Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 14 of a new online serial novel, Beneath the Surface, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every Thursday or Friday. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © 2011 by Israel Bookshop Publication
“Will you be going to Shragi’s wedding, Mother?” Once again, Dan had taken a few days of vacation from university.
“What’s the question? And you’re coming, too!”
Dan shook his head in uncertainty. “I’m not so sure. When does it come out?”
“Well, we’ll see what kind of exams I have then.”
“When you want to, sweetie, you can always arrange for yourself to have a little vacation, can’t you? Or maybe you don’t want to go?”
“I didn’t say that,” Dan murmured evasively. “But it is true that I’m afraid I’ll feel strange and different at this wedding.”
Lara looked reprovingly at his bare head. “If you show up at the hall the way you’ve been looking recently, then of course you’ll feel different. Or perhaps you mean you’ll be different because everyone there who’s your age is married already?”
He smiled thinly. “You can’t know. November is still a long time away! Even I can be married by then.”
His mother fixed him with a penetrating gaze. “You know that that will make me very happy. To whom?”
“Oh, I was just talking theoretically.” He tried to sound nonchalant, but knew that it would take more than that to fool his mother.
“You weren’t talking theoretically at all. I know you too well. Who is the girl you are planning to marry?”
He sighed resignedly. “You don’t sound all too happy, Mother, as you promised you would be a moment ago.”
“What did I promise?”
“You said that my getting married will make you very happy. Why aren’t you happy?”
“Because your evasiveness is worrying me. I hope it’s a good family.”
“A very good family. You know them very well.”
Lara began to relax. “A good family? So why are you so afraid to tell me who it is?”
Dan sighed again. “Because there is something that you are going to be very unhappy about.”
“Stop sighing!” Lara said. “You might be thirty-two, but that’s still not old enough to sigh twice in two minutes. Who is the family and what’s the problematic issue?”
He tried to decide where to start. “Mother, do you remember Diana Molis?”
“Of course,” Lara replied tersely.
“Do you know her son, Roy?”
“He has a daughter. Her name is also Diana. Diana Molis. And…that’s it.”
She looked at him with fury in her eyes. “Don’t tell me that that’s whom you’re planning to marry!”
Dan tried to sound calm and composed. “I’m sorry, Mother, but yes, that’s exactly what I wanted to tell you.”
“You won’t do it!”
He remained silent.
“Listen to me, Dan. You will only marry a Jewish girl. Is that clear?”
“Because Jews marry Jews!”
“And if she doesn’t care?”
“She doesn’t interest me! I don’t care if she doesn’t care from today until next year. But this entire horrific plan is null and void as far as I’m concerned!” She stopped, evaluating him. His face was expressionless.
“Is she from London?”
“No,” he replied. “She’s from here. Her mother is Belgian.”
“You will listen to me, Dan, won’t you? You won’t do it.” Her voice was firm and harsh, but there was a pleading note woven among the words.
“I’m very sorry, Mother, but I’ve already made up my mind about this a while ago. I just didn’t want to tell you.”
“You didn’t want to tell me!” She was screeching now. “Because you know that it’s a terrible thing!”
“I don’t know anything.” Dan’s cool demeanor was beginning to dissipate. “Think about it, Mother. Wouldn’t you want to repay Diana Molis for all she did for you by being welcoming to her granddaughter? Don’t you want to have joint descendents?”
“Joint descendants?!” Lara didn’t lower the volume one decibel. “Diana and Bob Molis invested a lot of effort to ensure that I remained a Jew, and that I should have Jewish offspring, not joint offspring with them!”
Dan began to walk towards his room. His expression remained blank.
“Dan!” Lara burst into tears. “Don’t do it to me. It’s a terrible thing, even if I don’t know how to explain it to you exactly. I’m begging you, Dan!”
He looked at her and a small gleam began to sparkle in his eyes. But it faded almost immediately. His expression was frozen, as he said quietly: “For the third time, I’m sorry, Mother, but no. Diana and I are planning to get married.”
And he entered his room and closed the door behind him.
I don’t remember the last time I’ve had such a busy few weeks! First was the overnight trip, and the next day, Shragi’s vort. It was beautiful, baruch Hashem. True, I don’t think I saw too many of Menuchi’s friends there, but I was so busy with my own friends that it’s possible that I simply didn’t notice the girls in Menuchi’s circle. Here and there, I saw some familiar faces from school. Smiling, sitting for a minute, chatting a bit, but nothing more than that.
But who really cares what the story is with her friends? The main thing is that Menuchi is very refined, very special. We actually exchanged a few pleasant sentences here and there—when I enjoyed something her nephew said, and when she thanked me for helping choose the flowers. She even asked how the overnight went. I had stories from today to tomorrow about the opening trip, the lack of running water for fours hours, and the choir that I arranged. But just then, her mother came over with a friend of hers and Menuchi turned to talk to them. Besides, it didn’t seem right for me to get into long-winded descriptions in the middle of the vort. After all, that was not what she expected when she asked about the trip, right? So I just smiled and said that “it was very nice” and walked away. I do hope that we will have some common interests to talk about in the future.
Two days later, the baby came home, and with him, the special food for preemies, a thousand instructions, and hours and hours of his thin, tinny wailing. He knows how to shriek—that’s for sure. No one has any doubt about that!
And then two more days passed, and baruch Hashem the baby had his bris. His name is Yehuda Kalman. “Yehuda” is to thank Hashem for the baby who came home healthy, and “Kalman” is for Saba Weingarten z”l.
I spent the whole bris running to and fro, either looking for Yitzi or rocking the baby. I didn’t have much time to talk to our new kallah, Menuchi. During the few minutes that I did manage to sit down, we chatted a bit. I asked her about the courses she had taken this past year. She told me she had taken English; I knew that. I asked her what she thought about computers, and she replied that the subject had never interested her. I asked her about physical education, and she said that “it sounds nice.” I asked her about special education, and all she had to say about that was that “the girls who take that track have to work very hard.”
Yehudis interrupted and said she wanted me to learn to be her teacher. Menuchi laughed and said that that was a good idea, and pinched Yehudis’s cheek. Well, at least those two have already clicked. You don’t need to do much to be Yehudis’s friend. Just smile a bit, listen to her stories with interest, give her a pat, and immediately you’ll be her “best friend.”
I would really want my future sister-in-law to be my “best friend,” but what’s a girl to do if she simply has nothing to talk about with her sister-in-law? And the strangest thing is how she can be compatible with Shragi if her responses are so short and boring and just turn every conversation into a dead end! Well, maybe she’s still a bit shy with me. I saw that she was talking a lot to Ima. Maybe that’s because she’s met her more times than she’s seen me.
The bris was on Monday, and on Wednesday we had a field day with my seventh-grade Bnos girls to mark the end of the year. I worked very hard to make sure it was successful—which it was, baruch Hashem—and when I got home from it, all I wanted to do was crawl into my bed for two days.
But I couldn’t change the weekly schedule, and the next day was Thursday, and Menuchi was supposed to come for Shabbos. Yehudis was being very cranky, Yehuda Kalman cried nonstop, Yitzi was being wild, and Ima was even more tired than I was. How could I rest? I rocked the baby to sleep, and played with Yehudis and Yitzi until Miriam the volunteer, bless her, came and took them out. Then I cleaned up the huge mess they’d left behind, baked a cake, and washed the dishes. I put a load into the washing machine and transferred the wet laundry to the dryer and folded the dry laundry and put it away. When Yehudis and Yitzi came home, I fed them (with Miriam’s help), bathed them (also with Miriam), played another little game with them (yes, Miriam was still there), and put them to bed (ditto).
And on Friday it was the same. I washed, cleaned, folded, and soothed the kids. I’m not complaining, chalilah. Always for simchos.
But is it any wonder that I was exhausted by the time Shabbos came?
We sat down after licht bentching, Ima, Yehudis, Menuchi, and I. Ima told Menuchi something about Yehudis’s day camp. I was barely listening. Menuchi nodded, looking at Ima.
“You look very tired,” Menuchi said suddenly. Ima’s eyes really were red, and now that I think about the two days before Shabbos, I’m beginning to think that Ima’s red eyes didn’t only have to do with her being tired. Savta Weingarten had called on Thursday afternoon, asking to speak to Ima. Her voice was a bit shaky, but because I was chasing Yitzi, who had grabbed Yehudis’s wafer away from her, I didn’t really pay much attention to it. Ima took the phone, and a minute later, went into her room and closed the door. She came out looking confused, and for the rest of the day, and all of Friday, she was on the phone constantly with Aunt Betty and then Savta again. My mind wasn’t clear enough to absorb what they were saying, but the tense atmosphere came across very clearly. I really hope Savta’s okay, and that her health is good.
Menuchi also noticed Ima’s tension, and she suggested that Ima go rest. And, unbelievably, Ima agreed and went! The first Shabbos that the new kallah was here! She must have really been drained.
Menuchi, Yehudis, and I—with my exhaustion—stayed behind. Yehudis began talking about her day camp and her trips, when someone knocked at the door. It was one of the neighbor’s wonderful children who came to invite Yehudis to play at their house until the men came home from shul.
So there we were, Menuchi, me, and my exhaustion.
“Do you want to hear more about my overnight?” I asked, trying to sound enthusiastic.
“If you’d like…” she said with a small smile.
If I’d like! Apparently, it didn’t interest her much. Was there anything that did interest her? For lack of any other options, I told her about the choir I had organized with Chantzy. Menuchi listened with a tense type of quiet and then said, “Oh, how nice!”
I felt like I was about to fall asleep on the spot. “Would you like to see Shragi’s photo album?” I suggested brightly.
“Yes, thank you,” she said.
I brought her the album, but remained standing. “Um…Menuchi?”
She looked up at me. I hesitated.
“I had a field day with my Bnos girls two days ago…” I laughed a bit, feeling awful. “I’m really exhausted…”
“You can go rest,” she said, and I was almost sure I heard relief in her voice.
“Thanks…” I said with a weak smile. If she preferred to be without me, and I wanted to be in my bed, why think twice about it? “Just for a few minutes,” I added. After all, it really wasn’t nice to leave her all alone.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, turning another page in the album. “You can rest as much as you want.” So did I need any more proof that she is the type who likes to be by herself? Why shouldn’t I provide that enjoyment for her?
She continued looking at a brownish picture of Shragi at age one-and-a-half holding a ball. So I smiled, yawned, said, “Good Shabbos; see you soon,” and went to my room.
So I remained alone.
And it’s a good thing I had the album; at least I could pretend I was looking at it. And my future sister-in-law didn’t see the faces I had to make to stop the two tears from sliding down my cheeks. Just like that, with natural elegance, she got up and left me. I had heard about unpleasant situations that can develop when visiting the chassan’s family right after the engagement, but I never heard of leaving the kallah to host herself! I had offered his mother to go rest. She looked so drained, and I saw that she was happy with my suggestion. Well, how could she not be tired? I’m happy that she was acting naturally with me.
And after the neighbor took Yehudis, Simi and I were left alone. I tried to think about things we could talk about, but the pressure just made my mind go blank. Oh, come on, my logic tried telling me. It’s one thing to be afraid of the shivgger, but a sister-in-law who isn’t even your age? But I was not able to go along with my logic right then. And baruch Hashem, Simi preempted me.
“Do you want to hear more about my overnight?” she asked me.
At the end of the vort, when it was pretty quiet already, I had suddenly found myself alone with Simi, and I had asked her about the overnight. Even before I finished the question, though, I had given myself a bad grade. Is that what a kallah talks about at her vort? Simi hadn’t even opened her mouth to answer when Ima walked over with a woman who looked vaguely familiar.
“Menuchi, this is Aliza Feder.”
Oh! I decided already at home that for this woman I would look as happy as I could. I didn’t want her to think that she had caused me to doubt my shidduch. I smiled my sweetest, broadest smile and nodded to all her best wishes. Simi took advantage of the minute and hurriedly got rid of me and my stupid question by saying, “It was very nice.” Then she walked off. I gave myself an even lower grade than before.
On Friday night I was happy to try and rectify my mistake. So when Simi asked me if I wanted to hear more about her overnight, I smiled and said to her, “If you want.” It really would be interesting to hear about the overnight from one of the organizers.
Simi looked at me with a funny expression and then told me in this dry tone about the choir she had headed. “That’s nice!” I said with admiration, expecting to hear some more stories. But the madam had obviously decided that I’d heard enough.
Am I not interesting enough for her to share her overnight experiences? Apparently not. She brought me a photo album, and I was sure that now we’d definitely have what to talk about. Pictures are always a great source of conversation. I’d ask about the pictures; she’d answer. She’d tell me stories; I’d listen.
But no; she didn’t even sit down. She had no intention of talking to me. The purpose of the album was simple: to keep this little unpleasant pest—me—busy and to leave the living room, claiming exhaustion.
No, she didn’t actually say she wanted to leave. Of course not! She “just happened” to tell me about the field day she had organized for her Bnos girls. (Fine, Simi, it’s okay, I know that you’re so talented and capable and active in these things. I heard already!) Then she added that she was tired—very tired. I feigned generosity and suggested that she go to sleep. And when she said she’d be back shortly, I told her to rest for as long as she wanted. I didn’t want her favors! I wouldn’t be miserable without her. After all, I’m pretty used to being myself.
But the truth is, I felt pretty miserable.