Yedidye comes to meet Mrs. Barkoff, who asks him some very pointed questions. She is deeply suspicious of him.
* * *
Suri’s gasp was the only sound that filled the room.
“It’s okay,” Yedidye said to her. “It’s fine. Your mother has every right to ask me such questions, especially now that your father is not here to ask them. I myself would ask such questions.”
“Not quite like that,” Suri whispered, mortified.
“I thank you, Mrs. Barkoff, for being frank with me. I can only imagine how much courage it took for you to confront me, and how the worries must be laying on your heart. I know this is certainly a job your husband would be doing, and I apologize for being the cause of any distress you might be feeling.”
Mrs. Barkoff was still stunned from her outburst, but also relieved. Yedidye wasn’t insulted, or didn’t seem to be, and her questions were no longer weighing her down, but were, rather, sitting between them on the table, waiting to be addressed.
“I understand how you would be suspicious of my motives, Mrs. Barkoff,” Yedidye said. “As I said, I myself would be suspicious if I were in your shoes. An older, single French man, living in Israel on his own, pursuing a visiting American. If my sister-in-law had not suggested your older daughter to me, I can assure you I would not have become involved. But she spoke so highly of your daughter and your family that I felt obligated to follow through with it. And believe me when I tell you I was very, very sorry when the shidduch between myself and your older daughter did not work out.”
“But from what I understand, you already had thoughts of Suri when you met my other daughter! You didn’t even give Rena a chance!”
“Not so, Mrs. Barkoff. I was fully prepared to continue with your older daughter if I felt she was interested in me. She certainly has all of the qualities I am looking for in a wife. But Mrs. Barkoff, as far as I understood, your daughter was not interested in continuing the shidduch. And as I had the advice from my Rav to inquire about Sarah, that is what I did. No more and no less.”
He seemed truly puzzled, as though Mrs. Barkoff did not realize that it was Rena who had called off the shidduch.
“What if she is having second thoughts?” asked Mrs. Barkoff.
“I’m sure you realize that it would not be appropriate at this point. I am committed to Sarah. Once I meet her children, we are planning to formalize our engagement, with your blessing, of course.”
“I cannot give you my blessing. I’m sorry. It’s just too soon. I can’t think straight.”
“Mom, can I talk to you for a moment in the other room?” said Suri.
“It is okay, Sarah. You can speak in front of me. Your mother is entitled to her feelings,” said Yedidye.
“Perhaps. But these were not the feelings we discussed earlier. Mommy? Please? A word? Excuse us, Yedidye.”
Suri took her mother gently by the elbow and walked her into the next room, closing the door behind her, and flicking on the nearby lamp.
“Mommy?” she said softly, looking carefully at her mother. The dim light somehow shadowed all of the familiar parts of her mother’s face, and left illuminated the new and unfamiliar parts: wrinkles she had never noticed, a slight sagging at the corners of her mother’s eyes, and a downward turn of her mouth that spoke of unspeakable sadness. “Are you all right? If you didn’t want to meet him, you should have told me.”
“I didn’t know,” said Mrs. Barkoff, in a voice that was barely audible. “I didn’t know until he was already here.”
“I understand,” said Suri. “Should I see him out now?”
“Yes, darling. Please.” Mrs. Barkoff’s voice sounded so exhausted that Suri was afraid her mother would simply fall asleep standing up.
“Sit down, Mommy. Better yet, put your feet up here. I’ll come check on you after I say good night to Yedidye, okay?”
“Okay, sweetheart,” Mrs. Barkoff murmured, her eyes closing. “Thank you.”
Suri stepped out of the room where her mother rested and turned to face the man whom she thought would be her husband.
“Yedidye,” she said. “I apologize —”
Yedidye stood up immediately. “There is no need for apology, Sarah. It was foolish to place such pressure on your mother at such a sensitive time.”
“I don’t know what happened. She was fine before you arrived.” Suri was clearly distraught.
“She is a grieving widow. It is one of the greatest sufferings a person can experience.”
“I don’t think we can become engaged without her blessing,” said Suri.
Yedidye nodded gravely. “I understand your feelings, but it would be, I think, a mistake to delay our plans once they have been set in motion. It is not a simple matter to put off a mitzvah.”
They stood facing each other a good distance apart, trying to traverse the bridge that had sprung up between them.
“Perhaps,” said Yedidye, “you have a male relative I can meet? Someone whom your mother trusts? It could be that if she receives approval from someone else, the pressure to make the decision will be lifted from her shoulders, and she will be able to give us her blessing. Is there anyone you can think of?”
Suri’s face lit up. “Actually, Yedidye, now that you mention it, I think there is.”
To be continued…