Sruli lets himself into the house by pushing in the basement window. As he walks around, he becomes aware of how much his mother has put into their home.
* * *
For the first time since either of them could remember, Sruli and his father sat down together and shared a meal. Mealtime in the Fishman household usually meant a bevy of women bustling around the kitchen, chatting, eating, drinking, with Hindy at the center of it all. She would jokingly refer to herself as the ringmaster, and indeed, very little went on inside the house that she was not a part of, so this informal gathering was a rare occurrence.
Sruli carefully cleared off the table, gathering his mother’s things into a neat pile and placing them gingerly on her kitchen desk. Asher had come in with a bag of Bubby Lena’s offerings, so they set each container out on the counter and each man chose what he wanted. When they both reached for the stuffed cabbage, they laughed. Sruli put them into the microwave while Asher sat at the table, his legs stretched out to the side, his head thrown backwards. Sruli poured out a tall glass of ginger ale and placed it in front of his father. Asher sat up, pleasantly surprised.
When the food was ready, Sruli set it out on plates and brought it to the table. The truce between them was like a tender shoot just emerging from the soil. Will it grow? Sruli wondered, or will it be trampled upon and die?
They ate in companionable silence. When they finished, they both sighed in such unison that they burst out laughing.
“I didn’t realize that sigh was a genetically inherited trait,” said Sruli.
“Neither did I! Funny, no? We both went for the stuffed cabbage too. We’re more alike than we thought.”
Asher looked up.
“No, what is it Sruli?”
Sruli sat back in his chair. “I don’t know. What’s going on? It’s like a bad dream.”
Asher told him the latest, having decided that there would be no secrets. He knew his decision would bother Hindy, but he felt he had no choice. It had been secrets — her secrets — that had brought this trouble into the family in the first place. He would lay the matter bare.
“I spoke with the doctor,” Asher began.
“I know,” Sruli interjected. “He wants to send Ima to rehab. Tzippy told me.”
“Well, that’s certainly not going to happen. Not on my watch.” Asher patted his stomach and stood up to go.
“Abba, wait,” Sruli said, working up his courage. “Maybe Ima should go. Maybe it will help.”
Asher sighed again. “Sruli, I know you care about Ima. We all do, but you were always a gutte neshamah. I know you feel bad, but I want you to listen to me. There is nothing wrong with Ima that we can’t fix at home.”
Sruli stood too, nearly his father’s height. “Abba, she almost died. How can we be so sure it won’t happen again?”
“We can’t. That’s the job of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Our job is to do what He wants.”
Asher remembered with a growing sense of annoyance how persistent Sruli could be. He recalled one Purim when Sruli insisted on dressing up as Haman and had purchased a hideous mask to put over his face. He and Hindy had argued about it for days. “Sruli, why do you want to dress up as someone so ugly? Even though it’s Purim, you don’t have to be ugly. You’re a tzaddik.” In the end, Hindy had let him wear it at home but not in shul, but it had taken concerted effort to get him to back down.
“Abba, I know I’m stepping out of line, and please forgive me.” Asher’s eyebrows rose in surprise: Had Sruli grown more than Asher had given him credit for? “But don’t you think you should ask the Rosh Yeshivah a she’eilah. I don’t think this is something we can solve ourselves.”
“I know you think so, Sruli,” said Asher, chucking him under the chin as he had when Sruli was little, chiding himself. What was I thinking? He’s still a boy. “But despite your new beard, you are still young. When I don’t know what to do I ask a she’eilah. This time, I know what I’m doing. Ima will come home and rest up a bit, and then life will return to normal. That’s a fact. Nothing will happen to Ima.”
There was nothing Sruli wanted more than to hold on to his father’s words, to believe them to be true, to depend on them and on him. His eyes locked on his father’s, searching them for trust, but all he saw were two plain brown eyes, same as they always were. The boy and the man battled inside of him, the boy in him desperately wanting his father to do the right thing and the man in him not sure that he would.
To be continued . . .