Esther invites Mima Faigy and her children to live in her and Manny’s apartment while they are in Eretz Yisrael and Fetter Zalmy is in a sanitarium, and asks her to watch over the vegetables. Esther wrestles with her feelings about Manny’s decision to stay in Eretz Yisrael.
If Mutty was surprised that only Mama and Esther came to meet him at the dock when his ship came in, he didn’t show it right away. The sight of their faces was so thrilling, it took a moment to realize that Papa was not with them. Mutty hugged Mama so hard he thought for a moment she might break, but she hugged him back just as hard. He realized that yes, it was good to be home.
He greeted Esther cordially, and they escorted him to the car they had hired to bring them. Mutty didn’t have much luggage — most of his things had been left behind in Chevron, and what little he had was barely wearable.
“First thing we’re going to do is get you some new clothes,” said Mama, then almost choked on her words. Mutty didn’t say anything, for fear that Mama would be embarrassed by her dire straits.
“So, how was your journey?” asked Esther.
“All right, I guess. Long. Oh, this is from Manny.” He handed Esther an envelope from his pocket. It had definitely seen better days. “Sorry it’s all mashed up.”
“That’s fine,” said Esther. “It’s still readable.” She tore the envelope open and spread the letter out on her lap to read.
I hope this letter finds you well. I am well, and if you’ve received this, then you know that Mutty is fine too. I cannot wait until you arrive. Don’t bother bringing too many things — very little that we have at home will be useful here. Just bring your most used small kitchen utensils and some light clothing. Leave your fur coat at home (ha ha)! I know you will enjoy living here after some initial adjustment. Don’t be afraid. We will, im yirtzeh Hashem, have a wonderful life here.
“He really misses you,” said Mutty.
“We miss him,” replied Esther, thoughtfully.
The three sat silently in the back of the car for a few more minutes until Mutty thought he would burst.
“So where’s Papa?” he asked.
“He’s at home,” said Mama.
“He’s resting,” said Esther.
Mutty turned to look at each of the two women, and tried again.
“He’s at home,” said Mama, again.
“Is he feeling well? I’m surprised he didn’t come with you to meet me.”
“Mutty,” said Esther. “Papa’s a little different …”
“What do you mean, ‘different’?”
“I don’t understand why you are speaking in riddles. Please tell me what’s wrong.”
Mama’s face was starting to look pained, so Esther gestured to her and put her finger to her lips. “You’ll see for yourself, then you can decide what it is.”
“Mama? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine dear. Don’t you dare start worrying about me.”
Mutty sighed in frustration. “Welcome home to me,” he said.
As soon as they arrived at 18th Street, Mutty jumped out of the car, helped Mama out. then ran into the building and up the stairs, anxious to see his father for himself. He dashed through the door, calling “Papa! Papa, I’m home,” and to his surprise received no response.
He stepped into the dining room and there was a man who looked like Papa but couldn’t possibly be him. He was wearing a bathrobe and there were crumbs in his unkempt beard. His hair was long, and his eyes were open but lacked expression.
The sight of him sent a flare of panic through Mutty’s body, and he understood now why Esther had spoken in such vague terms.
“Papa” he said softly, coming to sit next to him at the table. “Papa, it’s Mutty. I’m home.”
Papa turned his head slightly but made no reply.
Mama and Esther entered the apartment and were observing the painful reunion.
“What happened?” said Mutty.
“We don’t know exactly,” said Esther. Mama stood by with her hand over her mouth. “He just stopped being himself. It happened after the stock market crash.”
“And you just left him like this? Did you bring him to a doctor or something?”
“We couldn’t get him to go out,” said Esther. “It’s not like we haven’t tried. Don’t come here and start blaming people. Think of your mother.”
“I am thinking of my mother, and she needs a healthy husband.”
“You’re not being fair,” said Esther.
Mutty stood up. “All right, I want to hear the whole story, from the beginning.”
“Let’s get you settled in first,” said Mama. “I made you some food. Let’s eat, and then we’ll talk. You’re not going to save Papa the first minute you’re home.”
“I don’t see how I’ll eat,” said Mutty. “Why didn’t you tell us what was happening? We’d have both come home sooner.”
“We knew you had enough worries. You’d find out soon enough.”
“We have to tell Manny. He needs to come home.”
“No!” said Mama. “I want him to stay in Eretz Yisrael. You are not to breathe a word of this to him.”
“I’m not going to make that promise to you, Mama. He needs to know what’s going on here.”
“Well, he doesn’t need to know today,” said Mama, hurrying into the kitchen. “Sit down and we’ll eat something.”
She brought out three plates and set them down on the table. She put one in front of Mutty and one in front of Esther, and the third one she put in front of herself. While the other two began to eat, she took a small forkful of food and held it by Papa’s mouth. After a moment, he took a small bite, and chewed it, then eventually he mustered up the energy to swallow.
“Mama, no,” said Mutty. “You eat. I’ll do it.”
“It’s all right,” she said. “When Papa eats, I get full.”
To be continued . . .