—Continued from Leaving – 1942 (1)
After a surprisingly tasty meal served in the dining car by a starched, black-as-the-night waiter with a tight round face and impossibly white eyes and teeth, she tipsied to the cubbyhole marked WC, then stumbled back to her seat, hoping not to land in some stranger’s lap as the train rudely tossed her about. Back in the safety of her window seat she rearranged her canvas totes around herself like wagons circled up for the night. Again her head fell back and her eyes closed. In a half-dream-half-wake cycle, images of the past reeled.
She is eleven. She and her mother are poring over color swatches. She can’t believe she’s been permitted to choose the colors for her bedroom! The brand new house had risen like magic from the forest of New Rochelle. It is 1925. She’s perched on the window seat below the fan-shaped window at the narrow end of her room. Outside the freshly planted lawn gives way to half-wild forest. I was so naïve then. It never dawned on me to wonder about Adolph making all the decisions instead of Papa. But perhaps Papa was naïve, too? What a leap of faith to put Adolph in charge of mother and me on a ship traveling across the Atlantic. And to give him carte blanche to build our house? With Papa’s money?” Blood brothers,” Papa always said. “I trusted Adolph with my very life!” I wonder what that was really all about. What exactly drew those two men so close?
The images flash forward; forward past her first bewildering years in the US; her convoluted advance from third grade to sixth grade in one year, as she began to wrap her head around her mother tongue—a language that coming from American mouths, sounded completely foreign. She smiled and her heart bumped at the vision of Philip Cochrane, her first beloved. Oh the torrid love letters they wrote back and forth to each other, signed with pet names, Shatz for Phil, Nawitta for her. In 1927 she had actually promised, in writing, on a plain, cream-colored sheet of paper, to marry him in 15 years, to love him and be with him forever. My word, 15 years? That would be now! Whatever has become of dear Shatzy with his thick dark hair and serious hazel eyes? I didn’t lie to him. I do still love Philip, and he is still with me in my heart.
But time had diminished Philip’s power. The memory she worked so hard to banish, pops up like a jack-in-the-box wound too tightly.
She and her parents are gathered at the breakfast table waiting—waiting for Adolph to come down from his room. From behind his newspaper, Papa asks, “Nora, where is Adolph?”
“I have no idea, Hermann.” I haven’t seen or heard from him this morning.
Papa, dropping his right hand to peer around the paper at her, “Yry, why don’t you run upstairs and knock on his door. Tell him breakfast is on the table. We’re waiting.”
Sighing…she reluctantly pushes back her chair and immodestly takes the stairs two at a time, fully aware that her mother is watching with pursed lips. She raises her hand to knock on Adolph’s door but hesitates. What’s that feeling? It’s barely perceptible, unidentifiable, but lodged darkly between her stomach and her heart. Shaking herself out of a stupor, she gently raps on the door. “Dolphi? We’re waiting for you to join us.” No answer. Another gentle knock. “Uncle Adolph, Papa’s getting grouchy. You know how he is when he gets hungry.” Still no answer. “Adolph? . . . Dolphi? Are you there? What’s going on?”
Cautiously she tests the door. It swings open to reveal a chaotic sitting room with an empty liquor bottle akimbo on the floor, papers scattered as if blown by a fan. Her eyes skim the open bedroom, bed made, but disheveled. The bathroom door is closed. With a knot tightening in her abdomen she raps gently on the bathroom door. Silence. She knocks again and ever so gently jiggles the doorknob. “Uncle Adolph? Are you in there? Are you okay?” The door is locked.
With a hasty about-face, she races to the dining room and breathlessly reports what she has not found.
“Cyril, would you come here?” Norah demands.
The butler strides into the dining room. “Something’s wrong upstairs,” says Hermann, rising from the table. The two men hurry up the stairs while Norah and Yry stare at each other. There’s a crashing noise. Their eyes widen at the gasp that comes from upstairs.
Adolph is fully submerged in a tub of still steaming hot water. Pandemonium ensues: phone calls, strangers in and out of the house, ambulance, police officers, depositions, reporters. The drowning is dubbed accidental. Lulled by the hot water, Adolph lost consciousness and slid under water. But Yry never bought that. With the settling of his “estate,” comes the truth about Adolph Levi; the man her father had trusted as a brother was an almost-clever charlatan.