When the organizers of the Los Angeles Children’s Bookfest found out, three days before the festival, that The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden was available, they were so anxious to have the book present that they graciously shuffled schedules and made room for me to attend and sign my book. As I spoke with the organizers over the phone, it suddenly occurred to me that the address of the Bookfest was eerily familiar: 6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley.
“Excuse me,” I say, “but isn’t that the Mt. Sinai cemetery?”
“Yes, it is. But no one can see the cemetery. The fair takes place down below, in tents. Does it bother you?”
“No, no,” I mutter, barely able to contain myself, “it’s fine.”
And so, Karen and I drive to the Jewish Children’s Bookfest where The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden will make its very first public appearance.
We drive past the Bookfest tents and follow the winding road into the cemetery. We get out of the car and approach Ariel’s grave. We say Tehillim. We cry. We look down at the bookfair, one hundred yards from Ariel’s resting place.
I sign and sell about thirty copies of my book. Karen laughs and says: “I’ve never sold anything before in my life. Now look at me. I’m like this insane Willy Loman.” We decide that some long dormant “hawking gene” has abruptly risen to life. Anyone who gets within ten feet of our table is fair game. I find myself talking up a meek seven-year-old girl before I get hold of myself and gently tell her to get her mommy.
After the fair, Karen and I climb once again to Ariel’s grave. The sun sets and long shadows fall across the valley. It is no accident that the The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden has made its debut here. As Karen said a few days ago, Ariel is looking out for us, watching over the creation of this book — a book written for him in his last days. Ariel’s physical presence is gone, but his essence, his intelligence, wit and kindness are as tangible as ever. Absence has become presence, and this day brings him closer to our wounded hearts. And for this we are eternally grateful.
Karen adds: The day at the fair turned out to be a day with Ariel. We have always gone to the cemetery in the early morning when the sun is just coming up over the eastward hills. I have seen the terrain of the Simi Valley with specific shadows, the land accepting the sun’s light on landmarked peaks. Having spent an entire day at the site, I returned in the late afternoon. It struck me: I have spent every moment of the day with Ariel when he was alive, but since he died, time with Ariel has been relegated to a certain slice of the day. The light is different now, the hills are darkening. I feel neglectful, I should be here all day with my son, every day, every moment. But I have to leave. I tell Robert it reminds me of the times in the hospital when I literally put Ariel to bed, making sure he had all his night time needs in place, and almost stealthily snuck out of the room when he finally fell asleep so I could grab some hours of rest. I feel guilty, but I leave the cemetery.