19 August, 2015

The Sisters Jericho

     Shura thought upon that story as she stood high above a mass of carrots in their low-ceilinged, aromatic kitchen, immersed meditatively in a repetitive task: scrub, rinse, peel, chop, and then again. Billows of steam swirled upward from large pots filling the room with the hearty fragrances of cooking, not to mention the repressing moist heat. No matter though, this was commonplace. This was the atmosphere of home.

     A few weeks after the incident with Eva on the Sabbath things were different. Calmer. The girls were kinder, gentler with one another, though it was hard to articulate why or how.

     Oy Mame, bin ikh farlibt, her mouth quietly sang. Her hair lay in tousled plaits beneath a long headscarf used expressly for work, sleeves of her blouse rolled neatly above her elbows to keep her tidy, high collar unbuttoned to keep her cool. Despite the impending cold, the heat of the kitchen asked for the open windows to refresh them every so often with harsh autumn breezes.

     Looking up she noted that she was quite alone.

     Laying down her peeling knife, she wiped her hands and moved to the door to see her mother wrapped in a shawl against the cold, waving to the village matchmaker who was slowly making her way down the path away from their house.

     Why had she not invited the woman inside? Shura thought.

     In the distance stood Eva and the little ones, watching giddily from the barn, barely visible behind the swinging door. Mama looked intrigued as she made her way around the back of the house.  Shura returned inside and stopped—she heard something.

     Over the quiet bubbling of pots and clouds of steam, was an unfamiliar rustling. Ears pricked, she followed the muffled sounds into the back of their bedroom.  Moving from the kitchen into the hall, she could now distinguish the distinct sound of crying. Careful not to disturb, she withheld herself silently at the door-frame for a moment, observing.

     It was Sarah.

     Strong, indestructible Sarah. She sat upright upon the edge of the bed, face toward the wall, back so rigid one could tell it was only this posture that held her from losing herself in the emotion altogether.
    “Sarah?” Shura muttered softly.
    “Oh, Shura,” Sarah’s voice was stiff, “Hello.” Turning further away, she hid her face with a failing nonchalance, unable to disguise her tears. “Shura. Yes, I was just taking a moment for prayer. I was working in the kitchen and suddenly found myself very, very tired and—” her voice broke as she wiped her face in panic, “—and well I decided a moment or two in prayer might serve me well and I could ask God for—for strength, I suppose, to continue—” she nodded harshly, grasping, “—to continue on with the work.”

     Sarah turned to look at her with anguished eyes and they stared at one another in silence.

     The image was devastating. There she sat: the constant leader, the example, the one who cares for everyone but never given care. She did not appear to need it. How strong, how selfless, how gifted a woman she was.
    “Oh Sarah…” uttered Shura so quietly she was not certain she had said it aloud. She could not help herself, her body ached to hold her, but a lifetime of resistance lay between them. Shura approached steadily, sitting beside Sarah and clutching her hand without taking her eyes from her face.

     Sarah’s face was limp but for her brow as she gazed at Shura’s hand upon her own for a hard moment. Suddenly she looked up at her sister, eyes wet, brittle, and searching, and without any warning Shura felt Sarah’s hand respond beneath her gesture, clutching at her fingers with what she could not yet determine as relief, gratitude or desperation.

    “I cannot…” she whispered, “I cannot.” So hushed was her voice, perhaps her family, the matchmaker, her sisters, God Himself, might not hear her. “The responsibility—” her voice choked. “—it is so hard to be the very first—to never really be a child...” Shura watched, eyes wide, her forehead wrinkled and heart swollen as her elder sister shook. “I am so frightened Shura, so frightened. And I need sisters too—I need you, too!” Sarah’s cry was in earnest, the sorrow that emitted from within her was unspeakable.

     Shura grasped her in the sweep of her arms—arms granted her to seize Sarah in this pivotal embrace—she felt Sarah release there, for perhaps the first time in all her life.

    “Ich hob mir fer pacht*, Sarah...” Shura whispered, holding tightly with the strength and steeliness she had learned from the sister she encompassed, “Ich hob mir fer pacht…”

* I have you in my pocket, I know you for what you are

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