Câmpulung, 1937

From A Family Album: https://alexduvan.medium.com/a-family-album-40829e212764

As a teenager, Tina was shy and withdrawn. On summer Sundays, walking along Main Street, she looked up at the young women of Câmpulung who had finished school and were ready to start life on their own two feet. Her older sister, Larissa, went to Kishinev to study to become a paralegal. There she befriended Margarita, a rabbi’s daughter. “I love the small town atmosphere,” Margarita told Larissa. After they graduated, Larissa invited Margarita to stay with her and her family, get a job and decide if she wanted to settle down in that small town.

Margarita was smart and kind and she quickly won Tina over. Despite a sunny personality, her mood could turn dark at times. She was well read and could talk about a wide range of things that interested the younger girl. Delighted to have a beautiful woman listen to her, Tina confided in her about boys and school. The translation of Gone with the Wind had come out that year, and, to the degree that Tina comprehended the multiple messages of the novel, she and Margarita talked about war, slavery in America and second chances. “In the Soviet Union,” Margarita said, “religion doesn’t matter. Christians and Jews are building a just and prosperous future together.”

Tina and Margarita strolled through the streets of Câmpulung, through the park at the foot of Deia and up the winding path to the top, where the trees made room for the sky and the air smelled of wildflowers. “I love the purity of this place,” Margarita said. “It makes you want the best for everybody.” The red roofs and silvery steeples of Câmpulung stretched below. People were too small to be seen, but Main Street was visible, as were the bridges over the meandering Moldova River and some of the larger buildings, like the hospital, the Orthodox Church, and the whitewashed Picker villa. Being so close to the sky, Margarita, a rabbi’s daughter, spoke of God in a manner that was both esoteric and fascinating to Tina.

A slipstream from Moldova River fed the town swimming pool and in July the water was warm enough for the locals to enjoy it. Tina couldn’t swim. She waddled in the shallow water, while watching Margarita dive in head first at the deep end of the pool and swim fearlessly. “Come here and I’ll teach you,” Margarita enticed her. With her floating tube on, Tina paddled closer.

Soon, Margarita found a job at Dr. Barr’s law practice and after she received her first paycheck, she rented a room two bridges down the river and moved out. She promised she would stay in touch, but gradually she all but disappeared. A rumor circulated in Câmpulung: Mrs. Barr was cheating on her husband with a younger Christian man from the neighboring village of Frumosul. Like everyone else, Tina pretended to be appalled, while silently she missed Margarita.

*

Two years went by. It was summer, and Tina ran into Margarita at the pool.

“You’ve grown,” Margarita said, greeting Tina with an admiring look.

Excited to see her old friend, and a bit intimidated, Tina took the comment less as a compliment and more as an acknowledgment that they had reached equality, woman to woman. She looked down at her body, noting the fullness of her thighs and the roundness of her breasts. “Oh, well,” she said longingly. “Like people, time doesn’t stand still.”

“Indeed,” Margarita said. “I’d like to tell you something in confidence, and I hope you’ll understand why I could not see you.”

Tina nodded and they sat in the grass under a shady oak.

“I’m in love with Dr. Barr,” Margarita said on a deadpan tone.

At first Tina didn’t react, as if those several simple words weren’t a surprise. Then she whispered, “My God.”

“Yes,” Margarita said. “My God is right. But my love is strong, and he loves me also.”

“He’s married.”

“He is, and his wife cheated on him, and I hate her.”

The sun was bright and the trees reflected off the water of the pool. The laughter of playing children reached their ears.

As if reading from a story book, Margarita told Tina that she had fallen in love with Dr. Barr gradually. She referred to him as Joseph, his first name. When he found out about his wife’s affair, he tried to ignore it by immersing himself in his work. Joseph and Margarita worked late into the night. One day, he broke down and cried like a child. Margarita was embarrassed for him and understood how deep his pain was. She took his hands in her own, comforted him, and allowed him to place his head on her shoulder. Awash in tears, his narrow nose shone like a knife’s blade, but he was still handsome. She felt compassion, and soon realized it was more. Joseph was a kind and sweet man. She had always admired him and instinctively had kept her feelings to herself. His marriage was ending and often Margarita felt lonely. It didn’t take long for her to admit that she loved him and that she was jealous of his unfaithful wife.

Their affair progressed fast, as it happens between consenting adults. The office couch was convenient and, under the cover of work, it provided the discreet refuge they needed in the small town. “You are the light of my days and I love you with all my heart,” Joseph told Margarita. “But please understand, I have obligations towards my wife.”

Margarita saw herself as a confident woman, with patience for love’s complicated ways. He needed time to break with his past, and she wanted him to be certain.

Joseph promised that he would leave his wife and move with Margarita to Bucharest. She would go there first, and he would follow. On the verge of the Second World War, it was tough for Jewish people to start a new business, but he was a good attorney, and he convinced her that they would do well. For now, their relationship would remain a secret.

“I wouldn’t leave Câmpulung without telling you,” Margarita whispered. “I owe you that much, and your sister.” Her lips were like red poppies, her eyes deep and clear. She reached in her purse and fished out a cigarette. While she smoked, a light breeze blew from the forest, causing her tears to dry.

Tears of happiness, Tina hoped.

*

“Margarita moved away,” Larisa told Tina one day.

“She went to Bucharest,” Tina said. “How come she didn’t stop by? I loved her.”

“She loved you, also,” Larissa said. “She didn’t go to Bucharest. Despite her pain, she wasn’t going to break up Joseph’s family and she left him.”

“That was no family,” Tina said.

“Margarita saw it differently, don’t ask me why. Yesterday she took the evening train to Kishinev, where her parents live.”

Soon after Margarita’s departure, Dr. Joseph Barr, Attorney at Law, decided to end it all by throwing himself in front of the evening train to Kishinev. Margarita read about it in the morning papers and that evening she followed into the footsteps of her dead lover. The coroner’s report indicated that her body was ripped in half by the fast-moving locomotive.

Shattered by their dreadful loss, traditions and rules regarding suicides notwithstanding, Margarita’s family decided to bury the lovers side-by-side at the edge of the Jewish Cemetery in Câmpulung. Like a pillar of salt, Margarita’s father, the rabbi, watched from afar. So did Tina, and her entire family.

Mrs. Barr did not attend. She remained out of the public eye until the memory of the tragedy subsided, after which she moved to the village of Frumosul and opened a small tobacco store.