By Esther Rapaport
In the end she said yes. She needed to make every effort to preserve the remnants of the regular, successful, vivacious Chaiky. She could not allow herself to become more of the confused, tense Chaiky who had a hard time noticing small details. When was the last time she’d stood before an audience and spoken? More than half a year ago, when they’d planned a Rosh Chodesh party at the community center and the guest speaker had cancelled at the last minute. Elka had given Chaiky the job of taking over.
“I know you can speak powerfully,” she’d said, not giving Chaiky an opportunity to decline. “So let’s go—we may as well enjoy your talents!”
And they’d enjoyed, baruch Hashem. Shlomo had prepared a nice idea about the parashah for her, and she’d connected it to something current that had happened that month. What month had it been? She couldn’t remember right now. It was hard to remember what she had even spoken about; it was hard to remember what the Chaiky of those days—whose life was flowing along so smoothly—had thought and felt. But she did remember that the speech had been a success.
And now she’d agreed to speak for an audience again. So what? When she would have some free time tomorrow or the next day, she’d open a Chumash with Ramban and look for a fitting concept that was easy to grasp, and that older women could also relate to and enjoy.
What would be with the children when she’d go? Well, Yael had said the event was scheduled for eleven o’clock in the morning, when Dovi and Naomi were in school. She’d arrange with her sister-in-law Goldie, or one of the neighbors, to take the children in the afternoon, even though she really didn’t like asking for favors. She’d be back a few hours later and would pick them up. Maybe she’d buy them a treat in Petach Tikvah, if she’d have a few minutes to drop into a store.
Chaiky sat motionless and stared ahead for a full minute. Then she put down the phone and stood up. She went to the kitchen to take a yogurt from the fridge. Somehow, she felt a bit different.
And even…yes, even if someone in the family had concocted this whole plan and sent Yael to ask her to speak, all in order to get her out a little—she didn’t really mind that it had succeeded. It wasn’t a bad thing for others to worry about her a bit now; she was allowed to concede that it was hard for her to handle things all by herself. And if her family’s concern was now causing this feeling of vitality that was coursing through her veins—well, that was for sure a net gain.
Six days passed, and Sunday arrived. There was no memory of Sebelia’s visit—she was supposed to come again tomorrow. Still, Chaiky’s breathing was relatively relaxed. She put two Chumashim with different commentaries on her night table, along with another sefer of essays on the parashah and inyanei d’yoma. She hadn’t had a chance to look into them yet, but it was good that they were there, ready for whenever she was.
That evening, she was actually in a very good mood. She cut up a salad for Dovi and Naomi, prepared omelets that “smell like you used to make them,” as Dovi said, and even made a cup of coffee for herself and sat down to eat with the kids. She had to come to terms with the fact that for the foreseeable future, there was no reason for her to wait until 9:30 at night to eat her own supper, just because that’s what she was used to doing for so many years. No one was going to be coming home then, and there was no one to clean up the kitchen for or set the table for again. If she was hungry, she could eat with the children at the same messy table where they were eating. And you know what? Despite the jam that Naomi smeared on the table, and the chocolate milk that Dovi spilled, it was actually a very nice meal.
Then the children went to bed and fell asleep easily, and Chaiky went back to the kitchen to bentch. She put down the bentcher and looked around, wondering if she had the energy to clean up the mess, or if it could all wait patiently for tomorrow. Then her cell phone rang. Elka.
Chaiky bit her lip as she answered the phone. The relationship between them the past two weeks, since Noa had been hired, was not the same. When Elka came to work, she preferred to spend most of her time in the library, deep in conversation with Noa; she hardly spoke to Chaiky or Miri, save for a few terse words like, “Everything alright? What’s doing?”
At first it irritated Chaiky; then it made her tense, but eventually, she began to come to terms with it. Elka had apparently taken Noa on as a personal kiruv project, and she was taking it very seriously. She’d even invited Noa for Shabbos last week, and Noa had related on Sunday how much she’d enjoyed it. “My neshamah yeseirah felt wonderful,” she’d told Miri. Chaiky, who had passed by just then and overheard the comment, had deliberately not responded.
“Tell me, Chaiky, can you go with Noa this week to buy some new books for the library? She probably doesn’t know yet how exactly to choose chareidi literature, and I think the time has come to refresh our inventory a bit.”
“Fine,” Chaiky said politely. Not that she understood why she had to take Noa along on her regular trip, and why it was being presented as “her going along with Noa,” instead of “Noa coming along with her.” But she decided not to dwell on these minor details. She was getting used to the idea that the library was becoming more and more Noa’s purview, and, that being the case, she would be better off seeing the bright side of the situation—that some of the load of her technical responsibilities was being lifted.
“So I thought you’d go and—”
The house phone rang, and Chaiky heard Dovi shifting in his bed. “Elka, let me call you back soon, okay? I have to take an urgent call.” It was probably Tamar from across the street, returning her call after Chaiky had looked for her all day.
She was right.
Esther Rapaport is a prolific author whose novels include Diamond in the Rough, Divided Attention, Behind the Scenes, Without a Trace, Dance of the Puppet, Blood Brothers, and The Kenya Conspiracy. She resides in Israel. Stay tuned for the next installment in next week’s Five Towns Jewish Times or visit 5tjt.com for more.