| Jr. Serial |

Home Ground: Chapter 30

I still marvel that I’ve become the honorary painting leader of the group. But I play it cool.


The school hallways are shadowy and too quiet.

It’s a week into our winter vacation — yup, schools in England have a full couple of weeks off — but we’re here to do scenery, and frankly, I’m glad to have something to do. I’ve been sitting around at Bubby’s place for a few days, and even relaxing gets too much sometimes.

Okay, so I went shopping once with Raizy and hung out with Aunt Chana a few times, spoke to Ima, too — it’s nice not to have to work around a school schedule. It’s also reassuring to hear her voice, hear that everything sounds okay. According to Ima, the political situation is just “staying the same.” Well, as long as it’s all the same, it can’t be too bad, right? I mean, the demonstrations and stuff weren’t even anywhere near them.

In any case, going into school with the others is proving to be a welcome break.

Michal feels along the wall for a light switch and knocks into something. We jump.

“What was that?” Esther squeaks.

“Oooooh,” Sari shudders, grabbing my hand.

The light goes on and we look at each other and burst out laughing. It’s just an empty classroom, what did we expect?

The thought flashes through my mind that I’m part of them, I really am, and it’s ironic that I feel more a part of this little Year 11 scenery group than I’ve ever felt with my own classmates.

“We’re finishing this today or I’ll be really annoyed about giving up an entire day,” says Michal decisively. She’s the one who arranged this whole thing for us, got us permission to use the building, arranged for Miss Berger to come along with us. Now, Miss B. is sitting in the staff room doing her own work, and we have free rein of the building. Or at least the classroom where we work on the scenery.

I settle on the floor, reach for the bottle of green paint. Have to be careful here, it’s nice to be in school in my own clothing, no uniform, but I don’t want to get paint on my cutest skirt.

“So, Ashira, tell us what to do.”

I still marvel that I’ve become the honorary painting leader of the group. But I play it cool.

“Hmm. So I’m working on those extra marketplace stalls — maybe you’ll do it along with me, Esther? Just filling in the details. Sari, wanna put shadows to the left of the houses? Devorah, you could add some birds or something to the tops of the trees and a couple flying in the sky—”

“And I’ll do some more flowers,” Michal says.

“Flowers! Now why didn’t we think of that?” Sari kids.

“Yeah, honestly, all this picture is missing is little pink flowers.”

Michal stands her ground. “No, I’ve done flowers here already, and it’ll look nice if they go the whole way along the grass section.”

“For sure, it’s all the audience will be looking for, pink flowers in the third blade of grass from the left.”

Michal rolls her eyes and reaches for the pink paint. She is a tiny bit obsessed with those teeny flowers; I think she’s confident in how to paint them and doesn’t want to mess up if I’d ask her to do something else.

Let her have her pink flowers. We’re almost done here, anyway.

We settle into the painting, not talking much this time. It’s comfortable, comforting, strokes of paint and passing each other colors and focusing on our own little area until suddenly, we’re done.

I lay down my brush. Michal’s admiring her pink flowers, Esther’s finished the fruit she’s been painting on an applecart, Sari and Devorah are already long since done and sharing a bag of chips.

“It looks… wow,” says Sari.

“Waaaay better than it was before,” Devorah agrees.

“I love how you added depth to the picture,” Esther said, pointing to the marketplace stalls and cluster of houses.

“It’s amazing,” Michal says, standing up. “Ashira, you’re a star. You saved the scenery.”

“Go-o-o Ashira!” Sari cheers, and I blush and stammer something like it was nothing and feel super awkward as they all cheer my name.

“Now what?” Esther asks. “I mean, we need to leave it to dry.”

My heart drops. Now what, indeed. It had been so fun to be part of the scenery, part of a social group, that I hadn’t really thought about… what would come next.

“It’ll dry before we come back to school,” Michal says. “And next week when we’re back in school, we start on the second backdrop.”

Second backdrop? The goofiest smile breaks out on my face. I hadn’t known there would be another one.

I know I can’t prolong it forever. Someday I’ll have to make friends my own age, but for now, for now, I’m part of something.

“You busy lady,” Faiga greets me laughingly at the next play practice. I slide into my seat, panting a little. I’d gone to help the scenery girls start off, before running over here for my scenes. “Where are you all the time these days?”

“I kind of joined scenery,” I tell her.

“Oh, you’re so cool. So multitalented.”

Whoa. That’s nice… I never really thought of myself like that. Am I? And do people look at me like that? Not like, the loser actress with five lines in the whole play?

“I dunno, I just went to help scenery, because I have this ridiculous part in the play,” I say. Why am I sharing this with Faiga? I feel so stupid.

“Oh, that’s nothing, you told me you didn’t even try out, right? Besides, you can tell you know what you’re doing, just from the way you say your lines.”

Oh. Thanks, I guess.

Our scene’s coming up. No scripts now, I leave it on the seat as Faiga and I make our way onstage for Scene 11.

“Time to do my very talented rendition of, ‘Oy, Mama,’” I mutter to Faiga. She cracks up.

Tammy’s onstage already. For a moment, I catch her eye, she quickly looks away. Why’s she watching me and Faiga? There’s something in her eyes… that tugs at me. Reminds me of… myself.

Does she have a play friend?

She’s got a large part, doesn’t really need company for between scenes like I do, but I remember what I noticed about Tammy back when she was on her campaign to make friends with me — she’s friends with everyone, close with no one. Most girls in play have one or two close friends in it with them, but Tammy’s sort-of chevreh from our own class are all in choir. So she sits with some classmates between scenes but… I never really see her laughing, getting involved.

Not that I’m watching much these days.

Between scenery and my four scenes, and my friendship with Faiga — we have great conversations when she’s not onstage — I haven’t really got time to watch anyone else.

It’s better that way, I think, as I march past Tammy and take up my position in the corner of the stage.

I have enough on my plate without worrying about anyone else’s sticky social life.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 973)

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