Did they realize what a loss they’d experienced? Did they realize this was forever, this odd void they could hardly identify, being so young and clueless?
Shira’s shy smile haunted Deena for the rest of the day. She couldn’t put her finger on what was bothering her so much. Not the fact that Shira had found a job, she wasn’t selfish like that. It wasn’t even the fact that her in-laws had inadvertently been behind it, making it sort of their fault that she’d lost her photographer. So what was it?
When her girls got home from day camp, Deena tossed their bathing suits into the washing machine and settled them on the deck with freeze pops and Play-Doh. Then she went to her office to try to get some work done.
Succos tour. Let’s do this.
Mr. Hersko had sent her an email asking when she’d do the first post about the tour. There really was no reason to push it off, except that she had to figure out the graphics and what exactly to say.
But she couldn’t focus. Unease followed her like a shadow. After a few minutes of drafting lines and deleting them, Deena slumped in her seat.
She knew what was bothering her about Shira’s new job.
It was the fact that the Lizman’s gemach had taken off — without her. She, Zev’s widow, who had nearly 33,000 people hungrily following her every sneeze, she who could have spearheaded this initiative with the click of a button, who could have helped countless people as a zechus for her husband’s neshamah.
She’d declined. Because it didn’t look good for her business. It didn’t feel comfortable to expose her vulnerability, her unfortunate status.
Miri and Nechama burst into her office. “It’s boiling outside,” Miri whined. “And we’re so bored.”
There she goes again.
No, that was a ridiculous thought. It really was a hot day. This is what happens when people start therapy. Everything becomes an issue.
“You’re right,” Deena said. “It’s very hot outside. Let’s think of an activity we can do inside.”
“What kind of activity?” Miri asked.
Deena was about to start listing all the games and crafts they had in the house — something that would keep her kids content and quiet and out of her hair so she could get back to work — but she stopped herself.
She wasn’t going to get any work done, she’d discovered as much. May as well spend some time together with her kids.
But what could they do?
The disquiet that had been sitting in her stomach since the morning shoot with Shifra grew stronger. Zichron Zev. She peered at her kids — her adorable, innocent girls. Did they realize what a loss they’d experienced? Did they realize this was forever, this odd void they could hardly identify, being so young and clueless?
Nechama, holding a pop-it ice cream toy in her hand, started jumping over a line on the parquet. Ages! Zero, One, Two, Three, Four! Five, Six!
That stupid game again. All the kids on the block were into it. Jump from side to side, Anna Banana style, and spread feet over the line for every “age” of a child in their family. Doublesies and Snapsies and Blindsies.
Her kids had a measly two numbers — the ages of the two girls – with which to play. And the number wasn’t increasing anytime soon.
Okay, enough. Pity wasn’t going to help her entertain her kids.
Deena wiped fingerprints off her phone screen, thinking urgently.
She wasn’t starting a job recruitment agency. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t do something, too. Something small and meaningful; something Zev would’ve appreciated.
She watched Miri slide down onto the floor, lean her back against the wall, and stick her thumb into her mouth. She had to act fast before she lost the kids.
What would Zev appreciate?
He would appreciate a party.
If there was one thing they’d had in common as a couple, it was the joy of hosting. They’d had different styles, sure. Zev was cool with the idea of walking into a takeout place, buying cholent and yapchik, and calling friends over. Deena, obviously, liked to go all out, with exotic food and magnificent tablescapes. The actual hosting and entertaining, though, was a mutual love.
Yes, Zev would appreciate a party. But a party — what a weird thing to associate with a person who was no longer alive.
Deena stared at Miri, slumped on the floor.
“I have an idea,” she said slowly.
Miri looked up tiredly. Nechama stopped jumping and poked her fingers through her pop-it toy. “Hmm?”
“We’re going to make a party!”
Miri pulled her thumb out of her mouth. “Huh? Whose birthday is it?”
“Not a birthday. We’re going to make a… brachos party. Do you know how that works?”
She nodded. “We once did it with Morah Shiffy.”
“Good. So we’re going to do this, we’ll make a brachos party…” Deena looked down at her black phone screen. “L’illui nishmas Tatty. Okay?”
Miri sat up straight. “What do you mean? Tatty can’t go to a party, he’s not here.”
“Right,” Deena said. She stuffed her phone into her pocket and sat down on the floor next to Miri. Nechama joined them, sitting in a W and poking fingers through the pop-it ice cream.
“Right, he can’t. But if we make brachos out loud, and we answer Amen to other brachos, it’s like… like his neshamah is participating in the party. He can’t enjoy the food, but the brachos and Amens will make his neshamah very happy in Gan Eden.”
Miri stuck her thumb back into her mouth. Not grumpily; thoughtfully. She was digesting what Deena had said.
Nechama’s eyes were round and huge. “Can Tatty see us?”
Deena pulled Nechama’s head to her chest and stroked her cheeks. “Tatty’s eyes can’t see us, sweetie. But his neshamah can sense when we do mitzvos. And when you do a mitzvah, you make him so, so proud.”
They sat together quietly for a few minutes. Deena kept one hand on Nechama’s face and wrapped her other hand around Miri’s shoulders. To her relief, Miri didn’t squirm. It didn’t feel weird, just right and good and secure. And sad, but a warm kind of sadness, because they were together.
After a long stretch of silence, Deena gave her girls’ heads one last pat and stood up. “Should we start?”
Miri nodded. Nechama said, “Yes, let’s.”
In the kitchen, Deena started planning. “Let’s go through the brachos,” she said. “We’ll skip hamotzi for now, because if we make a hamotzi we don’t make other brachos, right?”
“Right,” Miri said.
“So, mezonos. What should we prepare for mezonos?”
“Chocolate chip cookies,” Miri answered automatically.
But Deena didn’t protest. If Miri wanted chocolate chip cookies, so be it. She had plenty of opportunities to be creative in the kitchen; this didn’t have to be one.
When the cookies were in the oven, Deena and the girls searched the fridge, freezer, and pantry for more brachos party food. “I vote we make candy apple for ha’eitz!” Deena called.
Miri’s face lit up. “Yeeeeeah!”
When all the food was ready, they spread a floral tablecloth over the patio table and popped open the umbrella. With the girls proudly helping, they set the table. White porcelain plates, pink napkins, fresh flowers that the girls picked from the backyard. Deena picked out a centerpiece from her studio and two glass pitchers, which she filled with ice water and lemon and lime slices.
“Do you like it?”
“It’s gorgeous,” Nechama said.
“Are you storying this?” Miri asked.
“Am I what?”
The question was a stab in her heart. Which other six-year-old used the word story as a verb?
“No,” she said strongly. “We are not. We are just having a party. You, me, and Nechama.”
“And Tatty. Right.”
Deena gripped the phone in her pocket. It would’ve made a cute post — Summer party with my precious girls! — but no, she would not. Not after Miri’s stinging question.
She pulled up a chair and sat down. “Ready, girls?”
They sat down and started filling up their plates. Deena reached for a chocolate chip cookie. “I’m going to make the first brachah. Remember to answer Amen loud and clear.”
She held up the cookie. “L’illui nishmas Zev ben Reuven Chaim,” she said. “Baruch Atah Hashem… borei minei mezonos.”
The girls answered Amen fervently, then took turns making brachos on all the goodies on their plates.
“It feels so funny that Tatty is part of this party,” Miri remarked. “I mean, we don’t see him. Is he really happy, even if he can’t taste the cookies and candy?”
“He is,” Deena answered solemnly. “Believe me, he really is.”
Miri shrugged and licked her candy apple.
Deena reached for the pitcher of water.
“Baruch ata Hashem… shehakol nihyeh bidvaro.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 759)
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