It smelled like brisket. It smelled like Shabbos. The deep, sweet peace of Saturdays in the house in Heidelberg came back to her with the scent, and her eyes stung. Her right hand lifted to the small, bright mezuzah nailed in its new place on the inner doorframe, and for a moment she thought of nothing but the holy words inside. Then she heard her sister's voice: "Just stop it!"
She set her jaw and walked down the little hallway to their bedroom. Her brother, Karl, sat on the bed, arms crossed and face defiant, as their sister, Tova, fingers tangled in her half-made braid, wailed, "I'm going to have to redo it all!"
"Karl," said Elisa.
"I didn't," said Karl hotly. "I just asked if I could share the washbasin a minute—"
"You hit my elbow!"
"I didn't mean to!"
"But you did," said Elisa. "Apologize. Tova, I'll fix it."
"Sorry," muttered Karl to Tova's shoes.
"Thank you," whispered Tova, tears appearing in her eyes. She gave Karl a wavering smile. She was the only one of them who used her Hebrew name for everyday; it had stuck, Mama said, because it meant "good." And wasn't that just like a parent, thinking pliable was good—even now, at thirteen years old? Elisa worried for her.
"Shh now," Elisa soothed as she braided her sister's thick, wet hair. "It's all right."
She gave Karl his turn at the basin and then shooed them out so she could change. She heard clinking from the kitchen as she peeled swiftly out of the sweat-stained black working dress. As she combed her hair something rustled behind her. A slip of paper appeared under the door—then flicked back out of sight. She turned her back. Do you know what I do for this family? I'd like a minute's peace sometime. Rustle. Flick. She glanced behind. There it was, then—flick—a grin seemed to hang in the air. The corners of her mouth softened helplessly. Whispers from behind the door, a giggle. She twisted her hair into a bun, shoving hairpins in ruthlessly, and dove for the paper as it slid forward again. "Ha!" She threw open the door and displayed her trophy. "I win."
"Come to the table," Mama called.
As she followed her siblings down the hallway she glanced aside into her parents' cluttered bedroom. Her smile fell away as she took in what lay on the bed.
Mama's jewelry box. Open.
Her heart tightened, then began to pound. The open lid, which ought to be locked and hidden in its place under the floorboards, spoke to her as if aloud. It's not all right. Tova and Karl were almost too young to remember the days back in Heidelberg when the automobile had gone, and the carved walnut furniture, and the piano. Her first piano. She'd cried and cried. The next day Papa had taken her to watch a rally from a friend's third-floor window, her dark curly hair carefully hidden under a hood. She'd heard words she still couldn't burn out of her mind. "We must leave this country," Papa had told her quietly, as she shivered in the dark shuttered room afterward, hearing the last fierce, joyous voices in the square below. "I am so sorry, Lies. I would not have sold your piano for any lesser reason than this. You see, they will not let us leave with our money. That is the price."
"It's not fair," she had whispered.
"It's not fair," he'd said gravely, as if they were reciting a lesson together. Then, "We will pay them and go."
She leaned on the doorframe, staring at the box. Who are we paying now? Where do we go? The handful of bright things in there was all their savings. Not enough. Papa said so. He said over and over that the rumors from Paris must be exaggerated; it was impossible to know what had really happened at the Vel d'Hiv stadium, with the reports contradicting each other so completely. Even if the Nazis had done such a thing in the Occupied Zone, he said, it was another matter here. This was still France.
He had written to a friend in Paris to try to learn the truth. He hadn't had an answer yet.
The gold in the box spoke its silent question. "I don't know," she whispered, and turned away. She walked down the hall to the dining room, to where the table with its pure-white cloth stood against the scarred wall, laid with blue-and-white plates, clean napkins by each one. To Mama, behind her two tall candles, and Papa by her side smiling. To Shabbos dinner, and peace for tonight.