Mrs. Barkoff discovers that her husband purchased a house in Jerusalem. He leaves a letter explaining why he did not tell her about it while they were living in America.
* * *
Mrs. Barkoff set the letter down quietly in her lap after she finished reading it.
“What’s it say?” said Mattel.
“Mattel,” Rena clucked, “let her catch her breath.”
“I suppose we have no secrets from each other,” said Mrs. Barkoff, handing the letter to Rena to read. “Or do we?”
Rena stared guiltily down at the letter, recognizing her father’s handwriting at once. “Why did you think it was a hoax? This is clearly Tatty’s writing,” said Rena.
“Read it and you’ll see. I don’t think it’s a hoax now. I believe what it says there, but at the same time I don’t believe it.”
The three women huddled together, each trying to read the letter from the angle at which she was sitting. Shapiro and Mrs. Nathan looked on, not quite sure what was going on, but willing spectators to whatever would unfold.
By the time they had finished reading, two faces looked up very surprised, and one less so. “You knew about this, Rena?” said Suri. “Is that what Ma is implying?”
“I didn’t exactly know about it. Something happened. I needed Tatty’s help for something, and it was only because we needed to help somebody that he told me about it.”
“Where is it?” said Mattel. “Is it near here?”
“Actually, it is. I went over to have a look that first morning we were here. It was a big zechus, what Tatty did.”
“How long have you known about it?” asked Mrs. Barkoff.
“I don’t know. A few years, I guess.”
“Well, you and Tatty are certainly full of surprises,” said Mrs. Barkoff.
“Please don’t be angry, Ma,” said Rena. “Tatty asked me in the strongest terms not to tell you. He didn’t spend a lot of money. He got it at auction; it was being foreclosed.”
“According to the papers, it’s worth a fortune now,” said Mattel. “Shapiro had it appraised last year. It’s worth about four million dollars.”
Mrs. Barkoff sighed. It wasn’t the money that was bothering her, neither what he spent nor what it was worth now. It was the whole web of intrigue surrounding it. Just the day before Rena had asked to talk, to share her past, and she’d been willing to do so. Finding out that the two of them had kept something so important from her was unsettling.
She ran through a list of feelings, trying to figure out what it was she was experiencing, and like a ball circumnavigating the roulette wheel, she landed on disappointment. The fact that her husband had not told her about the house made her feel that their life together might not have been what she thought it was. And now that he was gone, there was no way to turn back the clock, do it all again, know about the house, and live together with that knowledge added in.
In this life that she never got to live, her longing to return home would be acknowledged and not hidden. They would have come to Israel every now and then to visit, stay in this beautiful house, and share Israel together. Her first language would not have had to remain hidden under her tongue. All of these things were lost to her now.
Those feelings of yearning she had experienced after seeing Mima Leah and Fetter Chezkel yesterday, those feelings of hope and possibility, felt so foolish now. True, she would not be betraying her husband if she returned, but rather would be doing his will.
“Mrs. Barkoff,” said Shapiro, “what would you like to do? Will you sign this document, please?”
“Mr. Shapiro,” said Mrs. Barkoff, “I appreciate your trustworthiness and efficiency, but I absolutely cannot deal with this right now. However, what I will do is remain here for the rest of the shivah, and take care of it afterwards. If I don’t mourn my husband properly now, and I get distracted by other things, I will never get this opportunity again.”
“I understand. So. Here is my business card. After shivah, you phone me, I come, and we’ll do what we need to do.”
“Now if you permit, I will sit one moment and be menachem avel.” Shapiro sat down quietly. After a few moments, he stood up and uttered the passuk with sincerity.
“Good luck to you,” he said on his way out, closing the door gently behind him.
“Only in Israel does your real estate manager do nichum aveilim as well,” said Suri drily.
“Yes, definitely one of those ‘only-in-Israel’ stories,” Mattel agreed.
“Please forgive me,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “I am simply exhausted. I must go lie down for a short while.”
“Of course,” said Rena, standing up to escort her mother. For once, Mrs. Barkoff allowed herself to be led.
“Are you okay?” she asked gently as she helped her mother into bed.
“No, Rena. I am not,” said Mrs. Barkoff tiredly. “I am flummoxed.”
Rena smiled. “Flummoxed? What kind of word is flummoxed?”
“Your father and I, when he was first teaching me English, we would learn a new word every day. One of the words he taught me was flummoxed, and I remember it to this day.”
“You used it perfectly,” said Rena. “It’s not easy to find a situation where the word applies, but you did it, Ma.”
“Why didn’t you tell me, sweetheart?” said Mrs. Barkoff.
“Because Tatty asked me not to. If Tatty asked you not to say something, wouldn’t you agree?”
“But Rena, I’m your mother.”
“And a wonderful mother you are. But Tatty was my father, and this is what he asked me to do. He was afraid your knowing about the house would confuse you.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Barkoff, her voice drifting off. “About that he was 100 percent right. But every time I was confused, it was Tatty who would help me sort it all out. Who is going to help me do that now?”
To be continued …