7 Shelter from the Storm

What was that horrible sound? Scrape, thud, scrape. Over and over. Getting closer. Over and over. Getting still closer! Now at the mouth of her little dark cave! A pause. No noise. Then something like a stick beating on her brain.

The woman in bed struggled awake and sat up in the dark. But she wasn’t awake! She somehow recognized the fact she was still dead asleep, with only her body partially awake and now upright. Who was she? "Heloise Turnbull" came to mind, but it was so vague she wasn't sure, while a large part of her even rebelled at the thought and wanted anything but that name applied. Where was the light? Reaching about the dark, she tried to get to her feet. The light was no where in reach. She found the cave mouth, and a door handle, removed the chain, and whoever was beating on it found as big a surprise as Heloise found as the two women, one considerably older, one Jewish, the other American, stared at each other.

Before Heloise could get out, “Who are you?” the other woman thrust herself into the room, pushing Heloise aside with her bulk. The old woman found the light, and it came on. It wasn’t a cave after all, Heloise saw, but a very disgusting little room, not fit for a civilized human being. Wheezing, the old woman turned to stare at Heloise again, and her body moved slowly, painfully, as she came up close to her. Who and what was this hideous old nag of the night? The one with the –witz on the end of her name, the concentration camp victim? Heloise didn’t know what to think or say. She found herself examined by a thick, peasant-like woman in an old coat with a ratty collar, her thick coarse hair turning to faded split ends down around a face that seemed to come straight from the pages of Jeremiah in his book of Lamentations, a face of a grieving widow whose whole family had been slain by the attacking Babylonians who had just sacked Jerusalem. All the worry lines made her very ugly, but her eyes—the most outstanding part—were full of hurt and resentment. The mouth? It was turned down at the corners, above a massive chin, between two large, flat, wrinkled cheeks that collapsed into jowls a bulldog would have been proud of.


“So YOU are my new girl!” the woman huffed. “A goy this time! Well, it’s time to get going! You don’t sleep all day in here! We haff work to do!” Heloise was amazed. She tried valiantly to awaken herself, to deal with the nightmare, but she couldn’t quite do it. She as if large pieces of her mind and body were still in a coma, hidden in a dark cave somewhere, like scrolls in Qumran. “What?” she began. “What did you say?”

The woman’s eyes blazed like two small blow torches. “You heard what I said! Now there, take that mop, and I want the hallway cleaned first. When you get that done, I want the front stairs washed down! Then there are the toilets! Now get busy, you! I haven’t got all day to stand and talk!” Heloise wanted to protest, but what could she say or do in her comatose state? She took the mop and bucket in a daze, and moved into the hall.

“Ach! You’re too slow!” the woman cried. “Idiot, haven’t you ever handled a mop before?” Heloise, not able to comprehend, still doped with sleep and now half-shocked, moved down the hall. But then her brain came a fraction more alive, and she set the mop against the wall and turned to the woman.

“I don’t know who you are telling me what to do!” she began. “I’m not your maid! I only took a room here, and I have money to pay for it.” Saying that, she turned, back against the wall, forgetting her dignity by sliding down into a fetal position to sleep. The woman’s face became a mask, then fire seemed to spurt from her wounded eyes as she flung herself at Heloise, dragging her upwards by the arms. “Oh, no, you don’t get round me that way! You’re here to work. Work, do you hear? You took the room on that condition, and now you are going to go through with the agreement! Or I’ll kick you out myself into the street like the common trash you are! Well, what is it? Work for room, or walk the street, you--!” Heloise heard the woman spit out some term—which must have been foul, the way she said it—but the nightmare was no worse for being cursed, and Heloise only wanted to get away, she couldn’t fight anybody, leastwise this Jewish Valkyrie in her condition. That was all she knew for certain. Somehow she had to get away, so she could sleep and recover herself before she faced the world again. But how could she get away? Where would she go? This awful woman stood between herself and needed sleep. It was still dark out, and here she was faced with being thrown out. She hadn’t even got her clothes on and was still in pajamas, she realized.

The next events became a blur. She found herself dragged down a corridor, then into a series of rooms. She was forced to perform various duties. One was cleaning a filthy toilet. She sank down beside it, then felt the old woman’s blows on her head and shoulders. She couldn’t even find the strength to fight back or at least fend her off. “I cleaned a thousand times worse things, I tell you!” the old harridan screamed at her. “I’ve picked pieces of my brothers and sisters, even little children’s finger bones, from the ovens!”

She yelled more things she had seen and done in the concentration camp, and Heloise was dumbfounded. Had she heard right? Was this really a survivor of the World War II Nazi concentration camps? When first she heard her daughter tell about her, it hadn’t really sunk in. As if there could not be any room for doubt in her presence, the woman thrust her arm into Heloise’s face, and there it was—the branded number given to concentration camp inmates. “That’s for Auschwitz! Now you will clean this toilet! Clean!” Heloise, feeling weaker with every moment, could not resist anyone in so demented and angry a state. She cleaned the toilet, but it took too much time and she broke several designer nails doing it. She could not stay awake, and she kept collapsing. The woman only turned more furious as Heloise faded away. The nightmare stretched on and on. Heloise, wondering if the old woman would kill her, no longer cared. She was sometimes completely gone, while standing on her feet. A moment later, she was lying on the floor, with the old woman viciously tugging and dragging her to her feet again.

She was so exhausted she could not do anything, and the woman—seeing that the new servant was good for nothing—suddenly stopped screaming and striking at her, and left her lying on the floor. Hours later, Heloise still lay there. Somehow, she found herself in the hallway of the woman’s apartment, outside in the hall that led to the back. Had she been dragged and dumped there? It didn’t matter. She remembered her two little rooms and her bed. That was enough to get her there by crawling. Without closing the door she sank down upon her own bed. How long she lay there she had no idea. Again, some time later, she awoke hearing the old woman’s screaming at her. This time, more of Heloise awoke, and she was at least half her old self. This time too she could see the entire room, not just part of it, and she recognized the old woman as her tormentor in her terrible dreams of the night. Had it really happened? She moved and felt sore all over, as if she had been beaten to an inch of her life. She looked at her outstretched arms, and they were bruised all over. Horrified, she stared at them. And her nails! They looked as if she had stuck them in pencil sharpeners—they were ruined! It had really happened! Everything she thought was a nightmare had actually taken place. A fury rose up in her at that moment that could have killed someone on the spot!

She scrambled to her feet, facing the old woman. She would have seized anything, a chair or lamp to get vengeance, but the old woman suddenly laughed right in her face. “So you’re finally awake now!” she jeered. “Good for you! I wondered if you would sleep three days in a row, and you slept only two! Good for you! Now back to work, you lazy thing! You goy! You wretch!” “Get out of here!” Heloise screamed. “I don’t know you, and how dare you speak to me this way! Get out of my presence! Do you hear me?” The old woman paused, dropping a cane, and lay her hand on her right cheek, massaging it as she considered the odd, odd Goy creature screaming at her. She began to shed tears, turning her head this way and that, and rolling her eyes. “How can you speak, a foreigner, so unkindly to an old mother like that? I give you a roof over your head, and you treat me so shabbily as this! ‘Get out!” this one tells me, in my own house! “Get out!” she says to me!” Heloise was stunned. How quickly the woman could switch from monster of abuse to weeping, defenseless victim.

She struggled to regain her momentum, her control. “I’m sorry I screamed at you that way. But you abused me in the most outrageous fashion! You actually beat me last night, for hours! Didn’t you?” She stretched out her arms to show the bruises—proof she could hardly believe herself. The old woman looked at her, then glanced briefly at her bruised arms. She shrugged. “You should walk where I walked. See the mothers and little ones all shoved like cattle into the undressing rooms, gassed, then burnt to cinders in the ovens. All my sisters and brothers, my own father and mother—they did that to them. I was the youngest, a mere baby girl. No one had ever said a harsh word to me, I was so tender a little girl. Well, my daughter, I wasn’t taken away with my family. That would have been the mercy of God for me! Oh, no, the camp commandant sent me to the guards to play with, doing their nasty things to my poor body for hours and days on end while they laughed and laughed. I-—a little Jewish girl—was less than a dog to them! They got tired of me sometimes, then I would just lie on the floor after they finished with me and just weep, and so they sent me back to clean their latrines. You should go where I was, feel what I felt in the hairy hands of those Nazi beasts, and see all what I saw. You would thank those bruises I gave you—that you weren’t me!”

The old woman then began to shake, as if she were going to have a heart attack right before Heloise’s eyes. “I need my medicine—get me my medicine!” she gasped. She staggered a few steps, but obviously to Heloise she wouldn’t make it. Despite the woman’s history, so plain to see, Heloise, still feeling her arms, was of a mind to just watch the old woman drop right there in her tracks. The old woman continued to stagger, using one cane, leaning against the wall. Her breathing was horrible, as she labored with each step. Heloise heard quick steps coming, then a cry. Heloise recognized her. It was the daughter. Heloise shouted to her, “She needs her medicine! She’s having an attack! Do you know where it is?” The daughter ran, and a few moments later came rushing back. She slipped the nitro under her mother’s tongue where she was lying on the floor, and they waited.

The old woman’s breathing slowed, and she began to show signs of life, like looking to her daughter and patting her hand. Her daughter was upset, and weeping too. “Mother! You shouldn’t come out here without it! You know you shouldn’t! What if I hadn’t come just now?” Heloise then heard the most vicious, acid voice she had ever heard. “What would you have done if I had died? Don’t you worry! I have this one here, this useless, pampered dog of the Goyim, to help me! She will learn how—if I must kill her to teach her how to work!” Heloise stood. Her teeth were clenched, and she was determined she wasn’t going to take any more abuse from a wretched old woman from the Nazi camps. “Oh, no, you don’t! I’m leaving!” She flung herself into her rooms, grabbed everything she could recognize was her own possession, and fled from the premises. In the street, her wild eyes and tangled hair made people stood in their tracks to stare at her. Keeping on, she walked and walked. She couldn’t believe what had happened to her! Imagine, being beaten by an old woman surviving from the WWII death camps! What was she? Ninety? A hundred? She had to have been three or four, maybe five years old, when the Nazis laid their filthy hands on her. Being as old as she had to be and so sick, how could she have any strength to beat anything?

No longer caring what became of her, she only wanted to put as much distance as she could between her and the old woman. But she found herself hopelessly lost. The streets, which she could not even recognize, seemed to repeat themselves. She wasn’t getting anywhere. She sank down finally on a park bench, to get her thoughts together if she still could. Exhausted, a week spell came on, and she blacked out. Her head bumped the bench, waking her. She found children staring at her, wondering how a strange woman, so bruised and strangely dressed, could be sleeping in daylight. A hobbling, bent-over beggar woman began to approach her. She panicked, knowing it could be a man. “Could it be the dread Shin Bet, out to track her down?”

Quickly, she moved off between the people gathered to stare at her, and fled, hoping she could get away without him following in a car. She dashed into a shop, a clothing store, and stood hiding herself among the racks, then when it seemed safe, she moved back to see if she could leave. Shop girls at the counter looked at her, shaking their heads at the sight of her, and Heloise was at an utter loss what to do next. She knew she looked terrible. “I was in a car accident,” she lied to them, as she went to the door. “I was just looking for some new clothes to replace these. Can you help me?” They all stared as if they hadn’t heard a word—not a single word!. “It’s not working,” Heloise thought. She fled out of the shop, and walked fast down one street and then the next. How long she did that, she couldn’t tell. Finally, she couldn’t walk anymore, and went in restaurant to rest. It was dark, and she was so grateful. She fled into the bathroom. Maybe she could fix herself up a bit, she thought. When she emerged, she felt better, at least her hair combed, and her clothes smoothed down. But was she hungry? Not at all.

But she went on in and sat and ordered coffee. That helped her gather her thoughts. A hour later, she hadn’t ordered anything more. She realized she had to go, the waiters were staring and remarking about her. They too could be informants for Shin Bet, she knew. She got up and stumbled toward the exit. She couldn’t think what to do. She could scarcely walk. It was then she realized that she was missing a shoe. A shoe! How could she have gone without one? Where in the world was it? She panicked. Suddenly, she began to cry, thinking she had utterly lost her mind. This started an incredible scene. Everyone flocked to her aid. She somehow communicated that she had been in an accident, and had come in for help. She had lost her shoe in the accident. Of course! Everybody nodded in absolute understanding. There was no accident in the street, but that didn’t matter, seemingly. Everyone was all sympathy. A waitress called the proprietor, who got his wife, and she brought a pair of expensive shoes, and handed them to Heloise. Heloise motioned that she was going to pay, but they all shook their heads, customers included. She put them on. Despite her odd–sized feet, the shoes fit well enough. She had shoes! She felt human again, able to cope with life with human dignity intact. Thanking everyone profusely, she went on out of the restaurant.

All of a sudden, the world seemed a manageable place again—-a safe and relatively safe place whre decency could prevail over chaos and brutality. Then she realized she had made a mistake. They could be planted with detection devices. She wrenched them off and felt inside each. But how could she know if something wasn’t embedded in the heel? She gave up, and started down the street. “Where should I go now?” She knew she couldn’t return to the states. She had no money to leave Israel. Hiding out demanded money, lots of it. She was still wondering what to do when she recognized the street—the same one that led to the apartment where the horrible night she had just spent with the old woman had happened! Suddenly, it all came clear to her mind. She had no choice! She had absolutely no where else to go but back to the woman from Auschwitz! With that horrible thing standing between her and the state of Israel, she might have a fighting chance! It was either that or face being picked up by the Shin Bet. It would only take a few minutes for them to find out exactly who she was, and then it would be jail, while she waited for extradition back to the states for trial for trumped up IRS charges of “tax evasion” or some equally absurd congressional investigation into her empire’s various financial dealings in the market. What with the divorce and her loss of reputation, the tabloids would be all over her case, night and day, and life would be so hellish she would want to die anyway she could manage it. No, anything was preferable to going back to that. Besides, there was Harry and the children, all reporting to the papers and media on their “runaway mother” and “runaway wife” and the tabloids meanwhile screaming about all the lovers she was partying with! What else could she do? She went back!

Esther stared at her as if she had lost her mind—and Heloise agreed with her silently—-yes, she certainly had! It was either her mother or the Shin Bet! Which was worse? But she couldn’t go back to her former life, she knew; there was nothing left to return to, she knew with every atom of her body and mind. She had nothing left, so why not go back? “I’ll do your work if you let me stay—and you don’t lay one finger on me! The moment you do, I am out the door forever! Agreed?” The old woman protested, throwing up her hands. “But I always beat them! They won’t do anything unless I beat them! You are no different!” “No, I won’t stay if you do that again!” she told the old woman in the most firm way she could manage. “Just tell me what you want, and I will try to do it. But if you beat me, I will leave! Do you understand that? I will walk straight out the door, and you will not see me again ever!” A few minutes seemed to pass as the old woman considered this deal. Finally, she shook her head. “I need someone bad, so you can stay. You are no good, you are a tit on a sow's back, but maybe you are better than nothing.” Saying that, she motioned for Heloise to come in.

Ducking the daughter’s look of disapproval and bewilderment, Heloise went in.

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