“Why do you look so sad?” she said.
“Because you’re not going to like it.”
“No?” she asked.
“No.” He turned out the light and began to unbutton his pajama top. When he saw her sitting there without moving, he said, “You too.”
“Do I have to?” She and Jurgi had swam and played naked at the pond just outside of their town, but that had been years ago. Her body had changed since then. So had his.
“Yes.” The sound of his voice, so sad and grown up, had made Ida afraid for the first time. But she took off the white, embroidered nightgown she wore and did as he asked. She did not cry out loud because she did not want to hurt his feelings. He knew anyway, and used his hand to rub at the tears that leaked from the corners of her eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said into her hair. “So sorry.”
Nine months later, she delivered a fat, beautiful baby boy with butter blond ringlets and blue stars for eyes. They called him Petras, and they all doted on him. “He’ll be the one to save you,” Ida’s mother had predicted. “You’ll see. He’ll save us all.” But she was wrong. Jurgi and his parents were deported first, sent away on a train belching smoke and crammed with anxious, fearful people. Ida and her family went next. Handing little Petras over to the guard had been the worst moment in Ida’s life; she would have collapsed had it not been for her mother’s firm grip just under her elbow. “Give him the cap and the socks,” her mother said in an unfamiliar, steely voice. Ida did as she was told. Petras looked startled; then he smiled, his chubby little hand reaching for a brass button on the guard’s coat.
For years afterward, Ida allowed herself to think that her boy had been saved, shielded by his gold hair and blue eyes. Some barren German woman, longing for a child, would claim him, and call him her own. She’d rename him—Franz or Albrecht or even Adolf. Ida didn’t care as long as he was alive, somewhere. Every year on his birthday, she’d open the grayed, tattered birth certificate she’d folded and tucked in her shoe and kept against all odds at the camp, even though she’d been so hungry at times she’d been tempted to eat it. She would trace the letters of his name, and hers and Jurgi’s too. Jurgi was dead, along with the rest of his family and hers. She was the only one to survive the war.
Afterwards, she’d been sent to a DP camp in Belgium where she’d met a man who, like her, had lost everyone. They married ten days later, and gone first to Cuba and eventually New York. He’d been a bitter, haunted soul though who in those years was not? Ida thought that Andy’s birth would change things. She’d been like her mother in that way, believing that a baby could save them. And like her mother, she’d been wrong. Her husband had not been much of father to Andy while he was with them and even less so when he left.
Ida looked at the slip of paper she carried. Here was the house. It was made of brick, and very handsome, though she could see that the steps leading to the double doors were not in good repair. But the window boxes, like miniature gardens, were the prettiest on the block and the Japanese maple in front was as graceful as a girl. This is it. She had to compose herself before she rang the bell; so much depended on this meeting. Grasping the black iron railing, Ida mounted the stairs.