Rabbi and Mrs. Asoulin pay a shivah call to the Barkoffs. As they are returning home, Mrs. Asoulin suggests Rabbi Asoulin’s brother as a potential shidduch for Rena.
* * *
The following day, Mrs. Nathan arrived with what she thought was good news.
“The airports have reopened!” she exclaimed, dropping off her morning breakfast packages on the counter. “You can go home now!”
It was already the fifth day of shivah, and were they to travel that day, they would lose the last two precious days devoted entirely to the memory of their husband and father. Mrs. Barkoff was the first to respond.
“Rena and I have already decided to stay on because we need to deal with the house,” she said. “Suri and Mattel, what do you want to do?”
Mattel knew that everything was under control at home. Between her husband, her housekeeper, her babysitter and her in-laws, her family was well taken care of.
“I think I can stay,” she said calmly. “I’ll have to check with my husband of course, but it should be all right.”
“What about you, Suri?” her mother asked.
Suri’s face clouded so instantaneously that they all assumed something had happened between Leib and the children that she hadn’t told them yet.
“Do you want to hear something absurd? I haven’t even spoken to the children since I’ve been gone. I’ve spoken to Bubby Weinbach a few times, but I keep missing the kids. If you don’t think I should be worried, then I’ll stay. But if you think I should be worried, then I’ll leave. What do you think, Ma?”
Mrs. Barkoff was quick and decisive. “I will phone first thing in the morning their time. I’ll get right to the bottom of it, okay? If there’s any funny business going on, we’ll take care of it. What’s your gut feeling?”
“My gut feeling is that everything is fine. But I want to hear their voices! I miss them so much. I’ve never been away from them this long. Even when I had Mordechai, I brought Shimmy back from my friend as soon as I came home from the hospital so I wouldn’t be separated from him.”
“Maybe that’s the problem,” Rena muttered, only to receive a sharp look from her mother.
Mrs. Nathan had been trying to follow all the deliberations, and now she clapped her hands together in the same way a judge might bang a gavel in a courtroom. “So. What are we doing?”
“It looks like we’ll all be staying,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “At least until the end of shivah, pending Mattel’s conversation with her husband and Suri’s conversation with her children.”
“Okay. That’s settled. Breakfast anyone?”
* * *
The day passed slowly, with no visitors at all, until four o’clock, when, as it can happen, a few people came in at one time. The first to arrive were Mima Leah and her daughter Mirish, once again bearing large amounts of food. Fetter Chezkel had to work, and so Mirish had accompanied her mother to Jerusalem that day.
“I can’t get over how much she looks like you,” Suri whispered to Mattel. “It’s uncanny.”
“It’s genetics,” answered Mattel, always practical.
“It’s eerie genetics, okay?” Suri shot back.
“Besides, from what I can tell, we have such different personalities. I’m upbeat and she looks pretty sour.”
“They say that a person’s personality alters their facial features,” said Suri.
“Whatever. I’m not about to become best friends with her just because we look alike,” said Mattel.
“Why not? You might have other things in common.”
“I doubt it.”
They didn’t realize Mirish was approaching until she had already joined them.
“Why are you wasting all of that tin foil?” she asked, taking the roll from Mattel’s hands. Mattel had been trying to wrap up some leftovers to make more space for the new batch of food Mima Leah had brought. Mattel and Suri watched, fascinated, as Mirish used up the barest amount of tin foil possible and still covered all the food. Then she took the old disposable aluminum pans Mattel had stacked up on the counter to throw away, and rinsed them one by one, stacking them like dinner plates in the dish drain to dry.
“What are you doing?” said Mattel. “I was throwing them out.”
“If you’re not going to reuse them, I’ll bring them back with us,” said Mirish.
Suri and Mattel glanced at each other.
“What’s the problem?” said Mirish.
Mattel controlled her reaction with difficulty. “Who reuses disposable pans? Isn’t the whole point so that you can throw them out?”
Mirish clucked her tongue and tossed her head, and Mattel knew what she was thinking.
“Spoiled Americans, right?” Mattel said out loud.
Mirish smiled. “No. Just sour-faced Israelis.” And she turned back to join her mother, but not before gathering the pans and putting them in a cloth bag she’d brought with her.
“What was that all about?” said Suri.
“I’m not sure. But I think we’ve just been bested by an expert,” said Mattel.
“We should take lessons,” said Suri.
“I don’t think it would help. I think you need to be born with it.”
“I wondered whose genes she gets it from,” said Suri.
“Mima Leah, probably.” She looked over at the older woman, speaking seriously with her mother. “Yes. Mima Leah. Definitely.”
The second set of visitors to walk in were the Asoulins. They were noticed right away this time, and Rena greeted them.
“Who are they?” asked Mima Leah, making no effort to be discreet.
Rena and her mother exchanged a questioning look: Should we tell Mima Leah about the house? their eyes asked each other. We will never hear the end of it if we do.
“This is Rabbi Aron and Mrs. Natalie Asoulin,” said Mrs. Barkoff smoothly. “They are friends of Rena’s. Please, come and sit down. This is my aunt, Leah Epstein and her daughter, my cousin Mirish.”
To be continued …