few beer bottles littered the ground.
Before she could announce her presence, she saw the boy move out from behind the trees. His sneer wiped the smile off of her face, before she even heard him speak. “Well, well, Silverman,” he scoffed. “What are you doing here on a Friday? Don’t you have to put on your greasy skull cap, and attend your voodoo services?”
The laughter died away, as though suddenly switched off. Susannah saw the hardness of her brother’s face before he turned away from her.
“If you have a problem with me, Harris, I suggest you back it up like a man,” he said, his voice slightly quavering.
“I should have guessed that a dumb kike like you wouldn’t get it,” the boy hissed. “That is my problem. My family left the city to get away from the spooks, only to run into Christ-killers in the suburbs. It’s too bad the Germans didn’t finish the deal in Europe!”
Susannah felt a rush of coldness spread along her body, unable to process anything until her eye caught upon the other boys restraining her brother. “You fucking Nazi swine!” he hissed.
“You’re the swine, nothing more than another dead Jew!” the boy shouted over his friends’ protests. His face flushed red as he leaned in excitedly. “Weren’t you the one talking once about your grandfather being branded and herded into the gas chamber like a useless piece of cattle? Maybe your father didn’t die in a car crash after all; maybe the Nazis got to him too! You’re next, Silverman!”
Susannah was shaking so hard that she was sure the boys would hear her. Dimly, she remembered her earlier excitement, but the boy had effectively torn her Hebrew letters to shreds, and stomped all over her small, Jewish existence. She willed Daniel to possess her hidden anger, and suddenly, her brother broke free, snatching up one of the abandoned beer bottles.
“FUCKING—SHIT FACED—NAZI—SWINE!!” he screamed, bringing the bottle down. The other boys seemed to fade into the background as Daniel’s hand beat on the boy’s head, eliciting the squealing screams that haunted the Silverman children for years afterwards. The boy crumpled under Daniel’s vengeance, his blood pouring like a river down the slab. Long after the boy stilled, Daniel picked up his screams, the glass cutting his hand as he brought it down.
“C’mon, Silverman; we gotta get outta here!” one of the other boys cried out, voice quavering. But Daniel paid no heed to them. His eye had suddenly caught upon his sister, shaking so hard she feared she’d tear a whole in the ground. The broken, blood-red bottle dropped with a clatter.
“Susie…” he croaked.
She longed to run away from him as he approached her, sliding his dripping hands over her body. “Daniel?” she whispered as he held her close, and the secret of that day was concealed in their shaking bodies and continuing nightmares.
“…Susie?” Susannah startled, the stone slab dropping her back to the present. Daniel hovered above her, holding up the page with his name on it-- dalet, nun, yud, aleph, lamed—his face hidden.
Slowly, the girl dragged herself to her knees, suddenly unable to look away from her brother’s eyes. They stood together in this place for the first time in four years, time sluicing around this one point in history.
There was no answer to this problem, Susannah suddenly realized, no cure to make everything all right again. She hid herself in Hebrew school and Jewish ritual, and Daniel drank and smoked himself into oblivion, leaving their subconscious’ to deal with the moral consequences.
“Oh, G-d… forgive me…” Daniel was crying, dropping the paper like he dropped the bottle that day. Susannah gathered her beloved brother into her arms, unable to give him the solace he sought, and slowly led him back to the house.