Impossible shapes formed in colors that never existed before, dancing with each other then disappearing. Gittel watched until it was over, opened her eyes to the sunlight through the leafy branches of a thick gray tree, then once again shut them as tight as she could
The meadow where she was laying was thick with grass that smelled smoky and old, and small rocks underneath pushed forcefully into her back.
What she liked best about this feeling, was that it didn't remind her of anything.
This moment could have easily been confused with any other from the weeks since she had abandoned the bakery. Some days she and Fruma spent exploring the forest, others they spent exploring a book, and still others they spent talking about all the places that weren't Radzyn. In truth, it didn't really matter exactly what she and Fruma were doing; what mattered was that it made Gittel less miserable than the bakery did.
Each morning, she'd listen to her sisters' heavy footsteps as they left for work, sending silent judgements through the blanket she covered her head with. Their meals at home had become more and more meager, consisting of loaves of leftover bread and not much else. If business was dying before, the Rebbe's display at the sheva berachos almost killed it completely. Others' stores now closed earlier, so the men could go home and help their wives bake what they no longer wanted to purchase. Children went without dessert. The Rebbetzin, it seemed, was the only remaining customer who could stomach the goods at Yankle's.
With each passing day, Gittel felt the weight of her decision growing. It followed her like a shadow. The longer she spent in her new world with Fruma, the larger and more ancient the old one seemed, becoming more distant and potent. She had so many questions for her mother and sisters about the bakery, but felt less and less entitled to knowing the answers.
Fruma came from over the hill, bouncing on her toes and carrying a bouquet of flowers.
She had picked Gittel's favorites, a mixture of the strange and the ordinary, and arranged them by color. She had gotten to know Gittel well since they'd begun spending their days together, but Gittel had not yet gotten to really know Fruma. As friendly and fun as Fruma was, she was not accustomed to having a friend in Radzyn, and wasn't used to sharing.
She possessed talents that she preferred to keep secret, and Gittel had been patient with learning them.
Gittel sprang up to greet her, then strolled over, sliding her feet through the long, browning grass and catching the breeze through her fingers. She was hungry, and curious to see why Fruma was more excited for lunch than usual, but moved slowly without much intention. She did not want to rush through details that she'd later forget.
"Have you ever heard about the kiddish cup they keep locked in shul?" asked Gittel, looking up to Fruma from the spot she'd taken on the ground next to her. "Nosson the Silversmith brought it from a town called Bratslav, and some girls told me it has special—"
"I don't believe any of it," Fruma said sharply. She tensed her hand around the bouquet, and shifted her attention to the food she prepared.
"It's silly," said Gittel, "but, there's a story of this vicious dog in the forest-"
"Those stories are for little girls," snapped Fruma.
"Yeah, I guess so. You're probably right."
Fruma took an exasperated breath. She removed a single piece of cake from her basket, and peeled away a layer of thick wax paper, being as careful as she could not to diminish her creation. She slid her finger across the refuse and licked it. With her other hand, she presented the slice to Gittel.
"Let's start with dessert."
It was time to reveal her talent.
Gittel grabbed the carrot cake and bit into it.
Fruma watched Gittel's eyes close on their own as she chewed and her cheeks fill up until they were ready to burst. She couldn't understand the word Gittel was trying to say through the crumbs flying out of her mouth, but she already knew what it was from all the others who had ever tried her baking. Like many of her strengths, it overtook everything else inside the moment and grounded a person to it.
Gittel considered that maybe there was no word in her vocabulary for how good the carrot cake Fruma had baked tasted. If Yankle's was all Radzyn ever had, perhaps the word was never necessary.
Fruma played with her own fingernails, examining each one sheepishly as she spoke. "This was my favorite one to make at home," she said. "My mother was not a great baker, but she just about perfected this one." Her smile was smaller than it usually was, meant for nobody but herself. "Everybody in Odessa begged her for the recipe, but I'm the only one she ever told it to."
Gittel stared ahead.
"It's sort of like the only thing I was able to bring with me from home," said Fruma.
Gittel shifted uncomfortably on the ground, then rose to her knees and placed the rest of her cake on the ground like it was forbidden. The food was delicious, so why did she feel so disgusted?
Sitting back and smiling, Fruma supported herself on stiff arms and awaited a flustered attempt at gratitude.
Instead, Gittel wiped her mouth and stood up. She no longer wondered why Fruma's family would send her to Radzyn. What else could you do with somebody so selfish?
"What, you didn't like it?" Fruma asked sternly, leaning forward. Her voice was mean and distant, exposing a desperation she did not want anybody knowing she had.
"I guess I'm just disappointed."
"It looked to me like you loved it."
"I did. It was the best cake I've ever tasted. I'm disappointed in myself."
Fruma threw her head back and laughed. "For loving it? Oy, why are all Radzyners the same!?"
Gittel raised her voice at the guest. "If any two Radzyners were the same, one of them wouldn't be a Radzyner."
Gittel had left her bakery for a chance at learning Fruma's secret to happiness. Alone in this meadow together, after weeks of searching for hints of what that secret might be, it made itself clear.
Fruma's smile disappeared and she looked past Gittel, marking the distance between them."
Gittel, however, did not look away, nor did she lower her voice. "I'm disappointed in myself, for trusting you. How could you dare hide from us, when our bakery needed you so badly?"