Welcome to my on-going novel, Hada’s Fog. A couple of times per week, I will post, beginning with Chapter One. The first scene/chapter you see will be the most recent installment, with previous scenes/chapters below it. The postings will be labeled by chapter and scene numbers for easy access to where you left off.
Hada lay in bed with her eyes wide open. She glanced at the small clock on the bed stand. Two o’clock in the morning, too early to get up and she might wake Lev if she did. Conflicting thoughts spun in her head. She had to make them stop. She shifted her position to face the window but it was too dark to see out of it. As she rolled to her other side, the shape of the Amaryllis standing tall in its pot dominated everything on top of the chest of drawers.
It reminded her of her garden in New Jersey, covered with snow this time of the year, and the house, empty and cold, the car in the garage waiting for her. And Geborah. When they met at Macy’s, they had talked about the strong-willed women typical of these times. Hada wanted to be one and resolved to go back to New Jersey if the family chaos in California lasted too long, and she’d do it without Lev. He could stay and deal with Samuel and Abe.
She curled into a fetal position and pressed her eyelids closed. She didn’t want to worry about lawsuits, Lilli and Dario, or Nissa and Jacob. Peace. It was time to return to peace, the peace she had in New Jersey.
“I want to go home.” The words slipped out before she realized she had said them aloud. She listened, but Lev’s deep breathing confirmed he was undisturbed. When she turned her back to him again, the Amaryllis caught her attention. Hada blinked. The usual straight Amaryllis stem appeared to be wavering. Esther, dear girl. Samuel was wrong to spank her, such a big mistake. Esther didn’t speak up for herself, and if Hada left, poor Esther. However, to stay in California, with the chaos, the fog, and no garden to tend would be agony. She let go of the negative thoughts and lulled herself to sleep with visions of Esther dancing in the snowy garden.
She jerked awake. A sound, what was it? Hada opened her eyes. The morning light filtered through the lace curtains on the window. Lev was nowhere in the room, and whatever had awakened her, didn’t repeat.
Hada rose, put on her robe, and stepped into her scuffs. She fluffed her hair with her fingers, it was growing longer and harder to fluff. It needed a trim but she didn’t want too much taken off. She intended to let it grow and style a new hairdo that girl in the airport had suggested. Now there was a sweet girl. Anabelle. Anabelle Lee, even if they talked for a short time, the girl was memorable.
Hada put on her green dress, the one Lev liked. After she found out where he was, she’d freshen up. It was important to look presentable. Who knew what nonsense today would bring?
She found Lev in the kitchen reading the Chronicle and sipping coffee unaware of her entry. Bira placed a plate of scrambled eggs and toast in front of Lev. “Good Morning, Mother Hada. Would you like eggs?”
Lev put the paper down and reached for Hada to come closer. “Good sleep?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Not really, I woke up in the middle of the night and I was awake for hours. Anyway, I will eat breakfast later, don’t wait for me. I’ll make myself something.” She shuffled along the hall to the bathroom to put on fresh makeup but stopped by the staircase when Esther said in a loud whisper from upstairs, “Psst… Grandmother Hada.”
“Yes?” She supported herself with one hand on the railing as she looked upwards.
“May I talk with you for a minute?” Esther tiptoed from the stairs toward her.
When Esther stopped on the last step, a few inches from Hada, she said, “Alone?”
Hada searched the hallway, “We are alone, dear.”
“Someone might come.” Esther held her gaze on Hada’s face.
“When I was your age and I wanted to talk privately to my sister, we stepped into the bathroom.” Hada took Esther’s hand and they both entered the small enclosure. Hada put the toilet seat down and sat on it. Esther closed the door and sat on the edge of the bathtub.
“Is everything all right, dear?”
“Sort of, I guess. I answered the phone this morning before anyone was awake and it was….it was…”
“Who? Your father?”
“No. It was Lilli.”
“Oi Gevault. What did she want?”
“It’s her father’s birthday party tonight, and she invited me to come.” Esther sat straight and wrung her hands as was her mother’s habit these last few weeks.
“You refused, did you not?” Hada put her hands over Esther’s to calm them.
“I…I…said I would ask permission, but I’m afraid to ask Mother, it would upset her.” Esther slipped one of her hands on top of Hada’s so their hands stacked alternately. “I’d like to go, especially since father is in LA and won’t be there.” Her face had an eagerness Hada hadn’t seen before.
“What? Why would you want to go to that house to be with that nasty girl?” Hada’s brain couldn’t find associations between these two unlike personalities. It couldn’t be possible.
Esther’s face turned red and she lowered her head. “I like Lilli. I know she’s rude and doesn’t act right all the time, but we have fun together.”
The minute it took for Hada to decipher what her granddaughter said was like a long warp in time. “Lilli’s much older than you, and her friends would be older too.” Hada shivered at the thought of the football star and what could transpire with him and other older boys preying on Esther. “There’ll be liquor around. She drinks like a fish. We saw that at Thanksgiving.” Hada would not allow it. Neither would Bira and Lev. “It might be a drunken brawl.” A sharp pain hit her chest.
Another possibility occurred to Hada. “I don’t understand why she’s inviting you.” But she bit her lip when Esther frowned. Maybe it sounded as if she implied Esther wasn’t someone anyone would want at a party. “I’m sorry, dear. I meant why would she want you to be there with an older crowd?” Hada’s heart pounded against her ribs in worried anticipation that her granddaughter would insist on going. “I’m sure there are other parties to go to with friends your own age.”
Esther sighed. “I guess it’s useless. I shouldn’t have asked you.” She looked toward the wall and withdrew her hands from Hada’s as if she rejected the closeness. She sprang from the tub’s edge and reached for the doorknob.
Hada rose too. “Your mother has enough problems right now. You’ve made a good decision not to stress her and not to lie.”
Esther shrugged and left, closing the door behind her. Hada clutched the collar of her dress and waited for her heart to calm before joining the adults. She forgot to freshen up or comb her hair.
She whispered to herself on the way to the kitchen. Bira was washing dishes and Lev continued to read the paper. “I guess I’m the last one to eat breakfast?” Hada said with a smile. She had made an important decision.
“I’ll be happy to make whatever you would like to eat.” Bira, with a trepid-looking smile and puzzled brow, dried her hands on the dishtowel. Hada guessed that her daughter-in-law wondered about Hada’s unusual, happy manner.
“Not to worry, dear. I will make my own breakfast and clean up after myself. You go do whatever you had planned for today.” Her breath and her heart returned to their natural rhythm. Hada’s resolve grew stronger. She had to tell Lev as soon as possible and she hoped he would agree. “Off you go. I’ll finish drying the dishes. Shoo.” Hada made a sweeping motion with her hands at Bira, who did as she was told and left the kitchen.
After Hada poured cereal in a bowl, she asked Lev, “Where’s Judi?”
He didn’t look up from his paper. “Hhmm? Judi? She’s at a play time in the house of one of her little friends.”
That was good. Hada didn’t want that rambunctious girl interrupting. She placed her bowl on the counter and sat on the stool next to him. Then she nudged his elbow. “I have something important to discuss with you.”
Lev let the paper slide out of his hands and took off his reading classes. He turned to face her. “What is it my dear? What was on your mind that you couldn’t sleep?”
Hada swallowed her bite of cereal and put her spoon down. “Memories of New Jersey popped up. I missed the house and garden and even our car. I was very homesick and tired of all this mess here. I wanted to go back even if it meant I would have to go without you.” A gnawing pain hit her stomach when she saw the hurt encompass Lev’s face. She wished she had found a better way to approach this subject.
His brown eyes closed as if he were in a dust storm and he whispered, “You would return to New Jersey without me?”
“I’m sorry, Lev.” She hugged his upper arm. “I don’t mean to hurt you. Please, hear me out before you think I’d do it. I’ve changed my mind.”
Lev rested his hands on top of the newspaper, entwined his fingers in prayer position, and stared straight ahead. “In all our years of marriage we have never lived in separate places or even vacationed alone. You would have planned to leave without even discussing it with me?”
“Yes, otherwise you would’ve talked me out of it. I was ready to tell you I had had enough of it here and that I was going home. But, it doesn’t matter now because I’ve changed my mind, so there is nothing to feel bad about.” She ate the last bite of her cereal, pushed the bowl away and waited before continuing. The wave of Lev’s disappointment surged from him through her. She wanted to rewind and take back what she had said. And besides, leaving without him wasn’t the point she wanted to make.
“Hada, a wife talks to her husband if she’s unhappy.” He met her eyes with such sorrow, she couldn’t bear it.
“Please, all ready. I’m not going anywhere. In fact it’s the opposite I want to discuss. I wanted you to remember I resisted in the first place, right? But I didn’t know then that there would be something more important at stake here than the boys’ arguments.”
“Samuel’s behavior has made all the stakes higher,” Lev said.
Hada ignored his comment. “I have become fond of Esther. Judi too, but it’s Esther who needs us to the point I put aside my desire to go home. She came to me this morning with a problem. We talked in a way I couldn’t talk to the boys. ”
Lev stroked her cheek and said, “All those years ago, maybe we should have tried again for a girl.”
Hada blushed. “No, dear, two sons were quite enough, really quite enough. But now there are two granddaughters in need of us.”
“What are you telling me?” he asked.
“Bira is busy. She’s spring cleaning in winter and looking for a job.”
“Yes. Clearing things out so there’s less to deal with since she must move to a smaller place. She’s afraid that alimony and child support won’t be enough to keep up the expenses in this big house and, yes, she will need to find employment.”
Hada nodded her head in agreement. “And who will take care of the girls when she’s working, not her crazy mother. Miri can’t care for Esther. Our vulnerable first-born granddaughter understands her position in the family and the burden of watching out for her younger sister and now worrying about her devastated mother. Besides all that she’s under peer pressure and she’s at the age where she wants friends and a social life. She needs our guidance and protection.”
Lev leaned forward and rubbed his forehead. She wished he’d focus on the point but her guilt prompted her to put her hand on his back to comfort the hurt she had inflicted. “I should not have told you about my homesickness.”
With his head held low, his chin close to his chest, his voice sounded garbled. “My beautiful wife, you must tell me if you ever want to go home again.”
Didn’t he hear what she had said about Esther? Hada suppressed a sigh and squirmed on the stool. “Yes. All right. I promise. I will tell you if I get homesick again.”
When Lev raised his head, he took Hada’s hand and kissed it several times. His lips were cool on her skin. “I had planned for us to stay until the Bat and Bar Mitzvahs were over, but we could go home for a couple weeks before then and return for the celebrations?”
She jerked her hand away from him. “No. We have to stay here now. Have you not heard what I said? ”
Lev had a confused expression, but before she said more, the phone rang. The sound of Bira running down the stairs to answer it made Hada eager to make her point.
Hada pulled on Lev’s elbow. “Bira might come in here and before she does, I want you to understand what I am saying, Lev. We have to take care of the girls. We can’t go back to New Jersey.”
Bira appeared in the doorway and interrupted. “That was Abe on the phone. He wants to come over to discuss Samuel’s involvement in Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah. He has received a call from Nissa who told him she and Samuel made plans for the event. They’ve put deposits on the hotel and food and everything without consulting Abe. Nissa said there was nothing he could say to change it.”
Lev pounded his fist on the counter and stood up. “It’s not his place. The father is to make the plans for the bar mitzvah with his son. Samuel is taking that position away from Abe.”
Hada sighed. More problems. Had she made the right decision? It wasn’t too late to change her mind since Lev didn’t understand her intent anyway. How long would she stay here? Esther was only twelve. Hada closed her eyes. A view appeared of her beautiful garden at home in spring, the sun and shadows in the yard as she pulled weeds, tulips bloomed, the birds chirped, and the warm breeze kissed her cheeks.
The scene changed to the discussion in the bathroom. Esther’s desire to be with Lilli, the disappointed look, and the abrupt way she pulled her hands away from Hada. A new garden needed tending.
The stillness in the living room made Lev look up from The San Francisco Chronicle and listen for voices or footsteps, any sounds of activity. Everyone was home, but where in the house were they? He returned to the newspaper thinking he should be enjoying the tranquil morning, but he kept reading the same paragraph more than twice. When the phone rang in the hallway, he jumped up, not to answer it, but in a startled reaction. Why was he on edge? Bira’s voice filtered into the room when she answered the call. He sat again, shook the newspaper open, and found a different news article to read.
“Father Lev, are you ready for a coffee warm up?” Bira entered the room with a dish towel over one arm and the coffee pot in her hand. “Abe called. He’s coming in an hour to take the girls ice skating at Justin Herman Plaza in the city.”
He was grateful his daughter-in-law sensed what would please him. A second cup of coffee would be perfect. Lev lowered the newspaper and held his cup steady for the refill. “Ice Skating? In San Francisco?”
Bira spread the towel on the coffee table to set the pot on top of it. “Every year an outdoor ice rink is set up near the wharf. Rental skates are available in all sizes. The girls love it. Do you want to go with them and watch?”
“No, I don’t think so. Does Hada know Abe’s coming?”
“I haven’t told her yet. She’s in the shower.” Bira straightened the pillows on the couch and opened the blinds behind Lev’s chair. “Now you can see the paper better.”
“Today is the first time Abe has seen his mother since he kicked us out of his house over Thanksgiving weekend.” How would it be with the two of them? Maybe Hada would stay in their bedroom, maybe Abe wouldn’t come into the house, or maybe they would ignore each other. He’d have to wait and see.
Bira stood behind Lev’s chair, bent over it, and gave him a hug. “Abe knows you both are staying here. He must not be angry at either of you anymore if he’s willing to come over for the girls.”
Lev put his hand on Bira’s arm. “All his life Abe has been second in Hada’s eyes and not only second, but often overlooked. I know it has hurt him.”
“I’m sorry they haven’t been bonded like they should be, but he’s been fortunate to be number one with you, Father Lev.” Bira kissed his cheek and then headed for the coffee table to pick up the coffee pot and towel.
“He’s everything a father would want in a son.” Lev told her.
“If his integrity, compassion, and putting others first are the qualities you are cherishing, I’m in total agreement.” She winked at him and lingered a moment as he smiled back at her. “I have to be sure the girls are dressing in layers. Ice is cold, but it is sunny today and it could be warm on the rink.”
After she left, Lev attempted to read the paper again, but his mind wondered to those years when Abe rode his bicycle on his paper route. Rain, cold, heat, whatever the weather conditions, he’d never ask to be driven. He paid for new tires or whatever he needed from his route money. He saved the rest and denied himself candy at the corner store after a job well done, unlike the other paper route boys who hung out at the drug store before school started. Abe had the flu one winter. Lev told Samuel to substitute for Abe but he lasted one day before begging Lev to drive the route so he could toss the paper from the car. He complained about the job for days.
When a relative offered a summer job opportunity at a retreat in Northern New Jersey, Samuel grabbed the lifeguard position. Samuel took advantage of being away from home to run wild, to be late for work, to hassle the young female guests, and to sneak refreshments without paying. The second summer, he wasn’t asked back at the retreat. His great uncle had had enough of Samuel and since he didn’t ask Abe to take his brother’s place, he must have assumed Abe was the same kind of kid.
Lev felt a tug on his arm that shook the newspaper. “Lev, are you going deaf? I have been talking to you and you don’t hear me.”
The scent of Hada’s lavender shampoo brought him to the present. “You smell wonderful.” He took her hand and put it against his cheek.
“I’ve had a shower. Bira told me that Abe is coming over any minute to take the girls ice-skating. Judi is talking a mile a minute upstairs. I could hear her all the way in the downstairs bathroom.”
“She must be excited about skating. It’s too bad Jacob isn’t here to go with his cousins. I wonder if he’ll forget this family, eventually.”
“Why do you say that? When Abe is on his feet financially, he’ll bring Jacob here in the summers and holidays.” Hada, in her slippers, shuffled to her chair. The way she walked looked like her feet still hurt. He’d have to mention it to Abe.
The doorbell rang. Hada’s positive response concerning Abe and Jacob helped Lev be more at ease as he went to the door. Abe greeted him with a smile and walked inside without hesitation. “Good morning. Did you sleep well, Dad?”
“As a matter of fact, I did. The heartburn has given me a reprieve.” Lev motioned Abe to follow him into the living room. “Your mother is…” but before he could finish, Abe saw Hada. Lev glanced from one to the other. Neither moved forward to greet the other. Neither smiled. Both appeared to be uncomfortable, self-conscious, or shy.
Hada didn’t get up, but she was the first to speak. “Abe, it’s nice of you to spend some time with the girls.” Lev thought she deserved an Oscar.
Abe nodded in acknowledgement. “Mother.” Then he glanced back toward the archway. “Are they ready yet?”
“They’re fussing because they want to wear knitted caps but their thick hair pushes the caps to the top of their heads,” Hada said. “Bira is looking for hatpins.” Lev wanted to applaud Hada’s effort to act as if nothing happened between them. “Come and sit down, Abe.”
Abe paused and then took a seat on the leather couch where his knees were higher than the cushions. Lev wondered if he had grown or perhaps his own knees looked that awkward too when he sat there. Abe rubbed his thighs while Hada picked at her fingernails. Abe readjusted his position as if he were sitting on a rock.
“Hada.” Lev jerked his head toward the hallway. “How about telling the girls that Abe is waiting for them?”
“I’ll see if they’ve solved the hair problem.” She padded across the room, pausing in front of Abe. “I hope those lawsuits are ending to your advantage and you can make a good living again.”
Abe sighed. “They’ll be settled in good time.” He avoided looking at his mother, got up, and reached for the newspaper Lev had folded into the magazine rack.
Hada had not moved from the archway. Lev jerked his head toward the hallway again. She wrinkled her brow, lifted her chin, and left the room.
Abe rustled through the paper. Then he abandoned it and stretched his legs out, crossing them at the ankles as if he felt more comfortable engaging in conversation now that she was gone.
“Have you heard from Nissa?” Lev asked him.
“Yes. We talked on the phone last night. Jacob’s bar mitzvah is the end of next month and she wants it to be down there where he’s made new friends.”
“That sounds reasonable. Is she demanding a big party?”
“Not out of hand, but I’ll have to take another loan, if I can qualify. It’ll cost probably as much as my wedding day, if not more.”
“Abe let me help you finance it. Give me the bills and I’ll pay for the whole thing. No sense in you accruing more finance fees for another loan.”
“It’s okay, Dad, I’ll get out of debt, ultimately. What’s a few more dollars?” Abe gestured toward the window as if he could throw his money out of it.
“We can set it up as a loan from me if you insist on paying me back, interest free. These are hard times for you right now, you have to cut corners somewhere.” Lev sat forward in his chair.
“I’ll think about it, thanks. Let’s see what she’s planning first. I’ve got the house up for sale and there might be a little equity left if I can get a good price.”
“Uncle Abe!” Judi shouted as she rushed into the room and jumped on the couch, landing on her knees. “See my mittens.” She held out her hands. “And do you like my cap?”
“You look fab, Kitten. But it’s pretty warm already, you may not need all that gear.” Abe stood, took both of her mittened hands and pulled her to her feet.
“Hi Uncle Abe.” Esther grinned with her eyes bright. “I gave up stuffing my hair.”
“What? Too much hair on that glorious head of yours?” Abe, with Judi’s hand in his, walked toward Esther.
“Everybody ready to go?” He held each girl’s arm high in the air and announced to Lev, “Do we look like championship skaters, or what?”
“Winners,” Judi shouted with a little jump. Esther let out a “Yay”.
“Champions all the way,” Lev said.
Bira and Hada joined Lev in waving them on from the doorstep. They piled into Abe’s car and he pulled out of the driveway.
The phone rang in the hall and Lev made room for Bira to pass him, closed the door, and turned to follow Hada to the living room.
“It’s for you, Father Lev,” Bira called to him He changed direction to the hallway and took the receiver from her. She whispered, “Lawrence.”
“Lev. Are you enjoying Hanukkah?”
“We’ve had latkes, sufganiot, we’ve lit the menorah, attended a variety show, and, yes, we have had some memorable times. And you?”
“Of course. The menorah candlelight makes this a beautiful time of the year. I wouldn’t miss any of it. I’ve called because there’s been a surprising turn of events concerning tonight’s birthday party.”
“Dario’s birthday party?” Lev leaned his back against the wall.
“Samuel won’t be attending. He has taken a plane to Los Angeles.”
“Why?” Lev squinted. What was Samuel up to now? “Did he see Nissa and Jacob again?”
“Yes, seems so. I’ve had to get another detective in Southern California to keep tabs on him down there since the one here is obligated to photograph the party.”
“Dario is his best friend, why would he miss his birthday?” Lev asked.
“One probable reason is because he and Lilli are fighting. Remember I told you, she threatened to date the football star at school if Samuel spent a Hanukkah evening with his daughters?”
“She had a date all right. The detective followed her instead of Samuel. He knew Samuel would be at the house with all of you. The football star took Lilli to a hamburger hang out. After they ate, she held a bottle of Kailua out of the window while they drove down the road. They parked by the bay near the horseracing stadium. The detective used his directional microphone to listen to them. They laughed and drank. She dared him to keep up with her until they finished the bottle in less than a half hour. He told her to take off her blouse. She said she’d do more than that. The kid couldn’t stop himself. Their sex was over faster than the Kailua disappeared. She promised more of the same in the future. She knows how to work the males in her life.”
“Samuel found out?” Lev’s head hurt. He switched the receiver to his other ear.
“The detective was able to record their conversation again when they were in Dario’s back yard. Lilli detailed a description of the young stud’s sexual prowess, emphasizing the young part. Samuel got furious, actually threatened to hit her to make her shut up. Then this morning he took a suitcase and headed for the airport.”
“Any confirmation for what we are after?”
“The conversation didn’t include any reference to a sexual relationship between Samuel and Lilli and we could be wrong. He’d be crazy to have sex with a minor, that’s statutory rape.”
Lev moved away from the wall and twisted the cord on the receiver. “For his sake, let us hope he has kept boundaries. But Bira is sure it’s beyond game playing based on what she saw in the hotel parking lot. Thank you for keeping me abreast of what’s happening. I wonder if the football star will be at the party.”
“From what we have on the recording, they didn’t talk about it. I’ll call again. Happy Hanukkah.”
Lev leaned against the wall with the phone still in his hand taking a moment to collect himself before facing the women.
Back in the living room, Bira had curled up on the couch.
“Samuel flew to Southern California to visit Nissa and Jacob again.”
“Before Dario’s party tonight?” Bira moved her feet to the floor and straightened her spine.
“He had a suitcase with him so we assume he will be spending the night. In a hotel, most likely. I doubt Nissa’s parents will encourage him to stay there whether they have the room or not.” Lev sat in his chair and rubbed his chin as if he had a beard.
“It’s good Samuel will not be part of a drunken birthday party,” Hada said. “He doesn’t need to be making mistakes like he does when he drinks.”
Lev wondered if he should bring up the rest of the information and decided, why hide it. “Samuel and Lilli are fighting. She had a date with a football star from school.”
“Why should that make them fight?” Hada leaned forward in her chair.
“We assume his reaction shows he’s jealous and that points to the possibility he’s having an affair with Lilli as we’ve suspected.” Lev watched Hada’s face become whiter and her cheeks caved in.
“I would hope he scolded her because she flirts and could get into trouble on her dates. How would she manage a strong football player if he wanted his way with her after she enticed him?”
Typical for Hada to divert blame to Lilli, but Lev didn’t want to argue that point. “Lawrence’s detective reported that she willingly had sex with the football star that night. In fact she initiated it.”
Hada put her hand over her chest as if to protect her heart. “What a nasty, nasty girl. Samuel is crazy to have anything to do with her. Does her father know?”
Lev turned to Bira. “What’s your guess?”
She grabbed a pillow from the couch and clutched it. “When Lilli began growing into a beautiful young woman, Dario changed. He always had tendencies to joke about sex before, but now that she plays up to men, it’s as if he thinks it’s clever of her and actually praises the behavior. I don’t know what’s got into him.”
“The sooner Samuel moves away from them, the better.” Hada rose from her chair and massaged her back.
Lev put the topic of Lilli on hold. “Why has Samuel taken an interest in Jacob and Nissa?”
“You want to know my guess again?” Bira asked.
Hada and Lev nodded in unison.
“He wants to be the good guy especially to Jacob. The more time he spends in Southern California, the worse Abe appears since he can’t afford to go down there.”
“You’re probably right, Bira.” The uneasiness Lev felt earlier in the day returned as if he detected something not yet discernible. He was sure Samuel planned more than just making Abe look bad. What was he conspiring with Nissa? How was he influencing her? Was it to create an ally in his destruction of Abe?
At eleven o’clock the next morning, Hada set the table for lunch. Since no one besides Lev, had come for breakfast, she was sure the others must be hungry by now. She wanted them to eat in the dining room like civilized human beings. Kitchen stools were for people in a rush, people who didn’t know that it was important for family members to sit at a table and eat their meals together. Simple routines few people valued now days. No wonder the world was in chaos.
The roses from Samuel dominated the far end of the table and the other two plants for Esther and Judi stood on either side of her rose tower. She couldn’t decide what to do with them. She didn’t want to accept them as an apology from Samuel, yet she didn’t have the heart to throw them away. The flowers didn’t do anything wrong. They deserved to be admired. It wasn’t right to throw away the flowers for the girls, but she worried about Esther’s reaction to the peace offering. Hada thought about putting the pots in the chairs to look like they were waiting for lunch. Judi would like that.
Hada arranged the last fork on a placemat and admired the well-set table. Her peace and orderly state of mind was interrupted when Judi burst into the room like a Tonka truck likely to run her down. Just in time, the child slid to a stop and wrapped her arms around Hada’s waist, pushing her into the table’s edge with enough force to make the flowers shiver. “Good morning, Grandmother Hada.”
“Oi, you almost knocked me off my feet.” She checked the table settings in case they jolted out of place. “Where are your mother and Esther?”
“They’re coming. I’m hungry as a bear.” Judi bounded to the end of the table. “Pretty flowers, where did they come from?”
“Good morning, Mother Hada.” Bira and Esther, still in their terry bathrobes, ambled toward the table, arm-in-arm, looking causal, but their red, swollen eyes told another story. Bira noticed the flowers and flashed a disapproving look at Hada.
Hada shrugged her shoulders hoping Bira would know it meant that she didn’t know what else to do. She smoothed the apron that protected her patterned dress and said, “I was wondering when everyone would get hungry. We can have a nice lunch at the table this morning. I can make eggs or whatever you want. We have left-over Sufganoit for dessert.”
“Latkes, please.” Judi fingered the stuffed bear that hugged the vase filled with small purple flowers. “This card has my name on it. Does that mean this bear is mine?”
Hada hobbled over to her “Yes, Judi. Your father sent those for you. Esther, the amaryllis is yours and the roses are mine.”
Judi scanned the room and asked, “What about Mommy, didn’t she get any?”
No one answered her. Esther took the card off of the amaryllis and handed it to Bira. “You read it, Mom.”
Bira opened the envelope and took out the small card. “To my dear Esther. Please forgive me. I pray that God will forgive me too. I love you, Daddy.” Her voice cracked at the end and she held it out to Esther who refused to take it.
Judi tore her envelope open and struggled with some unfamiliar words, “Dear Judi, I’m sorry I slapped you. I was so …worried about everyone’s…safety, but I should have known you were scared too. Please hug the bear and know that I return the hug to you. Love, Daddy.” Judi pried the bear off of the vase and hugged it close. “He’s so cute. I love him.”
Hada, observed them over the edge of her coffee cup as she held it to her lips acting as if she took a sip. Esther picked up her card from the table and tore it into several tiny pieces that fell to the floor. Then she turned away and stormed out of the room. Bira followed her daughter with a last look at the flowers. Her nose wrinkled at them as if they smelled like skunk.
“What should I name my new bear, Grandmother?” Judi said as she leaned on Hada.
A story from the Bible came to Hada’s mind. God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. She imagined Samuel sacrificing Esther, not for God, but for the devilish Lilli. “How about Isaac?”
Judi nodded as if she knew the story but Hada guessed she probably didn’t understand the meaning Hada had put to it. “Isaac it is, Grandmother. Now there are two bears that are hungry, Isaac and me. Can we have latkes?” She grinned at Hada and without waiting for an answer, hopped on one foot toward the hall where she bumped into Lev at the entrance.
Pushing the bear close to his face she said, “Look at the bear Daddy sent me. And flowers too, the purple ones.” She pointed to the table.
“Yes, I know. I opened the door for the deliveryman this morning.” Lev guided the bear away from his face and caught Hada in a questioning gaze.
“Where are Esther and Bira?” she asked him.
“Bira’s calling a taxi to pick up the suitcases.”
Judi made a sad face. “Daddy’s suitcases?”
“Yes. He forgot them last night so the taxi will take them to Dario’s house.”
“Can I write a note to thank him for Isaac? Will the taxi driver give it to Daddy?”
“I suppose so. If you hurry and write it.” Lev patted her curly head and she dashed out of the room.
“I offer to make lunch and everyone disappears.” Hada sat down in a chair. “My feet are still sore from all that baking yesterday.”
Lev came over and kissed her hand. “After I massaged them, they still hurt?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“You shouldn’t be on your feet again. Rest them. Shall we take everyone out for lunch today?” Lev sat down across from her and folded his hands as if in prayer.
“I just went to the trouble of setting this table. I thought we could eat together instead of sitting at silly stools by a counter where everyone eats at all hours. We need a sense of a united family, what’s left of it.”
“You’re right, Hada.”
“Judi wants latkes and that’s fine. They don’t take long if someone shreds the potatoes for me. Esther looks terrible…I don’t expect her to help. Judi is more trouble than it’s worth, and Bira….”
“I will shred the potatoes. I have done it before.” Lev searched the cupboards.
“Over there, in the bin at the right,” she said. “French toast would be much easier.”
“Can I help you find something, Father Lev?” Bira asked when she returned alone.
He brought four potatoes to the countertop and looked around as if mystified about how to begin. “I’m going to help with the latkes.”
“Oh, I can make them. Please, sit down and relax. I just wanted those suitcases out of here and I needed to talk with Esther. She doesn’t want the Amaryllis and she doesn’t want to perform in the variety show tonight.” She handed Lev the potato peeler before washing the potatoes.
“Where is she?” Hada asked.
“In her room.”
Lev took the cleaned potatoes and shredded them. Neither looked at each other as Hada, relieved that she didn’t have to stand, watched them. Judi jolted her again when she bumped into her chair on the way to Lev. She shook a paper at his arm. “Here it is. I wrote it. The letter to Daddy. Did the taxi come yet?”
“I think you’re just in time. Put your letter by the suitcases and when the taxicab driver comes, we’ll give it to him.” Lev glanced at his granddaughter with an encouraging smile and continued to shred the last potato.
As much as Hada didn’t want to get up from the chair, she announced, “I am going upstairs to talk with Esther.” She didn’t wait for a response as the two at the counter spoke in low tones to each other. Normally she would insist on knowing what they were talking about, but Esther was a priority.
Hada held the railing and pulled herself up each step with more difficulty than she had last night. She knocked with soft taps on Esther’s bedroom door. “It’s your grandmother, dear. Can I come in?”
She heard a muffled yes and entered. Esther, her robe wrapped tightly around her, laid in a fetal position on her bed, her hands clenched in tight fists under her chin. Hada moved the desk chair closer to the bed and sat down. She paused, waiting to see if Esther wanted to say anything. When she didn’t, Hada said, “Your mother tells me you don’t want to do your dance at the variety show tonight.”
Esther raised her moist eyes to look at her grandmother and nodded.
Hada nodded too and patted Esther’s arm. “I know you’re upset with your father, but if you don’t dance tonight, you will be letting down your friends and everyone who has worked hard on this show to make it fun and a success. I know you don’t want to shirk your responsibility.”
The tears made rivulets down Esther’s cheeks. “But everyone will be looking at me.”
Hada was silent for a couple of minutes. “Esther, you knew that when you volunteered to be in the show. Is it different now because your father made a big mistake in spanking you?”
Esther nodded and crisscrossed her arms to tightly grasp her own shoulders.
“You will have a costume for the show, isn’t that right?”
Esther nodded again.
“Then the audience will see a beautiful girl in a costume who dances like a butterfly. They will not see you the way your daddy saw you or the way I did when I helped you last night.” Hada closed her eyes, letting her point settle in. “You don’t have to answer right away. Think about it and I will just doze here for a couple of minutes.”
In a little while, Hada heard a rustling from the bed and felt Esther’s cold hand on hers. She opened her eyes.
Esther stood at her side, the belt of her robe dangling to the floor. “Will Daddy be there? At the performance?”
“Not if you don’t want him to be.” Hada surprised herself. What was she promising? He must be planning to be there, especially since he wanted his daughter’s forgiveness.
Esther leaned over to kiss Hada’s cheek. “Okay.”
When everyone sat around the table in the dining room, the latkes piled high on a plate in the center of the table, Hada said, “Esther decided she will dance tonight after all. She realizes the necessity of living up to her commitment.”
Judi bounced up and down in her seat and yelled, “Hurray!”
Esther glanced at the flowers and moved to a chair further away, near Hada. She put one hand up to her grandmother’s ear, her lips close to it, and whispered, “Would you like the Amaryllis in your bedroom?”
Hada stroked Esther’s cheek. “I would love that. Can I take it there now?”
Esther nodded. Hada removed the red flower from the table in a fast sweep and walked as fast as she could down the hall to the guest room. She placed it on the dresser, admired the red bloom, nature’s burst from a mere bulb. Birth, life, and then the color is gone, a beauty short-lived. What a different world we’d live in if people would cherish every beautiful moment of life and especially nurture the seeds.
Her reflection in the mirror competed for her attention. She smoothed her hair back and took a tissue to blow her nose. California seemed to incite emotions that might be better left uncovered.
She heard the door open and turned to see Lev enter. He stood behind her, his hands on the top of her shoulders. They looked at the reflection of them both in the bureau mirror. “She’s a good girl and you’re terrific,” he said.
“The Amaryllis, Lev. Esther wanted it out of her sight. She tore Samuel’s card into little pieces.” Hada dabbed her eyes. “But I’m afraid I made a promise that might be difficult to keep. I told her Samuel would not attend the performance tonight.”
“You’re going to tell him not to come?” Lev held Hada close to him.
“I will have to. I promised. He’s probably in the office. He works on Fridays, does he not?”
“Yes, I think so. I’ll keep Esther in the kitchen while you call.” Lev squeezed her shoulders and left.
Hada searched her purse for her address book, found it, and entered the hallway. She stopped to listen and heard Judi singing loudly. Lev must have asked her to sing for them to muffle the call.
The office staff said Samuel wasn’t there. He had called in sick. Hada hung up, went to the doorway of the kitchen, and motioned for Bira who walked toward her with a towel in her hands.
“Bira, I need Dario’s phone number. I want to call Samuel to tell him not to come tonight.”
Bira’s expression changed from surprise to gratitude, as they walked to the phone together. She dialed the number and handed the receiver to Hada. “Thank you,” Bira said. She twisted the towel in her hands and returned to the kitchen. Hada listened to the phone ring on the other end, the phone in that house of sin as Bira called it.
Lilli answered, “Hell OOO.”
Hada stiffened. “Is Samuel there? This is his mother.”
“Of course. I’ll get him…Mom.” She snickered and with her hand obviously over the receiver, spoke in muffled tones.
Impertinent child! Hada wanted to shout at her but Samuel’s voice came on the line immediately. He must have been standing or sitting right next to that girl. Hada’s face felt hot with rising anger.
“How can you tolerate being in a house with that insolent child?” she asked Samuel.
“Insolent, yes, child, no.”
“Samuel, fifteen is still a child.” What could she do to make him understand how misdirected he was regarding Lilli?
“I don’t want to talk about Lilli, Mother. The girls, did they forgive me?”
“Judi, yes. Esther, No.”
“The flowers, did you get them?”
“Yes. Thank you. Judi loves the bear; she called it Isaac. Esther asked me to put the amaryllis in our bedroom. She doesn’t want to look at it. Enough with the flowers. Samuel, do you …?”
He interrupted, “I’ll make it up to Esther, really I will.”
“Samuel, listen to me, you cannot come to the variety show tonight.”
“What? Why not? If Bira thinks she can stop me …”
“It’s not Bira. You don’t understand how much you embarrassed Esther. She didn’t want to dance tonight because you would be in the audience but, it is so much deeper than that. What you did last night has made her self-conscious about her body.”
“What? Don’t be ridiculous. I’m her father. I changed her diapers when she was a baby. I’m a father that made a mistake. I was drunk, for God’s sake.”
“Samuel, I mean I, do not come to the performance tonight.” Hada heard a giggle on the other end, a high-pitched squealing giggle like someone being tickled.
“All right, all right. I won’t come.” Samuel said. Hada thought she heard him mutter something to the giggler. “I’ve got better things to do anyway. I’ll call you tomorrow.” Hada heard the phone click on his end. She made a face at the receiver and set it back on the cradle.
Returning to the kitchen, she announced: “Samuel is unable to come to the show tonight. He said he is sorry to miss it.” Excuses. She had never had to make excuses for him before, but for what he did to Esther, there was no excuse. She wasn’t finished with him yet, not until he understood the gravity of what he had done.
After the performance, The four of them took turns lighting the menorah, Hada brought out the shopping bag full of the presents she had bought for them. At Thanksgiving they had agreed to buy just one gift for each person instead of the traditional one for each day of Hanukkah. Bira sat on the couch with the girls on either side of her as Hada handed a present to each of them.
Judi tore the wrapping off of hers first. “Oh, a silver horse, I love it.” She kissed Hada and climbed on Lev’s lap to give him a kiss.
Esther held up the Star of David pendant by its silver chain, her eyes shining from the light of the candles. “It’s beautiful. “Thank you.”
Bira admired the girls’ gifts as they showed her a closer view. Before she opened her own, she said, “I’m sorry, Mother Hada, with all the changes here, I forgot to go shopping for Hanukkah gifts so I have nothing for you and Father Lev.”
“That’s fine, dear, we don’t expect presents. I had a wonderful time shopping for you all, that’s present enough for me.”
Bira hugged Judi and Esther and said, “I’m so sorry, sweet girls, I didn’t buy you both anything either.”
Esther held her mother’s hand. “It’s okay, we have these presents, that’s enough, right, Judi?”
Her sister scrunched her nose in displeasure, but her smile betrayed her pretense as she climbed on Bira’s lap to tweak her mother’s nose. Then she scrambled down and placed Hada’s gift to Bira into her mother’s hands. “Open it. I want to see what it is.”
Bira admired the wrapping. Hada nodded and flashed back to the store clerk who reminded her of a dog.
“A lovely hairclip. Sapphires are one of my favorite gems. I’ll wear it tomorrow. Thank you so much.”
Judi grabbed the clip out of her nother’s hand and trailed her fingers over the sapphires. “These are real, huh?”
“Of course, they’re real.” Esther took the clip away from her and returned it to Bira. Judi didn’t seem to care. Distracted by Hada’s shopping bag, she shook it. “I thought so. There’s another present in here. Whose is it?”
Hada grabbed the bag away from Judi. “Never mind.”
Judi put her hands on her hips and nodded. “It’s for Daddy, I bet.”
Hada felt the flush rising to her face again. “No. It’s for your grandfather.” She handed the bag to Lev, knowing the cashmere sweater probably wouldn’t fit. He wouldn’t like it either, but Samuel didn’t deserve a present.
“Thank you, my dear,” he said, opening the gift. He held the sweater up to his chest and winked at Hada, “It’s a very nice present.”
Finally Judi settled down on the couch, snuggling close to Bira. Esther leaned on her mother’s shoulder on the other side of her. Everyone was silent as they watched the candles burn close to the ends. Judi put her thumb in her mouth and scooted to the back of the couch, as far away as possible from the tiny flames.
Esther’s sad expression in the flickering light made Hada’s heart tightened, yet there wasn’t any physical pain. The rigidity then turned into a fullness that Hada recognized as a deep love for this girl. Esther’s dance performance had been perfect. She was a beautiful butterfly, a first-born granddaughter of grace and beauty, the one who would carry on the feminine aspects of the family tree with elegance and moral values. Hada wanted to tell her granddaughter how deeply she felt for her, but she couldn’t. She thought about why she couldn’t. The love was not like the love she had for Samuel or the love she wondered if she had for Abe. This love was a deep connection to a sensitive, feminine spirit that was born from her genes. Maybe it tapped into her own youth, when she wanted to feel feminine and beautiful but felt clumsy and ugly. Yet, her genes ran through this graceful, sweet girl. She wanted to protect her, to guide her in life, to watch her grow.
The candles extinguished one-by-one. Hada loved everyone present, her enduring love for Lev, for her daughter-in-law and even for annoying Judi. Astonishingly, she didn’t care that Samuel wasn’t among them. She thought of Abe alone in his house, lighting his menorah by himself and she sent him love too, a mother’s love—a mother, she understood for the first time, that she had neglected her second son all these years. She brushed away the tears that fell to her cheeks. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.
The room darkened as the last candle went out and the stir on the couch drew Hada’s attention. Bira roused Judi who had fallen asleep. “Off you go, precious daughters,” Bira said. “I’ll be right up to tuck you in.”
Esther blew kisses to everyone and helped her sleepy sister out of the room. Bira kissed Lev and Hada on their cheeks. “Thank you both for being with me and the girls. It would be harder if you weren’t here.”
“It was a wonderful evening,” Hada said. Lev nodded in agreement.
With a peaceful kind of smile, one Hada hadn’t seen in a while, Bira said, “Yes, charming. Good night.”
When she left, Lev and Hada sat in silence for a while until Lev reached for Hada’s hand to help her up. “Come, my dear. It’s time to rest together.”
“You go ahead. I must check on Esther. I won’t be long.”
Lev helped her to the stairs. She climbed with aching feet and a sore back. She waved him away from the foot of the stairs, “Go to bed. I’m all right.” When she reached Esther’s door, she tapped it lightly. “It’s me, your grandmother,” she whispered.
Hada entered, relieved to see that Esther looked more comfortable stretched out under the covers. “I wanted to be sure you were all right, dear.” She sat on the edge of the bed. “Did I tell you how beautifully you performed?”
Esther smiled, “Yes, you did. Thank you.”
“Not only are you talented and beautiful, you are very dear to my heart.” Hada felt tears sneak into her eyes but she fought them back. “I’m happy I came to California again so I could discover how much I love this family of ours.”
Esther’s eyes drifted to the ceiling. “We are a family. The one missing isn’t part of us anymore.” Esther closed her eyes and whispered, “But I’m glad he’s gone. I hate him, Grandmother. I never want to see him again.”
Lev parked Bira’s car in the garage and they walked up the steps to the front door. When Lev unlocked and pushed the door open, Bira sniffed. “What is that smell?” Lev secured the deadbolt before they hung up their coats in the hall closet. Bira said, “I’ll see if Mother Hada is in the living room.”
Lev followed her but stopped at the archway when he saw Hada. Something’s wrong. She doesn’t look good. He walked to the chair by the window where she sat staring straight ahead. “Hada? Is everything all right?”
She shook her head without looking at him.
“Mother Hada, why is a bathroom rug on the floor in here?” Bira picked it up. “What’s this? The carpet looks burned.”
“I brought a rug from the laundry room to cover the damage so it would be less memorable.” Hada turned her head away from the center of the room. Lev’s heart beat harder as he sensed that whatever happened was worse than a burned rug.
“Are the girls all right?” Bira’s voice sounded tense.
“As good as can be expected.” Hada said.
“What do you mean? Where are they?” Bira dropped the rug and looked like a leopard ready to leap.
Hada lowered her gaze. “They’re in Esther’s room, hopefully asleep.” Bira dashed away from them and the sound of her footsteps pounding up the stairs broke the silence.
Lev moved closer to Hada. He had to be patient with her. If he demanded the information, she might not tell him. “What happened? Were they hurt?”
“Yes, but not by the fire.” Hada rose from the chair, leaned into Lev with her head on his chest.
Lev stroked her hair and hugged her shoulders. “Tell me who burned the carpet?”
“Judi.” She gripped Lev’s waist with her arms.
“How?” he asked.
Bira interrupted when she burst into the room. “Why is Judi sleeping with Esther?”
“To comfort her.” Hada let go of Lev and hobbled back to her chair. Lev held her elbow for balance as she sat down.
“My feet hurt from standing with all the baking. Sufganiot…in the kitchen if you want some.” Hada sighed.
Bira bent down to be face-to-face with Hada. “The girls, Mother Hada, I need to know everything that happened here tonight.”
Lev put his hand on Hada’s shoulder. “Judi started the fire because she thought her paper menorah was in three dimension and lit some candles for it. When the paper started on fire, it burned the carpet.”
“Did she get burned?” Bira’s hands shook. She clasped them together and twisted them in circles.
“No one is burned.” Hada shook her head.
“What did Samuel do?” The taste of cider and blintzes rose to Lev’s throat.
Hada reached for Bira’s hands and held them in hers. She spoke faster than Lev thought she could. “He slapped Judi, sent her to her room, and made Esther go to his study because he blamed her for not keeping Judi out of trouble. But Esther was helping me in the kitchen like he told her to do, and I thought Judi was with him packing his suitcases.”
“Oh, no.” Bira sank to the floor, almost pulling Hada off her chair.
Hada let go of Bira’s hands and stroked the top of her curly hair as her daughter-in-law sat Indian style with her head down. “There’s more. In the study, he…” Hada shook her head.
Bira jerked her head up. Hada gripped the arms of her chair staring above Bira’s head, “Samuel whipped her behind with a belt.” She closed her eyes and wrinkled her brow.
Bira gasped and jumped to her feet. “This is the last straw. He just becomes more impossible. He’s never hurt the girls before and he calls me an unfit parent.” She circled the room avoiding the burn.
Lev squeezed Hada’s shoulders. “What then?”
“I made him stop and told him to leave the house. Esther ran to her room. I sent Judi to comfort her sister without asking questions. When I checked on them, they were snuggled in Esther’s bed. They asked if Judi could stay there for the night and I said it was okay. The next time I looked in on them, both were asleep.”
Bira kept pacing.. “I checked all the rooms upstairs. He left his suitcases half packed on the bed. I wondered if he was still here.” Bira stopped near the archway and turned in their direction. “Thank you, Mother Hada, for stopping him and making him leave. I’m going upstairs.”
Lev urged Hada to rise from her chair. “Let’s go to bed. We can address these events in the morning.” He took her hand as they walked down the hallway to their room.
When Hada changed clothes and lay down, Lev sat at the foot of the bed beside her. He pulled the sheets back to find her feet and gently massaged her ankles and each foot. She closed her eyes with her hands folded over her ribcage. “He was sorry. He begged forgiveness.”
Lev stopped for a moment. “It is up to God to forgive.”
“I told him that too. Oh, Lev, he embarrassed Esther so much. He had pulled her pants down to whip her. It was degrading, poor child. She is a fine girl.”
Lev swallowed several times but had to hurry to the bathroom. He took several swallows of Milk of Magnesia before returning to try and sleep.
In the morning, Lev sipped his breakfast coffee as Hada sprinkled powdered sugar on the sufganiot. After all her work and the fire, he couldn’t tell her he would rather have eggs. The sufganiot would cause worse heartburn than he had at night.
She placed one on a plate and set it in front of Lev. “They would taste better if we had eaten them last night. Let’s go to the dining room. It’s too uncomfortable here on a stool.”
“These stools are fine. We don’t have to be formal.” Lev sipped his coffee but procrastinated in taking a bite of the jelly doughnut. “Bira took the girls to her room this morning. They’re in her bed talking.”
“Good. They need their mother right now. Samuel’s suitcases are by the front door. All lined up. Bira must have brought them down when everyone was asleep.” Hada set a plate and cup for herself next to Lev but groaned when she struggled to sit on the stool.
“I hope she was able to sleep. We will need to call Lawrence about Samuel’s actions.” Lev took a bite of the sufganiot. The powdered sugar floated over his hand. He shook the excess unto the plate. “Excellent doughnut, Hada.”
She nodded and then took a bite of hers. The doorbell rang and they looked at each other.
“I’ll get it, in case it’s Samuel. He is not to enter this house, even if he is paying for it.” Lev rose and went to the door.
“Zuckermans?” The deliveryman asked holding out a huge bouquet of yellow roses with a note card stuck inside the tissue wrap.
“Yes.” Lev took the bouquet and turned to reenter the house.
“Hold it. I have two more.” The deliveryman went back down the stairs to his van. Lev read the envelope of the note card: Hadassah Zuckerman. He put the two dozen roses on the entry table and waited in the open doorway.
“Here’s another one, Sir.” The deliveryman handed him a red-blooming amaryllis with three red balloons attached and the card’s envelope with Esther Zuckerman written on it. “One more to go.” When he returned to his truck, Lev put the amaryllis on the table next to the roses. Next one must be for Judi.
Lev guessed correctly. The deliveryman handed him purple flowers with a stuffed bear hugging the vase at the base. The card’s envelope read: Judith Zuckerman.
After the deliveryman left, Lev took the yellow roses in to Hada. “Do you think I should talk to Bira first before bringing the girls’ flowers upstairs?”
“Oy vay, so many and they smell lovely.” Hada set the vase on the counter, stood back, and admired them. She opened the card and read out loud, “I was wrong. You are right, my dearest mother. They are just children who made mistakes. I love you all. Please forgive a very stressed father, Samuel.”
“Stressed? He’s stressed? He’s the stressor.” Lev said. “The girls’ flowers are on the table in the hall, whenever you think it’s right to give them to the girls. I’m going to call Lawrence.”
Lev took a kitchen chair into the hall, glanced upstairs to be sure all the doors were closed. He didn’t want the girls to hear him talking. He sat down after dialing and told Lawrence what happened.
There was a pause before Lawrence answered, “Hhmmm. He lost it, eh? I’m sorry the children had to get the brunt of his anger. I think I know what he was angry about.”
Lev held the receiver closer to his ear. “More than the burn in the carpet?”
“Definitely. It’s Lilli. The detective reported that the night before last, at the tennis courts, he was able to tape a conversation they had in the parking lot.”
“Evidence for the affair?” Lev asked.
“Nothing explicit about that, but we’ll get it sooner or later. You’ll be interested to know that Samuel became angry with Lilli because she didn’t want him to celebrate Hanukkah with Esther and Judi. She told him if he went in spite of her wishes, she would go on a date with the high school’s top football player. She was relentless in her description of how handsome the guy was, the muscles he had, and how he couldn’t wait to get into her pants. Samuel became livid He was ready to hit her when another car drove into the lot. She scurried away laughing until she got into that little red sports car of hers and took off.”
“Sounds like he’s getting some of his own medicine,” Lev said.
“You bet. She’d be a good match for him if she wasn’t a minor.”
Lev nodded at the receiver. “Spanking Esther because he wanted to spank Lilli. Makes sense.”
“Dario’s birthday party is coming up on Saturday. Let’s see if the detective can get some photos or more recordings then. Tell Bira to hold on and don’t communicate at all with Samuel. Let him dig his own grave. Sorry, Lev, figure of speech. He is your son.”
“He has to be stopped in whatever way possible. Thanks, Lawrence, I will speak to Bira.” Lev hung up the phone and moved the chair back into the kitchen where Hada sat at the counter. She stared straight ahead and hummed.
Lev stood close to her. “He has to stop this violence against the family. Abe, then Bira, now Esther, Judi. He’s out of control.”
“The flowers, maybe they mean he’s sorry enough to stop now,” Hada said without looking at him.
Lev gave up. He had no energy to argue with her. He kissed her forehead and left the room.
Alone with the girls in the kitchen, Hada concentrated on stirring the ingredients for sufganiot. Samuel would arrive in a half an hour and the dough needed time to raise. Cooking for him again would be like old times. She imagined him sitting at the counter telling her about his successes while the smell of frying sweetness surrounded them.
Judy startled her out of her thoughts like the persistence of a woodpecker, “I want to see. Let me see.” Her head popped up and down over the counter’s edge to get a better view of Hada kneading the dough.
“Can I do that, Grandmother Hada? Please?” She clutched her hands together as if she already had a treasure of dough in them.
“No, dear, when you’re older you can.” Hada wanted to get this baking over with as soon as possible. Her feet ached and she had no time for a wild child to make messes. “Esther, would you grease the bowl for me and find a cloth. We must cover the dough while it rises.”
“I’ll get it.” Judi pushed Esther away from the dishtowel drawer. “I want to help too,” she whined.
“All right, Judy, stop bouncing all over the place and stop pushing your sister. Go find the box of powdered sugar. I’ll need it for sprinkling on the warm sufganiots later.” Hada shaped the dough to fit the greased bowl. “Cover the top and we’ll put it on the stove. You can check it every so often and when it’s double this size, tell me. We’ll roll it out. Now let’s find the cookie cutters.”
“Here’s the sugar.” Judi shouted tossing the box next to Hada.
“Judi, lower your voice, I’m in the same room as you are, not across the street. Cookie cutters. Round ones. Fetch them.” Hada shook her head. The child’s like a puppy underfoot all the time.
“Round cookie cutters coming up.” Judi searched inside one kitchen drawer after another.
“Oy gevault! I forgot how much time it takes to work the dough.” Hada let out a long breath. “I hope Samuel doesn’t leave before they’re done.”
“Daddy’s leaving again?” Judi’s eyebrows bowed in a confused grimace, the cookie cutters dangling from her fingers.
“Yes, Judi, your daddy and mommy are getting a divorce. Do you know what that means? The mother and father do not live in the same house anymore.” A look of sadness in Judi’s eyes made Hada soften her voice. “Don’t any of your friends have divorced parents?” Hada sighed thinking of the extraordinary patience Esther had as she saw her pat Judi’s dark curls with affection. “Daddy’s coming over to celebrate Hanukah with us tonight and then he’s going back to Dario’s house.”
“He wants to live with Dario and Lilli?”
Esther shrugged. “I guess he wants to because it doesn’t cost any money to live there until he can find a place of his own and then we can have sleep-overs at his new house. That will be fun, right?”
“Why can’t we have sleep-overs with him at Lilli’s?”
With a pleading look at her grandmother, Esther signaled that she wasn’t sure how to answer that one. Hada avoided Judi’s eyes and said, in a flat, but firm tone, “There’s no room there.”
“We have sleeping bags. We can sleep on the floor, like camping.” Judi stood on tip-toes, leaned into Hada, and grinned.
“No.” Hada raised her voice. “And do not invite yourself over there either. It is not a place you should be going at all.”
“Why not? If Daddy’s there…”
“Judi, Stop all those questions. No is no.” Hada threw the sponge into the sink and plopped onto a stool.
Before Judi could object again, a voice from the front of the house made the three of them stop to listen. “Hey, where is everybody? Daddy’s home.”
“Daddy! Daddy!” Judi disappeared, her shouts mixed with giggles resounding against the walls in the hallway.
Esther turned to Hada, her eyes brighter yet hesitant as if she remembered something that now held her back. She moved toward the hallway, stepped back a little, paused, and then followed her sister.
Hada wondered why Esther seemed uncertain about Samuel’s arrival, but she knew both girls loved their father and they must be elated to have him in the house again. She took off her apron, smoothed her green dress, and slid her fingers through her thick hair. Smiling in anticipation, she stood straighter and walked into the hallway.
Near the hall closet, Samuel squatted, balancing himself with one hand on the floor. Judi circled her arms around his neck and smashed her cheek against his. Esther stood a few feet away from them, smiling.
“Judi, you’re knocking me over,” he managed to say. “Where is that stunning Hadassah?” Freeing himself from her grip, he stood and gazed beyond his daughters to his mother. “And there she is, gorgeous as ever. Like Betty Grabble, no, Joan Crawford.”
“Who’s Betty Craybubble and Joan Ford?” Judy asked. She locked both her arms around his leg, preventing him from walking.
“Movie stars, of course. Let go.” Samuel shook his leg to loosen Judi’s grip and she flipped herself into a somersault, ending in a gymnast’s pose.
Hada strolled closer and held out her hand, Samuel took it gently in his, and kissed it. “May I escort you, Madame?” He bowed before offering his elbow. She slipped her hand into the crook of his arm and they sauntered into the living room.
Judi pushed past them dragging Esther by her hand. “Let’s be movie stars.” She let go of Esther and quickly changed into an exaggerated walk, swinging her hips and pretending to smoke a cigarette in a long holder. Then Judi positioned herself on the couch, pursed her lips and crossed her legs, like a pinup girl in a magazine. Esther laughed and joined her sister. It didn’t take Hada long to figure out where they learned poses like that. Her granddaughters undoubtedly had seen Lilli in action. Esther became a carbon copy of her sister’s pose, also puffing on an imaginary cigarette.
Hada felt giddy and joined the game of movie stars. She waved her hand to dismiss the couch where Samuel led her. “No, your couch eats me up. Take me to that chair over there.”
“Look. The couch doesn’t eat me up.” Judi crawled over Esther’s legs, her face close to the leather as if looking for teeth to snap at her. Then she twisted back into her original mature position with a satisfied expression.
Samuel bowed to Hada. “Of course, Madame, whatever you please, my queen.” With great ceremony he helped her sit. Then he backed away from her, searching for the couch with the heel of his foot. He bumped into the cocktail table and hopped on one foot with a false look of pain. The girls bent over in giggles until Samuel plopped backwards landing on Judi’s lap.
“Ouch, Daddy, you’re heavy,” she mumbled from behind him.
“Oh, did I sit on a grasshopper?” he lifted his torso enough to let her squeeze out to the side.
Hada laughed with them until they all gasped for breath. With the merriment over, a quiet hung in the room, an uncomfortable quiet.
Esther rescued the moment of tension by leaning past Judi to tell her father, “Grandmother Hada is making sufganiot for us tonight.”
Judi, obviously hungry for attention, climbed on Samuel’s lap, straddled his legs and pulled his cheeks toward her with both hands. Then she pushed his lips into a fish-looking mouth and demanded, “Say Stuffalot”. Then she let go. “You know, Daddy, jelly doughnuts. And we helped make them.”
“Well, isn’t that nice. Hey, Wiggle Worm, off these pants, they’re brand new.” He lifted her and set her on the coffee table like he was discarding a gangly stray. Then he brushed his slacks as if some sticky food had been there.
But Judi, insistent, crawled onto the cushion next to him and stretched upwards to put her face close to his. Forehead-to-forehead, she asked, “Can we have a sleep over with you at Lilli’s?”
Hada gasped and stomped her slippered foot. “Judi, what did I tell you about asking that?”
Samuel pulled his face away from his daughter’s and met his mother’s eyes. Hada flashed as much admonishment as she could muster. With his forearm, Samuel pushed Judi away and stood. “No sleep-overs until I buy a brand new house for us.”
“When, Daddy, when will you buy us a new house?”
Hada let out a long, loud breath, “Judi, you are a constant question machine tonight. Do I have to send you to your room?” Samuel should handle the discipline but I’ve had enough of the childish gibberish.
“All in good time, Judi,” Samuel said. “Be patient. The three of us will be together again before you can count to a thousand, or maybe a million. What grade are you in?”
“First grade, Daddy, you know that. And I can count to a million. I’ll show you. One, two, three, four, five, six…”
Samuel waved his hand at her as if shooing a bothersome fly. He turned to Hada, “If you will excuse me, my dearest mother, I have some packing to do. Judi, come and help your tired daddy. We’ll get the suitcases down from the top shelves in the closet and you can put my clothes in them, okay? Give your grandmother a break.”
“Okay.” Judi skipped ahead. At the archway, Samuel turned to say, “And you, Esther, can help Queen Hadassah on this special day. You are her servant, right?”
“Yes, Daddy,” Esther glanced from him to her grandmother.
When he’d gone, Hada noticed Esther, downcast and playing with the lace on the ends of her sleeves. “You will be blessed, Esther, for putting up with a sister like that.”
“She just gets excited, that’s all. She’s pretty funny,” Esther said with a smile that showed how hard it was to be the oldest. At least that’s what Hada thought it meant.
“God will reward you for it. Let’s go look at the dough.” Wincing from painful feet, Hada was grateful that Esther took her arm and helped her to the kitchen.
The dough was ready to roll out on a floured surface. Hada handed Esther the rolling pin and a cookie cutter. “I’ll get the jelly and we’ll put half a teaspoon in the center of some of the circles. Then we’ll lay the rest of the circles on top like sandwiches.”
They sealed the edges of the pastry and put the shapes on a greased cookie sheet. Hada covered the bowl with the cloth again. “They need to rise another forty-five minutes.”
She flushed when Samuel walked in, renewed energy in his voice, “Good. You two are busy.”
Now he joins us, Hada thought. Her vision of reminiscing while preparing the dough would not happen. “Done packing?”
“No, I got as far as bringing the suitcases down and opening them on the bed. I have Judi folding shirts. I’ll probably have to refold them, but it’s worth it to keep her busy. I forgot how tiring she is. I need a drink.” He reached for the gin and made a Martini. “Would you like one, Mother?”
“No, dear, I don’t drink those things. They’ll pickle your stomach the way you make them.” She sensed he already had a couple before he arrived, but she nodded when he raised his glass in a toast to her.
Handsome. Today he’s like Kirk Douglas.
“Daddy, Daddy, look at my menorah.” Judi rushed in pushing her drawing in front of Samuel and bumped his hand. A little of his Martini spilled over the top of the glass and he snatched the paper with a scowl.
“Well, well, you drew this?” He frowned. “Nice sketch, but look at your coloring; what’s this?” Setting his drink on the counter, he pointed to Judi’s picture as he held it for her to see.
She blushed. “That’s gold.”
“No, it’s not, that’s coloring outside of the line. What grade are you in? Even kindergarteners can do better coloring than that.” He returned it to her and picked up his glass.
Such high expectations, I think he’s hurt her feelings. Hada wanted to interrupt, but didn’t.
“It’s 3D, Daddy, see how it jumps off the page?” Judi thrust it in front of him again.
“How can that be 3D? It’s a flat piece of paper, Judi. Get real.” He looked away and Hada saw Judi’s face begging him for … what? She cringed at how hard he was on her. Judi got on her nerves and Hada probably spoke harshly too, but she wouldn’t criticize a child’s artwork.
“I’ll cut the menorah out.” Judi said. “You’ll see how 3D it is.”
“Fine. Yes, cut it out and you’ll get rid of the coloring mistakes. I wish we could all cut out what we don’t want.” Samuel swallowed the rest of his Martini in one gulp. “And do it somewhere else so your grandmother and I can have some peace.”
With her head lowered, Judi left the room, the drawing hanging from her hand and brushing her leg as she swung her arms.
“Back to packing. It shouldn’t take long and then we can light the menorah.” Samuel made another martini, turned, and with eyes glazed, he tipped the glass toward Hada in a salute.
Too many martinis already, she thought. When he was out of sight, she asked Esther, “Can you make me some tea? The kind your grandfather drinks.” Her upset stomach competed with her painful feet.
Esther filled the teapot and put the boxes of ingredients for the sufganiot back into the cupboard. Then she cleaned the kitchen counters where pieces of unused dough were stuck. Her movements mesmerized Hada. I had no nap today and all that stirring and kneading…I’ll just close my eyes. Although the stool was uncomfortable, Hada’s head began to nod.
She awoke to a scream from the living room. Esther dropped the rolling pin she was drying and ran toward the hall.
Another scream and then Esther’s scream joined in. Hada slid off the stool as quickly as she could. She glimpsed Samuel rushing past the kitchen doorway toward the living room.
What is that funny smell?
When she entered the living room, Judi had her arms around Esther’s waist, crying, and Samuel was smothering flames on the floor with Hada’s wool blanket, the one she kept on her favorite chair. Fire on the carpet. How did that start?
“What in the hell were you thinking, Judi? You know you’re not allowed to light matches, you stupid girl.” Samuel’s reddened face flushed a deeper red.
Judi wrenched free from Esther, put her hands on her hips, and said, “My menorah was 3D. I cut it out and it was perfect. I put some candles in it and lit them with the Shamash just to show how it looked real.” Her angry words sputtered from her mouth. Hada had never seen Judi defy Samuel like that before. Esther tugged Judi toward her, casting nervous glances at her father as she clutched her sister close.
Samuel lifted the blanket to be sure the flames were out. Black ashes covered a long area in the carpet. He brushed at it, shook his fingers free of soot, and kicked at the jagged hole. He dropped the blanket, yanked Judi away from Esther, and slapped first one cheek and then the other. The smacking crackled in Hada’s ears and hit her heart.
Samuel yelled, “You burned a hole in this carpet that cost me hundreds of dollars. You could have burned the house down. This is unforgivable. It wasn’t 3D. It’s paper, for God’s sake. Paper. How stupid, stupid.” He raised his hand again ready to strike.
Hada reached for his arm. Tensed muscles hard with the rage that surged through them made her hold on tight “Enough. She’s a child, Samuel.”
Esther swooped in and surrounded her sister in a protective hold. Judi covered her face with her hands, nestling into Esther’s waist. “I’m sorry, Daddy,” Judi mumbled. “I’m sorry.”
“You better be sorry. Go to your room immediately.” Samuel stomped his feet over the burned hole. He spun around to Esther who moved toward the archway with Judi wrapped around her.
“Stop, Esther, stay here. She is to go to her room by herself.”
Esther let go of Judi but glared at Samuel, brushing tears from her own cheeks. “It’s my fault. I was doing dishes in the kitchen, but I should have known what she was doing. ”
“You’re damn right, you should have. You’re the eldest, you are your sister’s keeper. Go to my study and wait for me there. But I don’t want you anywhere near Judi’s room, do you hear me?” Samuel waved his arms and paced in an erratic circle.
Esther, head up and spine stoically straight, marched from the room.
Hada wanted to say no, let her stay with me, but she didn’t. Instead she stepped closer to Samuel, but he backed away as if he wanted nothing to do with her. “Samuel, calm down. The house did not burn. There is a hole in the carpet, but everything else is safe. They’re children.”
Samuel’s eyes flashed with rage. “That’s not the point. They have to be taught a lesson so this will never happen again. Just sit down and let me discipline my children.” He towered over her until she sank into a chair. It was as if he were possessed. She didn’t remember ever seeing that much anger coming from him.
He stomped to the hallway, and Hada shuffled to the kitchen to get a broom and dustpan. When she returned, she knelt down by the burnt spot in the carpet and cleaned it the best she could. The hole went through the liner to the wood floor. She hobbled back into the hallway heading for the kitchen to throw the ashes into the garbage. A cry from upstairs in the direction of Samuel’s study stopped her.
“No, Daddy, please.” Esther pleaded.
Setting the broom and dustpan in the kitchen doorway, Hada hurried toward the stairs. At the first step, she heard a door open and saw Judi tear out of her room but halted when another cry erupted from the study. Hada struggled to the top of the stairs. They stared at the closed door to the study listening to Esther’s muffled cries alternating with slapping sounds.
Judi gripped Hada’s hand and raised it to her eyes as she sobbed into it. Hada bent down and whispered, “Go to your room, Judi. I’ll handle this.” She twisted her hand out of Judi’s grasp and gripped the doorknob.
“No. I want Esther,” Judi whispered.
“I said, go to your room.” Hada pointed down the hall. “Now.” Judi sulked but walked back to her room leaving the door ajar.
Entering the study, at first too stunned to speak, Hada clutched the bodice of her dress in distress.
Seated in his desk chair, Samuel had Esther draped over his knees. He had a leather belt partially wrapped around his hand. He whipped the looped end against Esther’s buttocks.
“Samuel!” Hada shouted. “Stop it this instant!” With unexpected energy, she leaped for Esther and surrounded her with her arms, gently helping her to her feet. She shielded the limp girl against her body. Esther pulled herself out of Hada’s grip and ran out of the room.
With her hands on her hips, a stance she’d never used with Samuel, Hada glowered. Samuel held his fist to his lips, jaw clenched. Neither one of them moved. Samuel’s eyes were dazed, Hada’s enraged. Her ankles burned with the memory of her mother’s whip.
“Samuel, don’t you ever, ever do that again.’ Hada spit her words at him, grabbed his belt and threw it across the room. “She is at the age where you have embarrassed her to the point of psychological injury. How can you do that to your daughter? She’s a good girl. If you dare to hit her one more time, I will renounce you as my son.” Hada swayed from the impact of her own voice.
Samuel stood, immobilized, his hands in front of him as if he were holding a child’s plastic ball. Then he reached for his hair and pulled as if he would tear it out of his head. “You’re right, you’re right. My anger blinded me. Forgive me, Mother.” She didn’t answer, he lowered himself to his knees and grabbed her arms. “I’m so stressed with this divorce and the business with Abe and trying to find a house for us, I lost my head.”
Hada resisted the temptation to push her knees into his face. Who was this creature? With her voice deep and low, she said, “Ask God for forgiveness.” She jerked her arms free from him and left, slamming the door behind her.
Judi stood in the doorway of her room twisting her fingers level with her chest, when Hada came toward her. “Judi, go and comfort your sister. Do not ask questions, just hug her, but if she wants you to leave the room, do so and no whining.”
Judi nodded her head and dove for Esther’s closed door.
Downstairs in the guest bedroom, Hada rummaged in her purse for her little address book. When she found it, she took it with her to the telephone in the hallway and dialed Abe’s number.
When he answered, she gave no greeting but said, “Let me speak to your father.”
“They left already, about five minutes ago.” Abe said. “What’s wrong?”
“Never mind. I will wait for your father to return home.” She hung up the phone and lumbered back upstairs to the study. Taking one step into the study, she stopped. Samuel was in his chair, with arms splayed over the top of his desk, and his head in his hands. A lump of a man, unrecognizable as her son,
Hada demanded with non-negotiable authority, “It is time for you to leave. Immediately. Your father and Bira are on their way home. You better not be here when Lev finds out what you have done.”
Without waiting for a response, she turned into the hall and left the door open for the monster to get out.
Before Samuel arrived to light the menorah with Esther and Judi, Lev and Bira headed for Abe’s house, leaving Hada with the girls who planned to make sufganiot together. Judi called the pastry stuffalot. Lev thought she named it well. Every year Hada made it and he pretended he liked it.
Following Bira’s directions down the winding streets, he hoped she would relax. In his peripheral vision, he could see her twisting the sleeve of her jacket. He tried to divert her with conversation. “Abe sounded excited to have us join him for the Hanukkah blessing this evening.”
Bira stared straight ahead and continued twisting. “I think he’s lonely since Nissa moved away with Jacob. I can’t even imagine what it’s like not to have his child with him.” She caught her breath in little gasps. “Sorry, just the thought of losing the girls, makes me panic.”
“I know this divorce is very difficult for you, but Lawrence will make sure you don’t lose the girls. You’re a good mother.” The streets became flatter in the part of Berkeley where Abe lived, and Lev felt more comfortable driving. The hills and curves on unfamiliar tree-lined streets made him over-cautious.
“I’m sorry I was disrespectful toward Mother Hada this morning,” Bira said. “I apologized to her for my bad language and angry tone but not for what I said. She doesn’t see Samuel’s deviant side.”
“She never did, even when they were children. Since I’ve looked back over the years, I see how often he pushed Abe to a dangerous edge physically and emotionally. I didn’t like it then, but Hada always had excuses for him. I remember watching the boys carefully to prevent any future harm, but somehow, Samuel always managed to surprise me.”
Bira’s sniffs subsided and she remained quiet.
“What were your early married years like?” Lev asked. “Did Samuel ever hurt you or the children?”
“No, not really. We had a romantic beginning. He can be very charming and he spent a lot of money during those years to show his friends that he was giving his family the best.” Bira rubbed her temples and sighed.
“He’s tolerant with the girls. He brags about them but doesn’t spend much time with them. He always says he’s too busy. He’ll yell at Judi to quiet down or he makes her leave the room when she’s full of life. And Esther, he seems embarrassed around her, especially since she’s maturing.”
“And you, how has he treated you after your romantic beginning?” Lev quickly made a turn after Bira pointed to the left.
“Oh, the last three or four years, he’s been traveling a lot, drinking more, and working late hours. This business with Lilli has escalated. Similar behavior has happened off and on.
“Similar behavior? You mean you think he has had other women?” Lev asked.
“I suspect so. I didn’t really focus on trying to find out because I didn’t want to break up the family, which would have happened if I had proof of the affairs. But Lilli has been so blatant about it and at her young age, it infuriates me. I can’t turn my back on it any longer.”
“You’re an amazing person, Bira. In the future I hope you find a man who deserves a good woman like you and that he will treat you well.” The street looked familiar to Lev. He knew they were close to Abe’s house.
“It’s the gray one over there on the right,” Bira said.
Lev parked and as they stood on the porch waiting for Abe to let them in, Lev’s stomach did a little flip of anticipation. Would their father and son relationship return to what it was before the lock out?
Abe opened the front door quickly and they entered to the fragrance of cinnamon.
“It smells fabulous in here,” Bira said standing on tiptoes to give Abe a hug.
“It’s great to see you, Bira.” Abe wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off the floor a couple of inches. She snickered and he smiled as he set her down.
“Greetings, Abe.” Lev said extending his hand.
Abe grasped it, and then hugged his father. Lev held the embrace as long as possible, his eyes moistening in gratitude.
“Thank you for having us, son.” Lev took off his overcoat and Abe helped Bira with hers. Then he hung them in the hall closet.
“I’ve prepared some blintzes. Whenever you’re hungry, we’ll have them hot with sour cream and berries.” Abe’s eyes sparkled.
“That sounds good.” Lev squeezed Abe’s shoulder. “Maybe in a little while, we had a light dinner not too long ago.” Lev selected a chair near Bira as she settled onto the couch.
“How about some hot apple cider with cinnamon?” Abe asked.
“Yes, please,” Lev and Bira said at the same time.
Abe grinned his boyish grin and left the room.
“He does seem happy we’re here. And for a while, I can forget what’s happening with Samuel,” Bira said, slipping out of her shoes and curling her legs up on the cushions.
“Abe has a comfortable home here. Nothing flashy. Even with many of Nissa’s touches gone, it’s comfortable.” Lev surveyed the room. The menorah had a special place on the round table near the window. Candles and matches were placed on one side of the blue cloth ready for the blessing.
Bira thanked Abe when he returned with the cider. “Your menorah looks new, no old wax or scratches, nice golden shininess to it,” she said.
“Yes, it’s new. Nissa took ours.”
“Have you talked to Jacob?” Lev’s chest symbiotically filled with Abe’s sadness over the family breakup. His son’s resistance to showing his feelings didn’t help relieve the heaviness.
Abe shrugged his shoulders. “I usually call Jacob every other day after school or after his activities. He seems to like it down there.”
“Good. It’s important to keep in contact frequently.” Lev said.
“We won’t be together this season, but when I make some money again, I’ll fly down there as soon as I can.”
“Too bad Nissa won’t let him fly alone so he could stay with you a few days. He’d probably like to come back home,” Lev said.
Abe cleared his throat. “I won’t be in this house much longer. I put it up for sale today. There’s no sign on the lawn yet, but it’s up for grabs. And the worst thing about it is my agent doesn’t think I’ll get the asking price and anything lower means I’ll have no equity out of it.”
“You mean you have to take a loss?”
“Yup. The market is so much lower than when I bought it. But at least I’ll get out from under those huge mortgage payments. I’m going to find a small apartment for now. I was going to look for one with two bedrooms, but since Nissa won’t let him fly, Jacob won’t be here for a while. One bedroom is enough for me and I’ll put everything else in storage.” Abe stretched his legs out beyond the cocktail table and crossed them at the ankles, Lev’s favorite position.
“Before I put it on the market, I used the house as collateral for a loan to pay off the credit card bills Nissa racked up the month before she left. I don’t know what that woman bought in one month. It was probably Samuel encouraging her to buy anything just to get the debt higher. I hope most of it was for Jacob. Anyway, the loan will pay off what I owe Nissa in back alimony and child support too.”
“Why go to a loan company? I can give you some money, interest free, until you get on your feet,” Lev said.
“Thanks, Dad, but I think it all will work out in the end.” Abe pulled his legs back and stood. “Time for blintzes?”
“All right,” Lev said.
“Do you need some help?” asked Bira, the nasally sound to her voice remained.
“No thanks, you relax. They’re all rolled up and ready for the oven.” Abe disappeared down the hall.
Lev turned his attention to Bira. “You’re quiet. You okay?”
Bira nodded. “I guess I’m not very good company. I have a feeling things aren’t going too well at the house. I can’t shake it.”
“Hada may favor Samuel, but she won’t let anything bad happen with the girls.” Lev hoped he was right. Samuel could talk Hada into anything. But her motherly instincts for the little ones would kick in, he was sure of that.
After the blintzes, Abe asked Lev to do the honors and say the blessing. Abe and Bira took turns lighting the candles on the menorah. The candlelight shining on Abe’s face made it a magical time. Lev’s son seemed more precious to him than ever before. The relief of Abe accepting him into his life again made this Hanukkah the best of all holidays.
On the drive back to Samuel’s house, Lev imagined telling Hada about this visit with Abe. When she shared her night’s experiences, Lev would try to be pleased for her. Samuel always treated her like a queen. Hada, beautiful Hada. They were in separate houses for a few hours during the honoring of Hanukkah yet bonded for eternity in spite of Samuel.
However, Lev had a nagging feeling. Bira had expressed her intuition that all was not as it should be back at the house. He wanted to ask her if she still felt it, but she was asleep with her head resting on the car window. The foreboding became stronger the closer he drove to the house.
In the dining room at breakfast, Hada asked Bira for more coffee and took a deep breath, ready to follow through with Samuel’s request at lunch yesterday. She dreaded the family’s reactions. However, Samuel had a right to celebrate Hanukkah with his daughters, but the circumstances undoubtedly would elicit more rules from Lev or another emotional breakdown from Bira. Well, here it goes…
“Samuel wants to light the menorah with the girls. Tonight.” Hada did not flinch when all eyes stared at her. Bira stopped walking with the coffee cup for Hada in her hand.
Judi was the first to break the ice. “Hurrah, Daddy’s coming home.”
Hada caught Esther glancing from her to Bira to Lev. A wise girl waiting to see how these adults will handle this one. Someone say something. Bira might drop that cup any moment.
Lev’s voice was calm. “Esther, would you and Judi draw a picture celebrating Hanukkah for us? Perhaps in your room so it will be a surprise?”
“Okay, Grandfather Lev.” Judi pushed her chair back and zipped to the door, but then waited for Esther. “I’m going to draw the menorah. What will you draw?”
Esther put her finger to her lips, “Shh, Judi, it’s supposed to be a surprise.”
Judi laughed, “Oops, I forgot.” Her giggles could be heard from the hallway.
Lev turned sideways in his chair, spread his long legs out under the table, and although Hada couldn’t see them, she was certain he crossed his ankles, his usual pondering position.
Bira plopped down in her chair with Hada’s coffee cup still clutched in her hand, spilling some hot liquid on her hand. She didn’t seem to notice.
Their silence extended Hada’s impatience. Get it out. If there will be a fight, get on with it. “He is their father and it is Hanukkah.” She hoped her voice sounded less feeble than she felt.
“He proposed to do it here?” Lev’s tone was as deep as a bear in a cave.
“Yes, here, of course. We were sure you both would not want the girls to join him at Dario’s.”
Bira gasped and spilled more coffee over the edge of the cup. She didn’t fuss to clean it up or give the cup to Hada. Her eyes were wide and her face pale.
Lev challenged Hada, “And, we should all welcome him with open arms and be a loving family like nothing has happened as we recite the blessing?”
Hada flinched. “I suppose. We didn’t discuss it like that. It’s only for a couple of hours. For the girls.”
Bira wheezed with several rapid gasps.
Lev walked behind Bira and put his hands on her shoulders. There was no doubt in Hada’s mind that he had taken Bira’s side in the divorce.
He spoke with a firm but soft tone. “Before Samuel arrives, Bira, you and I will leave. We can go to Abe’s if he will have us or to Shovai’s if you think that would be appropriate.”
She didn’t answer.
Hada glanced at the shriveling Bira. Sympathy seeped into her heart.
“Hada will stay here.” Lev said.
Bira slumped, her lips pressed together.
“Bira?” Lev asked again.
She looked up at him with tears covering her face and she whispered, “What if he tries to take the girls? Or what if he won’t let me back in the house?”
Hada’s face flushed. “He’s coming to celebrate Hanukkah with his children. Unfortunately in a divorce, you have to get used to split custody, visiting rights, and more of that kind of discomfort.” Hada said. “Could you give me my coffee, dear, before it gets cold?”
Bira looked as if she were deciphering a foreign language. Lev took the coffee cup and brought it around to Hada’s side of the table. He put it down in front of her, leaned against her back, and placed his hand on her shoulder. “You are correct about visiting rights, but you will be certain that Samuel does not take the girls with him, right, Hada? And you will be sure he does not lock us out of the house.” Lev’s voice resonated in her chest. “Agreed, Hada?”
She squirmed. “He wouldn’t stress the girls by locking you out. And I’ll not stand for him to take them to that, that…” What is that infernal girl’s name?
“You mean Lilli’s house of sin?” Bira said, rising from her chair as if coming back to life. She cleared the breakfast dishes from the table. They clinked together enough to cause chips.
“I would not call it that, but it certainly is not a place for Esther and Judi.” Hada took a sip from her cup. The coffee had cooled but she didn’t complain.
Bira stood with her hands on her hips. “So what would you call it? You don’t think it’s a house of sin where a thirty-nine-year-old man fucks a fifteen-year old girl? And her father probably cheers them on? A House of Sin, clear as hell.” Bira’s voice held power. The weakness, the meekness, the shivering were gone now.
“I know you’re upset, but watch your language, Bira.” Hada reiterated what she didn’t believe. “Samuel had no other choice financially but to accept Dario’s generous offer for a place to stay. Rents are very high and he’s paying for you three to live in this beautiful house. He says he can control the girl.”
Bira slammed the table. “Ha! You didn’t see what I saw in the hotel parking lot. Groping her private parts and all as they kissed. She’s a child. An uncontrollable child and he’s a pervert. It’s a sin, Mother Hada. Your first-born is a deceitful sinner!” Bira’s voice rose higher on the last two words and she stomped out of the room.
Hada covered her face with her hands, but she didn’t cry. Her heart beat inside her chest like a parade drum. Her mother’s staccato accusations repeated in her ears, “Sinner. You are a sinner. A no good sinner.” The snap of the whip across Hada’s ankles matched the rhythm of the words.
Lev sat next to her and put his arms around her. “It’s true. Samuel and Lilli are out of control.”
She buried her face in his shoulder. “I hoped it was an illusion, a jealously obsessed wife deep in illusion. But it’s not, is it?”
“We soon will have proof. In the meantime, please, support your daughter-in-law. She’s a good woman in distress.”
The sound of the girls’ chatting in the hallway came closer. Judi burst into the room. “I did it! I made a life-sized menorah!” She flashed her drawing toward them.
Lev held the drawing paper still. “My, my, it is perfect and you colored it golden. It looks like a real menorah.”
“3D, don’t you think?” Judi asked climbing on a chair to reach Lev’s height.
“Absolutely three dimensional. Fine job, Judi, and a great surprise.” Lev hugged her as she stood on the chair.
“Esther, show them what you drew.” Judi bounced on the chair.
Esther shyly handed her drawing to Hada who held it up for Lev to see. It showed an army with several soldiers pounding on a temple door.
“It’s Antiochus’s army in 168 BCE, when they went to Jerusalem to invade the holy Temple,” Esther said.
Judi added, “We learned in Hebrew school that he blew out the menorah candles, burned the Torahs, and destroyed the Temple.” Judi’s brown eyes grew larger as she told the story. “He wanted the Jews to be Greek and killed any who would not obey him. He was a very bad man.” Judi nodded several times as if to affirm his guilt.
Lev’s face beamed. “I am impressed with your knowledge of history, Judi. And Esther, your drawing is detailed. Your soldiers look real. I didn’t know you were an artist.”
“She gets A’s in school, Grandfather Lev,” Judi said balancing on her toes, hanging on to Lev’s shoulder.
Hada relaxed. Such dears, artistic and smart. They take after Samuel. He never got A’s, but he’s smart. They have his intelligence and their mother’s dedication. Lovely.
Feeling a need to say something, Hada shook her head. “Judi, you’re standing on a chair. Young ladies do not stand on chairs.”
Judi looked confused, the flush of delight left her face. She climbed down and sat on the stool with her chin on the counter and her arms hanging below it. Her puppy dog eyes roved from Hada to Lev and back. Hada wished she could take back her words.
“We should think of the children first at all times.” She closed her eyes. Her garden in New Jersey appeared. When could she go back and leave the chaos behind her? This house was an anxiety prison where her nerves felt like electric wires sparking tiny jolts throughout her body.
Lev volunteered to drive Bira to her appointment with Lawrence. Esther and Judi sat in the back seat on the way to Bira’s parents’ home where they would stay for the afternoon.
He pulled into the driveway and the four of them climbed out of the car. On other visits, Judi would run to the porch to ring the doorbell, but today, she was last in line. Bira rapped on the partially opened door. Miri appeared, her face expressionless, showing no signs of recognition or curiosity.
Lev didn’t expect to see her declined state of awareness. At Thanksgiving, her mannerisms seemed eccentric, now even the worried look that she had had for years was gone. In less than six weeks she went from a frenzied, forgetful woman to a shell of a disconnected person. He wondered what range of function she had.
The girls clung to Bira, making it difficult for her to manage a hug for the frail figure that stared unknowingly at her. About to peel the girls from their mother, Lev was relieved to see Shovai emerge from the hallway with an encouraging smile.
“Shovai,” Lev couldn’t reach Bira’s father for a handshake, but he nodded and then turned his attention to Miri. “And greetings to you, Miri. Sorry Hada’s not here to say hello. She’s at brunch with Samuel.”
With gentle skill and grace, Shovai guided his unresponsive wife away from the entrance and then he grasped Lev’s shoulder in greeting. “It’s good to see you again.”
Bira knelt in front of the girls stroking their cheeks and said, “I’ll be back in a couple of hours or sooner. Don’t worry, my sweet girls, I didn’t mean what I said this morning. People say strange things when they get upset. Okay?”
Esther nodded with her arms hanging at her sides. Judi held Bira’s elbow in both of her hands and wouldn’t let go.
In a loud, but playful voice, Shovai said, “Come, little princesses, let’s make some potato latkes. I’m hungry, hungry as a bear.” He added a growl.
Judi’s head popped up and she released her grip on her mother. Shovai gave the adults a satisfied wink before he snarled, showed his teeth, and growled again. Judi grinned and took her grandfather’s hand to follow Miri into the living room.
Esther lingered in the doorway. With a wistful expression, she waved good-bye, and remained motionless, seemingly unable leave her mother and cross the threshold. She reminded Lev of Abe, the way he looked at times when he thought his presence might make a difference in what would occur next. His sense of responsibility for the welfare of others had been beyond his age level. Abe and his niece had an inherent devotion that filled Lev with an even deeper love for them.
Bira blew a kiss to Esther and waved as her daughter entered the house and closed the door. They walked to the car together. Then Bira buried her face in Lev’s shoulder and sobbed.
“If Samuel gets his way how could I ever leave them?” she asked.
“He won’t. I’ll see to that.”
At Lawrence’s house, Lev and Bira reported the details about Samuel wanting her to submit to a psychological evaluation before he would agree to negotiate custody.
Lawrence rolled his eyes. “I suppose he sounded like an ogre and scared you to pieces?” he asked Bira with a compassionate smile.
“Yes. He wants me to see the psychiatrist that he has lined up.”
Lawrence shook his head. “Of course he does, and then he pays his professional friend extra money to discover the exact findings Samuel wants.” Lawrence pushed himself out of the recliner to get the Rolodex from the little desk in the corner of the room.
“I know a few experts who can do the testing. Unbiased testing.” Lawrence leafed through the phone book. “Bira, it is to your advantage to take the test but by our chosen professionals, not Samuel’s. If you refuse, it looks like you’re afraid you can’t pass. If his crony says you are unfit and two of ours say you are fit, we’ve beat him at his game.”
Lawrence copied numbers on a note pad, handed it to Bira, and said, “I’ll hire an excellent attorney for your divorce and he’ll write a letter advising our counter conditions and the names of our professionals. The psychiatrists’ secretaries will communicate with you to set the appointments. The faster we move on this matter, the less time he has to find another loophole and the less time for you to stress about it.”
“Simple as that?” Lev didn’t control the surprise in his voice.
“Yes. Don’t worry. We’ll get him. The detective said that Samuel is throwing a big party on Saturday night for Dario’s birthday. The detective found a way to be hired as the photographer for the party. With the kind of drinking that usually goes with parties, the photos could reveal intimacy between Samuel and Lilli.”
“I guess we can leave it all in your good hands then.” Lev reached in his pocket for his wallet. “I want to pay you.”
Lawrence put up his hand. “No, thank you. Let’s say, it’s a favor to Abe’s sister-in-law. I owe Abe my life. And these professionals owe me favors. It all comes out even in the end. Besides, I want to put a halt to Samuel as much as all of you do.”
He rose and motioned them to follow him. “Bring your tea out to the garden for a quick stroll. I’ll show you the persimmon tree. It loves female attention and it is a good healing tree. You can take a few persimmons home with you.”
Lev, Bira, and the girls returned home before Hada. “Esther, Judi, I want you both to take turns reading to your mother,” Lev said.
They were delighted and fussed over her. Esther took Hada’s blanket from the chair and wrapped it around Bira. Judi’s attempt to comb Bira’s tight curls made Bira smile for the first time since Samuel’s phone call. She tickled Judi to make her stop, and Judi rolled on the floor in giggles. Esther performed her variety show dance for them, and then the girls settled in to take turns reading stories aloud to their mother.
Lev went to the kitchen and sliced some persimmons for everyone.
About twenty minutes later, Hada returned from lunch with Samuel. Lev heard her open the hall closet and then the bedroom door, probably to change into her slippers. The girls didn’t seem to notice.
When Hada entered the room she said, “Everyone looks comfy.” As she passed Lev on her way to the chair, he reached to pat her arm, and she didn’t pull it away, instead she slowed down a little as if welcoming the extra attention.
Esther smiled and waved; Hada waved back. Judi continued to read aloud to Bira as if she couldn’t be distracted. She read well for her age, accepting help from Esther with a word or two that made her stumble.
“How was brunch?” Lev asked.
“Brunch is brunch. It was a buffet. I prefer to be served.” Hada slid her fingers through her hair. “What did you have to eat?”
“Esther and I had latkes at grand papa’s house,” Judi said and then she continued reading.
Lev grimaced. “I have to confess, Bira and I forgot to eat.”
“I can make scrambled eggs or French toast,” Esther offered.
“French toast sounds like a winner to me. What do you think, Bira?”
“I’m not very hungry, but I could make a dinner for you, Father Lev.”
“No. I think Esther’s French toast is perfect, but you must have some with me. You need your strength.”
“Come and help.” Esther took Judi’s hand. “Do you want some, Grandmother?”
“No. No, I’m full. Go ahead. I’ll stay in here and read my magazine.”
Judi crawled off the couch saying, “Good, then we don’t have to set the dining room table. Grandfather likes to eat at the counter.”
Esther kissed Bira’s cheek, gave Hada a hug, blew a kiss to Lev, and then followed her sister to the kitchen.
Bira closed her eyes, and Lev noticed Hada seemed deep in thought as she stared at her daughter-in-law. He wondered what she was thinking. What had Samuel said to make Hada look as if she were weighing the scale of justice?
Finally she said, “I feel tired. I’ll take a nap in the bedroom.” Hada rose and padded to the hall.
After the French toast was eaten and the kitchen cleaned, Lev praised and thanked the girls and then he announced the need for a nap too and left the kitchen to join Hada. He could hear her breathing deeply as she slept. He took off his shoes and lay beside her. She didn’t stir so he slowly put his arm around her. She didn’t move. The lavender scent of her hair brought back the memory of their honeymoon at the beach in Atlantic City.
The hotel room had smelled of the sea and she came shyly toward their bed with her terry cloth robe wrapped tightly around her. She turned off the lamp before removing her robe. With only a dim light from the window, he couldn’t see the negligee, but he could feel its silkiness when she snuggled next to him under the covers. He stroked her body through the smooth fabric that matched the softness of her skin. The lavender and her sensuous curves added to his certainty that he had chosen the right girl to share the rest of his life.
And here, this morning, he had been more hostile with her than he had ever been in all of their married life. How insidious that Samuel’s actions could poison their marriage in these latter years together. There seemed no end to the damage Samuel caused everyone. How could his love for this woman create a son like Samuel?
Hada stirred and Lev whispered in her ear, “I’m sorry for my abrasiveness this morning.”
Her voice rose in a quiet, “Hmmm?” but she didn’t turn over to his direction.
“I’m sorry for acting harshly with you this morning.” Lev repeated.
“It’s been an emotional day for everyone,” she mumbled.
“I love you, Hada. Nothing will ever change that.”
She didn’t answer and she didn’t move. He hugged her and snuggled his face in her hair. Sleeplessly, his mind turned from love for his wife to a deeper hate for his son.
God forgive me for my inability to forgive him.
After breakfast coffee, Hada entered the bathroom to freshen up. Samuel had invited her to brunch and would pick her up in an hour. She didn’t pay attention to Bira’s voice from the hallway. She must be on the phone. No mobile phones in this household with Judi putting them down and forgetting where she placed them. The last one was left in the driveway and Samuel backed the car over it. He installed the wall phone to end the frustration and told Judi it was the only phone she could use.
In the mirror’s reflection, Hada turned from front to back and thought maybe she should change her dress. I think I wore this one when Samuel took me to the Claremont.
Bira’s shouts interrupted her. Hada leaned her back against the sink. What was Bira saying? And to whom? Could there be an intruder?
Then she heard Lev’s voice saying Bira’s name over and over.
Hada couldn’t move. What was going on?
Bira shrieked, “How dare you! There’s nothing wrong with me. You’re the crazy one.” Then Hada heard the girls. “Mommy, Mommy, what is it?” Esther sounded scared and Judi’s wails rose higher and louder.
“I’d rather die. Do you hear me? Die. And it will be all your fault.” Bira’s guttural utterance produced more chaos.
“No, Mommy, no, please,” Esther pleaded, and Judi screamed.
Lev’s voice, calm, but booming, “Hang up, Bira. Just hang up the phone. We’ll figure it out.”
Hada’s heart beat fast enough to propel her out of the bathroom, out of the house, and out of California, but she gripped the sink and squelched the desire to flee.
Lev called again, “Hada, Hada, come here and comfort your granddaughters.”
He wanted her help. But what could she do? Flashes of her mother shouting at her and grabbing the whip made her ankles hurt. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she whispered.
“Hada, now!” Lev’s voice sounded strange and desperate. Hada smoothed her hair with shaking hands and brushed the front of her dress. Craziness. Craziness in this world. It’s a plague. She took a deep breath, suspended her hand over the doorknob for a few seconds, and then opened the door. The scene in the hall sent a shock wave from her ankles to her head.
Bira sat on the floor like a concrete doll, legs outstretched and hands braced on the floor. Lev kneeled beside her, and the girls each clung to one of Bira’s legs. Everyone sobbed except Lev, but the look on his face showed pain. The phone’s receiver dangled by the cord and rocked against the wall.
A fire of resolve rose up Hada’s spine and she strode toward them. With a strong tone she didn’t think she could muster, she said, “So what’s all this noise about?”
Judi wailed, “Mommy’s going to die.” Esther’s sobs emanated from her bent form over Bira’s knee.
“Girls, girls,” Lev said. “Your mother is not going to die. She just used an expression. She’s upset, but everything will be all right.”
Hada reached for Esther’s arm. “Come, dear, you’re the oldest, pull yourself together. You need to take care of your sister. Listen to your Grandfather. Nobody is going to die. We’ll help your mommy.”
Hada could feel Esther relax so she could help her up. With the backs of Esther’s hands, she brushed the tears from her cheeks. Hada held her granddaughter’s moist hand and forgot her stinging ankles and weak legs. She took Esther into the bathroom where she grabbed the tissue box and thrust it into the girl’s arms. Then she marched back to the huddle in the hallway. She pulled Judi’s arm to try and unwind her from Bira’s leg.
“No.” Judi yelled at Hada, her screech turned into a sobbing whine. “Let me go.” Hada motioned for Esther to help. Together they released Judi’s grip. Hada grabbed several tissues and poked them into Bira’s tight fist. “Get up. You’ve frightened your children. What’s the matter with you?” Hada surprised herself by sounding like her own mother.
“Hada, take the girls into the living room. Judi, go with your grandmother. I will take good care of your mommy,” Lev said.
Hada nudged Esther’s elbow. “Take your sister’s hand and come with me.”
Esther held the tissue box under one arm and cupped Judi’s hand between hers. Hada’s heart felt like a baseball bat had hit it. Those eyes. Oy vey, she does have Samuel’s eyes. How can a mother do this to her children?
Hada led the way to the living room, stopped, and considered the seating options. She’d have to sit on that infernal couch. “Come, we will sit here together.” She sank into the soft leather. Esther curled up on one side with her head on Hada’s shoulder. Judi sat rigidly on the other side of her grandmother and stared out the window across the room.
“I will tell you a story if you promise to stop crying.” Hada felt Esther nod her head, but Judi, cheeks wet with tears, did not respond. She didn’t move her eyes off the foggy view in the window.
Hada ignored her. “Once upon a time when your daddy and your uncle were about your ages, I fell down in the garden and broke my ankle. Your grandfather drove me to the hospital with Samuel and Abe in the back seat crying just like you were doing today. They were afraid I’d never get better.
“Well, the doctor fixed me up just fine with a cast. I had crutches so I could get around okay, and your daddy loved to play with them. He could run faster with the crutches than your uncle could without them. He would win every race they had.” Hada did not describe Samuel’s creative use of the crutches as an obstacle whenever his younger brother got close to winning the race. She remembered one time when Samuel hit Abe on the head with the crutch while they ran. Abe had to be taken to the doctor’s for stitches. Samuel brought me roses from the neighbors’ garden that night to show me how sorry he was.
Hada shifted her position. Her legs were going numb. Her feet didn’t touch the floor, and the edge of the couch cut off circulation under her knees. Realizing Judi wasn’t next to her any more, she asked, “Where’s Judi?”
“She’s over here, next to me.” Esther said in a nasally voice.
Turning toward Esther, Hada saw Judi curled up with her head in Esther’s lap and her thumb in her mouth. “Oh, I didn’t see her go around us.” Hada sighed. Memories of years past take me away from the present. I have to be careful not to be gone too long.
Hada hummed for what seemed like a long time and then Lev appeared in the archway. “Bira’s stable. She’ll be ready to join us in a little while.”
Judi popped up from Esther’s lap and ran toward Lev with open arms. When he picked her up, she wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck.
“Oi Gevault! That child will give you a hernia, Lev.”
He sat in the chair by the window and held Judi on his lap. Her long legs almost touched the floor. “You have long legs, my dear. You’ll be tall like me and Uncle Abe.
“Will Esther be short like Mommy and Daddy?” Judi kept her head down and sniveled.
Bira slumped into the room, her eyes red with swollen lids, face flushed, shoulders bent, and a forced smile. “I’m sorry. I…I…I was very upset. I…I didn’t mean to scare everyone. Please forgive me.”
Judi flew off Lev’s lap and clung to her mother. Esther, close behind, hugged her mother’s waist. Bira encircled them with her arms and looked as if she might cry again.
“Well, if everyone can be civilized, I am going to change my clothes.” Hada tried to rise from the leather couch but after two tries, Lev gave her a hand. “Will I be needed here this afternoon or can I go to my luncheon?” she asked him.
“I’ll walk you to the bedroom. We’ll talk there,” he said.
Before they left the room, Hada looked back at Bira who was on the couch with the girls wrapped around her. It was impossible to tell which arms and legs belonged to whom. They do love her. What a shame.
Lev closed the bedroom door behind Hada and motioned for her to sit on the bed. She waited as he paced.
Finally he said, “It was Samuel on the phone. He filed for a divorce. The papers were delivered to the door this morning. She called him in a panic and he confirmed her fears. He wants custody of the girls unless Bira can pass a psychological evaluation. If she can, he will negotiate custody on his terms.”
Hada nodded. “He said he could not put up with her jealous obsession regarding that young Lilli. I guess he did what he had to do and of course, he should have custody if his wife is going insane.”
Lev stopped in front of her with an expression of wonderment. “Bira is not insane.”
“Not insane? What do you call that scene in the hallway? Scaring the little ones. They believed she was dying. They don’t understand that she was exaggerating her emotions. A mother has to be strong for her children’s sake.” Hada rose from the bed with a huff and opened the closet door.
In seconds, Lev was at her side and slammed it shut, missing fingers by an inch. “Samuel is threatening to take away the children. He wants to prove she’s insane so he can toss her away. You see how the children love their mother? He wants control. If he were civilized, he wouldn’t try to separate those girls from their mother. A divorce is a divorce and can be handled for the benefit of everyone involved. If he could bring himself to be an ethical person, scenes like that one wouldn’t happen.” Lev kept his hand on the closet door preventing her from retrieving a change of clothes. He stared at her as if she were an enemy.
Hada glared back at him. “You absolutely refuse to have faith in your eldest son. You believe everyone else even if they’re losing their minds. Maybe you’re going crazy too.” She spun around, grabbed her purse, and stomped out of the bedroom. She took a few steps down the hallway and then realized she still had on her slippers. Blue scuffs in a restaurant…she couldn’t…but she couldn’t return to the bedroom either. She peeked into the kitchen to check the time on the wall clock. Samuel would be here in ten minutes. I will just tell Samuel I need to stop at a shoe store before we eat. He’ll understand.
She straightened her posture and walked the rest of the way down the hall to the front door without a glance into the living room. She let herself out, and walked onto the driveway. As she slowly made her way on the driveway’s decline, she heard the front door open. She didn’t want Lev to try to stop her, so she kept on going.
“Grandmother, wait.” It was Esther.
Hada stopped and turned. She saw her granddaughter running toward her with shoes in her hands. When she caught up with Hada, Esther said, “Grandfather thought you would be needing these.” She held the blue dress shoes out to her.
“Yes, well…thank you, dear. Let me hang on to your shoulder for balance.” One at a time, Hada stepped out of her slippers and into her shoes. When the exchange was complete, she let go of Esther. “That’s better.”
Esther picked up the slippers. “I’ll take these to your closet. Tell Daddy we love him and have a nice lunch.”
“Brunch, dear, it’s a brunch. Yes, of course, I’ll tell him. Now go back and be the big sister. Watch over Judi at all times.”
“Yes, Grandmother. I will.” Esther nodded with a strained smile.
Hada called after her, “You’re a good girl, Esther.”
Esther turned and waved. Hada waved back but noticed as her granddaughter ambled to the house, her shoulders were hunched as if an invisible burden weighed on her young bones.
Hada wanted to comfort her but she also wanted to be at the foot of the driveway when Samuel arrived. It was harder to walk the decline with shoes than it had been with slippers. She wished she could hang on to something on the way down. She heard a car. Samuel screeched to a halt and got out of the car, leaving his door open.
“Mother, what are you doing? I’ll help you.” He supported her elbow and guided her the rest of the way to the car. He helped her inside, closed her door, and then ran around to the driver’s side. In seconds he peeled his tires and drove as if he had just made a pit stop and continued the race.
“You shouldn’t be walking down that driveway. It’s too steep. What were you thinking?” he asked while managing the curves in the road a little too fast for her comfort.
Chapter Eighteen: Part Two
Once Lev returned home, he had a little food and then nodded off on the couch. It had been an exhausting afternoon. He didn’t hear Bira, Hada, and the girls when they returned from Shovai’s house, but Judi woke him with a sudden plop on the couch next to him.
Lev opened his eyes when he felt a light kiss on his cheek. He saw Esther rise and heard her whisper, “Judi, calm down.”
Judi wiggled and giggled past Esther, grabbed Lev’s arm, and hugged it. “I won two dreidel games, Grandfather.” Her cheeks were red with excitement and her brown eyes shone.
“Good for you.” Lev said, patting her head. “I’m happy you had fun today.”
Hada entered the room, her face had a pinkish color from the cool air and he thought she looked ravishing in her red dress. “I took off my coat but maybe I should have left it on. This house is freezing cold. It’s worse than New Jersey. More damp. Soaks into your bones.”
Judi popped up from the floor. “I’ll get the blanket for you, Grandmother.”
“No, no, don’t bother. I am tired and full. They had enough food for an army. I think I will just get ready for bed and get warm under the covers. Where is that magazine I was reading?” She looked on the table by her favorite chair, ignoring Lev.
“Here it is.” Judi handed it to her. “It was by the couch.”
Hada took it and stood in the middle of the room, flipping through the pages. “Anything happen at Gottfried’s?” she asked without looking up.
“Yes. He came and talked, stiffly, but we made progress.” Lev did not mention Abe’s name with the girls there. No sense in giving them the opportunity to worry about their uncle as well as their father.
“Good. We lit the menorah at Shovai’s. You can light the one here for yourself. I don’t have anything left to celebrate this night,” Hada said and shuffled toward the hall.
Bira leaned against the archway in a tired posture, but moved to let Hada pass. “Are you hungry, Father Lev?”
“No, Thank you, Bira. I found some crackers and the left-over soup so I helped myself while you were gone.” Lev patted the couch for her to come over.
She nodded to Lev, hugged Esther, and then Judi. “I love you, my sweets, get ready for bed. You had an exciting day and it would be nice to settle down in your rooms before bedtime.”
“Okay, Mom. It was fun.” Esther threw Lev a kiss and left the room.
“But I want to…” Judi whined with a sad face.
“No buts, Judi. You especially need some quiet time. My goodness you were a whirlwind today. Where do you get all that energy?” Bira said rolling her eyes.
Judi stood on her tiptoes. “I just breathe it in.” She made a long sipping sound with her mouth as she stretched higher on her toes. She exhaled as she came down on her heels and with a smile, she jumped on the couch landing on her knees, kissed Lev’s cheek, and then ran out of the room.
Bira sat next to Lev. “Her exuberance keeps me going.” She smiled, a kind of half smile and leaned her head on Lev’s shoulder.
“Abe is concerned about you. He said to call him. ”
Bira nodded. “I will. I’ve been so distracted worrying about custody.” She raised her head but kept her arm on Lev’s. “How did it go with you and Abe?”
“Fair. Strained.” He intended to talk to Bira about gaining some weight but he heard voices in the hallway.
Hada shuffled back into the room wearing her robe and slippers. “Bira, can’t you turn up the heat? I’m still not warm enough.”
“Yes, of course.” Bira patted Lev’s arm and went down the hall to the thermostat.
Hada stood with her hands on her hips. “So. You going to sit here all night?”
Lev smiled as he recognized the first sign of any invitation to join her in the bedroom since they were here weeks ago. Maybe she is coming around too. “I would be honored to join you. And did I tell you how beautiful you looked today?” Lev asked as he rose from the couch.
Hada blushed but waved him away with her hand. “It’s just so cold, I didn’t want to find you frozen to death on this couch in the morning.” She padded away.
Lev smiled. Maybe I can put my arms around her tonight. He took a deep breath, gathered the menorah and candles, and followed her to the bedroom.
Chapter Eighteen: Part One
When Abe entered with Lawrence behind him, Lev stopped. Should I hug him? Shake his hand? He met his son’s eyes, but he couldn’t move.
“Hello, Dad.” Abe mumbled without looking at his father, then walked to one of the straight-backed chairs closest to the doorway, and sat down. He wore jeans and a beige pullover sweater and his hair looked grayer.
Remaining at a distance, Lev spoke in a calm voice. “Abe. I’m glad you came. It’s good to see you.” Lev did not move for fear Abe would resist. He heard Lawrence clear his throat and mumble something about making tea before he left the room.
“Abe, I wanted to tell you how sorry I am about the lockout. Samuel had told us you were having a nervous breakdown, going crazy from stress. He said he feared your anger if he told you in person to leave the office permanently. I didn’t know what to believe and your mother insisted…”
“Oh, I’m sure Mother believed him.” Abe folded his hands and rested them in his lap still avoiding eye contact.
“I want to help you. Please, Abe. I understand now.” Lev took one step toward Abe.
“But there’s nothing you can do.” Abe’s tone of voice sounded like a warning not to come closer. “Samuel is playing games, vicious games to make me accumulate legal fees until I’ve hit bottom financially. You can’t stop him.”
“That’s true. I guess what I’m saying is that I want to support you. I want you to believe that I am on your side and I …” frustration overwhelmed Lev when he realized words were futile. How could he express all that he wanted to say?
Abe shrugged and looked up when Lawrence entered the room with the tea.
Lev accepted the cup Lawrence offered and sat down on the couch closest to Abe’s chair. He sensed Abe stiffening. Lev presented a relaxed, non-threatening position, sipped his tea, and waited.
Lawrence returned to his recliner and directed his attention to Abe. “I didn’t get a chance to update your father on the lawsuits except to tell him that Samuel has unleashed legal bulldogs to defend the plaintiffs.”
Abe rested his back against the chair. His voice filled with the sound of defeat, “The attorney is Samuel’s best friend who happens to be a friend of the judge.”
Lawrence and Lev exchanged glances. Then Lawrence continued, “Not all is lost, Abe. Remember we have a plan.” He directed his gaze at Lev again. “When the civil case was settled out of court, Samuel recommended each set of parents was to be paid thousands of dollars by Abe’s professional liability insurance.”
Lawrence reached for the cup of tea left on the tray, and then continued. “Two sets of those parents filed another case a week later. They claimed the study was a misappropriation of funds because the students participating in the research were taken away from educational class time.”
Abe shook his head and then rubbed his temples. “Each student was away from the teacher for thirty minutes once every three weeks. Ridiculous when you consider the treatment for learning disabilities could help those students learn more efficiently for the rest of their lives.”
Lawrence nodded in agreement and said, “The plaintiff’s lawyer, Samuel’s friend, motioned for a continuance, since he hurt himself and would be laid up for three weeks. And of course, the judge, being the lawyer’s friend, approved the postponement.”
Abe shifted in his chair and spoke in a louder voice. “And then we have my brother’s obvious intervention. When the lawyer had the case ready, Samuel signed the lawyer’s medical waiver so the lawyer and the judge could have their day in court against me now that they had time to prepare.”
Abe finished his tea and put the cup on the tray. Each time he passed Lev, he looked in the opposite direction. But Lev felt encouraged when Abe sat down again, stretched his legs, and crossed them at the ankles duplicating Lev’s favorite way of sitting.
Keeping his eyes on the center of the Oriental rug, Abe continued, “Samuel gave incriminating information to my liability insurance company, which is now suing me for the money they paid to the plaintiffs in the civil court case…plus expenses, of course.”
In spite of the bad financial news, Lev took a breath of relief. He is talking more freely. He’s more relaxed. Maybe it’ll be better between us after all.
Lawrence offered to pour more tea as he said, “But Abe and I are writing a cease-and-desist letter to the insurance company that should change their minds about the lawsuit. That insurance company covers many medical people. Abe’s letter is a warning that he will inform the medical professionals how poorly this case was handled. What’s the purpose of liability insurance if you have to pay back the settlement money? His colleagues will not be happy about that, and the liability company does not want dissatisfied customers.”
Abe looked at Lev for the first time since he arrived. “We hope they don’t want the negative press and will drop the case.”
Lawrence smiled with a confidence that made Lev feel relieved. “The other good news is that Samuel didn’t fuss when Abe returned the patient folders and that case was dropped. He was side-tracked, mingling with the lawyers and the insurance people.”
Lev had a clearer understanding of the complex issues Samuel had helped to create. Then he asked Abe, “What about business; is it picking up for you?”
“It’s slow. I lost a lot of patients that I had treated at the old office. I’m hoping for referrals from new people but it will take a while to create a full practice again. I don’t know what the lawyers and Nissa expect to get out of me. What’s that old saying, ‘you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip’? I’m a turnip, all right.” He rose from his chair, and looked directly at Lev with eyes that showed a bit of bitterness.
Lev walked toward Abe and stretched out his hand. “Please, Abe, let me know how I can help. I’ll do anything. I’m your father…”
Abe shrugged and slowly took his hand out of his jeans pocket, accepting Lev’s offer to shake, but his response was not as warm or firm as Lev hoped.
Abe said, “I’ve got things to do.” But instead of heading for the door, he put both hands in his jeans pockets again and rocked on his heels. Without looking at Lev, he asked, “How’s Bira? I haven’t talked to her in a while.”
“Not so good. Samuel threatened to sue for custody of the girls if she divorces him.” Lev said.
Abe sighed. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he claims she’s crazy too, like he did me. Then he could say she’s an unfit mother. But it may backfire. He picked a great time to be playing around with Lilli. I doubt she’s the first one he’s cheated with, but I’ll bet she’s the youngest.”
Lev suspected he was right. “I don’t think Bira will be able to hold up if she loses the girls for even one day.”
“Tell her to call me.” Abe raised his hand toward Lawrence who trailed along to see him to the door.
Alone, Lev sunk down into the couch and leaned his head against the back. His eyes moistened and his heart pounded in his chest. He reached for his handkerchief, blotted his eyes, and blew his nose. The relationship was distant, but Lev wanted it to be the way it was before the lockout. He realized it might never be that way again.
As Lawrence re-entered the room, Lev stood and felt an ache in his lower back.
Lawrence sounded encouraging when he said, “Not bad. Abe softened. I think communication between you two will improve. Just give him a little more time to trust again.”
Lev drew a deep breath. “I hope so. I think it’s time for me to get back to the family. Would you call a cab?”
“Of course. And while we wait for it, we can take a little walk in the garden again. Nature is good for emotional times.”
In the Claremont Hotel’s dining room, Samuel helped Hada with her jacket, pulled out her chair, and then took the seat across from her. “You look beautiful as always,” he said, taking her hand and kissing the back of it. “Did you have a good flight in?”
“Better than the last one, but it was too cold on the plane and colder here.” She squeezed his hand.
“With everyone flipping out these days, I’m sorry we can’t just meet at home.” Samuel straightened the silverware and then searched the floor. He waved to the waiter who nodded in response, but finished taking an order from a nearby table. “The good thing is that it gives us alone time. Quality is better than quantity, isn’t that what you always said?” He smiled a Bogart smile perfect for a movie in this stylish hotel.
The waiter interrupted by handing them menus. “A Manhattan for me”, Samuel told him. “Mother, would you like some wine? Sherry? Coffee?”
“No, thank you, dear. Just water. I have had more than enough coffee for today and no wine. I want to keep my wits about me.” She opened her menu, reluctant to take her eyes away from her son who had grown up to be a gem of a man.
She scanned the menu.” Everything looks wonderful. What do you suggest?”
“The duck is always very good. Or steak, whatever your heart desires.”
With ordering out of the way, Samuel took Hada’s hand in his again and furrowed his brow. “Did you see her? Bira? She’s not eating. She thinks she’s punishing me by denying herself food or she may be developing an eating disorder.”
“She is thin. Your father and I noticed immediately. Much thinner than last time we saw her.” The warmth of Samuel’s hand covering hers gave her the calming effect she needed these last few weeks. Here was Samuel, successful, caring Samuel providing the confidence she needed to believe everything would soon be all right.
“I can’t reason with Bira.” A look of emotional pain swept over Samuel’s face. The wrinkles on his forehead deepened and the edges of his lower lip turned downward. He released her hand and rubbed his forehead as if to erase a bad dream.
“She insists that I’m having an affair with Lilli. Now, you know I wouldn’t do that, right?” Samuel bent forward and burrowed his eyes into Hada’s, leaving her stunned. “Lilli’s only a few years older than Esther.” He shifted in his chair and doubled over as if in pain. “My God! What does Bira take me for?”
Hada thought he might have a breakdown right there in the restaurant. She reached for his hands and held them tight. She’d help him. She couldn’t bear to see her son hurting.
“I think she’s hired a private detective to follow me.” Samuel pulled his hands away and held up his palm, as if to stop her. Then he closed his eyes and pounded his chest with the other hand a couple of times before he dropped his arms to his sides in complete surrender.
Hada leaned forward in her seat, stretching as far as she could over the table so she could keep her voice quieter. “Samuel.” But he wouldn’t open his eyes. “Samuel, listen to me.” He crossed his arms and lowered his head. His eyes opened into narrow slits.
She had to restore his hope, his trust in her. “I told your father that very same thing. You wouldn’t, you couldn’t allow yourself to be seduced by a child. You’re a good father and husband; you wouldn’t throw it all away for a tart like Lilli.”
A faint smile crept into his eyes more than on his lips, but it disappeared before she could be sure it had been there. He nodded. “I knew you’d believe me.”
Her stomach gripped. She took a long breath. “But Samuel, tell me, why does Dario accept his daughter’s harlot behavior?”
Samuel snorted. “Dario? Dario thinks Lilli is a princess from Disneyland. He likes to encourage her dreams of being an actress, so he sees nothing wrong with her flirting. It’s play acting.” He chuckled. “She’s perfect for a very sexy role. But I’ve told her to cool it when we’re in public. People, like Bira and Father, get the wrong idea.”
“I’m sure you’re taking precautions but I wanted to say, and it is I, not your father or Bira or anyone else…” Hada lowered her head and sat back a little. She wondered if she should push him further.
“What? What do you want to tell me? You know I value whatever you have to say.” Samuel sat straight in his chair. “Please, Mother, tell me.”
She met his eagerness halfway. “It’s that… I do not think it looks good for you to be staying at Dario’s house with Lilli there. If you’re accused of having an affair with her, it looks suspicious, that’s all. I believe you, but it’s fodder for those who do not.” There, she said it. During sleepless nights she had wondered how she could tell Samuel that it would be better if he stayed somewhere else.
Samuel faced her head-on with eyes like fireballs. Words spilled from his tightened jaw, “I thought it would look worse if I kicked my crazy wife out of the house, leaving my daughters with no mother. If I hired a governess for them, I’d still look like the bad guy, right?” His eyes challenged her and she felt the anger oozing out of his skin. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, took a sip of his Manhattan, and continued.
“Dario generously offered his spare room at no cost. Do you know how much rents are here in California? When Bira and I reach a settlement, I’ll sell the house and give her an equal share. Then I can afford a house of my own, a smaller one, of course, but right now, I have a huge house payment and expenses. I can’t be paying an additional two thousand dollars a month for an apartment.”
Hada listened and noticed his demeanor change from anger to watchful. She didn’t want to risk making him angry again, but she had to ask the questions that haunted her.
“I didn’t think of the expense.” For a second she remembered the diamond tie clip Bira had bought him and the large amount of money he claimed to have not long ago. The memories of his financial boasting vanished as she pursued another possibility. “But, Samuel, while you’re at Dario’s, Lilli could live with her mother or someone, so she would be out of the house that you’re in. That would be better for everyone, considering the allegations.”
Samuel raised his eyebrows and puffed his cheeks with air that he exhaled slowly through pursed lips, as if what she asked was unfathomable. “Lilli’s mother is an alcoholic and crazier than Bira. After a hell of a custody battle with her, Dario would never let Lilli stay with her mother. And there are no other relatives, nowhere else for the poor girl to go.”
His eyes shifted back and forth. He reached for his Manhattan and gulped a larger swallow. “No. I’m sorry, Mother, if everyone wants to have their mind in the gutter, let them. You and I know I wouldn’t be sexually involved with a young girl.” The blaze in his eyes turned to warm embers.
The waiter served their salads and Samuel ordered a second Manhattan. They ate in silence for a time and then Hada said, “I’m sorry I keep bringing up sensitive topics, dear, but what happened with the lawsuits between you and Abe?” She knew what Lev had told her but she wanted to know Samuel’s side. She intended to prove to Lev that his assumptions about Samuel were false.
“I had to sue Abe. He wouldn’t return the patient files otherwise. I added the breaking and entering charge because he took them unlawfully. Those files are not his property even if they are his previous patients. I made him the success he was. Those patients came through my office door. They’re mine.” Samuel put another forkful of greens into his mouth. She waited.
“Then he has the gall to sue me for defamation of character. Why? Because my staff told patients who called for Abe that he was no longer practicing. Naturally they scheduled the people to see me instead. Abe claimed I told my staff what to say. He’s wrong. They decided on their own, I did not instruct them. But instead of coming to me about it, he sues me.”
Samuel threw his napkin on the table. When he met her eyes, a look of deep anger flashed at her. “I told you about Abe pounding the walls of the office during work hours. He’s crazy, I tell you. This world is full of crazy people. What’s the Jewish word for crazy? Masuger? They’re all masuger.” He slammed his fork onto his plate and pushed it away from him with half his salad remaining.
Hada glanced around the dining room to see if the loud clink of the fork hitting china drew anyone’s attention. Several people had turned to look. She felt like humming but Samuel suddenly grabbed her hand knocking the lettuce leaves off her fork.
“Abe isn’t paying child support or alimony to Nissa. He owes her two monthly payments already.”
Samuel sounded like a boy again at home in New Jersey, telling her Abe committed another wrong. But so what if Nissa wasn’t getting alimony? Who cared? To Hada’s mind, Nissa didn’t deserve it. Child support for Jacob, of course, but alimony? That young woman should get a job. The divorce was her idea.
“I will never be in arrears if Bira gets custody, which, by the way, I might allow her to have if, and I mean if, it can be proven that she’s in her right mind.” Samuel continued, “Abe is being totally irresponsible. Do you see why I didn’t want him as a business partner anymore? No dependability. Rages during office hours. Who needs a partner like that?”
Hada listened, but couldn’t shake the tattling tone from years ago. She was too tired of it to bother with a response.
He swallowed the rest of his Manhattan in one gulp and waved the waiter over. “The bottle of Merlot, please. Bring one glass; my lovely Mother doesn’t care for any”.
Hada nodded to the waiter and put a dab of butter on the warm herb roll. “I heard Abe returned the patient files to you.”
“Yes, upon court order. The rest of the charges against him, and his allegations against me, were dropped—as long as I make sure my staff no longer tells anyone that he isn’t practicing any more. They can say he moved to another office but they don’t know where. Which actually, they don’t, but I do.” Samuel reached for a roll. His lips turned up in a vague smile. “He’s renting office space in an Oakland medical center.”
Hada set her empty salad plate to the side of the table for the waiter to take away. “Surly you don’t need his patients too? For Jacob’s sake, Abe needs to make an income suitable to raise a son. You could refer his patients back to him. Only his previous patients, of course.” She had to keep the welfare of the grandchildren at the forefront. But one glance at Samuel made her want to bite her tongue. His eyes were fiery again and flames shot out at her. A voice from her heart whispered in her ear, Power. Samuel has to have power. It frightened her at times.
The waiter interrupted them with the bottle of wine and upon Samuel’s sip and nod of approval, poured a glassful. Samuel leaned back in his chair, and with a stilted voice asked, “So, how is Father?”
Hada gazed at the décor of the dining room. “Your father’s fine, just his usual heartburn and stomach pains.” She didn’t want to tell him that Lev’s pains were worse since the lockout.
When Samuel drove Hada home, he escorted her to the door, unlocked it, and kissed her cheek. “I’ll call you again in a day or two. We’ll explore all the restaurants around here and then write a gourmet book with recommendations.” He laughed, kissed her hand, and waved to her on his way to the BMW.
Hada stepped through the doorway. Bira immediately closed the door and locked it behind her. “The girls are in bed. Esther wanted to wait for you before we lit the Menorah candles, but they were too sleepy.” Bira helped Hada with her coat and hung it in the guest closet.
“I’m sorry I missed the first night of Hanukkah. I didn’t think we would be at the restaurant this long. Where’s Lev?” Hada asked.
“He retired early too. I made him some borsch and a salad. He said he wasn’t hungry for a big meal.” Bira walked down the hall next to Hada. They stopped in front of the closed spare bedroom door. Bira wrung her hands but she looked more relaxed than she did that afternoon and her eyes weren’t as red.
Hada didn’t want to get into a conversation in the hallway or anywhere. She had had enough talking for one night. “I will rest too, Bira. It has been a long day, but I had a wonderful dinner with Samuel. He took me to the Claremont Hotel. What an exquisite dining room.” “Yes, it’s very nice. We’ve celebrated many anniversaries there.” Bira’s voice choked on the last sentence and her eyes filled up with tears. Hada, embarrassed, looked away at the framed Van Gogh print hanging near them.
Then she hesitated before opening the bedroom door. “How many years have you and Samuel been married, Bira? I have forgotten exactly.”
“It would have been fourteen years in May. Good night, Mother Hada.” Bira turned and headed for the living room, shoulders slumped and heaving from her sobs.
When Hada entered the guest bedroom, the reading light next to the bed was on, and Lev sat with his back against the pillows. His eyes were closed. An opened book lay on his lap and his head drooped almost to his shoulder. Hada didn’t make noise, but she didn’t bother to be extra quiet as she changed into her nightgown, hung up her clothes, and put her slippers on to go down the hall to the bathroom. She didn’t want to wash her face and put on moisturizer, she just wanted to go to bed. But she’d never want her skin to look dry and wrinkled like her mother’s.
When she returned, Lev was still asleep; his head bent further down toward his chest. He had his pajamas on but he lay on top of the covers. His eyes popped open when she nudged his elbow.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“Of course,” she said. “Are you going to waste electricity all night with that light on? I’m ready to sleep.” She crawled under the sheets and pulled at them since Lev’s weight held his side taunt.
“So I see.” He rubbed his eyes, put the book on the bedside table, and returned Hada’s pillow to her. “How was dinner?’ Lev asked.
“Fine. He took me to the Claremont Hotel’s dining room.”
Lev stood up, pulled the covers back, and slipped into bed. He turned off his bedside light. “Good food?”
“Excellent.” Hada answered although she didn’t remember the taste of anything she ate.
“Was he respectful?” Lev asked.
“Of course. Samuel is always a gentleman.”
“Not to everyone he isn’t. I’m just making sure his bad behavior does not extend to you.” Lev slid closer, his arm next to hers.
Hada rolled away to the very edge of the bed. So now he wants to be close, she thought. Too bad. Samuel was a gentleman.
“Good. Well, good night then.” Lev said not moving any closer.
“Good night.” Hada tried to stop the tears that spilled down her cheeks and onto the pillow. It’s all Bira’s fault, she thought. This house is full of tears waiting to flood everything and everyone.
On the plane to California, Hada and Lev avoided any discussions about the family, as if silence was a way to brace themselves for the tornado that loomed ahead.
They landed at the Oakland Airport and took a cab to Samuel’s house. Once the suitcases were in the guest room and Hada had freshened up, everyone congregated in the living room. Hada avoided sitting on the couch, remembering how hard it was to get up and, instead, chose one of the chairs by the window. She glanced at the view that spanned the houses below all the way to the Bay Bridge. Gray skies loomed over what had been a spectacular sight on their last visit.
“It’s certainly not a sunny California day and this house is damp. Already I have a chill.”
“I’ll get you a blanket, Grandmother.” Judi sprang to her feet and ran out of the room before Hada could accept or decline. The thought of living a couple of weeks with a six-year-old who had boundless energy made Hada sigh. Only an hour in California and she wanted to go home more than ever.
Bira asked them if they would like some coffee or hot tea.
“Some coffee, I guess.” Hada sat down and ignored Lev’s eyes, knowing he had that look…the one where his lips tighten into a disgusted clamp. He expected her to be polite in someone’s home, but she couldn’t help feeling grouchy. Samuel was gone from his own house, and Bira, skinny as a rail, twisting her hands like someone from a mental institution. Bira’s mother, Miri, often had a similar look. Hada hoped it wasn’t genetic. Her little granddaughters shouldn’t grow up wondering if they were destined to have mental problems.
Judi returned and swooped to her knees in front of Hada. She unrolled a brown fleece blanket, placed it around Hada’s thighs, and tucked it in on both sides. Next, she wrapped the ends around her grandmother’s ankles.
“That’s enough, dear. I don’t need to be in a cocoon. Get up now.” Hada’s heart felt a jab when Judi looked at her with sad puppy eyes. “I’m sorry, Judi. I don’t mean to bark at you. It’s been a long trip, and I get irritable when I’m cold.”
As if all were forgiven, Judi threw her arms around Hada’s neck. “Okay, okay, dear.” Hada gently pried Judi’s clinging arms off of her. “Where is Esther?”
“She’s at school practicing for a variety show. You can go with us to see it next week.” Judi twirled in the middle of the room. “See, Grandmother? Esther taught me how to dance like she does in the show. Watch me.” She twirled again and landed unexpectedly close to her mother who had returned with the tray of coffee cups.
Bira stopped in time to avoid a crash, but with an anxious tone said. “Judi, honey, can you show Grandmother Hada later. She wants to relax after their plane ride, okay?”
Judi shoulders drooped, and she gazed at her bare feet as if in conversation with them.
Lev set his cup on the little table and motioned for Judi to come over. She climbed onto his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck, snuggling in as he held her in a long-armed hug.
Lev’s attention to Judi irritated Hada. Lev, perhaps sensing Hada’s feelings, winked at her. She normally would feel a flush of embarrassment at his sly eye contact, but today she didn’t move. She pretended not to notice.
Lev brushed the wisps of brown hair that had escaped Judi’s ponytail and hooked them around her ears. “That was some pretty fancy dancing you did there. Why aren’t you practicing with Esther today?”
“I’m not in the show. I’m not old enough yet. I can do it next year though.” She let go of his neck, fingered the buttons on his shirt, and then counted them from his waist up. When she reached the one at his collar line, he opened his mouth and pretended to snap at her hand. Judi bent over with deep-throated giggles and nearly fell off his lap.
Hada suppressed a smile and took a sip of coffee. She turned to her daughter-in-law and wrinkled her nose. “This coffee is bitter. What kind of beans do you buy, Bira?”
Bira leapt from the couch. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s too strong? I’m used to making it that way for Samuel….” Her voice trailed off and she took a deep breath. “Let me take that. I’ll make a pot that’s weaker.”
Hada waved her away. “No, no. I’ll drink this. I need the warmth.” She held the cup with both hands and took another sip.
“Oh.” The younger woman dropped her hands but kept her eyes on the cup with an expression of deep concentration, probably processing what to do next was Hada’s guess. Finally, Bira stirred and said, “Well, then I’ll turn up the heater for you.” She bustled out of the room with Judi in tow, the girl’s steady stream of questions about attending Esther’s play echoed down the hallway.
“Does that child never quit?” Hada loosened the blanket from the tucked–in sides of her legs.
Lev leaned forward with his forearms resting on his knees, looking as if he were preparing for a summit meeting. “Hada. Hada, darling. We’re guests.”
“Yes, we are guests so we have a right to be comfortable. I hope it won’t be this cold and damp the whole time we’re here. The snow in Jersey isn’t as bone chilling as this weather. I should have brought my long wool coat.”
Lev didn’t answer. She wanted to be sure he understood her discontent. “Look,” she said. “The view out that window a few weeks ago is gone. All you can see is thick grayness. Will we live with this gloom every day we’re here?”
The clink of china announced Bira’s return to the room. The tray she carried had a small platter of mini bagels, little flowered plates, and a matching china bowl of cream cheese. “It’s the fog, Mother Hada, mixed with low cloud cover. It usually burns off by now, but I don’t think it will today. Hopefully it will be sunny tomorrow.” After offering the snack, Bira sat on the edge of the couch looking as if she were ready to rise at the slightest request. “The fresh coffee will be ready in a minute and the heater is turned on.” She folded and refolded a small dishtowel she must have forgotten to leave in the kitchen.
“Have you heard from Abe?” Lev asked her.
“Yes. I called to tell him of your arrival. He said he’s getting a few referrals from the patients that have come to his new office, but the number isn’t nearly what it was.” She lowered her head, her fingers moving around the edges of the dishtowel as if she were a converted Catholic saying the rosary.
Hada wanted to shake her daughter-in-law and tell her to be the strong Jewish woman her culture expected. What kind of role model was she for her daughters? But then Miri fell short in more ways than one as a model for Bira. Fortitude was not a family trait. If Hada’s mother were present she’d either grab the towel away from Bira or march her into the kitchen to return the cloth to its rightful place.
What would her mother say to Bira with her eyes red and swollen—almost as bad as Hada’s feet? When Hada was young and showed tears, her mother would slap her and tell her that being alive was a privilege, so there never was a reason to cry.
“And Nissa?” Lev’s mention of their other daughter-in-law interrupted Hada.
She knew Bira and Nissa had no strong bond. They tolerated each other. If Bira had recent knowledge of Nissa, it would be from what Abe had told her.
Bira tucked the towel partially into the cushion beside her. “Nissa doesn’t plan to come for the holidays and she won’t send Jacob on the plane by himself as Abe suggested. She said she didn’t want to spend money on airfare for herself and Abe told her he didn’t have extra money either. In fact he might have to file bankruptcy”
“Oi vey.” Hada squirmed in her chair. That good for nothing Nissa—pushing her weight around—the opposite of Bira. Nissa always wanted the last word, always wanted control. Everything had to be her way with no regard for anyone else.
“Jacob needs his father now.” Hada said. “Airlines take good care of children traveling alone. It sounds like Nissa’s punishing Abe, but who is being hurt in the end? Jacob, that’s who. All this fighting is stressful on everyone, Jacob, the girls. No one thinks of the children.” Hada longed to get up and walk off her frustration but her feet hurt too much. She glanced at Lev who had a calculating look, like he was searching for a plan but needed more time to think it through.
Bira rose, retrieving the annoying towel. “I’ll get the coffee.” She gathered the cups and left the room just as Judi skipped in with a coloring book that she thrust into Lev’s hands.
“Look, Grandfather. It’s all about Hanukkah and I’m coloring it from the beginning to the end. No skipping pages.” Lev leafed through, nodding approval and commenting on the attractive colors she had chosen for the scenes.
Hada crossed her arms to keep herself warm. How could Lev be so cheerful? There was nothing cheerful about this day. And, not one piece of furniture was comfortable in this showcase of a house. Would she be able to relax in these arctic conditions?
Bira returned with the tray of steaming cups holding it steadier this time. When Hada took her cup, she tried to smile but her lips wouldn’t cooperate. She noticed Lev gave Bira a smile that could calm a feral cat in a trap.
“Thank you, dear.” Lev held her forearm for a moment before she turned away. “You’ve lost weight. Are you eating? Take us to the store later and we will buy groceries.”
“Oh, no, Father Lev. There is plenty of food in the house. Samuel gives us money for necessities. I’ve…I’ve just lost my appetite lately.” She lowered the silver tray to the cocktail table and then brushed her hands on her slacks.
“I haven’t been eating much myself lately.” Lev raised his two fingers from the middle of his sternum up to his throat. “Seems like most foods are causing me heartburn. But I’m concerned about you. You’re as thin as your mother.”
Hada nodded slightly. So, Lev also noticed how much Bira was looking and acting like Miri. Would his comment add to Bira’s nervousness? No one wanted to be compared to one’s mother. Hada shivered. She hoped she looked better than her mother did at this age. Ma had chosen clothes to cover any possible curves she had and she frowned on make-up. A waste of money she often said. As a young woman, Hada put make-up on after she left the house and wash it off before she returned home, hoping Ma wouldn’t find the hiding place for Hada’s pancake foundation and lipstick tube.
Hada scowled at Judi who talked non-stop and flapped her coloring book in front of her grandfather.
“Can you surprise me, Judi?” Lev asked. “Take your book to another room, color the next picture in the most perfect colors, and then show me. While you’re gone, I’ll wonder how nice it will look.” He raised his eyebrows up and down like Groucho Marx as he took another sip of coffee.
“Okay. It will be the best coloring of all the pages.” Judi clutched the book to her chest and tiptoed out of the room faster than most people ran.
Watching those little toes at high speed softened Hada enough to find affection for this exuberant child. “Innocent lambs. The children are so joyful until we model fights for them.” Hada’s voice came out louder than she had intended.
Lev jerked his head in her direction, a look of surprise at her blaring comment. Then he turned to Bira. “These are troublesome times, my dear, but you must eat. The girls need you to be strong.”
Bira took a rolled up tissue from inside the sleeve of her pullover. “I’ll try, Father Lev, but to think Samuel might kick me out of the house when you return to New Jersey…and I won’t have my girls…I just can’t…” She covered her eyes.
Hada began to hum, hoping to calm her own heart that beat against her chest as if someone were at a door trying to break in.
Down the hall, the phone rang. Then Judi’s “Hello” followed by a squeal of delight. Everyone in the living room grew silent, even Bira’s sniffs stopped.
“Okay, Daddy. I love you too.” Then Judi ran into the room, her face like the sun had just burst through the fog. “It’s for you Grandmother. It’s Daddy.” She lifted her heels and bounced up and down on the balls of her feet when she said “Daddy”.
Hada felt a flush of warmth surge through her for the first time since they left home. Within a second, she unwrapped herself from the fleece blanket before Judi could help, but then accepted her granddaughter’s hand as she led her to the telephone.
“Hello, Samuel?” Hada said when she picked up the receiver.
The suave voice on the other end asked, “Is this Hadassah, the best mother in all of creation?”
“Oh, Samuel. It’s so good to hear your voice.” Hada blushed.
“Would you honor me with your presence for dinner at six?”
Hada felt as excited as Judi looked. “Yes, that would be lovely. I don’t know if your father will want to come or not.” Hada pressed the receiver to her ear so as not to miss one word.
“Whatever suits him.” A crisp tone, but then it changed to a voice as smooth as a Dean Martin croon. “I will come in my chariot at six and I will beep the horn in the driveway. All right, Queen Hadassah?”
“I’ll be ready. Good bye, dear.” Hada couldn’t contain her smile as she handed the receiver to the waiting Judi.
“Is Daddy coming over?” Judi’s bright eyes lit up the hallway. Poor child wants to see her father. If she had a tail, it would be wagging. “Yes, Judi, but he will beep for me from the driveway. So we must listen at six o’clock. I want to be on time, right?”
“Can I come with you? Please?” Judi asked with her best puppy eyes.
“No, dear, it will be grown-up talk.” Hada patted her granddaughter on the head. With steps as light as a schoolgirl’s, she headed back to the living room, with Judi trailing behind her.
To be continued.
(I did not post Chapter 16 because I’ve made it a short story that I submitted for publication and I don’t want it to be rejected because I posted it here. A quick summary is that Hada shops in a New Jersey jewelry store where her vision is blurred and she guesses it’s due to stress about having to go back to California. On her way to the car, she runs into her best friend. They go to Macy’s Cafe where Hada covers up the problems in Berkeley and lies about being happy to return there. They discuss modern women who have a mind of their own and Hada secretly admires the new independent women. She evaluates her role as a wife. A modern woman wouldn’t follow Lev if she didn’t want to leave New Jersey for several weeks.
Hada is determined to return on her own if she decides the chaos with their sons continues to be intolerable. She would take the risk of being judged by her friend and their community by her refusal to stay in California with Lev.)
Chapter Fifteen: Scene Two
He met Hada at the door and reached for the two large shopping bags she carried. He set them on the floor and helped her with her coat. Neither spoke and Hada avoided his eyes. She turned her back to him, took off her fur-lined boots, and slid into a pair of slippers from the line of footwear in the entry closet.
“Hada, come and sit down, I need to talk with you.” Lev took her hand and guided her to the kitchen. She lowered herself into a chair, and he took his half eaten lunch to the sink. “Bira called while you were gone.” He sat next to her, locked his eyes with hers, intent on maintaining eye contact whether she was willing or not.
Flushed from the crisp outdoors, her checks faded to a sickly white. “Everyone is all right?”
“Physically, yes. “Bira is very upset. Samuel told her to move out of the house without the girls. He plans to hire a governess.”
Hada clutched her chest and hunched forward. “What? Why?”
With both hands, Lev reached for Hada’s forearm, gently urging her to let go. When she allowed him to take her hand, he placed it on his lips for a reassuring kiss. “I am sorry, Hada, I do not mean to shock you. We will work it out for Bira, but unfortunately, there’s more.” He paused, then released her hand, but not her eyes, and continued, “Bira caught him with Lilli at a hotel and when she asked him for a separation, he demanded that she move.”
The muscles tightened around Hada’s eyes. “He was in a hotel with Lilli?” Her lips pinched inward until they were almost out of sight.
“Yes, at two in the morning. They had been drinking.” Lev spoke without emotion, hoping she would realize on her own what her first-born had done.
But Hada rose and pushed the chair away with the back of her legs. “Bira must be mistaken. Maybe it just looked that way. Maybe they were at a conference The tennis group might have had a conference.” Her voice rose higher, matching the ring of the phone that interrupted her. She hurried to answer it, a look of expectation on her face as if whoever was calling would solve everything.
A hasty, “Hello?” A pause, and then, “Oh, Samuel, dear, I’ve heard the most dreadful news about…” She stopped and her face flushed redder than when she came in from the cold.
“Yes, your father talked with Bira today. What is happening out there?” Her voice trembled and then her jaw dropped as if a silent scream wanted to fill an emptiness.
Lev waited while she listened. He folded his arms and tapped his ribs with the fingers of one hand. Then, with a look of panic spreading over her face, Hada said, “Samuel wants me to tell you what he is saying so we both know the facts.”
Lev nodded but thought that facts from Samuel’s perspective were untruths.
“He says Bira has become insanely jealous. She dumps the girls at her parents’ house, follows him all over town, and accuses him of having an affair with Lilli.” Hada listened again.
“He argued with Bira last night. Told her to move in with her parents but the girls would stay with him.” Hada held eye contact with Lev as she listened.
Then she repeated Samuel’s words again, “But he thought about it all night and decided he did not want to upset the girls, especially during Hanukkah, so Bira can stay at the house. He has moved out, and since we are coming in a couple of days, would we please stay with Bira and the girls instead of the Hilton so we can help care for Esther and Judi.”
Hada listened and nodded, then told Lev, “He cannot take Bira’s suspicions any longer. They will probably get a divorce if she does not come to her senses. Dario generously offered him his guest room until Samuel can think this situation through more completely.” Hada waited, her eyebrows scrunched together.
“Samuel says he will be less concerned about the girls if we are there to keep an eye on Bira and try to talk some sense into her. He does not want to break up the family, but Bira has become impossible. We are the only ones he can trust to take care of Esther and Judi.” Without waiting for Lev to respond, she spoke into the receiver, “Thank you, dear, we will do our best.”
She paused, her strained eyes on Lev. “I’ll ask your father.” This time she put her hand over the receiver. “Is it all right if Samuel picks us up at the airport?”
“No. We will take a cab.” Lev burped. The burning filled his throat and his mouth. “We will stay with Bira and the girls, but I do not want to see him.”
Hada shook her head. “I’m sorry, dear, your father says no. We’ll take a cab, and it probably would be best if you are not at the house when we arrive.” Hada stretched the phone cord but it was too short. She pointed to the kitchen chair. Lev moved it closer and her body slumped into it.
“Yes, you and I can get together at restaurants as we did the last trip. But I’d prefer not to visit you at Dario’s. Samuel, are you sure you want to stay there?”
Lev jumped up from his chair, stood close to the receiver, and shouted “Your mother will never go to Dario’s house!” His stomach seized in pain forcing him to head for the bathroom where he doubled over at the edge of the toilet, no longer able to swallow the agony.
Four days later, Lev sat alone at the kitchen table as he had done for a week. Hada made excuses for her absence at every meal. Today she said she had to leave early to finish the Hanukkah shopping before the crowds filled the stores. She had scurried out the door, but popped back for a second to mumble that she’d be back in time to make dinner.
Lev chewed the sliced beef sandwich and poked his fork into the potato salad as if it were a plastic imitation of what was once a delectable recipe. Food dutifully made, but without Hada’s presence, his appetite soured.
The window framed the monochromatic day outside. No snow or rain, only a grayness that hung over everything, thick and oppressive. When the phone rang, Lev dropped his fork and hurried to answer the wall extension.
He held his breath to brace himself in case it was bad news about Hada. Perhaps there had been an accident since she had been in a rush. Had she been upset enough to be speeding or distracted and missed a turn or…
“Father Lev?” Bira’s voice on the other end stopped his anxiety and he exhaled. No accident. Hada was safe.
But the congested quality of his daughter-in-law’s tone became a delayed register that put his body on alert again. Something was wrong. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“I…I…have a cold. I thought I would tell you about my talk with Abe this morning.”
“Abe?” Worry about Hada, then Bira, now Abe created a yo-yo effect with Lev’s emotions. “What about Abe?”
“He’s having a hard time keeping up with the house payment and bills and…”
Lev heard Bira blowing her nose. He waited.
She continued, “And of course, Nissa insists she doesn’t want to hear Abe whining about his finances and she’s determined to continue her lawsuit for back payments that are legally hers.” Bira sniffed, and blew her nose again. “Sorry.”
Lev leaned against the wall, weighed down by a sense of helplessness. California was far away. Abe was alone. “Is his patient caseload improving?”
“A little. But I have some terrible news I want to discuss with you. It’s not about Abe. Is this a good time to talk?”
“Yes, it is fine. Hada is shopping. First, let me grab a chair.” Lev reached to pull the kitchen chair closer and sank into it. His breathing increased as if he were in a race. “Go ahead, Bira.”
“Last night, I became a spy. I noticed Samuel was taking particular attention when dressing for an evening meeting he claimed he had with his attorney. He said they would have a lot to discuss so it would be late before he returned. As soon as he left, I took the girls to my parents’ house for the night. I drove to the hotel because it was to be Nissa’s last night, according to the reservations I found. I guessed I’d find Samuel there.”
“Why did you think he was with Nissa instead of at a meeting?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was intuition. I took a risk and went to the desk to ask for Nissa, but the clerk said she had already checked out. I pretended I was supposed to meet her and Mr. Zuckerman. The clerk said Mr. Zuckerman had taken Nissa’s room and asked if he should ring him. I told him no, that Nissa was the one I wanted to see.
“I went to my car where I’d parked so I could see both doors, if and when Samuel left. I had brought a blanket and a thermos of coffee so I was ready to be there all night. I staked out.”
“Bira, you should not be spying in the night alone. Why not hire a private detective?” Lev’s forehead, grow hotter as he listened.
“Perhaps you’re right, Father Lev. But I was successful. At about 2:30 a.m., he came out of the back door with…” Bira’s voice cracked. “With Lilli.”
“Oy Gevault.” The burn, like molten lava, rose from his stomach and exploded in this throat. Tums and Milk of Magnesia were on his desk in the basement office. He couldn’t get them, he couldn’t interrupt her. He had to hear the whole story. He bit his bottom lip to divert the fiery pain.
“They staggered to his car. I think they were pretty drunk and she was hanging all over Samuel. They kissed and groped each other before driving away.” Bira made a howling kind of cry.
“I am so sorry.” Lev waited for her to steady herself. Like a megaphone the words, seducing a minor, deafened his ears. His hands shook. He had to grip the receiver tighter. He wondered if the sudden silence on the other end was due to his ears or if Bira had quieted. Finally, he heard her take a deep breath.
“It gets worse. I drove home and sat in the living room, waiting for him. He walked in about four a.m., and I told him what I saw and that I wanted a separation. What he was doing is illegal and I wanted no part of it. I said the girls and I would move into my parents’ house.”
Silence again. Lev strained to hear when her voice shuddered and she said something inaudible, then her voice steadied and her tone deepened. “He was furious. He threw a lamp against the wall. Said he would hire the best lawyers in town and make sure I would never get custody of the girls. He wants me out of the house as soon as he hires a governess for them.” Bira sobbed an aching, distressful sob. “Not the girls, Father Lev, I can’t live without my girls.”
“Bira, I will not let that happen. We will be there in three days. Do not move for three days. You are their mother. He can’t kick you out that fast. Just three days, Bira. Can you hold on until then?”
“I don’t know. I’ll try.” Uncontrollable sobs contradicted her words.
Lev raised his palm as if he were stopping an on-coming car. “Listen. Call Mr. Gottfried and get the names of some private detectives. Hire one as soon as possible. If you need money, I’ll….”
“No.” Bira gasped for breath. “Samuel said he will give me all the money I want just to get rid of me. That’s what he said—to get rid of me.”
Lev squeezed the bridge of his nose, trying to think clearly. Samuel was ruining so many lives.
“Your parents know all these details?” Lev flashed on Shovai who only wanted to enjoy the rest of his life in retirement, not to have this kind of heartache. And poor Miri who worried herself sick over everything. They must be devastated over Samuel’s demands. My son is not only disgusting; he embarrasses me.
Bira answered, “I’ve told them a little, mostly that Samuel and I are not getting along. I can’t bear to tell them what I just told you.”
“Stall for time. Lilli is not of legal age and whether Dario approves of his daughter’s behavior with Samuel or not, she is a minor.” Lev stood and straightened to his full height. “We need evidence.”
“But that could take too long. A governess taking care of the girls…I can’t bare it.” Bira whimpered
with short, gasps for air.
“Be strong, Bira. There will be no governess. Samuel will be stopped. Mark my words.”
“All right. Thank you, Father Lev. Shalom.”
Lev hung up the receiver and fixed his eyes on the flowered wallpaper but it made him dizzy. He gripped the edge of the table. If only they could leave for California immediately. He’d make arrangements immediately for someone to watch the house while they were in California. He was sure they would be gone for a while. But Lev doubted he could rush Hada to leave any sooner than the airline tickets he had purchased.
In the bathroom, his fingers seemed to forget how to open the Milk of Magnesia bottle. After several swigs of the thick liquid, he heard the garage door open. Hada was home. Would she believe Bira? How would she react?
To be Continued.
The phone rang again and this time, Lev pounced on it, hoping it was Abe.
A familiar female voice said, “Hello, Father Lev.”
“Bira. It is good you called. How are you and the girls?” Lev sat down again at his desk and fingered the coiled receiver cord.
“We’re fine. The girls are, that is. Samuel and I barely speak any more unless it’s about the girls’ schedules or whatever involves them. He’s gone a lot…says he has all of Abe’s patients to take care of and is working late at the office. But I’ve done some sleuthing and of course, he isn’t where he says he is.”
Lev heard Bira sigh and wished he could put his arm around her, tell her everything would be all right, even if he wasn’t sure it would be. “Did you know he is telling Abe’s patients that Abe isn’t practicing anymore?”
“Yes, Abe told me. That’s not legal, is it?” Bira asked.
“No. Mr. Gottfried suggested Abe sue Samuel and I approved. I don’t think such a lawsuit will affect your family finances.” He glanced outside the window where a few snowflakes floated down, the first of the season.
Bira chortled, “Of course not. Samuel seems to have a vault filled with money somewhere. I’ve seen credit card bills that show he’s spending freely. I found a prepaid reservation confirmation from the Hilton for two nights under Nissa’s name. But he didn’t even tell me she was in town. I don’t think Jacob is with her. He knows Abe and I are close, so I suspect he didn’t want Abe to know she’s here either.”
“Nissa filed a suit against Abe for unpaid alimony and child support.” Lev reached for the Tums in his drawer. He pushed two out of their wrappings and popped them into his mouth while Bira continued.
“I’m not surprised that Abe doesn’t have much money right now, thanks to Samuel.” After a pause, Bira’s voice was almost inaudible. “Samuel is not only sabotaging Abe, but our married life as well.”
“Does it have to do with Lilli?” Lev grimaced. The Tums did not seem to be working.
“Yes. I think they’re together often and for more than tennis lessons. I’m sleeping in the spare room. I try not to let the girls know mommy and daddy are not happy with each other, but they’ve been asking questions. They love their father, of course, so I’ve been reticent to challenge Samuel, but I may have to suggest a separation.”
“You have my support in whatever you choose to do, Bira. As you might know, I brought the suspected affair out in the open when I spoke to him at the hotel, but he denied it.”
“He will never admit it unless we have solid proof–something I’ll have to find.” She sighed again. “It helps to talk to you, Father Lev. Thank you so much. I hope I’m not upsetting you.”
“No, dear Bira. What you say or do never upsets me as much as my eldest son’s chosen destiny. Take care of those granddaughters and give them a hug for us.”
Lev hung up the phone and interlocked his hands behind his head. His eyes rested on the photographs framed by Hada years ago that hung beside his desk. One was of Samuel in his graduation gown–a determined look on his face as he gripped the diploma in a victorious gesture. The picture next to it was of Lev and Abe beside the model train track they had assembled together. With one hand on the engine, young Abe was smiling broadly at Hada when she took the photo. Lev, also smiling, crouched behind Abe, one hand on his son’s shoulder.
The top framed photograph was taken at a family outing at the beach. He remembered that Hada’s sister held the camera and yelled, “Say cheese”. The three of them, Hada, Abe and Lev, held hands to make a circle around Samuel. Even though the boys were preteens they were willing to play a child’s game.
Funny how Hada had chosen that picture. She must have forgotten how the day ended. Samuel had buried Abe in the sand with only his head sticking out, a task that took him most of the afternoon. Then he ran around Abe, kicking up sand that flew in his trapped brother’s face, his eyes, and nose. Hada and Lev had been distracted while playing volleyball with her sister and brother-in-law. When they heard a scream from Abe, Lev hurried to pull a giggling Samuel away from the mound that was his coughing brother. Abe was sick for the rest of the vacation.
The last photo was of Hada and Lev before the boys were born. Hada wore a flowing blue gown with a sapphire broach, her dark brown hair pinned up with a sparkling clip. They were dressed up for her nephew’s bar mitzvah in New York. The camera captured Hada with a face full of love and admiration gazing up at Lev in his tux with his arm around her shoulders. Will she ever adore me again?
Hada called him for lunch and he went upstairs to the kitchen. At the head of the table, his lunch was set with borscht, a crisp salad and whole grain bread, but Hada had not set a place for herself.
She set a cup of coffee next to his bowl of soup. “I am going in to town now. I will be back later this afternoon.”
He stepped closer to her and put his hand lightly on the top of her shoulder. “It is beginning to snow. Are you sure you want to drive to town? What is so pressing, that it cannot wait? And have you eaten?”
Without looking at him, she slipped away from his hand. “I am fine. It’s not the first time I have driven in snow. I need to shop for Hanukkah before our trip.” She took off her apron and hung it on the hook in the pantry.
“Our flight back to California is not until next week. Can the shopping wait for better weather?” Lev asked.
For the first time since he entered the room, she faced him, looking sad as she shook her head. He longed to hold her in his arms, but he dreaded the possibility she would pull away from him. Lately, she always had something to get done at lunchtime, obviously to avoid eating with him. At dinner she turned on the television and said she was taking her plate into the living room to watch a show she didn’t want to miss. Sometimes he joined her, but the shows seemed meaningless and he preferred the quiet, even if it meant he would be alone.
From his seat at the table, Lev looked out of the dining room window and watched Hada back their Plymouth out of the garage into the street. The snowflakes were thicker now, but when they touched the ground or the car, they melted. Several stuck together on the pine tree branches but in a few seconds, they too were unable to remain.
Chapter Fourteen: Scene One
Three weeks later in New Jersey, Lev sat at his desk in the workroom downstairs. Glasses propped on the end of his nose, he perused the morning newspaper, aware of Hada walking about upstairs. Her footsteps distracted him. He read some sentences over several times as his thoughts drifted to Hada, and how they seldom spent as much time in the same room as they did before their visit to California. Even bedtime had changed. Hada stayed up until after Lev was asleep and, if he woke during the night, her back was turned to him. When he tried to hold her, she moved free.
He let the newspaper fall open, on the desk and set his glasses over the weather report. Why read it when he could look outside and know what kind of day it would be. The small window above him offered a view of the lawn and trees. Very few leaves clung to the branches and, today, it looked like it might snow. If they were in California, it would be warmer, even with the fog.
The phone rang but Lev didn’t pick it up. He guessed the call was one of Hada’s lady friends, but she appeared in the doorway. “It’s Mr. Gottfried.” She hesitated as if she wanted to stay for the conversation, but shifted her gaze from him to the floor and turned to leave the room.
“Thank you, Hada,” he called after her and reached for the phone under the newspaper, gripped the receiver, and greeted the lawyer.
“I’ve nothing to report regarding the civil suit, but something has surfaced that I think you should be aware of. I assume communications between you and Abe continue to be sparse if at all.”
Lev sighed, “Your assumption is correct. When I call, Abe says he is fine but cannot talk because he’s busy.”
“I’m sorry to tell you that Nissa is filing suit against Abe.”
“Nissa? Filing a lawsuit against Abe?” Lev leaned into the back of his chair.
“Abe is in arrears with his child support and alimony payments. He had promised to make payments as soon as he relocates his practice and receives income. However, she came up from Los Angeles and filed papers yesterday.”
“She needs money and yet she spends it for a trip to file papers?” Lev held his forehead with his free hand.
“Let me give you more background before we tackle that supposed inconsistency. Remember I told you that Abe returned the patient folders to the Samuel’s office via messenger, after he had copied them, and I was able to get the breaking and entering charge dropped. Abe started contacting his patients to tell them he had moved his practice, but many were surprised. Apparently Samuel’s staff told them that Abe was no longer practicing and scheduled the patients with Samuel.”
Lev stood up from his chair. The receiver cord stretched to its full length, taut with tension. “Oy Vay! Does it ever end?”
Lawrence continued. “I called Samuel’s office as if I was a patient wanting an appointment with Abe and I was told the same thing. I taped it, of course. We now have proof so I suggested Abe counter-sue Samuel for defamation of character.”
“He may as well.” Lev stared out of the window at the dark clouds covering the sky. “But, listen to this, Lev. Whether by coincidence or synchronicity, when Abe submitted the paperwork for the counter suit, he happened to look out one of the court registrar’s hall-way windows, he saw Nissa get into the driver’s seat of Samuel’s car just before she drove away. Abe called me from the courts wondering if I knew why she was there. I was able to find out about her suit for unpaid alimony and child support and called Abe back immediately. We’re certain that she was filing her papers at the same time Abe was filing his against Samuel. What are the chances that Abe would look out of the window at that precise time? Anyway, the important fact is that Samuel loaned Nissa his car to do it.”
“And, he probably paid for her flight up to Oakland as well. I would not doubt Samuel suggested she sue in the first place.” Lev formed a fist in his free hand and he wished he could hit a punching bag to rid himself of the anger building in his body.
“Yes, I would assume so too. If anything further develops, I’ll call again. But Lev, I want to assure you that I plan to do everything I can to block Samuel and to turn this whole mess to Abe’s advantage. It’s just taking time to keep up with the surprises.”
“Thank you. As always, I appreciate your calls and all that you do for Abe. We will be back in Berkeley soon. Good day.”
Lev hung up the receiver and paced back and forth in his workroom. There seems to be no stopping Samuel.
Chapter Thirteen: Scene Two
Hada hurried to open the door when she heard Samuel’s loud knock. No flowers this time, but Samuel smiled and gave her a hug. She wanted to hang on to their embrace forever—he was her boy—a good boy.
Samuel released the hug and turned to his father. Hada noted how good-looking her son was in his white shirt and navy pants and sport jacket. She didn’t think it was just her motherly pride; he always presented himself handsomely even when he relaxed at home.
Lev waved his hand at Samuel in a motion to hurry up and sit down at the small table.
Samuel sauntered over, sat, and then leaned back in his chair, appearing ready for a long conversation. “As you know, I’ve come back from L.A. I thought I’d give you a report on Nissa and Jacob.”
Hada remained on the corner of the bed closest to the table and waited a second for Lev to respond—but he didn’t. Would both of them just sit there all night? She asked in an impatient tone, “So…how is our grandson?”
“Jacob seems to be enjoying his new school. He continues to seek out sports as a way to fit in and it’s going well for him. But Nissa wants to move out of her parents’ home, and she can’t find any place affordable that would be in a good neighborhood. Abe refuses to send her any more money than the court ordered for the monthly allotment. I brought them some cash and took them out to a high class restaurant to cheer them up.”
“That was very generous of you, Samuel.” Hada patted his arm, and then glanced at Lev whose posture had stiffened.
“In a divorce situation, an outsider does not know all that occurs within the couple’s previous and present problems.” Lev’s voice was crisp and cool. “It is better for them to work out conflicts on their own without someone like you interfering and possibly confusing Jacob.”
“Confusing Jacob? Who’s confusing Jacob?” Samuel raised his voice. “I’m keeping the link to our family by being present and helping financially. His father isn’t showing up.”
Hada put her hand on his knee to calm him, but he brushed it away. She recoiled and held her breath. A fight—she had hoped they were going to work things out but instead, tempers flared. She sat up straighter as if to brace herself for the battle that brewed.
Lev leaned forward, eye-to-eye with Samuel. “You made sure Abe would not have the finances to ‘show up’, as you say.” Lev straightened and now he looked down at Samuel as he continued, “Divorce is difficult for a boy Jacob’s age. We all must make an effort to keep Jacob’s image of his father the best it can be. Nissa, in her frustration, may be saying negative things about Abe that Jacob should not have to hear.” Lev’s voice grew louder and his knuckles curled “With your attention to him, Jacob could bond with you as a father image instead of his real father.”
Samuel’s eyes shifted to the right and left, held for a fraction of a second, then shot straight at his father “I disagree. Someone has to be a father image. Abe doesn’t come to visit his son and doesn’t care that they’re in need of money. What kind of father is that?” His voice had accelerated to a high-pitched shout.
A soundless gasp escaped Hada’s lips. When Samuel was a boy and he talked with that same tone of voice, Lev would send him to his room until he calmed down. There was no place to send him here. Whatever could she do to stop them before someone got hurt?
Lev rose from his chair, bent forward, and reached for the collar of Samuel’s crisp white shirt, but Samuel leaned back avoiding the advance. Lev stood with his arm out, gripping an invisible staff that he slowly drew closer to his chest. “And you judge what is a good father? You, who succumbs to the advances of a fifteen-year old girl when you have a wife and two daughters? You’re heading for a divorce by your unspeakable behavior and you call that a good father?”
Hada jumped up. “Lev!” She tried to wedge between them but couldn’t since Samuel stood within inches of Lev.
The muscles in Samuel’s jaw twitched and his chin jutted forward as his eyes squinted, “So that’s why Bira was sleeping in the guest bedroom last night when I came back from the airport.”
He glanced at Hada and then at Lev with a challenging stare. “What have you two conspired while I was away? You’re listening to Bira’s assumptions? Dario and I have been friends for almost twenty years and Lilli is a charming girl, a great tennis player whom I enjoy training. If Bira is jealous, it’s her problem. I offered to teach her tennis, but she says she doesn’t have time.”
He pulled himself upright to meet Lev’s stance. “And you base my behavior on a night when I’ve had too much to drink in celebration of a holiday that included thankfulness—thankfulness for my parents and my family!”
Hada’s ears vibrated from Samuel shouting right next to her. She put her hand on his arm and patted it. “Shh, there are other people staying in this hotel; we do not want everyone to know our family disputes. Your father is just worried….”
Lev pounded the table with his fist. “I am more than worried, I’m furious with your behavior, drunk or sober. Look what you’re doing to your brother. You’re making him look like a bad father to his son. You lock him out of his office without talking to him, and then you sue him for breaking and entering when he’s already in an unwarranted lawsuit. Think about it, Samuel. You’re setting Abe up for failure in every way. He is family. He is your brother.” Lev rose to his full height and towered over Samuel.
Samuel stretched his body upwards, but his head couldn’t reach past Lev’s nose. “It’s always poor Abe. You’re twisting it all around. Are you going crazy in your old age?”
Lev stepped closer and pushed on Samuel’s shoulder. “Get out. I will not allow you to be disrespectful.” When Samuel didn’t move, Lev stepped forward again, forcing Samuel to walk backwards. “Get out now!” he shouted into Samuel’s face,
Hada grabbed Samuel’s hand and tugged him toward the door. He followed her but turned his head and kept his eyes on Lev. Her hand shook as she struggled to open the door, but she would not let go of Samuel until he was in the hallway. She calmed herself enough to say, “We will talk to you later, dear. Both of you need to calm down. I love you, Son. We will work all this out.”
Her heart pounded and her head ached, but she waved and smiled when he looked back halfway down the hall. She closed the door and stood with her back against it, clutching her chest with her right hand. Her blouse was moist with sweat.
Lev paced from the bathroom to the window and back again. “Do you see, Hada? Now do you understand what he is doing?”
She coughed several times; her eyes were blurry and it was hard to think. “I do not know, Lev. To be honest with you, I cannot help but believe he is being truthful about Lilli. I do not like that girl, but I believe he is innocent. And, he may be hard on Abe, but how can he get his files back otherwise?”
She walked away from the door and, in spite of a pain in her chest, took a breath. “Abe does seem to avoid Nissa’s request for financial help, and poor Jacob, maybe he thinks his father does not care enough to see him. Children do not understand…”
Lev shook his head and stopped in front of her again. “You continue to discount my views, Hada. Abe may be sued for every penny he has in that civil case. He has to set up a new practice. It will take him time to build a new patient base. Where is the money to give Nissa more and then to pay Samuel for breaking and entering damages?”
Hada didn’t answer.
“Why pay Samuel who enjoys making his brother’s life miserable? How do you expect…?” Lev threw up his hands and then let them fall back to his side, his chest caved inward in defeat. “I cannot talk any more. I am going for a walk.”
He stopped at the door and with his back to Hada, spoke with a voice more hurt than angry, “And did you hear him dishonor his father? He called me a crazy old man.” Lev stood in silence for a long moment before he opened the door, and then slammed it shut behind him.
The pain Hada heard coming from her husband voice filled her, and she stumbled to the bed, gasping for air. She wished she had the strength to get up and open the window. Intolerable chaos. Her life was falling apart right there in the hotel.
The room was dark when Hada woke up at fifteen minutes after two. She tossed and turned for what seemed like hours admonishing herself for eating sweet food late that night. After they finished their soup delivered by room service, Lev refused to eat his piece of pie. Hada didn’t have the heart to throw out what Bira worked hard to make and ate Lev’s piece as well as her own—too much sugar—or maybe it wasn’t the sugar keeping her from sleep.
Thanksgiving Day ran through her mind. She rolled to her left and Lilli in her high-heeled shoes popped up. Turning to her right, Lev’s stern face when they left Samuel’s house haunted her.
Unable to stay in bed any longer, she got up, put on her robe and slippers and sat at the round table. The roses drooped with loose petals around the vase. How odd that the petals looked as if they were picked off purposefully. No one but Lev could have done that, but why? Why pick off petals? Could he be jealous that Samuel had brought them? She had never known him to be jealous of the boys before.
Lately Lev showed less kindness and gentleness. Since the night they first met at her sister’s birthday party he had treated her like a queen. Hada thought Lev was the most handsome man there and blushed when he came to her table and talked to her. Her face grew hotter when he complimented her.
“Your hands are very graceful. Do you play the piano?” he asked, sliding his hand over the length of hers.
“A little, but not very well,” she whispered because her voice seemed to have disappeared for the moment. They ignored the other party guests for the rest of the evening. Then he called her the next day to go on a picnic in Central Park.
Perfect weather surrounded them as they sat on a blanket and ate deli sandwiches that he’d brought in a brown bag. After lunch, they walked and talked for hours. Within a few months, they were married and even after the boys were born, they managed to keep their private times together. But now this mess brought tears to her eyes. She wanted to go home—to leave all the chaos here. She wanted their relationship to be normal again, if it wasn’t too late.
Hada padded her way to the bathroom for a tissue. When she blew her nose, Lev woke up and quickly rose to a sitting position. “Are you all right?”
“Just a little sneeze”, she lied. “I’m fine. Go back to sleep.”
“Are you coming to bed?”
“Of course.” She threw away the tissue, took off her robe and slippers, and slid under the covers. He put his arm around her, and soon his breathing changed to that of a deep slumber. His warm breath on her neck reminded her of how they used to dance to big band music every Saturday. He would twirl her around and swoop her into a romantic dip, and then draw her back up to settle close to his chest—a grand dancer, a gentleman. The echo of Benny Goodman music playing in her memory finally lulled her back to sleep.
After room service breakfast, the phone rang. Lev answered and Hada saw his jaw clench as he listened. He turned to look out the window before he replied. “Yes, we are leaving tomorrow but we will be back during Hanukkah. There are too many unsettled issues for us to be gone more than a few weeks.”
There was a long pause before he said, “I suppose we could meet today, here at our hotel room.”
It must be Samuel, Hada thought. When she tapped Lev, he turned around to face her. She mouthed Samuel’s name.
He nodded, but as he continued to listen, his lips tightened and his words became pronounced, as if he was talking to a child that didn’t understand. “Because I do not care to return to your house at this time. I had enough on Thanksgiving. If you want to meet, it will be here in the hotel.”
It sounded like a standoff, but Hada didn’t care. At least they would talk.
“We have had breakfast. Come to the room and if you’re hungry, we can send for room service. I prefer the privacy for our discussion.”
After another short pause, Lev said, “Ten o’clock then. Good bye.”
Hada pulled on his sleeve to get his attention. “So, what did he say?”
“He wants to talk. I expected an apology, but of course, I didn’t get one. I only agreed to meet with him because of his visit with Nissa. I want to hear about it, and then I will have plenty to tell him.”
“Are you going to ask about Lilli?”
“Yes and that God-forsaken lawsuit he has imposed on Abe.”
Hada straightened her dress, which had creased a little in the suitcase. She stared at the clock on the bedside table. Where was Samuel? She wanted to walk around to ease her impatience, but she didn’t want Lev to think she was nervous. If he thought the conversation would be stressful for her, he might tell her to go to the restaurant for a snack while he and Samuel talked. She tried to sit still and pretend to be invisible but at ten minutes after ten, she couldn’t stand it any longer and blurted, “He’s late”. She bit her lip and glanced at Lev.
He sat at the little round table with his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. His eyes were closed. Hada wondered if he were asleep or if he had indigestion again. Either way, he didn’t seem to notice her comment.
Chapter Twelve: Scene Two
At the Hilton, Lev opened the door to their room and was relieved that Hada, Bira, and the girls had not returned from the movies. He went into the bathroom, tipped the Milk of Magnesia bottle for a couple of sips, recapped it, and walked to the bed. He took off his shoes and plumped the pillows for a backrest. Can’t lie down, heartburn won’t let me. Samuel, you’re ruthless? What did we do wrong when we raised you?
Lev fell asleep sitting up and awoke when Judi stood by the bed with her little hand on his cheek. “Hi, Grandfather. We’re back. The movie was soooo good; you should have come with us.” He opened his eyes to Judi’s wriggles and standing next to her, Esther came into view with a big smile on her face.
“I am glad you had a good time. Where is your grandmother?” Lev moved his legs off the bed, sat on the edge and burped. “Excuse me.” He said and wrinkled his nose at Judi. Then he tickled her and she ran around the bed giggling, “You can’t catch me.”
Hada came into the room with Bira behind her. “That is right; no one can keep up with you girls. I give you a key to the room and you take off like the wind.” She put her purse in the closet and walked over to Lev, “How did it go?”
“Not very good news, I am afraid, but I like Mr. Gottfried. He said Abe cured the symptoms of his multiple sclerosis, so although he is retired, he is involved in helping Abe with the legalities in more ways than one. He is grateful for Abe giving him his life back. I get the feeling he is providing all this legal advice and connections pro bono.”
“That’s wonderful, Father Lev. Abe needs a smart, supportive person on that case.” Bira sat down next to Lev after quieting the girls who sat at the table with pens and papers that she had brought.
Hada removed her blue shoes and put on her slippers. Then she sat on the other side of Lev. “So what is the bad news?”
“Mr. Gottfried told me about three lawsuits.” Lev shook his head.
“Three? I thought there was only one and one is enough. Oy vay, what has he done?” Hada put her hand over her heart.
“From what I can tell he has done nothing that would warrant a lawsuit, maybe a reminder of some licensing laws but not to the point of appearing in federal court.”
“Federal court? This is not making sense.” Hada looked at Bira who shrugged.
“I agree with you, dear, and the intensity of the claimants’ actions make me wonder who put a bug in their ear.” Lev doubled over with a burning pain again. “I need the Milk of Magnesia.”
Hada rose, went to the bathroom, and came back with the bottle. When she handed it to him, her hands felt cold. He nodded and took two swallows.
“What’s that, Grandfather?” Judi asked from her chair at the table.
“Just his medicine, Sweetie.” Bira said.
“Are you sick?” She came running over, put her hands on his knees, and met his eyes with a scared look on her face.
“No, nothing to worry about, my stomach is not happy, that is all. I will be better soon.” He reached out and tickled her again. She giggled and returned to her drawing.
“Mr. Gottfried said the first lawsuit was kicked out of court but that some of the plaintiffs turned around and sued in civil court.”
“Then that’s still only one suit pending, correct? If one was thrown out and then another is in a different court, what’s the third one?” Bira asked.
Lev handed the bottle to Hada held on to it without moving.
“Samuel.” He whispered so the girls wouldn’t hear over their chatter about drawing.
“Samuel?” Bira and Hada whispered together.
“He is suing Abe for breaking and entering and stealing patient files.”
She rose from the bed and faced him. “I do not believe it. Samuel would not do that.”
“Daddy would not do what, Grandmother?” Esther asked.
“Nothing, Dear, never mind. We will be going soon so finish your drawings.” Bira stood up, but unclipped and rewound her curly hair, then clipped it again “He’s being impossible,” she whispered.
“Apparently, if Abe gives the files back, he will have a better chance of leniency with the breaking and entering charge.” Lev shook his head again. “And we watched him do it. We should have stopped him or warned him in the first place.”
Hada continued to pace without looking up. “That probably would not have stopped him. It is not our fault. Brothers have disagreements all the time. Books have been written about it.”
“I better get the girls some dinner, do you want to come?” Bira asked.
“You go ahead. Hada, go with them. My stomach is upset. I will get room service later after it calms down.” Lev said.
“I will stay here with Lev, Dear. We had a tasty lunch and I have had a nice day with you and the girls.” Hada said.
Judi came over and put her arms around Lev. “Grandfather, you would love that restaurant. It has a clothesline strung across the whole dining room and it had clothes hanging on it!”
Esther stood behind her sister. “It’s European décor. You know with pictures on the walls, what do they call them? Oh, yes, murals of like a city in Europe where people used to hang their clothes to dry on lines from a second story window. Venezia made it more realistic with a line of clothes hanging from the mural windows.”
“They were clean clothes, like a white dress, a striped top, and even a slip.” Judi giggled again and covered her mouth.
Lev loved these little girls and felt a burning pain again when he thought of what Samuel was doing to them, breaking up this family by playing around with a fifteen-year-old girl. He knew Bira would not stand for an affair. Samuel should be the one in court, not Abe.
After Bira and the granddaughters left, Hada changed her clothes and put on her bathrobe. “I am exhausted. Those girls, especially Judi, are bundles of energy, but it was an enjoyable day. I wish we did not live far away so we could be with them more often. Next time we come, they will have grown and they will not be the same. A year can make such a difference.” She lay down on her side of the bed.
Lev reclined next to her. “It will not be a year, Hada. We will come during Hanukkah. These lawsuits will not be settled that fast and I want to keep abreast of how things are going, and also to be visible as the father of this family. Samuel has got to stop this sabotage against his brother and I want him to know I am keeping an eye on him.”
Hada sat up. “Come back during Hanukkah? Sabotage? What are you talking about?”
Lev sighed and crossed his hands over his chest. “It is difficult for you to see what your son is doing and what he is capable of. You have no idea.”
Hada raised her voice. “No, I do not understand. Tell me what you are thinking.”
Lev remained prone and talked with a quiet tone. “He locks his brother out of his office without telling him that he wants him to find someplace else to work. When Abe takes his patient information, Samuel sues him for breaking and entering. One slam after another”
“I agree that he could have talked to Abe before he locked him out and he could have asked him for the files before suing him. You are right, but I do not call that sabotage. It is the way some brothers are. Like when they were young and fought over a toy, but now they are fighting over business. They should not have worked in the same office in the first place. Both of them moving across country, leaving us alone. No wonder there’s trouble. They never were the best of friends.”
“Hada that is only the half of it. He drinks too much and he is playing around with a girl only four years older than his own daughter.”
“Lilli? You think Samuel is having an affair with her? She is a flirt, but he would not have an affair. He‘s married and has a family. She’s too young. He said he just has fun with Dario and Lilli. It’s not what we would think of as fun, but he knows where to draw a line. You are wrong. You are making assumptions.” She wrapped her robe tightly around herself and stared straight ahead.
Lev didn’t answer. He would not tell her that Bira brought it up and validated his worst suspicions. If the affair isn’t happening yet, it was on the horizon with Dario’s blessing. Lev sat and put his feet on the floor. With his elbows bent, he gripped the edge of the mattress before standing. “Do you want dinner?” he asked her.
“Room service. Some soup. We have Bira’s pumpkin pie for dessert.”
“All right. I will call in for it. Let’s see what is on the television. I cannot think about the boys any more tonight.” Lev wanted to forget about them, but he knew he would not. At least watching TV would prevent further arguments with Hada. They disagreed more in the last two days than they had in forty years of being together. The last thing he wanted was to have it escalate. Samuel might destroy his own marriage, but Lev would not allow his son’s behavior to damage theirs.
Laurence Gottfried Esq. was willing to meet Lev on short notice. When Lev gave the taxi driver Gottfried’s address, he asked him if the street was in a business section or residential.
“That’s a residential area, Sir. Be there in fifteen or less depending on the traffic.” The driver had tattoos on his arm with skulls and flowers; a strange combination to Lev’s thinking.
Residential, then Lawrence Gottfried Esq. is retired. He didn’t sound like a dunce, but of course, Samuel wouldn’t have anything positive to say about Abe’s choices.
Bira had called the hotel room yesterday evening with the attorney’s contact number she got from Abe. She also told Lev that Abe had found an office where he would be able to begin his practice again.
Hada cooperatively agreed it was in Abe’s best interest for her not to tell anyone else in the family that Lev was in contact with Gottfried. Lev regained his patience with her since she had less of an attitude the day after their last argument.
“Hada, I want to talk with the attorney alone, man-to-man, shall we say? Bira suggested that you spend the day with her and the girls. Have lunch together at Esther’s favorite restaurant, Café Venentsia; it is Italian cuisine and not too far away. Then they will take you to a movie and by the time it’s over, I will be back.”
“It would be nice to get out of this hotel, but I wish Samuel could join us.”
Lev thought it was a perfect time for Samuel to be in Los Angeles. The day could be arranged without possible interference from him. And Hada seemed delighted that Lev had asked the hotel desk staff for an extra room key so she could have her own. “That way you will not have to knock and feel like a stranger,” he told her. She had smiled at him and looked enthusiastic to get dressed for the day. Simple things make her happy, Lev reminded himself.
The cab wound up Marin, but not as far up the hill as Samuel’s house. The stopped at a Spanish style home with a stucco fence surrounding a brick patio. After paying the cab driver, Lev walked through the opened iron-gated patio and passed a fountain with a lion’s mouth spewing water. He climbed the one step to the front door that had three-foot high vases of hanging plants on either side. Lev rang the bell and waited.
A man about Lev’s age opened the door and greeted him. Gottfried had thick gray hair that could use a trim and he wore a burgundy cravat around his neck.
“Please call me Lawrence,” Gottfried insisted as he led him into the living room. The walls had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with many of the books laid horizontally on top of the vertical ones.
“Make yourself comfortable, Mr. Zuckerman.” Lawrence swept his arm to include the many seating options. In the conversationally arranged center of the room were a forest green couch that angled into an L, a black leather recliner, and two straight-backed chairs with wooden arms. Lev chose a place on the couch across from the recliner where he guessed Lawrence would sit.
“Please, since we are being informal, my name is Lev.”
“Being on a first name basis is another reason I like retirement; plus no ties to wear, no formal names, no office in a concrete jungle.” Lawrence leaned back in the recliner. His feet in brown felt slippers extended to the footstool. “And I would like you to know that it is your son, Abe, who is responsible for my being able to enjoy life at 79 years old.”
“How so?” Lev settled comfortably on the couch as he was prepared to listen to a man he already found interesting.
“I was referred to him for my health condition—multiple sclerosis. My first visit, I walked with a cane but it barely supported my troubled body. I had phantom pains everywhere, I was tired all the time, slept most of the day, my vision was distorted. I felt I was getting closer to the grave than I expected. I had several treatments with Abe and each time I knew, with his help, I had hope I’d get better. And I did. I don’t need a cane, I walk without pain, and my vision is back to normal. I have more energy than some men half my age. That was five years ago. I feel I owe him all the help I can give in this legal mess.”
“I am pleased that Abe could make a big change for you.” Lev trusted that both his sons were good doctors, but to hear an outstanding success story like this one made him proud.
“Well, then, Lev, how can I help you?”
“As I mentioned on the phone, my wife and I are here for Thanksgiving and before I return to New Jersey, I want to rest assured that Abe’s reputation is not at stake with this lawsuit. Since you are retired, I am concerned to know who is representing him and how his defense is progressing.”
“My, my…that’s a lot of ground to cover. Abe’s legal problems become more complicated daily. I’ll do my best to fill you in.”
“Thank you. I appreciate any information you can divulge.”
“Before we get started, would you like a brandy or tea?” Lawrence rose from the recliner.
“Some tea would be fine. Peppermint if you have it?”
“I’ll return shortly.”
When Lawrence left the room, Lev rose from the sofa to look at the hundreds of books. One section held fiction classics: Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemmingway and others. To the left, several shelves held “how to” books: gardening, cooking, crafts, oil painting, plumbing, etc. The remaining shelves had legal books.
Lawrence returned with a tray containing a teapot, cups, a wooden box sectioned with a variety of teas and a plate of Lorna Doones. He set the tray on a round metal East Indian-style table in the center of the room.
“Help yourself, Lev.”
They exchanged a few pleasantries regarding where each person had grown up: Lev in New Jersey and Lawrence in San Francisco. Then they talked about Lev’s occupation as a mechanical engineer. Finally, Lawrence put his empty cup on the tray and leaned back in the recliner.
“As you probably know, Abe and his friend Kaleb are being sued in a federal criminal case in a northern California town where Abe, under Kaleb’s direction, conducted research regarding the effectiveness of Kaleb’s neurological treatments on children with learning disabilities. An unknown person claimed to research Kaleb and reported to the parents who then sued Kaleb for conspiracy to work without a license which is a federal criminal case.” Lawrence raised his thick, gray eyebrows and shrugged.
“But Abe has a California license.” The legal system’s rules didn’t make sense to Lev.
“The problem is that Abe was working under Kaleb who has his practice in New York and does not have a California license. Abe was sued because he should have known it was illegal and he was accused of conspiracy. I was able to get them a good lawyer and the case was thrown out of court. Nevertheless, another law suit loomed in civil court for a class action case, based on a lack of adherence to the Institutional Review Board’s qualifications for working on a school site. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it’s trouble again.”
“When did Abe find out that there was a new lawsuit?” Lev asked.
“About a week ago.”
Lev could imagine how upset Abe was if he came out of one lawsuit to be sued in another. No wonder he was pounding walls at the office. If he talked to Samuel about the new suit, one would think Samuel would have compassion and find a way to help Abe instead of locking him out.
Lawrence continued, “And, the paperwork for a third lawsuit is being processed. I don’t think anyone has told Abe yet. I haven’t. I figured being locked out of his office was enough for one weekend.”
“Who is suing him now and for what?” Lev sat forward and put his empty cup on the metal table.
“This may come as a shock to you. I just want to prepare you.” Lawrence sat forward in the recliner. “Samuel is suing him for breaking and entry and for stealing patient folders.”
Lev felt his stomach burn. “Samuel is suing his own brother?”
“I’m afraid so. Of course, legally the files Abe took are to remain in the office, so that fact is in Samuel’s favor. Abe’s desperation in being locked out of the office will muster some reason for his behavior, but he will have to return the files if he hopes to get out of this one.”
Lev shook his head and wanted to leave, the indigestion was bound to get worse and he didn’t want to be sick away from the hotel. He asked Lawrence to call a cab and paced the floor while the attorney was on the phone. While waiting for the cab, Lawrence suggested they take a quick walk in his garden. He was proud of his plants and gave the botanical names of the roses. Lev couldn’t concentrate and was happy when the cab’s horn beeped.
Lev extended his hand to Lawrence before he went through the iron-gate to the cab. “Thank you. It’s troubling news, but I feel better now that I know you are here for him. If there is any way I can help, please call me.” Lev reached in his shirt pocket and gave him a folded paper with his phone number in New Jersey on it. “I’ll do what I can on my end, but I’m afraid Abe sees me as part of Samuel’s conspiracy to lock him out so he doesn’t want to talk to me. And now, more than ever, I don’t want to have Samuel in my presence, let alone talk to him. I will need to think about this feud before I’ll know what to do as the father of the family.” Lev surprised himself telling a stranger how he felt, but Lawrence was a good man and one he knew he could trust.
Lawrence pushed back some gray hairs that had fallen over his forehead. “I understand and I certainly will keep you informed. I’m very pleased to meet you. Abe is a gem and as you know, he doesn’t deserve all this upheaval.”
“Samuel is out of town.I’m thinking that perhaps today would be a good time for you to warn Abe about his brother’s intentions. The lock- out shocked Abe. I think he would appreciate knowing what is coming this time.” Lev said.
“Yes, you’re right. I hadn’t thought of that. I guess I was trying to protect him by avoiding the inevitable. Have a good trip to New Jersey and when you come back to Berkeley, let’s hope all these legalities will be over and you and I can have a more pleasant conversation.” He waved good-bye as Lev nodded and slipped into the cab’s back seat.
Chapter Eleven: Scene Two
“Well then, good-bye, Jacob.” There was a short pause. “Yes, Nissa. He speaks well on the phone. He’s a fine boy. Do you need anything?”
The frown that crossed Lev’s face made Hada worry. What was Nissa saying?
“But, we’re Jacob’s grandparents and we’re happy to help you. Please call me if you need anything at all. Please, call us first, will you?” Lev’s frown remained, making Hada’s curiosity hard to contain.
“Next time, Hada can have a turn to talk with you both. Good-by for now.” Lev hung up the phone and stared out of the window.
“What?” Hada asked, but Lev just shook his head. “You cannot keep things from me. I’m the mother in this family. You must tell me.”
Lev turned his focus to her. “I wasn’t trying to keep anything from you. I was thinking. Jacob is fine. He chatted about the junior football team he joined in Los Angeles. He’s excited and that’s good. Nissa complains that Abe’s not sending enough money, but Samuel is very generous in what he sends her.”
Hada let triumph show on her face. “You see, then? Samuel is being responsible for his nephew. So why are you frowning?”
“Samuel has his own family. Why is he overdoing it with Nissa and Jacob? Is it to make Abe look bad? There might be reasons for limiting money Abe is sending to Nissa. It’s not for Samuel to interfere.”
“Since when is helping family interfering?”
“When an uncle overshadows the father, the boy might become confused and misunderstand why his father does less than his uncle.”
Hada tried to make sense of what Lev was thinking but concluded it was gibberish. “Oy, Lev, you’re worrying for nothing. Nissa probably doesn’t speak to Jacob about finances. He might not know to what extent Samuel helps out.”
“I suspect Jacob is well aware of finances. Nissa frequently talked to him about appreciating money for presents. It was one of her favorite topics with everyone. Moreover, Nissa knows that Samuel and I have argued. She told me Samuel’s flying to Los Angeles tomorrow morning to visit them since they weren’t at his Thanksgiving table. He wants to take them out to a fancy restaurant.
Hada put her hands on her hips. “That’s thoughtful of Samuel and he certainly can afford it. So what’s wrong with that?” She lost patience and her anger bristled even more since Samuel would be out of town during their visit. Was it because of the rules?
Lev rose from the chair. “I can see we are headed for another argument if we continue because you have a limited view regarding Samuel’s conduct and the ramifications of it.”
“There is nothing wrong with his conduct.” The last word crimped her throat and she fought the cough that wanted to clear it.
“Did he tell you what he and I argued about last night?”
“He said you were angry because he and Dario used some bad words and he’s very sorry. He knows you don’t tolerate such language, but he had been drinking too much and chastises himself that he disrespected you. He wants to apologize. He says he’ll never use such words again, and he’ll stop Dario in the future. Lev, aren’t you overreacting? Can’t you forgive him?”
Samuel had looked pleadingly at her over breakfast. His eyes were moist as he held her hand and the puppy look of remorse almost made her want to cry.
“Hada, it wasn’t only language. It was the way he let Lilli approach him. I wanted to spare you the details of the debauchery, however, you leave me no choice but to tell you.” He walked closer to face Hada head on. “Lilli seductively played up to Samuel. She sat on his lap in the study, hung on to him, and even kissed him. Obviously, they have a very close relationship. Dario seems to encourage their behavior. Poor Shovai was in shock and I was furious. The girl is a minor.”
Hada chortled. “Samuel wondered if you took it seriously. He said the three of them were playing around and just having a little fun.”
Lev paced the floor and his voice grew louder. “It wasn’t a little fun. It was not a joke. It wasn’t play-acting. It was seduction and inappropriate behavior with a fifteen-year-old. Her father acts like a pervert. Samuel takes no measures to stop either of them. He thrives in his Babylon.” Lev slapped the back of the empty chair that knocked it to the floor.
Surprised by Lev’s action, Hada’s body jerked. “But, maybe Samuel…”
“Enough. If you choose not to understand what I’m saying as a witness, then we have nothing further to say on this topic.” Lev stomped to the bathroom and slammed the door.
Hada felt a sharp pain in her chest. She wasn’t sure if it was fear of some truth in what Lev implied about Samuel, or if it was due to the rising tension in her marriage. She had not expected the anger that was building between them. Over the years, they resolved their differences in peaceful discussions. What was happening to them? Why was Lev determined to find fault? Weren’t there two sides to everything?
Hada shivered and thought she heard Samuel whisper in her ear as if he were there in the room with her, “Believe me, Mom. I’m your favorite son. He’s an old fool.”
Chapter Eleven: Scene One
Hada looked at her husband as if he were someone she no longer recognized. He didn’t meet her eyes when she chided him for wanting to take a nap in the morning.
“You’re right, Hada. There’s no time for a nap. I have some phone calls to make. I guess I just wanted to be close to you in these troubled times.” He took the phone directory out of the drawer in the bedside table and opened it.
Guilt crept over her, but anger pushed back and won. These are troubled times of your own making, Lev, she thought. Peeking over his shoulder at the directory where his fingers slid down the page, she read the heading: Attorneys. “Who are you looking for?”
“I want to find a Gottfried. I think it’s the name of Abe’s lawyer. The one he is consulting in the lawsuit involving the parents of the students he treated. Samuel mentioned the attorney has retired from law, but maybe he retired recently and is still listed.”
“So you want to be involved?” Hada took off her shoes, placed them on the floor of the closet and put on her slippers. Why couldn’t he just let it all be? The law is the law.
Lev’s tone was firm. “I want to know exactly what Abe is up against and whether this lawyer is a dunce like Samuel suggested or knows what he’s doing. Abe needs expert counsel.”
Hada clicked her tongue, walked over to the small table, and sat down. She flipped the pages of the magazine she had already looked at several times, but her mind wandered. A lawsuit for hurting children with treatments that Abe had learned from that boisterous doctor-friend of his, what was his name? Oh, yes, Kaleb, a very loud man with a big chest, boasting about his success teaching in Europe, and his flourishing business in New York City. One wouldn’t think he’d be training Abe to hurt anyone. Oy Gevault. My sons’ friends are not ones I would pick.
Lev slapped the directory closed. A little gust of air was created by the colliding pages.
“Not listed that I can see.” He took out a piece of paper from his pants pocket, unfolded it, and dialed a number. “Next, a call to Nissa.”
Hada stretched to see the paper. It looked like Bira’s writing.
“This is Lev Zuckerman, Abe’s father. Could I speak with Nissa, please?”
Hada had wanted to be able to meet Nissa’s parents, but whenever she and Lev came for a visit to Oakland, time was too short to travel to Los Angeles. And Nissa’s parents never were here when they were. Oh, well, now we might never meet them.
“Nissa? This is Lev. Hada and I are in Berkeley. I would like to know how you are and maybe speak with Jacob to say hello since we’ll miss seeing him this trip.”
Hada watched Lev’s expressions to guess what Nissa was saying on the other end. He smiled a little…that was a good sign.
“Ah, yes, I heard and of course, it’s a good thing to be close to one’s parents when raising a child alone. I understand. How is Jacob?”
It had been a whole year since they had seen their grandson. The pictures Nissa sent showed him getting taller, a handsome boy with dark thick hair worn long. But he didn’t look happy in any of the pictures. As a small boy he hadn’t looked happy in person either.
How old was he now? He must be twelve, like Esther. Nissa and Bira were pregnant for a few months at the same time, but Nissa gave birth first. Oy! Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah will be coming up when he turns thirteen and Esther’s Bat Mitzvah…both in one year. So, we’ll meet Nissa’s parents after all, Hada thought. Of course, we’ll be invited to the celebration and it will be in Berkeley since it’s Abe’s duty to provide for his son’s party.
“Hellooo, Jacob. This is Grandfather Lev.” A smile spread across his face, broader than any Hada had seen for a long time.
“No, we’re not in New Jersey, we’re here visiting your father and Uncle Samuel. We’re sorry we will miss seeing you. How is your football team doing?” There was a long pause on Lev’s side of the conversation as he listened.
“That’s a winning team then and it sounds like you’re a good team player. Remember, Jacob, when you make a commitment to a sport, other people are depending on you. You have a responsibility to them as well as to yourself to be the best you can be.”
Hada mused. Ah, Lev, you are a good man, a good grandfather. You must have your reasons to set rules for Samuel, but I wish I understood why.
“Yes, I would like to talk to your mother again. I hope you’ll come up this way the next time we visit or maybe you could come to our house in summer?” There was another pause.
“Oh, your mother won’t let you fly alone? Your father can fly with you. Your grandmother and I would be pleased to have you both stay with us. We could go fishing again.”
Hada remembered when Jacob was six. It was the first time Abe brought his little family to New Jersey. Lev, Abe, and Jacob rented a boat and fished for a whole day but brought home only one very small fish—barely big enough to keep. Hada had cooked it and Jacob ate most of it, obviously relishing the experience of a first catch. On that day he looked happy.
“Did Mother Hada mention my concern about Lilli’s flirtatiousness and how I thought she was a poor influence on my girls?” Bira sat on the edge of the chair.
“Yes.” Lev hoped the problem was as simple as influencing his granddaughters.
“Well…I….” Bira covered her face with her hands and bent over, her elbows close to the tabletop.
Lev didn’t hear her crying, but he guessed she was. He leaned forward and held her forearm. “Bira, tell me.”
She put her hands down but kept her eyes lowered. “I think Lilli purposefully is seducing Samuel. I think he might be close to having sex with her if he hasn’t already.” Bira blushed and brushed her hand across her cheeks to clear the tears. “And Dario seems to encourage that possibility. She’s only fifteen; a mere four years older than Esther.”
“How have you come to this conclusion, Bira?” In his thoughts, Lev already had labeled Lilli a Jezebel but he wanted to know of anything Bira could add to understanding this girl’s motivations.
“I’ve observed the way they act at parties. Afterwards, they say they’re just having fun or they make the excuse that they drank too much and didn’t know what they were doing.” Bira searched her purse for a tissue. “But lately, Dario has called looking for Lilli and asks if Samuel’s home. If he isn’t, then Dario asks if I know whether Lilli is with him. When I tell him I don’t know, Dario laughs that insidious laugh. Samuel’s been coming home late more frequently and he doesn’t explain where he’s been.” She blew her nose and took a deep breath.
“Bira, I don’t want to add to your worries, but did Samuel tell you why I was angry last night?”
“He said you didn’t like the language he and Dario used.” Bira smirked.
“That’s all?” Lev asked, but he wasn’t surprised that Samuel wouldn’t admit to his behavior with Lilli.
“Yes. But I didn’t think you would forbid him from coming here, or for Mother Hada not to come to our house if it was just language that you were upset about. I imagine Lilli made a scene in the study?” Bira’s shoulders sagged and curved inward.
“What you describe as Dario encouraging Lilli’s seductive behavior with Samuel is correct. I witnessed it last night.”
Bira gave a long, deep exhalation, “Dario says she’s practicing to be an actress but that’s ridiculous.”
“Has your father asked you about the relationship between Samuel and Lilli?”
“No. However, last night he asked that in the future, he prefers not to be invited to our house at the same time as Dario and his daughter. He didn’t say what happened in the study. I didn’t ask because I could guess. I’ve seen it all before.”
There was a knock at the door and Hada called Lev to open up. Lev patted Bira’s shoulder on his way to the door. “We’ll continue to work on these issues. Thank you for your openness and willingness to help. We’ll talk again soon.”
Lev opened the door and although Hada previously grumbled about separate visits, her face glowed. “I had a very nice talk with Samuel, but he said it was time to pick up the girls at Shovai’s house. I hope you both found some resolutions about the rules?”
Lev and Bira shrugged in unison. “Darling Hada,” Lev said, “resolutions take longer than an hour. Bira, tell Samuel that I will talk to him in the future, but not for a few days. That should appease him for a while.” They hugged, and Lev stood in the hallway to wave good-bye as she left.
After he closed the door, he turned to Hada, “I can tell you had a wonderful time.”
She put her purse on the little table and touched Lev’s arm. “I did and thank you for telling Bira the rules are no longer in place.”
Lev didn’t move away from her affection but said, “Hada, the rules are still in place. I said I would talk to him in the future, that doesn’t mean now and it does not mean that any of the rules are lifted.”
Hada let go of him with a shocked look on her face. “That’s crazy, Lev, you’re acting like a dictator. What’s happened to you?”
“The problem is not what has happened to me. In time you might understand.” He bent down and kissed her forehead, took her hand, and said, “Come. Rest with me and tell me about your meeting if you like and if not, let’s just rest. It has been a difficult holiday.”
She withdrew her hand from his. “I thought naps were for later in the day. It’s not even noon yet and you want to rest?” The angry tone of her voice was back.
Lev turned away from her and gave up. Let her fume for all he cared.
Chapter Ten: Scene Two
“Samuel mentioned that Abe was consulting a retired a lawyer, a buffoon, he called him. I would like to meet with that lawyer as soon as possible. I want to understand the lawsuit to know if it can affect Abe financially and if his career is at stake. Also, regarding Nissa’s alimony and child support…is there anything you know that could hurt Abe in the divorce besides Jacob living far away?”
Bira thought for a moment and then said, “The last I heard was that Nissa had asked for a large monthly payment even though she’s been awarded half of their assets.” A corner of Bira’s lips puckered. “Nissa’s changed the last few months. At first she pleaded to be able to move down to Los Angeles so she could be close to her family for their help since she’d be a single parent. But once Abe agreed to let her take Jacob with her, she became ruthless in her assertions and demands. It’s a side of Nissa I hadn’t seen before.”
“Has Samuel stayed out of it?” Lev felt his stomach begin to churn and fought back a little burp that always announced his heartburn. He pulled in his legs, bending them at the knees.
Bira’s tone sounded eager to agree with Lev’s implication. “No, he hasn’t. At times I’ve picked up the kitchen phone to make a call and I hear him from the phone in his study having a long-distance conversation with Nissa. But when I’ve asked, he says he’s making sure Jacob is okay and that someone from our family stays connected with him.”
Lev stood up and began to pace. The burn in the back of his throat had advanced beyond the burp stage. “I’m not surprised. Nothing Samuel does surprises me anymore.” He stopped near her. “Do you have Nissa’s phone number in L.A.?”
“Yes, I’ll copy it for you here on the hotel note pad.” She rustled in her purse and produced a leather pocket-sized address book, wrote a number down, and handed it to Lev. She added, “A few times I’ve seen Samuel’s check stubs for five hundred dollars made out to Nissa.”
Lev realized the potential depth of Samuel’s sabotage. He excused himself and made a dash for the bathroom. After he closed the door, he doubled over in pain. Samuel, if you’re doing what I think you’re doing, you’re no son of mine. I’ll find a way to stop you. He opened his small travel bag and shakily unscrewed the cap from a bottle of Milk of Magnesia. He drank several swallows straight from the bottle. Samuel’s plan was broader and more insidious than he had suspected. Hada’s precious first-born was corrupting his younger brother’s personal life, besides ruining his business.
Bira knocked lightly on the door, “Father Lev, are you all right?”
“Yes, Bira. Sorry, I’ll be out in a minute. My stomach, you know.” Lev tried to straighten, but the pain had not subsided yet. Samuel you are a conniving Cain, and are killing Abe.
When the wave of pain calmed, he forced himself to rise. He left the bathroom on shaky legs and returned to his chair across from Bira. He apologized again.
She patted his hand. “Samuel’s actions are affecting all of us. I’m sorry he’s causing you stress.”
“Thank you, Bira. The fact that he is sending Nissa money is important for me to know. Obviously he has ulterior motives that have more to do with Jacob than with Nissa.” Lev wiped his forehead with the back of his hand as if to wipe away a nightmare vision.
“If Lilli wasn’t in the picture, I’d think Samuel was having an affair with Nissa, but I don’t think so.” Bira’s words didn’t match her furrowed brow. “Father Lev, what do you mean it has to do with Jacob?”
“I have suspicions, but let’s put that discussion on hold too. For the sake of time, let’s get back to Abe. Can you obtain the phone number or the name of Abe’s retired lawyer?” His voice cracked a little. He felt tired already and his work had just begun.
“I think I can. The lawyer’s name is something like Gottfried. I could see if Abe will talk to me. Of course he’ll have guessed I knew about the lockout too, but I think he knows I can’t risk challenging Samuel. If Abe is willing to talk with me, I’ll direct our conversation to the lawsuit. I assume you don’t want him to know that you plan to contact the attorney?”
Lev hunched his shoulders. “That doesn’t matter as long as we get the phone number. You’ve had a good relationship with Abe over the years?”
“Yes, we’ve been great friends. Recently he confided in me about Nissa and the divorce. I told him I’d always be there for him if he needed to vent, or in whatever way I could help.”
“Good. I thought as much. Then we have our initial plan concerning Abe.” A rejuvenating wave spread over Lev. “Now tell me about Lilli and Dario.” The refreshing surge disappeared and his jaw tightened. He guessed he wasn’t going to like what she had to tell him.
When Lev finished the last bite of oatmeal, he looked up at Hada who had not said a word since room service delivered breakfast. She patted her mouth with a napkin and turned another page of the magazine that lay next to her plate. Her movements had a grace and fluidity that he could watch for hours if there were time for such luxuries. Uncomfortable with her silence, he shifted his position.
“Was your breakfast satisfying or would you like more of something?” he asked.
“I’m fine.” She turned another page but didn’t look up.
The phone rang and interrupted their standoff. Lev hoped Samuel wasn’t on the other end.
It was Bira asking if they could come to the hotel this morning. He put his hand over the mouthpiece. “Samuel wants to meet you downstairs in the restaurant while Bira comes up here to talk with me.”
“Of course, I’ll meet Samuel. I can have a cup of coffee if he wants breakfast.” Her face brightened as he guessed it would.
Lev hung up the receiver. “They’ll arrive in about half an hour.”
“Then I will wait in the lobby.” Her sideways glance shot arrows at him. “I certainly wouldn’t want to be responsible for Samuel breaking your rule and coming to the room to get me.”
Lev opened his mouth to comment but decided it wouldn’t do any good. Instead, he observed her hurry to the mirror and checks her hemline with a youthful expression that implied their war was on hold. She took off her slippers and put on the blue shoes that matched the blue sweater she wore over her white, lace-trimmed blouse. He never tired of watching the detailed way she matched her clothes.
He wanted to hug her and tell her everything would be all right, but he wasn’t sure he could keep that promise. She and Samuel will have a good time agreeing that I am way off base, but maybe that will make her feel better.
As Hada took her purse from the bureau, Lev opened the door for her. “I’ll not leave, so you don’t need a key unless you want one of your own?”
“No, I’ll just knock like any stranger would.” She whisked through the doorway without looking at him. Lev closed the door behind her and made a mental note to get her a key. He had to do something to make up with her soon. The strife between them was intolerable. Her unhappiness with him pulled at his insides worse than the pains of indigestion.
When Bira arrived, Lev invited her to sit in one of the chairs by the little table. “Would you like something from Room Service?”
“Nothing, thank you. I’m up early in the morning so I usually have a light breakfast before Samuel wakes up. Have you eaten?”
“Yes. I wanted to have the pumpkin pie you gave us, but I decided I would enjoy it more when I need a snack this afternoon.” Lev searched his daughter-in-law’s face, looking for any sign that would make this conversation easier. Knowing she was an introvert, her body movements told him that she was beyond shyness today.
Bira shifted positions in the chair several times like an animal looking for the right place to lie down. When she settled, her gaze stayed on her hands and she sighed a few times seemingly unaware of the time that had elapsed since they greeted each other. She pulled a curly strand of hair back into the twist. For as long as he had known her, she always wore her hair back. Perhaps she thought the thick curls framing her face would make her look like a child since her petite frame added to her image of youth. But over the years, Bira proved she was a woman who should be taken seriously.
Lev kept his tone gentle and hoped she would sense his respect and care for her. “I’m happy you’re here.”
Bira raised her troubled-looking eyes. “I have to admit I feel like a traitor. I’ve come because of Samuel’s wish to create peace between the two of you, but he doesn’t know I also have come for my own reasons.” She scrunched her face, accentuating the deep furrow between her eyes. If she developed a worry-wrinkle like her mother’s, it would dispel anyone’s illusion of her being a child.
His wish to help her, weighed against his concern for Abe and the information she might have for him. Time was limited with Samuel and Hada possibly finishing their breakfast soon. “I also have a need to talk with you about Abe.” Lev stretched his legs and crossed them at the ankles, his habitual position for a contemplative talk.
Bira sat forward in her seat and exhaled in what sounded like relief. “Yes, Abe has been on my mind too.” She looked down at her hands again. “And Dario and Lilli.”
Lev had to focus on one topic at a time and his heart wavered with the choice. “The Dario and Lilli topic needs dealing with, Bira, but if it’s not an emergency for you, can we discuss Abe first?”
“I agree he should come first.” She straightened her posture and then spoke in hyper-speed. “Before your arrival, I tried to change Samuel’s mind about locking Abe out of the office. It’s a difficult time for Abe right now. You know about the lawsuit and then Nissa taking Jacob to Southern California even before the divorce was final? He misses Jacob.”
Lev slowed his speech in hopes of calming Bira. “Yes, I’m sure he does. But Abe’s too upset to talk to me because he figured out that Hada and I knew of Samuel’s plan to get him out of the office. He sees us as part of a conspiracy and won’t talk to us?” Lev waited for Bira to show she understood. After a long pause, she shrugged her shoulders and he assumed she agreed. Lev continued, “In order for me to help him, I need information and contact names and numbers. Do you feel comfortable giving me a hand?”
“Of course, Father Lev. Abe is a good person. I’ll do anything to help.” Bira appeared to have composed herself. “Where do we start?”
Hada roused herself from what seemed like a short doze, but when she checked the time, it was eight a.m. and filtered light filled the room. “I must have fallen back to sleep,” she said to Lev who was dressed and sat in the chair by the little table. He had his reading glasses on and the phone directory open. His finger pointed to a number about half way down the page.
“Who are you calling?” Hada rose and reached for her robe.
“The airlines,” Lev said without looking up. “I want to see what other flights are available so we can stay a while longer.”
“We will stay longer?” Hada rubbed her eyes. It seemed hard to wake up this morning, and Lev wasn’t making sense.
“We have a big problem with our sons. I need more time to set it right.” Lev motioned at Hada to be quiet so he could make the call.
While Hada took a shower and dressed, she repeated the words that had become impossible to imagine as part of her sons’ lives: Lawsuits, business partners split, divorce, debauchery. What next?
When she left the bathroom, she heard Lev slam the phone receiver down and saw him pace around the small room.
“Who was on the phone with you?”
“Samuel. I told him the rules.” Lev pulled the sheer curtains back from the window. The sunshine and view seemed to expand the room
“Rules? Please explain. I am confused.” Hada took his hand and motioned to the other chair as she sat down in one, but he remained standing.
“So?” Hada’s voice had an impatient tone.
Lev made eye contact with her and paused between his sentences. “Samuel is not welcome in this room or anywhere near me until I am ready to converse with him. I will not forbid you to see him, but you may do so only in the Hilton’s restaurant downstairs. He may not take you to their house or anywhere else. Bira and the girls are welcome here anytime, but without Samuel. You must understand that the rules are necessary.”
Hada gasped. “It sounds as if you are punishing Samuel.” She felt that pinch in her chest turn into a hollow pit.
Lev paced again. “Our first born is in need of reprimand on many counts. Abe will not speak with me or accept my help. I will have to find other ways to assist him and that will take some time. And, I will handle Samuel next but in the meantime I will not stand for his irresponsibility in his conduct with Abe, Lilli, and in your presence. My suspicion in regard to Abe is that he is doing more to his brother than locking him out of the office.”
Lev stopped pacing, stood close to her chair, and reached for her hand. He kissed the back of it with cold lips.
Hada pulled back and shook her head. “How can you think so cruelly about him? He’s successful, he provides his family with a beautiful home, money for anything they desire, and he let Abe work in his office until. . . .”
Lev raised his voice. “Enough. You do not know what is going on here.”
His harsh tone made Hada jump in her seat and tears burned their way into her eyes. She turned her head toward the window blinking to push the tears back.
Lev caressed her back and his tone softened. “Would you like to go downstairs to the restaurant for breakfast, or shall I call room service?”
Hada’s face flushed and heat rushed down her body. She struggled out of her chair and padded toward the bathroom. “So who’s hungry?”
“Samuel challenged me,” Lev called after her. “You did not hear him deny my authority. I’m old, Hada, but I am not dead yet.”
Chapter Nine: Scene One
Back in the hotel room, Hada repeated her question about what happened in Samuel’s study, but all Lev said was debauchery and dismissed the subject with a wave of his hand. Neither one spoke as they prepared for bed. Hada, in her nightgown, her face washed and rose-fragranced moisturizer applied, sat on the bed, and gave her feet a rub with Balsam Fir ointment.
“Smells good,” Lev said. “Looks like the swelling in your feet and ankles is going down.” He removed his robe before reclining on his side of the bed.
Hada opened her mouth to ask, for the third time, about what happened in the study, but she clamped it shut again, afraid the timing wasn’t right. Ignoring the all-too-frequent pinch deep inside her chest, she slipped into bed beside him. They lay in silence for a few minutes. Habitually, she waited for Lev to relax before their nightly discussions, but when she could hold her silence no longer, she said, “So tell me about the debauchery.”
Lev patted her hands under the covers. “You do not want to know the details. I will take care of it. Don’t worry.”
“Was it that Lilli girl? I wondered what she was doing. She didn’t stay in the living room with us, just flitted in and out a couple times. Was she up there with you men?”
“What did she do?”
“It is not all Lilli’s fault. The girl has not been taught right and wrong.” Lev removed his hand from hers and rolled onto his side. “She has grown to be like the whore of Babylon.
“At her age? Oi, you exaggerate.” Hada clicked her tongue and then remembered, “Bira was distressed when she told me they were coming for Thanksgiving. She says Lilli is not a good role model for Esther and Judi.” Hada put her head on Lev’s shoulder and hugged his chest with her arm.
“She’s right. It was a good the girls did not come up to the study to witness that display of behavior.”
“What kind of display?” Hada waited, but no reply confirmed Lev’s resistance to answer. She had to try again. “Bira told me Lilli is a flirt. Is that it?”
“From the stories Dario and Samuel were telling, it sounds to me that everyone is fair game.”
Hada gasped. “What do you mean?”
“I agree she is a flirt. That’s all.”
“I’m sure Samuel will step in, of course.”
“He did not step in last night. He set no limits whatsoever.” Lev’s body stiffened under Hada’s arm. “I left him on angry terms.”
“Angry terms with Samuel? Why? I thought it was the girl’s misbehavior.”
Lev’s chest expanded as if the answer needed more room than he had to hold it inside.
“Her father is a bad influence. He acts proud of her conduct. But I know Samuel can see through him and maybe laughs it off to make it less embarrassing.”
Lev exhaled with a huff. “Hada, it was all three of them. All three were engaged in disgusting behavior. That is all I will say about it. Do not ask for more.” He turned his back to her. “Good night.”
Hada’s eyes moistened. In forty years, there were very few nights when Lev didn’t snuggle with her before he fell asleep. She couldn’t decide which was worse, his anger at Samuel or his refusal to talk it over with her. How did their stress-free retirement turn into this chaos?
She drifted off to sleep thinking about those high-heeled shoes Lilli wore.
When Hada woke, the room was no lighter. She listened to Lev’s deep and slow breathing. He is sleeping. And, he had no stomach pains tonight… after such a big meal. I am surprised. She reached for the clock. Five a.m. now what? I feel wide-awake.
She tossed and turned and hoped Lev would wake up. She wanted more details. She stared at the ceiling. The tiny colored light from the smoke alarm stared back at her.
If she asked Samuel, would he tell her? Maybe he would be angry with his father and wouldn’t want to talk about it. Probably neither of them would tell her anything.
Like the time when the boys were in high school and Samuel wanted some money to take a girl to the prom. Hada had made latkes, an especially good batch, she remembered.
“Dad, I need to buy my date a corsage. All the guys do and I don’t want my girl to think I’m an idiot about proms. Could I have a few bucks?” Samuel glanced around the table from Lev to Abe and back to Lev, who kept eating with eyes fixed on his plate of latkes.
Hada stood next to Abe with the frying pan, ready to scoop a second helping onto Abe’s plate when Lev finally looked up.
“You ask for money when you have quit your job? Not only quit your job, but gave no notice? No notice for Mr. Shimmer to find someone to replace you?”
Surprised by Lev’s louder-than-normal voice, Hada jerked the spatula and bumped Abe’s chin with the flat side. She put the frying pan back on the stove, sat down, and waited for Samuel to answer; instead, he just chewed and chewed and chewed.
Samuel swallowed and swirled applesauce over his second latke. After what seemed like five minutes he said, “Of course, Abe here,” he gestured with his fork, “like the good brother he is, has filled in for me at Shimmer’s.”
Lev stopped eating and stared out the window, ignoring Samuel for the equal time Samuel had stalled. Then he said in a strained, but calm tone, “I told you to apologize to Mr. Shimmer and find a new job. Yet you come home after school and play ball in the street.”
Samuel put his fork down and attempted to make eye contact with his father, but Lev continued his focus out the window. Samuel spoke in a loud, firm voice, “I did apologize to Mr. Shimmer. I told you that. I apologized and I asked him for my last week’s pay, but he wouldn’t give it to me. It costs money to take buses to find a job and now with the prom, I could use the cash. I can’t help it if the old guy is mad and won’t give me my check.”
Lev rose from his chair. Anger exuded with every move as he closed in on Samuel who ducked as if Lev would slap him. He never had hit the boys before and Hada prayed he wouldn’t then.
Lev, towering over his seated son, continued in his strained voice, “You are disrespectful. Mr. Shimmer gave you a job. You should be grateful.” Lev backed away from Samuel and headed for the doorway but turned around, “You receive no money from this family. Get a job”.
Hada remembered how worried she grew when the situation became worse the next day. After Mr. Shimmer found a permanent replacement, he added Samuel’s unpaid salary to Abe’s paycheck. Lev told Abe to keep the money as compensation for working two jobs—his own paper route and bailing out his older brother. When Samuel objected, Lev said there would be no way to change his mind.
However, Samuel continued to complain, saying that Abe owed him the money. Lev insisted that loss of wages was the consequence for breaking a contract without notice and he allowed no more discussion.
Hada understood that Lev gave Samuel a lesson in commitment, but she thought the one week’s money was rightfully his since he, not Abe, did the work. Still, she didn’t interfere— in spite of Samuel’s pleading for her to convince Lev.
Then that day before the prom, Abe came running down the stairs shouting that ALL his money from his sock drawer had been stolen. He was sure Samuel took it.
“Why would I do that? If I knew where your money was and reduced myself to a common thief, I would have taken that week’s pay you owe me, not ALL of your stupid money.” Samuel, busy scooping the cream of wheat into his bowl, didn’t notice Lev reach for his wrist. The jerk made Samuel fling the cereal into the air, on the table, and onto the floor.
Lev’s voice was deep, “Give the money back.”
Samuel wrenched free, jumped up, knocked over his chair, and yelled, “I didn’t take the money. Abe’s just making it up so I get into trouble.”
Lev grabbed Samuel’s wrist again, motioned to Abe to follow, and the three of them went down to the workshop in the basement. They were down there for what seemed like hours, but not one of them ever told Hada how it was resolved, no matter how many times she asked. Men and their separate spells from women. I do not understand why, she thought. Like yesterday at Thanksgiving, everyone should have stayed together in the living room. What was the great need for the men to be in the study in the first place? They could have had their cordials with the women in the living room. Maybe all of them would have minded their manners in front of ladies. But then, what if they didn’t, and Esther and Judi would have been influenced by Lilli’s bad behavior. No, it was the way it was, no changing it now.
Why did Samuel not put a stop to it? A friend guides a friend in the proper social ways. The nerve of that Lilli—flirting with grown men—she had no shame. No girl would think of doing that in my day.
“We men will retire to my study for cordials and later we’ll join you ladies here for pumpkin pie and coffee.” Samuel led the way with a tray of brandy snifters and Dario carried the bottle. Hada glanced at Lev and nodded before parting. He squeezed her hand then let go and followed Shovai up the stairs.
The sparkling view of the San Francisco Bay enticed Lev to find the Bay Bridge by lights outlining the graceful span. “There it is,” he whispered. He traced the grids of freeways and city streets in the sea of illumination until he heard the laughter of the inebriated men settling into their chairs behind him. He lingered by the open window, breathing in the air that promised fog in less than an hour. It brushed his cheek and invited him to step outside later. He was tempted to be surrounded in its mysterious moist cloak and to follow the sound of foghorns like Ulysses and his Sirens.
When Samuel offered him some brandy, Lev held up his hand in refusal. “The meal was enough for me.” He looked for a place to sit down; the only empty chair was next to Dario. He moved it slightly away from him before sitting down.
“A little brandy might settle the effects of a big meal, Dad. But suit yourself.” Samuel offered everyone a cigar, but only he and Dario took one. Samuel sat with his ankles crossed on top of his desk; cigar in one hand and brandy in the other. The cigar smoke obediently floated out the window in exchange with an occasional crisp breeze that entered. He shared stories about his patients and their aches, pains, and injuries. Lev wondered if Samuel told more than he should – how professional was that? Dario commented now and then, they would chuckle together about the strange ways people hurt themselves, and how Samuel was their life savior. Big shot—acting the part well.
Shovai dozed in his chair, and Lev just listened, noticing the many times the younger men refilled their brandy glasses. After an hour, both of them talked more loudly and laughed more frequently; the constant drinking all evening finally caught up with them. Samuel had his feet on the floor and was doubled over with laughter when the door to the study opened, and Lilli entered with a bottle of Kailua.
“Look what I found in your hide away, Samuel.” Her sultry voice matched the sway of her hips as she walked over to him in those high, high heels. She reached to tip the bottle into Samuel’s empty glass but he covered the top.
“Too sweet for me, I’ll stick to the brandy, but we’re going to need another bottle. You know where to find it. You’ve just become the new barmaid, you wench.” He slapped her behind. She giggled and wiggled away from him, heading for her father.
“Nah, I don’t want Kahlua, that’s a sissy drink, Lil. Get us some more brandy.” Dario’s expression turned serious for a moment. “Unless, Lev would like some?”
Lev shook his head and wished Shovai would wake up. He felt outnumbered by youth and needed some maturity reinforcement.
“I’ll be right back. Now don’t miss me too much.” Lilli blew a kiss Samuel’s way and left the room with a saunter.
Dario laughed heartily. “Isn’t she something? She’s got it down at fifteen. No doubt she’ll be an actress.”
Samuel nodded. “Hey, Dario, remember when we put those book shelves up in her room this summer? It was her birthday and all she wanted was book shelves.”
“Ha!” Dario’s voice boomed again. “I don’t know why, she never reads books. But she said it made her feel intelligent to have wall-to-wall bookshelves in her room. A boost to her self-esteem.” Dario laughed so hard, he spilled drops of liquor from his glass. “I don’t know where that girl gets her ideas, but she keeps me going, I’ll tell ya.”
Samuel tipped his empty glass to his lips. “It was funny because she said she wanted us to put the shelves up before her birthday was over at midnight. So we were up there pounding nails.” Samuel didn’t stop laughing so Dario took up the story.
“Yah, and she has this girlfriend for a sleep over and they’re dancing on the bed. “The shelves never did get straight.” Their laughter woke Shovai and they apologized between outbursts of more hilarity. Then Lilli returned with a full brandy bottle in one hand and the opened Kahlua in the other. They continued to snicker as she handed the brandy to Dario, upturned the bottle of Kahlua to her lips, and took several long swallows from it.
“Soooo…what were you guys laughing about?” She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and strolled over to Samuel with the bottle. She kicked off her shoes, put the bottle on the desk, and jumped onto his lap. He put an arm around her so she wouldn’t fall off and laughingly retold the bookshelf story.
She giggled. “Melissa and I were just enjoying my birthday. You didn’t have to watch, you know.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, stretched out her legs, and leaned back.
“Watch out, don’t break his back; he’s my tennis partner, remember.” Dario roared. Lev grimaced at the pride that showed on his face.
“No, he’s not. He’s my partner, aren’t you?” She sat up and turned her face into a pout.
Samuel tickled her until she slipped off his lap. She grabbed his leg at the knee and hung on.
Lev turned toward Shovai who was staring with a frozen expression. Lev rose from his chair and said with a loud voice, “It is time I took your mother back to the hotel. I will call a cab, you are in no condition to drive.”
Samuel shook Lilli off his leg and looked as if he were trying to subdue a snicker by forcing a serious expression. He staggered toward his father.
“We haven’t had pie yet, Dad. You know how Mom likes pumpkin pie. Let’s go join the ladies.” He emphasized the word ladies, and pinched Lilli. She squealed and pranced barefoot out the door with Dario following her. Samuel swayed at the doorway to let Shovai pass.
Lev stopped in front of Samuel, bent his head to meet his son’s eyes, and said, “You disgust me.”
When Lev entered the living room downstairs, he walked over to Hada. She rose from her chair with a look of concern spreading over her face. “What is wrong? What happened?” She talked quietly so the other women who were chatting wouldn’t hear her.
“We’re leaving. I’ll call a cab.” Lev patted her hand and turned toward the couch, asking Bira where he could find the phone book. She uncurled her legs from her sitting position on the couch and motioned him to follow her.
Lev was grateful that Samuel and his tennis playing buffoon or Lilli didn’t come into the hallway while he and Hada waited for the cab. Shovai stood mute while Miri muttered to herself repeatedly about a spot on her coat. Then he gave Lev a solemn handshake and seemed to give up on the struggle to verbalize goodbye.
Lev patted Shovai’s shoulder and waved as the couple made their way to the car. Would he tell Miri about Samuel and the fifteen -year-old girl’s behavior? He hoped not. The poor woman would worry herself to death. I should have assured him I would handle this matter, and I will—but how, I do not know.
Lev sat in the backseat of the cab with Hada who held onto the Tupperware container Bira had insisted they take back to the hotel. It had two pieces of pumpkin pie in it.
Hada stroked Lev’s hand while balancing the Tupperware on her knee with her opposite hand. “What happened, Lev, in the study? You came down as if you were ready to proclaim damnation.”
He continued to look out of the cab window, but shook his head. “Later,” he said. They had descended from the Berkeley hills and the cab driver waited for the light to change. Several more traffic lights before we get across town and back to the hotel. If he told Hada that Samuel was taking on the way of Cain, she wouldn’t believe it and she would probably cry all night. There had to be a way to put a stop to all the shenanigans and to protect Abe without Hada’s repudiation every step of the way.
A few minutes later, Bira returned with Esther and Judi and announced it was time for dinner. Esther, in a long brown skirt and white blouse, curtsied in front of Hada and offered her arm to walk to the dining room with her. Judi sidled up to Lev and took his hand. He rose, smiled, and let her lead him out of the room behind Bira who walked arm-in-arm with her parents. At the table, Bira helped everyone find their designated places. Judy led Lev to the seat next to Samuel who was at the head of the table, and Shovai stood across from Lev.
Esther positioned Hada next to Lev who picked up the turkey-shaped name card above his plate. He nodded and smiled.
Hada turned toward Esther. “You and Judi made them? They are very festive, dear.”
“Family and friends, welcome to our home on this day of Thanksgiving. Bon appetite!” Samuel raised his wine glass, took a sip, and sat down. Everyone else followed suit. Little conversations among those that sat next to each other began. Lev leaned close to Samuel, who leaned forward to meet him in a confidential manner.
Lev spoke softly, “You know I do not approve of your friend’s expletives. I will ask you to take us back to the hotel if it continues.”
Samuel looked at Lev with an expression of surprise and shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t recall…”
“Pay attention. He is your friend and he will honor your request, I would expect.”
Hada attempted to talk to Miri who kept rearranging the silverware around her plate. Lev wondered how soon Hada would give up. Esther and Lilli talked in brief exchanges and laughed often while Judi turned from Esther and Bira and back as if she were unable to understand the conversations on either side of her. Bira seemed stressed with Dario’s comments. Her usual complacent expression had turned to one of anger, and Dario’s mannerism reminded Lev of a used car salesman. Why was he trying to schmoose her?
“Is this not a delicious turkey?” Hada nudged Lev.
“Yes, moist and tender turkey. Bira is a good cook like you.” Lev met Hada’s brown eyes that sparkled. His mood lifted to see her happy.
“It is nice to be here for Thanksgiving.” She pulled on his shoulder and whispered in his ear. “Even if everyone is not family.” She released him with another twinkling flash. Then she whispered again, “I would rather have that nice girl in the airport—Annabel Lee—I’d rather have her here instead of that one.” Hada tilted her head toward Lilli.
Lev nodded. If Hada would think about Abe alone, maybe this day would not seem so special.
Shovai asked him about their house in New Jersey.
“It’s holding up well. Minor repairs but nothing we can’t handle ourselves.” Lev sipped some water and waited for Shovai to respond.
“That is good. After I retired, I showed up every day at the store even when it wasn’t busy. Habit, I guess. I am used to nine to five. I like to help whenever I can. But Miri needs me these days more than the store does.”
During dinner, Lev checked Bira occasionally. She seemed distracted by making sure everyone had what was needed, disappeared into the kitchen frequently, and ate quietly. Dario ignored her and joined in discussions with Lilli and the girls.
Lilli ate very little, excused herself for a long time but came back with a bottle of white wine that she poured for herself and then passed it down the table. She had changed into a gold sequined tank top with matching pants that fit snugly and had flower cutouts along the sides of her lower legs. Six-inch high heels in matching gold completed her outfit.
“It is a wonder the girl does not fall on her face with those shoes.” Hada said to Lev as she accepted his hand to help her up after the meal. He escorted her back to the living room where the women would socialize.
Chapter Eight: Scene One
Lev shook hands with Bira’s father. “It’s good to see you again, Shovai.” He glanced in the direction of Miri, Shovai’s wife, who stood, hunched over in the doorway as Bira helped her with her coat. Miri searched the room and settled on Lev. With one arm remaining in her coat sleeve, she pulled away from Bira and rushed to Lev, dragging her coat on the floor. Bira hurried after her mother, bending now and then to try to catch the coat.
Miri grabbed Lev’s forearm. “Where is Hada? I don’t see her. Is she all right?”
“She’s in the powder room at the moment,” Lev said offering a friendly smile. He liked Miri although this display of concern seemed a bit overdone. She had a frantic look on her face and the worry lines on her face seemed deeper than he remembered. Miri had always been slight but now she appeared as thin as the coat tree back in New Jersey. Dark circles under her eyes matched the gray of the dress that hung on her as if it were two sizes too big.
Miri’s voice was like a creaking door, “Oy, I thought she might be under the weather on such an important day for family. Shame not to be here.”
“She’ll join us soon.” Lev sighed with relief when Shovai helped Miri find a place to sit.
Samuel came into the room with a tray of wine glasses and a full bottle of red wine. “I’ll bring in a couple more chairs and then let’s have a toast in gratitude for our blessed years together.” He set the tray on the cocktail table in front of the couch where Bira was wrapping a blanket around Miri’s legs. If Hada had trouble rising from the couch, Lev surmised that someone would have to lift Miri out if they could find her body under that blanket. He hoped no one would miss seeing her there and accidentally sit on her.
Samuel returned with two padded folding chairs and set them up near the window. Lev selected one and sat down
“I’ll bring in two more since Dario and Lilli will be here soon,” Samuel said to no one in particular.
And what about Abe…alone on Thanksgiving? This gathering is not complete without him.
Hada entered the room and distracted his remorse. Several voices greeted her. He admired the way she charmed them as she made the rounds with hugs. She looked like the queen of the gathering with her blue dress perfectly fitting her trim body as if she were twenty years younger. In comparison to Miri…well there was no comparison.
Samuel followed Hada and offered everyone a glass of wine. Lev accepted one to participate in the toast, but his stomach cramped at the thought of swallowing any. As his son raised his glass and began the invocation, the doorbell rang and a voice bellowed from the hallway, “Happy Thanksgiving.” Samuel’s smile broadened and he held up one finger, “Let us wait for a moment. I hear Dario—he’s arrived.”
His friend entered and flashed a wide grin at everyone before grasping Samuel in a bear hug. He wasn’t a large man, as one would expect from hearing his deep, loud voice. He weighed, perhaps, fifteen more pounds than Samuel and was about an inch taller. He wore a matching copper colored exercise outfit in material that one could tell cost him more than a couple hundred dollars.
“Please excuse my casual attire. I was at the tennis courts for several hours since, unlike my buddy here, I had free time today to perfect my skills. And here is Lilli. Do you all know my daughter?”
Lilli made an entrance in a very short pink tennis skirt and a matching top with a plunging neckline. Her tanned legs were perfect and she glided as if she were on ice skates. A tall girl, as tall as her father, she looked older than her fifteen years. She tossed her thick black hair and gave everyone a Mona Lisa smile. Lev looked down at his hands to divert his eyes from the tight pink athletic underwear she revealed as she bent over to shake hands with the seated Hada.
The pink flashed again, when she bent down to hug Miri and Shovai. When she came to Lev, he rose for a handshake to save the people on the other side of the room from the view of her bottom. Samuel was the next one for her to greet, and surprisingly she kissed him on the lips. Lev thought the kiss pushed the acceptable length of time even for Californians. A booming laugh from Dario made Lilli laugh as she tweaked Samuel’s nose. The father and daughter stopped when Bira entered carrying a tray of appetizers.
“Hello Dario, Lilli,” Bira said in a firm tone and offered them a canapé. She continued with her tray around the room while Dario bragged about Lilli beating him in more than fifty percent of the games that day.
“Not only is my daughter a beauty but she’s a damn good tennis player.” He handed her a glass of wine. As she sipped, she flashed her long eyelashes over the rim of the glass and looked as if she were expecting someone to respond to her father’s accolade. No one made a comment.
Crude. Lev straightened in his chair, uncomfortable with Dario’s disrespectful speech and Lilli’s behavior. Last night Hada had told him what Bira said about Dario gaining custody of Lilli since her mother was an alcoholic prostitute. Not a good role model, but wouldn’t Dario be concerned about Lilli’s imitations? If possibly acting like her mother was her intention?
He’d have to speak to Samuel about that family’s problems. Lev noticed Hada looking at him from one of the straight-backed chairs. She fussed with her slippers, then looked up and smiled at him. He nodded to her, and she nodded back, twisting the lace on the long sleeve of her dress.
After the toast, Samuel excused himself and Dario. “We’ll be back in a few minutes. We have a little business to take care of in my study.”
Bira rose, announcing she would refill the appetizer tray, leaving the four older adults staring at the tennis beauty standing by the archway who suddenly seemed to be aware that it might be up to her to break the silence. “Please excuse me too. I have a change of clothes and I need to take a shower after all that exercise.” She smiled, but Lev noticed everyone’s unchanged expressions. She twirled with a flourish and disappeared.
Miri’s small voice came from the mound of blanket on the couch, “I would like to be young again.”
“Oy vey. It looks like trouble to me.” Shovai rubbed his forehead. “Samuel and Bira will need to watch out for our little granddaughters. Some of the youth these days are different than our daughter was at that age.”
“I’m sure Samuel will protect them.” Hada squirmed in her seat, and Lev thought he heard a faint hum.
Chapter Seven: Scene Two
Bira gently clasped Hada’s elbow and led her to the doorway. “Let’s go to the living room where you’ll be more comfortable. Everything is waiting for the turkey to be done so we have some time to talk before the others arrive.”
Hada sank into the white leather couch and felt like a little girl whose feet couldn’t reach the floor.
Bira sat in the white recliner across from Hada, removed the hair clip in the back of her head, re-twisted her dark curly hair, and secured it again with the gold clip. Hada remembered seeing Bira work her hair like that in the past—usually when she was preparing to tell all or when she was forced to be quiet.
“Do you remember Dario, Mother Hada?”
“He is Samuel’s best friend, is that right?”
“Yes.His divorce went through and Lilli, his daughter, decided to live with him instead of her mother. They’ll be here for dinner too.”
“How old is Lilli now?” Hada had met the girl when she came to California alone. “A beautiful child, a few years older than Esther as I remember. You and Samuel were living in the small house in Montclair at that time. Dario was a loud, boisterous man.”
“That’s right and Lilli is a full-blown fifteen now.” Bira’s worry lines returned to her forehead.
“So why do I see you stressed and hear some sarcasm in your voice, dear?” Hada wished she could stretch her legs so her feet touched the floor. Maybe she should move to the straight-backed wooden chair by the window, but she wondered if she could rise from the couch without help.
Bira brushed her forearm a few times as if to rub away a stain. “Lilli is—she’s extremely gorgeous and knows it. She’s a big flirt. She keeps in shape by playing tennis with her father and—Samuel.”
“A flirt?” Hada sighed. Not another problem. California is full of problems.
Bira leaned forward and whispered, “I’ve seen her at parties here and at Dario’s house. Any man at any age is her prey. She dominates the room, especially after everyone has been drinking for a while; that’s her cue to start working the crowd—the men in the crowd, I should say.”
“And Dario doesn’t stop her?” Hada tried to scoot forward to hear better, but the couch sucked her back.
“No, he thinks it’s funny. He’s proud of such a knock-out daughter.”
“So why trouble yourself about it?” Hada wished Lev and Samuel would return. She didn’t like this topic of conversation.
“It’s silly of me, I guess. When Esther and Judi are around, I think Lilli is a terrible role model. I try to have them leave the room when she starts her rounds, but Samuel wants the girls to stay up as long as they like when we have parties. He thinks it’s social training for them. The girls think Lilli’s the cat’s meow, so to speak.”
Hada squirmed. “And did you talk to Samuel about it?”
“It’s no use. He adores Lilli and says she knows how to have fun and the girls could benefit from her carefree, entertaining manner.” Bira leaned back in the recliner and brushed tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand.
Hada wanted to pat Bira’s shoulder for support, but she couldn’t get off the couch. Bira sounds like her worrisome mother. “Samuel must know her well enough to determine if she is a threat.”
“Who’s a threat?” Samuel entered with the bottle of wine, refilled his glass, and set the bottle on the cocktail table before he sat on the couch next to Hada. Lev came in and eased into the chair by the window, the one that Hada thought would be more comfortable for her short legs. Too late to claim it.
Hada beamed at Samuel. “Oh, no one is a threat, dear. It is just girl talk, you know, nothing to fret about. Do you like the study, Lev?”
He looked at his outstretched legs instead of at her. “So many photographs. Samuel and Dario look like champions already.” His tone was one of sarcasm. “Samuel, this is your third house?” he asked.
Hada sensed he was about to challenge Samuel about something so she tried to intervene. “Lev, don’t you remember the little one in Oakland and the very nice one in Montclair. Of course, this is their third house.” Hada’s back was beginning to hurt. She had to find somewhere else to sit.
“Regarding those upgrades.” Lev said. Hada noticed his jaw tightening as he glared at Samuel. “The house Abe’s in now is his first, correct?”
“Yes.” Samuel swirled the wine in his long stemmed glass and took a large sip.
Lev pulled his legs up, bending them at the knees, and straightened his back. He looked too tall for the chair. His tone of voice sounded deep and firm. “I remember your partnership agreement to take turns upgrading houses. What happened to Abe’s two turns?”
Hada knew an argument was about to erupt. Lev sounded like an attorney. How could he spoil the day by asking business questions, especially when the boys’ partnership was severed? What was the use?
Samuel picked up the wine bottle from the cocktail table and poured more wine into his glass. “I think I reminded you yesterday, Dad, that I started our clinic. I took Able in as a partner when he graduated and moved out here. I set him up with his first patients. The house upgrades alternating with mine were a profit-sharing incentive.”
“I ask again, why is he still in his first house?”
“It’s a long story, Dad. He will not listen to me. He could make more money for himself and the clinic if he would see patients with sports injuries for fifteen minutes at each appointment, like I do. But no, he insists on hour-long appointments, and he does the neurological stuff Kaleb sucked him into.”
“Has he brought a good sum of money into the business these last years?”
Hada saw the rare look in Lev’s eyes that meant he would not budge in his line of thinking. She hummed a temple song louder than usual.
Samuel’s voice challenged Lev’s stare. “Yes, he brought in a good sum of money. But if he refuses to follow my business policies, why should I give him profit-sharing benefits?”
“Because you gave your word.” Lev’s low-toned voice held as much strength as if he had shouted.
Hada remembered the tactic she had used when the boys were children. Separation of those in conflict always worked then. Besides, she couldn’t stand another minute sitting on that couch. “I must visit your restroom, Samuel, but I am afraid I cannot get myself out of this luxurious couch. Could you give me a hand, dear? And, I do not want to get lost, please walk me to the door of the powder room?”
Samuel’s mouth was open, probably ready for a rebuttal to Lev, but he shifted his eyes to her, stopped for a minute as if to assess the problem, and then held out his hand. She struggled to pull herself out of the couch’s grip as she hung onto his wrist with both hands. Samuel gave an over-zealous tug. She came up with momentum enough to bump against his chest. The dank staleness of the wine on his breath made her jerk her head away. He held her elbow and maneuvered her toward the archway, but before leaving the room, she glanced at Lev. His lips pressed together and his hands formed into fists.
Hada wore her sky blue dress whose sleeves had lace that circled her wrists and came to a point on her hands. She had blue one-inch heels to match, but put her slippers in a bag in case her feet swelled again. Before breakfast, she showed Lev how her ankles had thinned during the night. “I guess I do not need a treatment after all.” When Lev cautioned her to be checked by Samuel anyway, she waved her hand in dismissal and said, “After Thanksgiving. I don’t want to cause a fuss today.”
As she rode in the back seat of Samuel’s BMW, she stroked the leather seats and held her purse on her lap in case it could scratch the upholstery. Lev, in the passenger’s seat, talked with Samuel about the prices of the homes in their neighborhood. They rode up Marin to Grizzly Peak where the sweeping view of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge made Hada gasp with delight.
“I thought of you, Mom, when we chose this house last year. I knew you would like the view and I couldn’t wait to show it to you. Today is the day and what better day than Thanksgiving? Bira has the turkey in the oven and probably is basting it as we speak.” Samuel turned around to look at her with an expression that exuded pride mixed with love.
Hada nodded. “It is very beautiful here. How wonderful that you were able to upgrade from the little house in Oakland to the bigger house in Montclair, and now to this.” Her senses overtook her need to talk, soaking in the sight, sound, and smell of her surroundings. Samuel had opened the sunroof and the Eucalyptus trees sent their peppery fragrance into the car.
He pulled into the driveway. The entrance to a sprawling white stucco house with black iron trim around large windows came into view. Hada was tempted to count them but she would see the expansive inside soon enough. A Cinderella-like giddiness made her lean forward and clasp the front seat of the BMW chariot that carried her to this castle. “How many bedrooms, Samuel?”
“Six. The girls each have their own bedrooms, we have ours, and there are two guest rooms. I converted the other bedroom into a study where I can get away from family chatter or do my paperwork or research or whatever I choose. It’s my own space.” Samuel turned off the engine, slid out of the driver’s side, and opened the door for his mother. Lev got out of the car, and Hada came around to where he stood straight with his hands on his hips, surveying the Spanish tile roof.
Hada slipped her hand onto Lev’s arm. “Magnificent, isn’t it, dear?”
“Come, I’ll give you a tour.” Samuel led them up the stone steps, released the ornate doorknob, and swept his hand into the hallway as if they were royalty entering another king’s palace.
Hada peeked into the living room at the Mediterranean style décor. It looked clean, mostly white with bright orange, red, and yellow accents in paintings on the walls. The furniture looked as if it were out of a designer’s catalog: a white leather couch, a matching recliner, and several straight-backed chairs in large flower-printed cushions that complimented the bamboo roll-up blinds.
Lev asked for directions to the restroom. Hada was speechless as she followed Samuel down the long hallway where he pointed out the bathroom to Lev. Then he opened the door to the guest room for Hada to see and told her they could have this room instead of the Hilton. He rolled his eyes and sighed, but Hada made no comment. Samuel indicated the small sewing and laundry rooms and said he would show her the upstairs later. He wanted to wait for Lev.
Hada followed Samuel to the kitchen where Bira wrapped sweet potatoes in foil and twelve-year-old Esther stirred a batch of fresh cranberries for a sauce. Seven-year-old Judi polished some silverware, and grinned at Hada, her eyes flashing excitement
Bira dropped her potato onto the counter and wiped her hands on her apron. She rushed to Hada and gave her a strong hug. “We are so happy you’re here. Girls, come and give your grandmother a hug.”
Hada welcomed tall Esther’s embrace and then Judi crashed into both of them, almost knocking her down. The girls giggled and drew Hada to the stool by the middle island counter. “Watch us, Grandmother Hada.” Judi said. “We’re making the turkey dinner.”
“Yes, I see that you are good helpers. It smells delicious in here, like roast turkey and all the fixings.” Hada’s heart felt open and grateful for a family so perfect that had descended from her, from the love she and Lev shared. “Esther, you have grown so much; you are as tall as your mother.”
Bira put her arms around her oldest daughter’s shoulders. “I think she has Lev’s genes dominant since my family and I are short and so are you. Samuel is more from your side too, tall but not as tall as Lev and Abe.” Bira self-consciously put her hand to her mouth and turned back to her potato wrapping.
Hada guessed Bira censored herself from mentioning Abe. Samuel must have told her how upset Abe was over the lockout and she probably wished she had not mentioned him. Hada patted Judi’s hair.“You have your father’s eyes. Do you know I would call them puppy eyes because whenever he wanted something, he would look at me like a Cocker Spaniel? Can you look like that too?”
Judi put her face close to Hada and made her eyes plead for attention.
“Yes, I see that you can.” Hada laughed and hugged her granddaughter again. “You keep a beautiful home, Bira. I always knew you would.”
“Thank you, Mother Hada. Samuel spends so much money on the house that the least I can do is take good care of his purchases.”
“I hope he lets you pick out what you like?” Hada had no doubt he did but she wanted to build her bond with her daughter-in-law.
“Oh, of course, I didn’t mean…” The men entered the kitchen and Bira didn’t continue.
“There you are. I thought you were lost in this mansion.” Hada smiled at Lev who walked up to her and put his hand on her shoulder. The chatting girls ran over to give their grandfather a hug. Little Judi hopped up and down giggling and Esther held his hand close to her lips. Bira, with a potato peeler, stood on tiptoes to reach his cheek when he bent down for her kiss. “Excuse me, Father Lev, I’m cooking and my hands are….”
“I will collect a hug later, Bira. It is good to see you and the girls. It has been too long since we’ve visited.” He returned his gaze to Hada and said, “Samuel showed me the back yard. There’s a flat area waiting for your green thumb. He said he’s wanted your advice on what to plant there.”
“Yes, Mom. Tomorrow we can assess what needs to be done. And the next time you visit, we’ll have a garden just for you.” Samuel held out a wine glass and an opened bottle ready to pour. “Dad, some wine?”
Lev shook his head and waved a hand. “Later. It is too early for me to have a drink.”
“Mom?” Samuel offered the glass to Hada with a slight bow.
“Oh, no, dear. I don’t need wine to show how grateful I am for our wonderful family.” Hada took a deep breath. She was surprised how happy she was to be in California.
Judi hopped over to Samuel who poured himself a full glass. She pulled on his arm almost making him spill it. “When will Uncle Abe get here? He promised to play ball with me.”
Samuel glared at her without answering and turned to Lev. “Come, Dad, let’s go to my study, I want to show you pictures of me on the tennis courts. Dario and I are preparing for competition next summer.”
Lev nodded to Hada before leaving the room. He always thought of her with respect and she was filled with gratitude for a caring husband. So much to be thankful for on this day. They left and Hada wanted to join them so she could see the upstairs but disciplined herself into patience.
“I finished the silverware, Mommy,” Judi said. “Can I go now?”
“Of course, Judi. And Esther, you may leave the kitchen too. The sauce can sit now until we’re ready to eat. Everything is coming along fine until the rest of the guests arrive.” Bira finished foiling her potatoes and put them into the oven. A waft of heat and a sizzle sound of turkey juice filled the room.
The girls washed their hands in the sink and chatted about how to make turkey place cards for the guests. Judi ran ahead of Esther encouraging her to hurry upstairs, since there wasn’t much time before dinner.
“So, Bira, how are your parents?” Hada asked noticing a red cranberry stain on Bira’s apron when she untied it and laid it on the counter.
“You will see for yourself,” Bira said averting her eyes and scrubbing at the sink with Ajax. “They should be here in about an hour. Mother still has those awful migraines, but Daddy is as young as ever. I don’t think he will ever age. Even though he is retired now, he still repairs watches and helps at the store part time.
“That is good. Men need their work. They have to feel productive. And the headaches, your poor mother. No one can find the cause?” Hada handed Bira the terry hand towel after her scrubbing was completed and her hands washed
“No. Samuel has put her through so many tests and has tried various medications but nothing seems to help. Except one time when Abe treated…” Bira put the last wrapped potato in a bowl without finishing her sentence.
“Bira, dear, Abe is my son too. Do not be afraid to talk to me about him. I know Samuel is upset with him, and Lev is making himself sick with worry over his welfare, but you can say what you want to me.”
The worry lines in Bira’s face softened. “Thank you. I didn’t know how you felt about this split in the business. Samuel is convinced Abe is going crazy from all the stress he’s under right now with his divorce and the lawsuit. I didn’t think the lockout was a good idea but I can’t say much about it to Samuel. He doesn’t like it when I disagree with him. Anyway, one time Abe treated Mother and she felt so much better. It was the first time I saw her happy in years, but when she told Samuel that Abe wanted her to stop the medications Samuel had prescribed, he forbid her to be under Abe’s care in the future. In a few months, the headaches returned, and every day she’s becoming more depressed.”
“I am sure Samuel knows best and will find an answer soon.” Hada twisted the lace on her wrist and hummed quietly. The vibration she felt when she hummed helped to fill the hollowness in her throat and chest that appeared at times.
Chapter Six: Scene Two
How had the brothers managed to be business partners for fifteen years? They had many altercations, but they somehow made it work in spite of their differences—until now.
Abe must be in anguish about what seemed like a threefold betrayal. All for what? Because Samuel claimed Abe was on the verge of a breakdown, that he was going crazy. Abe seemed fine and proud of his patient caseload when they discussed business the first night of their arrival. He told several stories about his successes with his patients’ neurological disorders. He had found a niche, a specialty in neurology. What now?
At breakfast that morning, Lev had wanted to kick Hada’s foot under the table when she asked Abe if he had patients who were involved in sports and if he had the same success with them as Samuel. All these years, she compared their accomplishments with a tone that clearly emphasized the first-born’s superiority. To ease yet another hurtful question, Lev had interrupted Hada, “What about Kaleb these days?”
“He’s still teaching the neurological expansion of the work that I learned from him. He’s continuing his practice in New York while he teaches workshops all over the world, and whenever he heads west, we get together.”
Lev wanted to know more about the litigation. “And the pilot study? What went wrong? I heard about the lawsuit from Samuel.”
Abe wriggled in his seat. “The study was to obtain provable statistics that our neurological technique is successful with children who have learning disabilities. We were getting great results until someone got greedy and decided to sue us. It’s a long story, Dad.” Abe’s eyebrows arched at times while he spoke, a movement Lev recognized as Abe’s way to consider a response.
“I heard Kaleb is involved in the lawsuit too? What is he doing about it?”
“Kaleb is Kaleb, Dad. He says he’s not even flying out for the trial because it’s nonsense. And, he’s right, of course—total nonsense. A select few parents found something they could sue about while we performed miracles with their children. When all this legal mishmash is over, Kaleb said he’d come out and celebrate with me. He’s sure the judge will throw out the case.”
Tonight, in the darkened hotel room, Lev’s stomach burned again. Lev removed his arm from around Hada and turned over on his back. He pushed himself to a sitting position and leaned against the headboard. If it was all nonsense and legal mishmash, then why was Abe pounding the walls when his lawyer called the office? It was obvious that Abe, the sensitive one, needed an ally, but after today’s betrayal, would he ever talk to his father again?
Hada stirred and then sat up next to Lev. She yawned and rubbed her eyes. “Lev, your stomach bothering you again?”
“I am sorry I woke you, my dear. Go back to sleep.” He kissed her forehead.
“I will keep you company until it passes.” She put her head on his shoulder and in a second, fell asleep.
He leaned his head against hers, took her hands in his, and caressed them…as delicate as rose petals.
At one o’clock a.m., Lev woke up with indigestion. Samuel could be the death of me yet. The lamb shank at dinner was a larger meal than he normally ate and the gravy was too rich. Besides, he didn’t want to eat in the first place, but Samuel insisted he have the lamb. He ate it, not because of Samuel, but to please Hada. He imagined Hada’s conversations with her lady friends in New Jersey, “Our son, Samuel, the first-born, you know, bought us dinner at the Hilton. Yes, his business is flourishing and yet he took time to buy his parents dinner and to invite us to his home in the Berkeley Hills for Thanksgiving. Ah, that’s our Samuel.” She always bragged about Samuel, never about Abe.
Lev slipped out of bed without disturbing Hada and went to the bathroom. He’d had only a sip of the wine Samuel chose for dinner, knowing he’d suffer for it later if he had more. He wasn’t much of a drinker, never had been. Samuel drank the rest of the wine and had two large brandies after the meal. He must drink his share on a regular basis, Lev surmised, because he didn’t seem to be the slightest bit drunk when he walked them to the elevator and kissed them good-bye.
Lev poured some water into the glass provided by the hotel, hoping it would get the sour taste out of his mouth, but he changed his mind and poured it down the drain. The water might cause more reflux. Best to give the system a total rest and everything would be all right.
Another burning pain gripped his abdomen. Lev turned off the bathroom light, opened the door, grabbed his robe, and guided his way along the wall with one hand while the other clutched his middle. By the time he reached the little round table next to the window, the wave of pain subsided. He sat down in the chair and didn’t draw the heavy drapes. He didn’t want them to block the dim light from the street lamp outside. He folded his robe more snugly around his legs and closed his eyes but couldn’t sleep. The smell from the huge bouquet of roses on the table reminded him of a funeral, but Hada loved them, especially since they came from Samuel.
Lev touched a petal, surprised by its delicate softness. The petal fell off in his hand. He dropped it near the vase and reached for another one. He laid that one down near the vase as if it had fallen on its own. He counted the stems: thirteen, a baker’s dozen — or was that an expression only associated with food? As a mechanical engineer, he didn’t pay much attention to flowers, food, or home decorations. Those areas were Hada’s domain and she had proven her expertise. She spent hours in the garden with her straw hat bobbing up and down as she pulled weeds and trimmed whatever needed trimming. A vase of flowers adorned each room in New Jersey. Lev hardly took notice what flower or color she had placed where, but he did enjoy watching her in the garden.
Another burning ache in his stomach made him rest his hands on his middle and double over. When it subsided, he sat up straight again and noticed a layer of petals surrounded the vase. Had they fallen suddenly on their own or had he picked that many? All thirteen roses had lower petals missing. How long had he been thinking about Hada in the garden and pulling off petals? Would Hada notice a pattern and suspect him of sabotaging the flowers? Would she care? Probably. She wouldn’t scold him but she would worry about why he did it.
Wanting distance from the roses, he gave up the idea of sleeping in the chair. The only way he could rest would be to snuggle with Hada. He took off his robe and laid it over the back of the chair, slid between the sheets, lay still for a minute to see if she had awakened, and then he wrapped his arm around her. They were like two silver spoons in the velvet-lined tableware box. Her breathing was light but rhythmic, and she didn’t stir. Her hair smelled of the hotel shampoo instead of the lavender she used at home. He sought the soft skin on her neck. He gently rubbed his cheek against hers and praised God for this woman. In all the years of their marriage, he never tired of her skin, her smells, and her eyes that told him more than the fountain of words she could spew.
They were a happy family of four most of the time. When the boys were young and asleep in their beds, Hada would make tea and invite Lev to sit at the kitchen table and have a cup with her. She would plan for their children’s futures and imagine various occupations that would bring them extraordinary success. She wanted them to have every opportunity possible. Lev agreed and worked hard to save funds for college. Some nights they’d look over the ledgers to be sure the repairs on the house were not taking away from the education account. One year, when they needed a new roof, Hada was beside herself because only half of the planned amounts were going toward college.
“Hada, the roofing bill has to be paid first. The finance charges are a waste of money. It is worth a year of less in one fund to save a waste in another.”
She had conceded but grumbled every month. “Next year we put more in the college fund to make up for this year.”
For all her diligence, as soon as Samuel graduated with his chiropractic license, he surprised them when he said he was going to move to California. He thought the state was more progressive than New Jersey, and he would have a larger number of patients using his services.
“But, Samuel, California is so far. It’s across the whole United States.”
“I know, Mom, but I’ll be making enough money to fly you out to the sunny coast whenever you miss me.” Samuel kissed her cheek, and Lev knew the boy had no idea how devastating his move would be for his mother. The summer he drove away in the used van Lev bought him when he graduated, Hada cried for months. Lev was on the verge of taking her to the doctor to get her some Valium, but she bargained with him for a plane ticket to California instead. When she returned, she was happier.
Now that he thought about it, she changed in many ways after that trip. She became passionate about gardening, went to weekly luncheons with her friends, and helped with children’s Hebrew classes at the synagogue.
Abe followed his older brother’s example and asked Samuel for a job in his office after graduation. Hada didn’t seem to care that both her sons would be on the other side of the country.
Lev was the one who had felt the loss when Abe left. They were bonded; they enjoyed similar interests. He taught Abe basic mechanics, how to change the oil in the Nash, how engines worked. Newark College of Engineering was the direction Lev had hoped for Abe, but when Hada bragged about the status of being a doctor and the money Samuel was making, Abe chose to be a chiropractor too.
Chapter Five: Scene Two
By ten minutes after five o’clock, Hada and Lev had showered and dressed for dinner. Hada sat at the little round table with Lev. “He said five o’clock, he’s late, and I am hungry. Not surprising with no lunch.” She opened the Fig Newton package on the table, took a cookie, and bit into it. Then she pushed the package closer to Lev, who shook his head.
“Has your stomach settled since breakfast?” she asked.
“It’s all right, but I have no appetite.”
“Samuel is making a nice gesture to treat us to dinner, so you eat. You cannot afford to lose any more weight. You and Abe, one would think I starved you both.”
“Abe has been on his own for a long time, Hada, it’s not your fault if he’s thin.”
Hada shook her head, “Familial metabolism, it doesn’t allow more than a thin layer on those bones.”
“You complain, but I know you love these bones.” He grinned at her for the first time that day.
She patted his shoulder and smiled back. Then a knock at the door startled her. She stepped into her worn fur-lined scuffs and shuffled to the door. When she opened it, she saw only an outstretched arm and a hand holding a bouquet of yellow roses.
“Oh, how beautiful! And who might these be from?” She giggled like a schoolgirl.
Samuel leaped into the doorway with a big smile, stepped inside, and gave her a strong hug.
“Flowers for M’lady, for her belated birthday and for being the best mom.” He took one of her hands, held it as he searched her face, and then he placed the flowers in both of her hands.
“Oh, Samuel, they are lovely. You bring summer to autumn as always.” She laid the flowers in her arm like a blanket-wrapped baby and pulled him with her free hand to the seating area. Then she called housekeeping to bring up a vase and took the flowers to the bathroom sink. When Hada returned, Samuel was sitting on the bed next to Lev, not in the chair she’d offered. She sat down in the empty one and listened to their talk about the flight and how crowded the Oakland Airport had become.
Hada had not seen Samuel for a year. As he talked with Lev, she checked her son’s face and figure. He looked the same: youthful and fit. Years of playing tennis made him look as if he had an invisible racket in his hand even when he was dressed up. She smiled remembering how he resented being s few inches shorter than Abe in high school. Older brothers should be taller than younger siblings was his frequent complaint. He wore his hair trimmed shorter and styled slicker than Abe’s. Hada admired Samuel’s appearance in tan Dockers, a muted green shirt, and a tie with a geometrical design. She recognized the diamond tie clip Bira had asked her about as a gift to him for their fifteenth wedding anniversary.
“It’s close to a thousand dollars, Mother Hada.” Bira had said over the phone in a skeptical voice. “Do you think he will like it for that amount of money?”
Her daughter-in-law often asked Hada’s advice when she considered a large purchase. Bira’s parents had lost their jewelry business during the Depression and although Samuel and Bira had more than enough money to buy whatever they wanted, Hada understood Bira’s reticence to spend large amounts of money.
Samuel had told her many times that they would be financially stable even if the country suffered another depression. Hada beamed with pride that her handsome son was successful enough for his wife to buy him a thousand dollar diamond tie clip.
“Mom? Mom? What are you thinking about?” Samuel asked her.
“Oh, just how wonderful you look and how good it is to see you. We must never let a whole year go by without one of us visiting the other. Promise?” She squeezed his knee. All the complaints she had about being in California vanished.
“Of course, I promise. It’s great to see you too. Both of you.” He leaned forward with his elbows resting on his knees. “So, Abe drove to the office and found the locks had been changed. I didn’t expect him to break in, and, not a clean break, I might add. Luckily, no one came inside after you left. I had to put a padlock on the door until I can get the lock fixed.” Samuel sat up straighter. “Brother or not, no one is allowed to take patient files. I’ll get ‘em back.”
Lev cleared his throat. “Samuel. The patient folders….”
“What, Dad? I suppose you think I should let him get away with taking patient files in the deranged state he’s in. Oy Gevault, he is ruining my reputation as it is. I don’t want him harassing the patients.”
“Are they his patients’ files?” Lev asked.
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean they continue to be when he leaves the office. I brought him into my thriving business when he got his license to practice. I was responsible for giving him patients over the years, for God’s sake.”
“Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.” Lev’s tone was stern.
“He’s in the middle of a nasty lawsuit. The school board up north said he and his sidekick from New York have hurt children. Children—with the neurological garbage they practice. I thought about letting him go when this legal mess started, but I was a good brother and let him stay—until he’s pounding on walls while I’m treating patients. Every time his attorney phones to update his case, he pounds the walls. I keep apologizing for the noise. I have to lie and say we’re remodeling his treatment room. How long am I supposed to be remodeling? I had to get rid of him. He’s losing it, I’m telling you.”
“He did pound the door when he figured out you had changed the locks.” Hada said, looking at Lev to agree, but he ignored her.
“See, I knew it. I was worried about you both staying at his house. I wish you had let me pick you up from the airport. You know Bira and I would love to have you stay at our house.” Samuel looked at Hada with the expression he used to plead with her for a cookie after school.
“When Abe called us in New Jersey, your father told him we were invited for Thanksgiving so he offered to pick us up and to stay at his house until the feast. He sounded lonely and your father agreed.
“When we planned this trip, I forgot to suggest that you stay with us, an oversight on my part. And, look what he’s done to you—kicking his parents out of his house. What kind of son does that? No matter how angry I would be, I’d never send you away, you know I wouldn’t.”
“I know, Samuel, but it is all done now and we are here.” She smiled and took a deep breath. Yes, she was here and maybe the trip was worth it—to be able to touch him, to feel him close, to hear his voice in the same room. He is such a dear.
There was a knock at the door and Hada rose. “Must be housekeeping with the vase I requested.” She patted Samuel’s shoulder on the way and greeted the maid. “Thank you. This is a perfect size.” She closed the door and took the vase to the bathroom where the roses waited. She listened to the men talking as she placed each stem into the water.
Lev asked, “What is the status of the lawsuit? Whenever I inquire about it over the phone and even today, Abe says he has no worries. Everything is fine.”
“The opposition has witnesses. To make matters worse, Abe consults this dunce of a lawyer who is no longer in practice, but is coaching him. Where does he find these people? Did you ever hear anything so stupid? Abe doesn’t know beans about the law and he asks a retired attorney for legal help. This lawsuit will ruin his reputation if he’s found guilty.”
“And what about his financial responsibility to Nissa?” Lev asked.
“They’ve reached a settlement. The alimony and child support payments are set, but he’s already behind with them. I’ve flown to Los Angeles to give her some support. She’s with her parents but she’s stressed out. She says Abe calls her to talk to Jacob, but won’t send her any extra money. He says he agreed to her moving away because she convinced him it would save money by living with her parents, but since she took their son from him, he’s not going to give her any more than what he is legally responsible for. He hasn’t gone down there to visit Jacob at all. The poor kid thinks his father doesn’t love him anymore. I brought the little guy some new toys and a couple of outfits Bira picked out for him. Jacob needs to know that our family is still in his life. The divorce isn’t the kid’s fault.”
“If he is behind in payments, you have made it harder for him by cutting him out of the business, Samuel.” Lev’s voice shook with anger.
Hada interrupted as she placed the flowers on the table. “Now, are these not the most beautiful flowers you have ever seen, Lev?” She patted the bouquet but suddenly pulled her hand away. “Oh! The florist forgot a thorn.” She held her hand and blood oozed from the tip of her finger, a deep red-colored bead of blood congealed over the pierced hole. She went back into the bathroom. Tears collected in her eyes, not from the thorn—something stirred in her that she didn’t wanted to avoid. She focused on her hand and forced the wound to cleanse.
Hada didn’t like hotels—not even the Hilton where they went after leaving Abe’s house. She pulled back the bedspread and stuffed it into the closet. She sprayed the sheets with an essence oil blend she had prepared that was supposed to protect against possible germs, bedbugs, or other unwanted living things. She sprayed the two chairs by the little round table and the muted flowered carpet. She wiped the doorknobs, cabinet handles, and light switches. She sterilized the bathroom sink, toilet, and shower. Finally, she sighed and plopped into one of the chairs. Brothers fighting, Lev sick, swollen ankles, trouble walking, why did they bother to come to California?
Her feet and ankles hurt more than they did earlier and she was out of breath from all the cleaning. Maybe she should have gone to the doctor for that checkup before they left New Jersey. She didn’t feel like her energetic self; but maybe it was the weather. Sometimes the dampness in the Bay Area chilled her more than the snow in New Jersey. Whenever she thought of home, she wanted to get back on the plane and leave all this chaos behind. Grown sons should be able to handle their problems by themselves. We are too old to get involved in this dispute.
The bellhop arrived. Lev tipped him and closed the door. He lifted the suitcases onto the luggage racks, stood up straight, put his hands onto his lower back, and took a deep breath.
“Your back again? First your stomach, now your back. Oi, we were healthier in New Jersey.
“I finished the spraying so you can open the suitcases. I want to take out some clean clothes. I’ll take a shower after you call Samuel.”
Lev opened each suitcase for her and then sat on the newly sprayed sheets to take off his shoes. He turned and stretched out on the bed, folding his hands over his chest.
“Lev, this is not the time for a nap. Samuel, remember? We have to call him.” His sense of time is frustrating.
“You call him,” he muttered.
“But you can talk man-to-man. You said a man sees this situation differently than a woman. I’m sure he wants to hear from you about Abe’s reaction.” Hada rose from the chair and sat next to Lev on the bed.
“No. He knows I did not like it from the start.” Lev kept his eyes closed but reached for Hada’s warm hands that rested in her lap. “He is your chosen one. You tell him, if you can do it without judgment. Abe handled it well under the circumstances.”
“But he could have closed the back door to that office. It’s wide open. Anyone can walk in and take Samuel’s equipment.” She moved from the bed and called Samuel.
When Samuel answered, she smiled. “Hello, darling. It’s your mother.”
“What happened? Is Abe angry?” His voice sounded as if he were out of breath. Had he been playing tennis or was he worried and nervous? She couldn’t tell.
“Yes, Samuel, he’s angry. He drove us to his house to get our things and said he did not want to see us there when he returned. So we took a cab to this Hilton.” She tugged at her shoes to try to get them off, but she needed both hands since the swelling made a tighter fit.
“He what?” Samuel yelled. Hada put the receiver a few inches away from her ear. “He turned you out on the street? Are you all right? He’s insane.”
“No. Samuel. He did not seem crazy—angry, but not insane. We’re fine. He broke into the office and he left the back door open. You should go close it and fix the lock right away.”
“He left the back door open?” Samuel shouted again.
Hada pushed the receiver further away from her ear and talked louder so he could hear. “It did not look too damaged. He’s good with tools, as you know. I told him to at least close the door.”
Hada didn’t interrupt Samuel’s long exhale and his pause before he said, “I’ll take care of the door and then I’m coming to get you. You can’t stay at a hotel when I have plenty of room for you both with us.”
Hada shook her head even if he couldn’t see her. “No, your father thinks we should remain here at the Hilton.”
“Trying to stay neutral, is he? Will he allow me to come to your room?”
She sighed. “Of course you can come to our room.”
Samuel’s voice turned silky smooth, like a movie star’s as she always described it. “I’ll take you both to dinner at the hotel, without Bira and the girls, so we can talk about this lunatic brother of mine.”
“Dinner here, the three of us?” Hada nodded and smiled. “That would be lovely, dear. Yes, it is probably better to talk without Bira.” Maybe the worst was over. Finally, she could see Samuel. It had been too long since their last visit.
“See you soon then,” Samuel said in his suave tone again.
“Yes, yes, see you soon.” She hung up the phone, pulled off her shoes, and rubbed her ankles. Then she stood up to unbutton her dress.
“He is coming here?” Lev asked opening one eye to look at her.
Hada walked over to his side of the bed. “Yes. He is as surprised as I am with Abe breaking in. As you heard, I did not tell him about the files Abe took, but I had to inform him about the open door. I don’t want anyone to steal him blind. On his way over here, he’s going to the office to lock up. Maybe he’ll notice the files gone. Maybe he won’t.” She bent down and kissed Lev’s check. She loved his skin on her lips even now when his face was no longer as smooth as it was in their youth.
Lev took her hand. “Come lie down with me for a minute so I can fall asleep.” He moved over to make room for her.
She lay down and he wrapped his arms around her. His warmth was comforting after all the previous arguments. Maybe life could be normal again. “Samuel wants to come alone. Bira and the girls will stay at home. Did you hear me?”
“I heard.” Lev said snuggling his face between her neck and shoulder.
“We will talk for a while and then he will buy us dinner in the restaurant downstairs.” She welcomed the coolness of Lev’s nose on her skin.
She could feel Lev sinking into sleep and hoped she wouldn’t wake him when she slipped out of his arms to shower. For fifty years, they fell asleep together, with Lev’s arms around her. Only when she knew he was in a deep state, did she turn on her side to sleep in her favorite position. Many nights as his body relaxed, muscle-by-muscle, she thought about the goodness of this husband and father.
Today, when Lev’s breathing changed to peaceful slumber, she thought about how much Abe was like his father. Samuel…well, Samuel was not like them at all. He was impetuous, decisive, and full of action and drive. He wanted to run up the ladder of success and stay on the top. If he said Abe had a difference of opinion in business and would not see Samuel’s point of view, it didn’t surprise her. With the stress of a divorce and a business lawsuit pending, Abe could be close to a breakdown as Samuel claimed. Being with Abe every day, he would know. If he thought Abe’s stress was bad for business and he needed to leave the office, then it must be true. Abe’s temper flare-ups, pounding the walls in frustration, scaring the patients, people thinking there was a crazy man in the office…that was bad for business.
Hada wriggled out of Lev’s arms, rose from the bed, and removed her dress. In the bathroom, she looked in the mirror. She turned seventy last week and there were wrinkles, of course, on her face, upper arms, and thighs, but she tried to keep a good figure. She frowned at the extra weight in her middle, but she wore clothes that hid it.
She ruffled her short hair thinking she should let it grow again. After Abe was born, two little sons only two years apart, she cut her hair to below the ear lobes making it easier to keep neat. But from the back, she wondered if the look was too masculine. In the airport, Annabel Lee had encouraged her to try something new with her hair, and after thirty-eight years of the same style, that sweet girl might be right—it was time for a change.
Abe stopped the car and said, “We’re here. Let’s go in the back door. I’ll give you a quick tour so you can see the new equipment Samuel bought in order to be up with the times—an extravagant expense in my mind, but…then I’ll get to work on both of you.” Abe turned off the engine and swung his long legs out of the driver’s seat.
Before he rose, Hada said, “Abe, dear. Would you go ahead of us and turn up the heater for me? I am not used to the low indoor temperatures you keep here in California and you probably have it turned off for the holiday? It is nice and warm in the car with the sun shining. Come and get us in a few minutes so I do not have to walk into a cold room.” Hada’s request sounded innocent, but Lev knew she was concerned about more than the temperature.
Abe rose to his full six-foot height, turned around and bent over so he could peek back into the car. He winked at Hada. “Okay, Mom. I’ll be right back. You won’t have time to take a nap though.” He closed the car door and walked to the back entrance of the office building.
“Oi vey.” Lev’s heartbeat filled his chest and reverberated into his throat. Abe stood about five yards away at the office’s back door.
“Now, Lev. It will be all right. He’ll be upset, but we’ll let him blow off steam for as long as it takes and then we’ll help him plan the next step.” Lev heard Hada hum; the unconscious random singsong was her way to disconnect from unpleasantness. At least her humming meant she realized things were not going to be smooth from this point forward.
“No, Hada, darling. It is not that simple among men. This is wrong.”
“You just hush now. Do not let Abe hear you talk that way or he will think you are taking his side. Samuel is the eldest, he knows what’s best.
“And you don’t think it’s taking sides to say the eldest knows best, Hada?” Lev wanted to turn around and challenge her at eye level, but he chose not to see what he knew would be her smug face, a mask to cover up her fear of the situation getting out of hand
“Samuel has his reasons. Solid business reasons.” Her humming continued as they waited in the car.
Abe turned away from the back door, looked at them in the car, and shrugged his shoulders. He held his keys up in the air to indicate he was having trouble with them. Then he tried to get the key to work again. He pounded on the door with enough force to hurt his hand. He stopped, stood still with his back to them for what seemed a long time. When he turned again, he glared at them, and then ran around the side of the building where they couldn’t see him. He probably would try the useless keys in the front door.
Lev bowed his head. Hada, for once, was quiet.
After a few minutes, Lev raised his head and saw Abe rounding the corner of the building, running toward them. He opened the car door and bent down to look at them. “I’m locked out! Did you know about this? What’s up with Samuel locking me out? He told you, didn’t he? I thought it was strange that he was in no rush to see you. How long has this charade been planned? You knew the keys wouldn’t work.”
Lev lowered his eyes and thought he would vomit. The good thing was that Hada didn’t answer.
Abe slammed the car door and Lev heard the trunk open. A minute later, Abe ran to the back door of the office with a toolbox. “He is going to break in.” Lev said.
Hada didn’t comment or hum. Lev turned around to look at her, but she stared straight ahead. As well as he knew her, he couldn’t tell what she was thinking. Was it anguish? She gave birth to this son too. She had to see how wrong this was.
Lev faced forward and closed his eyes. He didn’t open them when Hada reported, “He got in.”
“I am not surprised.” Lev and Abe had spent many hours together in the basement of the family home where Lev taught an eager-to-learn son everything he knew about engineering, how to fix things, and how to make things out of practically nothing. Abe could assess any situation and know what to do.
After about a half an hour, Hada tapped Lev’s shoulder. “What is he doing? What does he have in his arms?”
Abe passed the car with not so much as a glance at them, his arms filled with legal-sized folders. Lev looked in the rear-view mirror but the opened trunk blocked his view. Then Abe ran past them again toward the office, his arms free.
“I think he is taking patient folders.” Lev answered Hada. “Probably going for more.”
Abe, with folder-laden arms, rushed past them three or four times, and finally he shut the trunk, slid into the driver’s seat, and started the engine. As he pulled out of the parking space, Lev cringed as Hada said, “Abe, you left the back door to the office wide open.”
Abe didn’t answer but continued to drive uncharacteristically speeding, and arriving back at his house in record time. He kept the engine running as he unlocked the front door, left it open for them, and then disappeared inside. Lev got out of the car and helped Hada. Together they made their way into the house.
When they entered and sat down in the living room, they waited for Abe to stop pacing in the hallway. Finally, he stood in the archway and with a shaking voice said, “I’m leaving now and I want you both gone by the time I come back. Call a cab, call Samuel, do whatever you want for transportation, but I don’t want to see you or anyone else here when I return.” He stormed out of the room, slammed the front door, and was gone.
Hada turned a surprised face to Lev who sat in the large armchair, his hands folded, resting on his stomach. “One night we’ve had here and now what?”
“Now what, you ask?” Lev stared at the fireplace. “She asks ‘now what’ when the damage could have been prevented.”
“Well, I thought we three could talk this over, but he has kicked us out of the house.” She had a little-girl look on her face, but Lev had no sympathy.
“It is what we deserve, Hada. I’ll call a cab to take us to the nearest Hilton. Pack our things.” Lev rose, went to the telephone table, and pulled his glasses out of his coat pocket. He put them on, paged through the phone directory, and then paused when he noticed that Hada did not get up. He looked at her above his reading glasses. “So why are you not packing?”
“Maybe we should call Samuel first.” She pushed herself out of the couch, limped over to Lev, and put her hand on his shoulder.
“Why?” He asked her. “So he comes here and then how do we get him out of this house before Abe returns and they have fist-o-cuffs? No, Hada, we call him from the hotel.”
“Oi” Hada shuffled down the hall to the guest bedroom.
Lev took a deep breath before he called the cab company. He looked around the living room at Abe’s minimal decorations. Nissa made sure she left no sign that she and Jacob had a home here.
In the sparse room, Lev spoke aloud, “It is enough already for Abe to deal with a pending divorce, a business lawsuit, and now this.” He put his arm up in an exasperated gesture to the fireplace as if it could understand.
Chapter Four: Scene One
From the passenger side of the Honda, Lev looked out of the car window and focused on the passing Berkeley street scene. It hurt too much to see his youngest son happy. Abe’s body made slight movements of what seemed like barely-contained excitement as he drove, his eyes sparkled, and his broad smile held an innocent quality. Lev knew Abe was proud of his business success and that he was eager to take them to the office for treatments. In a few minutes, all that would change.
Lowering his head, Lev regretted Samuel’s master plan and Hada’s insistence it was the only way to handle the situation. He felt like a traitor. She said it would get this mess over quickly. She liked simple solutions—to be done with whatever issue was up, make necessary changes, and then go on with life. No long drawn-out arguments, no hurt feelings, accept and move on. Her parents’ unyielding control made her adopt a simple philosophy while growing up. Painful feelings were buried in order to survive. The tough fiber that covered the delicate petals of a blooming soul was what attracted Lev to Hada years ago.
But today, that soul was hard to find. Lev listened as Hada answered Abe’s question about how often her feet and ankles swelled.
“Only if I sit or stand too long. At home, it helps when I rest them on the foot stool.” She sighed.
Lev turned to see Abe’s response. He wanted to tell him that the swelling was more frequent than Hada admitted.
Abe shook his head, “It’s not good to have all that congestion, Mom. We’ll have to find out what’s causing it.”
Lev had confidence in Abe’s abilities to help his mother. If this swelling predicted a serious health problem, Abe would find it. He had followed in Samuel’s professional training, but unlike Samuel, who specialized in sports injuries, Abe had added a muscle testing technique to assess the body. However, would Abe choose not to help Hada once they arrived at the office and the plan became obvious?
Hada chatted as if nothing was amiss. How could she pretend that everything was normal? Lev knew she would ignore Abe’s devastated face when he realized that his parents had betrayed him too. As the stress increased in Lev’s stomach, the reflux burned his throat and he swallowed the need to moan.
Hada sounded sincere. “Look at those brilliant copper and gold leaves. I always think California has only palm trees, but you do have lovely autumn colors here too.”
Lev squinted his eyes as another sour taste rose in his throat.
“You okay, Dad? Is it your stomach again?” Abe asked. “We’re almost at the office. I’ll give you a treatment before I work on Mom. I want you both in good shape for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. Just like the old days, the four of us together for kosher turkey, right, Mom?”
Abe’s enthusiasm for a family get-together created more pain for Lev. If Abe came to a family Thanksgiving dinner after he discovered what your brother had done, it would be a miracle.
Lev remembered the boys growing up and how Samuel tortured Abe and called him a weakling. He made sure their mother never heard any of it, but if she did, she wouldn’t believe it anyway. She would chalk it up to brothers teasing each other.
Lev had tried to harness Samuel’s energy and lead him down a path of higher integrity and compassion, but Samuel disregarded his father’s authority, his advice, and his views. Since Samuel was able to convince Hada of anything, he had full range of manipulation and at times he grinned at Lev as if to say, “She even prefers me over you.” When did the take-over for head of the family happen? Lev had not seen it coming—a forty-year old son taking over the father’s position as if he were dead already.
With Lev on one side of her and Abe on the other, Hada climbed the four cement steps up to Abe’s front door.
“We need to fix those feet of yours, Mom.” Abe unlocked the door and held it open for his parents.
“Yes, of course, you and Samuel can take care of this problem for me.” Hada’s body demanded more oxygen. She tried to hide the deep breaths she needed to take. Abe led her into the hallway and helped her off with her coat. When she trudged into the living room, it looked sparser than the last time she was there.
“Where are all your pictures and paintings? This room is bare.” Hada dropped her blue leather purse onto the cocktail table and plopped down on the sofa. She put her hand on her chest in the hope that her lungs would breathe normally and her heart would calm down. The room looked like she felt—worn and gloomy.
Abe sat on the edge of the sofa and faced her, “Nissa took most of everything…,and, of course, she took our Jacob too…when she moved to Los Angeles.”
Hada’s throat felt thick when Abe’s eyes watered. Swallowing didn’t clear it. “Oh, of course, I forgot. Is the divorce final yet?”
“Hada, I told you it was final before we left New Jersey.” Lev frowned at her from where he sat near the red brick fireplace.
Hada turned her head away from him and brushed her flushed forehead with the back of her hand. She’d been with Abe for only an hour and already had caused him pain in reminding him of his broken family. “Oh, yes, yes, I remember now. I just had…what do they call it now, a senior moment?” Hada’s mind-chatter repeated, coming here is overwhelming, too overwhelming.
Wrinkles had developed under Abe’s eyes, and he looked grayer and thinner. It must be terrible for him to have his only son Jacob so far away, and what about the child? A son needs his father around. Then there were Nissa’s parents having to adjust to an adult daughter returning with a young son, disrupting their peaceful home. Nissa only thought of herself, but that wasn’t new. She was self-centered, not at all like Samuel’s wife who put everyone else first.
Nothing to be done about that now. Hada’s mother would say that Abe had to make the best of it. Ma always said that the trouble with younger sons was all the fortitude and ingenuity are bred into the first-born. Abe would have to suffer until he learned to be like his brother. Samuel was the model of success and Abe needed to pay attention to how his brother made it.
For now, father and son chatted about the flight from New Jersey. Abe’s voice sounded excited, like a little boy having friends over to his house for the first time.
“Are you both hungry? What can I get for you?” Abe’s brown eyes twinkled; the same brown eyes as his father’s. They were the kind of eyes that sent a ray of light through her old bones and warmed them. Samuel’s eyes were brown too, but they were small and, she had to admit, they lacked the depth of the eyes that glowed now.
When they arrived in California less than an hour ago, Hada was hungry, but she somehow lost her appetite. “No, thank you, dear, no food, and I had enough coffee on the plane. I think I would like to lie down and put my feet up, maybe get this swelling down.”
“Sure, Mom. What about you, Dad, hungry?” Before Lev could answer, the phone rang and Abe excused himself. He stretched the phone’s long cord out of the room and into the hall as he answered.
Lev started to speak to Hada, but she shushed him so she could overhear Abe’s conversation from the hallway.
“Yes, I just brought them home from the airport. Mom wants to lie down for a while before dinner. We’ll go to the office tomorrow and I’ll treat her feet. They’re swollen from the plane ride.”
There was a long silence as Abe listened to the other person on the line.
“Okay. Then we’ll see you on Thanksgiving.”
When Hada heard Abe say good-bye, she asked Lev to help her take off her shoes to disguise their eavesdropping. Abe returned with that distant look that Hada had learned was his way of processing what he just heard or his feelings about it. “So, Abe, what’s wrong?”
“That was Samuel. He asked about you and Dad and said he’s going to be busy tomorrow with his friend, Dario. He’ll see you both at noon on Thanksgiving.”
“So? That’s fine. We all have our own lives to live,” Hada said, knowing why Samuel made an excuse. He didn’t want to be at the office tomorrow when Abe found out what he had done.
“It seems strange, that’s all,” Abe said. “He can see Dario anytime. He hasn’t seen you for a year. I would think he’d be at the door right now to give you both a hug.” Abe smiled but the ray of light in his eyes was missing. Hada felt a familiar pinging in her chest. She’d have to control her feelings.
Lev paced the floor, but Hada ignored him. She hoped he wouldn’t give the plan away because he didn’t agree with it.
She sighed, “Oi, Abe. It’s just as well. I am tired. After you treat my feet tomorrow, and if I am up to it, maybe we could go to that wonderful garden up on the hill where you took me some years ago?” Hada reached for Lev to help her off the sofa, but seemingly unaware of her, he kept pacing.
Abe stepped closer and boosted her to a standing position. She flinched and he let go. She looked away from his questioning eyes and brushed her skirt as if there were invisible crumbs.
“Okay, dear, help me to the guest room.” She clasped his arm for support—the only closeness she could offer while Samuel’s whispers repeated in her ear, “Loyalty, Mom. Remember your loyalty to me.”
The automatic doors opened to a sunny outside. The cool Oakland air cleansed the conflict debris from Lev’s lungs. He welcomed the joy he felt for the first time since they left home. And soon they would be with Abe.
Lev heard a car horn and a gray Honda Accord pulled up to the curb. Abe hopped out with a big grin, gave them both a hug, and opened the car doors.
With a loud voice, Hada directed them. “Thank you, dear. It’s good of you to pick us up. I’ll sit in the back. Lev, with your long legs, you sit in the front.”
Before entering the Honda, Lev checked his son the same way he did when he was young—looking for bruises, cuts, or signs of stress. At forty, Abe had graying hair that was thinning on top but he still had a boyishness about him. Six feet, five inches tall and yet so innocent. He didn’t look like a son gone crazy. Lev squared his jaw but a pain gripped his stomach. Just as he thought, Samuel was the crazy one, crazy with greed, with jealously, with a bloated ego.
How had he been coerced into taking part in Samuel’s secret plan that would crush Abe?
Holding open the door on the passenger side of the car, Abe asked, “Ready, Dad?”
Lev clung to the love he saw in his son’s eyes, yet his heart panicked at the thought that Abe’s love might turn to hate tomorrow when the first step of his brother’s plan unfolded.
When the plane landed at the Oakland Airport, Lev expanded his chest with breaths of fresh air and exhaled the tension from the arguments with Hada. She continued to be too biased to listen—always had been. As she limped alongside him to the baggage pick-up area, his concern for her swollen feet and ankles mounted. He motioned to a row of seats near the baggage carousels.
“Sit here, Hada, I’ll bring the luggage to you.” He held her elbow as she lowered herself into one of the plastic chairs..
Hada tilted her head in the direction of a girl two chairs down who wore a tight, short skirt. The girl’s cropped hair stuck up in red, pink, and black spikes that looked as if someone had painted the Statue of Liberty’s crown and glued it to her head. She talked on a pink cell phone and giggled often.
Lev smiled his forced-patience smile. “A sign of the times in the fashion world, my dear. Are you comfortable?”
“Oi, Lev, comfortable you ask? No, I’m not. I told you the plane ride would be too long for me. My ankles and feet are swollen and painful, just as I predicted. But never mind. Abe or Samuel will help all that. Just run along now and get our bags. I’ll be fine. It’s better than being on the plane, and I even have entertainment.” She jerked her head in the girl’s direction.
As he walked to the baggage carousel, Lev knew Hada would make conversation with the girl. They could be the best of friends by the time he came back with the luggage. If Hada was curious, there was no stopping her. He loved that about her.
Passengers had lined up three deep for their luggage. Lev picked a spot behind a mother and her child and thought about the decision to come to Berkeley. Maybe he should have let Hada stay in New Jersey. But at her age, it wasn’t wise to leave her home alone, and with Samuel’s sabotage tactics, he had to do something to protect Abe. Worst of all, Lev worried about Hada’s anger against him for the first time in all the years of their marriage. Was he sacrificing their relationship to save Abe? Maybe it had been a mistake to come to California.
Lev counted the pieces of luggage as he took them off the carousel, stacked them neatly on a wheeled cart, and then pushed the load toward Hada. He couldn’t help but grin. There she was on the edge of her seat in animated conversation with the girl who had moved to a seat closer to Hada. It looked as if the girl was describing how she styled her hair to make it stand up in spikes. She waved one hand up the back of her head and made a twisting motion at the top of the red point. Hada had an enthusiastic smile. Thankfully, the girl provided a diversion from the serious nature of this trip. He parked the cart to one side of the seats.
“Oi Vay, what a lot of work you do with your hair,” Hada said to the girl. Then, with sparkling eyes, she acknowledged Lev. “Darling, this is Annabel. This is my husband Lev, short for Levi.” She motioned to him with a sweep of her hand and a proud expression that made him feel warmer under his cashmere sweater.
“How do you do, Sir? I’m Annabel Lee…you know, from Poe’s poem.” The girl stood up and tried to pull her short skirt down, but it wouldn’t budge. She held out her right hand, with black polished fingernails. Lev shook her hand, “What a lovely name. I surmise you like poetry?”
Hada nodded several times and answered for Annabel. “She is in the creative writing program at the university.”
“UC Irvine,” Annabel said. “My boyfriend and I are reincarnations of Poe and Annabel. Characters in written work are real, you know. I’m living proof of it. This time I won’t die because I won’t let highborn people in power take me away…you know, like in the poem. This time around, Edgar and I can continue our lives in love with each other.”
Lev thought her face looked like a young child who was thrilled to be playing house but, at the same time, she seemed like an accomplished actress ready for her next performance.
Hada smiled at Lev. “Edgar Allen is on his way to pick her up now.”
As Annabel bent over to retrieve her backpack from the floor, Lev looked away to avoid what he feared would be an embarrassing sight. Girls were naive about short skirts these days.
“Edgar’s late because he wanted to finish the poem he’s writing for my Thanksgiving visit with him,” she said, drawing back Lev’s attention. “We’re going to spend four glorious days in bed like John Lennon and Yoko Ono did. Edgar’s friends will bring us food, even some leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. Isn’t that romantic?” Annabel swooned into the chair.
Hada’s eyebrows rose higher than Lev had ever seen them, and her back stiffened. He sensed one of her lectures was forthcoming, so he said, “I am sure you will have a wonderful time, Annabel Lee. As Hada probably told you, we are meeting our son, Abe, as in…you know…Abraham, and we should be going out to the sidewalk where he might be waiting. Please excuse us.” Lev helped Hada up from her seat. She pulled away from him to pat Annabel’s arm.
“It was wonderful to meet you, dear. Have a nice visit, but remember to study too. Even creative artists need diplomas.”
“Yes, Hadassah, I will. And try that new style for your hair, I’d bet you’d love it.” Annabel stood and gave Hada a hug. “When I saw you both walking over here, I knew you would be wonderful characters to add to my list for future stories. So pleased to meet you both.” She hugged Lev hard enough that he grabbed onto the railing of the cart to steady himself. “Oh, sorry, Sir. I’m just so excited to know you. Bye.”
“Good-bye,” Lev and Hada said at the same time.
“Shalom…Shalom.” Annabel called to them as they left the baggage department. “Shalom.”
Lev pushed the cart with Hada’s arm around his. All was well with them, at least for a while. “Shalom. I haven’t heard that word in a long time.”
Hada laughed, “A sweet girl really. She’s bright and respectful. And…” Hada stopped and tugged Lev’s arm until he bent down so his ear was closer to her level.
Hada whispered, “She suggested I change my hairdo. What do you think, dear?”
“No need. You always look beautiful to me.”
“Oi, I thought you would say that. Thank you, but you spoil me with compliments. It might be time for a change in my appearance after all these years.” Hada squeezed his arm.
Chapter One Scene Two:
A few minutes later, in first class, Lev asked, “How did you manage this?”
“Never mind. Enjoy it.” Hada pursed her lips and searched for a good magazine in the stack the flight attendant had given her. “After what you said about Samuel, I considered coming here alone and leaving you in row 36.”
“I’m sorry the truth angers you.” His smile looked as tired as his eyes.
Her friends in New Jersey would say a good wife sympathizes with her husband’s worry, but his insistence that he was right sent a rush of fire up her throat to her tongue. “Truth? Truth, you say? Truth from your perspective is not truth from mine.” In Hada’s ears, her heartbeat competed with the hum of the plane’s engine.
“We have two sons. Will you consider what Samuel might be doing to his brother?” Lev’s tone had a softer sound, but Hada resolved not to let him get his way. ”Yes, he’s helping Abe.”
Another flight attendant appeared. “Would you like a cocktail?”
“Just coffee for me. No cream or sugar.” Hada straightened the folds in her blue linen skirt. Maybe the coffee would take away the metallic taste that remained in her mouth from the memory of the whip.
“Coffee coming right up. And you, sir?” The flight attendant’s friendliness made her feel like she was in a movie, a movie where everything looked perfect until something jumped up and grabbed you.
“A club soda, please,” Lev patted Hada’s knee.
One more pat and she would scream. She shoved his hand away with the rolled-up magazine. “You say Samuel is sabotaging his brother. What about Samuel’s prosperity? He’s the more successful person in their partnership, and if he thinks Abe is having a breakdown, then it must be true. Abe’s tantrums are interfering with the patients’ treatments at the office. Samuel had no other choice. He had to preserve the business.” A voice in Hada’s head repeated, “Say no more, say no more, say no more.”
Lev took the airline magazine from Hada and flipped through it “I would be very surprised if…oh, never mind. Let’s stop talking about it.”
Injustice from the past rose again. “Who was with those boys all day long when they were growing up and you were at work? Abe never listened to Samuel and when he got hurt, he would blame his older brother. You and Abe accused Samuel every time something went wrong. You don’t give Samuel the respect of being the firstborn.”
Lev kept turning pages of the magazine and didn’t look at her. “A first-born who manipulates, who deliberately puts his younger brother in danger, and then denies any wrong-doing? Samuel deserves no respect.” He put the magazine down, leaned his head toward the far edge of the seat, and closed his eyes. “Enough on this topic.”
Hada’s voice rose. “You want the last word.” She noticed people in the seats near them turned around to look at her. She lowered her voice, “I will not stand for your accusations. Samuel is a loving son and brother.”
She reached for her shoes and struggled with the blue leather straps. They dented her swollen arches. Confident the shoes wouldn’t slip off, she left them unbuckled and shuffled to the lavatory, this time at the front of the plane. Her shoulders sagged and as short as she was, she must have shrunk a few more inches during the flight.
Inside the tiny space of the lavatory, she hung onto the child-sized sink. She covered her mouth to muffle her sobs; sobs for every minute the plane took her further from her life in New Jersey. Aching inside, Hada doubled over the sink and let the pent-up tears flow. She turned the faucet on to wash her hands, but let the water, untouched, go down the drain along with her retirement, her peace.
Chapter One Scene One Continued:
“Abe needs us if he’s having a nervous breakdown. If Samuel is lying, then he’s out to destroy his younger brother. Either way, we have to be in California.”
Hada wasn’t going to fall for his point of view. She squirmed and imagined poking her elbows into both men’s ribs to make them move over and give her more room. Air; there wasn’t enough air on this plane. “That’s nonsense. Samuel doesn’t want to destroy Abe.”
Lev’s voice had a low, angry pitch, “Then why didn’t he discuss the business problems with his brother? Why have secret plans?”
Hada unbuckled her seatbelt with shaking hands. “Abe was pounding the walls and acting irrational. How can two people resolve anything when one is crazy?” Of course, she knew Abe couldn’t be going crazy. It was stress from his recent divorce that probably sent him into temper tantrums. The men were overreacting, that’s all. In a few weeks, everything would be back to normal. Meanwhile she was up-rooted and forced into this cage called a plane. She had been forced to leave her peaceful home and garden, her friends, and her volunteer work with the children at the temple. For how long, she wasn’t sure, probably longer than she could endure.
Lev leaned back and stretched his legs into the aisle. “Samuel is exaggerating to get rid of Abe. All his life he’s been waiting for this moment to ruin his brother.”
Hada groaned. Lev had to have the last word. She sprang out of her seat, forgetting the overhead baggage compartment and skimmed it with the top of her head. She brushed her short gray hair with her hand to be sure it was in place.
“Let me out, Lev.” She bumped her husband’s upper thigh with her knees, forcing him to pull his long legs out of the aisle. “Move. Let me out.”
“I will, I will. Hold on a minute.” He rose from his seat in a crouched position checking the height of the overhang before straightening.
“Enough already.” She pushed against him and wriggled into the aisle. Her feet had swollen, making it hard to keep her balance as she hobbled down the aisle toward the back of the plane. She clung to the top of each seat and huffed, avoiding eye contact with other passengers. When she was about to enter the small lavatory, the whiff of staleness stopped her. She looked at the floor and winced. She had forgotten to put on her shoes and her thin nylon stockings wouldn’t protect her feet from who-knew-what on the floor of a public toilet.
Hada closed the door without entering. No one else was waiting, and being there was a good excuse to get away from Lev’s barrage of charges against Samuel.
A pain burst into her feet and brought a flash of the whip her mother had used to discipline her as a child. She remembered the sound of the swish before the tip gripped both of her ankles at once and stung her into agony. She would sputter ‘sorry, sorry’, without knowing what she had done wrong. It did no good to ask. Ma said she should know better. The trouble was she didn’t know. She was only six. S-o-r-r-y. S-o-r-r-y.
Hada brushed her eyes with the backs of her hands like she did then but realized there were no tears now. The ankles had swollen from the plane ride. No whip here, she told herself, as if comforting the child from long ago. She smoothed her hose that had twisted around one ankle. If she could sit where there was enough room, she could rub her feet and increase circulation, but everyone in the row ahead of her had their seats reclined.
She leaned against the door and closed her eyes. She wished she were back in New Jersey, in her beautiful garden, even if the snow covered the curved path and the birdbath. None of her flowers bloomed in November, but there was peace in the garden, peace in her home. Was peace too much to ask for in retirement? Let the boys fight it out themselves. They fought when they were young and hadn’t stopped yet. Why Samuel and Abe had gone into business together fifteen years ago, she’d never know.
“Are you all right?” A flight attendant’s question made Hada snap to attention. She pushed herself away from her support, causing her to be off-balance for a moment. The attendant reached for Hada’s arm to steady her.
“Four hours of claustrophobia and you ask if I’m all right?” Hada rolled her eyes at the younger woman.
“Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?” The twinkle at the corners of the woman’s eyes gave Hada hope.
“Massage my feet?”
The flight attendant glanced down. “Swollen, aren’t they? Where is your seat?”
“36B.” Hada turned the corners of her lips into an exaggerated crestfallen expression. “Between two tall men.”
“We have an opening in first class where there is more room. Would you like to move there?”
“Yes, I would, but my husband is one of the big men in row 36.” Hada took a deep breath, sitting on this plane could get better.
“I think there might be a seat for him too.” The attendant cocked her head in a motion for Hada to follow her.
“That would be lovely, dear. Thank you.” Hada didn’t add that it would be extra lovely if Lev didn’t talk for the rest of the flight.
By Julaina Kleist-Corwin
Chapter One Scene One
Hada Maksimov wanted to grab a parachute and escape from the airplane. She was sandwiched between her husband, Lev, on the aisle side and a stranger on the window side. She had no desire to be on this trip to Berkeley and resented Lev’s insistence that they go. She pulled some tissue out of her purse, rolled two pieces into balls, and stuffed them in her ears to muffle the sound, but her feet sensed the droning vibration. The hum of the engine filled her head and the quivering of the floor during the last four hours put her on the brink of a panic attack.
The flight was full. No row had two empty seats where she could have some elbowroom and sit away from Lev and his muttering about the importance of this trip to California. Maybe she’d ask the stranger next to her if he thought the middle seat was the worst. They could chat about it. Maybe he’d feel sorry for her and offer to trade. She didn’t long for the window seat. There was nothing to see at that altitude and it wasn’t any more spacious than where she slumped in the middle. What she wanted was a human wall between her and Lev’s pointless attempts to convince her of their firstborn’s intentions.
“It’s trickery,” Lev said. “Does Samuel have to resort to trickery?”
He must have said those same words a dozen times since they left Jersey. No need to respond, he didn’t like her comments anyway. It wasn’t trickery. It was strategy, isn’t that what Samuel called it? She closed her eyes and spelled strategy several times, hoping to put herself to sleep. S-t-r-a-t-e-g-y. S-t-r-a-t-e-g-y. It didn’t work; the tightness in her chest prevented any relaxation.
The vice-like metal armrests gripped her hundred ten pounds, and the men’s arms left no room for hers. Hada wriggled in her seat wondering how people with wider bodies endured plane travel. She didn’t like arguments, but arguing was better than thinking about her discomfort. “There’s no need for us to go through all this trouble. The boys are grown men who can settle their own squabbles.”
Lev straightened his posture. “You’re missing the point. I’ve told you, it’s more than a squabble.” He shifted his body weight causing his shoulder to press against hers.
She pulled away to rescue her arm and avoid eye contact with him. Leaning toward the passenger on the other side, she strained to look out of the window at the white world. Who said it was a wifely duty to follow a husband’s lead—for fifty years already? Hada stretched her neck with the pretense of seeing something eye-catching and spoke aloud, “I’ve had no choice but to leave my home and go all the way across the nation.”
The stranger peered above his magazine at her and said, “Excuse me?”
“Never mind. I wasn’t talking to you.” Poor fellow. I must have sounded rude. It wasn’t his fault that I don’t want to be on this plane. She smiled and gave the stranger more space, but noticed the magazine that he raised above his eyes. An ad on the back cover promoted a cruise to Alaska.
A cruise to Alaska, now that would be a nice trip. She nudged Lev, drawing his attention to the ad. “We’ve never been on a cruise.”
“You want to go on a cruise? We will go on a cruise,” Lev said.
“How can we go on a cruise when you insist on dragging me to a state I don’t like so we can mediate a conflict? You know I hate conflict.”
Hada felt Lev’s body twitch. After all their years of marriage, she knew when her words hurt him, twitch, or no twitch. As usual, guilt pinched at her heart and then hid somewhere, maybe in her bones. He did what he thought was best for the family, but it took a toll on her as well as on him. His eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep, and his cheeks had a grayish hue. Wrinkle lines had increased on his face and his hair had thinned in the last few weeks. Nevertheless, his reasons and his words were complete gibberish.