Small circles became bigger ones and made their way to the edge of the cup, before disappearing completely. If she held completely still, she could see her reflection in the ripples. But it was early and she lacked both the sunlight and the patience.
Gittel alternated pouring water on each of her hands, first the right and then the left, enjoying the warmth on her thin skin and dreading the oncoming weightlessness of the copper washing cup. When she finished, she slid onto the chilly wooden floor and heard her ankles creak as she walked barefoot to the mirror past her sisters' neatly made beds.
She moved a comb through her hair, calmly and deliberately, watching the frayed strands straighten and join the others. Her father used to stand by the bedroom door and marvel at his daugher's patience, delighting in her countenance and envious of her capacity to simply be where she was. Of course, he also never failed to remind her about an angry customer who once remarked that the baker's youngest daughter spent more time in the clouds than she did in the bakery.
She used to miss him constantly, but lately found herself forgetting to do so.
Buncha, Eidel, and her mother always knew she was his favorite. He made no attempts at keeping it a secret. The two of them had shared a curiosity about what lay beyond the deep forests in which Radzyn was hidden, and they encouraged one another to indulge. Six days a week her father worked happily, but on the seventh, holding his youngest daughter in his lap, he truly rejoiced. Together, they would improvise all the elaborate adventures they would one day take, once he could close the bakery for good to fulfill his desire to explore the world.
When he was finally instructed by the Rebbe to embark on that very journey, to find the meaning that awaited him outside the walls of the family bakery, the whole shtetl was shocked that he refused.
He became sick soon afterwards. Nobody but him was surprised.
The bakery was still named "Yankle's," like it had been for generations, but Yankle was just a memory. It was Gittel, her sisters, and mother who were stuck running it.
So now Gittel combed her hair in silence, feeling appreciated by nobody but herself.
Gittel forced a smile. She once heard from the Rebbe that if you smile long enough, no matter how hollow the intention, eventually it will become real. With delicate fingers and just an ounce of cruelty, she separated a tulip from its stem and tucked it over her ear.
"How pretty," Buncha said from behind.
Gittel looked down to the floor bashfully. It appeared she was not alone.
"I wonder how your hair will taste inside a cake."
Buncha had inherited all of her father's sense, and none of his wonder. It was always Buncha who gathered the girls to leave, and it was always Buncha who notified them it was time close the shop, whether they needed her help or not.
She took a moment more to brace for the oncoming day, allowing herself to slip into the more comfortable thoughts of where she might otherwise be. She delved deeper and deeper into what wasn't until the sound of three quick knocks on the the front door of their modest house intruded.
Then another knock.
Gittel ran down the creaky hallway to the front door, entirely unsure of who possibly could be visiting at this hour.
"Fruma," said Gittel's mother. "We weren't sure when you would be arriving."
"Neither was I!" Fruma said, smiling from this world to the next.
A few moments passed, and nobody said anything at all. Buncha grimaced, glaring at the exotic creature that stood before her. Eidel shifted uncomfortably, waiting for someone to speak. Gittel's mother stood still, thinking of everything she had not yet prepared for their new guest's early arrival. She looked concerned and a bit frightened. Gittel hoped to remember to ask her why.
To Fruma, it all just felt like staring.