Rabbi and Mrs. Asoulin suggest Rabbi Asoulin’s brother Yedidiah to Rena as a potential shidduch. She rejects it, until Mima Leah informs her that Yedidiah is a well-known and respected tzaddik. When Rena objects that she doesn’t want to leave her mother, Mrs. Barkoff says she would move to Israel.
* * *
“Come darling,” said Mrs. Barkoff to Suri, taking her by the hand. “Let’s get your children on the phone.”
Suri’s face lit up, grateful that her mother had remembered her promise from earlier in the day.
“If there’s any funny business going on, they won’t try it with me,” her mother said.
“I’m sure there isn’t,” said Suri. “I’m just so far away. And who knows what Leib will do.”
“I’m sure everything is fine. Do you have your cell phone? Go ahead and call.” Suri located Bubby Weinbach’s telephone number in her contacts and pressed firmly. It was ten-thirty in Israel; the boys should be home from school by now.
“Gittel? This is Tzivia Barkoff.”
Suri listened to her mother’s end of the conversation while biting her fingernail to shreds.
“As good as can be expected, I guess. Thank you so much for taking care of the boys. It’s a tremendous relief for Suri to know they are in good hands. Can you put them on the phone please? We’d like to talk to them.”
Suri stood up then to take the phone from her mother, when she was stopped by her mother’s words.
“I understand you put them down for a nap, but it’s okay to wake them. I’ll wait.”
More silence ensued, until Mrs. Barkoff said, “I know it’s inconvenient. I don’t mind waiting. Yes. Wake them up, please. Now.”
Suri had seen her mother stand up for different things over the years, but it was rare that she could remember hearing her use such an authoritative tone. “Your father used to do these types of things,” she said to Suri, holding her hand over the phone’s speaker. Suri realized that’s why her mother’s tone sounded so foreign.
“Shimmy? Is that you sweetheart? It’s Bubby! Did Bubby Weinbach wake you up? No? You were playing with Mordechai? Good! Shimmy, I’ll speak with you after. Mommy wants to talk to you now. I love you too.”
She handed the phone over to Suri and raised her eyebrows in question, but Suri shook her head. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “Thank you, Ma. You’re the best.
“Shimmy! Hello! How are you? I miss you! I know. You must have been so surprised to see Daddy waiting for you. I had to leave very quickly. Are you having fun with Daddy and Bubby Weinbach? Very fun? That’s good, zeeskeit. I’m so glad. Are you taking care of Mordechai? Mmhmm. Yes. Daddy bought you how many books? Wow, 20 is a lot. It probably just seems like 20. Oh, it’s really 20? You counted them? Wow. Yes, I know our books are old, but they’re still good, right? And we go to the library? I know, I know.
“What did Bubby Weinbach make for supper? Oh, Daddy is taking you out to eat? Where will you go? Oh, fleishigs? Good, good.
“Can you put Mordechai on the phone? What? He doesn’t want to talk to me? Do me a favor, zeeskeit, put the phone by his ear. Mordechai? Mordche honey? It’s Mommy! How are you? What, Shimmy? He dropped the phone on the floor? Okay.
“Shimmy, can you put Bubby Weinbach on the phone? It’s okay, take your time. She’s not available? Where is she? Oh. Okay. I’ll call you again tomorrow at this exact time, so you can wait for my call. Oh, Daddy’s picking you up right from school tomorrow? Why? Horseback riding? Oh, that’s different. Why don’t I ever take you? I don’t know. You never asked me! It was Daddy’s idea? Yes, Daddy is very smart and clever. Yes, he’s very nice. I’m happy he bought you toys, but you know toys aren’t everything, right? I know. I know. Well, I don’t know.
“We’ll have to talk about that when Mommy gets home. It’s a little complicated. I know you want to see Daddy after I get home, but he … never mind. I’ll be home in three nights, Shimmy. Three more times to say Krias Shema, and then I’ll be home, and we’ll talk about everything, just like we always do. Be a good boy for Daddy and Bubby Weinbach, and take care of Mordechai, okay? Mommy loves you a ton. Yes. Upside down and inside out. Through thick and thin. All the time. Every day. Bye-bye. Bye.”
“Couldn’t help overhearing you,” Mattel said from the doorway. “I was just walking by.”
“Oh,” said Suri, holding her hand over her heart. “You scared the daylights out of me.”
“Sorry,” said Mattel. “Sounds like you’re going to have your work cut out for you when you get home.”
“Yeah. They’re having a grand old time with their daddy. I think I made a big mistake.”
“I don’t know,” said Mattel. “He may be a hard act to follow, but boys need a father. Everyone needs a father. Look how lost we are without Tatty.”
“I know. It’s just an unexpected development. He signed away custody. He wanted nothing to do with them.”
“Anyone can have a change of heart, Suri,” Mattel said. “It’s good for the kids to have a relationship with him. Don’t hold his mistake against him. He was just young and immature.”
“And I wasn’t when he left me alone with them?” Suri gasped.
Mattel was quiet. “I’m sorry.”
“I know,” said Suri. “Do you mind closing the door on your way out? I need to lay down. My head is pounding.”
“Good night, Suri,” said Mattel.
To be continued …