Today's Reading

There was a moment of silence before Rachel said, "You're right, he might not. But if we have to travel through Germany to get to the border, he can help us. He looks more Aryan, and if I dye my hair blond, we can pretend to be regular Germans. I've heard people talk about it, how they just cut the stars off their coats and walk down the street with their heads held high, as if they have nothing to be scared about. We can do that if we need to, Frederick and me, and Papa, too.

We can hide in plain sight and escape." Rachel glanced out of the window at the cherry tree petals cascading down, then she got up and walked to the piano in the corner—arguably her favorite spot in the house.

Frustratedly, Sofie followed her. "Then why can't I wait here with you?"

"Because it isn't safe, Sofie, and the more of us that travel together, the greater the risk we'll be caught. You have to take this visa, for all of our sakes." Rachel let her fingers fall thoughtlessly onto the piano keys, playing the first few triplets of her usual piece, Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Rachel was the musical one, the pianist, the notes an omnipresent echo through their home.

As she listened, Sofie tried to memorize it for the future—where would she ever hear piano music again? And where was she going to find a library like Papa's? What was she going to do without her books to escape to in these terrible times? A fear came over her for all that she was losing, and she clutched the slim volume of poetry in her hand, determined to slip it into her suitcase.

In the middle of the slower section, Rachel's fingers slowed and stopped, the last notes lingering like unfinished thoughts. "Sofie, you know that Papa will not let you stay, not when it means putting you in danger. If anything were to happen to you he wouldn't be able to bear it, not if you'd had the chance to leave. And our lives have already become so small here." Slowly, she got up and pulled Sofie toward the door, her voice a little more firm. "Now come on, it's time to go."

Sofie clenched her fists in frustration, but she knew she was no match for her older sister. No matter how much she argued, Rachel would put her onto the train regardless.

Reluctantly, she allowed herself to be led through the hallway to where her father waited, her small suitcase beside him. Quickly, she bent down and opened it, sliding in her volume of poems. Its company on this long, daunting trip would be both comforting and protective.

Her father came forward to hug her. "You know, Sofie, you have always been my special starry-eyed girl. Promise me to keep that light inside you alive. It's a pity we don't have any friends or connections in Britain, but I'm sure the Wainwright family will treat you well. Work hard, keep your faith alive, and think of us, how we will be together again soon."

Tears came to her eyes as Rachel gently guided her out of the front door. "We have to leave if you're going to make the train."

But as she went out onto the front steps, Sofie turned back to the old house, her home for all her life, her eyes glancing one last time at the window in the library.

"I will come back," she murmured. "As soon as I can, I will come home."

And as she stood, the pink petals from the cherry tree blew from the tree in front of the house, some resting on her shoulders, and she suddenly felt the shiver of how transitory life was, how nothing ever stayed the same, every life fluttering in the wind.

It was a mile's walk to Friedrichstrasse Station. No one mentioned the future, no one mentioned the war, and no one mentioned how treacherous the journey across Europe could be, especially at the German border crossing. Despite the fact that she had both her British work visa and her German exit visa, the authorities were increasingly unpredictable where Jewish people were concerned. Safe passage was not guaranteed. One never knew if they might refuse you, confiscate your papers, or take you for questioning.

That's how people disappeared.

When the station came into view, Sofie's pace slowed, but Rachel laced an arm through hers to hurry her along. "We don't want you to miss the train."

The forecourt was loud and chaotic. Crowds pushed and shoved, so many trying to escape the country they no longer recognized. There was a sense of confusion, of urgency, while the threat of violence hung in the air like a sour stench. Children were crying, packages were being thrust into carriages, and all around them, people were holding each other, knowing they might be parting forever.

Sofie allowed herself to be pulled through the crowds like a shred of seaweed in high tide. The train was already at the platform, filled with women like her, heading for new lives in London. A well- groomed brunette in a fur coat sobbed as she clung to a man. An older woman holding a child scuttled into a carriage, the child's mother in hysterics on the platform.

"I know this is difficult, but at least you'll be safe until we get there." Rachel's voice was serious, instructive. "Work hard for the Wainwrights, make sure they don't have any reason to cancel your visa."


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