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Follow Me: Chapter 34

She noticed 11 missed calls. She’d silenced her phone before the meeting, but 11 calls?



Deena was 45 minutes into her interview with Ninetta Puglisi, her Italian neighbor Ciro’s mom, when she it dawned on her that she wasn’t recording a word.

Rookie mistake.

She’d been in touch with Ninetta several times since their first impromptu FaceTime meeting. But the retired Italian chef led a pretty busy life, and as eager as she was to help Deena, she was rarely available to talk.

When Ciro had mentioned to her that his mom was coming for the weekend, Deena had grabbed the opportunity. Her girls were spending Shabbos with the Lizmans; Sunday would be a perfect time to meet with Ninetta.

They sat on patio chairs in Ciro’s backyard, Deena listening closely as the Italian woman shared industry secrets to the accompaniment of elaborate hand gestures.

“So that’s why I prefer pappardelle over tagliatelle for this recipe,” Ninetta was saying. “For a few months straight, my Sausage and Marsala Pappardelle Pasta was the most frequently ordered dish in my restaurant.”

Deena tried committing the words to memory, while at the same time debating whether to substitute the meat or the dairy in this recipe. She would have to figure out how to kosherize the dish without completely killing it.

Her brain felt heavy. It was hard to listen and concentrate, knowing she’d need to rely on her memory.

“And of course when you cook the pasta you use a lot of water, a lot of salt, and you coat the noodles in olive oil after cooking.”

I could start recording now, to at least get the remainder of the interview down. Would that be unprofessional?

She pulled her phone out of her bag. “If you don’t mind… Can I record this, so I get all the details right?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

Deena entered her passcode and swiped to the left of her home screen, searching for her recorder app. At the same time, she noticed 11 missed calls. She’d silenced her phone before the meeting, but 11 calls?

She glanced up at Ninetta, hesitated, then tapped on her recent calls.

All the missed calls were from the same number: Zev’s mother.

Oh, no.

Her stomach dropped. A sickening taste rose in her throat. My girls.

She looked up at Ninetta again, stood up and stammered. “Uh… I need to make a quick call, so sorry. Can I—” She gestured toward the driveway, indicating her desire for privacy.

“Go ahead.”

Deena strode over to the side of the house, heart pounding wildly as she waited for her mother-in-law to answer.

After five rings, someone picked up.

“Ma!” a voice shrieked over the line. “Finally!”

It wasn’t Zev’s mother.

It was Miri, who had memorized Deena’s cell number only last week.

“I called you a hundred times!” Miri yelled. “Where were you?”

Deena’s fear turned to fury. “Miri, I’m in an important meeting. If I don’t answer my phone, please don’t call a hundred times.”

“But I wanted to ask you when you’re coming. I’m so bored!”

Deena clenched her teeth and turned to glance down the driveway, at the patio. “Later,” she hissed. “Go play with Nechama. I need to hang up now. Bye.”

She apologized to Ciro’s mom as she sat back down to continue the meeting. But her concentration was ruined.

There went Miri again. She’d have to talk to Sarah Beneloff about this. The girl didn’t know her boundaries. It was almost as though she believed she had some sort of ownership over her mother, even when they were apart. All the hours Deena had been spending with her — the photography lessons, the fun outings, the baking activities — was she discovering anything? Was she unearthing any secret clue that would help her understand her daughter?

She couldn’t really answer that. Miri was definitely enjoying all the attention, but there was nothing specific coming up, no aha moment.

Only nonstop complaints and an almost deliberate agenda to get in Deena’s hair.

It was only when the meeting with Ninetta was over and Deena was getting into her car to go pick up her girls when she realized: She’d forgotten to record the second part of the meeting, too.

Thank you, Miri. Thank you so much.

Miri and Nechama were playing on the front lawn when Deena arrived. She hugged them tight — Miri didn’t even squirm in her embrace — then went inside to greet Mrs. Lizman.

“We had such a wonderful Shabbos with Miri and Nechama,” Zev’s mother said, ushering Deena into the kitchen. “How about you come along next time?”

“Uh…” Deena combed through the edges of her sheitel. “Uh, maybe…”

“You really should. We’d love to have you.”

Mrs. Lizman threw a few treats for her grandchildren into a bag. The girls ran back outside with their goodies.

“I have to tell you, Deena,” Mrs. Lizman intoned. “I’m seeing a remarkable change in Miri. I guess therapy is really working? She’s so much happier, more grounded. She’s like a different kid.”

Deena held back a wince. A different kid, sure. With an agenda to test her mother to her limits.

But she had to admit, other than incidents like that morning, she did see a huge change in Miri.

She sat down at the edge of a barstool. “I’m happy you noticed it,” she said genuinely. She hesitated for a moment, then decided to share. “I think it’s because she finally has a place to process Zev’s petirah.

“She experienced this loss, and she continues to live with it every day. Now she’s gaining tools to cope with it. To sort of compartmentalize the trauma so it doesn’t spill over into all areas of her life.”

Mrs. Lizman leaned over the island. “So true. We all need that, you know. A way to process it.” Her eyes moistened and she shook her head, squelching a sob. “For me, I find that this job gemach, it makes me feel stronger. The idea of doing something for my Zev… it’s… It feels so right. It sort of frames my pain.”

Deena nodded. “That makes so much sense.”

“I’m sure you have your own coping methods?”

“Y-yes,” Deena stammered. She shifted on the barstool. “I—I try to… keep his memory alive. Together with the children, you know.”

A stickiness filled her throat. She tried to say something more, add something legitimate — maybe the brachos party — but her voice failed her.

I’m sure you have your own coping methods?

She did. She definitely did. And it clearly reflected in her growing number of followers.


Pessie spread oil over the thin sheet of dough on the counter.

“I want to put the cocoa this time,” Hindy said.

“Okay. Here, try to sprinkle it all over, then we’ll spread it evenly.”

Pessie baked rugelach once a year: on Tishah b’Av. It was too big of a patchke, not to mention how healthy white flour plus oil plus heaps and heaps of sugar were.

But on Tishah b’Av, she needed to pass the time, and even though she preferred to break her fast on fruit, she knew how Yochi craved something sweet at the end of a fast day, so rugelach it was.

Besides, she wouldn’t be around to sample her mother’s rugelach on Shabbos. Because if Yochi wasn’t going there, she’d made up her mind; she was staying home.

Yochi walked into the kitchen a few minutes later. “Yummm. Smells heaven. How many hours left?”

“Four and a half,” Hindy supplied. She’d been keeping track for her parents since she’d woken up in the morning.

“You’ll have to eat one for me meanwhile,” Yochi told Hindy ruefully.

Pessie signaled with her eyes. Yochi’s brows stretched upward.

“She’ll get to taste some soon, right, Hindy? We’re going to do a batch of spelt and sugar-free ones, special for you.”

Hindy’s face dimmed.

Pessie looked at her compassionately. “You don’t want to ruin your skin now, after all the time you spent in Eretz Yisrael, right?”

“Right,” she mumbled.

Not that her skin was perfect. But the really ugly patches were gone, and Pessie was religious about applying all the creams the Dead Sea doctor had prescribed, to maintain the results as much as possible.

And everyone agreed that the Dead Sea alone wasn’t enough. At the end of the day, diet was still important.

“I think I’ll lie down for a bit,” Yochi said. “Can you wake me up before Minchah?”

“Sure,” Pessie said. “What time should I wake you?”

“Around 6:30. Oh, and by the way, I spoke to a driver about Shabbos Nachamu. He could take you up Thursday night, then come pick you up Sunday night. Or early Monday morning, whichever you prefer. You don’t have to give an answer now, you can call him on Wednesday to make up the timing. Should I confirm?”

Pessie picked up a knife and sliced through the dough on the counter.

“That won’t be necessary,” she said. “I’m not going.”

“What do you mean? Why not?”

“Why not? Because you’re not being there! I’m not going without you!”

“But like, aren’t you punishing yourself? I mean, you’ll have your mother and sisters for company.”

Pessie plunked a glob of dough down on the counter. “This is a family Shabbos. If we can’t go as a family, I’d rather stay home.” She picked up the rolling pin and smashed it into the center of the dough, waiting for Yochi to object.

But instead of trying to dissuade her, Yochi gave a weary shrug. “Um, whatever, up to you. Do what you feel is right for you and the kids.”

He left the kitchen. Pessie gripped the ends of the rolling pin, and with a vigor that couldn’t have been fueled by food, she attacked the dough.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 765)

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