She could not take her eyes away from the copper coins they had placed on her mother’s eyes. Daphne had seen metal discs like this before, glinting in the flames of candles, when she had accompanied her uncles to the homes of Jewish friends in mourning. But her mother’s pennies were dull, and she felt all the warmth and light she had ever felt in the world beginning to drain away.
Her brother held his face in his hands and his shoulders shook.
“Jack,” she said softly, “When is she going to wake up?”
Lying wide awake in a strange bed in her Uncle Joe’s house in the affluent suburb of Clifton in Cape Town, Daphne shivered. She was only five years old, and both of her parents were gone. Her father Benjamin Alexander had died when she was a toddler. She couldn’t really remember him, but she liked to think it was his voice that softly greeted her in the dreamy space between night and day in the manner reserved especially for her—“My Queenie, the one and only”, he would say.
Daphne squeezed her eyes shut and a lump rose in her throat. She was not sure how much longer she could stomach the smell of oranges and castor oil that she was being forced to digest daily by her South African relatives. She had overheard Uncle Joe and Aunt Hilda say they only wanted her to become a permanent part of their family, not Jack. It was true that her half-brother was head strong, but in her eyes, he lived and loved her fiercely; and besides, he was the only person she had left. She could not and would not lose him too.
She was certain that one day there would be a knock on the door and her beautiful mother would be standing there to take her into her arms and to take her home. Her fingers lightly brushed the fine carved relief on the cameo brooch she held in her hands. It had belonged to her mother and Aunt Hilda had given it to her the day her mother had died, not wasting a moment to sort through her possessions. Daphne pressed the cameo brooch to her chest. It brought her comfort knowing that her mother had once held this object in her hands too, that perhaps she had been gifted the delicate piece of jewelry from her grandmother, and her grandmother from her mother before that.