Mutty is reminded of an important detail that occurred to him about his and Papa’s meeting with Hearst. He tries to find out if Mama knows about it and when he fails, he decides to ask Mima Faiga.
Mutty thought for a moment about a plan to bluff his way around Mima Faiga, telling her he’d left something behind the last time he came to fix something in the apartment and then looking around for letters from Esther. But one look at her face convinced him otherwise. She was standing there with her arms crossed, and her piercing stare told him that that would be a big mistake.
“Well, I’ll tell you,” he said, as though they had been in the middle of a conversation and he was simply changing the subject. “I’d like to know if you’ve heard from my sister-in-law Esther recently.”
Mima Faiga softened, but only a practiced eye could see it. “
“Not that recently,” said Mima Faiga. “Although we do write letters back and forth regularly. Is there something specific you’d like to know?”
“As a matter of fact there is. There is something I would sure like to know.”
“What is it?” said Mima Faiga.
“I don’t know if it’s my place to say, so I’m not going to. But I’d appreciate it if you’d let me read one of the more recent letters you’ve received. If I see what I need there, I’ll be glad to let you know what was on my mind.”
She stared at him as though she were taking his picture in her mind, going over every inch of his face. “Are you telling me the truth?” she asked. “You’re not just being nosy?”
“No, Mrs. Taubenfeld, I am not. If I wanted to be nosy, I did not have to come all the way over here on a cold day to do that. There is plenty to be nosy about in the comfort of my own home.”
She stared at him a few moments longer, then turned around to open a drawer in the vitrina behind where she was standing. Mutty took a moment to look around the apartment, admiring its elegance. He liked it, but he knew he would never be able to live this way after having seen the way the Zayits lived. He had no idea how he would find a wife here in New York City who would agree to live like the Zayits, whereas there were probably many women like that in Eretz Yisrael.
He tried not to think about his feelings of regret for leaving, because he knew that every moment he spent here was a mitzvah beyond measure. In fact, he repeated that phrase to himself many times a day: “A mitzvah beyond measure, a mitzvah beyond measure,” particularly on a difficult day, especially when he’d first arrived home. Papa’s good days had begun to outnumber his bad days, causing Mutty and Mama to breathe huge sighs of relief. But just as they were finished with one worry, another one came to take its place.
She came back to the doorway holding a small packet of letters tied with a ribbon. She tapped them against her palm like a metronome keeping time.
“Mordechai, isn’t it?”
“It is, but most people call me Mutty.”
“Mordechai is more dignified,” said Mima Faiga.
“Well, if you want to be really dignified, it’s Ephraim Mordechai ben Yosef.”
“You’re a chassan bachur,” she said.
“I guess. One of these days.” His eyes were mesmerized by the ticking of the letters, and he thought he would burst until she handed them over.
“Read them here,” she said.
“Oh, no… I …” Mutty had wanted to bring them home and show them to Mama as proof of his claim, if proof was going to be needed.
“Read them here or don’t read them. I’ll get you a drink while you decide.”
Her children were fluttering about in the foyer, observing the conversation between him and their mother with unchecked curiosity.
Realizing there wasn’t much choice, Mutty sat down at the kitchen table.
“Come here,” he said to one of the little boys. His payos were particularly bouncy and curly.
“They don’t speak English that well yet,” said Mima Faiga without turning around.
“All right. Yingeleh, kum doh,” Mutty repeated.
“Itzik! That’s not the way we talk to a grown-up,” said Mima Faiga.
Mutty held Itzik’s hands a moment before letting him go, and took a good look into the little one’s face. There he saw immediately what had caught his attention before. He looked around again and saw the same in the eyes of the other children. They may have been from Poland, but their eyes were from Eretz Yisrael.
To be continued . . . .