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THE SECRET OF THE SEASHELL
by Chaiky Halpern
© Copyright 1993, by TAMAR BOOKS
MESORAH PUBLICATIONS, Ltd.
4401 Second Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11232
Distributed in Israel by
MESORAH MAFITZIM / J. GROSSMAN
Rechov Harav Uziel 117
Distributed in Europe by
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Lesholom. The word rang in Miri's ears as the
lights on the shadowy airplane blinked red in
the darkness. She had said a little prayer as the
plane roared upon the runway before miracu-
lously lifting into the sky. Please Hashem, let it all work out
lesimchah u'leshobm; happy and peaceful like I haven't
been for so long. She kissed her little siddur and tucked it
away, watching as the New York lights disappeared and
unrelieved blackness stared back at her from outside
the window. The stewardess in charge of the unaccompa-
nied minor named Miriam Mandel dutifully brought Miri
a Coke with extra ice cubes, and helped her with the
awkward double wrappings on her kosher meal. After
the dinner trays had been collected, Miri closed her eyes.
The lids seemed to droop shut of their own accord, but
her brain refused to sleep. The noise of the jet's motors
played background music to the images that floated
around inside her head: Her uncle's apologetic face as
he awkwardly said good-bye, he knew how much she
wanted to stay; her grandmother, gasping in pain as
she struggled to pull herself up for a farewell kiss; Aunt
Dina, one hand clutching Shmuli who was halfway off
the stool he'd climbed, the other hand stuffing some
nosh into Miri's travel bag; and two hazy, shadowy, smil-
ing faces, as if reproduced by some decrepit fax machine,
Mommy and Daddy. By now her parents were just
voices on the telephone, reassuring her that the doctor
said it would be only two more weeks until they could
come home again ... six more weeks . . . three more
Miri heard herself pleading, "Daddy, can't I come to
you at the hospital in Rochester? I'll be such a help."
"No, Miri, Mommy needs complete quiet," Daddy had
answered regretfully but firmly. "The doctors are happy
with her progress after the last open-heart surgery, and
we don't want to mess anything up. Besides, there's no
school here for you. But I'm glad you want to help. Bubby
needs you now that Aunt Dina has a brand new set of
And she had tried. Bubby had been so good to her but
she missed her parents dreadfully, and had found herself
growing grouchier by the day. Then a slippery spot on the
kitchen floor had sent Bubby to the hospital with a broken
hip, and Miri had stayed with Tante Rachel for six long
Now Bubby was out of the hospital and on the road
to recovery, but there was no room for Miri along that
road. No room for Miri at Aunt Rochel's where Bubby had
to stay until she became stronger, and no place for Miri
at Aunt Dina's house, which was full to bursting with the
twins and a baby nurse. No room for Miri, period.
Miri opened her eyes, blinking as they refocused. She
looked out of the window and then at it, wrinkling her nose
at her reflection in the square black mirror that the
window had become. Then she noticed the red-checked
elbow that was digging its way into her arm, and politely
turned her attention to the lady in the next seat.
Miri had always thought that the British were very
reserved, stiff upper lip and all that, but the very talkative
Mrs. 'Arris immediately began to reveal her entire life
history. Within half an hour Miri knew the names of all six
of her seatmate's pet dogs and which of Queen Elizabeth's
horses were likely to win next month at Ascot Racetrack.
Bubby always said there were no accidents in this
world, and Miri, grateful for the entertainment, thanked
Hashem for seeing to it that Mrs. 'Arris had been given the
seat right next to her.
The plump Englishwoman had actually succeeded in
bringing a smile to Miri's face several times during the
journey. With her comical and curious comments on
everything and anything ("Wot language you readin' there,
luv?"), she provided a welcome distraction from the
worries crowding Miri's mind.
As the lights on the airplane dimmed, Miri kicked off
her shoes and curled her feet up awkwardly under the
skimpy airline blanket, resting her head on the small
pillow propped against the window frame. She hoped her
shoes wouldn't go traveling and stifled a shaky giggle at
the thought of them landing on the toes of the pompous
gentleman behind her. Mrs. 'Arris was snoring contentedly
by now, punctuating every sentence that went flitting
through Miri's head.
"Come on, Miri, chin up! (snore snore) You're twelve
years old! Think of it as an adventure! (snore) I can't! 1
can't! (snore) It's too awful!" (snore)
Miri sighed and opened her eyes. She moved her
sleeve to look at her new watch, a good-bye present
from Bubby. ("Use it well, Mirele, and don't forget to use
each minute well too!") Twelve o'clock. She was putting
off the change to London-time as long as possible.
Time enough to do that when they landed in Heathrow
Miri's mind went back to last week's fateful telephone
conversation with her father.
"Daddy, how much longer will it be?
"Well, the doctors have decided that one more
operation is necessary. Daven hard that they should be
successful messengers of Hashem, Miri. Then all we need
is a few more months here and Mommy will be as good
as new. Yes, 1 know Bubby fell last week and has moved
into Aunt Rochel's house, and there's really no space for
you in the twins' room at Uncle Moshe's. We'll have to
figure something out."
The "something" turned out to be an outlandish
scheme for Miri to travel to Aunty Mimi's house in
London. Of all places, Miri groaned to herself.
If she were really honest, though, she had to admit
that there was no real reason for her to stay in America.
She knew that she had not been doing well at all in school
while her parents were away, even though Bubby worked
so hard to make her happy. Her inside grumbles had
worked their way out until even her friends lost patience
"You used to be so much fun, Miri. What's gotten into
"Homesickness, that's what," grumped Miri. "I'm sick
of this home and want my old one back."
Even Chani, who had been her friend ever since the
two of them could remember, didn't understand.
"Look, Miri," she had said. "You've got to put things
into perspective (a new phrase she'd just picked up and
was very fond of using). You will get your old home back
as soon as your mother gets back to herself. There she
was, getting weaker and weaker and now the doctors
promise to make her good as new. All she needs is a few
months away at the Mayo Clinic. Sure these few months
are hard, but they'll pass. What you're doing to yourself
now won't pass. If you keep grumbling about everything,
you won't remember how to smile anymore!"
"It's not me grumbling," Miri had wanted to protest.
"It's the little Grump inside me." She pictured him, a
round fat blob, hands on his hips, with a big scowl
stretching from his nose to both sides of his face. But she
had to admit he was around much more now than not, and
far from being a secret hidden grumble, he was always
making himself be heard.
"Go look in the mirror," Bubby would say. "Turn it
"Upside down?" She would stare defiantly at the tall
thin mirror and see her Qrump's scowl reflected on her
face. The upside down U turned itself over as she began
to laugh and stretched itself from ear to ear instead.
Chani was right, though. The Grump was slowly
taking her over and she wasn't much fun to be with.
London would be a chance for a fresh start, away from the
teachers who had given up on her, away from the friends
who, when not delivering mussar droshos, sent her pitying
glances, which were even worse.
"When Hashem sends you somewhere, Miri," Bubby
said encouragingly, "He always gives you a packed suit-
case to take along. Inside it is found all the strength you'll
need when you get there, along with lots of ideas to help
"1 certainly hope so," thought Miri. "New city, new
family; well, at least 1 know the language. They could have
sent me to Guadalupe or Timbuktu!"
She had never met Uncle Yitzchok and Aunty Mimi,
who had visited New York many years ago. They were just
two smiling people in a photo album surrounded by an
assortment of children Miri had never seen. She wondered
what they would be like.
"Well," Chani had said. "Now's your chance to live
with a real family, and not in your own room with
matching furniture. They might even tear up your school-
work to make you truly feel at home."
Miri had laughed as Chani ruefully tried to piece
together Yankie's handiwork from the night before. She
had always envied Chani her rowdy happy family; this
might be fun after all.
Happy dancing creatures crowded Miri's sleepy vision,
finally banishing the Grump, and she fell asleep.
The sounds of an aircraft coming to life slowly prod-
ded Miri awake. She could dimly hear the seat-back trays
clicking down into position and the crackling of plastic
wrappings signaling the arrival of breakfast. The strong
aroma of hot coffee drifted through the cabin as Miri
squinted in the sunlight streaming through the porthole
windows. Uncurling her cramped limbs, she climbed over
Mrs. 'Arris' ample lap, apologizing all the way, and
stamped to wake her feet which felt as if they were still
sound asleep. She groggily made her way to the rear of
the airplane. Thankfully, the usual long line outside the
lavatories had not yet begun to form, and Miri made it
back to her seat before her kosher mini-meal arrived.
The next half hour was a blur of breakfast, clearing
up, and filling in of landing cards aided by the ever-helpful
stewardess. Before Miri knew it, the jumbo jet had broken
through the featherbed of clouds they had been flying
over, and the first glimpse of Great Britain appeared
through patches of fog and low hanging cloud wisps.
The airplane dipped its wings in greeting as it began
to approach Heathrow Airport. What looked like wide
swatches of green cloth below slowly became recognizable
fields of lush farmland, bordered by rows of fences and
shrubbery. Lonely clusters of houses grew into clumps of
civilization, threaded through with strings of streets and
motorways as countryside gave way to town and town to
city. Soon waves of brick red tinged with grey stared up
against a backdrop of grey sky.
"Cities are the same everywhere," Miri thought,
noting in the distance a familiar hodgepodge of cranes
and modern buildings towering over the old skyline. Then
her eyes narrowed as a strange battalion of chimneys
marched into view. Row after row of faceless uniformed
figures, standing stiffly like soldiers at inspection, wel-
comed Miri to a foreign country.
The lump in her throat, that had lodged there so
firmly ever since the last phone call from her father,
inched its way a notch or two higher. Tears pricked the
back of Miri's eyes as she stared down below, blinking
rapidly to prevent them from spilling down her cheeks. A
quick hard swallow sent the lump back to its place and
released the growing pressure in her ears for good mea-
sure. Miri's insides dropped along with the altitude but she
knew it had nothing to do with the landing aircraft.
Another few minutes and her ordeal would begin.
"Chin up, Miri," she whispered fiercely.
"Sure, sure," grumbled another voice. The Grump was
Miri marched stiffly through the airport,
following the WAY OUT signs, and was
relieved to recognize her uncle with his quiet
smile of welcome.
"How did you know I'm me?" Miri asked.
"Well, the same way you knew me, I suppose. We also
have photo albums in our house. Actually, we have a very
nice picture of you at your bas mitzvah party. You're even
wearing the same dress, so I couldn't miss you."
.....end of sample selection
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