| Calligraphy |

The Electrician’s Wife

The excitement, the energy, the… the sparkle. Who said it was reserved for twenty-year-olds?

The shoemaker’s children go barefoot. And the electrician’s wife squints in the dim entryway and nearly cracks her skull as she trips over her own two feet.

The electrician’s wife was tired. So tired, in fact, that the dark hallway made something in me snap. Yissachar was an electrician, you’d think he was capable of changing a lightbulb.

Yissachar was eating cold flounder from a plastic plate at the dining room table when I returned from Shifra’s apartment. He looked up for a second, said hi absently, then turned his attention right back to the papers in front of him.

He was nervous. I could tell just how nervous by the spidered plastic cups littering the dining room table. Yissachar didn’t even realize when he did it. His eyes remained glued to his papers as he ripped through those cups, neat lines, top to bottom, around and around, until the cup looked like an octopus and he pressed the round base down on the table and rotated it.

It was a habit I’d discovered 40 years earlier, during sheva brachos, when my brand-new husband learned that our Eretz Yisrael plans might not work out. He’d sat and made phone call after phone call, and while I’d puttered in our tiny kitchen, preparing very fancy deviled eggs for breakfast, he’d ripped plastic cups.

I threw one last glance at him, at his half-eaten food, and went to the kitchen to prepare my own meal. Maybe, when he finally got his license and stopped studying, we’d have supper together again. Maybe then, when Yissachar would be his own boss practicing under his own license, he’d even come home earlier and let his workers stay late to deal with emergencies.

“Your supper will be ready in a few minutes,” I told Shifra.

“Thanks,” she muttered. Her head was bent over an open invitation and she was scribbling furiously. Personal, emotion-laden letters to her friends, because otherwise, what would make them show up to her wedding?

I took out the Panini maker and plugged it in. I spread dressing over an open wrap, added the flounder and vegetables and folded it up. One for me, one for Shifra. I’d planned on making one for Yissachar, too, but oh well, he didn’t even realize what he was eating these days. He ate whatever was available when he got hungry.

“Yum,” Shifra said when I placed the Panini in front of her. “I’m coming over here during sheva brachos and copying over all your recipes, Ma.”


I took a bite. Wow, I hadn’t even realized how hungry I was. It had been one long, crazy day, and there was still so much to get done in the three weeks to Shifra’s wedding. I’d married off six children before, you’d think I would’ve had this down to a science. But frankly, I was overwhelmed.

Shifra had barely swallowed her first bite when her cell phone rang. She glanced at the screen, and her face turned pink. “It’s Moishy!”


Moishy, Moishy, Moishy.

She grabbed her phone and fled from the kitchen. A moment later, I looked up at the security camera screen and there she was, my kallah daughter, in our backyard, holding the phone to her ear, pacing on the grass. Even on the grainy screen I could make out that huge, goofy Moishy-smile on her face.

Moishy, Moishy, Moishy.

Every time she spoke to Moishy, or about Moishy, or heard someone else mention Moishy, that ridiculous smile spread across her face and her eyes lit up like the entrance bulb would on the day Yissachar would finally replace it.

Baruch Hashem. Chasdei Hashem. I was so grateful for this. I was so happy for Shifra. So, so happy. Really.

I took another bite of my Panini, glancing edgily at the uneaten food on Shifra’s plate. It would be cold by the time she returned, but it wouldn’t matter, she wouldn’t even realize, because, well, Moishy.

I glanced up at the screen again. Shifra had stopped pacing and was gesticulating wildly while she spoke. A reckless thought crossed my mind; to go to the window and eavesdrop. Listen in on what Shifra was telling Moishy Moishy Moishy Moishy.

I finished eating and threw my plate in the garbage.

That was life. Time flew. I used to be the same way. When I was twenty, I was all Yissachar, Yissachar, Yissachar, Yissachar. Well.

It was late. There were so many things I needed to take care of that night. I had to start making phone calls, invite people to Shabbos sheva brachos. I had to finalize the menu. I had to confirm Shabbos arrangements for our out-of-town guests.

I looked up at the camera one more time. Shifra was pacing again, her face earnest now. A serious, philosophical conversation, then.

I picked up my dog-eared notebook from the counter and left the kitchen. When I joined Yissachar at the dining room table, he was still absorbed in his studies and didn’t acknowledge my presence.

Staring at his hunched figure, at the collection of plastic octopi around him, my stomach sank.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The excitement, the energy, the… the sparkle. Who said it was reserved for twenty-year-olds?

Opening my notebook to the bookmarked page, I gave a slight cough.

Yissachar looked up. I offered a small smile.

“Hmm?” he mumbled.

I ran my palm over my notebook. “The… the lightbulb. At the front entrance. Can you please change it?”

He nodded absently and turned back to his papers.

Yissachar. Yissachar. Yissachar. Yissachar.

  

Shifra — my dear, charming baby daughter with her killer taste, dazzling smile, and hair that always looked professionally done — was a slob.

I wasn’t worried. When she got into her moods, usually right after the grandchildren left after Shabbos, she would attack our pantry and toy closet, turning them into the most photogenic items in our house. I had a feeling that in her own apartment that mood would make a more frequent appearance. If twenty years of nurture hadn’t taught Shifra how to maintain a neat space, marriage would. At least I hoped so. Considering all the closet organizing accessories we’d bought in The Container Store, it better. Hadn’t Simi been the same way? I used to plead with my daughter to get her act together, her books and papers were always all over the place. But now Simi was running her own tight ship and her baby’s closet looked straight out of a catalog.

There was hope for Shifra. But for now, if I wanted to find anything in her room, it would take an FBI search. And I had to work quickly — Shifra was almost done teaching and would be home soon.

I found what I was looking for eventually. A stash of CDs from the Lessons for Life gemach, between college papers and a bag with two skirts that needed to go to the seamstress for hems.

Shifra had been going through those shiurim since the week of her engagement. I read the titles curiously. The Foundation of a Jewish Home. Achieving Harmony in Marriage. It’s All About Middos. Bringing Hakadosh Baruch Hu into Your Home. Ezer K’Negdo: The Essence of a Jewish Wife.

Finally, I paused, holding up a pink jewel case and staring at the title. Keeping the Spark Alive: Creating it. Maintaining it. Living it.

My fingers trembled slightly. I left the pile of CDs on Shifra’s bed and took the pink case with me. In the basement, I powered on my laptop, stuck the CD into the slot, and downloaded the audio file.

A few minutes later, the CD was back in Shifra’s room, sandwiched between Marital Harmony and Bayis Ne’eman b’Yisroel. I found my earbuds, stuck the wire into my MP3, and as I pulled on gloves and started cleaning the chicken for supper, the voice of Rebbetzin Aviva Shimon filled my ears.

Sparkle. Create it in the mundane.

Water ran over my hands, over a semi-frozen chicken bottom. I reached for the shears.

Turn every moment with your husband into an aaaaaaah moment.

Trim. Snip. Pluck. Aaaah.

(Racing, racing, years racing past. One kid’s chasunah, another, work, health, finances, stress.) Snip. Ah.

Eagerly anticipate his homecoming every day, feel that rush of excitement when you hear the door creak open.

(Eight hours of electric work, wolfing down food half-standing, hi, how was your day, I’m running out to Maariv.)

Hold on to that sheva brachos high, the hischadshus, and live with it every day of your life.

(Brand new sheitel, glowing face, dab of blush. Five-course dinner. More dinners. Fewer courses. Then supper. When had dinner turned into supper? On plastic plates? License, license, license. Work, shop, eat, run, come, go, license, work.) Snip.

Your marriage is what you make of it. It can be okay, nice, nothing wrong. Or it can be the focal point of your life, a continuous source of otherworldly happiness.

One bottom done. Next. How many meals had I prepared over the past forty years? How many chicken bottoms?

Make your marriage shine.

Snip, snip. Pluck.

Make it sparkle.

The chicken skin glistened. Beautifully clean.

Had I really just spent half an hour cleaning three pieces of chicken?

Rebbetzin Shimon had a unique voice: soft, yet shockingly powerful.

And Yissachar…

Yissachar has never cared for chicken on the bone. He ate it, no complaints, what else do you eat for supper on a random Tuesday?

I eyed the three clean chicken bottoms in my kitchen sink. How exciting was it to return from a day’s work — climbing on ladders, twisting wires — to food that will make you full and nothing more?

Create it in the mundane.

This was what Rebbetzin Shimon was trying to say. What Shifra would surely do for Moishy Moishy Moishy.

Without another thought, I pulled a plastic bag out of a drawer. The bottoms would go into my chicken soup on Thursday.

I hunted around in the freezer for rib steak. I’d get the grill going before Yissachar returned. It would be a welcome surprise. Good food, one of the five love languages, wasn’t it?

Shifra returned from school and grabbed a quick bowl of cereal. She was getting married in less than three weeks and we had three months of errands to take care of before the big day.

Our first and most urgent priority for the day was a dress. Shifra was still short one outfit for sheva brachos, and now, after weeks of futile searching, I took her to Stone Path. When you’re desperate, you just spend whatever it takes.

Stone Path hadn’t earned its reputation for nothing. When Shifra stepped out of the fitting room, my breath caught.

“Gorgeous,” I whispered. “Gorgeous. We’re taking it.”

Sometimes when you consider a dress, you have to tell yourself why it is pretty and why it works or how it will work, after you add, remove, replace. Not so with this dress. From the hanger to sheva brachos, that’s how perfect this dress was.

When Shifra was in the fitting room changing, I picked up the dress, the same one only in a bigger size, and held it up to my neck. I turned sideways in front of the mirror, squinting.

“Not for your age,” the saleslady called out.

My cheeks burned. “No, no, of course not.” I quickly hung the dress back on the rack and got busy with my phone.

A gorgeous dress for Shifra, my beautiful kallah-daughter. Definitely not for my age.

It was a relief to cross sheva brachos dress off my list. But no rest for the engaged, we marched right on. The jewelry store, to choose between the three pairs of earrings Moishy’s mother had set aside for Shifra.

“Tzu borscht darf men nisht kein tzein,” the saleslady said when we made our decision. “I told your mechuteneste right away you’re going to choose this pair.”

Shifra grinned.

Before she took the earrings off, I took a picture with my phone. My kids were anxiously waiting to see what we’d chosen.

The saleswoman scribbled Weinhaus/Friedler and the Friedlers’ phone number on a manila pouch and slipped the earrings inside.

“Beautiful,” she said. “You made the right choice.”

I nodded. You really didn’t have to be a maven to appreciate the beauty of large, sparkling diamonds.

Before we left the store, Shifra pulled her pin out of her hair, and — peering into a jewelry mirror on the display counter — swept her hair into a loose half-pony. I stared at her hair as she snapped the pin shut; a rich chocolate brown, soft and flowy and gorgeous.

Behind her, I caught my own reflection. My short and stiff dirty blond wig with old fashioned side bangs. The simple pearls that rested on my earlobes.

Shifra trailed out of the store, ballet flats weightlessly tapping the ground. I followed her out, my Ara shoes falling hard over the concrete.

She was going to have a sparkling, sparkling marriage. I was so happy for her. So, so happy.

By the time we got home, I was completely spent. But supper, I had to make it happen, even if I preferred a good, strong coffee over steak.

Yissachar arrived home late. It wasn’t really late, not later than most days, anyway. I’d long forgotten what his regular work hours were.

He scrubbed his hands and face and sat down at the kitchen table. When I presented the main course — perfectly grilled rib steak with, okay, not house fries, he liked the frozen ones just fine — his eyes widened. “Uh… wow, Bracha. Is it — it’s not Rosh Chodesh today, is it?”

  

I forgot about Project Sparkle in the Mundane for the next month. Not that anything was mundane in my life with Shifra’s wedding and the entire whirlwind leading up to it. Then came sheva brachos, a week of mushroom sauce over beef and vegetable rosettes and oh my goodness, Shifra, you look out-of-this-world amazing, which sheitel is that?

And then our overseas guests flew home, Shifra entered a planet where nobody existed except Moishy-Moishy-Moishy, and it was just us; me and Yissachar, alone in our big empty house.

“Back to normal life, huh?” I said to Yissachar the morning after the last sheva brachos.

He peeled open a banana. “Not back to normal life, not at all.” He made a brachah and took a bite. “Life won’t be back to normal until I take this insane licensing exam. And pass, hopefully.”

“Of course you’ll pass.”

“I hope. You have no idea how nervous I am.”

I did. If his octopi cups where any indication, I most definitely did. “When do you think you’ll be ready to take it?”

“Um, never?” He finished his banana and dumped the peels in the garbage. “I’d love to take it in around three or four weeks. I don’t know how realistic that is, I still have a lot to study.”

“I don’t really get it, Yissachar. You’ve been working in the field for almost twenty years. Do you really have to study so much? Are you even learning anything new?”

He made a face, like you’ll never get it, but really, I got it very well. Yissachar’s confidence was weaker than a dead wire. He was so talented and capable, he could have been running his own business for years. And if I wouldn’t have pushed him, he probably would’ve continued working for Nesanel Baum for the rest of his life, happy with the fair and steady income he earned that allowed us to live comfortably.

As much as his studying was taking over our lives, I was glad I’d finally convinced him to do it, to gain his independence and move on.

Yissachar drank a cup of water and stuffed a bag of pretzels into his pocket. “All right, Bracha, gotta go. Have a great day.”

I gazed at my husband. Blue pants, blue shirt with rolled-up sleeves, faded from too many washes. Off to work again, setting up circuits — resistors, transistors, capacitors, inductors — installing spots and switches and outlets. Eight hours, ten hours, whatever it took. All with a lone banana in his system to fuel him for the day.

“Don’t you want to eat breakfast?”

“Nah,” he said. “I’ll pick something up from the bagel store later. It’s late.”

I nodded. It was late. Of course. He had to run.

When the door shut, I went to the dining room window and watched him get into his car. As he pulled out of the driveway, the phone rang. Shifra, calling to say good morning. “Are you going out today, Ma? Linen Paradise called me, they got in that blue linen set, finally. Think you could pick it up for me?”

Pick it up and pay, obviously. “Maybe,” I said. “I’ll see if I’m in the area.”

“Thanks! By the way, Ma, I made the most heaven pancakes. Moishy loves pancakes, and my friend Malky gave me a crazy good recipe. And did I tell you Moishy isn’t into coffee? So I prepared milkshakes instead, with peanut butter and Oreos. I hope he’ll go for it. Oh, whoops, I think I hear him coming in. Bye, Ma.”


The house was so, so big suddenly. Empty nesting, here I come?

I needed a midlife crisis, fast. Or a job. Except for occasional subbing work, I hadn’t held down a real job since Simi was born.

At least I had an errand to do to break up my day: Pick up Shifra’s linen.

  

Linen Paradise was crowded when I arrived. The saleswomen were all busy helping customers — mainly kallahs, but also one young mother holding paint swatches, trying to match linen for the baby room.

I walked over to one of the saleswomen. “I’m here to pick up the linen for my daughter, Shifra Friedler?”

“I’ll be with you in a few.”

She went right back to the kallah she was helping. A few wasn’t going to be very few.

I watched the saleswoman shake out a towel, run fingers over the fabric. The kallah’s mother fingered the towel, said something to her daughter. Apparently impressed, they went about choosing colors and matching hand towels.

They moved along to linens. The saleswoman brought out a set of linen for the kallah. It was a warm taupe and white background, with deep fuchsia flowers. The saleslady offered ideas for complimentary shams, and the girl’s mother nodded her head vigorously. It was a beautiful, beautiful set. So fresh and alive and… young.

When was the last time I’d bought new linen? Ten, twelve years ago? Freund’s Bedding had run a sale, I’d picked up a gray and yellow set and hated it from day one.

I pictured myself doing this. Choosing plush new towels, folding perfectly aligned stacks and replacing the worn and frayed towels in our linen closet. I pictured the linen set in my bedroom. What a difference. The room would get a complete facelift. It would feel fresh and new and beautiful.

Standing there, watching the excited kallah run her fingers over the 800-thread-count cotton, something caught in my throat. Who said new towels and linen were reserved for twenty-year-olds? Who said a woman pushing sixty couldn’t enjoy some upgrades? An exquisitely scented reed diffuser in the foyer? Maybe even a fresh coat of paint on the walls, wasn’t it time?

Hold on to that sheva brachos high, the hischadshus, and live with it every day of your life.

Of course it was easy to experience that high when every plate you ate out of, every pair of tights you put on, was brand new, flawless, without a single scratch or snag.

“Friedler, you said?”

I blinked at the saleswoman. “Yes. Yes, Friedler.”

The kallah and her mother were talking earnestly at the other end of the counter. “Here we go,” the saleswoman said. She lifted a large bag over the counter and handed it to me. Then she unfolded a yellow invoice paper. “And here, this is your balance.”

I reached into my bag for my wallet. As I handed her my credit card, I gestured at the pile of towels at the other end of the counter. “Can you get me four of those? And two hand towels. A separate bill, please.”

“Of course. What colors would you like?”

It took me a few minutes to decide. I ended up taking the same taupe colors the kallah had chosen.

When the saleswoman returned, I pointed to the taupe and white linen the kallah was looking at. “Just curious, how much is that set?”

She named a price. I swallowed. It was a lot of money, and we’d just married off a daughter.

Still. This was important. I was doing it for a purpose, to add sparkle to my marriage. To live with that sheva brachos high every day of my life.

“It’s a gorgeous set,” the woman said. “One of our best sellers. And we actually have it in stock now.”

I tore my eyes off the kallah and looked at the saleswoman. “I’ll take it.”

  

When Shifra told me she was taking her class on a trip and coming home really late, I got the hint.

“Come for supper,” I told her.

Her thank you was drenched in relief. Poor thing, she’d never been a kitchen girl. This new supper responsibility was a serious stress in her life. Especially when supper had come to mean five-course meals, without chalilah repeating a dish ever.

“My son-in-law is coming for supper,” I told my sister Seri. “Help. What am I making?”

“Just make your regular good food,” she advised. “Leave the patchkening to Shifra. I bet you he’ll appreciate good, hearty chicken and potatoes for a change.”

What did she know?

A salad appetizer, that would work. Or maybe salmon skewers over angel hair pasta? That was probably more exciting.

I went with my tried-and-true squash soup. And for the main course, mock Cornish hen, hassle-back potatoes, and zucchini muffins. Dessert would be store-bought sherbet. Forgive me, Moishy.

Shifra arrived at 5:30, completely drained. “If you hadn’t invited me, I would’ve served tuna sandwiches for supper, I promise you. We sat in traffic for two hours, on a stuffy yellow bus that reeked of Super Snacks.”

I narrowed my eyes suspiciously.

“No, no, no!” She laughed. “I’m not, Ma, relax.”

I relaxed. I went back to the stove, poured the pasta into a sieve.

Shifra changed into one of my snoods, then hung around in the kitchen, sampling food from my pots. At 6:15, she gave a little gasp. “Oh my goodness, Moishy will be here any minute!”

She grabbed her bag, took out a small cosmetics kit, and left the kitchen. A few minutes later, she returned, her face freshly made up and her sheitel back on her head.

She looked so good.

Shifra’s phone rang. “Heeeeey, Mindy! How are you?”

She sat down at the table, which I had set with my nice china and cloth napkins, and yapped on the phone with her friend, just like before her wedding.

But then, when the bell rang, she said “Bye, Mindy, talk to you,” in middle of a sentence.

And here he came. Prince Charming. I heard the couple chatting at the door, in low tones, so I couldn’t make out a word. It was a nice few minutes before they entered my kitchen. I smiled at them, greeted Moishy-Moishy-Moishy, cracked a corny shvigger joke.

“Tatty isn’t eating with us?” Moishy asked when they sat down at the table.

Tatty? Get to know Tatty, Moishy Moishy Moishy. Tatty doesn’t have the backbone to tell his boss he needs to leave — not early — on time for a change. “Step all over me” is the bumper sticker on his face. Would he even know how to wear the shoes of a business owner when he finally did get his license?

I looked at Moishy. “No,” I said. “Tatty will be home late. He said we shouldn’t wait for him.”

Moishy nodded, then made a mezonos on the pasta.

After serving the main course, I left the kitchen. A young couple, they deserved some private quality time together at the end of a long, long day.

  

The young couple was gone by the time Yissachar returned from work. “Crazy, crazy day,” he said as he scrubbed his hands. “Dosman’s had a power outage, and it took us over three hours to fix the problem. Imagine, a supermarket with no power, every minute is a loss.”

I stared at him blankly.

He sat down at the table, noticed the china and cloth napkin, and looked up. “Fancy. Um, what’s the occasion?”

I needed an occasion to serve my husband supper.

Then he caught my eyes. His face creased in confusion as he noticed my sheitel and made-up face. “Uh, Bracha, where are you going?”

I was going to have supper. With my husband. For whom I’d waited and waited and waited to come home. Eagerly anticipate his homecoming every day, feel that rush of excitement when you hear the door creak open.

Instead of answering his question, I slipped the appetizer in front of him. Then I took a portion for myself and joined him.

“The new couple was here for supper, you know.”

“Right, right, you told me you invited them. Oh, that’s what this fancy fish is all about. It’s delicious, by the way.” He glanced at my plate. “Hey, you didn’t eat yet? Why did you wait? It’s so late.”

“They’re so happy, baruch Hashem. It’s so cute to watch. Those vivacious discussions, the cute little gestures. It’s like… a complete absorption in their relationship. Shifra acts semi-conscious when Moishy is around.”

“Baruch Hashem,” Yissachar said. He reached for the seltzer.

“Were we… remember when we were like that?”

“Were we?” He chuckled. “I don’t know, I don’t remember acting that way. I think we were a bit more mature, no?”

Five-course meals, then four, then two. Hadn’t we been that way once?

“It’s… so nice. And I feel like…” I cracked a skewer in half. “I feel like, I mean, I hope her happiness lasts forever. They should hold onto this sheva brachos high. It’s so… nice. Sweet.”

He shrugged. Then he looked at his watch. “Yikes, it’s late. I need to fly to Maariv.”

“But — your supper!”

He looked down at his empty plate. “We’re not done? I’m so full!”

“That was an appetizer, Yissachar.”

“Oh my goodness, you really feel pressured when they come. Maybe put the rest of the food away for tomorrow?”

He bentshed and stood up. “Delicious fish, Bracha. Thanks.”

I nodded stonily. As he slipped his jacket over his blue work shirt, I coughed. “Do you want me to call an electrician to change the bulb in the entranceway?”

He whipped around. “Good one. Listen, Bracha, I’m taking my licensing exam next week. After that, bli neder, I’ll be able to breathe again. My first two jobs are waiting for me, and I’m going to hire an assistant right away. I’m going to be home a lot earlier every day, you’ll see.”

Thank you. For royally missing the point.

I was still in a bad mood when Yissachar returned from davening and learning. I guess it must have been obvious, because when he sat down with his papers to study, he paused, reached for a plastic cup, and started ripping through it.

“I’m sorry, Bracha. I’m going to do it. I’ll go out tomorrow and buy the bulb. Don’t take this so personally.”

I left the dining room wordlessly. Sparkle had never felt further out of reach.

  

I thought the day of the exam would never come, but it did, and I was shocked at how nervous I was.

After Shacharis, Yissachar sat down for a final round of review. “What time are you starting?” I asked.

“One o’clock.”

“I’ll daven for you.”


I was a piece of jitters when he left. I said some Tehillim, then walked around the house aimlessly, organizing random closets, opening and closing doors. I needed to do something to pass the time or I was going to snap.

Dinner. Of course. Not supper — dinner, for Yissachar, to celebrate. Because he was going to pass, I was sure he would.

This wasn’t going to be just a dinner. I was going to serve this meal in the dining room. On a beautifully set table with Shabbos china and cloth napkins and… and it would be… candlelit, yes.

Your marriage can be the focal point of your life, a continuous source of otherworldly happiness.

When Yissachar finally called, the kitchen smelled of roast and onion, and cinnamon; I’d baked Danishes for dessert. No sherbet when your husband of nearly 40 years becomes a licensed electrician.

“I passed,” he said simply.

Simply, but at the same time, there was a note of something in his voice, something unfamiliar, a power I didn’t recognize. Triumph. Pride.


I didn’t have time to process the good news. I had to make the salad dressing quickly, get the mandarin tea boiling. Yissachar would be home soon, everything had to be ready. Everything had to be perfect.

Make your marriage sparkle. Eagerly anticipate…

The door opened.

No way. He couldn’t be home yet. I wasn’t ready. The food wasn’t done, I wasn’t wearing makeup.


“Shifra? What are you doing here?”

Shifra put her bag down on the counter. “I was just passing by, I dropped off my sheitel at Rivkah across the street. And I figured, uh… I wanted to… talk.”

My skin went cold. “What? Shifra, what’s wrong? Tell me quickly!”

“No, no, nothing’s wrong, Ma, calm down. Hey, it smells so good in here. What are you making?”


“Nothing, Ma, I just… wanted to ask you a question. About…” She swallowed. “About Moishy.”


“Yeah. Moishy. And me. Whatever.”

No. No, it couldn’t be. It was impossible. Not Moishy-Moishy-Moishy. They were in la-la land, I knew that too well.

Dread crept up my throat. La-la land was nice, but Heaven knew what kind of deep, ugly secrets people could hide. We’d done so much research, we’d grilled every neighbor on the Freidlers’ block. It couldn’t be.

And I’d been jealous.

The thought hit me like a bullet. How could I have been so oblivious? So… self-centered? So immature?

“We’re going to help you,” I heard myself tell Shifra. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry, sweetheart.”

She blinked, looking astonished. “Please, Ma,” she said. “Calm down. I know it’s normal. Everyone goes through this.”


“I’m… do you want to tell me what it is?”

She sighed. It was the kind of sigh that was almost childish, like a fleck of fog defacing a cloud of happiness.

I was missing something.

“So really, everything is wonderful,” Shifra started. “Moishy is everything I’d davened for. He’s thoughtful, he’s smart, he’s fun and funny and also serious. It’s just…”


“I’m just wondering. How long does it take to like, grow comfortable in each other’s presence? How long does this sort of awkwardness last? You know, like, my heart drops when I hear him opening the door. We’re still so formal around each other. All perfect and sweet and everything. It’s so unnatural, I really can’t handle it.”

I sagged in relief. This was it? The rocky road at the start of her marriage? I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.

“You know,” she continued, “I look at you and Tatty, you’re just so… normal together. Natural. Are Moishy and I ever going to be that way? How long does it take to become like that, to just, like, let down your guard and stop putting on makeup before every time he walks through the door?”

I needed to get away from her, to orient myself. “One minute, Shifra,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”

In the dining room, I pushed aside the curtain and looked out the window. The street was quiet, cars parked along the curb, tree branches swaying in the breeze. Everything looked the same as it had looked for the past twenty-eight years that we’d been living in this house.

The same. Normal. Natural.

Boring. Mundane.

“Hey, Ma, what is this?”

I spun around. Shifra was eying the elegantly set dining room table. “Party tonight? So fancy! What’s the occasion?”

“Tatty got his license.”

“Wow! So nice! Mazel tov!”

I nodded. It really was nice. The result of so many long hours of study. So many years of practice.

So many suppers. Cold suppers, in plastic plates, over papers. Ripped cups.

A scraping sound made both of us turn. “That’s…”

I left the dining room, headed to the front door.

And there he was. Yissachar-Yissachar-Yissachar. A man who had proudly closed the chapter on child-rearing, successfully raised and married off all his children. A man who had worked and earned; set a goal, reached it. He was moving on to a satisfying epilogue in his life.

My husband, the electrician. He was standing on a ladder in our entranceway, back straighter than I’d ever seen it, changing the lightbulb.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 878)

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