The day after Mim’s birthday, I paced the art gallery and held my tongue. That was a Saturday. Shabbat. Ephraim would be home with Mim and the children, and I didn’t want to disturb them. But we five were having a picnic the next day (Kenton was in LA on businessor so he said), and that’s where I planned to confront Ephraim. Mim needed to go to a sanitarium. Her family doctor was doing next to nothing. Enough was enough.
I think best surrounded by the creative spirit that pours itself onto sketchpad and canvas. That day in the gallery, I kept returning to Mim’s favorite print, the one I showed you last time. Here it is again. Georges Barbier’s piece from 1922. Georges was a gifted illustrator, by why this particular work?
Mim had been helping me catalog my collection. I checked her information on Barbier and found the answer right in front of me. Barbier entitled this work “The Taste of Shawls.” And there they were, two beautifully flowered shawls set against a sky that reminded me that long blue thread on Mim’s special embroidered shawl. The shawl I was holding when I accidentally met that friend of hers. Eureka!
My triumph mixed with guilt. I should have told Mim about Serakh’s visit long ago. The next day, while Ephraim was minding the children, I did just that.
Mim was furious. “I thought you were my best friend! How could you keep that from me?”
“I was going to say something, but then, as time went on I wasn’t sure it really happened. Mim, I never meant to hurt you. I see now that you must miss her terribly.”
Mim brushed away tears. “What did she say?”
“We met only for a minute, and it was years ago. She did say something about Tirmah.”
“Yes, that was it. Tirtzah. Serakh wanted me to tell you that Tirtzah had lived a full life and died surrounded by her children and grandchildren, or something like that. I am so very sorry. Can you forgive me?”
I doubt that Mim heard my apology. She was wandering up the path, as if her feet were in one place and her mind in another. In three strides, I was by her side.
“Serakh was proud of me,” she whispered. “She called me her Miriam sweet and strong. Tirtzah called me her sister of the heart.”
I swallowed my jealousy. “You still are sweet and strong, Mim. Please come back to us. We need you.”
She hugged herself and walked away. I kept her in my sight until she turned, walked back, and took my hand. Mim hardly spoke to me over the next few weeks.
Something was changing. I couldn’t tell whether it was for the better or not until one day right before Halloween. We were at the art gallery. Mim was in the office and I was in front, hanging a picture. I noticed that phosphorus smell of lit matches and raced back to her.
Mim had a half-full ashtray on her left and a box of matches on her right. She lit one match after another, blowing each one out and putting it in the tray. I watched silently as she lit eight more. Then she smiled at me and said, “Miriam sweet and strong.”
Lord knows what had changed. Little by little she grew less anxious. Mim insisted we keep her match-lighting a secret, and Paul and Rachel didn’t ask for jack o-lanterns that year. “I’m waiting for Ephraim’s birthday,” she told me.
So, on January 8, 1925, the children and I gathered around Ephraim and his candle-free cake. Mim came in with a covered candy dish. Lifting the lid, she revealed one finger-sized white twisted candle and a box of safety matches. She put the candle in the middle of the cake and reached for the matches.
Rachel shouted, “Look at Mama!”
Paul clamped his hand over Rachel’s mouth. “Shhhh, dummy, you’ll spook her.”
Ephraim, who was a stickler about Paul respecting his little sister, simply sat there, his lips quivering.
Mim’s face was a study in determination. She lit the candle and blew out the match.
“Make a wish,” she said.
“I have,” he said. His voice was husky. “It’s already come true.”