Suri tries again to reach her children on the phone but they are already sleeping. While in conversation with Bubby Weinbach, it is revealed that Leib’s father left his family when Leib was a boy.
Suri felt like she was living in a bad dream. First she discovered that her parents had a whole secret past she was just learning about now. How many children don’t know where their parents were born? And now she learned something even more disturbing and eye-opening about her ex-husband’s childhood. Why was she never told the truth, she couldn’t help thinking. It was forcing her, very much against her will, to recalibrate many parts of her life.
When she thought that Leib’s father had passed away, she had felt pity for him in that distant way one feels about something about which they have no personal experience when their own father is alive and vibrant. But having crossed over to the other side of this divide, she understood there was a major difference between the two losses: Closure. Death is irrevocable. Still her father had loved them until his final day. The levayah and the shivah were wellsprings of some level of short and even long-term comfort and consolation.
But a father who just leaves and never comes back? What does that do to a young boy’s head and heart? She couldn’t even fathom the demons that were lurking in Leib’s mind, heart and soul of which she had been entirely oblivious.
She struggled to fight off feelings of despair.
“Suri?” Bubby Weinbach was still on the other end of the line. “Are you still there?”
“Yes, of course,” said Suri. “I’m just…shocked.”
“I hoped he’d come back to his senses one day. I guess he never did.”
“But what about you?” Suri asked. “Didn’t you want to remarry?”
“What for?” said Bubby Weinbach. “To get my heart broken again? No thank you. Anyway, I had a child to raise. That was my top priority.”
“Uh-huh,” said Suri. Her mind was racing so quickly that she couldn’t continue the conversation. “So, when should I call?”
“Try tomorrow at…let’s see, what’s the time difference there again?”
“We’re seven hours ahead of you.”
“So, you should know the boy’s schedule better than I do. They get home at three, Leib gets here around six. Let’s say call at 10:30, 11:00 p.m. your time. That should do it.”
“Okay, thanks Bubby. Really. For everything,” said Suri.
“It’s our pleasure. They’re our boys too.”
It was only much later that Suri remembered Bubby Weinbach using those words. Our pleasure. Our boys. When she thought about it, a chill ran through her heart, but she couldn’t say why.
Suri stepped out into the kitchen. Her mother, Rena, Mattel and Mrs. Nathan were sitting quietly, three of them in their shivah chairs, and Mrs. Nathan perched on an old-fashioned wooden kitchenette chair. A few people had been in and out, some old high school and seminary friends of each of the Barkoff daughters; a few local people who had heard about the loss; acquaintances of Tzivia Barkoff from Queens and Florida who had relocated to Israel; and some business associates of Rabbi Barkoff.
It was a slow and formal trickle of visitors who sat stiffly and left quickly. No one came who was capable of truly comforting them or warming their hearts. They would simply have to comfort each other.
They were sitting like this, huddled together in a tight circle, when the door opened and a man walked in. In keeping with the laws of aveilus, he waited to be addressed by the mourners.
“Hello?” Mrs. Barkoff said, tentatively.
“Mrs. Tzivia Barkoff?” he announced, like he was addressing an audience.
“Yes. I am Mrs. Barkoff.” She stood up and began to walk over to the unknown visitor. “And you are?”
“My name is Shmuel Shapiro,” he said, a look of expectation on his face.
Mrs. Barkoff was not enlightened. “Do I know you? Should I know you?”
“I am a real estate manager. I manage your property on Rechov David.”
“I’m sorry? I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Your pro-per-ty,” said Mr. Shapiro, as though she couldn’t understand the language he was speaking, and saying it slower would bring more clarity. “In Shechunat Bucharim.”
“What property? Shechunat Bucharim? I live in Florida,” she replied, resorting to her perfect Hebrew.
Now it was Mr. Shapiro’s turn to be confused, both by the rapid change in language and her unwillingness to believe what he was saying. “Giveret, I have here in my hands title deed to property on Rechov David,” he said, the Hebrew flying off his tongue like raindrops, in stark contrast to the halting English he was operating in moments before. “I was specifically instructed, by way of notarized legal documents, that upon the death of the property owner I was to bring title to the widow for signature, thus leaving the property specifically in her hands. Which is what I am doing now. Right now. (Achshav achshav, he emphasized, pointing to the ground.) I’m thinking to take care of two things at one time, to get your signature and to take you to inspect the property. We have renters in one of the upstairs apartments, but the rest are empty. The economy is very, very poor, as you know.”
Mrs. Barkoff turned to Rena in desperation. “Do you know anything about this, Rena?” she asked.
“This house, or property, or whatever he is talking about, here in Israel?”
“Why would I know about it?” asked Rena, her eyes too round and innocent.
“I don’t know,” said her mother, turning to stare at her full in the face. “But why do I have a feeling that you do?”
To be continued …