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Authors: Brenda A. Ferber

Julia’s Kitchen

BOOK: Julia’s Kitchen
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Title Page

Copyright Notice

A Note to the Reader


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve




A Note to the Reader

A number of Hebrew and Yiddish terms appear throughout this story. A glossary can be found


For Alan, with love


The last picture I glued into my scrapbook that Sunday morning at Marlee's was of Mom, Dad, Janie, and me at a Cubs game in the summer. I had given my camera to a lady sitting in front of us, and she had snapped a good one. We were all smiling, no one blinked, and you could even see the mustard Janie had dripped on her shirt.

“Cute picture, Cara,” Marlee said. We were sprawled on her bedroom floor, surrounded by papers, stickers, markers, and glue.

“Thanks,” I said. “Will you help me write ‘Go Cubs!' here, but turn the ‘o' into a baseball and the exclamation mark into a bat?” Marlee was much more artistic than I was, and I loved her handwriting.

“Sure,” Marlee said as she picked up a blue marker.

Just then we heard Marlee's mom call from the kitchen, “Pancakes, hot off the griddle!”

Mrs. Rosen didn't have to ask us twice. We left our scrapbooks and headed into the kitchen, where Marlee's mom served up pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse heads.

Marlee rolled her eyes and cut the ears off her pancake right away. “She is so embarrassing,” Marlee whispered.

I laughed and nodded. Mrs. Rosen's first name was Minnie, and she loved everything Disney. Now that we were eleven, it drove Marlee crazy, but I still thought it was funny.

The phone rang, and Mrs. Rosen picked it up while I smothered my pancake with maple syrup. I was about to pop a bite into my mouth when I heard her gasp.

Marlee and I looked up. Mrs. Rosen turned her back to us. “Oh no,” she said into the phone. “Oh … no…”

The next batch of pancakes started smoking on the griddle. Marlee and I stared at each other. Max, Marlee's twelve-year-old brother, came into the kitchen, wrinkled his nose, and said, “What's burning?”

“Shh!” Marlee and I both said at once. We pointed with our eyes toward Mrs. Rosen, who turned off the electric griddle but left the pancakes smoldering while she continued her phone conversation. She kept saying “Yes,” “I see,” and “Oh no.” Then she said, “I'm so sorry, David.”

That was when my stomach dropped. David was my dad.

Mrs. Rosen hung up the phone and slowly scraped the pancakes into the sink. The room became silent. The smell of burnt pancakes filled the air. Ten loud seconds ticked by on the Alice in Wonderland kitchen clock.

Then Mrs. Rosen turned and walked toward me. She sat down and touched my hand. “Cara, honey, that was your dad. He's at the hospital.”

“Is he okay?” I asked, my heart racing.

“He's fine,” Mrs. Rosen said. She took a deep breath. “But early this morning there was a fire. At your house.”

“A fire?”

Mrs. Rosen nodded. “You need to go to the hospital. I'll take you there.”

Suddenly I felt sick to my stomach. “What about my mom? And Janie? Are they okay?”

Mrs. Rosen pressed her lips together. “Your dad just wanted me to get you to the hospital, sweetie. I really don't know all the details, but we can be there in five minutes. Okay?”

“I'm coming, too,” Marlee said.

“No,” Mrs. Rosen said. “You'll stay here.”

I dressed quickly and got into Mrs. Rosen's minivan, and we headed to Walden Hospital. Even in my winter coat, hat, and gloves, I couldn't stop shaking. Mrs. Rosen tapped her fingers on the steering wheel as we drove.

I pictured Janie, just eight years old, and my mom in hospital beds hooked up to tubes and machines. I concentrated on that picture. I imagined it floating up to God and poking him in his side.
Take care of them,
I thought.

I was used to picturing disasters. I did it a lot. Once, Mom and Dad went to a friend's wedding in San Diego, and Janie and I had to stay with Nana and Papa in Chicago. Even though we lived just a few suburbs away from them, they were not our favorite grandparents. I wondered what might happen if Mom and Dad didn't come back. Would we be stuck with Nana and Papa forever? All weekend long I imagined our parents' plane crashing or their hotel blowing up. When they finally got home safely, I felt so grateful. And, in a way, powerful. It was as if my worries had acted like little whispers in God's ear, nudging him into action.

It worked so well that I tried it again. And again. And again. Every time I worried, things turned out fine. I figured I was God's helper. I worried, and he swooped in to take care of everything. In the last couple of years I'd prevented hundreds of car crashes, kidnappings, and murders with my morbid imagination.

I had to admit, though, this time was different. This time the bad thing had already happened. I'd never thought to worry about a fire. So now I could only wonder if God had been there, helping.
Please, God, tell me you helped my family this morning,
I prayed.

But my gut told me Mom and Janie were not okay. Mrs. Rosen would have said so if they were. Or she would have turned on the radio, or made small talk, or something. Instead, she just kept glancing at me with a face full of concern, saying nothing at all.

I stared out the window at the morning light. The sun reflected off the freshly fallen snow, making it so bright it hurt my eyes. How different from the gray January days we'd been having. Maybe God was giving me a sign. Maybe everything would be okay. I took a deep breath and told myself to calm down. Everything would be fine. It had to be.

*   *   *

My legs wobbled as we rushed into the emergency waiting room and looked around. There were two firefighters talking to an old man who was slumped in a chair with his face in his hands. He lifted his head, and I stopped in my tracks. It was Dad. His hair looked gray instead of brown. His eyes were red and puffy. His whole face looked older, like Papa's.

“Dad,” I said, running into his arms, “what happened?”

Dad held me close. He smelled like smoke. My stomach tightened. He didn't say anything for a minute. Then in a gravelly voice he mumbled into my hair, “There was a fire. A big fire.”

I pulled away. “I know, I know. But where are Mom and Janie? Can I see them?”

The taller firefighter touched Dad's shoulder. “Mr. Segal,” he said, “we can finish this later. Take your time with your daughter.” He walked away with the other firefighter and Mrs. Rosen. Dad and I were left alone in the waiting room.

“Cara,” he said softly, “I don't know how to … I'm sorry, I…” He sighed and looked at the floor.

I could barely breathe. “What?” I demanded. “Tell me.”

Dad held both my hands and looked straight at me. “Mom and Janie didn't make it, Cara. They didn't make it out of the house.”

My heart stopped.

I felt as if I were falling through the floor. I shook my head—
no, no, no
—and searched Dad's face for something that would make sense. “What do you mean?” I said. “What happened?”

He ran his hands through his hair. “They brought them here. They tried to save them. But they … I'm sorry, Cara. It was too late.”

“What do you mean?” I repeated, my voice growing stronger. “That can't be right!” The room started spinning, and I thought I was going to throw up. I pounded my fists against his chest. “Please, Daddy, tell me it's not true!”

I heard a buzzing in my ears, and then a high-pitched wail. A nurse came over and said, “Shh, honey, shh, it's all right,” and then I realized I was the one making that sound. But I couldn't stop.

I felt Dad's arms around me. Mom and Janie couldn't really be dead, I thought. I just saw them yesterday.
Where were you, God? Where were you when my house was burning?

*   *   *

Mrs. Rosen drove us the thirty minutes from the hospital to Nana and Papa's apartment in Chicago. When we walked in, my grandparents hugged me, but I didn't hug them back. I just stood there, staring at their orange shag carpeting, wondering how these old boring people could be alive if Mom and Janie were dead.

The apartment smelled like cooked broccoli, and Dad still smelled like smoke, and the two smells combined to make me nauseous. I went straight to the only comfortable place to sit—an oversized green chair that felt like velvet. Janie and I used to fight over that seat all the time. She'd yell, “I call the chair,” as soon as we stepped through the front door. Then I'd say, “No calling,” and beat her to the spot, sprawling out in it.

But now as I curled up in the chair, it seemed so big. Big enough to share.

I pretended there was a magic wall around me. I could see out, but nobody could see in. I became small. I became invisible.

Everyone whispered. They whispered about the fire, the hospital, and the funeral arrangements. No TV, no radio—just whispers interrupted by the telephone. Whenever it rang, I imagined Mom was calling to say she'd be over as soon as she picked up Janie from soccer or something. Marlee called, but I didn't want to talk to her. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I didn't want to think. I didn't want to breathe. I just wanted Mom and Janie.

That's how the first day passed.

*   *   *

The next day was Monday, a school day. I didn't go. I took my spot on the green chair first thing in the morning and picked at my nails. I realized I hadn't eaten since Saturday night or said a word to anyone since we left the hospital. Nana had made me drink some water, but it had tasted bad, like stale ice. A nagging question kept running through my head: How did Dad get out of the house without Mom and Janie? I wanted to ask him, but I couldn't. Dad seemed like a different person, like a faded photograph of himself.

I thought of all my photographs, all my scrapbooks, lost in the fire. I was left with only the one scrapbook and the box of supplies I'd taken to Marlee's.

Some friends of Nana and Papa's and a few people from our synagogue came by, including Rabbi Newlin. They brought casseroles and coffee cakes. Dad shook their hands and nodded politely from his seat next to the phone. I pretended to sleep behind my magic wall so they wouldn't talk to me. All the while I thought about Mom and Janie.

I saw Janie wearing her Cubs hat and throwing a ball in the air. I saw her playing soccer and running faster than any of the kids in her class, even faster than Justin Wittenberg, her best friend. I saw her sitting with Dad, watching sports on TV. I saw her leaning in the doorway of my room. Usually I'd tell her to get out, quit pestering me. But if I had nothing to do, I'd invite her in and she would look through my scrapbooks and laugh at my captions, and I'd feel cool.

I saw Mom in the kitchen, her curly brown hair pulled back in a ponytail like mine. I saw her cheeks smudged with flour or chocolate. A smile on her face. Baking. Always baking. Last year, after her cookies sold out faster than anything else at my school's Valentine's Day bake sale, she started her own business, Julia's Kitchen. She made gift baskets filled with her cookies and brownies. I helped whenever I could. She said I was her official egg-cracker and her unofficial spoon-licker.

BOOK: Julia’s Kitchen
8.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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