Last Saturday I won the short story contest at the blog YA Stands! If you’re interested in reading my historical love story, set in 1946 France and centered around a 16-year-old Hungarian couple, it’s under my new “Writing Samples” tab and called “Kálmán Runs Away.”
This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is another scene from Chapter 12, “High Holy Days,” of The Very First. It’s October 1938, Yom Kippur, and Cinni and Sparky are taking a walk on the beach in the afternoon. Since Sparky hasn’t reached the age of bat mitzvah yet, she isn’t obligated to fast all day. As they’re taking a walk, they see their friend Kit’s father and wonder what in the world he’s doing out of work. Mr. and Mrs. Green (who also happen to be blood third-cousins) are hiding a secret about their origins from everyone, but Mr. Green feels extremely guilty about it and sometimes does things in secret from Mrs. Green to get in touch with his roots.
Cinni stopped talking as Mr. Green came within earshot. “Hello, Mr. Green. Taking the day offa work?”
“I have reasons of my own for taking off work today.” He turned towards Sparky. “May you be sealed in the Book of Life, Miss Small.”
“You know today is Yom Kippur?” Sparky asked. “I didn’t know normal Christians knew or cared.”
“I have reasons of my own for knowing.” He pulled on his collar.
“We’re not that stupid,” Cinni said. “At least, not all of us. I’m sure idiots like Adeline’s family don’t know or care, but some people would know if they’ve got Jewish friends.”
“Did you know anything about it before you met me?” Sparky asked. “Maybe you knew the name, but I don’t think you knew any specifics.”
“I know you sing a prayer called Kol Nidre at night. That’s a really beautiful prayer, from what I remember of it. It’s been awhile since I heard it, but not too long.”
“You heard Kol Nidre? I thought you’d never been to a synagogue, and I haven’t seen any records of famous cantors in your collection.”
“It was in a movie at the Rerun Theater. The Jazz Singer, with Al Jolson. I was kinda disappointed when it turned out to be mostly silent, after all the talk I’d heard about it being the first real talking movie. But that was onea the sound parts.”
“So I suppose tomorrow your family will start building your sukkah?” Mr. Green asked. “If you need additional plywood or schach or anything, you can let me know and I’ll loan you money or even buy it for you.”
“How do you know about schach or just Sukkot?” Sparky asked. “I didn’t think most Christians had ever heard about that holiday.”
“I’m not like most Christians. Maybe more than anyone will ever really know.” He pulled on his collar again, then ran a hand through his hair, which he was constantly thankful was blonde.
“Thank you for your offer. I’ll tell my parents and get back to you if they need help.”
“I can even help you construct it, if you need extra hands.” He turned pale as his stomach rumbled.
Sparky stepped back a bit. “Mr. Green, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were fasting for Yom Kippur. If you’re hungry, you should go home or to a restaurant.”
“No, my wife thinks I’m at work. She’d be hysterical if she found out I was taking the day off. I try my best to avoid scenes with her. Sometimes I regret marrying her, even though it was the right thing to do.” His eyes drifted to the waves lapping against the shore. “Well, I’m probably boring you girls. Have a good rest of the day.”
Cinni stared at him as he walked off towards the other end of the beach. “Kit says he acts goofy like this from time to time, but she can’t figure out what causes it. Sometimes it really ain’t best to fool around in grownups’ business. You might find out stuff you wish you hadn’t known.”
“Do you think Mr. Green is secretly Jewish?”
Cinni laughed. “He might have some strange secret, but there’s no way that could be it. He goes to church every week, knows all the prayers, eats non-kosher food, has an English name, and has blonde hair and green eyes. And his parents were named Alexis and Josepha. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll all find out the reason for his goofy behavior.”
Sparky watched a seagull landing. “Would you like to help me and Barry set up the food for my family’s break-the-fast before Barry and I have to go back to synagogue? Poor Barry’s gonna be hungrier than me, since he’s expected to fast a lot longer. He’s only three months away from bar mitzvah.”