The courtyard is quiet. A scruffy cat slinks out through the gate leaving two scrawny kittens mewing piteously in the shrubs. In their weak state, they can barely be heard. Perele makes a mental note to bring them a bowl of milk. “Perele! PeeRELE! PERELE! Avu bist tu?” Her name reverberates throughout the courtyard, yet no one answers in her name. Tzirel slams the door up on the landing, abandoning her to her daydreams. Mameh will be annoyed when she hears she went missing, and Tzirel, no doubt, will have plenty to say. But, for now, Perele stretches under the sturdy tree, savoring the calm breeze licking at her ankles, the blessed stillness of her secret retreat. Only a moment longer. These few short snaps of stolen time fill her with a heady sense of pleasure. This is her space. And trees don’t shout.
She almost trips over a book as she steps into their hallway. A flying paper plane grazes her nose and a naughty giggle follows. “Perele!” cries Tzirel, pouncing on her before she can cross the kitchen threshold, while Dov’ele pulls at her skirt, shoving another crumpled plane into her hand. “You’re under arrest!” Yitzy barks at Beinish, clamping a pair of wrist cuffs on him with a flourish. So they’re playing Hagana again. Tzirel glowers at Perele. “What?!” shoots Perele provokingly. Dropping her pout, Tzirel brandishes the broom as effective as any bayonet.
“Where have you been? I called you fifty times!”
“So. I’m here now!”
“Nooooow…! Thank you, m’lady!” Swaggering a mock curtsy Tzirel glides her arm towards the kitchen. “Perhaps you would like me to hang up your coat and serve you dinner, too?” The sarcasm washes over Perele as smoothly as soap suds, dripping to mingle with the scattered debris cluttering their home’s graying
“Sorry,” Perele mutters, and turns away. “Hey!” Tzirel calls after her, “Where are you going? It’s your turn to make supper, remember?!”
“Okay!… Okay! As if I could forget?!” Perele repartees. She is tired of being at Tzirel’s beck and call. And just wait till Mameh and Tatteh return from the store. That’s when the real drama begins.
The kittens curl up against each other contentedly, nose to tail. Their mother is nowhere to be seen. Perele dumps her schoolbag behind the tree trunk and, taking a swig out of her water bottle, crouches at its base. The walk from school was hot and dreary. But now she looks forward to the favorite part of her day. Sheltered here beneath the tree, camouflaged by the fullness of its leaves, she keeps watch; languidly observing the comings and goings from her hidden corner of paradise. Mameh must be home now, on lunch break from the store, hassled and frazzled and so busy with the little ones that her tardiness won’t be noticed. At least Tatteh doesn’t come home for lunch. One less person for Mameh to get annoyed with.
The sun hangs high in the sky. A brace of pigeons coo in the branches above her. Looking up, Perele can see their talons gripping the branches as they hop amongst the scarlet petals. Shortly, the door to the Weinberg’s apartment – just eight steps across the landing from her home – will fly open. It takes ten steps if you are Dove’le’s size. She knows for she has counted often, always amazed how worlds apart can exist so close together. Catching the tail of her tightly woven braid in her hand, Perele tilts her head, gaining a glimpse of the first floor landing. It overhangs the courtyard, with but a low ornate railing partially blocking her view. Meir’ke, their muzhinik, will be the first to show his face. His corkscrew peiyos swinging gaily as he skips to the edge of the landing, he will poke his head through the iron bars.