Shivah comes to an end, Rena agrees to meet Yedidya Asoulin, and Mr. Shapiro takes all the Barkoffs to see the house that Rabbi Barkoff bought for his wife.
“Here we are,” said Shapiro, stopping suddenly and turning left into a short tunnel-like passageway.
“Oh,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “This is it? Which part of it is ours?”
“All of it,” he replied.
He had led them into a large courtyard. A sprawling rosebush dominated the center, surrounded by low green fencing in a futile attempt to contain it. The white and pink roses dotted the bush like small, delicately-shaped balloons, and their perfume was strong and vibrant.
To the left and to the right of the rosebush were high-ceilinged cottages with long windows facing outward into the courtyard. Up above was a long catwalk connecting the two buildings, and a large apartment. This was where the Asoulins lived. The cottage on the left was rented to a yeshivah, according to the small sign adorning the entrance. The cottage on the right was empty.
“Wow,” said Mattel. “This is something else.”
“It’s beautiful,” said Suri.
“It’s ancient,” said Rena. “I wonder if it is even structurally sound.”
“On that I can tell you,” Shapiro said. “These buildings can survive an earthquake. They are built deeply into the ground. Solid as mountains.”
“Can we go inside?” asked Mrs. Barkoff.
“Certainly.” Shapiro produced a key from his pocket and let them into the empty house on the right. They walked inside to a large, empty room, whose floor was tiled in an artistic mosaic design. Four semi-circular windows ran from near the floor to the ceiling, and rays of light poured through them. A small kitchen stood to the side, with a long horizontal window in place of a wall over the long counter beneath it. The overall effect was airy and spacious.
Mrs. Barkoff looked around approvingly. “I like it,” she said. “My husband knew I would.”
“You like it?” said Rena incredulously. It looked to her like an abandoned hovel.
“I don’t just like it. I love it.”
“Tatty must have understood your taste pretty well, then,” said Rena, “I would never have imagined you liking a place like this.”
“Tatty did know what I would like,” her mother answered. Although Rabbi Barkoff had at first not appreciated his wife’s love of large empty space, he gave his wife room to express her decorative opinions. When they had gone to buy furniture for their new home, she had picked out the most minimalist pieces she could find.
“Tzivia,” her husband had said, “this living room suite will barely take up a quarter of the room. Don’t you want something larger?”
“No,” she’d replied. “I like it empty.” She hadn’t wanted to hang anything on the walls either, but he had insisted. In the end, they had compromised and bought a larger and more imposing dining room set to make up for the bare living room.
He had wondered at her preferences, but he had respected them. He knew the postage-stamp sized home she had grown up in, having spent so much time there, and he made it a point to keep his tendency towards clutter under strict control. Their home had always been spotless, nearly Spartan in its simplicity, but his warmth had always seemed to fill the rooms. He would have known very well how much she would have loved this house with its large rooms and tall windows.
“It’s almost as though it was designed with me in mind,” she murmured.
“The other side is rented at the moment by a yeshivah, but it is basically the same design as this,” Mr. Shapiro said.
“And upstairs?” said Mrs. Barkoff.
“That is where the Asoulin family is living. Would you like to see it? It has been divided up into a standard three-room apartment.”
He started to walk over to the stairway to the right of the lower entrance but stopped when Mrs. Barkoff did not follow him.
“You know what?” she said. “I would prefer not to disturb them just now.”
“But I told them you were coming,” he said. “It’s fine.”
“No. I get the general idea. It’s beautiful. I can definitely see myself living here.”
Rena gasped audibly and Mattel shook her head. Suri’s eyes were shining, though.
“It is gorgeous, Ma,” she said, coming to stand by her mother. “I guess we have similar tastes.”
“Mmm,” said Mrs. Barkoff. She stood quietly for a few moments in the courtyard, her eyes roaming over the large stones and the tall windows, and the small stand of trees encircling the perimeters of the courtyard at small intervals. “I would have loved to live here with your father. I would have made him see the beauty of it.”
Suri nodded her head. “If anyone could have done that, it’s you, Ma.”
If anyone would have looked up and to the left, they might have seen the face of Mrs. Asoulin peering out from behind the curtain, her husband and brother-in-law standing nearby.
“She is the tall one, there, behind the mother,” said Mrs. Asoulin.
“No,” said Yedidya. “She is not the one.”
“What do you mean?” asked Rabbi Asoulin. “She is the nurse, Rena Barkoff.”
“She is not the one I am supposed to meet.”
“No,” he insisted. “She is not my intended one. It is the other one, standing next to the mother. She is divorced, correct?”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Asoulin warily.
“She is the one I am supposed to meet. Would you arrange it?”
“But I already told Miss Barkoff you would meet her,” said Mrs. Asoulin.
“Then I will. No blessing will come from hurting the feelings of a bas Yisrael. But I must tell you I am not hopeful. I believe the other one is my intended.”
“How do you know?” asked Mrs. Asoulin, but she realized her question was pointless.
To be continued …