“The show is over. I’m over. History. Find me a flight home. Schedule me an appointment with a plastic surgeon”
The restroom door squeaked open.
Deena leaped up from the leather bench and rushed over to the nearest stall. Panting, she locked the door behind her. A moment later, she heard soft footfalls and then a hesitant cough. “Deena?”
Deena leaned back against the door and filled her lungs. “I’m here,” she said hoarsely.
Ruthie was quiet. Deena waited, her knees shaking. Ruthie didn’t say another word.
After several minutes of silence, Deena unlocked the door and shuffled out. Ruthie backed into the powder area, motioning for Deena to sit. She sat.
Ruthie perched on the counter near the sinks. “That was tough,” she said quietly.
Deena looked up. “Tough?” Her breath shook. “That was… crazy! She’s crazy! I’m never walking out of this room!”
Ruthie ran her fingers over the countertop. “You need to get out of here, Deena. You must get back onstage.”
“What? Are you nuts? The show is over. I’m over. History. Find me a flight home. Schedule me an appointment with a plastic surgeon.”
Ruthie chuckled. “You’re funny.”
“I’m not… it’s not funny. It’s… oh.” She dropped her head down into her palms. The tears started flowing again.
Ruthie got off the counter and walked forward tentatively. She paused, then sat down on the bench next to Deena, placed a box of tissues down on her side and slowly put her hand on Deena’s shoulder.
“Not only this audience,” Deena sobbed, “the entire world. Zev’s parents watched this happen.”
“They didn’t,” Ruthie said. “The camera was off before anyone could understand what happened.”
Deena turned. “What do you mean?”
“Pessie. She stopped the video. She’s in the ballroom now doing an intermission activity, some workout or whatever. But you have to come. There’s only so long she can keep this up.”
Deena’s lungs filled with a flow of welcome air. So, the Lizmans hadn’t seen this happen. Okay.
But then her eyes fell on her finger — on the oily eternity band — and a sickening wave crashed over her. There was no show, no audience, no cameras — only the ring burning on her finger. For two and a half weeks, since Rosh Hashanah, she’d kept it on, her fingers reaching down to touch it a hundred times a day but her eyes shifting away every time they caught sight of the gleaming diamonds.
As though time was on rewind, she saw a little hand scoop the ring up, clutch it tightly, and then it was flying through the air, fading, vanishing from sight.
Now, she sat on the bench weeping, her chest heaving as she blinked down at the clouded diamonds.
Through a haze, she heard the door open again, and then a tiny, shaking voice. “Mommy?”
She looked up. Miri flew over and buried her head in Deena’s Nuts & Basil apron.
For a long moment, they were silent, Deena staring down at her daughter’s dark ponytail. Then Deena planted her hands on Miri’s shoulders and nudged her upright.
Their eyes locked. Miri’s face was tearstained, black paint streaked over white cheeks in a freakish mess.
She was crying? Why was she crying?
A storm erupted in Deena’s head. She slurped air; short, quick breaths to contain her emotions.
But before she could release the anger that burned in her throat, Miri’s smudged forehead crumpled and she blinked in confusion.
“Why are you crying, Mommy?”
Deena’s breath caught. She gaped at Miri, at her young daughter who had just triggered a volcano, and suddenly, a terrific weakness overtook her.
She slumped in her seat.
Ruthie stood up. “I’ll wait outside, Deena,” she whispered.
When the door closed, Deena motioned for Miri to sit down next to her. She swallowed. “You want to know why I’m crying?”
Her voice was strained. She twirled the ring on her finger, then stood up and went over to the sink. She ran soap and water over her hands, then wiped her rings thoroughly. The diamonds gleamed.
She sat back down and held up the eternity band. “I’m crying because this ring is a gift from Tatty.” Her voice cracked. “And I… miss him.”
Feeling suddenly shy, she kept her eyes away from Miri. A shiver ran up her arms as a strange realization settled in her mind.
It was true that her marriage had been shaky, that her relationship with Zev had been filled with hurt and misunderstanding. But it was also true that, had Zev lived, things could have changed. He’d tried — she gazed at the ring, at the evidence of his effort — and she…
I would have. I could have tried.
And now it was all gone. Vanished, like her rings flying through the air, disappearing.
I didn’t only lose my husband. I lost…
I lost what could have been.
She dug her palms into her eyes as tears rained down her cheeks. She cried and cried, a pile of crumpled tissues growing at her side.
And then Miri inched closer, and Deena grabbed her in her arms and squeezed her close to her chest. Then they were crying together, silent sobs, sniffles, Deena’s, Miri’s… A wordless choir of pain and regret.
There was a light tap on the door. Ruthie poked her head in.
“You need to go back now,” she told Deena. Her voice was kind but insistent.
She came over to Miri, told her something quietly and gently led her out of the restroom.
“Go up to your room,” she commanded Deena. “Fix up your makeup and get back down here. And do it quickly. Your dough is drying out.”
“I… can’t,” Deena croaked. “I can’t face the crowd. I’m so embarrassed.”
“I know, but you gotta do this. For your sake.”
“I’ll never live this down. It’s going to be all over social media.”
“Maybe,” Ruthie relented. “But you know how these things work. By tomorrow, the next top story will break, people will forget. Please, Deena. Everyone knows how amazing you are. Look at your feed, you’re so perfect. This was a one-time incident, it won’t ruin you.”
“I can’t,” Deena repeated.
Ruthie prodded her back. Deena stood up on shaky legs.
“Hurry,” Ruthie said.
Deena walked over to the sink and ran water over her face. She felt hollow inside, like after a long fast.
“I’m going back to the ballroom now. What should I tell Pessie, five minutes?”
Deena inhaled deeply. “Fifteen.”
“Good. And you’ll get up there and do your thing, like nothing happened. The crowd had a good time, they moved their muscles a bit. Give them a great show.”
Deena gave a strained smile. “Thanks, Ruthie,” she whispered.
Pessie’s voice sounded smooth and confident over the mic, the slight shake camouflaged by a mechanical echo. She raised the music volume on the phone one of the guests had paired with the speaker for her “class.”
Her eyes swept over her audience for a brief moment before she dropped to a squatting position. The people in the ballroom did not resemble the clients who came to work out in her basement back home. In place of sneakers and snoods, the women wore their prettiest sheitels and dainty leather shoes, their movements less fluid in their Chol Hamoed attire.
It had taken a few minutes to win over her audience. Everyone had been wary, casting glances at the women near them, wondering if it made sense to stand up and get moving. Breathing exercises had felt safe enough, and after three of the Lieberman sisters circled over to the front, rolled up their sleeves and determinedly planted their hands on their knees, more chairs scraped back, arms stretching falteringly over heads.
“Hey, Rivkie,” Pessie called, pointing in Rivkie Berkowitz’s direction. “Come join me up here.”
Rivkie turned pink. Pessie gave her an encouraging smile and waved her over. “A seasoned gym rat, huh, Rivkie? You’ll teach our guests to lift weights while your husband makes sure we all gain weight.”
Rivkie giggled. A confused murmur rippled through the crowd. Although Pessie had suspected this, she was still surprised how Rivkie had managed to keep a low profile until now. Rivkie was Rivkie, the same meek woman whose mother had dragged her along for training.
But it wasn’t the same-same Rivkie, really not. The woman’s back was noticeably straighter, a certain confidence in her eyes that Pessie had never seen before. Had the tour done this to her?
Her gaze landed on Mrs. Lieberman, and she watched as the tour’s unofficial Bubby registered the information that this was the caterer’s wife. Her curls bounced as she shook her head in admiration, and then she brought her palms together for a hearty round of applause.
“I’m going to kill you,” Rivkie muttered.
Pessie nudged her. “Knee bends,” she said softly.
Still looking dazed, Rivkie lowered her body to a squatting position.
Pessie smirked. “Let’s go, Rivkie, show them.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 785)
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