Today's Reading

"But what if I can't?" Sofie couldn't help saying. "How can I be a good housemaid when the only knowledge I have comes from watching Mrs. Grun and Hilde at home? And what happens if there's a war? If the Nazis take Britain, what will happen then? How will I ever find you and Papa again?"

Her father folded her hand inside his. "This is the best chance for you. You have to be brave, Sofie."

Suddenly, she realized how difficult this was for him, the shadows beneath his eyes, the clenched jaw. He, too, did not want her to go, but this was the best of their few, dismal options.

The train whistle was blowing, the crowds shouting and the sound of carriage doors slamming around them.

Sofie's head dropped into her hands, heavy sobs coming out of her, and her father and Rachel put their arms around her. She tried to drink in their touch, wondering when she would feel it again.

It was Rachel who pulled away first, hastily wiping her tears as she softly drew her father back. His eyes were wet and red, and he was unable to speak, overcome with emotion.

"You have to go now, Sofie." Rachel's voice was hoarse with tears, and she turned Sofie toward the carriage door, handing her the small suitcase as she stepped on board.

Sofie could barely hear her through the cacophony of people and the whistle of the train, the buildup of steam as the engines prepared to leave.

Inside the carriage, Sofie pulled down the window to take their hands for one last time.

"Always know that we love you, Sofie," Rachel cried. "Every time you put your hand on your heart, you will feel us there."

Her dear sister and father swam in front of Sofie as her eyes welled up with tears.

Another whistle blew, and the train slowly began to shunt forward. Their fingers were pulled apart, the white smoke of the train billowing between them, the noise as the train began to move deafening. Inside the carriage, everyone was pushing against the windows, shouting above the engines, waving arms and handkerchiefs.

For a moment, the smoke cleared, and Sofie's eyes met Rachel's one last time. Her guard had come down, and all that Sofie saw was her sister's raw, inconsolable grief tangled with a dense, unraveling fear.

And then Rachel was gone, the platform a sea of strangers, now disappearing into a blur.

Falling back into her seat, Sofie sank her face into her hands and cried as the thrum of the wheels carried her farther and farther away from everything she'd ever known. Minutes turned to hours, the time meaningless and misshapen. She had never felt so completely alone.

From now onward, she would have to make all decisions herself.

Not Rachel, not Papa. Only her.

She watched through the window as the crush of city buildings slowly gave way to fields, and she silently waved goodbye to Berlin. Her sister and father would be home by now. They might have stopped for coffee, perhaps, although most of the coffeehouses had put up signs, juden nicht willkommen. There weren't many places for them to go these days.

Her worries about Rachel and Papa seemed to increase the closer she got to safety. Germany was dangerous for Jews. People went missing, vanishing without a trace. No one knew for certain where they went, but the rumors of work camps had become more frequent and detailed. Papa's health wasn't good. He would never survive if he was sent to one.

Opposite Sofie sat a smartly dressed, middle-aged woman who eyed her, taking in the yellow star sewn onto her sleeve. Sofie quickly took off her coat, folding it to hide the star, placing it onto the luggage rack above her. Watching, the woman pursed her lips, then took out some knitting and focused on her stitches, the clickety- click of her needles keeping time with the wheels of the train.

Not knowing what to do with herself, Sofie took her suitcase out from behind her legs and pulled it onto her lap. Easing it open, she tried to stop herself from weeping into her last possessions, fingering her mother's heavy gold bracelet that she'd sewn into the hem of a skirt for safekeeping. She touched Rachel's mauve shawl, pulling it to her face. It still smelled of her, of their house. Carefully, she put it around her shoulders, its weight and warmth reminding her of the home and family she'd left behind.

There was a photograph of them, taken at Hanukkah in front of the menorah and the ladened dining table. Rachel was at the back, her arms over everyone's shoulders, with her dark hair curled elegantly. Beside her, Papa had a haunted look, his life reeling out of control. His business had been forced to close by the Nazis last year, and he'd had to sell his collection of first editions to afford the housekeeper. But then she'd left anyway, apologetic and weepy, but what could anyone say or do? People were vilifying her for working for a Jew. Papa's stature had shrunk first with his wife's death and now with the long, slow squeeze of the Nazis' relentless fist.


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