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Ida’s best friend, Liesel, lives across the hall, in the other apartment on the second floor. Liesel doesn’t have to wear a yellow star on her coat. When the rules change and girls with yellow stars on their coats can no longer go to the cinema or the park, Liesel’s mother lets Ida borrow a coat. It’s Liesel’s coat from last year and too tight across Ida’s chest, so she wears it unbuttoned, oblivious to the icy wind blowing across the Vltava. One afternoon, when Liesel and Ida return home and skip across the white tiles in the foyer, taking care not to step on the lines, Mrs. Svobodová from the downstairs flat pokes her head through her doorway and scowls. Later she tells Ida’s mother: this has to stop.
Ida loves to run her fingers through her mother’s coral necklaces and play dress-up with the emerald bracelet and the strings of pearls. Máma sobs the day she is forced to surrender her jewelry. Ida’s father gathers it in a box, together with his typewriter, the radio and Máma’s fur coat and takes them all to the Town Hall on a Monday morning. But Máma refuses to part with her rings.
“They’re not having these,” she says. She wraps her wedding band and her sapphire engagement ring in wax paper and buries them in the drawer with her undergarments.
Fists pound on the front door below, and heavy footsteps stomp up the stairs, the noise reverberating through the apartment like a thunderstorm. Máma grabs Ida’s hand and runs to the bedroom. She removes her rings from the drawer, her fingers shaking as she tears off the wrappings. Pulling Ida close, she forces the rings into her mouth.
“Don’t say a word.”
Ida clings to her mother’s skirt as four men in knee-high black boots throw Papa’s papers onto the floor and upturn the mattresses.
“Rührt euch nicht,” they bark. Don’t move.
The sharp edge of the sapphire digs into Ida’s cheek.
Ida hears sounds from the dining room, a whispered urgency seeping down the hall. She creeps from her bed and flattens herself next to the grandfather clock. The door is ajar, a thin stream of light etched across the floor. She recognizes the voices of Liesel’s parents.
“We cannot ask you to do this,” she hears Papa say. “It’s much too dangerous.”
“It’s the least we can do,” Liesel’s father replies.
The following evening, Máma comes into Ida’s room with a tan suitcase. “We have to pack your things,” she says.
“Where are we going?”
Máma does not answer. She sits on the bed with her back turned and folds Ida’s two summer and two winter dresses, her green cardigan, her woolen stockings, her nightshirt, and all her undergarments. When everything is packed, Máma takes out her sewing scissors and carefully removes the yellow star from Ida’s coat, plucking out every last stitch. Ida understands not to ask more questions.
Late at night, when the building itself is deep in slumber, Papa leads Ida downstairs. He quickly kisses her on the forehead and bundles her into the back seat of Liesel’s father’s car.
“You have to lie on the floor,” he says, covering her with a coarse blanket that smells of tar.
Liesel’s father drives in silence through the night. He delivers her at daybreak to a cabin at the end of a dirt road, where a woman she will come to know as Licka gives her bread and warm milk.
Ida waits every morning. Later—much later—other visitors arrive, and Ida has to hide. But she never sees her parents again.
It’s the dawn of a new century. Ida is sick, her old bones weary. Her chest clamps tight with every breath. When she staggers down the hall to the bathroom, her legs buckle beneath her.
“I’m telephoning the doctor,” Gregory, her husband, insists.
Dr. Clark perches on the edge of the bed, his cool hands moving the stethoscope under her nightgown. His eyebrows furrow intently as he listens to her wheezing.
“You have a fever and a nasty case of bronchitis,” he declares. “I’m going to give you some cough medicine and antibiotics. And I think we should run some blood tests.”
Ida shakes her head. No blood tests. She will take his medicine, but nothing more. “It’s enough,” she tells him.
“All right, as you wish.”
Ida feels woozy; her stomach churns. She hates these pills. One minute she’s on fire, the next she’s freezing. She sleeps fitfully. Her mind rattles with noises, and images, and odors she cannot dispel: fists pounding on doors, a blanket that reeks of tar, a cramped crawl space where she crouches, muffled voices overhead.
The clock on her bedside table shows ten minutes to six. Morning or night? She has no idea. She closes her eyes again. Then she hears shouting outside. She sits bolt upright in bed.
*“Rührt euch nicht,” they yell.
Her heart hammers in her breast. She places her hand on her chest and feels her wedding ring loose on her finger. It used to fit tight, but now it slides off easily. She pops it into her mouth. It is smooth and cool against her cheek.
The footsteps are getting closer. The door opens. She must act fast.
When Gregory goes to check on her, she is slumped to the side, her mouth wide open.
“Ida,” he cries, cradling her face in both hands. “Wake up.”
But she’s gone.
And so is her wedding ring.