“Chaveleh,” cried Hodel, and – to her shame, to her horror – Chava hesitated, because how could this haggard, hollow-eyed woman possibly be round-faced, lovely Hodel?
It was only a moment, though, and then Chava tumbled into her sister's arms and let herself simply cry into the rough wool of her shoulder. She had a sister, she had an older sister, and a hole that she had been ignoring for four years was aching too deeply to be ignored any more.
When she finally lifted up her leaking eyes and runny nose again, she saw Fyedka already shaking Perchik's hand, looking impossibly blonde and enthusiastic and Russian. “Um,” she said. “Hodel, Perchik, this is my husband – Fyedka. Fyedka, this is --”
“I have heard so much about you!” exclaimed Fyedka, and Perchik laughed. If Hodel was gaunt, Perchik was nearly skeletal, but the brightness of his eyes seemed unchanged.
“I should hope so. It only seems fair, after all that work, that you would have some idea of what you were getting.”
There seemed no need for intervention. Perchik had seemed not even to notice anything amiss – but then, Perchik was a radical with wild ideas, he never had noticed the same things other people did. Chava slanted a nervous glance at Hodel. Hodel looked ruefully back at her; it was impossible to tell what she thought, with her changed face, but she placed a hand on Chava's shoulder. “Things are different,” she said, quietly, “for all of us.”
They moved into a two-room apartment so that Perchik could use the front room as a school, teaching children how Haman and Pharaoh embodied the oppression of the ruling classes. Chava attempted to turn every piece of coin Fyedka or Perchik brought home into four by staring at it and hoping, and regularly failed in the attempt; then she and Hodel would turn the coin instead into thin soup and secondhand clothes. At night, Chava and Fyedka and Hodel and Perchik slept on their pallets on opposite sides of their tiny shared bedroom, and tried valiantly to pretend that they each were alone.
“It could be worse,” said Hodel to Chava, one day. “We could be Mama and Papa, with five half-grown daughters in the next room. I never realized how frustrating that must have been for them.”
Chava blushed, as she always had when Hodel made her daring comments. She could see Hodel laughing at her, and willed her face to be mature and dignified, as befitted a grown woman. “I don't know,” she protested, “that that's even something two wives should talk about.”
“Only one wife,” said Hodel, and Chava jerked her head up to stare at her, stomach lurching.
Hodel met her eyes, almost defiantly, and Chava's stomach settled a little as she realized Hodel had not meant what she thought she had meant. She had never thought Hodel would feel the need to defend herself to her. “I promised Papa I would be married under a chuppah,” said Hodel. “I'm sure it will surprise you to know that it's not so easy to find those in a prison colony.”
“Hodel,” said Chava, uncertainly.
“And in a prison colony,” said Hodel, “it gets very cold.”
Chava swallowed. “I was not married under a chuppah either,” she said, awkwardly. “But if you would like – I could help you to be.”
Hodel looked at her for a moment, and then her eyes abruptly sparked again with laughter. “On the one hand,” she said, sonorously, in their father's tones, “we can hardly afford the cost of a wedding.”
She looked at Chava expectantly, who floundered for a moment – this was where Tzeitel would normally have jumped in, with her wicked smile and her gift for mimicry – but then grinned back, and intoned, “On the other hand, if you can't spend more than you can afford on a wedding, what's worth spending money on at all?”
“On the other hand,” said Perchik, sticking his head in through the door, “marriage is still a social institution that I'm in favor of, on political principles.”
Hodel flapped her hands at him, waving him out again. “Fool, that's the same hand again! You're doing it wrong, leave this to the experts.”
Chava felt laughter gurgling up in her stomach. She flopped back on the pallet and laughed and laughed and laughed, as if she were crying. Hodel came over and put an arm around her, and Chava flopped her head down on her sister's shoulder and laughed some more.
“I miss Papa,” she choked out, in between giggling breaths. “I miss Mama.”
“We'll write to them,” said Hodel, “and tell them about the wedding.”
So I wanted to write about Purim in this fic, but I didn't really have the opportunity . . . I hope you enjoy these Purim snippets!