Pain Relief Chapter 25

Novel

Asher and Tzippy put Shabbos together in Hindy’s absence. When Hindy arrives home, she goes upstairs and, despite herself, falls asleep and sleeps through licht-bentching. Tzippy points out to her father that there is no way to ignore now that something is wrong with Ima.  

*   *   *

Asher and Max stood up at the same time, running towards Hindy but for completely different reasons. Max was going to comfort her, but Asher was confused — and angry.

“Is this supposed to be a joke?” Tzippy’s words had vanished from his mind.“Hindy, it’s Shabbos. What’s wrong?”

Tzippy looked around, almost smug. “You see, Abba? That’s what I’m talking about.”

“It’s Shabbos … already?” said Hindy.

“Hindeleh,” said Max, taking her elbow. “I think you’re a little confused. Come, let’s get you upstairs and fix you up a little. Bubby? Can you come help?”

Hindy tried to pull away from her father’s grasp but it was surprisingly firm. “What are you doing?” she asked. “Why are you treating me like this?”

“You’re distraught,” said her mother.

“I’m not distraught,” said Hindy. “I just woke up.”

“You know what?” said Asher tiredly. “It’s okay. Go take your time, Hindy. We’ll start without you and you can join us later.”

Hindy looked around, suddenly dizzy, struggling to clear her head and figure out what had happened. Scenes of Miriam standing on the side of the road, weeping, and Zalman clutching the baby to himself as though holding on for dear life, took shape in her mind like a darkroom, each image forming slowly until it was clear. She followed these in her mind until the pre-candle lighting fade-out. Then she blanched. “It’s really Shabbos already. I’m so sorry, everyone. I’m really not well.”

“Obviously,” said Asher.

“Come zeesa,” said Max, urging her back up the stairs. “Mama will fix you all up.” Hindy let herself be led back up the stairs, her mother and father on either side of her.

A hush fell over the room again. “Well?” said Aharon. “What should we do?”

“What can we do?” said his father. “It’s Shabbos. No one’s in danger. Let’s sing Shalom Aleichem. It’s late already.”

Tzippy, vindicated but wishing she wasn’t, quickly smoothed the white tablecloth, brought the challah board and becher, and brought in the food as her father and Aharon were singing. Bracha sat sullenly beside her husband while their kids jumped around and rocked in their chairs. Finally, Tzippy, unnerved from the evening, could take the chaos  no longer.

“Bracha,” she said, her voice tight. “Do you mind? Your kids are out of control. Can’t you do something?”

“Excuse me,” Bracha said. “Aren’t you the pot calling the kettle black?”

“What are you talking about?” said Tzippy.

“They’re not the only ones out of control here…”

“Bracha!” Aharon cut in. “Please!”

“I was only saying…”

Aharon put his hands over his eyes. “Abba, can we make Kiddush please?”

“Shouldn’t we wait for Bubby and Zaidy to come down?” Tzippy asked.

Asher sighed. “Zaidy can make his own Kiddush, under the circumstances. Let’s just get started.”

* * *

It was a dismal meal. The food was bland in spite of Asher’s best efforts. He tried to jolly the seudah along but his attempts fell flat, until finally he gave up and quieted. They got through the meal and bentched. Aharon rounded up his children, noshed up and overtired, and herded them downstairs to the guest room.

Only Asher and Tzippy remained. Tzippy sat down at the kitchen table while Asher poured them both some tea. They made brachos and sat quietly sipping for a few moments.

“I should have listened to you, Tzippy.” Asher was the first to speak. “I know you’ve been trying to tell me about Ima but I just couldn’t see it.”

Tzippy looked over at the smooth cherry wood table, perfectly varnished, that her mother used as a workstation in the kitchen. Hindy had found it in an antique shop and had hauled it home on the roof of the car. Tzippy remembered her mother’s excitement as she pulled it into the kitchen, turning it upright like she was presenting a trophy. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she’d breathed. Sruli and Tzippy had stood in the doorway, smiling also, enjoying this happy and exhilarated Ima … the way she used to be. The memory of it just made Tzippy sad now.

“The question is, what’s causing it? What’s wrong with her?” said Tzippy.

“I don’t know. It might still be her back. Sometimes pain does strange things to people.”

“Abba, she fell months ago.”

Asher was taken aback. Had it been so long already? Where had the time gone? Where had he been all this time? His thoughts spun around like a cerebral centrifuge, trying to find the truth at the center, but it eluded him.

“What should we do, Abba? I’m scared.” Suddenly Tzippy looked young again. Asher was so used to seeing a cynical teenager that he’d forgotten how vulnerable she’d been as a child. Her eyes were looking to him again, loving and trusting, certain her Abba could fix anything.

“I guess we’ll bring her back to the doctor,” he offered.

If she’ll go,” Tzippy countered.

“She won’t have a choice. The first place to check is her physical health. Sometimes these things are caused by vitamin deficiencies. There’s no need to jump to conclusions. So first things first.” He looked up at Tzippy, surprised to see tears rolling, one by one, down her cheeks. “Look at me,” he said firmly. “I promise you we’ll get to the bottom of this, okay? I would never let anything happen to Ima.”

Tzippy looked relieved, saying good-night and going off to bed, but Asher was troubled. He had told Tzippy he’d never let anything happen to Hindy, but it seemed like he already had.

To be continued . . .