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Conquer the Darkness
by Estie Stavsky Florans
It was at a quarter after ten in the morning when I received
the phone call that would change my life forever.
I have no doubt as to the exact time. I had just placed a
cake in the oven and closed the door with a satisfied
smile. I glanced at the large grandfather clock that was sitting
on the china closet, thinking happily and contentedly about
how much I had accomplished in the last forty minutes or so,
when quite suddenly the telephone rang. I wiped my hands on
my apron, walked casually over to the telephone table and
picked up the receiver.
As shocked as I was when I heard the caller's voice, I
recognized it immediately. We spoke for approximately three
minutes. In a mild daze, I calmly replaced the phone on its
cradle, then slowly and thoughtfully returned to the kitchen. I
began to wipe the counter carefully and deliberately, as if each
protracted movement could stop the hands of the clock from
As I heard the rhythmic sound of the second hand gyrating
around the clock, the calmness began to leave me. The old
familiar feelings and fears started to return. What will we say to
each other? What could we say, I wondered anxiously, not
believing that this was happening after all these years. I could
not restrain my thoughts from racing ahead, and could not
control the tension that threatened to overwhelm me. It was a
relief, however slight, that the children were out with my
husband at the time and would not have to meet her. To have
her visit when the children were home would have only made
this awkward situation even more difficult than I already
anticipated it would be.
I started to rush about nervously, picking up toys and
various other items. Dovid's rubbers from the night before
were in the hallway. I quickly pushed them aside. Tzviki's
castle of blocks with the cute little "menchies" inside and
around it would have to go. I remember sighing as I recalled
how hard he had worked at building it that morning, and knew
how disappointed he would be to find it gone. I'll explain the
situation to him later on in the day, I reassured myself, and
knew that even though he was only four years old he would
understand. Ruchi, oh, my sweet little Ruchella, I thought, as I
glanced down at the neat circle of dolls in the living room,
waiting for their little "mommy" to come home and make a
Pesach seder for them. I will help you set them up again, I
silently promised my little daughter. Eli's truck, Dini's Big
Wheel, the tall and elegant eucalyptus plant standing so
proudly near the doorway ... I quickly and efficiently moved
everything and anything that might be in her way out of the
I kept thinking fondly of my darling children, and how
disappointed they would be when they came home and found
their neat little lives upset. I reassured myself that I would do
all that I could to protect them and make things right again.
My eyes hurriedly scanned the living room for any other
obstacles that might encumber her path, and stopped short at
the sight of the children's play table right in the center of the
room. How can I have forgotten that, I silently admonished
myself. That will surely be in her way! I carefully pushed the
table against the wall and sat down awkwardly on one of the
children's chairs to catch my breath.
I looked across the living room towards the dining room
table and I saw the yahrzeit licht. How coincidental that she
should be coming on this very day, I thought. And then I
reminded myself that nothing is coincidental. Who knows?
Maybe it was destined for us to be together on this yahrzeit
day. At the very least, I thought guiltily, it would certainly give
us something to talk about. I rose slowly to get a closer view,
but all I could think of was that SHE was coming.
I stared at the yahrzeit candle.
The flickering flame danced on the tip of the wick. Its yellow
and blue hues were mirrored in the surrounding glass, giving
the impression that it was not one flame but many, all wearing
identical costumes, all dancing the same dance.
I stared at the yahrzeit licht and I remembered . . .
The world seemed pretty perfect, just then, as I sat
on the fence with one foot intertwined in the gate
to keep myself from falling, and the other foot
dangling carelessly. The Catskill sun shone down
brightly on us and I felt a soft warm wind lift my hair.
"Isn't it just great?" I said to my best friend, Nechama, who
sat beside me sharing both the view of the sleepy lake and my
ice cream cone. "I can't believe it, I'm really an aunt. I still can't
"Oh, I believe it all right," she answered between licks. "You
have not stopped talking about your new nephew for even a
second in the last forty-five minutes, Tante Renie."
"That's right. I didn't even think of that. What will he call
me? Maybe he should call me Dodah Renie, or how about
Tante Rena?" I said thoughtfully, "Or how about . . ."
"Mo, you're definitely too young to be a tante. Maybe
"Can't be 'aunt,' I answered. "There already is an Aunt Rena.
What should I be called?" I asked worriedly.
"Maybe you should be called just plain Renie, or Auntie
Renie . . ."
"That's it," I interrupted her, "I'll be Tantie Renie. This way
my little nephew won't think of me as so old, but at the same
time he'll still know that I am his aunt."
"Perfect!" Nechama said, jumping off the fence. "Now that
your problem is solved . . ."
"And my mother said that the pidyon haben will be on the
first day of Choi Hamoed. You'll come, Nechama, won't you?"
I asked excitedly, as Nechama and I walked side by side along
the edge of the lake.
"Of course I'll come," Nechama bent down to pick up a
pebble and toss it into the water. "But how will you fit everyone
into your succah?"
"Oh, I forgot to tell you. My father said that he'll be building
the biggest succah we've ever had. It'll take up the whole
driveway, and we'll pass the food in and out of the window. Oh,
Nechama!" I squeezed her hand, "I don't know how in the world
I'll be able to wait until then. I'm so excited!"
We walked slowly over the Old Mill Bridge, watching a
mother duck lead her little ducklings in a perfectly straight
procession. Nechama bent over the wooden fence and looked
down at her reflection in the pond. I could see the expression
on Nechama's face change as I peered at her image in the clear
"Nechama, what's wrong?" I asked hesitantly. "There's
something bothering you, isn't there?"
"Oh, it's nothing," she said, still studying her reflection.
"Come on, Cham. You can't fool me. I know you long
enough. What's bothering you?"
"Well, if you really want to know . . ." She swung around and
blurted out, "You know that letter I just received from Etty?
Etty Samuels had been with us for the first trip of camp and
was also a classmate of ours.
"Renie, Etty heard from her father that Miss Einstein has to
move back to Chicago for the year."
"That's right, you heard me correctly. Her sister is tempo-
rarily bedridden and someone is needed to care for the
children. She's planning to return after Pesach, but in the
meantime . . ."
"I can't believe it," I said with great emphasis. "Now, when
we're entering eighth grade, the greatest year of our lives. Are
"Sure I'm sure, and now what am I suppose to do?" Nechama
started walking up the path leading to a shady cluster of trees
as I hurriedly walked after her. "How will I run the G.O. without
"And how will I manage with the yearbook?"
"Hey, what's bugging you two? You both look like the world
just caved in and you're the only ones left!" We swung around
to face Feigy and Suri, surprised expressions on our faces. We
had not heard them come through the bushes. "Did the two of
you have a fight?" Feigy could not help asking with a hint of
I felt my jaw tighten.
Ignoring her last remark, Nechama related the news. "And,"
she continued, "now with Miss Einstein leaving, who knows
who will be our new eighth-grade adviser? What with gradua-
tion, G.O., the Mitzvahthon . .."
"And the yearbook," I added.
"Well," Feigy said in that confident and irritating know-it-
all tone of hers. "Nechama, I wouldn't worry about the G.O.
if I were you, as I am sure that you will manage just fine,
adviser or not. As for you," she continued coolly, turning to
me, "that's another story." With that said, she tossed her long
blonde hair over her shoulder, turned abruptly and continued
on her way, with Suri at her heel toward the path leading to the
"Creep," I mumbled under my breath.
"Just ignore her," Nechama suggested. "She doesn't really
mean any harm. That's just the way she talks."
"Right," I said gloomily, "especially when she's talking to
"Come on, Renie, cheer up. She just wishes that she would
have as special a friendship as we have."
"I guess you're right," I shrugged, my lips slowly spreading
into a wide grin. "Not everyone is as lucky as we are."
We continued walking towards Treasure Island. This was
really just a small peninsula, merely a few feet wide, jutting out
towards the lake. As younger girls we would pretend that
pirates had hidden treasures there, and many fun summer days
were spent at this pleasant spot.
We sat down cross-legged on the warm green grass, content
in each other's company, lost in our individual thoughts. I
looked at Nechama. Her thick, wavy auburn hair was gathered
into a ponytail with a thin blue ribbon tied into a neat bow,
and her arms were wrapped around her long, folded legs,
bringing them snugly against her chest. She turned her
graceful neck towards the water, and her large brown eyes
seemed to be concentrating deeply as she stared at one
specific spot in the lake.
Indeed, I felt very lucky to have someone like Nechama
Leverman as my best friend. Not only was Nechama the
smartest girl in our class at Bais Yaakov of Barclay, but more
importantly, she was one of the nicest girls around.
Nechama was the only person I knew who could...