“He felt that you weren’t invested enough,” she pronounces, as if she’s accusing Baily of a heinous crime. “As if you didn’t really care”
Mrs. Schwartzheimer isn’t one for platitudes.
She doesn’t go with, “It’s not you, it’s him” or “It just wasn’t bashert.” No references to anyone waiting right around the corner. Baily can appreciate that.
But the venerable shadchan doesn’t mince words, either.
“He felt that you weren’t invested enough,” she pronounces, as if she’s accusing Baily of a heinous crime. “As if you didn’t really care. And that’s no good. He wants a girl who cares about getting married. About relationships. You know it’s very important nowadays, relationships, that’s all anyone talks about.”
How, exactly, did she come across as “not invested” enough, Baily wonders? Did she not laugh loudly enough at his jokes? Look too eager to end a date? Not react with appropriate ecstasy when he’d come to pick her up? How do you measure investment, anyway?
Later, she’ll call Meira. Later, they’ll relegate Mrs. Schwartzheimer’s latest revelation to the Google doc they’re compiling (The Shadchan Said — bestseller in the making), and after that, they’ll come up with a hundred reasons why This Boy wasn’t The One and how it’s all bashert, she should be happy it ended now.
But Baily doesn’t feel like being happy. Not right now. Not yet. Maybe never.
Because after six successful dates, she’d really begun to (cautiously, wonderingly) think that Nosson Heiman was, in fact, The One.
For starters, he was tall. Not that it mattered, but it kind of did when you were five-foot-nine without shoes. But it didn’t really matter, and of course she would never say no to a shorter boy, in fact she’s dated plenty of them, more short ones than tall ones. But still. Being tall was a point in Nosson Heiman’s favor. Definitely.
He was also kind. Genuinely thoughtful. Caring. Deep. Insightful. She’d liked the way he asked her, on each date, how things were going at work — and always remembered what she’d told him the last time. And when they were in that gift shop at the aquarium (these places always made you exit through the gift shop) and she’d mentioned that she had a fish tank in her apartment, he bought one of those little fake plant things to add to it. It didn’t fit in, not at all — too artificial and oversized amid the delicate rock formations and mini fake trees she and Gila had chosen — but it didn’t matter, somehow. Baily had stuck it in the back corner and decided it gave the tank character.
She should probably toss it in the trash now.
The fish tank hums with comforting, endless sound. Water, bubbles, aerating the miniature world. The collection of fish swimming in a graceful, never-ending dance. Baily stares into the glass depths, squints past the blurry contours of her own face. Life is so simple for fish.
Dr. Seuss pops into her head. One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.
So many fish in the sea.
This one has a bent-up hat. This one knows how to change a flat.
This one learns all day and night. This one is the perfect height.
No, no. Back to the fish. The fish. Swishing tails, scales glowing blue and orange and pink and white. Bubbles streaming upwards, tiny sparkling balls of air and light. Breathe, relax.
Gila had been the one who’d insisted on buying a fish tank. Let’s make this a real home, no waiting at the bus stop to get engaged. Back when the two of them had made the move to New York together, found an apartment, determinedly set up their lives in the shidduch-rich streets of the Big Apple, they’d gone all out, custom-built cabinets and fake greenery and pretty rock formations and fairy lights that turned the tank into a magical underwater scene late at night. They’d set it up and Gila was super proud — See, life is now, it’s not just about waiting to get married.
Two months later, Gila was engaged. Seven years and four roommates later, Baily is still feeding the fish.
Oh, well. It’s not as if she has that much to do with her time. Or any other company to spend it with. The older she gets, the harder it is to find a suitable roommate.
Which brings her right back to Nosson Heiman.
For a moment her heart stings. Then she catches herself. She didn’t get this far by giving in to self-pity.
If he doesn’t want me, he’s not the right one.
She gives a fleeting thought to the pros list she’d scrawled in tiny letters, late last night. Deep. Thoughtful. Insightful. Kind. No. Stop.
Meira’s going to have to work very hard to convince her of the bashert in this one.
“Cheer up, Baily,” she says out loud. “There are lots of other fish in the sea.”
The words sound hollow.
“The problem with being single,” Meira says sagely, “is that no matter what you do, it’s wrong.”
Baily takes a huge, gloomy spoonful of whipped cream. “Totally,” she agrees. She points at her drink. “Like this. Really? You drink full fat milk? With cream? Tsk, tsk.”
Meira holds out her skinny latte. It’s almost colorless. “But then take something like this and they’re like, He doesn’t want someone who’s so uptight about dieting and healthy food all the time, he’s looking for someone more laid back, normal, you know?”
“Tell them normal is nineteen years old and they should take what they can get.”
“No, no, that’s what they tell us.” Meira pushes the plate of sushi towards Baily. “Here, take some. Did I tell you about the guy who said no to me because I ate sushi with my fingers?”
“Really?” Baily squirts a generous amount of soy sauce and rolls her eyes. “You know if you would’ve asked for a fork, he would’ve run for the hills also. Like, who eats sushi with a fork? It’s totally a red flag.”
“He used chopsticks,” Meira informs her.
“But the point is—” Meira pops a piece of sushi in her mouth and Baily waits expectantly. “Sorry about that. The point is, you’re just not gonna get it right. If you’re too educated, it’s a problem, you’re intimidating. If you don’t have a degree, how will you support a husband who’s learning? And you’re not allowed to be miserable, but you’re also not allowed to be happy. If you’re too optimistic, your head’s in the clouds and you’re never going to get married. If you’re too pessimistic, you’re miserable to be with and you’re never going to get married. Basically, once you’re past a certain age, forget about it.”
“Very wise,” Baily says, applauding. “Rebbetzin Meira Kleinberg, noted orator and older single extraordinaire, thank you so much for joining us here tonight.”
Meira takes a sweeping half-bow, jostling the table. Skinny latte lurches over the rim of its skinny glass and splatters over sushi, table, and Baily’s keys. “Whoops!”
Two women at the next table turn to stare. Baily stares right back. The younger of the two, sporting a huge diamond and a shiny auburn wig, gives her a deliberate, cold look and turns to mutter something to the other woman.
“Probably diagnosing us as too immature to get married,” she says.
“Yeah. And meanwhile, some guy is probably saying no to me because I’m not fun enough. You can’t let yourself get ‘old’, Meira. You need to let go, have some fun.”
“I don’t know what they want from us. I mean, look at it this way, we do everyone this huge favor — we give them so much to gossip about. Shouldn’t they be grateful?”
Baily grabs a pair of chopsticks, waggles them comically, and attempts to lift a piece of sushi, using the chopsticks like tongs. It slips onto the table. She makes a face.
“Like this,” Meira tells her. She grabs one of the chopsticks and spears the runaway piece, dead center, then holds it aloft. “Voila,” she intones.
“Now you’re talking,” Baily says.
They spear their sushi pieces and laugh, laugh, laugh.
Her parents are going to Israel for Pesach.
They’ve been planning to do it for years — spend Yom Tov with Chana Rivky and her family. This year, apparently, it’s finally happening.
“Of course, you can come too,” Ma had said, back when they booked the tickets. “Chana Rivky says it’s fine. They’ll put you up, no problem. We’ll be staying in the apartment next door, her neighbors are a young couple, they’re going back to the U.S. for Pesach.”
The offer hadn’t tempted her. Staying at Chana Rivky meant sharing a bedroom with four of her nieces. Not her idea of a relaxing Yom Tov.
“Thanks, Ma, but… I think I’ll be staying in New York for Pesach. Hishtadlus, you know. The boys are back… you never know…”
Ma could never argue with that angle. And now, here she is, three days before Pesach, scrubbing the kitchen and trying to figure out the easiest way to sell her cabinets.
I shouldn’t be doing this alone, she thinks fleetingly, but almost before the thought solidifies, she banishes it. Baily doesn’t wallow. She doesn’t do the bitter self-pitying thing. She’s fine, totally fine, and tomorrow she’ll ask Chedva at work about mechiras chometz.
Chedva raises an eyebrow when she sees her. “You’re still here? You’re not going home for Pesach?”
“My parents went to Israel, they haven’t seen my sister and her kids in years.” Baily waves a hand, that isn’t the point. “I wanted to ask you…”
“Wait, you’re here for Yom Tov? On your own? You must come for a meal!” Chedva bubbles. “I can’t believe I didn’t know about this. Let me think, first day we’re full, second day we have space — but no, I think my husband invited a bunch of guys, won’t be comfortable for you, unless — one second.” She narrows her eyes and appraises Baily. “Maybe one of them is a good idea for you? Maybe you should come, you’ll sit with me and the kids, and check out the guys!”
“Um, Chedva, listen, I really need to ask you about selling the chametz. And I have most of my meals organized already. Last days, maybe. We’ll talk.”
Chedva looks crestfallen. “You know what? I’ll check them out anyway, and maybe we can set up a date on Chol Hamoed! Wouldn’t that be cool? I’d looove to be your shadchan.”
Baily smiles slightly. Chedva comes up with these ideas approximately once a week. She’s also tried to set up her cousin, her best friend from seminary, her niece, and her neighbor’s classroom assistant, all without success. But that hasn’t served as a deterrent — yet.
“So, about the chometz…” Baily says, meaningfully.
“Oh! Yes. Sure. I mean, I have no idea, but I’ll ask my husband, I’m sure he’ll be able to help. Text me later, otherwise I’ll forget.” She flashes a self-deprecating grin. “I’m telling you, though, I have a good feeling about this new idea. One of the guys we’re having over for a meal. He’s tall.” She winks. “Omigosh, it’s laaate! I want to leave early today, have a ton to do, and I’ve gotta get through this first. Don’t talk to me, Baily. I love you and all, but it’s Erev Pesach. I’m outta here.”
Baily shrugs, sets a scheduled reminder text for Chedva, and turns to her computer. It’s Erev Pesach for her, too, but she has all the time in the world.
She has loads of friends.
Invitations for every meal.
Plans for Chol Hamoed.
So why, why, why does she feel so… lonely?
The apartment isn’t lonely. It’s just… quiet. Everything’s okay.
Baily paces to the mirror and back. It’s the first day of Pesach, she woke up too early, and instead of falling back asleep, all she sees in her mind’s eye are snapshots of her dates with Nosson Heiman, who she should really refer to as the boy now that it’s over.
Their first date. His easy manner, joking about the probability of them finding a hotel where neither of them will bump into acquaintances. Her polite laughter. If it had been Meira, she would’ve retaliated with some banter of her own, but this was a date, a first date. And who knew if he’d even enjoy her sense of humor?
She was still debating that on Date #2, but this time, he’d been more serious, leaning forward to tell her earnestly his views about bochurim dabbling in kiruv, and asking for her opinion. She’d admired that side of him, the passion and depth and the way he thought things out, but she’d been burned too many times to be inclined to share too much of herself too early. She’d given a pat answer, something she’d heard in seminary, and the conversation had moved on.
Now, she feels a painful twinge in her chest. He’s never going to know how strongly she’d agreed with him, how she’d repeated the conversation to Meira and they’d engaged in a lively debate, which ended with Baily somehow wishing she could discuss it all over again with Nosson.
But then they’d gone on to activity dates: arcades and miniature-golf and the aquarium and a restaurant. They’d talked about work and learning and she’d kept on smiling and nodding and carefully sifting her words like she was mining the sand for precious gems. Because this was just a date, okay, a third, and a fourth and suddenly, somehow, a sixth, but who said she could trust that this was right, and who could tell her it was okay to let her guard down, to start sharing more openly, to be real?
And who could guarantee that the real Baily would be something Nosson Heiman would like?
And now it’s over, and she’s kind of devastated, or maybe just confused, and also maybe relieved because hey, wasn’t she right not to have trusted this relationship?
You weren’t invested enough.
That shadchan doesn’t know anything.
Baily twists the doorknob savagely. Enough wallowing. Enough! She hadn’t gotten this far by luxuriating in self-pity. She needs to go somewhere, do something, jump back into life and show the world that she’s absolutely, 100 percent fine.
But it’s Yom Tov morning, there’s no work, no distraction, just a full week ahead of her. She needs something… something to take her mind elsewhere.
There’s a pile of magazines on the night table, more on the couch. She can read. She can make Kiddush, have something to eat. She can… talk to the fish.
Baily pictures herself mentioning that casually to Mrs. Schwartzheimer: “No, it’s not lonely, I have fish. They’re great to talk to. Such good listeners, you know.”
Maybe she should try it. She’d get a great response for the Google doc.
Baily smirks as she heads into the dining room. The fish are swimming near the top of the tank, which reminds her that she hasn’t fed them yet. She reaches for the container of fish food, unscrews the cap. The familiar smell assails her. What’s fish food made of, anyway?
What is fish food made of —
Baily’s fingers freeze.
Oh, no no no nonono…
The particles whisper through her fingers, float down to her spotlessly clean, kosher l’Pesach floors.
Baily’s hands tremble. She fumbles through her mind, what to do? Bathroom. She has a whole box of fish food — down, down, down, flush it away. Chometz. Pesach.
And then when the floors are swept and the crumbs down the drain, when she’s disinfected her hands and dumped the empty container, she remembers: the fish.
They need to eat.
Nosson would know what to do. The thought pops into her head before she can block it. She doesn’t know where it even came from. What did the boy even know about fish?
It’s not about fish. It’s about life. Handling stuff. He’d have ideas. Like… asking around. Does anyone nearby have a fish tank? Do they have extra kosher l’Pesach fish food? He’d probably have offered to knock on all the neighbors’ doors, because you never know who might be the one.
Enough, Baily. Enough.
She doesn’t need him. Or anyone. She’s a big girl, she can knock on neighbors’ doors all by herself.
The Pinskys next door don’t have fish, she’s almost sure of it, but she starts there anyway. Esther Pinsky, looking dishevelled in smudged makeup, a snood, and three kids tugging at her skirt, seemed grateful for the distraction. She doesn’t have a fish tank, no way, looking after the kids is enough for her! But maybe the Reisses on the fourth floor? They’re the type.
The Reisses are an older couple, the type with lace doilies on the sideboards and a spindly-legged table by the front door for incoming/outgoing mail. Mrs. Reiss is on her way out to shul; Baily catches her just in time. She doesn’t have a fish tank, though, and she’s pretty sure no one on her floor does, either.
One flight up, there’s no answer on either door she tries.
Back on her own second floor landing, Tzippy Jacobowitz smiles apologetically and invites her to come inside for a piece of cake (“It literally tastes like chometz!”). Baily thinks of the fish, darting hungrily near the water’s surface, and declines.
The new neighbor on the ground floor, who Baily knows by face only, gives Baily her first lead. “My sister has a fish tank, she lives a few blocks away,” she says, while her eyes sweep Baily from head to toe. Ugh, what timing for a once-over, her hair’s already messed from sleep, and she’s wearing bright green Crocs that clash jarringly with her outfit.
Clarify directions. Head upstairs. Change shoes and head over to New Neighbor’s Sister, belatedly realizing she should’ve asked the neighbor for Sister’s name.
New Neighbor’s Sister looks exactly like her. She squints at Baily in confusion — “My sister? She told you to come here? Why?” and grimaces when Baily explains her predicament.
“We do have an aquarium,” she says, motioning vaguely to her left. “The thing is, I just bought one slow-release capsule of kosher l’Pesach fish food. So I can’t really help you out.”
Baily feels vaguely panicky.
“The pet store on 15th and 26th, that’s where I bought it,” Neighbor’s Sister adds helpfully. “If the fish can wait until Chol Hamoed, you could buy one for them.”
If they can wait… how long can fish live without food?
For two days, Baily can’t watch the fish.
On the first day of Chol Hamoed, she’s waiting outside the pet store before the shutters are even open.
“Slow-release fish food?” the storekeeper says, scratching his head a little blankly. “Well, I think we’re actually out of stock of those. I have plenty of the regular fish food, though, if you’d like.” He proffers a container and Baily shakes her head.
“You know… anywhere I can get hold of some?”
The man runs a hand through a few tufts of white hair. “Can’t say I do, no. There’s a pet store off the highway, about forty minutes’ drive from here, it’s my friend who runs it, Steve. But he don’t do fish, so I can’t imagine he sells fish food.”
Baily’s heart thuds.
She’ll try Amazon.
She’s never fallen for the old Prime trick — Want fast, free delivery on all orders? Click here for your FREE one-month trial! — but if there’s ever a time for trialing Prime, it’s now. She logs onto Amazon, searches fish food, and hits on the seven-day capsules that seem familiar. Basket, checkout, delivery, done.
“Tomorrow, fishies,” she says, casting a quick glance at the tank.
Is it her imagination, or are the fish already too weak to swim?
Too many of them seem floppy, lackluster, slow.
They’ve stopped swimming near the top of the tank, too. Like they’ve given up on something.
For some reason, the rejection twists at her heart.
“It will be okay tomorrow,” she promises them.
Only it isn’t.
The parcel doesn’t arrive. Morning passes, she checks the mailbox once an hour. Lunch. Afternoon. Time dragging on. An email in her inbox: Your order has been delivered.
Baily brings up the order details, and her heart sinks to her toes.
She shipped it to her parents’ house.
By the next morning, the fish are dying.
She’s dealt with dead fish before. Maneuvered the net between wiggly fish and dug out the unlucky one, trying not to look, trying not to gag.
But she’s never swept the net through cold, starved waters and gathered tens of fish, lifeless, wide-eyed, dead, into it in one go.
It’s too much.
When it’s finally done, she collapses on the couch, nauseous.
I want to be married, she thinks.
The voice in her head comes from nowhere and everywhere, and even though she hasn’t opened her mouth it echoes around her like a primal scream.
Where did that come from? What’s it got to do with the fish?
The empty tank stares at her, accusingly.
It’s not about the fish. It’s about me. It’s about the loneliness and the endless solitude and the dealing with stuff all on my own. It’s about the fish because I made it about the fish; because I let them be my only company and pretended I didn’t care.
It’s not like she could’ve gotten married. Goodness knows she’s tried her best.
But she could have… she could have let herself feel how much she wanted it.
Even if it hurt.
Even if it hurt bad.
She can’t do this. She can’t think this. She can’t be this. She reaches for her phone. Meira. They need to go out, do something fun. Remind each other of the shadchan who told Meira, “If you’re looking for a boy with personality, go to the nightclubs, not the yeshivahs.” The well-meaning second-cousin four years Baily’s junior who sagely advised that “At your age, it’s worth compromising, I just want to tell you that marriage is sooo worth it.”
Yes, that’s what she needs right now.
Anything but the thoughts.
It’s Yom Tov again, which somehow makes it worse. There are no distractions, it’s early morning, and the apartment is closing in on her. She needs to go out, go somewhere, do something, but there are hours until the meal and it’s no time for a social visit.
Shul. She can go to shul.
Baily is surprised at the thought. She never goes to shul, aside from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s just… not the type, to sit among the young girls and elderly women, to watch the young mothers with little kids float in at the end to meet their husbands, to feel the stares as everyone quietly wonders who she is, where she lives, I know her, she works in Greenfeld’s office, nebach, she’s still not married?
But now, she needs somewhere to be, somewhere outside the apartment where imaginary dead fish stare accusingly through the glass and the sheer quiet makes her brain ache.
Fifteen minutes later, she’s there, in shul, and the songs and the words are familiar in a long-ago way, from maybe ten years ago, the shul near her childhood home.
Good thing she brought her ArtScroll machzor. Ten years is a long time.
Shacharis. Hallel. Kriyas HaTorah.
There’s a rustle around her as everyone stands. The Shirah — ohhh, it’s Shevii shel Pesach, the day of Kri’as Yam Suf, the day the sea split.
The day the sea split.
It’s so incongruous, so utterly impossible that today is the day she’s chosen to go to shul, that Baily almost laughs. And then she starts to cry. Tears, silent, choking, unstoppable, flow through her and drip down onto the clean pages of her machzor, taking streaks of mascara along with them.
The baal korei sings, and Baily cries.
She cries because the sea can split. It does. Every single day. For Gila, for her other roommates, for Chedva, for her siblings. Over and over and over again. But not for her. For her, for Meira, for the few, the select, the branded, the unwanted, the rejected — the sea remains immutably, stubbornly, treacherously still. There are no towering walls or miraculously dry pathways; just endless waves, crests of hope, disappointment that crashes on the shore, and the churning, roiling depths of hopelessness.
The song comes to an end, the women around her sit, and Baily grabs a tissue and tries to salvage her self-control.
She is shaking, shaken. The image was so real. An ocean, the depth and the — the impossibility of it, the way others dance across between crystal walls laden with delicacies, while she remains desperately behind.
Baily leans into her machzor for Mussaf Shemoneh Esreh, and she cries.
The sobs are deep, wrenched from somewhere inside of her that she hasn’t touched in years.
When it’s over, it’s like the rays of sun breaking through after a rainstorm. Baily feels uplifted, empty, and yet more whole than she’s been… in a long time. Maybe ever.
She takes three steps back. Then she stops.
Someone is watching her.
The back of her head is prickling. She feels the eyes, there’s someone staring in her direction, someone watching her, watching her cry, watching her daven.
Oh, please, not the shadchan.
Baily waits two entire minutes. Then slowly, carelessly, she swivels around and lets her eyes drift until they meet — someone’s.
A woman, maybe in her 30s. Nondescript, brown sheitel, eyes that are… familiar, somehow.
When Baily locks eyes with her, the woman quickly looks away.
She leaves early, averting her eyes as she squeezes past the women seated in her row, keeps her head down as she rushes to the exit. There’s no one she knows here, at least she doesn’t think so, but still. Her eye makeup must be a disaster.
The air is fresh; spring with a nip. Baily sticks her hands in her jacket pockets and considers which route is the quickest to Chedva’s house.
The voice behind her is somehow hesitant and determined at the same time. Baily whips around.
The woman in the brown sheitel… knows her?
“I was hoping to catch you,” the woman says. She’s pushing a stroller, with a toddler hanging onto her skirt, and she sounds breathless. “I wanted to… could we talk for a minute?”
They’re standing in front of a large dumpster, a few houses down from the shul. It’s hardly the spot for a conversation. But Baily nods anyway, still trying to figure out why the woman’s features are so familiar.
“I’m Rivka — Rivka Still. My maiden-name is Heiman,” the woman says, all in a rush, and the puzzle clicks, heartstoppingly, into place. Of course: Nosson’s sister.
Baily’s lips go cold and hard. “I — I don’t know if this is a good idea,” she says, taking two steps back.
Rivka stretches out a hand. “Wait. Please. Baily, it’s… I think it’s important. Five minutes, okay?”
Five minutes. For what? To have her heart ripped open again? The scar scraped raw? Nosson said no, the shidduch was over, and her fish are dead, too.
“I — my brother was very interested. The shidduch… he didn’t want to end it. He just felt…”
“It kind of seemed like he wanted to end it,” Baily says, before she can stop herself.
Rivka shakes her head. “He didn’t want to want to. He just… felt like you weren’t invested. Or even interested. In dating, in the shidduch… in going further…” She swallows. “I wanted to tell you because… when I saw you in shul, I was thinking, I realized… maybe it wasn’t true at all. Maybe there’s another side to this, maybe I can speak to him… like, it was hard for him to tell what was… real. If there were emotions beneath the nice-nice etiquette and polite conversation. If he was getting to know a real person, or just a date, you know what I mean?”
This whole conversation is so horribly unfair, mainly because of the vicious lump in her throat that makes it impossible to say anything, so Baily just nods and pulls her lips into some sort of grimace-smile because hello, what is this woman even thinking, and it’s only because she’s married and Baily is single that she’s even permitting herself to talk like this, and it’s not fair, she wants to talk too, the words are bubbling up inside her and she wants to say something, without fear of judgment or horror or disbelief but you can’t do that, you’ll never get married and suddenly she—
She opens her mouth and says, “That’s not fair.”
Then, because there are tears sparking from her eyes again and she sounds like a petulant child, she hurries to clarify what, exactly, isn’t fair. And it’s just as if she’s talking to Meira or Chedva, only it’s real, it’s a hundred times more real than all their jokes and The Shadchan Said lines ever were.
“You date for years. You daven again and again and again. You watch everyone around you get married, have kids, celebrate milestones. And your heart goes for a ride with every phone call, every name, every date. It hurts too much. You can’t afford to hope. But you can’t give up either. You can’t be vulnerable but you can’t shut down and protect yourself, you need to be open and bring your inner self on every date. When things don’t go well it hurts and when things go well it hurts too, even more, because you have so much more to lose.”
She draws breath quickly, between words, so that Nosson’s sister shouldn’t start talking again. She doesn’t. She’s staring at Baily, wide-eyed, mouth hanging slightly open.
“They talk about investing. They don’t talk about what to do when you have nothing left, not a shred of dignity, not a scrap of hope. Of scraping your heart raw to invest more, and then losing it all, and starting over again.” Baily passes a hand over her eyes. She’s suddenly tired, so tired. And Rivka… maybe she didn’t deserve this rant. Maybe she’d approached Baily out of a genuine desire to help, to make it work. Maybe she just didn’t know enough to say it right.
“Of course, I care,” Baily says. “Cared. Care. About the shidduch. About any shidduch, about getting married. And maybe I went too far, pretending nothing mattered, everything’s a joke. But caring hurts, feeling hurts. I guess… I forgot that sometimes, feelings can be…” She licks her lips, lets her eyes roam to the sky, tries to quantify the lightness, the freedom, of what she’s just said; to distill it into words. “Feelings can be… beautiful,” she says, finally.
Then she looks at Rivka again, suddenly shy. Does the woman even understand?
But Nosson’s sister isn’t looking at her. She’s looking over Baily’s left shoulder, eyes wide and slightly alarmed.
Baily whirls around.
Nosson is standing there, looking desperately uncomfortable.
He’s heard every word.
When Mrs. Schwartzheimer calls on Motzaei Yom Tov, Baily is partly surprised, and partly not surprised at all.
“So, about the bochur,” Mrs. Schwartzheimer says, sniffing. She doesn’t bother mentioning a name. “He’s had a change of heart. He wants to go out again.”
Her heart leaps, thuds, dances.
“He’ll pick you up at eight p.m. tomorrow. Sharp,” Mrs. Schwartzheimer continues.
Baily’s mouth snaps open. “I haven’t agreed to go out again yet!” she says, even though she knows, Mrs. Schwartzheimer knows, and Nosson himself knows she’ll never say no.
The shadchan makes a sound. Pfeh!
“So. Eight o’clock. And this time, you just make sure not to be too happy. Or too sad. Or too quiet. Or too loud. Or…”
Baily puts the phone on speaker, sets it gently on the countertop. She’ll come back in ten minutes to say um-hmm, thank you, and hang up.
She walks through the dining room, melancholy in its emptiness. The fish tank, lifeless and dark. She keeps walking, straight into her bedroom, and she leans toward the mirror. She locks eyes with her reflection, just Baily, no distractions, no laughing friends or swishing tails, no Google Docs or jokes that aren’t really funny.
“I want to get married,” she whispers. The words feel painful, authentic, bittersweet. It hurts to feel, but it’s a good kind of pain.
She breathes in the moment. For just one second, she closes her eyes and lets herself dream.
I don’t need all the fish in the sea after all. I just need one.
One miracle. And one glorious instant when salty waters burst apart and the sea itself splits to show her the way.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 907)
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