Jakob was filling pots with water from the kitchen sink.
“Jakob! What are you doing? We have to go.” Miriam was standing at the kitchen door. “We have to go now!”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Jakob said.
“They are coming. We don’t have time.”
Jakob turned off the faucet.
“Where are we to go?” he asked, staring at the pots filled with water.
“We follow the others.”
“They are young, Miriam. They can run.”
“But if we go now, we don’t have to run.” Miriam went to the sink and put her hand on Jakob’s back. “Jakob, please help me pack.”
He turned his head and looked into her eyes. “It’s too late. I’d rather die in my own home than on the street.”
“You’re not being fair. You know I cannot leave you. It’s my life, too, Jakob, and I say we run and give ourselves a chance to live.”
“I cannot stop you.”
Jakob began filling the pots again and Miriam started to cry.
“I cannot believe you have just given up," she said. "I’m ashamed of you.”
Jakob turned off the water, faced her, and put his hands on her shoulders.
“It’s over for us, Miriam. We are too old. I love you just as I did when I married you, but it’s over.” His eyes filled with tears. “My legs won’t go, my shoulders and fingers hurt. I can’t fight. But together, we can pull the trigger and shoot them as they come in the door.”
“But that won’t stop them from killing us both.”
He pulled her near to his heart and held her. “Miriam, we are both ninety-three. How much longer do we have.” He gently pushed her away so he could look into her eyes. “We have had seventy years. Seventy years, Miriam! Borrowed time.”
“I know,” she whispered.
“They will succeed in doing what Hitler himself could not. But we still had seventy years. That no one can take from us.”
Jakob turned back to the sink and continued to fill every pot, pan, and bowl he could find while Miriam went to look for anything they could use as a weapon. This time, when the enemy came to the door, they would not surrender.
That night, Jakob and Miriam slept on the sofa. He had a rifle on his lap and she held the biggest knife she could find in the kitchen drawer on hers. They kept the lights off. They spoke of things past and were able to share a laugh or two. They could hear people in the streets as they fled the approaching horde.
“Remember Helena?” Jakob asked.
“How could I forget Helena? The angel.”
“Yes, she was an angel. She kept us safe for five years. If she hadn’t…”
“But she did,” Miriam said. “And when they found us, they took her life.”
“Such an angel.”
“Jakob, I can’t remember what she looked like.”
“She had dark hair, I remember that. Dark as night. And blue eyes. She came from America, remember?”
“I remember now. She taught us English so when the war was over, we could come to America.”
“What an angel.”
They fell asleep just before dawn. The streets were empty, and three hours later, the silence woke them.
“It’s so quiet,” Miriam said.
“They’ve all gone,” Jakob said.
It was late autumn, and the chill had entered their joints, making it difficult to move. They each kept a cane beside them at all times. She reached for hers before standing, then struggled to her feet.
“Where are you going?” Jakob said.
“I have to go to the toilet,” she replied.
Jakob held out his hand for her to help him up, but she didn’t notice. She walked away and he shook his head.
“Miriam!” he cried, but she had taken out her hearing aids.
She shuffled to the bathroom, while Jakob wriggled to the edge of his seat. He put his hands next to his thighs and tried to push himself off the sofa. He rocked back and forth so he could use the momentum to propel himself upward. After three rocks, he tried to get up and failed. He grabbed his cane and tried again, but fell back on the sofa. He was just about to try again when he heard a sound.
Old habits learned young never die, and upon hearing a sound in the silence, he stopped moving. For just a second, he thought it was the Gestapo, but he shook his head. He listened as the door opened. How could that be? He had locked it himself, didn’t he. He was trying to remember if he had locked it when he heard footsteps. Whoever it was, they were alone.
He waited as footsteps came down the hall. He was holding his breath. A little girl with light brown curls appeared at the entrance to the living room. She couldn’t have been for than five. She smiled.
“I can’t find my mama,” she said.
“I’m sure she’s looking for you,” Jakob said. “Why don’t we look outside?”
“I did,” the girl said. “I can't find her." The child walked over to Jakob. "Mama told me to wait inside but I was afraid.”
“I know. We are all afraid.”
"She will be angry with me." The girl blushed, and her pale skin took on a rosy hue.
“Now, now,” Jakob said. “Don’t feel bad. When did you see your mama?”
“Last night she put me to bed. When I woke up, she was gone.”
“Well, I’m sure she didn’t go far. No one could leave a pretty girl like you.”
He heard Miriam shuffling toward them. She appeared at the door and smiled when she saw the little girl. She was wearing her hearing aids. She looked at Jakob. “Why, who is this?”
“I don’t know her name," Jakob said.
Miriam looked at the girl. “Who are you?”
The little girl looked at Miriam’s cane. “Why do you need that?”
“My legs don’t always work the way I’d like them to.”
“Do they hurt?”
Miriam nodded. “But not all the time. Just when I walk, or sit, or get up.”
“Do you have a name?” Jakob asked the child. He had succeeded in pushing himself off the couch.
“My mama calls me Elle,” the girl said.
“What a lovely name,” Jakob said.
Miriam looked sad. “Where is your mama?”
The girl's eyes filled with tears. Jakob put his hand on the child's shoulder.
“She said her mama put her to bed last night and was gone this morning.”
“No woman leaves a child alone,” Miriam said.
Large tears rolled down Elle's cheeks, then Miriam started to cry.
“No,” Jakob said. “Don’t cry. Stop, Miriam.”
Elle bent her head forward and looked at the floor. Her hair covered her eyes, and Jakob gently pushed it away from her face. He smiled.
"Are you hungry?" he asked. Elle nodded. “Then we must find you something to eat.”
“Jakob, we don’t have much food.”
“I’m sure she won’t eat much,” he said. He held out his hand to Elle. “Give me your hand.”
Elle took it and he led her to the kitchen with Miriam following close behind.
“Sit,” Jakob said, and Elle went to the table and sat. Miriam stood at the kitchen door looking worried. Jakob opened a cabinet above the stove. “I think we have some cereal left, but no milk. Can you eat dry cereal, Elle?”
“Yes,” Elle said.
“You must eat what we give you and not waste it,” Miriam said.
“I’m sure she will. She looks like a good girl who keeps her word.”
Elle kicked her legs back and forth. The sound echoed through the kitchen, and Miriam put her finger to her lips.
“Shhh,” she said. “No noise.”
Elle frowned and stopped. “I’m sorry.”
“Just be quiet,” Miriam said. She walked over to the chair opposite Elle and sat.
“Do you want some tea, Miriam?” Jakob asked.
“No,” she replied.
“What do you want to eat?”
“I’m not hungry yet,” Miriam said.
“But you have to eat. You’ll get sick if you don’t eat.”
“Jakob, I said I wasn’t hungry.”
“Fine, you’re not hungry.”
He brought a bowl filled with Cheerios to the table. Elle began to eat them one at a time while Miriam watched. Miriam began to bite her lower lip.
“That’s a good girl,” Jakob said.
Miriam looked up at him. She was just about to tell him she would like some Cheerios, too, but she stopped when she saw his face. He looked different. His face was smoother. It was a subtle change only a woman who’d lived with him for such a long time would see, but a change nevertheless. She narrowed her eyes.
“Jakob, what happened to your face?”
“What face? What are you talking about?”
“Go look in the mirror.”
Jakob had rested his cane on the table when he brought Elle her cereal. When he went to look in the mirror, he forgot to take it with him. Miriam looked at it and wondered why he had forgotten it. He returned from the bathroom with a puzzled look on his face.
“I do look a little different, don’t I?”
Miriam struggled to her feet, putting all her weight on the table. She reached out her hand and touched Jakob's face. The skin was soft.
“What is happening to you?” she asked. “You look younger.”
“You are imagining things,” he said, but he was wondering himself.
“May I have something to drink?” Elle asked.
Jakob put his hand on top of her head. “I only have water.”
“May I have some water?”
“Yes, you may.”
He walked to the cabinets above the counter and took a small glass from the shelf. He filled it with water and brought it to Elle. He never touched his cane, and Miriam couldn’t take her eyes off him. He was walking faster than before and didn’t groan in pain.
“Jakob, your cane.” His back was to her, and she was staring at his head. The white now had streaks of brown. “Your hair.”
He turned to look at her, and when Miriam saw him, her eyes grew wide. “My God, your face!” she said.
He went to her and put his hands on her arms. “Are you all right?”
She was swaying, and he helped her back to her chair. She kept looking at his face and shaking her head.
“Go, look in the mirror again,” she said.
He left her and ran to the bathroom. He felt strong. As he looked in the mirror, he gasped. There were some tiny wrinkles left around his eyes, but his jawline was taut and smooth. His hair was now almost entirely brown with bits of gray near his ears. He touched his arm. The muscles were smooth and tight. He took off his shirt and saw brown chest hair. He flexed his arm muscle and a hump appeared. He was young again! He put his shirt back on and ran to the kitchen.
“Miriam!” he cried. “I’m young again.”
She looked at her husband of seventy years and wept. “But I am still old.”
He went to her side and knelt down. “And I still love you. You are still the girl I married.”
She couldn’t look at him. All she could think of were her wrinkled face and withered body.
“How did this happen?” she said.
“I don’t know. It’s some kind of miracle.” Then he looked at Elle. “I touched the child.”
Miriam looked at Jakob, then at Elle.
“You have to touch her, Miriam. You have to touch her right now.”
He got up and helped her out of the chair. He held her as she walked to Elle and she put her hand on the child’s head.
“Keep it there,” he said.
Miriam kept her hand on Elle’s head, but nothing happened.
“It’s not working,” she said. “Why isn’t it working?”
“When I touched her, it was with affection. What are you feeling?”
Resentment at her eating my food, she thought. Miriam began to cry. “My heart isn’t good. I’d deprive a child of food so I can live.”
Jakob hugged her, and she felt his chest against her. She recalled her virile, young husband and wept again. She wanted to hold him as she did when they were young. She looked at Elle. The girl had almost finished eating her cereal.
Let it go, Miriam thought. Let it go. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear. But I’m afraid. I’ve been afraid for seventy years. I never let it go.
Miriam put her hand on Elle’s head and stroked it. She smiled. “You have beautiful hair.”
“Thank you,” Elle said. “Mama likes my hair, too.”
“We will find your mama,” Jakob said.
Miriam was standing without her cane. Jakob looked at her face, and some of the lines around her eyes began to fade.
“Miriam, it’s happening to you now.”
Miriam quickly walked to the bathroom and looked at her face. Joy filled her heart. She stayed in front of the mirror a long time, and when her hair had turned brown, she went back to her Jakob. He looked at the love of his life and tears filled his eyes.
“Oh, my wife, you are so lovely.”
Miriam came to him, and they kissed. Theirs had been a passionate union, and the kiss aroused feelings they’d both thought were far behind them.
“Mama says a storm is coming” Elle said.
Jakob pulled away from Miriam and looked out the window. “But the sky is clear, Elle.”
“She said we have to find a safe place.”
“Maybe that's where you mama went,” he said.
“Why do they want to hurt us?” Elle asked.
“Because they are selfish, greedy pigs,” Miriam said.
Jakob looked at Miriam. "She's a child, Miriam."
"And I won't lie to her."
Jakob looked at Elle. "They are afraid of us, Elle. They think we will take what they have."
Miriam and Jakob were standing side by side. Elle looked at them and smiled. “You look different.”
They smiled, and Jakob put his arm around Miriam. “Yes, we do.”
A woman appeared at the kitchen door.
“I’m sorry to intrude,” she said. “I was looking for my daughter and your door was open." The woman saw Elle and smiled. "Elle, why did you leave the house? I’ve been worried sick about you.”
Jakob was watching Elle as the woman spoke, but Miriam was looking at the woman's clothes. She dress was long, and her shoes were high and buttoned. Miriam then looked at Elle. She, too, wore high shoes and a dress that went to her ankles. Miriam studied Elle’s face.
“Oh, my God,” she said.
“Thank you for keeping an eye on her,” the woman said.
“Don’t mention it,” Jakob said. “She was a good girl.”
The woman took Elle by the hand and led her out of the kitchen. Jakob and Miriam followed them to the front door, and as Elle and her mother walked away from the house, Elle turned and waved.
“She has saved us again,” Miriam said.
“What are you talking about?”
“The angel has saved us again.”
Jakob looked at Elle and her mother. As he watched, they evaporated into thin air.
“Oh, my God,” he said.
“Now, Jakob, will you run?”
They went inside the house and grabbed the bags Miriam had packed the day before. Their neighbors had a day’s head start, but with their strong, new legs, it took them no time at all to catch up.