10 June, 2012

"Balibt Shvester"

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1904


They lay in bed together, as they always did—the windows of their room covered, as they always were. Warm breath erupted in billows as it struck the cold of the air in their bedroom, and it was (according to the depth of the darkness) two, or perhaps even three o’ clock.

Eva was restless. As a result Shura was not sleeping either. The bed they had shared all their lives was beginning to feel smaller all the time.

    “…Shura…” Eva whispered, careful to shake her sister just enough to rouse her without her starting or making too great a noise. Shura half-woke and nudged her sister with her leg, indicating to leave her be for she was so very near the edge of slumber.
    “Shura!” Eva whispered again, this time more insistent.
    “What is it, Eva?” she said not moving from her position, her tone unmistakably put-out.

Eva had a tendency to be full of talk at very late hours indeed, and Shura was always the bearer of her chatter, whether she liked it or not.

    “Well, Bird?” hissed Shura once more into the darkness, her head turned upward in irritation.

The Little Bird. That was what they called her. Eva would flit around the house, the barn, the fields, the town; leaving her “bird droppings” everywhere. Handkerchiefs, books, apple cores, bits of glass or string or pretty stones she had collected and lost within a day. But Eva was not careless or lazy, she was a luftmensh [1]—her mind was simply preoccupied with other things. Books, mostly. Dreams.

Plus, Eva was clever. Curious, too, insatiably so. She could not stave her appetite for reading, for literature, for knowledge of the world beyond her own, and for any kernel of information she could collect. Even her appearance was bird-like: delicately framed, with enviably long-lined hands and feet, Eva’s small bust, milky pale complexion and lovely open face (that housed two of the sincerest eyes ever to be gazed into) made Eva an innately child-like presence in their household.

Having spent so much of her earliest years as the youngest child, Eva quickly grasped a keen sense of her strong family and went about catching her flies with honey. She was mild and genuine. The Baby. She also claimed she was “too little” to clean the stables, milk the cows, or hang the laundry, and anytime their mother would ask her to do any of these things Eva responded with “but I am far too little.” This only truly worked until she was about eight before Sarah (the eldest) and Shura’s quiet complaints grew to outright shrieks. Besides, they had even littler sisters now.

But oh, her disposition was irresistible! Making it impossible to be cross with Eva, so good-natured was her temperament—
     “What in the world is it, Evalleh?”
—Tonight was clearly a poor example of that.

Eva hovered above her sister for a moment, hesitating, but then uttered a swift, “Oh, nothing.”
    “I hate you, I really do” grunted Shura, returning to her pillow with new purpose. “gay shlafen [2]!”
    “It is just—” Eva said, her voice fragile, her breath against her sister’s ear, “I dreamed—I dreamed we were both sent very far away…”
Shura sighed and turned her head.
    “Well, I suppose some day we shall, all of us, be sent away from home to join a husband.”
    “Shall we?”
    “Well, of course. You know that.”
    “Yes but must we? Can we not stay always like this in this tiny bed for always?”
    “Evalleh you know we cannot stay here for always, we should grow very cross with one another indeed if we were to grow old and grey and still be in this bed. Besides I would sooner marry Reb Avi’s horrible boy or that invalid son of the Innkeeper, than remain in a bed with my sister into eternity. Now go to sleep.”

But Eva could not.

Shura felt her lying there: still but rigid. She could feel the beating of her sister’s heart.
    “Shura?” Eva spoke again, this time her voice so full of anguish it woke her sister fully. Shura turned and reached for her Eva’s open face and sincere eyes within the darkness, cupping it between her hands.
    “Oh Evalleh…”
She said it again, her voice even fainter.
    “Shurushka—”
    “What on earth is the matter, Bird?” She could feel the moisture upon her cheeks.
    “Shura,” she said, as a child might, “do you—do you think I am a fool?”
The question unsettled her.
    “A fool?”
    “Oh, then you do!” she said woefully.
    “No!” It was difficult for Shura to be objective—they had been reared so closely, born practically on top of one another. At times it felt as though looking upon Eva was rather like looking into a glass.
    “I want—I so want to be worldly. Discerning.”

I want to be asleep, Shura thought but refrained from uttering it aloud. She sighed and held her breath. She could not answer. At last she found her words,
    “A clever girl like you, that has read all those books?”
    “Shura,” she said, “I wish you would tell me—” Shura felt Eva steadying herself to broach some dreadful thing as she took in and held her breath again. At last the words overflowed from her, as if a final drop of liquid had a last made the vessel run over.
    “I wish you would tell me,” she said “what you thought of Grisha...”

Shura flushed. Perhaps Eva was too, she did not know, so still she was and so dark the room. Heart pounding, Shura was rigid as Eva had been before, her stomach tight and lurching.
    “Grisha?”
Shura should have known it; for Eva had been nerving to say it for several weeks.
    “Yes…the young soldier who is always in the bookshop.”

Shura paused and released her breath.
    “I think—” she said, simply, “I think him very kind. And very… considerate of us. Of our ways. I like him.” She only hesitated slightly before adding, “I do.”
    “You do?” Eva's voice lifted.
    “I do.”

She felt her sister relax within her grip, the tears upon her cheek coming harder now, but in relief perhaps.

    “And do you think I shall be sent far away like in my dream for so looking forward to seeing him in the shops every day? Am I a fool indeed?”
    “Like I said,” Shura rose from the pillow and took Eva up in her arms fully, her closest sister, her soul’s companion, “we shall all go away someday…how far…” she pondered, “is up to us I suppose…”
    “Yes…” Eva agreed, wiping her eyes and nodding, enveloped there in the arms of her sister, “yes…”
    “Now for goodness sake, do go to sleep Bird, before I squeeze the talk right out of you.”
    “Yes Shura. A gute nakht [3].”


And just like that, they did.






[1] A dreamer, someone whose head is in the clouds
[2] Go to sleep
[3] Yiddish: good night

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