It was my first night kid-sitting the Goldstein’s seven-year-old daughter Bethany, so I arrived early. I knew Mrs. Goldstein would want to show me around the house, let me know the rules for Beth, and to give me their contact information. Most parents were nervous the first time they left their kids alone with a new person.
“Thanks, for agreeing to do this on short notice, Anna. Since moving here in September, Aaron and I haven’t had a date night.” Leah Goldstein was an attractive woman in a mom sort of way. She worked with my mother as a receptionist in Warwick Falls Pediatrics.
“I appreciate the work.” There was a new book – or ten – that I wanted and my reading addiction didn’t come cheap.
“Leah, let’s go! Have fun ladies,” Aaron called over his shoulder as he dragged his wife out the door.
Once they were gone, I turned to Beth and smiled. She was a cute little girl, with strawberry blond hair in pig tails and big blue eyes.
“I’m hungry. Can I have dinner now? Mommy said you’d feed me once she left.”
“It took forever for them to leave. My belly is making noise.”
“Then we’d better get on move on it. Come on, you can help me cook.”
She took my hand and led me to the kitchen. “What are you going to feed me?”
“Your mom left ingredients out for pasta.”
“What are you going to eat?”
“But we’re kosher.”
“I know, I can eat kosher food.”
“But you’re Catholic. Mommy said so.”
“That’s true, but Catholics can eat kosher food.”
“That’s right. We also eat non-kosher food.”
We went into the kitchen. I placed a pot of salted water on the stove to boil.
“Why don’t you open the can of diced tomatoes while I chop the herbs and garlic.”
As I placed olive oil in a pan to heat it, she pulled on my sleeve, whimpering. “What’s wrong, Beth?”
She pointed at the sliding glass door that led to the garden.
I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. It was too dark to see outside. Grabbing the knife I used to chop the herbs, I slowly walked to the door and flicked on the light. There was nothing on the deck. I looked down at Beth, who still looked terrified.
“What do you see, sweet girl?” I asked softly.
“There’s a scary man out there,” she whispered back.
“Standing at the glass door, looking in.”
“Is he still there?” I should have told her it was just her imagination, but I had seen enough in the last couple of months to know there was more out there they we were taught to believe.
She nodded. “He wants me to ask him in.”
“Don’t do that!” I spoke more sharply than I intended to.
“Do you know why he’s here?”
“He keeps pointing at you. He has something to tell you.”
“Whatever he has to say, I don’t want to hear.” I looked at the empty deck. “Go away! Leave us alone. If I hear that you’ve been bothering Beth, I’ll make things very unpleasant for you.” I spoke with way more confidence than I felt.
“He’s gone now.” A voice came from behind us.
I spun around, one hand in front of Beth, the other gripping the knife. There was a little old lady standing in the doorway. “You can put that down.” She opened her arms and Beth ran in for a hug.
“Bobe! You came!”
“I promised you I would.”
I recognized the Yiddish word for grandmother. I hadn’t heard the front door open while preoccupied with whatever was at the backdoor. “I guess your parents didn’t know your grandma was coming. I’ll finish dinner and then go.”
“Don’t be silly. If you leave now you won’t get paid. I’m Betty, but you can call me Bobe, if you like.”
“I’m named after her.” Beth said proudly. “Bobe, this is Anna Russo.”
Bobe sniffed. “I think the oil is heated nicely and the water is boiling.”
Springing into action, I emptied the box of pasta into the water and started on the sauce. As I cooked, Bobe instructed Beth to set the table. The little girl chatted happily as she worked.
In no time, we were sitting at the table, digging into our dinner.
“Bobe, you saw the man at the door?” I had to know.
“Do you know why you and Beth could see him, but I couldn’t?”
“He hoped Beth would let him in, because she is too young to know how dangerous he is.”
“How dangerous is he? And who is he?”
“You believe in spirits, you’ve seen them.” Since she wasn’t asking a question, I didn’t bother explaining. I just waited. “You know some are good, and some are bad. I don’t know his name, but he’s a demon.”
“He wanted to talk to me. Why?”
“I don’t know. Be careful. When evil like that comes knocking, you’re in danger.”
I imagined it would be more dangerous if they didn’t knock first. “Why didn’t he just come in?”
“The mezuzah acted as a ward.” She pointed at what I thought was a charm over the doorway. “It announced God’s presence in this home.”
“It wasn’t a vampire, was it?” It was bad enough that ghosts and demons were real. I didn’t want to sleep with a string of garlic around my neck.
“No, but thresholds have power. Don’t forget that. And keep this with you.” She pulled something of her pocket and handed it to me. It was a silver charm engraved with hand and a large eye on the palm. “It’s the hamesh hand. It should protect you from certain evils.”
“Thank you. I’ll keep it with me.” I removed the chain I wore around my neck and added the charm to it. Putting it back on, I asked, “Is there anything else you can tell me?”
“No. I’m sorry.”
“Is Beth in danger because of me?”
“No more than anyone else in this town.”
“I have a hamesh hand too.” She pulled out the charm to show me. “This place is creepy, so Bobe gave it to me.”
If she only knew the half of it.
“Can we stop talking about scary things and talk about something nice?” Beth asked.
I smiled. “How about you clear the table while I get some bowls of ice-cream ready. Is that happy enough for you?”
She jumped up and down clapping.
We spent the remainder of the evening playing games and talking. I put the evil man out of my mind. There was nothing I could do about it that night.
Around ten Bobe stood up. “Your parents will be home soon, Beth, and it’s past your bedtime. Go to bed now, so you don’t get Anna in trouble. You want her to come back, don’t you?”
The girl smiled. She gave her grandmother a hug and kiss, and did the same for me. Hugging her, I said, “Go to bed, I’ll be up in a minute to check on you.” I watched her run out of the room, then turned to Bobe.
“I have to get going. Don’t tell Leah and Aaron about my visit.” She started to walk away.”
“One more thing, Bobe.”
She turned and looked at me.
“How long have you been dead?”
She laughed. “Farewell, my dear Anna. We’ll meet again soon.” With that, she vanished before my eyes.
The sound of the key in the lock announced the return of the Goldsteins.