Henny had never felt lucky, just that she’d exchanged one kind of unlucky for another
Shuey was home for supper and Malka wanted to play Bananagrams after the meal to celebrate. Shuey didn’t mind, but he really wanted to schmooze with Henny alone. There was so much he wanted to tell her.
Henny looked at him meaningfully when Malka asked about playing for the second time and he caught the cue. “Sure Malks,” he said cheerfully as he could, “that sounds like a good idea, let’s clear up here and we’ll play.”
Being an absentee father meant that Henny was suddenly in charge of all chinuch decisions and he just had to roll with it. You didn’t get to be away from home four nights a week and still give opinions.
Henny was relishing the role, furtively texting him that she had such a hard week in school, she needs this, to just chill. Then she picked up her phone again and added, with her father.
Henny and Malka employed a similar Bananagrams strategy, dumping their difficult letters right away, even if it meant forming two-letters words. Shuey liked to push that off and go for the glorious, several-letter words, with the easy letters — easels and astride — while Malka was slamming down the difficult pieces on her “quay”s and “axe”s. After a few minutes, Shuey was left with only the difficult letters.
Malka went with “id,” and he protested. “There’s no such word, it’s just short for identification, take it back,” Shuey said triumphantly.
Malka met his gaze. “No Ta, I don’t mean I.D., I mean ‘id’, it’s a psychoanalyst term for part of the mind.”
Now Henny gave him the pointed look again, as if he were actually being psychoanalyzed at that moment.
He smiled brightly. “Malk, you’re something else.”
He reached for his phone and texted Henny. I hope I passed your little psychiatric test, you can stop staring at me that way I didn’t forget how to be a father in three days Baruch Hashem. Lol.
The “lol” was to take the edge off of what he was saying. He didn’t like the way this was going. He was away more than he was home, but he’d always been attuned to his children and that hadn’t changed.
It was quiet, and then Malka proudly dropped down her last four pieces, completing the word “icing.” She clapped for herself. “Nice game. Now you guys can go back to texting each other.”
She stood up and bowed. Henny looked at Shuey as if this was somehow his fault.
They went for a walk after the kitchen was cleaned up and then sat down on the porch of the rented house.
Earlier, he’d been so eager to schmooze, but now he was quiet. Maybe she’d ruined it by coming on too strong during the game.
The whole marriage thing had suddenly gotten so tricky. They’d been good at it, playing their parts in a long-running, comfortable routine, but now, with Shuey away so often, it was like starting again every few days, the predictability stripped away.
Henny felt like it was sort of her fault. After Shuey’s music had dried up, she’d gotten her dream — he’d become normal, a regular husband, with a regular job, with a regular schedule. Suddenly, his travel involved her and there were no more blurred lines between work friends and important relationships and “Henny, let the guy hang out here for a couple of hours, it’s good for business” and “Hen, I have to go away with these guys for a day or two, it’s worth it, you’ll see.”
But she wasn’t happy.
It hadn’t been enough. Her brothers were moving, moving, moving forward and her Shuey was going nowhere. Once, he’d asked Mr. Kohl about a raise, he’d already been there a few years and had recently gotten two new accounts. “A raise?” Mr. Kohl had said. “Be happy we’re not giving you a reduction. That’s the Chanukah present.”
So she’d hoped for better things for him, her husband, and now, he’d turned a corner and found a new job and seemed to be good at it and was clearly happy. And yet, she couldn’t just be that smiley, cheery, happy wife like in the books.
Once, about two years after Shuey had given up on music and gone to work for her brothers, she’d run into the wife of a famous singer, a woman she’d met over the years backstage and at industry simchahs, but didn’t know well. They were both on line at Century in Manhattan, so it hadn’t been a very long conversation.
Yes, her husband had just done Paris, that had been on his bucket list, and he had a gig in Panama City the next week. They’d finally just bought a place in Yerushalayim, it was crazy, all the back and forth and hotels, so at least this way they had stability.
Yes, she still saw some of the others, she’d gone to the Yerushalayim in Our Hearts concert this year and the wives had mostly been there, but there were so many new people in the industry that it was hard to keep track.
Henny had been nodding politely and trying not to think about Shuey, making his seventh sales call of the day, when the woman ahead of her in line had stopped talking.
She pushed her sheitel back behind her ears so that Henny could see her face. “You’re so lucky,” she whispered, “so, so lucky.”
Then she turned and paid for two pairs of boots, and never looked back.
But Henny had never felt lucky, just that she’d exchanged one kind of unlucky for another.
Now, Shuey suddenly broke the silence.
“What’s on your mind, Hen?” he asked, as if he hadn’t been the one who was all pensive and moody for the last few minutes.
Okay, it was an olive branch of sorts and she grabbed it.
“You tell me,” she said warmly, feeling like a newlywed whose husband had come home from kollel for lunch. “You always have so much to say about yeshivah, tell me what’s going on.”
“The same old, more or less,” Shuey said. “The kids look like they’re doing good? Heard from Meshulam since Friday?”
She had to be careful. If she asserted herself as the family’s chief chinuch officer, everyone would get tense all over again. Meshulam didn’t call Fridays, he called every day. More than once, sometimes. New yeshivos weren’t easy.
“Yeah, we spoke. He sounds amazing, good chavrusas, good friends. Maybe soon he’ll be ready for Modena,” she said, laughing.
He scratched his head and she could see he’d already thought of this. “Yeah, he’s a year younger than our youngest guy, still, but that would be amazing. Im yirtzeh Hashem.”
That would be amazing. Really? To send her son to a new yeshivah just so Shuey could have company? And what would it mean for a bochur to have to entertain his father at night, like one of the guys? She didn’t know where Meshulam would end up, but she knew that it wouldn’t be Modena. Anywhere but.
It was quiet again, but she could see that he was settling in for a conversation. He was sensitive, but he moved on quickly.
“So listen, I have to tell you about this little chill we have going on in yeshivah, it’s like kind of a musical project,” he leaned forward, his face wide open and pleased.
Music, she thought. She’d known it. She’d heard it in his voice. There was no running away.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 829)
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