Raizl watched the girl pile a plate high with cakes, selecting slices from each tray, layers of chocolate and mousse. She stifled feelings of annoyance. That little girl was acting as if she owned the place. She could only be nine, or ten, years old. Yet she strode around like a little queen.
"She's only a child", Raizl told herself, but still the feelings came.
Hatred was too harsh a word. Raizl kept track of the girl, as she circled the hotel dining room, backwards and forwards between tables, fetching drinks and desserts, bearing bounty back to the table where her family must be sitting.
Resentment, perhaps. Yes, that was closer to the truth. Raizl resented the girl, with her perfect outfit and complete confidence. Raizl was a grown up now, a married woman, but still, she would never possess that self assurance. To have it, you had to be born with it, to it, to that life.
Raizl didn't belong here. Others thought she did. She managed to fool them. After years of trial and error, she'd learned. What to wear, what to say, where to go, who to know.
But then she saw that little girl, bred from the birth with everything, only a child, but already educated in all of societies standards. She saw her, and remembered what she was lacking, what she'd missed out on, what she'd never have. And she tried not to be jealous.
She recognized her by the flower. This time it was brown velvet, matching the brown pleated jumper dress. Raizl could see only her back, since the girl stood right by the Mechitza, in the center of the front row. Raizl always chose seats in the rear, by the side.
The moment approached, that time that Raizl had been half dreading, half waiting for; sadness mixed with sweetness.
The reading of the Torah ended. Around her women streamed out of the makeshift Shul, murmuring words of apology as they slipped passed her, pushing forward the chairs in front, while Raizl stood firmly in place, avoiding their eyes, not wanting to see what she might find in their gazes- Pity perhaps? Or relief that they were not in her place?
A few women remained inside with her. They were all older than she was, with starched short Shaitels, and faces already creased with lines. She was used to being the youngest, by now, after all these years.
Then Raizl saw the girl, in her dress and flower. She was still in Shul, still standing in the same place, by the Mechitza. She hadn't gone with the others. She stood rigidly straight, a prettily dressed little girl, among the old ladies.
Worlds can shift, in seconds.
Raizl wanted to hug the girl, to cradle her close and tell her to be brave, to hold her hand and tell her she understood. Instead there was silence, aside for the rustlings of pages, and the sounds of unspoken memories. Yizkor had begun.
It was blue today, a bright peacock blue that Raizl spotted between shoulders and raised plates. The blue of the lace flower set off the sky blue of the girl's sweater. She looked as fashionable as always, with not a hair out of place, and the same confident lift of shoulders that Raizl had been envying all vacation.
Raizl watched her carefully choose cakes, filling up first one and then another plate. When she picked them both up, she faltered for a moment, losing her balance, trying not to drop the dishes.
Raizl put down her napkin and pushed back her chair. She half walked, half ran, across the room, to the little girl, and stretched out a hand, to help, to clear the way.
The girl looked up at her, with clear eyes, and the solemn look that Raizl had thought, before, was condescendence, then her lips relaxed for a moment, formed a soft half smile. She gave a nod, of thanks.
Raizl helped the girl carry the food back to where her mother waited, feeding the baby, trying to keep the little kids distracted. Because the girl was the oldest, the big sister. She needed to help, now that Abba was gone, she had responsibilities.
She reminded Raizl of herself, so many years ago. They were both fighters.