| Outside Chance |

Outside Chance: Chapter 12 

I gave Avrumi a look. “You’re not getting this, Chaim told me this and then said, ‘Well, now I’m a lo yutzlach’ ”

Shani Leiman with Zivia Reischer

"Want potato kugel?”

Chaim grunted and sat down. I supposed that was a yes. I got out a plastic plate and cut a large piece for him, then got out the coleslaw, scooped it onto the plate, and poured a cup of Dr. Pepper.

“At your service,” I said as I slid the plate before Chaim. He grunted. Was that a thank-you? I looked at the chicken defrosting on the counter, then pulled out the chair next to Chaim. Shabbos was coming, but my schnitzel could wait.

“What’s up?” I asked. Chaim shrugged and grunted. Since when was he such a grunter? He took a bite of kugel, I waited a moment then pounced.

“Is it good?”

Got a one-shoulder shrug this time. Give it up, Chana.

I’d almost returned to the chicken cutlets when Chaim finally spoke. “The rosh yeshivah introduced me to a guy today. Said he’ll be my new night seder chavrusa.”

“Oh, nice. Is he new in yeshivah?”

Chaim rolled his eyes.

“Did I miss something?”

“This guy’s like a tutor, he helps guys get up to speed if they’re not chapping the sugya, or he works on their Gemara vocabulary.”

“Interesting.” I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. I assumed it was bad, but I wanted to hear what Chaim thought.

“Well, now I’m definitely a lo yutzlach.” He was trying to joke, but he sounded bitter.

“Chaim, you know that’s not true,” I started, but Chaim responded by taking so large a mouthful of potato kugel that even if he’d wanted to, he wouldn’t be able to speak for a minute.

Conversation over.

“We’ll talk later,” I said, standing up and patting him on his back.

I left the kitchen in search of Avrumi, and found him in the guest room putting towels on the bed. Leah and Pinny were coming for Shabbos. His face was neutral but as soon as he saw me, it mirrored mine.

“What’s wrong?”

“Chaim just told me that the rosh yeshivah introduced him to a tutor for night seder. A new ‘chavrusa,’ the rosh yeshivah said.”

Avrumi nodded. “That’s a great idea. I’m glad he’s being proactive.”

I gave Avrumi a look. “You’re not getting this, Chaim told me this and then said, ‘Well, now I’m a lo yutzlach.’ ” I lowered my voice, trying to capture and imitate Chaim’s pain.

Avrumi sucked in his cheeks, his equivalent of an eye roll. “Of course Chaim hates it, it cramps his style. But I think it’s great. Hopefully this guy will push him.”

“Avrumi, you’re not getting this. He’s not going to be able to learn well if his self-esteem is destroyed. It’s mortifying to have a tutor.”

 

Avrumi motioned for me to sit down. I remained standing.

“Chana, Chaim was never the strongest talmid. We sent him to Mekor for the oilem. We knew the learning would always be a stretch. A tutor will help him feel more secure in the sugya and I’m sure that’ll help with other things.” He paused and straightened his back. “When you feel good about yourself, you don’t make trouble.”

My turn to eye roll. I don’t appreciate when he goes into sage rav mode.

“Nice idea, but right now his self-esteem is gonna get in the way and he won’t be able to learn from anyone. And anyway, this is out of left field. We just had a meeting with the rosh yeshivah, he said we’d be in touch. Why is he doing this without consulting us?”

Avrumi nodded. “You have a good point on the second half. But it’s already done. I think it’s worth seeing it through.”

“My gut says this is all bad news.”

Avrumi gave a small shrug and opened his palms in a “who knows?” way. I shook my head. Nice of him to give me room to be right. He gets to have his cake and eat it too, because we’re not going to get rid of this tutor yet. But really, why did he prioritize Chaim’s learning over his self-esteem?

 

 

“Mugs are in the second-to-last cabinet,” I told Leah. She opened up the second-to-first one. Weird, Leah and Pinny have been here for Shabbos already, she doesn’t remember my kitchen?

“Last, last,” I said, pointing at the farthest cabinet. Leah was moving slow, still looking in the wrong cabinet.

“What’s this, Ma?”

She was holding a small container of prenatal vitamins. Whoops, forgot to hide them. Oh, well, I’d planned on telling her soon enough anyway.

“Mine.”

“What, it’s also like a regular daily vitamin? Even for your age?”

“Nope.”

Leah’s eyes went deer in headlights. I smiled at her and nodded. “I use it as a prenatal vitamin.”

“Nooo,” Leah drew out the “o” in disbelief.

“Yes.” I smiled more broadly. She didn’t return the gesture.

“Wooow, craaaazy,” Leah said, almost to herself.

“Yup,” I confirmed. A weird sort of smile spread across her face, I couldn’t read it. She wandered to the right cabinet this time, got a mug and made her coffee, spilling milk on the counter as she poured.

“Penny for your thoughts,” I offered.

“When are you due?”

I shrugged. “Around a month-ish after you. Just started my fourth.”

She nodded slowly, then brought her coffee and rugelach to the table.

“It’ll be the cutest, no? Having the two of them grow up together. I hope they’re the same gender.”

“I hope not,” Leah blurted.

I looked at her. She looked at her coffee.

“What are you thinking?” I asked, lowering my voice to meditation levels. Leah took a sip of coffee, readjusted her snood, and took a bite of vanilla rugelach. Stall tactics.

“I dunno, not sure. It’s just… unexpected.”

I nodded. “Yes, but in a good way, right?” I poked her arm.

Leah looked at me, eyes wide. She looked so young. “Yeah, sure.” She sipped her coffee again. “When did you say you were due?”

“After Pesach.”

“Wow.” She exhaled the word, then went quiet. Not like her.

We passed two minutes in silence when, out of nowhere, Leah spoke. “So I kinda thought I’d be camping out by you after I had the baby.”

“Of course you will,” I assured her. Again she gave me those eyes.

“You’ll be in your ninth month, Ma.”

“Nu?”

“C’mon, Ma, it’ll be crazy.”

“We’ll make it work.”

Leah offered a small smile. She pushed back her chair and stood.

“Gonna put a sheitel on before the men come home.” When she was at the base of the stairs, she looked back at me. “B’shaah tovah,” she said, and raised an imaginary glass as if it were a l’chayim. I raised my coffee mug and nodded. She looked so sad.

I saw her shushkening with Pinny as soon as the men came home. The seudah was polite and staid, not like us. Only after we’d all napped and were lounging in the living room did I try to speak to Leah again.

“So do you wanna talk about my news?” I asked, putting a pillow on

my lap.

Leah put down her book. “What?”

Did she really not hear me? Or is she going quiet awkward again?

“My news. I’m expecting. You found my vitamins, remember?”

“Oh, that.” And then she chuckled, but it sounded weird, short and high.

I waited for her to say something. But all she did was frown and look up and around the walls.

“Do you know the time? Pinny wanted me to wake him up at five.”

I shook my head. And she left the living room, presumably in search of a clock. But I’m not an idiot. My baby who made me a mommy is sad, because I’m having a baby. And now I’m sad.

to be continued…

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 699)

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