Everyone was staring at her. The tour guests. Leah, her mother, her sisters. The Lizmans. The whole world
She gripped the stick of butter, oblivious to the grease coating her skin. Her eyes widened in horror, retracing the path her rings had flown. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think.
And then adrenaline kicked in.
Dropping the butter, she leaped off the stage and tore through the crowd. Women shifted aside as she elbowed through chairs, breathing rapidly, eyes frantically scanning the floor. Several women bent down to help her search. There was noise around her, people talking, chairs falling, but she didn’t hear a sound, until suddenly, a voice cried out, “I found it!”
She bolted upright. It was Mrs. Lieberman, her large frame towering over the women around her, beaming as she waved the ring in her hand. Deena held out her palm and Mrs. Lieberman dropped in the ring — one ring.
Her diamond ring.
She slipped it on. It slid around her greasy finger.
A moment later, another woman held up her hand. She’d found Deena’s wedding band.
“Are you still missing anything?” Mrs. Lieberman asked.
Deena nodded. “My eternity band.”
My gift from Zev. The hope for my marriage.
Her voice sounded like a faulty motor. Her pulse galloped wildly, drumming in her ears. She was still wearing her apron, the one with the Nuts & Basil logo that a personalization company had made for her when she’d done a story for them. It suddenly struck her how gross her hands were, and through a mental fog, she debated if she should wipe them on her apron or go wash up or —?
And then it struck her — fully struck her — what was happening.
The show. The audience. The camera.
Everyone was staring at her. The tour guests. Leah, her mother, her sisters. The Lizmans. The whole world.
Revulsion inched its way up her throat until the nausea was so intense, she was afraid to breathe. A paralyzing awareness overtook her consciousness, spreading cold sweat over her skin, filling her head with an unbearable heaviness. She stared down at the two rings on her finger, took a few quick, sharp breaths, and then did the only thing she could think to do: she ran.
She didn’t know where she was running. She ran past people, past tables, past the cameraman standing in front of his tripod, until she reached a door and flung it open.
She ground to a halt, nearly tripping over her feet. There was Miri. Eyes expressionless. The swan image on her face slightly smudged.
She was holding out her hand. In her palm sat Deena’s eternity band.
Deena stood still for a moment, fists clenched, nails digging into her skin. Then, wordlessly, she grabbed the ring, stuffed her hand into her apron pocket, and continued running.
She ran down the hallway, through the lobby, down another hallway.
When she got to the visitors’ restrooms door, she stopped running. She leaned against the wall for a moment, inhaling, exhaling. Breathe. Breeeathe. Then she opened the door and sank down on a leather bench near the sinks.
Time passed. One minute, another. She sat there, just breathing. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
Then she took her hand out of her pocket, gazed down at the butter-coated diamonds, and burst into tears.
Her feet kicked in before her brain.
Before Pessie registered what was happening onstage, she was standing in front of the cameraman and blocking the lens with her hand. “Turn it off,” she mouthed urgently.
The cameraman, who’d been busy doing something on his phone, looked at her in confusion.
“Turn it off,” Pessie repeated desperately.
He glanced up at the stage and crumpled his face. “What’s wrong?”
Pessie frantically motioned with her hand. He paused his camera.
She exhaled. “There’s a problem,” she explained quickly. “We’re pausing the show.”
“Uh…” He looked at her like, Who are you and why should I listen to you?
“I’m Pessie Hersko,” she offered assertively. “Yochi’s wife. Stick around, please, I’ll let you know when we’re ready to continue.”
She turned around and saw the crowd shuffling around, bending down, searching. Pessie couldn’t see Deena; she was probably crouched between chairs looking for her rings.
They’ll find the rings, they’re somewhere in the room. Why all this panic? It had happened so fast. Miri raising her hand, hurling those rings through the air, Deena gasping and diving off stage, tearing through the crowd like a woman possessed.
Okay. Okay, it wasn’t the end of the world. They’d find the rings, the show would continue. Nothing happened.
But Deena didn’t look okay. In fact, she looked downright ill, and a moment later, she was racing through the ballroom and vanish though the door.
A jumble of thoughts zoomed through Pessie’s mind. The rings — did she find the rings? The show, the audience, Miri. Yochi — call Yochi, ask him to come. No, what would Yochi do? What was there to do? They simply had to find the rings, bring Deena back and continue the show. Why did this feel like a whole major emergency?
She took a few steps forward. .
A silence had descended on the audience. Then everyone started talking at once. Pessie stared at the door, trying to absorb what had just happened. Her instinct told her to chase her friend, find out what had happened, but that instinct was overpowered by a second, much stronger intuition.
Deena needs me right here.
Pessie closed her eyes for a moment and slowly filled her lungs. When she opened them again, it was as though she’d stepped into a new body, and an unfamiliar pair of feet stepped forward. They walked around all the chairs, past the murmuring tour guests. They took her up ahead, to the stage, where she mounted first the milk crate step and then the makeshift wooden platform.
Then a hand — not her own, her hands didn’t do such things — reached for the microphone that had been left abandoned on the table, between little glass bowls of oils and seasonings.
The other hand had a foresight that may have been her own as it shut the flame under the electric burner.
And then the strange new person who wore her clothes stepped in front of the table, straightened her back, grinned at her curious audience, and made an announcement.
“We’re going to take a short break from the cooking, ladies! After so many delicious meals, I’m sure you’re all feeling a little… full, huh?” The person holding the mic winked and chuckled. “I usually like to train my clients one-on-one, but I think this is going to be a cool change. Raise your hand if you feel up to a fun little workout!”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 784)
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