I will ask Dr. Samuels. I can’t live with this for months, and I can’t... I just can’t tell anyone else, not even Abe
She should have been happy. So happy. Hadn’t Dr. Samuels just pronounced the words she’d been longing to hear?
“So that means I’m back to normal activity?” Annie asked, still stunned.
Dr. Samuels looked up from the corner desk, where he’d begun scribbling his case notes. “Not exactly. What I said is that you’re progressing well, and doing much better than I would have expected. You can begin with some moderate activity, but no bending or heavy lifting, and still lots of rest. Short walks, and in the next few days I want someone to help you down the stairs. Your muscles have been on bedrest, too,” he smiles, “and they need a little conditioning.”
Yes, she should have been happy. With just days before Pesach, Dr. Samuel’s pronouncement meant that Annie would not spend Seder night, as she was dreading, imprisoned in her bedroom while all of Klal Yisrael rejoiced in freedom.
But how could she feel joy when her fears were mercilessly choking her, when anxiety was draining out all vitality, leaving her with a dark emptiness?
I will ask Dr. Samuels. I can’t live with this for months, and I can’t... I just can’t tell anyone else, not even Abe. There is no one else to talk to. I will ask him. I WILL!
Annie took a deep breath.
“Yes, my dear?”
A slight flush pinkened Annie’s pale cheeks. “You know how much I’ve wanted this baby, and how I’ve done whatever I could so the baby would survive....” Her voice shook a little. She steeled herself and continued. “But, Dr. Samuels, there were times when... when I hated this baby.”
There, I’ve said it.
And now the words came out in a flood. “I would pray for the baby to be well, I would pray so hard, and then, when I was nauseous and dizzy and when I heard my children singing with a stranger, being raised by someone else, while all I could do was sit here and stare at the ceiling, when I couldn’t be a mother, couldn’t be a wife….”
“Mrs. Levine,” Dr. Samuels broke in, but she waved him away.
“…some part of me hoped this would end, end right now, and let me get back to my family again. And now,” she said, casting upon the white-haired physician a look of longing and despair and perhaps a sliver of hope, “I’m afraid for this baby. I’m afraid that my feelings somehow have gone into the child, and this is a child nourished with… with hate.”
There was a long moment of silence. “Mrs. Levine,” the doctor finally said, his brown eyes meeting Annie’s blue ones squarely, “your baby gets his nutrition from you. From what you eat. Not from your thoughts or feelings.” His voice softened. “My dear, your baby will be fine. It’s been hard for you, I’m sure. And when a woman’s body goes through these changes, often their emotions change, too. These thoughts of yours, they’re just hormones talking, they are not real. There’s nothing to them. Just keep taking care of yourself — because you’re taking care of him, too.”
Annie smiled weakly. “Or her.”
“Of course.” He snapped his black briefcase shut. “I’ll be back in two weeks. And after that, I hope you’ll be able to come to me in my office for regular checkups. Now I’ll call you husband in. I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear the news.”
And Abe was, indeed, happy. Thrilled was more the word, when Annie reported what Dr. Samuels had told her about getting off bedrest.
She did not tell him about that final conversation with the doctor. She couldn’t. It’s just my own silliness, she thought. Like the doctor said, it’s just hormones. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
And when Abe spoke about things like due dates and how much fun it would be to become young parents again, she just smiled and lay back on her pillow.
Annie sat in the upholstered maroon La-Z-Boy recliner. Abe, in his ebullience at the news that the pregnancy was fine and Annie would be off bed rest, had asked his father to deliver it from the department store the Levines owned, surprising her and telling her how perfect it would be for her to sit in when she was feeding the baby.
She was lost in a reverie, dreamily enjoying disconnected thoughts about Yetziyas Mitzrayim and the upcoming holiday. Thoughts about Jewish women, slaves who’d never lost hope. She felt that she, too, had been enslaved, and was finally being set free from her the prison of bed rest. And though she couldn’t promise that she wasn’t worried about this baby, she held on to the doctor’s words and put those dark thoughts she’d been battling out of her mind.
She breathed in deeply, reveling in the sounds and sights and smells of her home, her paradise, her little piece of Gan Eden. Pesach would begin in two days, and the entire family was home, even Abe and the little ones, working feverishly to rid the house of chometz and replace it with the wonders of Pesach. Here, in her room, Artie and Mutty were hanging up the bedroom’s curtains, which gleamed in their newly starched whiteness. Artie was humming one of those sweet melodies he’d been making up since he was a little boy. Downstairs, she could hear Abe calling to Moe to come and help him bring up the Pesach china from the basement, with Ruchele asking — no, demanding — to go down with them.
And the smells! The Levine family usually joined Papa in the hotel for the Sedorim, but this year, not sure how Annie would be feeling and if she’d be able to travel, Abe had decided to stay home and lead the Seder himself. The newly kashered kitchen was a hive of frenetic activity and tantalizing smells.
Perele had recovered from that terrible robbery. (Abe had tried to keep news of it from Annie, but Mutty had told Artie, who’d told the twins, who’d excitedly told their Mama, embellishing it with enough gory details to make it sound like the comic books they so loved.) Since she was busy preparing for the Sedorim in the hotel, Perele had carefully written down recipes for all the Pesach favorites that Marjorie would make for the Levines: gefilte fish, chicken soup, borscht, potato kugel, tzimmes, cooked chicken, stuffed cabbage, and Rakott Krumpli, a Hungarian specialty that was Perele’s favorite food. And, of course, there was Passover sponge cake (“Cake without flour!” Marjorie had exclaimed) and fruit compote for dessert.
Amazing. For the first time in weeks, Annie could breathe in the heavenly smells of chicken soup and frying onions, without being overcome by nausea. Truly, it was Gan Eden in her home, and especially in the kitchen.
A thought flew into her mind, exploding with vicious fury, sending Gan Eden flying into fragments.
How could I have been so terrible to her? It’s not her fault, her ignorance and her mistakes and even that loud voice of hers.
Yes; she’d admitted to the doctor that sometimes she’d hated her unborn child. That, he’d told her, was hormones. And maybe he was right; he was a doctor, after all.
But she had also hated Marjorie. Almost from the moment she’d seen her, she’d disliked her voice, her manner, her loud and strident personality. And for that hatred, there was no excuse.
Why didn’t I see her for what she is — a Jewish girl, lost in a world without Torah or mitzvos?
A thought, one that left her shaken: Have I been the Snake in the Garden?
Annie didn’t know the answer to those questions, but she knew what she had to do. And she had to do it now.
“Mutty,” she called out, her voice firm. “Can you help me down the stairs? I want to go to the kitchen.”
In the Levine kitchen there was chaos, confusion, frenzy. Just the way Marjorie liked it.
Pots were bubbling, onions were frying, cakes were baking. (If you could call something that was made with a weird ingredient called potato starch instead of flour a cake.) The twins, supposedly helping, were constantly underfoot, begging to taste the foods as they came out of the oven or off from the gas.
She was busy peeling what seemed like her millionth potato when suddenly the twins ran toward the door, yelling, “Mama!”
And there was Mrs. Levine, dragon-turned-invalid, standing in the doorway.
Though the weather outside still had the frosty touch of March, the Levine kitchen was warm, with steamy condensation covering its windows. But it wasn’t the heat from the cooking that brought a flush to Marjorie’s freckled cheeks.
She looked around her, for the first time seeing, not a busy and bustling pre-Passover kitchen, but, simply, a horrible mess. The sinks, with their Passover plastic inserts, were full of grimy pans she hadn’t gotten around to washing. The potato starch had spilled over in tiny white tufts all over the counter. Potato, beet, and carrot peels had missed the garbage can and lay on the floor like colorful dead bugs, and Marjorie’s apron — and hands — were stained a bright red, souvenirs of the borscht that was boiling merrily.
Marjorie steeled herself for the inevitable storm of criticism.
Annie gave each of her boys a quick hug. “Go and help Daddy and Uncle Moe in the basement,” she told them, “and when everything is done, there’ll be Pesach chocolate for everyone.” With wild shrieks the twins disappeared, leaving the two women alone.
Annie stood quietly, leaning a little on a counter. “Marjorie—” she began.
Marjorie cut her off. “Um… I’m sorry about the mess, Mrs. L.”
Annie gave herself a little shake. It seemed her eyes were seeing the kitchen for the first time. It was true, the kitchen — her kitchen, her pride and joy before being banished — was a wreck.
But it wasn’t the kitchen she’d come to see. It was Marjorie, the girl who’d taken care of her family when Annie could not.
“Marjorie, the kitchen looks exactly like it should right before Pesach.”
“But… the mess….” The words came out, without thought. “My mother would kill me if she saw this.”
“I’m not your mother, Marjorie. And I’m here to say thank you, for everything you’ve done for us. You’ve cooked and cleaned, and most of all you took care of the children. They love you, Marjorie.” A pause. “And I’m here to say I’m sorry.”
“I didn’t treat you nicely when you came to the hotel. I’m sorry. Can you forgive me?”
“Um… I guess so.” The words came out, forced, reluctant, uncertain.
It seemed enough for Annie. She put her arm around Marjorie’s shoulders. “Thank you, Marjorie. And Marjorie,” she added, turning to leave, “that chicken soup smells like Gan Eden. Like Paradise.”
Marjorie stared at her retreating back.
Did she really forgive Annie Levine?
Had she ever forgiven anyone?
Did she even know how?
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 859)
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