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Authors: Shirley Reva Vernick

The Blood Lie

BOOK: The Blood Lie
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Table of Contents
 
 
 
Many thanks to teen editor Hannah Hollandbyrd.
She loves this book!
And to good readers everywhere, especially Eve Tal and Lisa Sandlin.
And to our friends in the Cinco Puntos Press West and East Coast offices for their support. You know who you are!
In memory of
JOEL VERNICK
&
MY PARENTS
BLANCHE AND ABRAHAM LEVINE
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 1928
Jack Pool had been awake for a while already, but he waited in bed until the hallway clock chimed quarter past eight—the exact beginning of his sixteenth birthday. At least, that's what his birth certificate said. Earlier, the neighbor's mutt Agatha had snuck up on the Pool's chicken coop and gotten the hens squawking. If Jack were more like Harry, he'd have snoozed right through the racket, but he was a light sleeper. So he lay there, lightly humming, moving his fingers to his upcoming audition piece, and waited. When the clock finally rang the magic number, he slid off the bottom bunk, pulled his shirt and trousers onto his lean frame, and headed downstairs.
There was a light rap at the door. He opened it and found Emaline Durham standing on the front steps with her little sister Daisy. Emaline, the girl with the caramel hair and the voice like a flute. The girl he adored.
“Emaline, Daisy, hi,” he said, pushing his black hair off his forehead. “Come on in.”
“Hope we didn't wake you,” Emaline said, smiling all the way up to her topaz eyes. “Your mother said it was all right for Daisy to come play this morning.”
“Daisy?” came a little girl's voice from the kitchen.
“Martha!” Daisy took off.
Emaline moistened her lips and rocked gently on the balls of her feet. “Happy birthday, Jack. Wow, sixteen.”
“Thanks. Yeah, can't wait to get my driver's license.” For a split second, he imagined the two of them sitting close together in the front seat of the Pools' Model T.
“That will be great,” Emaline said.
“What?”
“You driving, Jack. That will be great.”
The image of them in the car disappeared. Driving would be fantastic, but driving with Emaline, that would never happen. Being casual friends with her was one thing. Being something more was something else. Impossible.
Emaline inhabited a different world from Jack's: the world of Christians. Normally, her orbit never would have intersected his. The only reason Jack and Emaline were friends, the only reason their younger sisters were playmates, was the miracle of their mothers' unlikely alliance.
The mothers had moved to Massena—and into Mittle's Boarding House—at the same time. They were both newlyweds, knowing no one except their husbands. The newcomers helped each other pass the days, with Eva Pool reading Jenna Durham the stories she was forever, almost obsessively, scribbling down—
there was so much to write about!
—and Jenna Durham playing her mandolin for Eva. Years later, when Emaline's father and uncle died in a car accident, it was Jack's mother who watched baby Daisy while the entire Sacred Heart congregation attended the double funeral.
“Do you get the day off for your birthday?” Emaline asked.
“Doubt it. We're taking delivery on a shipment today.”
“Maybe I'll see you at the store then. Lydie and I are going shopping, so we'll probably stop by.” She bit her lip, leaned toward his ear and whispered, “I was really hoping we could meet up in Paradise Woods so I could wish you happy birthday properly.”
He could feel her breath on his neck. The blood rushed to his face in a hot wave. Over the summer, he and Emaline had twice managed to “bump into” each other on the path that cut through the local woods. The first time, they'd touched
fingertips while they talked, flushed with anxiety over being caught. The second time, they'd gone behind a fat oak tree and almost kissed. Almost, because some men came trudging through on their way to work at the aluminum plant. Still, the thought of that kiss—and others he imagined—often kept Jack awake at night.
That was in August. When school started a few weeks later, George Lingstrom set his eye on Emaline. George—the captain of Jack's baseball team, the popular high school senior, the notorious flirt. Jack wondered if Emaline was interested in George. Why shouldn't she be? George was well-liked, good-looking. And Christian. That was that.
Jack groaned. “I'll probably be working late tonight,” he said.
Emaline took a deep breath. “Rain check then?”
“Rain or shine.”
“Good.” She touched Jack on the sleeve, color spreading up along her cheeks, and then quickly turned and disappeared out the door.
“Someone here?” asked a drowsy voice from the top of the stairs.
Jack turned to find Harry, still in his nightshirt, plodding down the stairs. “Let's ankle it, pipsqueak,” Jack said. “Go get ready for
shul
.”
“Again?” Harry grumbled.
“Yup.” They'd spent two full days in the synagogue last week for Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and would be back again tomorrow for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, but that didn't get them off the hook for the Sabbath. “And don't use up all the hot water,” he added as he headed for the kitchen.
Martha and Daisy were sitting on the counter, watching his mother slice
challah
bread.
“Happy birthday, Jackie,” the little girls chirped.
“Happy and healthy,” added Mrs. Pool, a small, olive-toned woman with a single chestnut braid halfway down her back. She always wore her apron in the house, the one she made with the pocket big enough to accommodate a pad of paper and a few pencils.
Just in case of a story
, she always said. “Till a hundred and twenty.”
“Are we gonna have a party?” Martha asked. “Daisy and me could make you a cake.”
“No party this year, squirt,” laughed Jack. He had much bigger plans than that. Plans for learning how to drive. Plans for getting a nickel-an-hour pay raise. And best of all, in three days, plans for interviewing at the Bentley School of Music in Syracuse.
Jack grabbed a piece of the sweet yellow bread and took a bottle of milk from the icebox. Eating over the sink, he silently recited the letter he'd memorized the moment it arrived last month:
 
Dear Mr. Jack Pool:
 
I am pleased to confirm your interview at the Bentley School of Music at four o'clock on Tuesday, September 25. Please bring your cello and your scholarship application with you. My office is located in Trumbull Hall.
 
Yours very truly,
Elihu Pierson, Dean of Students
 
Jack closed his eyes and tried to picture the elite boarding school—the classrooms, the auditorium, the dormitory, the musicians. He could hardly wait to go to the place where everyone loved music. A place where there were things to do. A place that wasn't this pit town of Massena, New York.
He felt a hand on his back. “Happy birthday,
shport
,” said his father, his Yiddish accent shaping the last word into a cross between ship and port. Sam Pool was a short man with thick spectacles that hardly improved the poor eyesight he was born with. Blotting his graying mustache with a handkerchief, he added, “And a hundred more.”
“Thanks, Pa…So, do I get the day off?”
Mrs. Pool jumped at this opportunity to make the point she made every Saturday morning. “Jack should always get
Shabbos
off. It's bad enough you break the Sabbath yourself, Sam. Do you have to encourage your son to do the same?”
“Friday is payday at the plant,” he said. “Saturday is shopping day. I have no choice in it.” He pointed toward his wife's apron pocket. “Some things can't wait, can they, my dear?” Turning toward Jack, he added, “I tell you what,
shport
. Tomorrow you can have off.”
“We're closed Sundays, Pa,” Jack said.
Mrs. Pool just rolled her eyes, then checked her hands for tell-tale pencil smudges.
The synagogue, a ten-minute walk from the Pools' house, was a small red brick building with tinted windows and heavy double doors. Jack, Harry and Mr. Pool climbed the front steps and entered the sanctuary, a simple room with twelve
benches—six on the left for men and boys and six on the right for women and girls. On the
bima
stood a lectern and, against the far wall, a wooden cabinet that housed the two Torah scrolls. The windows spilled chartreuse light into the room.
“Where's Rabbi Abrams?” asked Harry, impatient for the services to begin and end. He fell into his usual spot, nearest the window in the second row.
“What difference does it make?” Jack asked, nodding to his friend Abe Goldberg. “We're only five yet.” Ten men were required to hold a worship service, and they were only halfway there.
“Rats,” Harry said. But by the time they put on their prayer shawls and
yarmulkes
, Rabbi Abrams was entering the sanctuary, flanked by a handful of other men. “Finally,” Harry whispered.
Rabbi Louis Abrams was a compact man with a trim nut-brown beard and a scar on one cheek that turned into an S whenever he smiled, which was often. He nodded to the men and boys as he approached the
bima
, then took his place behind the lectern and began chanting the Hebrew prayers.
Jack grew restless within minutes. He'd felt restless a lot lately, stuck in this remote little whistle-stop that didn't even have a movie theater or a music store. Scarcely five miles from Ontario, Canada, Massena was locked between the St. Lawrence River on one side and the Adirondack Mountains on the other, a flat, bland expanse of nothingness. Most Massena men toiled as dairy farmers or laborers at the aluminum works, jobs they held all their lives and then passed on to their sons. People stayed on here—and so did their children—until no one seemed to notice the drudgery anymore.
BOOK: The Blood Lie
5.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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