| Family First Serial |

Half Note: Episode 22   

Great, he’d said he was sorry, but it was just for that incident. Didn’t he get that this was the proverbial straw?


“I struggle with sleep. I don’t sleep. But I don’t struggle with anger.”

—Charlene Aminoff, Not Your Typical Podcast, Ep. 2


Shira looked the night table. Another wrapped gift. She rolled her eyes.

At least Ephraim was still going to school. She had no idea if he’d talked to the university about dropping out, or what was going on. She didn’t talk to him much these days, just a curt nod, and “good” to respond to his “how was your day?” questions. Mostly she avoided him. She had told him she was going to do her own thing, and so she was.

Two days after the Shallots fiasco, she woke up to Forever Flowers on the night table. Ephraim had left a note.


I’m sorry for springing that on you the other night. Let’s talk.


Great, he’d said he was sorry, but it was just for that incident. Didn’t he get that this was the proverbial straw? She moved the vase to the kids’ room.

Over the next few days, she’d woken up to a series of gifts: chocolate, slippers, a larger SwaddleBee blanket.

She guessed Ephraim figured it was the thought that counted, because she didn’t need any of it. She gave the chocolate to Clarissa, kept the slippers in their box, and dumped the blanket in the playroom.

Today’s gift was a lululemon fuzzy crossbody bag. She had to admit it was cute. Cute enough for Racheli to play house with. She didn’t bother opening the note, she knew it wouldn’t help.

As she applied mascara, she wondered what she was waiting for. What could he say or do that would make her soften? Right now it felt like nothing. His neglect and her passivity had stewed long enough to make a potent brew, and it wasn’t going anywhere.

Sometimes DeeDee Dvorkus would pop into her head.

“Fighting fire with fire only gets you a bigger fire faster.”

“You can choose your marriage over being right, it’s not a zero-sum game.”

But she dismissed those voices. Had DeeDee’s husband completely disregarded her, uprooted her, then turned around and said it had all been for nothing — and then asked for sympathy?

Shira dabbed Vaseline on her lips, and looked in the mirror. She looked good. She felt great.

She listened for the kids, they were talking to each other in their room. Giggling. Kids are so clueless.

Her phone was on the dresser, she grabbed it and opened the voice recorder. She pressed the red button — she’d done that a few times over the past few days, ever since she’d recorded herself that first time for what she thought might one day become a podcast. It was so cathartic.

“I wish I were as clueless as my kids. Then I wouldn’t know what normal was. I could accept my circumstances. When I think back now to where I was a few months ago, Ramat Eshkol, Yerushalayim, it feels like it was only a dream. Then I woke up to this miserable reality. And I don’t know what the future holds because the reins are not in my hands at all. I’m not even the horse in this metaphor, I’m the wagon that literally just follows whatever movement there is. The only way I can do something is by losing a wheel, limping along. Maybe that’s the only way to steer things differently.”

She hit the button to stop recording, then rummaged in the closet for her slides.

A wagon that lost a wheel. Is that what she was? Was she limping along? No, wrong metaphor. She’d disconnected the wagon, and no one would tell her what to do anymore. But an unattached wagon can’t go anywhere, it needs a driver and horse. Ugh, forget it. Stupid example.

She breathed deeply and went to the kids’ room to straighten up. One glance around the room and she knew it wasn’t her day. The kids had gotten hold of the tissue box and the spray bottle of water she used instead of wipes on Shabbos. Moist tissue clumps were all over the room and the kids. So much for sleeping late to avoid Ephraim.

By the time she made it downstairs to do breakfast, Shira was done for. Whatever empowerment she’d felt had dissipated in the kids’ room, along with her sanity. She slumped at the table and nursed a coffee as Racheli and Dovi overflowed their bowls with sugary cereal.


omething was up, Eva knew that much, but she didn’t know what. Was it just this time of the semester? Ephraim was home later, Shira seemed more quiet than usual. And it wasn’t her usual easy silence moving through the house; she was curt with the kids, sulking, almost.

She heard movement in the kitchen, and she peeked through the door before making herself seen. The kids were being more wild than usual and Shira was doing nothing to rein them in. Not that that’s bad, she quickly amended in her mind, but even with Shira’s back to her, she could see the slope of her shoulders.

What would an attentive, decent mother-in-law do? Eva asked herself. It was a funny question, but she’d started asking herself this, almost like a thought experiment.

How could she make Ephraim’s and Shira’s lives easier? They have it easy! her internal voice yelled. She ignored it.

Stepping into the kitchen, she made sure her footsteps were loud so that Shira would know she was no longer in a private space.

Should she smile at her? She was so obviously not in the mood for anyone.

“Hey,” Eva said softly, approaching the table. Shira looked up at her and gave a small smile. It felt forced. “You seem a bit, I don’t know, stressed.” Eva looked at Shira for some confirmation. Shira offered nothing. “Why don’t you take a little me-time. I’ll watch the kids, Clarissa is off today. You get a pedicure, go shopping, meet up with a friend.”

Shira did a double take at that. Was she always that clueless, that this small gesture was that shocking? Yes, her inner voice confirmed.

Should she tell Shira she’d binged-listened to DeeDee Dvorkus’s  podcast and that she’d had some real thoughts on it? Later.

“I’m serious,” Eva urged. “Go, you need a break. I have it under control. I make a killer tea party.”

She winked at Racheli, who raised her cup of orange juice in a toast, spilling a bit along the way. Shira’s face said she couldn’t handle cleaning up. Eva reached for a paper towel on the counter.

“I got it, you go.”

Shira took a sip of her coffee, sighed, and looked at her. Did she not trust her?

“Thanks. I’m gonna go change.”

She pushed her seat back forcefully and it grated noisily on the floor. This was not the delicate Shira she knew.

After Shira left, Eva turned to her grandkids.

“Are we going to have fun today?!”

“Yes!” Racheli stood up on her chair and cheered.

Dovi imitated his older sister a second later, knocking over his bowl of cereal. Classic. Eva laughed and was happy Shira wasn’t there to see it.

She took the kids off the chairs and started wiping them down. Where was the Fantastik?

“He’s so clueless. So selfish and self-centered. How could he do this to me!”

Eva jerked her head. That was Shira’s voice. She turned and saw the kids playing with Shira’s phone. This was a recording? She should turn it off, take it away, but she felt frozen. What was going on?

“Everything is about him. Like an egocentric child who thinks because he likes teddy bears, I’d like one too. But I never liked teddy bears, and he never bothered to ask me. And now after playing a little he decides he doesn’t like stuffed animals at all anymore, so he wants to discard them, Seriously, he thinks he can quit law school and act like his life is only his own and like I haven’t made any sacrifices to get here.”

She’d heard enough. It all made sense now. She reached for the phone, and saw Shira standing in the doorway as she did. Eva felt her face burn in shame. Shira’s face matched, and she couldn’t meet Eva’s gaze.

“Go. Take care of yourself. It’s all on me,” Eva said gently, as she put the phone on the counter and pushed it away.

Shira hesitated a moment, then grabbed the phone and stalked out of the kitchen.

Eva looked around the kitchen and mindlessly started making herself a coffee.

“Oh, Ephraim, what have you done?” she whispered. “And… is it my fault?”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 818)

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