The world has gone crazy and Cynthia feels it.
Her headstrong grandmother is hiding from authorities who want to lock her in a nursing home and make her take her medicine.
Cynthia’s audition for the spring concert is fast approaching, and Madame doesn’t like her already. But her violin is locked up at home, and the house is taken over by Latino workers hired to demolish it. Anyway, how can she practice when she and Grandma are on the run, homeless, and wanted by the police?
Besides, her father is losing his farm to a real estate shark who happens to be Cynthia’s uncle.
In the process of guarding their grandmother’s secret treasure, Cynthia and her brother are making everything worse, MUCH WORSE.
And the entire family finds out that, only when they fall into the deepest pit of despair, that’s when everything falls into place.
This story explores beyond the outer limits of unruliness, how to bear guilt for evil, and transform evil to good.
Just when Cynthia Bitton found out that the last white rhinoceros in the world had died, and houses in England were about to topple down the cliff into the sea, Cynthia’s grandmother escaped from her bed in the nursing home and nobody was able to find her. She must have taken the service elevator downstairs and escaped out the back door during a fruit delivery.
Even worse, if you can believe it, Shabbos was starting in three hours.
The chickens had escaped the coop outside the family’s farm house and ran into the kitchen, just as Cynthia was checking barley to put in the cholent. Of course, she dropped everything to catch the chickens. She was chasing the hen, when the rooster hopped up on the counter and ate the last bit of barley she had.
And then Cynthia realized: the chickens. Only she could see it was a message from HaShem: Grandma had a secret treasure, and she kept it buried in the dirt under the chicken wire somewhere, and that’s where she kept all her secrets, plus the addresses of her special friends. Her grandmother, Bubba Doba, used to carry this treasure around when she was a kid, disguising herself to escape from jail, using all kinds of tricks to get food and a place to sleep. The only person she trusted with the treasure was her daughter Elka, who became Cynthia’s grandmother, and the only person she trusted was Cynthia.
Chapter One: Grandma Elka
The violin was another story. Grandpa Max was the original owner of the violin, and he had owned a stall where he worked as a barber, and in between customers he played on his violin, gazing out the window at the alley cats on Hopkinson Avenue in Brooklyn. Unlike the bright, clear windows of Miami, where Grandma eventually moved, Brooklyn windows were grimy no matter how much you washed them.
Little Cynthia would watch Grandpa rub the horsehair of his bow with a bar of resin in a handkerchief. He hugged the violin between his shoulder and chin. His wrist vibrated beside the violin’s neck. His fingers
danced on the neck. His bow scratched the strings. Cynthia took note of it all. When Grandpa put the violin down to take care of a customer, Cynthia sat on the floor and picked up hairpins with a magnet.
Now, since Grandpa died, Cynthia owned the violin; it was her destiny to play it. But Madame, the music teacher, did not trust Cynthia at all. She said Cynthia would never play violin in the Spring Concert because she never practiced.
Grandma Elka shook her head. “Cynthia, your teacher is a hundred percent right. You NEED to practice. You have to keep playing, no matter what!”
Cynthia, feeling despondent, shook her head. “How can I, when Dad’s farm is going down the tubes. How will I play music when we don’t have a place to live?
“Oh! So, the farm is failing? How did that happen?” Grandma possessed such a believing view of life that no one could find a catastrophe bad enough to make her upset.
Cynthia counted the ways on her fingers. “First the frost came and ruined the lemon trees. Then the noise from construction got worse; It makes the cows nervous and they don’t give milk…”
Something Cynthia always wanted to say but didn’t feel she should is that she wished the people from a faraway city, like Buenos Aires or Montreal, would take her away from Miami. She felt she was not supposed to want this, to be captured by strangers and taken away, but the truth was that she longed for it. She wanted a new world and a new way of life, without having to fight with her teachers and parents, get angry and leave.
No, it would be better if the outlanders forced her to go. Everything in their city would be new and exciting; she wouldn’t have homework; the strangers would appreciate Cynthia’s talents, and they would teach her from their store of otherworldly wisdom.
Cynthia knew it would be better to feel this way about her own hometown, but everything people did there was by habit: they said the same “good morning” without meaning it. They did their work like mechanical robots. They never talked about anything new. Cynthia just wanted to feel alive; why did all the regular Miami people seem dead?
She tried therefore to say something shocking that would wake her classmates up, but this backfired on her. Her teacher sent Cynthia to get tested by the staff doctor, and then the doctor gave her pills, and she mellowed out, and that was the opposite of what she wanted.
So, instead of the school coming alive, which was what Cynthia wanted, the people at school tried to make her as dead as they were, so she would blend in and not make trouble for them, which meant not to wake them up from the sleep they were sleeping for most or all their lives.
Cynthia couldn’t stand it; she kept looking outside to see if the outlanders had come yet, and they were slow, even though they must have felt so excited to learn about Cynthia and she felt so excited to learn about them.
That was why she got a pass as often as possible, to skip classes and visit her grandmother.
Grandma thought a moment. “Uh…uh…I can understand how those cows feel; like that medicine the drug companies forced me to eat, just to make money. Now that I started throwing out my pills I can finally think!
“I’m confused, Grandma,” said Cynthia. “You’re a grown-up, right?”
“Sure I am,” said Grandma, sitting up straight in her bed.
“So how can somebody force you to take medicine?”
“Good question,” Grandma smiled. “I think it’s something called a guardianship.
“What’s that?” said Cynthia.
“Not as hard as it sounds. What’s a guard?”
“Somebody strong,” Cynthia said, “who protects other people from danger.”
“Good. So, a guardianship is a paper someone gets in court to protect someone else.”
Cynthia laughed. “He can’t protect someone if he doesn’t have the paper?”
“Sometimes he can,” said Grandma. But it gets complicated. What if I want to climb a mountain, and you say it’s dangerous? If the judge agrees with me, I decide. If the judge agrees with you, then you decide because you get the guardianship.”
Grandma paused to think. “But we were talking about cows and chickens and noise from construction. Cynthia, these problems aren’t coming by themselves; it’s the real estate sharks. They’re building next to you, to force you to sell. I’ve seen it way too many times, maidele.”
“They can’t do that!
“Oh, but they do,” said Grandma knowingly.
A nurse stepped into the room. “Missus! Time for your medicine.”
Grandma reached out her hand. “Thank you, dear”, she said.
The nurse dropped the pills in her hand and left, and Grandma tossed them into the garbage can.