Chava didn’t call Evie like she was supposed to, and she didn’t come out of her room when her parents called for her. She sat all of Wednesday and all of Thursday morning with the single framed picture in her hands, the picture of her parents’ wedding that she couldn’t understand. She had pried the picture out of the frame and searched the back for any writing, perhaps for a secret letter hidden in the frame, but of course there was nothing. She had gone back to her parents’ room again after they left for work and searched through every single photo in the drawer, including the ones with her and the mystery man, but there was nothing. There were pictures of her parents from college, with regular 80’s haircuts and hippy clothing, complete with peace sign necklaces and flower crowns. But as she searched, Chava had slowly realized that a period of her parents’ life seemed to be missing. There were no engagement photos, no wedding photos besides for the one she held, and no photos of her mother’s pregnancy or Chava’s birth. The next earliest picture she could find was labeled “Ava’s Fourth Birthday, Jersey Shore, 1996,” written in her mother’s dainty cursive. It showed Chava as a toddler in a bathing suit, wearing two arm floaties and smacking her small palm on a pile of sand. Beside her stood her mother in a pink bathing suit and a sun hat, smiling. Her father’s leg was slightly out of focus.
Chava shook her head, dropping the photo onto her lap. She didn’t understand how to connect the people in the wedding photo with the people in this picture from the beach. Even more, she didn’t know how she was going to show this at the art class tonight. This all seemed so much more important than facing the judgement of a bunch of artists, but she couldn’t work up the courage to ask her parents. That would mean facing them, telling them that not only had she been avoiding them, but that she had also gone through all of their things in search of answers.
At exactly fifteen minutes before five, Evie honked her horn outside Chava’s window, and Chava quickly ran downstairs, the framed photo wrapped in newspaper and tucked under her arm.
“Way to call me yesterday,” Evie said as Chava buckled herself in.
Chava forced a laugh. “You know, too busy with all of my friends.”
“I’m sure,” Evie said. “Ready for tonight?”
Evie chattered about her brother’s upcoming birthday party, and Chava stared out the window at the passing trees. Was she really about to get up in front of a bunch of strangers and present this photo which had suddenly become the center of her life? What would she say? This is the photo of the aliens who replaced my parents at their wedding?
When they arrived, Chava took her seat under her stark white “name” paper, and examined the name art of those around her. Some had drawn actual objects or places, while others had just made explosions of color. Evie’s was a sunburst in orange and yellow. Chava set her newspaper-covered picture on the wooden table. Evie slipped in next to her.
“Your name art is different,” she said.
Chava snorted. “It’s art, don’t judge me.”
The music in the room got softer, and Zoe entered.
“Good afternoon class,” she said. “I hope you’ve all brought your pictures. Before we begin, I’d like you all to take your name cards and move three seats away from the person next to you. Art is about creativity, and sometimes changing your surroundings can help bring out the best.”
Chava’s stomach immediately dropped, and she clutched Evie’s arm.
“I can’t sit somewhere else,” she whispered. But someone else was already trying to edge her out of her seat, and Evie was being pulled away from her. She mouthed “I’m sorry.” Chava picked up her white paper and her picture and moved to the next table, her insides like ice.
There was a man and a woman sitting across from her, and each nodded at her. Chava could barely make herself nod back. Her eyes desperately searched the room for Evie.
“You have the entire class to work with those around you to make a fusion of your name and your picture. You can use any medium other than pastel drawing. At the end of class, everyone will present their finished work. You may begin.”
The man and woman introduced themselves as Henry and Jessica respectively, and each talked about their name and their picture. Chava watched numbly, dreading the moment they would look to her to speak. Chatter began to fill up the room, and as Henry and Jessica continued to talk and the time for the class dwindled, Chava hoped that maybe they would run out of time for her turn.
“What’s your name, again?”
Chava pretended like she hadn’t heard. She stared intently at the newspaper covering her picture. Who knew that the President had recently visited Germany?
“Hey,” Jessica tapped Chava’s hand. “What did you say your name was?”
Chava glanced up at them from underneath her eyelashes.
“Ava,” she said.
“What’s your picture?”
Chava felt defeated as she slowly unwrapped the newspaper. She turned the picture so that the others could see it and pushed it towards them.
“Cool picture,” Henry said. “Your name card is all white. Is there a reason you chose white?”
Chavakept her eyes down. “White fit.” She had no idea what she was saying, but figured that if she could just keep talking, eventually they would leave her alone.
“Are these your grandparents?” Henry asked.
“My parents,” she said, tracing her hand on the edge of the frame.
“Yeah? I guess they had a really orthodox wedding.”
“What?” Chava’s gaze shot up to his. “A what wedding?”
“Orthodox,” Henry said. “Like, religious Jews, you know?”
Chava slowly shook her head.
“Religious Jews?” The question echoed. A faint rushing began in her ears and made her feel like she was swimming through thick water.
Henry gave her a weird look before turning the picture to face her and pointing at the white canopy.
“Your parents had a chuppa. And look, he’s wearing the white robe and black hat. I have a picture like this of my grandparents from Europe. This is a very traditional Jewish wedding.”
Chava didn’t know what a chuppa was, and she certainly didn’t know what the robe or hat meant, and she absolutely knew that her parents were not religious anything. She slid the picture back towards her side of the table.
“Thanks,” she said. Henry nodded, and Chava stared so hard at the picture she was surprised it didn’t burst into flames. She gripped the edges of the wooden work table to keep herself from falling sideways. None of this made any sense. Nothing was adding up. Zoe announced that the time for the class was almost up, and Chava grabbed the closest pencil and began to scribble quickly on her name card.
When Zoe called time, Chava was nearly sweating, and her cheeks were bright red from her effort. She felt exhausted, tears sitting on the edges of her eyelids. Her head was still swimming, and she watched each student present their work through a film, as if she was hearing them all from a great distance. She hardly even paid attention to Evie, and didn’t notice that Zoe had called her name until Jessica poked her twice and told her to stand up.
Without thinking about it, Chava walked to the middle of the room, as only the music students had done to perform their short musical pieces. She sat on a small stool and looked at the class. She flipped her paper and showed everyone the white pastel with the penciled in words, written erratically all over the paper.
“Interesting,” Zoe said. “Can you explain what’s going on here?”
Chava blinked. “No,” she said after a minute. “No, I can’t.”
Zoe was silent, and Chava began to read the words on her paper.
“Ava,” she said. “Ava, with a ‘ch’ like in Chanuka. Chanuka, Chuppa, flowers, beaches, hats, and missing years. What is Ava and who is Chava?”
The class stared at Chava and she stared back at them, willing herself not to look at Evie, whose gaze was burning holes in her side. Chava stood.
“Thank you,” she said, and walked back to her seat with her head down and her arms stiffly at her sides.
Zoe moved on to another student, and soon they were being dismissed. Chava gathered her picture and re-wrapped it, meeting Evie at the top of the steps.
“So,” Evie said.
“Fun class, right?”
“So,” Evie said again.
“I don’t know if I want to talk about it,” Chava said.
Evie nodded, but as they got in the car, she began to drive in the wrong direction.
“Where are we going?” Chava asked.
“I just thought we could talk for a bit before you go home and brood.”
“I’m not brooding,” Chava said.
“You can fool Zoe but you can’t fool me.”
There was silence in the car as Evie continued to drive, until Chava finally realized where they were going.
“I want to go home, Evie.”
“We’ll just be here a minute,” Evie said. She pulled her car into a spot facing the slowly setting sun. Chava got out against her will and followed Evie up the path, through the tall grasses that were waving in the gentle breeze. The glow of the sun was reflected in the water of Spruce Lake, where she and Evie had used to come to fly kites as children. When they had gotten older and learned to drive, they would come here at night to talk about school, boys, and what they wanted in their lives.
Evie stood on the banks of the lake, facing the water, away from Chava.
“You didn’t draw anything on your paper,” Evie said.
“I colored it,” Chava said, kicking a rock with her toe. “It was white.”
“I never really asked about your name before,” Evie said.
“I never did, either.”
Evie sat down on the grass and spread her hand out over the blades. “I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what I want to do next.”
Chava sat next to her. “You’re going to Stony Brook,” she said.
“Yeah, I know. But before that. You know I saved up a ton of money from working at Applebee’s? I think I want to travel with it.”
“What?” Chava turned to face her.
“Yeah,” Evie said. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I want to go travel through Europe, maybe for the rest of the summer. I want that experience before I start college. I want to feel free.”
Chava opened her mouth and then closed it. “Gone the whole summer?” She said.
“I’ve been looking at a lot of places,” Evie said. “Venice, Rome, Amsterdam, Paris, London. I mean, when will I ever get to see them? I have the money and the time now.”
Chava threw a stick out over the darkening water and they both watched it sink.
“When would—I mean, when would you go?”
“Soon, I don’t know. As soon as I can get everything together.”
“We’ve never spent a summer apart,” Chava said.
“No, we haven’t.”
They sat quietly on the banks of the lake as stars began to appear in the sky.
“You should come with me, Ava.”
Chava began to shake her head. “I don’t know, Evie—”
“I want you to come. I want to have this experience with you.”
“I just don’t know—” There was a catch in her throat. She had been hoping for so many things for this summer, for discovery, for new chances, but now she felt stuck, confused by what she couldn’t understand about her past and too afraid to discover what lay ahead.
“You think about it.” Evie patted her hand.
“I will,” Chava said, but she knew she wouldn’t. Whatever was going to happen to her was waiting at home, somewhere in between a dusty picture frame and her unpronounceable name.
to be continued…