This story and "Ruthie and Al" are the same story told in differing
points of view, a.k.a. -- the he said/she said syndrome ;-). Both
of them appear in my post-"Mirror Image" story, The Return, which is available from Jim
a Quantum Leap back story
by Barbara E. Walton
Chicago, Illinois. 1954.
A part of her is always ten years old.
It is Shabbos morning. She steps quietly out of the
shul, looking one last time to see if anyone is following.
Inside, she can hear the droning prayers of her foster fathers and
the other men, and, faintly, the gossip of the women sitting in the
curtained balcony. Public prayer is not exactly a forbidden
activity for women, but it is not required, either, so it is not
done. Ruthie has prayed this morning, or started to, but has been
unable to endure the disapproving looks from her elders. So she
has decided to try something else to pass the endless Saturday
morning. She has excused herself to go to the bathroom, but has
not even bothered stopping there on her way out. Today, she has
decided, she will finally see what lays on the other side of the
shul, the side which is not completely taken up by the
Hasidic congregation which is raising her (and, as often as not,
using her as a housekeeper/babysitter/seamstress/whipping-boy --
she will not learn for many years that this is only one of its
violations of Torah).
She closes the heavy door slowly, so that it will not make
too much noise, then looks anxiously up the street. Whatever is
there, it has to be more interesting than what is behind her.
Feeling light-headed with her rebellion, she runs down the street
and around a corner into a new and exotic world.
Around her, people are shouting at each other in the
street, hawking various exciting sounding foods. She can buy none
of them, of course; even if the food were kosher (which she
understands as "provided by a member of her sect"), she cannot use
money Shabbos. But it is so tempting...
One of the vendors finally comes to her, an old woman
selling vegetables. She is speaking a language Ruthie does not
understand (she knows only English, Yiddish, and a little bit of
Polish from Mama), but finds lovely and enchanting anyway.
Eventually, it becomes apparent that there is to be no sale, and
the old woman leaves Ruthie with a smile. Ruthie smiles back and
goes on down the street, unmindful of the curious stares she has
started to attract. People always look at her as she passes; she
has never known why, but it is part of her life and she accepts it.
She is unaware that her the long skirt, long sleeves, and muted
colors of her good Shabbos dress -- the one that used to be
Mazel's, that Mazel sized down just for her -- and the long blond
braid lying on her back all mark her as a stranger here.
She passes a sign that reads "St. Joseph's Home for
Orphans." Ruthie is an orphan, and she wonders whimsically who
this "St. Joseph" is and if he would take her into this home and
teach her to speak the pretty language she is hearing on every
streetcorner here. But she catches sight of some of the orphans
who live in the home; thay are playing basketball in a small lot
surrounded by a chain-link fence. They are all boys. St. Joseph
apparently only takes in boy-orphans.
She looks up, suddenly frightened. The two boys have
flanked her, and she can see no immediate way out. She has been
thinking her own thoughts, and has not seen them coming. All the
stories she has been told about the goyim start playing in
her mind -- they are murderers, they hurt Jewish girls in ways that
make them unclean, they mark their victims with brands...
She tries to run, but the boy on her right catches her and
pushes her back. The other boy catches her and holds on to her
"We don't like you dirty Jews around here," the first boy
"I'll leave," Ruthie promises immediately. It seems like
the safest thing to do.
"That's not good enough," the boy behind her says. "You
shouldn't have come in the first place."
The first boy steps forward and leans close to her. "What
should we do to make sure you don't come around here again,
"I won't, I promise I won't. Please let go."
The first boy sighs, as if he truly regrets what he is
doing. "That's not good enough. Everybody knows you can't trust
a Jew on her word." His fist shoots out quickly and lands in
Ruthie's stomach. She feels the air escape her body. She hears
the chain link fence of St. Joseph's rattling behind her, but in
her terror she pays no heed to it. "No," the boy says, "I think
you may need a little more reminding than that." He pulls
something out of his pocket. It looks like a broken knife handle,
and Ruthie thinks he is going to hit her with it. It looks heavy,
and it could break her nose, if he decides to. The he pushes a
button on its side, and she sees a blade pop out of it, and she
cringes backward into the other boy, but he pushes her back, and
she sees the knife looming closer and closer --
And then a tan hand reaches out of nowhere and grabs the
knife-wielder's arm. A new boy, older than the other two, steps
between Ruthie and the regretful-sounding boy, and then punches him
squarely in the stomach, just as that boy had punched Ruthie a
moment ago. The older boy takes the knife away easily and hands
it to Ruthie without looking at her. She grabs hold of it and
slashes frantically at her captor's hands. He doesn't stay long.
Both of her attackers flee down the street.
The new boy shouts after them: "Go pick on someone you own
size!" then turns to Ruthie. He is very strong-looking and very
handsome. "Are you okay?" he asks.
Ruthie finds herself unable to speak. She nods dumbly, and
feels the knife slip out of her grasp.
She nods again.
The boy looks at her doubtfully. "I'm Albert," he says,
offering his hand.
"I have to go," she answers, and runs back toward home.
She decides that she will not return to this place.
But of course, she does.
By Tuesday, she knows she has to see this stranger, this
Albert, agan. She has dreamed about him every night, and when she
asked her favorite foster sister -- Mazel, whose family could only
afford to take Ruthie two weekends of the year, but who was always
around when Ruthie needed advice -- what it meant when a dream came
over and over again, Mazel had said it meant that she should listen
to what it was trying to say. Ruthie had not mentioned precisely
what the dream had been. It had seemed, well, private.
She sneaks out of the house on Wednesday afternoon, while
her foster family (the Simlowitzes this week; Ruthie hates their
son, Reuven, who is always trying to touch her when his parents
aren't looking) was about its various errands. She has rushed
through her own list of chores, and figures she will probably get
in trouble for only doing a once-over on the dusting, but she
doesn't care. It is raining outside, but she doesn't bother with
an umbrella. She hurries down the two blocks she traversed on
Saturday and ducks into the doorway of St. Joseph's Home for
Orphans. He always lives there in her dreams, so she knows his
appearance there was not random. She is quickly met by a man
in a long robe; she thinks these men are called priests or monks,
and that they are something like rebbes. She is not afraid of him,
exactly, but he brings back strange, imagistic memories from her
infancy, and she associates him with being hidden from a large and
horrible nightmare. She will not read her mother's diary for
another six years, so she does not yet know that her mother had
escaped the Third Reich to have her child, or that a Polish priest
in the underground had found her nearly frozen in the snow, and
given shelter to both her and her child in a Polish convent during
the last year and a half of Hitler's reign, but she does know that
being here, in this building, looking at this robed man, makes her
feel afraid. But she has to see Albert again, to say thank you,
or so her excuse will be if she is asked.
The priest-or-monk stops her near the door. "May I help
you with something, my child?" he asks.
"I'd like to see Albert," she says.
"Yes. He helped me on Saturday."
"Do you mean Albert Sciara or Albert Calavicci?"
Ruthie doesn't knoww. She feels like crying -- to have
come this far and not be able to see him -- but she does not cry
in front of people. She looks down. "He has brown hair," she
says. "And he scared off two kids who were making fun of me. I
don't know his last name. He just said his name was Albert."
When she looks up, the priest-or-monk is looking at her
somewhat more kindly. "I think it's Albert Calavicci," he says.
"Albert Sciara is only eight."
"May I see him?"
The priest-or-monk thinks about it for a moment, then nods
and asks Ruthie to follow him. They go down a dingy corridor, and
up a rickety staircase to an open room on the second floor. Eight
or nine small boys are playing marbles in the middle of the room.
A group of older boys is in a corner, smoking and shouting, and
occasionally picking up marbles and throwing them at the younger
ones. All of the boys turn briefly to look at her; a few heckle
her in the language she has found so lovely before, and it no
longer sounds that way. She does not need to understand the words
to get the message. She is terribly afraid that Albert is hidden
in the group of bigger boys, and that his is one of the heckling
But the priest-or-monk leads her past them without pause,
toward a darker corner of the room, wehre a table is set up. There
is some kind of game on top of it. Albert is standing at one end
of the table, looking at the game board. As Ruthie approaches, she
sees him move a piece, then go around the table to the other side
and look at the game board from there.
"Albert?" the priest-or-monk says.
Albert holds up one hand to signal him to wait. He stares
intently at the game, and suddenly moves a piece three spaces,
knocking another piece off the board. He looks up. "Sorry,
Father," he says. Ruthie wonders for a minute if Albert is the
priest's son, but something about that seems strange. The she
remembers hearing that goyische priests didn't get married,
so they couldn't have any children. She tries to figure out how
they decide who will be in charge of the congregation next, if they
have no sons, but decides it doesn't really matter to her. All
that matters is Albert; the rest of the goyim can do whatever they
want, even if it doesn't make any sense.
"Are you winning?" the priest-or-monk asks wryly. Albert
doesn't answer. "You have a visitor," the robed man says, then
goes to the other end of the room without further introduction.
Ruthie swallows hard and looks at Albert. He doesn't seem
to recognize her at first. She thinks her heart will break if he
has forgotten her, and it almost has when she sees him smile in
recognition. "Hey," he says amiably, "I didn't think we'd see you
around her again after what happened Saturday. You're pretty
tough, for a girl." He nods approvingly.
Ruthie realizes she has been holding her breath, and lets
it go. "I wanted to say thank you," she says.
He shrugs. "What was I gonna do? Let that nozzle cut up
your pretty face?"
Ruthie looks pointedly around the room. Most of the boys
had been out on Saturday. She had seen them playing basketball.
"The rest of them would have," she says.
Albert shuffles his feet uncomfortably. "Aw, they're good
guys." There is nothing to say for a minute. Ruthie's eyes dart
around the strange room; Albert stares at a dust curl on the floor.
Finally, he looks up. "You have a name?"
"It's Ruthie," she tells him. "Ruthie Minkin."
"Ruthie," he repeats, just trying it out. He nods for no
reason, then looks at her again. "Do you play chess?" he asks.
Ruthie shakes her head.
"Do you want to learn?"
Ruthie does not particularly care about learning chess, but
she does want to stay here, so she says yes. Albert spends the
next twenty minutes teaching her the rules of the game, then beats
her soundly in five. Forgetting that the game doesn't interest
her, she demands a re-match. This one takes nearly half an hour
before she loses. They talk while they play, and somewhere in the
conversation, the subject of age comes up. Albert will be fourteen
in June, he says. He looks Ruthie over carefully, and says, "What
are you, about twelve?"
She says yes, although she is ten. She will tell him the
truth in two years, on the Fourth of July, after the fireworks, the
warm breeze, and the bottle of sweet kosher wine she has stolen
from her foster home have combined to take them past the point of
no return, and he will be angry at the deception and will leave her
crying alone in the park (but he will come back to her an hour
later, and then only the truth will be between them, and, after,
he will whisper, "I love you Ruthie," and she will hold tight to
it because she will know in her heart that he will never say it
again, and she will be right), but right now the lie seems innocent
enough. She doesn't stop to wonder why she told it.
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