Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Silver Spring, MD, 2007

There's a river outside Shaare Tefila; no, more a creek, drifting and bubbling down a muddy incline at the end of a brush-lined path. That's where Esther Falkner finds her daughter half an hour before the Saturday morning service on the day of her bat mitzvah.

She'll get mud on the dress, Falkner thinks, uncontrolled. Rebekah has broad shoulders, a woman's shoulders; they had to cross state lines to find that dress. Thank God her grandmother isn't seeing this. What she says instead: "Ready to go?"

Rebekah turns around. It startles Falkner; even though Ben leaned over the makeup artist's shoulder, emanating a paternal aura of go easy, she isn't used to seeing lipstick on her daughter's mouth. That mouth's twisted with nerves; the carefully outlined eyes--her sister's eyes--big and dark, are blinking a bit too fast.

"Sweetheart?" she asks, and picks her way closer on her wobbly new black pumps.

"Mom," she says, and Falkner can tell she's nervous because it's not Ma or Mother. "I can't."

"What's wrong, honey?" Combat pressure is what's wrong. She's got that fidgety look people acquire when they're going into something big, something crucial, and feeling desperately unprepared.

"I just--" her face twists; panic and agony. "It's all gone. I had it memorized and I can't remember any of it now."

"It'll come back, Rebekah."

"What if I forget it in front of everyone?"

"The rabbi will help you find the place again."

"But if I screw up--"

"Then you will," she says, and Rebekah looks up at her, startled. "That's part of what being an adult is, Penguin," she adds gently. "That you get up in front of people and sometimes you fail. And you pick yourself up and start again."

Her daughter is silent for a moment. A robin sings sharp somewhere in the trees above them, and the creek mutters in the slight, chill morning. It's good weather. The sky is brilliant blue.

"Ready to go?" she asks after a minute more. Rebekah will be wanted by her friends and cousins and family. Falkner will be wanted by Ben, who she can't leave holding the bag of both sides of the family forever.

Slowly, hesitant, Rebekah Falkner nods.


Esther Falkner will remember this later, in bad spots. Watching a truck overturning, slow and inevitable, in the sunny summertime of a New York expressway. Staring down a hallway of booby traps, the floor sticky with blood.

Sometimes you fail.

This is how you become an adult in the community.


But this morning, this day, she helps her daughter up the rough and dirty slope and walks with her through the parking lot, to the doors of Shaare Tefila. Ben turns and greets them with a raised eyebrow, over Rebekah's head, as the bat mitzvah girl is swept into the fussing embrace of her Aunt Chana and away, through the doors, into a crowd of guests.

Esther Falkner nods, once. Ben lets out a breath.

This morning her daughter climbs the steps to the bimah and sings her Torah portion in a voice that's shaky but clear, that hits each note clean. And afterwards there's a great roar of applause, and Rebekah stares out under her pastel-striped tallis with a dazed, grinning look on her face. The pins are already coming out of her hair. Then there's a small luncheon and photographs and all the business of the party that night.

People hug Falkner, shake her hand. This is a rite of passage for her and Ben too: the ceding of religious responsibility for their firstborn. The raising of their daughter--if not in a legal or modern sense just yet--to adulthood.

"We did it," she says, head leaning against Ben's shoulder, his arm about her waist, turning each other lazily about the dance floor to the sobbing, rising chords of "Unchained Melody."

"We did," he says, and presses his lips light against the part of her hair.


She remembers this too.

The wind ruffles her hair on the bridge. Panicked breath ruffles her hair in the hallway, in the dark.

Esther Falkner holds tight to it and raises her gun.