There were ten children in her family and not enough space, and although no one in their class ever said anything about all that, it was clear what they thought
Frustration! It seemed to Esti that her plans for the great Cake Surprise were being thwarted at every turn. Her first foray into the NO TRESPASSING cupboard revealed no colored sprinkles, no pink icing, and no confectioners’ sugar. A frantic search confirmed that they were neither hidden behind the cans nor in the freezer.
What she did find was a postcard from Rivky, who had until this summer been her closest, most trusted ally and best friend. Esti gulped when she came across it because, to her shame, she hadn’t bothered to reply.
We’re having a great vacation! There’s only one thing missing and that’s you. My parents say I can invite you to join us. There are loads of space and if your father will drive halfway, my father will meet him and bring you back with him to join us. What fun!
Pleeease say yes! The reason I’m writing and not calling is that we have no reception here.
Your best friend,
For a moment Esti was too distracted to remember that she was in pursuit of baking ingredients. The reason she hadn’t answered Rivky’s letter was because she had decided to drop her. Rivky just wasn’t… with-it. She lived in a pretty tumbledown house, with cracks in the rotting windowpanes and peeling paint. There were ten children in her family and not enough space, and although no one in their class ever said anything about all that, it was clear what they thought.
So, she had ignored the postcard and at the beginning of the new school year she had been cold and distant to Rivky, hardly even acknowledging her. She’d seen tears in Rivky’s eyes at first and then, after a few days, Rivky had simply ignored her. It wasn’t a good feeling at all, and she’d been regretting it all year.
Esti dropped the postcard.
“What’s that?” said Dassie.
“None of your business.”
Dassie picked it up and began to read it aloud.
“Give it back!”
“Ha, ha, catch me if you caaan!” Dassie ran out of the kitchen. She bumped into her mother who had come in with a pile of laundry in her arms.
“If only I had a laundry room,” she said. “Or at least the washer and dryer upstairs.”
“You always say that,” said Dassie.
“Let me load the machine for you,” Esti said.
Her mother looked at Esti in surprise. “Thank you. I hope you don’t mind me saying this, darling — you’ve been really kind and helpful lately.”
“For the past 48 hours. And ten minutes,” said Esti.
Her mother laughed.
“Mummy — did you get the job?”
“Wow! That’s amazing. I’m so happy for you.”
“I am, too,” said Mrs Levy. “Plus, the fact that we can have our fourth bedroom back… Now, if you don’t mind. I’d like the kitchen to myself for a while.”
“Mmm… Yes… May I, dear daughter?”
Esti frowned. “When will you be finished?”
“By about nine.”
Esti stuffed the laundry in the machine, put in the detergent and left the room. It was almost as if her mother was doing it on purpose. Still, it gave her time to run around and get the ingredients from the 24-hour Kol Bo, which unfortunately didn’t always have Kol Bo.
Dini and Dassie were waiting for her at the front door when she returned with everything but pink food coloring.
“We know where you went.”
“We know what you bought.”
Ignoring them both, Esti pounded up the stairs to her bedroom, banged the door shut, and locked it. They couldn’t possibly know what she was doing. They’d never guess she was making their mother a surprise. They were too selfish to think of it.
She sat down to do her history homework which required her to:
Imagine you are an upper-class young lady at the time of the Great Fire of London (Sunday, September 2 to Thursday, September 6, 1666). Write a fictional report to your friend about your experiences of the fire and your escape.
She was in the middle of a sentence, “And I give thanks to G-d for delivering me,” which was the way people wrote in those days, when she thought again about Rivky’s letter and the way she had snubbed her for absolutely no reason.
And then she thought about the way Rochel had snubbed her about the trip to the ice cream store, for absolutely no reason.
And she was filled with deep regret.
There was nothing to do but apologize. She heaved a deep sigh. Apologies had never been her best subject. They ranked equal with saying thank you as the two things she was worst at.
Dear Rivky, she wrote.
Dear Rivky. It took a few Dear Rivkys before she could bring herself to write the dreaded words.
This is rather late and perhaps it is even too late, but I want to say how SORRY I AM for having been such a bad friend when you have been such a good one.
I really don’t know what entered my soul. It does sound a bit dramatic but it’s true. Something wriggly and wormlike turned my thoughts all wrong. You are the best friend anyone could ever have, and I beg of you to stretch out your hand to me in forgiveness and draw me to you so that I may once more bask in the glow of your kind friendship.
It was a rather strange letter, but it was easier to write an apology as if you were an upper-class young lady at the time of the reign of King Charles II during the Great Fire of London than merely Esti Levy at the time of King Charles III, in drizzly Manchester. Anyway, Rivky would understand. She appreciated drama.
Esti triple-sealed the letter in an envelope and turned her attention toward pretending to go to bed.
Funnily enough, this wasn’t so difficult. She found herself incredibly tired tonight. Perhaps it was all this being sorry and grateful that was wearing her down.
She showered, did her hair, brushed her teeth, then lay down and waited.
When would her mother go to bed? Wasn’t she starting a new job tomorrow? She could hear the stairs creak, and then all went quiet.
Esti crept downstairs and went into the kitchen. Assembling the ingredients, she noticed how much tidier the room was than usual.
It was a simple recipe which she’d made before and you could do it by hand. The cake was in the oven within ten minutes, and feeling suddenly exhausted, Esti put her head down on the floury surface and nodded off.
The smell of fresh cake woke her 45 minutes later. It came out of the oven, golden and perfect, and she left it to cool while she prepared the icing. An hour later the cake was finished, the words “Thank you to the best mother ever” inscribed across it in neat pink letters.
The icing was still moist as she carried it carefully down the dark narrow hallway toward the storage room where hopefully it would be out of the way of grubby fingers. She was feeling around on the wall for the light switch when she heard footsteps. Slow and stealthy! A burglar!
Esti jumped with fright. The cake slid halfway off the plate. A hand caught it, and the light went on.
It was her mother.
Carrying an iced cake.
They stared at one another.
“It was supposed to be a surprise,” said Esti.
“Me, too,” said her mother.
“I wanted to say thank you,” said Esti. “Look.”
“Look at mine. To Esti. Thank you from Mummy to my darling daughter.”
“Let’s have a party. Right now. Just us,” said Esti.
They went into the kitchen and put the cakes on the counter.
“Let’s cut yours first.”
“No…not yet!.” Her mother had a strange look on her face. She seemed to be waiting for something. There was some more creaking on the stairs.
A head popped round the door.
It was Rivky. In one hand she held an envelope.
And in the other – a cake.
Two joined hands were outlined in icing across it and underneath just one word:
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 936)
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