| Jr. Serial |

Home Ground: Chapter 42

I’m annoyed that they keep talking about this letter; my skin crawls just at the thought of Aunt Chana seeing it


Sunday brings another meeting. Uncle Yossi is back, and Aunt Chana and Uncle Chaim. The two men sit at the head of the table, on either side of Zeidy, and they’re mostly quiet, aside from the occasional phone call or beeping of a message coming in.

Aunt Chana is sitting with me and Yaakov, and she’s determined to pursue any clue we can possibly think of.

“Did your parents ever say anything about emergency? A plan? A number to call? Anything?” she keeps asking us.

“I don’t think they ever thought something like this would happen,” I say, a little helplessly.

“Well, it sounds like Ima had some idea. She left that note on the fridge. About a letter to Ashira,” Yaakov says, looking at me meaningfully. “I think we need to check out any clue that we can right now.”

“I told you, I looked at it, there’s nothing remotely clue-like about it, except maybe this random line on the last page about the key being close to our own hearts or something,” I say. I’m annoyed that they keep talking about this letter; my skin crawls just at the thought of Aunt Chana seeing it.

“Maybe a fresh pair of eyes—” Yaakov starts saying, but Aunt Chana holds up a hand.

“Just a minute. Ashira, can we at least look at this last page? Maybe just show us the relevant section? About a key, or whatever… you never know. Maybe it was some kind of clue.”

“I guess so.” I doubt it’s anything, I’ve been racking my brains since Friday to try to figure out what it means. But at least we’ll feel like we’re trying to do something.

We spread the last page of the letter on the dining room table, and the uncles join us, poring over it to try  to decipher Ima’s cryptic last line, and the illustration beside it — an outline of a key.

I turn my head from side to side,

The key. The design. It’s familiar, an almost unusual shape for a key, with a very large hole in the round “head” of the key. I feel like I’ve seen it before. Well, I’m sure I have, if it’s on Ima’s keychain, but she has dozens of keys, old ones and current ones, and I just can’t think which one this is.

“I feel like it’s nothing. Just an illustration.”

“Maybe. Or maybe not.” Aunt Chana is thoughtful. “Let’s think like this: Does your mother usually illustrate letters to you? Or things that she writes?”

“For sure,” I say.

At the same time, Yaakov answers, decisively, “Not like this.”

“Huh?” I stare at him.

He points at the paper. “Look at this, Ima used a real key as a stencil, she outlined it, it’s a life-size copy of a real key. Since when does Ima draw like that? She just creates her own designs, she’s artistic like that.”

He’s right.

“If it’s a real key… and she’s trying to tell us something… then which key is it? Our house? The shul? What?”

Something’s tugging at my consciousness as I speak, something just out of reach.

Yaakov frowns. “I’m not sure. I don’t recognize it. But then again, I haven’t been home much for the last couple of years.”

His tone is almost wistful. Home… he misses it, maybe not like I do, but at least in some way. But is there even anything to miss anymore?

I think of our house, our street, the marketplace nearby.

Do places even mean anything without the people you love inside them?

My heart hurts.

Against my will, memories flood my brain, one after the next.

Shopping with Ima, the familiar smells of exotic Indian spices, the clogged streets, people and noise and foreign familiar languages. I’d grown up there, after all. Cooking at home, building the succah that seemed to expand every year… the building down the road from us that functioned as a shul.

Images swim through my mind, events we hosted, spending hours cleaning up confetti after we celebrated Yaakov’s bar mitzvah in the shul, decorating the small beis knesses with flowers on Erev Shavuos, walking there with Yaakov feeling so grown up to be trusted to do the job alone. Keys jangling in our hands… keys

And then last year, when the shul flooded during monsoon season… it’s happened before, but this time the damages were just too much to repair, and we’d rebuilt the entire inside of the shul.

Not the outside; Abba wanted to lay low. There’s no need to be ostentatious in galus, he always said… Abba…

I tear my mind away from the thought of my father, and where he might be now, and instead I will myself to picture the interior of the newly redone shul. The beis knesses and the function room we’d built, nice tiles and murals on the wall, a beautiful aron kodesh and the narrow staircase leading down to the shul cellar — a room leading to another room and another, plus a series of tunnels under and around the shul, a legacy from the building’s previous owner, a storekeeper who seemed to enjoy storing his goods in underground hideaways…

Underground hideaways.

The cellar. The renovation. The shul.

My heart stops and then starts again, beating very, very fast.

I look down at the page in front of me, trace the illustration with my finger. Yaakov’s right, Ima’s an artist, why would she have traced around a key when she could’ve sketched a pretty picture of her own?

Only if she wanted to show us a specific key. Only if she wanted to point us in a certain direction.

The outline, the jagged design, and the extra-large hole for a keychain to go through… the renovation, the shul, a brand-new set of keys…

And suddenly, I know exactly which key Ima used to outline the design on the letter.

The key to everything… it’s closer than you think.

Closer than you think.

Because they haven’t run. They’re not escaping, traveling, trying to make it through war-battered cities to leave the country… they’re right there, close to home, just hiding. Unseen.

My heart catches in my throat and it’s hard to breathe.

“Ashira? Are you okay?” Aunt Chana is looking at me, and the others around the table are also, in a room that’s suddenly gone very quiet.

How do they know? I guess I look as shell-shocked as I feel.

I swallow. There’s a rock in my throat, and the words emerge in a hoarse whisper.

“I know. I know where they’re hiding.”  

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Treeo, Issue 985)

Oops! We could not locate your form.