| Fiction |

The Screen Door


Photo: Shutterstock.

Shia spoke into the stillness and music obediently rushed out of the speakers. He picked up the wedding invitation and gave a quick glance before throwing it back over the dashboard. Fraidy unwrapped a mint from her evening bag and sat back letting the tension of the evening dissipate. Traffic was smooth and 20 minutes later they pulled up next to the hall.

They made their way through the lobby spotting a circle of familiar faces next to the elevators: the Walners the Kurtzes the Bernsteins — dear members of the “country crowd.” The bond formed over countless summers of shared space and sunshine was strong enough to bring everyone together in mid-February. Memories of summer washed over Fraidy: Miriam Walner in her terry turban and white Reeboks Judy Kurtz playing tennis every morning. She was back in the country! A warm ripple spread through her.

Miriam Walner caught her eye and headed toward her. There was something about the plastered smile and affected gait that made Fraidy brace herself; it was almost as if petite 60-year-old Mrs. Walner were intimidated in some way by 32-year-old Fraidy.

“Mazel tov Fraidy” she sang. “You’re looking beautiful — so fancy shmancy like a real madame.”

“Thank you.” Fraidy’s smile was polite enough. What exactly makes me look like a madame? I’m not even wearing my serious jewelry — not to this wedding!

“I saw your mother and your sisters already. We’re all at #12 that’s the country table.”

Photo: Shutterstock

Fraidy smiled in thanks and walked into the noisy ballroom scanning the tables for the familiar faces. She hadn’t seen Malky since the Chanukah party two months ago. And Duvid’s wife Chaya? Funny how Lakewood could seem so far away from Monsey. Mommy she had seen; she and Tatty loved the new guest suite and came every few weeks.

She saw Mommy from afar waving sunnily. Warmth spread over her once again.

Malky pulled back a chair. “Hi you look stunning as usual. And we saved you a seat don’t worry.”

Rivky was on her phone but looked up with a smile. Fraidy put a napkin onto her chair and chose a dinner roll from the almost empty basket. She handed her rings to her mother and walked off in the direction of the sinks. Over the din she could hear Malky’s voice.

“Whoa I want to see Fraidy’s new setting. Pass it here a minute.”

The ripple of warmth was gone.


It wasn’t the unique country scent that drew them back, not the fragrance of pine and honeysuckle. In fact, it was the unique country scent that almost drove Shia away — a faint odor of gas, along with the whiff of mold emanating from the red plaid carpet. Rivky and Malky had long replaced their carpets with something cheap, boring, and fresh. But not Fraidy — she’d held onto hers with fierceness, like many other things in that old house. Like the blue bathroom with the missing seashell tiles, and the big beige Amana fridge that leaked a murky brown liquid.

Shia had lots to say about it all, though he spent the week in their sprawling Monsey home and only came up Thursday nights. To placate him, she had put in a Home Depot master bathroom, shiny white and plastic-y looking, but decent enough to keep him from grumbling. Oh, and a big maroon leather Lazy Boy in the front room so Shia could relax on a Shabbos afternoon.

It was one thing in those early years when they lived in their basement apartment with two kids. The transition to the modest country home wasn’t as stark then. But this was the new Fraidy; the Fraidy who was married to someone ambitious and successful… though no one would have predicted it at their engagement.

The youngest son of hardworking proprietors of a small Brooklyn lighting store, he had fit right in to Tatty and Mommy’s home of faded upholstery and scratched parquet. In the 11 years since he’d joined the family, though, he had made himself over so dramatically that even the name Shia now had a classy ring. And Fraidy — nondescript, no-frills Fraidy — had been catapulted up there right along with him, ready or not. For the first time in her life, price tags, account balances, and payment plans were barely relevant. It would almost have felt like total freedom, should have been as thrilling as others perceived it. But when she faced her sisters, all she felt was a widening chasm.

At first it was a new dining room set in their modest Monsey home. Then it was a not-quite-understated pair of earrings, half-covered by Fraidy’s old sheitels. Then it was an entirely new home, and more sheitels than her sisters could keep track of. And if Fraidy brushed off comments with vague rejoinders, well, there was a new Infiniti in the driveway and a full-time Rosanna to confirm everyone’s suspicions.

But come summer, the same Fraidy who had spent three months selecting a backsplash for her custom kitchen was ready to turn her back on the smooth world of chrome and granite, and to take up residence in a three-bedroom, sour-smelling bungalow. Now more than ever she needed that ramshackle bungalow to bring her back to her rightful place in her family.


Malky banged on Rivky’s back door. She was probably in the kitchen anyway.

“Rivky! Rivky! Oh, Nechi, go tell your Mommy that Tante Malky needs her quickly. You’re going? Good.”

Rivky came to the door holding a wet-haired baby.

“What’s the major emergency?”

“I have to let Mountain Pizza know how many pies I want. You’re not answering your phone! Am I ordering for you, too?”

“Yes, thanks! I was giving baths. It’s already five thirty?”

“Yup. Okay, so two pies?”

“Yeah. And two spicy fries for the kids. Maybe ask Fraidy, too, once you’re ordering.”

“I did.”

The curtness startled Rivky. She looked up at Malky.

“She’s making her own. She said it takes her a second and why should she spend $30.”



“Okaaay. Whatever.”

Malky let out a deep breath. “Yeah, whatever. So I’m ordering for you and I’ll let you know the cheshbon later.”

Rivky walked around her kitchen, holding her half-dressed baby. What had she been in the middle of doing?

It was two hours later, when she went to borrow a hand blender from Fraidy, that Rivky saw Shia’s Infiniti quietly crunching the gravel, the children clamoring around his car as he came out to greet them. If not for the pizza stains on Chaya Tziri’s shirt, she might have wondered if the homemade pizza had ever happened. Shia was unloading a sushi platter, instructing Chaya Tziri to hold it straight. Rivky hugged the hand blender close as she made her way slowly down the path to her bungalow.



Tatty and Mommy came two or three times a summer, they said they were too old for the country crowd. Rivky, as oldest, had gotten the house, and had put in a guestroom. Malky had gotten Zeidy’s house and could not afford to put in a penny. Shia had proudly bought their house off the Kurtzes in those early days when he decided that he had had enough of staying with his in-laws, and could afford his own.

That had been a younger, more innocent Shia; the Shia of today would go straight for one of the newer places, or at least gut their home and put up something normal. If not for his wife’s irrational bond with her summer home, he’d never be in this time- warp of a place with its rusty monkey bars and bald, brown shrubbery. Every time he drove through the front gate and passed the sun-baked sign that read “Menuchah V’Simchah Summer Haven” in flaking blue paint, he thought of the new place up the road with the wood grain sign that read “Alpine Estates.”

Sunday was Fraidy’s turn to host the barbeque. Last week Malky had flipped hot dogs on her little range, throwing in a few pieces of chicken for adults only.

Shia was on the porch setting up his new gas grill. He’d assured Fraidy he was taking care of the food and she shouldn’t worry. Ha! She shouldn’t worry?! When she opened the fridge, his cache of food stared at her menacingly, intruders in her leaky fridge. Twelve steaks lay neatly stacked next to two dozen gourmet hot dogs and three packages of chicken. On the door, three bottles of condiments with strange names stood at attention.

Malky would make some crack about this being fancier than a restaurant. Rivky would enjoy and say thank you, but would feel uncomfortable. Tatty and Mommy would be full of compliments. But they were never the problem. To your parents, you were always the same.


The poolside discussion today revolved around whether Venettinis were good for narrow feet or not. Tonight was the once-a-summer shoe sale, where last year’s overstocks would be dumped on folding tables.

Rivky was going early to stock up on boys’ Shabbos loafers. She’d save at least $20 a pair; this was certainly the time to buy. Malky laughed that saving money was for the rich — she could only afford to shop one season at a time. And Fraidy’s mind was across the road at the once-a-summer precut wig sale at Alpine. Fiona was coming tonight with a selection of 75 pieces; she wanted at least one or two of them. The shoe sale didn’t excite her.

Rivky turned to Malky. “Listen, call me and let me know if the boys’ shoes are going fast or if I have time to put the kids to bed. I’ll keep my phone next to me, okay?” She cocked her head in Fraidy’s direction. “You’re going?”

Fraidy snapped her head up. “Yeah, I mean, I’m gonna try to go. I for sure don’t want to miss it, I bought amazing things there other years. I just don’t think that I’m going early.”

“Tell Rivky to look out for you.” Malky’s tone was practical.

“No, no. I want to choose myself. I’m really planning to come.” Fraidy’s tone was defensive.

The conversation shifted to schoolbags.

Fraidy showed up, slightly breathless, after the crowds had thinned. She had just come from her evening of custom-wig displays, and it took a moment to transition to the noise and bad lighting of the social hall. The sale looked the same as last year, with the tired-looking lady sitting at the entrance, giving change as she dropped shoes into plastic shopping bags.

Rivky was still there, standing over a pile of shoes, counting them. “Three, four, five, six…” She looked up and saw Fraidy. “Oh, hello! You made it! I just spent an hour digging through piles, but I think I found everything I want!” She wore a triumphant smile.

“Great,” Fraidy returned a tired smile. “I had no energy to come here so early. I better go look at what’s left!” She headed over to the girls’ table, turning over squashed shoes that had seen better days. One pair of burgundy suede loafers looked decent enough; as a second pair, definitely wearable.

She headed over to pay. Rivky was waiting at the entrance, holding four bulging bags.

“Great, you’re done fast. Yay, you can drive me home!”

Fraidy froze. She swallowed hard as she paid, barely noticing the tired lady’s smile as her mind worked furiously.

She walked slowly to her car, feeling cornered, her fingers numb as she obligingly clicked the unlock button. Rivky opened the back door. Standing there upright were two crisp shopping bags with the bronze Fiona insignia. Rivky pushed them over wordlessly, put down her shoes, and made her way to the front. Fraidy turned up the music as she drove up the gravelly hill to the bungalows.

“G’nite,” Rivky waved. “Thanks for the ride!” She headed off with her shoes, making no comment about the bags taking up half the backseat. Fraidy forced a smile and returned a weak wave.


Rivky walked down the dirt path, swimming bag slung over her shoulder. Malky had taken the kids ahead while she’d stuck in one more load of laundry.

From a distance she could see movement next to Fraidy’s front door; she hadn’t made it to the pool yet either. She came closer and saw her sister’s familiar form, back turned to her, arms pushing something into her screen door in focused effort.


Fraidy turned around, eyes wide in surprise, a staple gun in her hand.

“Rivky. Hi!” She smiled, her face sweaty. “Guess what I just did? I’m so proud of myself.”

“I don’t know, but you look like Sergei the Fix-it Man.”

“That’s what I feel like!” Fraidy smiled broadly, her snood drooping to one side. “Shia said, ‘Just get Sergei to fix that silly door — give him a $50 tip and he’ll be the happiest man,’ but I said, Why can’t I do it myself?”

Rivky hoisted her bag over her shoulder and nodded.

Fraidy went on. “I am so proud of myself! I went to Home Depot yesterday and bought a piece of screen — I actually measured the frame! And now I did it myself!” She ran her hand over the tightly stretched piece of screen. “Impressed?”

“Am I supposed to be impressed?”

Fraidy put the staple gun on the folding chair next to her and turned to face her sister. “Why are you being so weird? Did I do something wrong?”

“Weird?” Rivky’s voice was incredulous. “I’m being weird? You’re funny, Fraidy.”

Fraidy swallowed. “What exactly is so funny about this?”

“Um, maybe that my sister who baruch Hashem does not have to worry about $50 is driving herself nuts to fix the door by herself? I mean, it’s a little much.”

“Who says I don’t care about $50?” Fraidy’s tone was indignant, but her eyes reflected terror.

“I didn’t say you don’t care about $50. I just said it’s funny that my sister who has never used a staple gun in her life has to prove to the entire country that she can fix a screen door by herself. Yay, you saved $50! Wow.”

Fraidy picked up the staple gun and squeezed.“What’s wrong about wanting to save $50?”

“Saving $50 is not wrong. But playing games is wrong.”

Fraidy opened her mouth to protest, then closed it and swallowed hard. “Who’s playing games? Why is it anyone’s business how people spend their money?” She looked down.

“Well, it’s not. But when your sister is being weird, then it sort of is your business.”

Fraidy was silent.

“Fraidy, why are you so scared to admit that you’re wealthy?”

Fraidy recoiled at the word. “We’re not wealthy — we’re okay. Baruch Hashem, Shia does well. But I don’t know why you think I’m some fancy lady who can just throw—”

“Fraidy.” Rivky paused. “I hate to break this to you, but you are wealthy.”

Fraidy’s eyes flashed anger. Rivky looked into them gently and continued.

“You are wealthy. Or comfortable. Or your husband does well. Or whatever you want to call it. You can’t buy sheitels the way some people buy milk and then expect me to be proud that you fixed your screen door by yourself. It’s… it’s crazy!”

She flushed. “Why can’t I—”

“Fraidy, you live in a stunning house a whole year. You think just because you live in a dump for two months a year you can pretend you live tight?”

“I’m not pretending anything. I really love the country! I love the fact that I can manage with my pathetic kitchen and still be happy.”

Rivky looked at Fraidy through narrowed eyes. “You’re really happy with that kitchen?”

Fraidy nodded emphatically.

“Seriously?” Her tone dripped with doubt.

Fraidy nodded even more vigorously. “Seriously! It’s fun.”

Rivky let out a sigh. “Whatever. Forget the kitchen. I just mean that you’re not being yourself.”

“And if I was myself?” Fraidy put down the staple gun and lifted her chin. “If I was totally myself here, then you and Malky wouldn’t stop with your comments about how I’m such a fancy who-knows-what, right?”

“First of all, no I wouldn’t. But even if I would, who cares? Why would you be scared to be yourself just cause someone’s gonna make a comment?”

“Because it’s not someone.” Her voice cracked. “It’s my sisters.”

She looked down at her watch and ran her finger in absentminded circles around the diamond frame. Her chin trembled.

Rivky looked at her gently. “Is it so bad?”

“Yes!” Her voice was choked. “You can’t imagine how hurtful it is. I kill myself to make sure I don’t stand out.”

“Do you think it works?”

Rivky left her words hanging as Fraidy went to the blue-seashell bathroom and came back with a box of tissues.

“Look. Personally, I’m very happy for you that Shia does well. I just can’t handle that you act so weird sometimes. I apologize for not always being sensitive — I had no idea this was even a struggle for you.”?Fraidy gave a small satisfied nod and bit her lip.

“And look, as for Malky, I can’t really talk for her. You know she works her head off a whole year and her husband helps very little. She was always the put-together one and you were the simple one. Now you’re this rich, sorry, well-to-do lady and she doesn’t have an extra $20! You have to understand where she’s coming from.” Her voice was soft, almost pleading.

Fraidy shrugged. “It’s still not a reason to make your sister feel like a worm.” She took two tissues.

“You’re right. Everyone has to be sensitive to others, no matter their situation. But I think you’re making it much harder by pretending you’re both in the same boat. It just makes her feel worse because you both know it’s not true.”

A loud buzz came from deep within Rivky’s swimming bag. She fished inside for her phone.

“Oh, it’s Malky. Probably wondering where we are. I’m ignoring it. Let’s get moving, though, last swim before the Nine Days!”

Fraidy swallowed and stole a sideways glance at the front mirror. She fixed her snood and straightened up, trying to regain her composure. A joyous rendition of “Bar Yochai” erupted from the Lazy Boy, where her phone was perched on the arm, charging.

“Bet you it’s Malky calling me now.”

“Tell her we’re coming.”

Fraidy assured Malky they were on their way. Her voice was low and weary, but strangely calm.

She threw the phone into her bag, the cord still dangling over the chair. She was shivering, feeling unsteady as she gathered her swimming things. She let out a deep breath and clenched her teeth to stop the chattering. Rivky had come, and with a few words had kicked down a barrier that had been her protection for so long. She felt so helplessly exposed, yet strangely free.

She picked up her swimming bag, and turned to Rivky as they let the screen door bang behind them. “You know what it is? It’s that I feel like I have to show you that I’m still me. I grew up in the same house as you with the banged-up dining room set. And now I feel like I’m pushed out of your club.”

“My club?” Rivky asked, uncomprehending.

“Whatever. Not a real club. Just that I feel like a stranger with you and Malky. Like I’m some other person who can’t relate to your lives.” Her fingers were cold as they burrowed deep into the pocket of her hoodie.

“Fraidy, dear, I have news for you. In a way, you can’t.” She looked at her sister intently. “But so what? We’re still sisters.”

They continued in silence, each finding her footing in new territory.

Fraidy drew in her breath, and gave Rivky a cautious look. “You don’t think that I would be making, like, a major statement if I fixed up the house? I mean, not like crazy or anything.”

Rivky shook her head. “I don’t think it’s as major as you think it is. Hiding who you are makes a bigger statement.”

Rivky pushed open the old gate and closed it gently. “Okay. We can get in a good half hour.” Fraidy walked over the muddy grass as her Crocs gave a squish. She could see her kids up ahead with the instructor. The sun felt good on her face.

Malky made her way toward them. “What were you two doing?”

Rivky waved lightly. “Laundry, laundry, laundry. And Fraidy was busy with some impressive home-redecorating project. I had to pull her away!” She sighed dramatically.

Fraidy laughed.

Malky raised her eyebrows. “Redecorating? Nu, let’s hear the fancy plans.”

Fraidy shook her head. “I was just fixing my screen door. Nothing exciting at all.”

Malky’s face registered disinterest.

Fraidy felt light.


Rivky poked her nose into Fraidy’s fridge. “Fraidy, you’re lucky it’s freezing today — I actually don’t mind drinking warm Fresca.”

“Could you bring me a cup?” Malky called from the front room, where she was beading necklaces with a table full of cousins.

Rivky returned with two cups. “Fraidy, your fridge is a disaster. I don’t know how your food doesn’t spoil.”

Fraidy nodded. “I know, I know. Don’t worry, I decided I’m finally going do something about this place.”

Malky looked up sharply from the necklace she was tying. “You’re renovating?”

“I think so. I’m gonna figure it out when I get back to the city.”

“Why don’t you just buy something ready in Alpine?”

Fraidy paled. Then she swallowed. “Oh, thank you. Very nice of you, to kick me out of here like that. I want to be here with my sisters, thank you.”

Malky tore a piece of string with her teeth and gave a little snort. “No, I didn’t mean it like that.”

Rivky watched the exchange from the corner of her eye, then went back to her magazine, nestling comfortably in the recliner.

Fraidy looked at the clock over the table. “Goodness. It’s twelve-thirty and I don’t have a stitch of food in the house. Who says we should order pizza?”

The kids looked up from their beading. “Yay! And spicy fries?”

“And ice coffee?”

Malky turned to her girls. “Kinderlach, we have food at home.”

Fraidy waved it off. “No. Today, I’m the hostess.”

Fraidy dialled and instinctively headed to the kitchen, then backed up to the noisy front room. Her voice was loud, self-assured, as she ordered pizza, spicy fries, and ice coffee.

Malky raised an eyebrow and shrugged. “You’re the hostess.”

“Yup,” Fraidy said with a smile, ignoring the gaze fixed upon her from the recliner, and the blush spreading over her face. “Today, I’m the hostess.”

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 501)

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Tagged: Family Tempo