| Family First Serial |

Half Note: Episode 25

Shira looked at the walls. They were the warm yellows of the early 2000s. Gray was quickly becoming passé, but yellow was definitely not an option


“Does it say something about who we are?”

—Rabbi Dani Kunstler “The Spirit of the Song” Ep: 25

Racheli flounced out of the den, and Eva took that as her cue to enter. Debra was putting the chairs back in their place; Racheli’s cello was already neatly displayed in the corner. Eva cleared her throat and Debra looked up and smiled.

“Hey, can I ask you a question?”

Debra met her eyes. “Sure.”

Deep breaths, Eva. Why was this so hard?

“Do you have time in your schedule for another student?”

Debra sucked her cheek. “Depends on the times, sure. Friend of Racheli?”

Eva gave a small laugh.

“Do grandmothers count as friends?”

Debra broke into a big smile that stretched across her whole face.

“I thought you’d never ask.”


here was no foyer, Shira noted right away. She supposed the ground floor, with the lobby and chairs and displays, was supposed to count as the foyer, but it felt weird to open a door and see half the living space.

Miriam had given Mommy the keys and told her they could go check out the apartment whenever they wanted.

I hope you don’t mind us checking this out before looking at other houses, Ephraim had texted Shira earlier in the day. It made sense, look at something available now, see if it made any sense before investing in something more permanent.

It’s ok, she wrote back.

It’s just that she needed an answer ASAP and I’d love to check it out, so we know comfortably whether we want it or not.

It was nice that he was explaining himself, Shira had thought.

Also, I have a study group meeting tonight.


They hadn’t discussed that yet. Did he decide he was going to stick it out? She didn’t even know.

The apartment smelled like old lady: musty, floral. It wasn’t bad, reminded Shira of her great-grandmother and her Boro Park apartment, but she was of the Nest diffuser Scentify generation . Would the smell ever come out? It felt baked into the walls.

“Let’s look at the bedrooms.” Ephraim pointed toward the left, where there seemed to be a hallway.

“Miriam said they’re willing to paint. They put in a new kitchen a couple years ago and redid the bathrooms.”

Shira looked at the walls. They were the warm yellows of the early 2000s. Gray was quickly becoming passé, but yellow was definitely not an option.

They peeked into the first of the three bedrooms. Decent size, small closet.

“Look, it’s hardwood throughout.” Ephraim tapped the floors with his foot.

Shira felt like he was trying to sell her on the apartment. But hardwood was nice, she didn’t want to think about what could be trapped in the carpet.

The second bedroom was a little larger than the first, with a closet to match.

“We can put in our own shelving,” Ephraim said.

Shira nodded. One of the bathrooms was next to the two bedrooms. It was neat, white and wood, basically vanilla. At least it wasn’t turquoise, like in the other place they’d seen. Sad that that was her standard now.

They moved on to the master bedroom. It felt spacious. That was good. There was a walk-in closet. Nice, Shira thought.

“Is there a master bath?” she asked Ephraim.

Ephraim looked around, blinked twice. “I guess not?”

Shira’s stomach dropped. Ephraim looked at her gently.

“Is that a deal breaker?”

She wanted to say yes, but Danielle’s small space came to mind. How it was wonderful and homey, and she wanted the same.

“I don’t want it to be.”

Ephraim nodded and chewed the inside of his cheeks .

“Let’s look at the kitchen,” he said finally.

They walked back down the hall, and Shira noticed the second half bath off the kitchen. The kitchen was white and gray — new, but no personality. What did she really expect?

And then she saw it, deal breaker number two: a double sink. She pointed at it.

“A double sink?” He stated the obvious without judgment.

“Ephraim, I can’t,” she started and trailed off.

He waited. Did she usually leave off just like that? Maybe.

“I’ve always had a private bathroom and two sinks. I just feel like I won’t manage.”

“Okay,” Ephraim said quickly. “So, it’s a no?”

Shira held her hands up, exasperated. “I don’t know!”

Ephraim turned to her, was his face kindly or patronizing?

“Do you want to talk it through?”

This was something new. She took a breath and tried.

“We need our own space. That’s old news. There’s nothing readily available, and if we buy, it’ll be months before it’s ready. But even if we move, that only solves one problem.”

“One problem?”

Was he that dense?

“Ephraim, are we even staying in Chicago? Are you finishing school? What about us? We need to work on us.”

He flinched. Had she been too harsh? Their problems didn’t seem huge, but they were kinda foundational.

Ephraim walked to a wall and sat down on the floor, stretching his feet out in front of him.

“Shira, I don’t have an answer for any of your questions.”

The yellow walls felt extra sweet and cloying.

“Wanna sit?” Ephraim offered. Shira waved off his offer.

“Will I stay in school?” He started enumerating each question. “I don’t know. We have to talk about it. I’m gonna at least finish the semester so I can make a clear decision either way.” He paused.

“Now that I’m saying this, it’s obvious I should have discussed this with you.” He frowned. “Sorry?”

Progress is progress, Shira told herself.

“What’s with Chicago? “ He continued. “We’ll have to talk once the term is over. Housing? We can decide now on this apartment, and then make other decisions as they come up.”

“So, you want to possibly move for two months, and then you’ll see what happens next?” Shira deadpanned.

He must’ve read her face because he said, “Is it crazy?” Ephraim cocked his head to the side and with a wink asked, “Is it possible?”

“Anything’s possible, that’s the problem,” Shira admitted.

Ephraim laughed and flexed his legs. He seemed chilled, while Shira felt the anxiety and question of “what” closing in.

“I remember when I was learning in Israel, and our dirah was disgusting, I decided to hire a cleaner, to do over the dirah. I ended up paying for the guys to stay in a hotel for two nights. Baruch, you remember Baruch, told me that I was crazy for doing it, but he loved the results.”

“What are you saying?”

“That I sometimes blur the crazy and possible lines because I can.” Ephraim smiled disarmingly.

How did this turn into a conversation about money? Shira wondered.

“I guess I did rush all this — law school, moving, wanting to drop out. Maybe because I don’t have to consider the consequences others do.”

“Except now, when it came to us,” Shira deadpanned.

His face grew serious.

“I’m learning a little too late.” Ephraim paused. “But I’m trying. Look at us, talking, again.”

He was right. They never really did the DMC thing.

“But…” Shira started, then stopped. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to say. It was nice of him to be here, to listen. It calmed her down, gave her space to think. “We have stuff to work through ourselves, but now this apartment is right in front of us, and I don’t know which way to go.”

Ephraim steepled his fingers and tapped them against each other for a moment, thinking.

“This place isn’t what you want, but it’s not bad enough to give a straight no, also you feel the pressure to move now, and you don’t know what’s happening next.”

“YES!” She felt the relief flood her. He’d nailed it, he really was listening and trying. Shira walked to the wall, slid down it and sat beside Ephraim.

“So, we’re back to the crazy versus the possible,” she stated. Ephraim stared ahead. “Shira, I don’t know what’s going to be. We’re only gonna have time to talk intensively once I’m on break. But until then, we can make a decision for today. And then change it tomorrow.” He looked at her. “You’re allowed to.”

Shira drummed her fingers on the floor. It was nice of him to say that.

“Also, I’m here, not just here, but I support you. I’m listening, I’m learning.”

He hadn’t looked at his watch in a while. He really was listening and trying. That was sweet.

Ephraim sat upright and shifted toward Shira.

“What about you, though, what are you gonna do with yourself and your time while we wait to figure things out?

Shira stared, her eyes falling on the archway to the kitchen. She’d never really considered the question. She thought for a minute.

“I guess it would be nice to be more involved in the community, I could talk to Danielle and see if I could get involved in what she’s doing.” She shrugged. “Worst-case scenario, Mommy knows a bunch of musicians, maybe I can learn the piano and teach the kids something normal.”

They shared a laugh and fell into a comfortable silence.

After five minutes that felt like two seconds, Shira turned to Ephraim.

“You have Miriam’s number? Where do we sign?”




(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 821)

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