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by Sharmagne Leland-St. John
Her father came to her and as he gently shook her awake, he told
her to hurry. They had to leave immediately.
In the dim light from the full moon, she could tell her sister, Liesel,
was already up and dressed or she had slept in her clothes. It was
cold in the room. Her small feet hit the icy floor, and she began to
shiver. She put her dress over her head with Liesel's help and then
stood still while her older sister buttoned the tiny, shiny black buttons
running down the front of her bodice.
She heard whispering in the next room and then her mother was
there with her coat.
"Here, put this on and don't take it off unless I tell you to." Her
mother guided her small thin arms into the sleeves of the old gray
wool coat that had once been a fine new coat with matching hat and
muff, and a favourite of her sister's until she out grew it.
Now it belonged to Lily and even though it was oceans too big
for her, she loved the way it smelled of winter, and it was delicately
scented with the rose soap her sister had once used to bathe before
the rationing had begun. She placed her hand onto the bedside
table feeling for her gilt and enameled locket, a very special gift
from her grandmother. Then she remembered. Her mother had
taken it away from her and put it on top of the pile on the dining
room table with the other family heirlooms.
Now the coat was heavy with the pieces of jewelry her mother and
Tanté Annie had sewn into the hem. The same aunt who had
stitched the yellow star onto her coat sleeve when she had turned
10 last month.
Two days ago her Uncle Dolek had arrived from Lodz. She didn't hear
what the grownups were talking about, but she remembered her mother's
Now her aunts and uncles appeared in the doorway. Tanté Annie
handed her a parcel tied with twine, then gave her sister a book bag
stuffed with food they had hoarded, even though they could have
Now she had her shoes and stockings on and her mother was trying
to feed the brown laces through the eyelet, but the aglet was
missing and the cord frayed.
He father's shadow fell over them.
"Come, we have not time for this. I told you to keep everything
ready. She should have slept with her shoes on!"
Her mother tucked the laces into the shoe and gave her a pat on the
"That will have to do, Liebchen"
With Uncle Dolek leading and her father the last, they went single
file down the dark staircase of what had once been their own home.
Now they shared it with other families, people they didn't even
know before the occupation.
As they walked quickly and silently down the wet deserted street,
she thought of her grandmother whose picture was inside one half
of the locket. In the other half was a picture of a man she had
never seen. It was her grandfather. He had died before she was
The night of her birthday as she lay in the bed she shared with her
sister, she opened the locket and saw that the picture on the right side
of the locket, the image of her grandfather, was not there.
She looked in the bed and on the floor to see if it had slipped out.
Then when she looked at the left side of the locket, she was
surprised to see that her grandmother's picture had changed. She
was young and smiling and had her arms around a young soldier.
Lily looked over at her sister sleeping beside her, and decided Liesel
had changed the picture as a joke.
Lily put the locket back onto the table and went to sleep. The next
morning when she went to put the locket on, she peeped inside and
saw her grandmother's familiar face gazing out at her and
grandfather’s picture was back where it belonged.
One morning, in the days that followed her birthday, when Tanté
Annie had helped her to fasten the clasp she hugged her and told
her that they had received news from Lodz that Gran had died in
her sleep the night of Lily’s birthday.
Tanté Annie and her mother took turns holding her until her tears
That night when she took the locket off she slipped her fingernail
gently under the gilt edge to open it and as she slowly lifted one
side, she heard faint music emanating from inside the locket. She
looked first at her grandmother’s side of the locket but it was bare.
She quickly turned her eyes to her grandfather’s side and there they
were. Gran was dressed in a long velvet gown, she had feathers in
her hair and Grandfather was in formal attire. They were dancing.
Lily watched them fascinated. A slow waltz was playing. Lily
turned the locket over and over again in her hand trying to discover
if it had a miniscule music box in it.
Lily carefully closed the locket so the music would not awaken
Liesel. That night she fell asleep with the locket in her hand.
In the morning when she found the locket down at the foot of the
bed, she opened it and saw Gran and Grandfather in their proper
places solemnly gazing out at the wallpapered room.
After that, every time she opened the locket at night, they were
together doing something fun with each other. Gran and
Grandfather in a garden. She in a beautiful puff sleeved ruffled
white dress, her long hair flowing out behind her, laughing; he in a
linen suit pushing her on a wooden swing. Resting in each other’s
arms on a picnic blanket. Sometimes, they were in a gaily painted
rowboat on the Vistula, Grandmother’s parasol filling the frame.
Grandfather rowing, his sleeves rolled up with striped garters.
Lily had never told anyone what she had discovered. Tonight as she
scrambled along the cold dark street, she was certain she heard the
first delicate strains of a waltz.