“Tell me about that book,” Janet said, all sorts of bells going off in her head.
“Well, it was quite big and heavy, almost like a bible,” Sabina said. Her mother tongue was Romanian, but she spoke a little German and French. The book was written in Russian, Hebrew, German and Yiddish. When she was a little girl she’d sit on her grandfather’s lap and he’d read from it — odd stories about doctors curing illnesses, taking care of kings and royalty, the prescriptions and methods they used, surgeries, bloodletting, a lot about the beneficial properties of plants and herbs. What fascinated her most were the pictures. Anatomical drawings of men, women and animals, people in odd clothes, a detail of an arm or leg, or the inside of a skull. She could look at these for hours. Her grandfather told her the book was written in so many different languages because it had been passed down through time and its owners had lived in different countries.
When she asked him how he had come to own the book, he looked flustered and hesitated for a moment. She remembered that moment clearly because her grandfather never looked flustered. Then he cleared his throat and said he’d found it in a store that dealt in ancient texts in Bucharest. He’d been so fascinated by the pictures that he wanted to know what they were about and painstakingly taught himself Hebrew. Sabina was only allowed to look at the book in his presence — otherwise she was sworn to secrecy about its existence. And it wasn’t till now, with Janet, that she’d ever mentioned it to anyone.
“Do you know where the book is?” Janet asked, trying to hide her excitement.
Sabina shrugged her shoulders. She’d dropped weight since moving to Austin and Janet was a little worried about her. There were dark circles under her eyes and she was painfully thin.
“My grandfather said maybe it would go to me after he died, since I was so fascinated by the drawings and stories. But I never saw the book after his death and no one ever mentioned it. Truthfully, I’d forgotten about it by then. Gheorghe passed in 2004 when I was twenty and had moved on to other things.” She thought for a moment, staring off into space, probably reminiscing about the long ago days when she’d sat in her grandfather’s lap, looking at pictures in a dusty old book. Then she said, “You know my grandfather had a woman friend. Her name was Trude and we used to laugh at him for having a girlfriend at his age. Trude had a little farmhouse in Transylvania, in one of those Saxon villages. I’ve often wondered if grandpa didn’t hide the book with her.”