by S. Nadja Zajdman
It was the dead of winter. It was Saturday morning. In the afternoon I was scheduled to perform in a Children’s Theatre production at Victoria Hall. The drama queen in me is tempted to declare that a storm was raging but truth be told, the blizzard had passed. Our cozy corner of North America was transformed into a dark and deserted region of mountainous snow.
The metro system did not yet exist. Neither did snowploughs. The buses weren’t rolling. The buses weren’t moving. Nothing was moving. Or so it seemed.
My parents and I were huddled around the kitchen table. Breakfast was over, but argument was not. Mum insisted that I stay home. “Daddy can’t take the car. He’ll get stuck. No one will show up anyway. You can’t go.”
I was mortified. “But I have to! If I don’t show up, they’ll never give me another part! ” I stopped short of saying, “And I’ll never work in the theatre again!” But I did proclaim, “The show must go on.” Our teachers at The Montreal Children’s Theatre had taught us that. I was an impressionable little thespian. I was also a quick study.
With the edge of a long silver spoon Daddy pressed a slice of lemon against the inside of his glass of tea. My sense of responsibility made him smile. It also prompted him to rise from the table, enter the hallway, pull on his heavy boots, his warm jacket, and the silly hat with the big floppy ear flaps.
“Mishigah!” Mum wailed, instantly deciphering the intentions behind Daddy’s actions. “Abram! What are you doing!” Mum wasn’t asking. “You can’t do it.” Now Mum made her meaning clear. “You won’t make it!”
“Well we can’t let the child go by herself! And besides,” Daddy raised his arm and waggled a forefinger, “The show, it has to go on!”
Daddy was a Polish Jew who survived the war years in Siberia. The prospect of trekking from the Cote des Neiges area to Westmount didn’t faze him. He was also an older parent. When I was ten, my daddy was almost fifty. But he was a tough and strong Almost Fifty. Mum was overruled.
In late morning we set out into the empty streets, my small mitted hand resting in Daddy’s large gloved hand. What confronted us was a wonderland. Ropes of snow rimmed bare branches like sugar frosting. Caps of snow perched on spiked fences, like ice cream in cones. What looked like white sculptures turned out to be cars buried under snow. Despite the early hour street lamps switched on, as though ignited by an attentive elf.
A gust of wind whistled at the snow, startling it off rooftops. Particles of snow, transformed into silver sequins, pirouetted under the illuminated lamps. Smoke curled out of chimneys in pearl grey and crayoned swirls. Formless clouds smudged the sky. Traffic lights were the only spots of colour in a magical, monochrome world.
Generally I was a chatterbox, but now I knew to conserve my energy and hold my peace. In companionable silence I trudged beside my dad. Sometimes I hiked behind him as he marched through deep drifts, creating a trail for me to follow. I raised my knees high and plunked down my feet in the imprints of my father’s footsteps. My feet hurt because my feet were flat, like my daddy’s feet. But Daddy didn’t complain, so neither did I. When snow banks proved too high, Daddy lifted me over them. When wind currents proved too powerful, Daddy pulled me through them.
It was early afternoon when we reached the invisible border that divides Notre Dame de Grace from Westmount. Curtains of clouds parted, and sunshine tossed a spotlight on a fairy-tale-like castle that rose higher than the surrounding mounds of snow. Through the frost-laced windows of this wondrous Gothic structure I glimpsed chandeliers blazing with light. We were approaching the imposing Victoria Hall.
“Did we make it, Daddy?” Anxiously, I broke our three-hour silence. Are we going to be on time?”
Daddy raised the sleeve of his jacket and checked the face of his wristwatch. A barely perceptible sigh escaped his lips and was caught by particles of frigid air.
I would make it to the dressing room before the two o’clock matinee. So would every other child scheduled to appear on stage that afternoon. The silver metal band of Daddy’s wristwatch glittered in glints of cold winter sun.
About the author
S. Nadja Zajdman is a Canadian author. Her first short story collection, Bent Branches, was published in 2012. Zajdman has had her non-fiction as well as her fiction featured in newspapers, magazines, literary journals and anthologies across North America, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. She has completed work on a second short story collection as well a memoir of her mother, the pioneering Holocaust educator and activist Renata Skotnicka-Zajdman, who passed away near the end of 2013.