Sophie and her family lived on an odd-shaped property behind the Chevron station, two buses away from Andrew’s house but less than a kilometre from Bernard’s grandfather. The plot was long and narrow, ending in a V at the gas station, with the house very close to the road at the other end. It was a vintage, wooden, two storey farm-style house, painted grey.
The inside smelled a bit of cabbage, Andrew thought, and he didn’t like it much. It was decorated mostly with old stuff, like you would find at a junk shop. It was clean though, he supposed. Sophie’s mother and grandmother were always cleaning or cooking. Her father worked two jobs, one at the railyard and three evenings a week as a bingo-caller. Yes, Sophie assured him, they actually did pay for that.
They had chickens in the back yard. Andrew didn’t know anyone else who raised chickens in the city. There was a very tidy coop housing about two dozen birds, and they had most of the garden to roam about in. A wire fence protected the neighbours, including the Chevron station, from wandering chickens.
Sophie collected eggs each morning before school, and had to continue the ritual even during the summer holidays, which she hated. Andrew was sympathetic. When he had no school the next day, he liked to sleep until one or two in the afternoon, when his mother, who swore she would let him sleep his life away if he wanted, relented and nagged him out of bed.
Sophie’s grandmother had a tenuous grasp of English, and Andrew only understood her by the grandness of her gestures. Get out of here and into the kitchen, waving her hands, when she’d cut two slabs of chocolate cake for him and Sophie. Nodding and petting Sophie when they sat at the dining room table doing homework or researching something on their laptops.
“Grandma thinks I’m smart,” Sophie said. “She wants me to be a doctor or president of something.”
“You would make a fierce president of something,” Andrew said. “Is your grandfather, um…”
“He’s dead,” Sophie said. “He was a holocaust survivor. He had a tattoo.”
“A holocaust survivor, huh,” said Andrew.
“He was just a boy when the camp was liberated,” Sophie said.
“Was he, like…”
“No, um, tortured and all that?”
“He didn’t talk about it much,” Sophie said. “I remember he had a temper sometimes, mostly if I didn’t eat all my dinner, or threw scraps away down the sink. He would go nuts. Mom says because they starved at the camp. She told me to do what he said, to save everything, to put leftovers in containers, whatever calmed him. I could toss them later.”
“Wow,” said Andrew.
“I was afraid of him for a lot of years, until my mother explained things,” said Sophie. “Can you finish that cake, or should I take it away?”
“What do you think?” Andrew said. He picked up his fork. The chocolate cake was bitter, but he ate it, every crumb.