| Calligraphy |

Mosaic Eyes

I want to get married. I know I have Down syndrome, but I’m high-functioning. That’s what Mommy tells her friends on the phone.



I don’t know who thrusts a broom into my hands and orders, “Dance!” The crowd steps back and I’m in the middle of a clapping circle, broom in hand. Clarinets play the first notes of the mezinka tantz. Chumi, a fountain of silk and lace, is my youngest child, after all; she waits for me to sweep my house clear of children.

But even with Chumi married, my home is not empty.

“No.” I shake my head and drop the broom. It clatters on the polished floor. Through the peacock colors rushing around me I find Miriam. I stretch out my hands and grab her, twirling her around until joy beams through her puffy eyes and wide smile. And I dance, hovering on the hairsbreadth line between joy and sorrow, drinking my fill of each.

Then I let go. I step back and leave Miriam alone in the center of the circle, a dumpy woman-child. She sways to the beat, raises her arms above her head. Her hands are like a song, ululating and trilling as they wave to the music. A hundred rays of light hang in the chandeliers above the dance floor. For me, they are eclipsed by Miriam’s face as she dances for her younger sister.

And then we dance, the three of us, Miriam, Chumi, and me. I look into Miriam’s eyes and they are a mosaic. There’s joy, but there’s something else as well — a quivering uncertainty that I wonder if she even knows is present.


Sunny smile

Helpful and kind

Good job

This is my list. It’s not so long, but it’s not so short. Chumi and Sari and Penina all made lists of what they want in a chassan. I sat on their beds as they wrote. I listened. Sometimes they wrote things down, like sensitive or outgoing, but not too loud. Sometimes they just laughed. I kept their lists safe for them, and when they got engaged I tried to check off all the things they got right. Sari got two things right, but Chumi and Penina didn’t get anything.

So instead of copying my sisters and not being able to check off anything, I wrote a list of all my good points. Then a boy can look at them and know if I’ll be a good wife for him. He doesn’t even need to check them off.

I want to get married. I know I have Down syndrome, but I’m high-functioning. That’s what Mommy tells her friends on the phone. I’m 28 now. Now that Chumi’s married, I’m the only child at home. It’s time to think about settling down.

I have a good job. I wrote that on my list. I only started three weeks ago. I walk two blocks and cross three streets until I come to Golden Gleam Retirement Home. There, I serve Mrs. Fleischmann chamomile tea, Mrs. Nitzan coffee with full-fat milk and two sugars. (I don’t tell the doctor, because she tells me not to.) I boil the kettle again, and pour Mrs. Kirschner an Earl Grey with a splash of milk. I clean up the counter after, because I don’t think Etty, my supervisor, would like me leaving milk drops on the counter, although Mrs. Kirschner says that Etty shouldn’t begrudge a splash to an old lady.

I have friends, too. After work, I go to the Sunshine Club. It’s called that in the winter, too. This week, my friend Simcha had a cold and she told me a joke. What runs that never walks? Your nose. Funny! I wrote it down to make Mommy laugh, but I forgot to tell her.

Chumi just got married. She’s 24. She was scared something was wrong with her. I said, Chumi, nothing’s wrong with you. Only with them. We shared a room. At night, when she thought I was asleep, she cried. Then, I got out of bed and stroked her hair.

In the morning, she didn’t look at me. Just at the floor. And she said. “You don’t understand. I’m so ... lonely.”

But Chumi was wrong. I also feel lonely.

Yesterday, after work, I found Mrs. Burns’s number in the phonebook. Carrie, my OT, taught me how to use the phone book. First look for the B. That’s easy — right after A. And then there’s the U, and then the R, and the N and S until you have BURNS. But sometimes, Carrie said, there’s a lot of the same name, so you have to look through them all.

So I put my finger on the place — Carrie taught me that, too, otherwise you get all confused — and then I found Burns, David Raizel. Ha-ha. Her name is not David Raizel. It’s just Raizel. But she’s called Raizy. Like I’m called Miriam, but Etty calls me Miri. Or, “Miri honey.” Which I don’t like. Honey is so sweet it burns my throat and makes my tongue push up inside my mouth.

I dial the number carefully.

“Hello?” Mrs. Burns says.

I talk slow and clear. “It’s Miriam Weiner here.”

“Oh, Miriam, how are you? How’s the family? Chumi’s settling down nicely I hear, baruch Hashem, baruch Hashem. Such a simchah, especially when girls get a little older, and a beautiful chasunah. You looked gorgeous — that updo was divine.”

“Thank you.” I did look nice at the chasunah. My hair is blonde, and it’s thin. Near the front, to the right, there’s no hair at all. The hairdresser spent an hour doing my hair. She piled curls on the top. My hair is straight, not curly, but she made curls with a hot thing. It didn’t look thin at all, just pretty.

“Mrs. Burns, I want you to find me a shidduch.”

Mrs. Burns is quiet for a long time. “Miriam, honey ... Uh ... Let me talk to your parents about this. I ... I don’t think I have anyone right now who would be good for you.”

“I can wait. It took you six years to find Chumi’s bashert.”

“Six? I think it was five. Still. Yes, I hear. Miriam, we’ll be in touch, okay?”

She’s about to put down the phone, so I say, “Wait!”


“I know I’m different,” I say, and then I think about something I read in a card in a shop. “People are like chocolates,” I tell her. I don’t remember the end of the message, so I make it up. “I think I have nuts inside my chocolate. Maybe pecans. But I’m still sweet.”

“Oh, Miriam,” she says. Then she hangs up.



“Who is this, please?” I have half an hour to cook dinner. Why did I pick up the phone?

“Henna, it’s Raizy.”

Raizy isn’t much of a schmoozer. I can talk while I put up a soup. “Raizy? How’s it going?”

“Busy, baruch Hashem. How’s the young couple?”

“Good. Settling down. Maybe they’ll even make Shabbos one of these weeks.”

“A lot of work, huh?”

“Good work.” I stand in front of the open fridge, looking in the crisper. Zucchini, carrots, celery ... if I add barley, it’ll be enough for a vegetable soup.

“Henna, Miriam called me.”


“Miriam. She’s a doll.”

“How did she know your number?”

“Not such a question. She’s a bright girl. So ... you listening? She asked me to find her a shidduch.”

“She did?” Oh, boy.

“She called this afternoon. She’s a credit to you, Henna. Such middos.”

I dump the vegetables on the counter and lean against the oven. Raizy continues.

“Maybe she’s lonely. Now that Chumi’s married.”

“Maybe. They shared a room.”

“So get her some company. She’ll forget about this idea, don’t worry.”


“Have a good day, Henna.”

“You too.”

I stay by the oven for a few minutes. Then I take a deep breath, hold my head in my hands, and laugh. Miriam is just so ... transparent. Chumi, Sari, Penina ... they were all so complicated about their feelings — even now, Sari is giving me the silent treatment, because — oh, I don’t even remember why. Hormones, probably.

Not one of the kids talked to me straight after coming back from a shidduch. Till one, maybe two in the morning, when they’d tap softly on my bedroom door and ask if I wanted a cup of tea. I’d haul myself out of bed, because when kids want to talk, a mother listens. Halevai they’d tell me straight, like Miriam. I would have gotten a lot more sleep in the last few years.

I abandon the soup to search through my supply of gifts. Embroidered hand towels for vort gifts, tchatckes for the grandkids, a bath set reduced to half-price. There must be something good for Miriam, something to make her feel special. Right at the back, I spy it. A 500-piece puzzle. I must have bought it a while ago and forgotten to give it to her.

I knock on her bedroom door. “Miriam?”

She opens the door and gives me a kiss. “Hi, Mommy! I didn’t hear you come in.”

“How was work?”

“Good. And you?”


She notices the box in my hand. “Is that for me? A gift? How come?”

“Just because.” I put the puzzle on her desk and she picks it up, staring at the picture on the box — a flock of geese, flying in a perfect V-formation.

“Thanks!” She leans over and strokes my cheek. Her fingers are rough.


“Will you do it together with me?”

I hesitate. I should sit and do the puzzle with her. And while we press the tiny pieces into each other, I should talk about her phone call with Raizy and listen to her ideas about marriage and whatever else she’s thinking about. But ... supper. And Chumi’s coming at 8. She wants help picking out the photos for their chasunah album. Miriam will enjoy helping. I stand up and brush down my skirt. “Another time. I have to finish supper.”

Miriam’s shoulders droop, and for a second, she lets her blonde hair fall over her face. She lifted a stubby finger and pushes it to the side. “Okay. Call me if you need help.”

“Thanks. I will.”

As I head down to the kitchen, I plug in the electronic photo frame in the hallway. It was Chumi’s goodbye present, left on my pillow the night of the chasunah. Two thousand photos flash at me in 20-second intervals. It makes me want to choke. The here and now is quite enough, without having to shoulder the past as well. The kids have kids of their own now; they’re learning to forgive me for refusing them second helpings of ice cream.

Not Miriam, though. Not that she holds anything against me — she’s guilelessly grateful. But just looking at her is a photo album enough. Every smile brings back a thousand childhood smiles. The mischief in her eyes is the same today as when she was eight. She’s the past and the present, all tied up together and knotted with a shiny ribbon.

I should have sat with her and done the puzzle.


Raizy Burns has not called me. I know it takes time to find shidduchim. Especially for people with special needs, like me. I read about a couple with Down syndrome who got married. The mother came into their apartment every day to cook for them. I know how to cook. I make vegetable soup, but not in the pressure cooker, because that’s scary. I also make pancakes with blueberries, sunny-side-up eggs, and hash browns. And I’m good at chopping vegetables because Carrie gave me three sessions on making salad. She also told me about the vitamins in vegetables and fruit. I eat salad a lot because I don’t want to get scurvy. It’s not hard — I like to eat a lot of everything. I’m a little bit round, but that just makes my smile wider, so I don’t mind, but it’s hard to buy me clothing. I brush and floss after each meal, and my teeth are white and pretty.

At the end of each week, Etty the supervisor gives me ten pounds. That’s my wages. Usually, I come home and put it in a wooden box I decorated. I read in the paper that England is in trouble because everyone uses credit cards. It even ruined some banks. So I don’t have an account. Or a credit card. I just buy everything with smooth, ten-pound notes.

I wish Etty would give me a check. I need one. I called up Va’ad HaRabbanim to ask them to daven for me at Amukah for 40 days, but I didn’t have a credit card number to give them.

The lady on the phone spoke English, so I explained that my name is Miriam Weiner, and I don’t have a credit card because of the problem with English banks, but I need a shidduch. She took down my name — Miriam bas Henna — even though I don’t have a credit card. She said she would send me an envelope. I should put a check inside. Etty doesn’t give me checks, though, just cash. I told the lady, but I think she was busy. She didn’t really listen to me. She just hung up.

Last night, Chumi chose her wedding pictures — 400! There were 2,000 in total. I have them on my computer. I press “slide show” and they flash one after the other. Sometimes, I put wedding music on while I’m looking at them. Then I can’t help but start dancing. After a while, I usually get told to be careful of the floor. My bedroom floor is the ceiling above the lounge. It’s not so strong and I dance good. I wonder why no one joins me.


Chumi said we have to do something. She’s right. The situation’s getting out of hand. Miriam’s stopping people on the street, on the bus, asking if they know of a shidduch for her.

For years, I taught Miriam not to say hello to strangers, and everyone thought I was cruel. “She’s so sweet,” they told me. “She’s just being friendly.”

“I know,” I said, “but it’s not appropriate to simply go up to strangers and start conversations. And Miriam has to know that.”

Besides, Miriam was not, shall not, be a circus clown, I determined, a little exhibit to be oohed at on public transport or in the supermarket. And now, at the age of 28, she’s back to talking to people in the street.

Chumi’s right. This marriage idea is getting out of control. I just wish I knew what to do about it.

“She wants to get married, right? So let’s make her a party,” Chumi tells me when she comes by after work.

I flick on the kettle and make myself a coffee. I’ve officially given up caffeine, but I’m not sleeping at the moment anyway, so instead of suffering through a rosehip infusion, I opt for Brazilian roast. I sip and the caffeine hits me between the eyes.

“On Chol HaMoed. It’s the perfect time. Everyone’s home, we can make a big fuss of her. You’ll make French roast, Miriam loves that. We’ll take pictures. No, we’ll make an album. Dovi’s good at Photoshop, he’ll add some neat effects. Maybe we’ll video it.”

I set down my mug. “Whoa, Chumi. This is big. And Succos is so much work anyway. And how would Miriam feel? It’s not like it’s her birthday. Maybe she’ll feel awkward. Or silly.”

Chumi hoists herself up onto the counter. I can’t help but smile. I never imagined that she’d be sitting up there bedecked in a sheitel, swinging her feet so they made black marks on my cream cabinets.

“C’mon, Mommy. Since when did Miriam refuse a party?”

I rub my forehead. “I’ll talk to Ta.”

Chumi doesn’t give me a chance to discuss it — she galvanizes the troops and that night I’m flooded with phone calls. All the kids have an opinion, an enthusiastic comment, or want to make the scheme even fancier.

“It’ll be a surprise!”

“I’ll bring along my keyboard and we’ll have music. Miriam will love that. Maybe she’ll dance.”

“A buffet dessert table. With Miriam’s favorite trifle. Who needs a chasunah?”

I grab a pen and paper and scrawl down everyone’s contributions. I don’t know whether this is going to happen or not, whether I want it to happen, but there’s no point in two people bringing lemon mousse. At midnight, I pull the phone from its socket. Gripping the banister, I pull myself up to bed, Chumi’s words still ringing in my ears — “She wants to get married, right? So let’s make her a party.”

If anyone loves a party, it’s Miriam.

Still, I can’t help but feel that somewhere, somehow, we’ve all lost sight of the look in Miriam’s eyes.



The whole family is here, by the front door. Chumi and Sari take my hands and lead me into the succah. There’s a purple banner across it — “In Honor of Miriam,” it says. The table is full of yummy food. And best of all, everyone’s here. My nieces and nephews, and Dovi and Tatty and Mommy, and they’re all smiling.

“Why?” I ask.

“Just because.”

I like that. It’s the best reason. I clap my hands and then someone puts on a recording of Chumi’s chasunah music and I dance my head from side to side.

They sit me down and put a pretty parcel in my hands. I take off the gift wrap carefully because I don’t want to rip it — it’s silver and green and twinkly.

“Oh, a photo album!”

I turn the pages. So many pictures of me! All the chasunahs. Holding my brothers and sisters when they were babies, and holding my brothers’ and sisters’ babies. Mommy sits next to me as I look at the photos and she pats my arm.

The children go find toys in the playroom. Sari and Chumi and Penina talk about their sheitels. Chumi is disappointed in the hair of her sheitel. “You still look beautiful,” I tell her. Chumi smiles, but she’s not listening. Mommy tells me I’m a treasure. Then the phone rings.

There’s a beep. The message clicks on. A lady starts talking. She has an accent. Everyone is quiet so they can hear.

“Hello, I’m calling from Va’ad HaRabbanim with a message for … Miriam Weiner. We received a name — Miriam bas Henna — for zivug hagun. We have not yet received a check. As soon as we receive it, the 40 days of tefillah at Amukah will begin. Please call us back.”

“Did you hear that?” Dovi says. He bangs the table with his hand. He puts his head back so his nose points at the sky. He starts to laugh.

Dovi’s laughter makes me feel sad.

I’m not very good at pretending, but I don’t want to ruin the party. Chumi worked so hard. So I quietly go out of the succah. I put on my coat, because it’s cold now. Summer’s over. I let myself out the house. One time, Mrs. Kirschner told me that the black maid makes tea like dishwater. Mrs. Kirschner spits it out into the saucer. Maybe I’ll go to her now and make her a nice cup of tea.


“What?” Dovi demands. “What did I do wrong? I just laughed, that’s all. And please, let me get this straight. Did Miriam actually call Va’ad HaRabbanim and donate money for them to daven for her at Amukah?”

“That’s why we’re having this whole party, dummy,” Chumi says, swiping away the camera that Dovi fiddles with. “Miriam feels like she wants to get married. And so we wanted to make her feel special. Not stupid.” She glares at her brother.

“You can talk,” says Dovi.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, in all these months, the only topic of conversation was your dress or your sheitels. Or before that, your shidduchim. It’s no wonder she feels left out. I bet Miriam wasn’t included in any of it.”

Chumi looks down at the floor. Dovi presses his point. “Do you even know what she does all day in her new job? Did you ever ask her?”

Chumi juts out her chin. “I always ask about her day.”

“Yeah, and then you switch off the minute she starts telling you about her old ladies and their chamomile tea. I’ve seen you.”

I close my eyes and hold up my hands. “Enough!” I say. “Enough bickering. Please. The damage has been done.”

I pick up the trifle bowl and take it into the kitchen. I can’t help but slam it down on the counter. The world, I think, can do with a few more Miriams.

That evening, when Miriam finally returns, I hover in her bedroom.

“It was a nice party. Thank you, Mommy. You worked very hard.”

I swallow. “Pleasure, honey. Chumi worked hard. She wanted you to have a special evening, just for you. I’m … I’m sorry Dovi laughed.”

Miriam shrugs, and I can’t bring myself to look at her. Others might see round cheeks and puffy eyes, but I see her pain.

I lean down and give her a kiss. As I leave the room, I notice the puzzle I gave her a few weeks before, still in its cellophane wrapping.

“You didn’t open your puzzle.”

Miriam shook her head.

“I don’t want a new puzzle,” she said. “I don’t know how to do it.”

“But that’s the challenge. It’s fun.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I won’t enjoy that. I like doing puzzles I know.”

I hesitate, my hand on the door handle. The grandkids have all but trashed the house. One more day until Shemini Atzeres, and there are schnitzels to fry and kugels to bake.

Miriam looks at me, her eyes a mosaic of hurt and love and quivering uncertainty. I lift the puzzle, clear some space on her desk, and slip off the cellophane wrapper.

“Come,” I say. “We’ll do it together.”

(Originally featured in Calligraphy, Succos 5773)

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