Can the invisible walls that separate people ever come down?
In 1933, Anna Leibowicz is convinced that the American dream that brought her Jewish family here from Poland is nothing but an illusion. Her father has vanished. Her dreams of college can’t make it past the sweat-shop door. And when she discovers to her shame and horror that she’s with child, her mother gives her little choice but to leave her family. Deciding her best course of action is to try to find her father, she strikes out…hoping against hope to somehow redeem them both.
When Anna stumbles upon a house full of orphan boys in rural Indiana who are in desperate need of a tutor, she agrees to postpone her journey. But she knows from the moment she meets their contemplative, deep-hearted caretaker, Thomas Chandler, that she doesn’t dare risk staying too long. She can’t afford to open her heart to them, to him. She can’t risk letting her secrets out.
All too soon, the townspeople realize she’s not like them and treat her with the same disdain they give the Sisters of Mercy—the nuns who help Thomas and the boys—and Samuel, the quiet colored boy Thomas has taken in. With the Klan presence in the town growing ever stronger and the danger to this family increasing the longer she stays, Anna is torn between fleeing to keep them safe…and staying to fight beside them.
Oh, that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest…
Camille writes poignant, inspirational love stories some call “more than a romance.” She lives in Oregon with her husband and is a mom, grandma, office admin, lead foot, cinnamon roll baker, and a bass guitarist. She’s a fan of muscle cars, tender romance, and Peanut M&Ms.
Praise for Wings Like a Dove
“Eide delivers a powerful tale of a Jewish immigrant dealing with prejudice. Anna’s nuanced inner life and the stakes of her trip make this stand out from similar inspirational fare. [A] harrowing, enthralling tale.”
~ Publisher’s Weekly
“When worlds and cultures collide, friction and conflict are the result…but redemption is also the solution. Camille Eide has written a breathtaking novel of historical fiction that feels like fact in Wings Like a Dove. I can think of no greater compliment than I would love to see this story transformed into a feature film. Run, don’t walk to get this book in your hands.”
~ Brian Bird, co-creator and executive producer of When Calls the Heart
“Camille Eide has done it again with Wings Like a Dove! Her captivating characters and riveting plot kept me turning the pages as fast as I could. This Depression-era story takes us from New York City to rural Indiana, on a multi-faceted struggle against shame, injustice, and fear. Just when it seems that bane of prejudice will prevail, Camille works her story-telling magic and raises the stakes even higher for a group of disenfranchised children and adults, who are threatened with losing everything.”
~ Leslie Gould, #1 Best Selling and Christy Award Winning Author of over 30 novels
“With her previous novels, Camille Eide proved herself a talented storyteller. With her newest book, Wings Like A Dove, she once again offers a story that skillfully engages both mind and heart. Set during the Great Depression, it’s the story of a Polish Jewish immigrant named Anna. Unwed and pregnant, turned out by her mother, she leaves New York for Chicago in search of her missing father. On her journey, she meets six orphan boys, a young former pastor who acts as their guardian, two Catholic sisters, a lonely farm wife and a contingent of Ku Klux Klansmen…all of whom change her life. For lovers of historical fiction, this book is an absolute delight!”
~ Ann Tatlock, novelist, blogger and children’s book author
“Rich historical details and three-dimensional characters populate Camille Eide’s masterful novel, Wings Like a Dove. Eide’s beautiful writing draws the reader into Anna Leibowicz’s world in 1933, while surreptitiously holding a mirror to the present. One of those wonderful stories that gives you all the feels–including that satisfying moment at the end when you read the last page and know the time spent between the covers of the book was very well spent.”
~ Cindy Kelley, Author & Screenwriter
“Once again in Wings Like a Dove, Camille Eide takes her readers to places we didn’t know we needed to go. She invites us to consider who is the outsider, who responds to discrimination, and who will be carried on wings like a dove. Anna, Thomas, a cadre of children, and an important search for forgiveness marks this compelling story peopled with characters we love. I will take many phrases to encourage my days from this story, the most significant for me being ‘Shame is a terrible thief,’ and so it is. Enjoy this story of love lost and found!”
~ Jane Kirkpatrick, New York Times Bestselling author of One More River to Cross.
“Camille Eide’s latest novel transports readers back to 1930s America when racial tensions were high and those who showed compassion were persecuted. With Camille’s signature style of boldness and grace, Wings Like a Dove is an authentic glimpse at the trials and triumph of one immigrant family determined to succeed against the odds. It’s a courageous, difficult journey with a beautiful ending that breathes hope into breaking cycles of abuse today.”
~ Melanie Dobson, award-winning author of Catching the Wind and Memories of Glass
“Both gorgeous and harrowing, Wings Like a Dove shows the dangers of allowing hatred and racism to grow in a community—and the importance of standing up for right, even when it’s dangerous. Anna, Thomas, and Samuel are lovely characters full of depth and strength, and Thomas shows the beauty of a Christian putting his faith in action. With a poignant romance, the story satisfies on every level. Camille Eide has penned another memorable novel. Don’t miss it!”
~ Sarah Sundin, bestselling and award-winning author of The Sea Before Us and The Sky Above Us
“Wings Like a Dove by Camille Eide is a gripping, unforgettable novel. Eide writes the kind of story we shouldn’t forget, challenging readers about how judging others can lead to racism and how unforgiveness — both of ourselves and others — can destroy our ability to love, to heal. Woven with threads of tenderness and grace, Eide encourages us to think about the choices that mark history…and the choices that are affecting us today.”
~ Beth K. Vogt, Christy Award-winning author of Moments We Forget and Things I Never Told You
“Wings Like a Dove is a beautiful, powerful story. Camille Eide takes you on a journey with Anna that is gut-wrenching and real, and you’ll find that you can’t tear yourself away. Unafraid to tackle difficult issues, Eide does a brilliant job bringing the characters to life and makes you think long and hard each and every step of the way.”
~ Kimberley Woodhouse, Carol Award-Winning and Best-selling Author
“Author Camille Eide has a gift for taking the darkest moments of our history and turning them into stories of enduring strength. In Wings Like a Dove, she’s created unforgettable characters who exhibit grace and courage, even while facing intense prejudice. After reading this beautiful novel, I’m inspired to look around myself and see how little the world has changed—and do my part to make it better. Don’t miss this one.”
Karen Barnett, author of the Vintage National Parks series
The jangle of coins in Anna’s pocket was a sound she only heard on Fridays, and only from the time she left the garment factory until she deposited the week’s earnings into her mother’s sugar bowl. Rent was becoming harder to scrape together, but there was always food on the table, even if it was only the heel of last week’s challah. And because Mama chose to ignore reality, she blessed every meal, whether scrap of bread or small feast, with the same passion.
The way Mama viewed life through blinders gave her a relentless optimism. If only Anna could wear such blinders. Perhaps then she would not see the invisible walls that made this golden land of promise feel like a prison. She would not know that beyond their neighborhood existed more of the hostility that her mother believed they had left behind in the Pale. Perhaps blinders would put a stop to the shameful memories that churned in Anna’s mind like dry leaves whirling in the wind.
She walked on, hands in her dress pockets to quiet the jingling. A chilly wind ruffled the curls at her neck, reminding her that she had traded her long, dark braid for a stylish bob—a foolish choice then, and even more now, since being en vogue was about as useful to Anna as a hole in the head.
Anna would be content with no more reminders of her stupidity.
“Late again, Miss Leibowicz?”
Yes, and getting later by the minute…
Gripping her shawl tighter, Anna waved at the apple-cart man but kept going, quickening her pace and holding her breath to block out the mingled smells, which were becoming more unbearable with each passing day. How childish she must have looked, scurrying past the tenements like a truant, dodging food carts, rats, pedestrians, and street muck in her path.
“So late you cannot make one small stop?” Hope softened the man’s voice.
With a sigh, Anna turned and went back to the reedy old man standing behind his cart, bundled up to his long, graying beard in a tattered coat. He should know that the longer Anna was delayed today, the more annoyed her mother would be.
She looked him in the eye. “Mr. Birnbaum, if I am running late for Shabbat because the payday line was long, what is your excuse?”
The man’s shoulders bowed from an unseen weight. “Mrs. Birnbaum is not getting better. But I almost have enough to pay the doctor now. Sales were not so bad today.”
Anna smiled gently. He returned her smile, but a deeper worry fringed his eyes. She fingered the coins in her pocket. She was to buy only what was absolutely needed. The Great Crash had changed the entire world in an instant and was the last thing she and her family had expected upon arriving in the Golden Country. Not only had the economic disaster changed Anna’s plans, it had made the past four years feel like an endless punishment. Did the feeling exist outside the confines of the tenements? What she would not give to find out.
Mr. Birnbaum warmed his knotty, chapped hands with a steamy breath and waited for her to make a selection.
Perhaps Mama would not mind if Anna spent a little extra, just this once. After all, her sister, Shayna, was working at the factory now, and more money would soon be coming in.
“I am glad you stopped me, Mr. Birnbaum. I had forgotten I promised Anshel a reward.”
The man’s face lit up. “Yes, good. Little brothers must be encouraged. What will it be today, Miss Leibowicz? A bushel of apples?”
She pulled two coins from her pocket. The quarter would go into her tin to save for college—if she was lucky enough to make the quota. The other was a nickel.
“Just one apple. When his teacher tells us he has passed fourth grade, then we will celebrate with a bushel.”
Mr. Birnbaum exchanged her nickel for the fruit. “Anshel is a good boy. He has a clever head on his shoulders. If you continue to tutor him, he will do well.”
Anna smiled. “That is our hope.”
“You make certain of that, Miss Anna. He is man of the house now.”
Her breath seized, but there, on the street, Anna held her tongue. Rumors had circulated in the Jewish community that Papa had chosen to leave the neighborhood nearly two years before his wife and children arrived from Poland to join him. Did the apple man also know something? It seemed everyone except Anna and her family knew what had happened to Papa.
“Your kindness to Mrs. Birnbaum will not go unnoticed,” he said softly. “Thank you.”
“Please give your wife our best wishes.”
Anna pocketed the apple, then hurried to her building. But as she climbed the stairs, her pace dragged, and by the time she reached the third floor, her legs felt as if they were made of wet sand. Shaky, she paused to catch her breath. In the last few weeks, the three-story climb had been feeling more like thirteen.
Inside the airless apartment, the rich scent of baking bread calmed her wobbly insides.
“Anna!” Anshel crushed her with a hug. “You are late. The sun is almost down.”
She hugged him back and mussed his dark mop. “The line was long today. How many times have I told you that good things come to those who wait?”
“Better things come to those who make good trades.” His English was improving, and he spoke with so little accent that he rarely needed correction anymore.
While Mama was busy removing challah from the oven, Anna pulled the apple from her pocket and crouched down to look Anshel in the eye. “This is for your lunch at school. Do not trade it this time. It will make your brain smart. You must spend your energy learning, not on sweet-talking your teacher for passing grades.”
Anshel’s eyes widened. “How did you know?”
“You may be clever, but you do not fool me. Do you understand?”
With a roll of his eyes, he pocketed the fruit and grinned. “Yes, Madam Teacher.”
“And that reminds me—you have fallen behind on reading, so you will read two chapters to me tonight.” Ignoring his groan, Anna kissed his head, then straightened to look around. “Where is Shayna?”
Anshel shrugged. “She is also late.”
Anna frowned. “But she left the factory before me.” She took off her shawl and kissed Rivka’s forehead. At fourteen, Rivka was already a beauty. Mama’s matchmaker friend would have no trouble finding the youngest Leibowicz daughter a husband.
Anna kissed her mother’s cheek.
“You are very late, Channah,” Mama scolded in Yiddish. “The sun is almost down. Hurry and take this to Mrs. Feldman while I prepare the table. She will want to talk about her ailments. Tell her you are sorry, but you cannot stay.” Mama placed a warm loaf of bread in Anna’s hands. “Do not dawdle but come right back.”
Would Mama ever see her as anything but a child? Other girls her age were attending college or married and making homes of their own.
She slipped out to the landing, knocked on 12B, and waited, still fuming. If her elderly neighbor still needed bread for Shabbat, then surely it was not so late. Anna gave Mrs. Feldman the loaf with an apology for not coming inside.
As Anna headed back to the apartment, Shayna came up the stairs, treading lightly. She froze when she saw Anna, her eyes aglitter like tiny, new flakes of snow.
“And where have you been?” Anna asked.
“Me?” Shayna seemed oddly breathless. “Am I late?”
Anna leaned closer for a better look at Shayna’s face. The air was cold, but not enough to account for the deep shade of pink that filled her sister’s cheeks. “Hmm. It is strange how the walk from the factory gets longer each day.”
“Channah!” Mama’s voice rang out from inside. “Am I to do everything myself now?”
Shayna grasped Anna’s arm and steered her older sister into the apartment ahead of her like a shield. It did not work.
“Shayna!” Mama said. “Now you are dawdling. Must you follow after Channah in everything?” The table was set with candles, Kiddush cups for wine, and two loaves of challah, which Mama now covered with a towel.
As the others took their places, Anna leaned close to Shayna and spoke in English. “I am still waiting.”
Shayna glanced at Mama and then met Anna’s gaze, the glow on her cheeks making her look younger than her sixteen years. Modesty looked lovely on Shayna. She was the kind of girl who deserved far more than she would ever ask for. There was nothing disappointing about Shayna, nothing reckless or obstinate, and Anna hoped nothing would ever happen to spoil her. Shayna was the kind of girl Anna could never be.
She drew a calming breath to mask a sudden prickle of dread. “That Wasserman boy will make you ill, keeping you out so long in the cold.”
“Oh, no, Isaak would never do that.” Shayna glanced at Mama again, then lowered her voice. “Anna, will you speak to her? The matchmaker has chosen a boy for me to marry, but I want to marry Isaak. Mama does not like him. She says he is too quiet. He is not a loud talker, but a thinker. He is very smart.”
Mama shushed her daughters and lit the candles to begin.
Shayna whispered, “Will you please speak to her?”
For a moment, all Anna could do was marvel at the pure hope shining in her sister’s eyes. That Wasserman boy had better be worthy of Shayna, and treat her wishes with respect, because if he was ever pushy or lewd toward her in any way… But Shayna had the good sense to know a scoundrel when she saw one. And Anna was the last person to question Shayna’s judgment.
“Yes, my love,” Anna whispered back. “And it will go in one ear and out the other. But for you, I will try.” She leaned closer and kissed Shayna’s cheek.
Mama waved her arms above the candles, as if gathering the light to her face, then covered her eyes and said the blessing. When she uncovered her eyes, everyone said, “Shabbat Shalom.” After the washing, all talking ceased as Mama blessed the wine and passed it. She uncovered the challah and said the prayer. Then she tore off a piece, dipped it in salt, took a bite, and passed the bread. Everyone followed in turn, and then the speaking resumed.
“Mama’s husband list for you is a long one,” Rivka blurted out to Anna, as if she could keep silent no longer. “And since you turned twenty, it grows longer every day.” She heaved a dreamy sigh.
“I do not need a man complicating things, Riv,” Anna said lightly. Her youngest sister could not comprehend why Anna was not pursuing marriage. “What I need is to be accepted by a university, and even then, I will still need to make the quota.”
“What is quota?” Anshel frowned. “Some kind of bread? Why must you make it?”
“The quota is a limit on the number of Jews who are permitted to do certain things,” Anna said. Things that non-Jews could do without restriction. Or reprisal.
“In Yiddish,” Mama said. “Must I always remind you?”
“I would like a man complicating things,” Rivka said, switching to her mother’s tongue.
“No need to rush things, Rivkele,” Mama said. “Someone must stay and help me with going to market and cooking since both your sisters seem to have more important things to do than come straight home where they belong.” With a sigh, Mama sliced more bread. “I am sorry Papa cannot be here again for Shabbat, but I am certain he will join us one day soon.”
Anna nearly dropped the bread that Anshel passed. Many times had she heard this ridiculous claim from her mother in the four years since they arrived in America. Too many.
“When will you accept that Papa has abandoned us?” Anna said.
Her mother’s jaw dropped. A thick layer of silence settled over the table. “What a terrible thing to say about your papa.”
Cheeks burning, Anna took her portion and passed it. “I am sorry, Mama. But since you rarely go out, you do not hear what I hear. You do not know what the people say.”
“So now people in the street know more about your family than your own mother?”
So it would seem. Anna stared at her plate.
Mama busied herself with cutting more bread. “You are just tired and are allowing gossip to affect what good sense you possess. Let us not spoil Shabbat with any more unkind words.”
“Yes, Mama,” Anna said quietly. She stole a glance at her siblings. Each one kept their attention on their plate, except Shayna, whose glistening gaze met hers.
Let us not quarrel, she mouthed.
For Shayna’s sake, Anna held her tongue, but only for now. The time had come for a long, overdue conversation with her mother. Anna dipped her bread in salt and ate in silence.
Once the others were in bed, Anna gathered her take-home work and trudged to her mother’s sewing table, barely visible beneath heaps of mending and partially assembled clothing. Unfortunately, as all their Jewish neighbors knew, they would lose their jobs if the work was not finished, Shabbat or not. Mama, Anna, and Shayna were lucky to have garment jobs, as steady work was painfully difficult to find in the years following the Crash.
Anna drew a fortifying breath. “Mama, I know you do not wish to hear of this, but there is talk that Papa went west to make his own life, and this is why we stopped receiving letters from him.”
Mama set one garment aside and reached for a new bundle of fabric. “You are right, Channah. I do not wish to hear gossip about your papa. You do not know him as I do. He would never simply leave us to fend for ourselves. How can you believe such lies? Who told you he went west?”
Anna shrugged, hoping Mama would not press the question. The source of that information was something Anna desperately wished to forget.
“Was it those people you insisted on going out to meet? Where are they now, those exciting new friends who you could not even introduce to your mother? They are strangers, and yet you listen to them?”
Strangers… How foolish she was last autumn to think those so-called “friends” were anything special. “Others have said it as well.”
“Who—old women who have nothing better to do than sit around inventing stories?”
“It seems as if everyone knows that Papa left us.”
“I do not know this, and therefore it is not true.”
“Mama,” Anna lowered her voice, hoping to soften her words. “Do you only believe what you wish to be true?”
Mama threw down her bundle and turned to Anna. “I am not so blind nor am I stupid, as you think. Have you forgotten living in Bielsk under Red Army tyranny? What could you know? You were just a child. I lived in the Pale during the pogroms. I have seen horrible things. Though I wished the raids and attacks on our people to end, they did not. And here we are, in the land of opportunity, and yet Jews are counted and spat on and banned from shops and jobs and universities. And yet I still believe—even if you cannot—that God provided your papa a ticket to America and that He kept us alive, and that He will watch over us and bring Papa home.”
Anna’s cheeks burned. “I remember, Mama. I also remember that when you were out searching for work and the gangs attacked our village, I had to hide my little sisters beneath the floorboards. How can I ever forget that? If God is watching over us, why did I have to keep two babies silent when I was as terrified as they were?” Her body shook as the memory refreshed her terror. “Why did He supply passage for Papa who only sent us half our fares and then vanished? And why did you and Shayna and I have to work until our fingers bled and sell everything we had to raise enough money to come here? Why are we still hated and mistreated? Why have I grown up without a father? If God is watching out for us, Mama, where is your husband?”
Mama burst into tears and waved Anna away.
Shame stabbed at Anna’s heart. What had come over her? And twice in the same evening? Her stomach took a sudden and unpleasant turn. “I am sorry, Mama. I should not have spoken to you that way.”
Mama sniffled and blew her nose. “You are wrong, daughter, and one day, you will see. I am certain your papa has found work someplace where it is difficult to write.”
With a sigh, Anna studied her mother, once striking and vibrant, now pale, wilted. What Anna would not give to see her family free from ceaseless struggle and difficulty. But she held out little hope for that. The promise of a better life in America was nothing but pie in the sky. Perhaps Papa had grown weary of trying to claim a piece of the golden dream and this great, monstrous land had somehow swallowed him up.
“Mama,” Anna said gently. “I think we must accept the possibility that Papa is no longer alive.”
“He is not dead!” She pressed a fist into her bosom. “If he were, I would know.”
Anna touched her mother’s shoulder. “Then we must accept that he has left us.”
“I accept no such thing. Hershel Leibowicz would never abandon his family.”
“I wish to believe that,” Anna said. “I also wish to understand how men can come to America and then desert the families and communities who need them. But I cannot understand, so I believe it is up to the rest of us to be strong and go on living without them.”
Shaking her head, Mama lifted a shirt from the pile. “You are too hard, Channah. There are many things you do not understand. You must have faith.”
“I do,” Anna said, rising to her feet. “I have faith that as long as you keep getting back up after you are knocked down, you may still have a fighting chance.”
She left her mother, then changed out of her street clothes and crawled into bed, too weary to think and grateful for the warmth her siblings had created.
Rivka and Anshel were asleep. Shayna faced the wall, but her shoulders shook.
“Shayna?” Anna whispered. When her sister turned, tears streaked her cheeks. “You heard?”
Shayna’s mouth quivered. “I do not like it when you quarrel with Mama. This is difficult for her. For us all.”
Anna swallowed hard. “I am sorry. I just do not understand how men can abandon their families. It is shameful to desert your people when they need you most.”
“What if he had no choice? Perhaps Mama is right, and he went to find better work where he is not able to write.”
What kind of work would keep a man from writing to his family for six years?
Fragments of a puzzling conversation in the dim corner of a speakeasy formed in her mind.
So, doll face—I guess you don’t take after your old man much.
What do you mean?
We heard he’s been real busy over in Chicago.
Don’t you know?
Maybe. But questions like that from girls like you only dig up things you don’t want to know.
A familiar, sickening sensation crawled up her throat. She inhaled deeply to force it back down. “You are right, my love. I will try harder not to quarrel with Mama. Go to sleep.”
Wings Like a Dove$4.99 – $15.99
Anna awoke Saturday to the dull, metallic-tasting certainty that she was going to be sick. She scrambled to her feet and reached the washtub just in time. The sound of her retching broke the silence in the tiny apartment. It was no wonder her stomach was upset, after her quarrel with Mama. She wiped her face, then jumped at the touch on her shoulder.
“You are sick again,” Rivka said, yawning.
“I am not sick.”
“Yes, you are, I heard you.”
“I had an upset stomach. It is nothing.”
“You have had many upset stomachs lately.”
Anna frowned. Had she?
“And I know why.” Rivka moved closer and shook her head. “You work too hard. You will never get better working so much. You should stay home today and rest.”
Anna shook her head, which set off more queasiness. “And then what—return to the factory tomorrow to find they have given my finishing job to another girl? What would we do for money then? Thank you, Riv, but I am well enough.”
A sudden wave of nausea struck, and she vomited again.
“Yes, you look very well to me,” Rivka said, holding Anna’s bobbed hair back.
“I will be fine.” Anna rinsed her mouth and spat. She reminded her youngest sister it was her turn to make breakfast and then slipped outside to the only place where she could have a moment to think in peace—the landing in the stairwell.
She lowered herself onto the top step. When she was sick several times a few weeks ago, she suspected she had eaten something spoiled. Then last week was likely from nerves, as Friday mornings were always tense at the factory with the extra pressure of getting all the finished garments bundled for delivery.
And who would not have indigestion after that conversation with Mama last night?
Or, perhaps feeling ill was due to recent changes to her menses. Girls at the factory said the harsh working conditions and the stress on their bodies had altered their cycles. Anna heard that missing one was common, so she had put the missed cycle out of her mind.
Had she missed only one? No. It had actually been more than one.
Her breath caught. Sick several times in the past two months—several mornings. Sickness in the mornings sounded like—
No. Missed menses and morning sickness could be explained away.
Or they could mean—
But it was possible…
She clamped her mouth with hands that shook.
No, no, no, it could NOT be possible…
Or it could mean that the worst mistake of her life was no longer just a humiliating memory she could quietly bury and try to forget.
A memory of a childish, thoughtless mistake no one was ever to know about. A memory—or fragments of a memory, since she spent most of the evening in a muddled stupor—
Her stomach threatened to revolt again. Anna closed her eyes and willed the nausea to stop. Though she could only remember jumbled puzzle pieces of that night, she remembered enough.
Nausea rose in another wave. Anna scrambled to her feet but had nowhere to go, so she grabbed the stair railing and retched. Her empty, twisting stomach had nothing more to offer, the heaving only made her gag and gasp for air between spasms.
She steadied herself, then hurried inside her apartment before the neighbors came out to investigate. Rivka stood at the stove stirring porridge. Anna slipped past her and into the bedroom. She dressed quickly, said she needed to get to the factory early, and left.
People swarmed the avenue, all abuzz over the headlines about Roosevelt taking office, their chatter mingling with the cart noise and nauseating smells of food and sewer and trash, everyone going about as if life was grand and today was a bright new day. Anna avoided inhaling the smells and hurried along, crossing Broome Street without a glance and barely missing being run down by a milk truck.
After that wretched night last November, her new friend, Rosie, had never returned to the factory, and Anna had no way of finding her or her gang of friends. Not that she wanted to. She had no desire to ever again see or speak to the college boy who had been assigned her date that evening. All she could do at the time was accept the sting of admitting she had made a very foolish mistake, count it a painful lesson learned, and put the memory behind her.
Why had circumstances fallen into place just so that night? Why had she quarreled so fiercely with Mama? Why had she not simply shut her mouth and gone to bed instead of storming off to meet Rosie and her friends? Why had she been so determined to prove herself an adult? Why had she agreed to go to the speakeasy and drink and laugh too much and too loudly? Why had the flattery gone so quickly to her head? Why had the whiskey, pressed into her hand again and again, muddled her senses enough to let the handsome boy charm her into going “somewhere quiet” to “just kiss a little”? Why did she not disentangle herself before her fuzzy misgivings came too late, before he could no longer hear her slurred refusal, before his hands all over her became too strong?
She closed her eyes, but it did not shut out the tangled memories, could not shield her from the dreadful truth. The soot and stink in the air shouted her dirtiness. Sounds of machinery and whistles and clanging traffic echoed around her, taunting. Mocking.
So this is how you prove you are an adult. So intelligent you are, Channah. So superior.
Someone jostled Anna, bringing her back to the present. Factory workers scurried past. How long had she been standing in front of the brick building, eyes clamped shut like a child hiding beneath the floor, barely breathing, waiting for the nightmare to pass?
But she was not a child paralyzed by fear, and this nightmare would not soon pass. She could no longer count her stupid mistake as a lesson learned and simply move on. Her poor judgment came with consequences. She was not only dirty and spoilt; she was also carrying a child.
A stranger’s child.
Monday morning, Anna scrambled to the washtub and lost what little her stomach held. Even with working sunup to sundown on Sunday, she had been unable to eat.
Rivka’s voice came from behind her. “See, Mama? I told you she is sick.”
The blood left her limbs. What would she say to her mother? There would be no pretending, no hiding the truth. Soon enough, her mother would see for herself.
Her mother insisted Anna stay home from work and see the doctor. Dreading what needed to be said, Anna crawled back into bed while her siblings prepared their lunches and left for the day.
When Mama came in, her face sagged as if she had already worked a full day. She heaved a weary sigh. “I will ask Mrs. Feldman to telephone the doctor.”
“I do not need a doctor.” Dread numbed her entire body.
“Rivka says you have been sick for weeks. Do you not think it is time to see a doctor?” Mama reached over and felt Anna’s forehead.
If only it were a fever.
Anna drew a long, slow breath. “Mama, there is something I need to tell you.”
“What is it?”
“Do you remember when I went to the theater last fall with that girl from the factory?”
“Oy, how could I forget? You said such terrible things and slammed the door and did not come home until nearly morning. And then you did not speak to your mother who worried herself sick over you.”
Anna’s throat seized. How could she ever say the words?
“So, what do you have to tell me?”
“I am so sorry, Mama,” Anna whispered.
Mama stiffened. “What? What did you do?”
“We did not go to the theater after all. The girl and her friends took me instead to…a speakeasy. There was whiskey.” Far too much whiskey. She forced herself to look at her mother, whose expression warred between apprehension and suspicion.
She swallowed hard. “There was a young man, my…date.”
“So this is the kind of friends you keep now? Men?” She gasped. “Channah Tzipporah—what happened? Tell me!”
Tears blurred Anna’s vision. Haltingly, she described the evening in the briefest detail possible.
Her mother’s face blanched, then reddened. Her whole body shook. “This is what you are now? A prostitute? How many men?” Her voice turned shrill. “Are they Jewish? Where are these ‘friends’ now?”
“Rosie was the only one I knew. I never saw her or any of them again.”
Mama’s mouth formed an O as she stared at Anna. Her trembling hand rose and covered her mouth. “The illness…” Her voice dropped to a horrified hiss. “You are with child.”
Anna closed her eyes. “I am so sorry, Mama, I did not know—”
Mama burst into sobs and fled the room. At the sound of her mother’s fitful wailing, Anna wiped her eyes with hands that shook and sat on the edge of the bed. All she could do was wait for her mother to work through the thoughts and emotions assailing her.
When Mama returned, Anna held her breath. Swollen patches of pink encircled her mother’s eyes.
“I did not mean for things to go so far, Mama. I never wanted—”
“Foolish girl! You are such a grown woman now, yes? Then you are old enough to know that youput yourself in that position.”
“I know I should not have been there, but—”
“But what? What did you expect? A woman going off alone in such a way with a man—this is what happens. There are names for girls like you. You are no better than a prostitute!”
“But I did not—”
“And who will believe you are not? Not our friends or neighbors, certainly not strangers.” Mama smeared away tears with both hands. “Do you understand what happens now? If you thought you were mistreated as a Jew before, what do you think will happen to you when people discover you are with child? An unmarried, pregnant woman faces shame and many difficulties. But an unmarried, pregnant Jew? You do not know what horrible treatment you will face. Not only banning and name-calling, but abuse of every kind. Or worse!”
“And your family? You not only bring trouble and disgrace upon yourself, you bring a curse upon us all. Your sisters will be damaged because of you. What hope do they have for marriage now? They will share in your shame. They are ruined!”
“Rivka and Shayna will not—”
“Think what foolishness this will encourage in them. Wicked, thoughtless girl! Do you not see that your sisters look always to you? Follow your example in everything you do?”
Through her tears, Anna whispered, “My sisters would never do such a thing, I promise.”
“I accept no promise from you. Your promises and conceited opinions are rubbish. You, with your disdain for your people and need to impress worthless goyim you do not even know. You have not only ruined your own life, but your whole family.”
Anna choked on her sobs. Thankfully, her siblings were not hearing this.
Mama left her and paced the apartment, wailing and using a word for the unborn child that Anna had never heard her mother use. Then Mama crossed from the kitchen to her sewing table, sat down, and rocked herself as she sobbed.
Anna rose and went to her. “I am sorry, Mama.”
Mama shook her head. “You were always so cynical, so skeptical. Always quarreling, never content. Why could you not be gentle and agreeable, like Shayna?”
A good question, one Anna had asked herself many times.
Mama lifted her blotchy face skyward. “Oy vez mear! What did I do to deserve this? Has our family not suffered enough, now we are to be ruined by such wretched disgrace? I must find a solution, yet I can speak of this to no one. What am I to do?”
“It is my mistake, my problem to solve,” Anna whispered.
Her mother kept rocking as she wept and did not seem to hear her. “Your sisters and brother must never know of this. Never.”
“Do not worry, Mama. I will tell no one.”
“Oy, but I do worry, Channah.” Mama’s swollen, reddened eyes met hers. “Your life will never be the same now. Ever. And all for what—a night of carousing? And what is to become of your family? We will be completely destitute since you cannot work—not at the factory or anywhere else. Are you happy now?”
Anna ran to the bedroom and buried her sobs in a pillow.
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