“Not a new person, Nomes, an old person. This is who Yocheved really is, who she was before her life got so complicated”
I bite my tongue as I peel the avocado gently, trying not to bruise it in the process.
“Peeeerfection,” I exhale.
Which makes sense, considering this is the ninth one I’m peeling.
Sima looks over at me from the duck fry she’s sautéing for salad. “What was that, the last avocado? Thanks a mil, now can you do the peppers?”
I nod and grab a red pepper from the pile on the counter. Sima’s husband, Gershy, is making a siyum and Sima has been working on it all week. I’m helping with the poke bowl appetizers and Sima is pretending to be calm.
I have to give her credit; she’s doing an admirable job. Except that her voice has been growing progressively higher pitched as the start of the siyum draws closer. Soon only dogs and children under ten will be able to hear her.
The dining room table has been set with a white tablecloth, bamboo plates, and rows of flowers in every color. Sima was going for a malchusdig, classic theme. “Torah is royalty,” she’d said.
Yocheved pokes her head in. “Sim! So sorry, wish I could help, but you know, got the small matter of Zev being bandaged to take care of.”
I look at her over my pepper slices. “Chevs, I’m not sure that’s the flex you think it is.”
She sticks her tongue out at me and her head disappears out of the kitchen. She’s like a totally new person these days, Yocheved. She’s funny and lighthearted and just a bit silly.
Sima smiles wistfully when I mention this. “Not a new person, Nomes, an old person. This is who Yocheved really is, who she was before her life got so complicated.”
Well, that’s just sad. I shake this off and slide the pepper slices into the 20 small wooden bowls Sima had laid out.
“Next up, kani,” I narrate to nobody, and I get to slicing.
The siyum is beautiful, but more importantly, Penina learned how to laugh and the sound makes me want to take a bite out her cheeks. I don’t, but I’m tempted.
I watch Sima standing off to the side, a proud smile playing around her lips. I want that, too. I want to marry a ben Torah, support his learning in any way I can. Maybe I’m young to think about these things, but it’s an occupational hazard of having older siblings. And I can’t help being afraid that my friendship with Shan might not be conducive for that.
Am I being dramatic? I just don’t know anymore.
I look at the family phone when I get home. Two missed calls from Debbi, one from Shan. I only call Shan back.
She sounds tired and stressed out. I want to tell her it’s been a long day, that I’m exhausted from drizzling spicy mayo and changing diapers but all I say is, “Come on over.”
Lucky girl has her license already, im yirtzeh Hashem by me.
I wait by the window; when I see her car, I run outside and slide into the passenger seat. We have a routine. She hands me a Coke Slurpee, I push my seat all the way back and we talk. Late into the night. We talk and talk and talk and I only realize it’s midnight when Ma taps on my window, her forehead a sea of annoyed creases.
“Ma!” I gasp, hand to my chest. “That was terrifying.” My heart is literally beating a hundred miles an hour.
Shan giggles. Ma does not look amused.
“You have school tomorrow, girls. It’s much too late. Hello, Shan, how are you?”
Shan looks startled, her large eyes blink quickly.
“I’m good, thanks, Mrs. Taub.”
Ma smiles at her and scowls at me.
I lean over, give Shan a quick hug, and slide out of the car, stopping to wave as Shan backs out carefully.
Ma’s quiet when we go inside. Too quiet.
I start to head upstairs when she stops me.
“Naomi. I thought you would make smarter choices than that. I believed in you.”
And then she turns and walks off toward her office, so I don’t even get the last word.
Debbi marches over to me as I walk into class bleary-eyed, clutching my cold brew like a security blanket.
She, on the other hand, looks fabulously rested, her skin glowing, her hair gleaming.
“You didn’t call me back,” she says by way of greeting.
And she’s right, I didn’t and I should have. And I feel bad about that. And that I called Shan back, but she doesn’t have to know that part. But I’m so tired. And annoyed at Ma. And, to be totally honest, annoyed at myself for my poor choice, as Ma put it.
And my caffeine hasn’t kicked in just yet. All in all, my mood is not great.
So I guess you can’t really blame me. Although I’m sure Debbi will.
But I take one look at Debbi’s accusing face, one hand resting lightly on her hip. And then I do an about-face, and head right back out of the classroom, silently, leaving my best friend open-mouthed in shock at my quickly retreating back.
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Cozey, Issue 984)
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