Gray blankets billowed from a rusty pipe, roaring through the air into open windows and cracks in doors. Naomi’s nostrils twitched from the foreign odor of gas and oil, though she made no mention of it to the four women around her.
There was no need.
They all heard the same engines, and the same alien accents of the men who drove into their shtetl.
None of the women spoke, and none of the women moved. They sat around Naomi’s kitchen table, like they did every afternoon, their cups of tea resting untouched.
They just stared at one another, hoping to disappear.
Typically, what her round kitchen table served best were stories about the iniquities of Bratslav’s residents. Inglorious tales of the the sweaty butcher’s propensity to wash his knives better than himself, or licentious noises the thin tailor made when fitting their sons for pants. They’d spend their days collecting information from the outside, and safely dispose of it within the safety of these walls. It was tradition.
But today, their only desire was to keep what was outside, out, and what was inside, in.
Naomi sat in her wicker chair, and steadied the silver spoon that rattled against her porcelain cup. The noise hung in the air. She reached down to her protruding stomach and placed both hands firmly on it to reassure the growing life inside of her that she was still there.
She missed Nosson so much.
It had been only seven months, but the whole world had changed since they said goodbye. Naomi thought of the single bag her husband packed and how he showed it off to her the afternoon before he left.
“See,” he said, flashing the warm smile from behind the free whiskers that extended from his mustache into his mouth. She fell in love with his smile even before she knew him. “It’s not as difficult to leave as you might imagine.”
She refused to smile back, let alone join him on his selfish quest into the unknown. Who was he to uproot their life in Bratslav? Who was he to abandon their friends and the silver shop his family had maintained for three generations?
“Everybody has premonitions,” she said sharply, watching his smile even, then droop. “Why are you the only one who trusts his nightmares more than his wife?"
Nobody they had ever met had seen the place he was going with their own eyes. All they had were stories. All Nosson had were nightmares, faith, and a deep distrust for the opinions of others. Naomi always thought that was his weakness, and now he was confirming it.
There they stood, that last afternoon together, with his packed bag between them, staring at each other. For everything that was said between them over the preceding weeks, as they tried convincing one another to betray their instincts, there was still one thing that neither was brave enough to admit.
They had been married for nearly a year and half, and had yet to know the joy of a family. Chas v'shalom either should say it, but perhaps they’d be better off apart.
The day’s remaining sunlight splintered through the woven curtains, casting fractured shadows across Naomi’s wooden floor.
Her bones shook with each knock at her door. She rocked slowly back and forth, clinging to her stomach.
Perhaps, had Nosson sent even one letter from wherever he ended up, she could have told him.
A weak tear streamed down her smooth, pale, skin, until it reached her jaw and disappeared.
What hurt most now was not the unknown.
What hurt most now were the things she knew.