“I know what you’re worried about, okay? I know and you know and let’s clean up”
It was late Motzaei Shabbos when we got the call.
“Mommy, Bubby’s on the phone.” Ayala came running down the stairs holding the phone out.
As Mommy took her phone, I shot Ayala a funny look.
“What?” I mouthed.
Ayala shrugged, but the corners of her mouth turned down. They say there is no better friend than a sister, and I just knew something was wrong. A pit settled in my stomach as I saw Mommy’s face whiten as she clapped a hand over her mouth and, still silent and listening to Bubby, headed toward the stairs.
Once Mommy was out of earshot, Ayala turned to me, worry creases lining her forehead. “Bubby sounded awful,” she whispered.
We stared at each other.
“Do you think…” I started.
“Shhhh,” Ayala hissed back. “Don’t even say it.”
We each sat there quietly, our game lying neglected on the table. Motzaei Shabbos was game night, when Mommy and Ayala and I played board games with Mommy once the house was clean and the little ones settled for the night. I wondered if Ayala was thinking the same thing I was. I shot her a glance. Her forehead was still creased and her eyebrows furrowed. She stared down at the table with a pointed frown.
“Do you think Penina is okay?” I finally blurted out.
Ayala’s face flamed and she looked up at me. “Shhh! Mimi, this isn’t funny!”
“I don’t think it’s funny,” I said hotly. “I’m worried about—”
Ayala pushed her chair back and slammed her hand down on the table. “Stop!” she yelled. “I know what you’re worried about, okay? I know and you know and let’s clean up.”
She started sweeping the cards into the box. I opened my mouth to object but closed it when I noticed that Ayala’s lips were pressed tightly together and her eyes were shooting sparks.
Mommy came down a while after Ayala finished cleaning up the game. I was moping around the living room, kicking a small rubber ball around. Ayala had disappeared.
“Mimi,” Mommy said softly when she saw me.
I ran to her and sagged against her body. She gave me a tight hug.
“Ma, why’d you change back into clothes?” I asked, my heart sinking into my knees. The soft robe was gone, replaced by regular clothing. “Where are you going?”
Mommy sat down on the couch, her eyes cloudy and her face etched in deep pain. She pulled me down next to her.
“That was Bubby,” she said quietly. “She called to… to tell me that…” Mommy’s voice shook and she swallowed. “Penina was taken to the hospital again. She… she didn’t really want Bubby there, so I’m going to be with her for the night. Tatty will help you girls hold down the fort until I come back tomorrow.”
“But— but—” Questions bounced around my brain like the little rubber ball. “Will you be home by the time we’re back from school?”
“I hope so.” Mommy gave my shoulder a squeeze. “I’ve spoken to Ayala already. You two should probably get ready for bed now, anyway. It’s late.” She planted a soft kiss on the top of my head. “I’m sorry I couldn’t finish the game.”
Tatty came downstairs and left with Mommy to drive her to the hospital.
(Excerpted from Teen Pages, Issue 797)