Today's Reading

"Pan Bukowski?"

Pan Gadomski looked away. "France and England have declared war on Germany. Between explosions and the rubble of fallen buildings, our citizens rejoice in the streets—they even tossed the French military attaché into the air outside the embassy, all the while singing the Marseillaise. Do you know how poorly Poles sing in French? Thank God in heaven, at least we won't be alone now. But we must wait it out. Victory will take time."

"Pan Gadomski—where is Pan Bukowski?"

A long moment followed. "He had his son bring you back to the library when you passed out, thinking there might be refuge among the stacks.

Apparently your apartment building is no more. I'm sorry."

"Janek..." Every picture, every book, every memory of Janek and their life together was in that apartment.

"Your friend sent these for you. There is a photograph of your husband." Pan Gadomski pointed to two bags. "After he sent you back, he salvaged all he could for everyone on your floor, before..."

"Before what?"

Pan Gadomski moistened his lips, hesitating again.

"Where is Pan Bukowski?" Sophie insisted, while her heart quickened.

"I'm sorry to tell you that your friend was hit, strafed by a plane as he left the apartment for the last time. His son was with him, caught him as he fell. He did not suffer long, so the son said. He brought these things for you yesterday."

"No...no!" Sophie's heart stopped. It wasn't possible. Pan Bukowski, her friend, her only real friend besides Janek since coming to Poland.

"He said his father's last words were for you. 'Tell Sophia to fight, to keep faith.' Something about, 'Remember the Red Sea.'"

The Red Sea...how Adonai will make a way where there is no way...

It was what he'd always reminded her of when she was tempted to despair.

The tension and the worry, the anguish Sophie had suppressed ever since Janek left for the battle, ever since the first bombs fell on an unbelieving Warsaw, finally ruptured in her chest. The cry came first as gasping breaths, then deep heaves, bursting from a place she'd known only in the losing of her babies—primitive, naked keening.

Pan Gadomski slipped from the room as the storm played out.

***

When Sophie woke again, the lantern still burned, casting weird shadows on the wall. There was a small loaf of bread and some cheese on the floor beside her pallet, and a cup of water. The smells of burned clothing and hair were still there, but the silence was new. She heard only her own breathing...slow, fluid.

And then she remembered. Pan Bukowski. Silent tears escaped her eyes, rivuleting her sooted cheeks, dripping down her neck. She swiped them away and sat up, her swallow painful. Had he been hit while saving her treasures? Nothing she owned was worth that.

Sophie had no idea of the day or the time. She must be in an inner room—no windows. No wonder the bombing had sounded far away. Now she heard no bombing. Whatever that meant, it was a relief.

A cramping in her belly brought her wider awake. She felt for the mound of her baby and breathed, relieved again.

She must get up, must find the restroom, must eat something. But when she pushed back the blanket, her pallet was covered in blood.



CHAPTER TWO
Vilna, Lithuania

"Are you mad? Tell her she's mad. Tell her, Itzhak! Your wife is mad."

"Mama, she is not mad; she's grieving. Her father was killed and she
wants to go to her mother. Is that so hard to understand? I'm a man, and even I understand this thing." Itzhak shoved his best shirt into the case and slammed the lid.

"It is willfulness to go to Warsaw in such a time. She's not settled, your Rosa, not strong. She's—"

"She is my wife, Mama, and I will thank you not to speak against her." Itzhak could not understand the war that raged between the two women. Did his mother not think Hitler and his allies enough to deal with? Why must there be discord in his house?
...

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