Listen, Shaindy, I didn’t even have a girlfriend I could cry to. The ladies in town were friendly enough but being that I didn’t have children, our paths didn’t cross. There I was in my McMansion with my marble floors and three dishwashers, one for meat, milk, and even pareve, and I felt so trapped. I should’ve moved out, even without a Get. Any self-respecting woman would’ve. But I was scared I couldn’t support myself. The world had gotten even more technological, and I’d never been so savvy to begin with.
I began taking longer and longer walks. I liked the steadiness of it, the repetition of foot after foot propelling me forward. Afterward, I’d sit in a nearby park on a bench partly hidden by a Japanese maple. I’d munch on my rugalach while I watched young Moms fielding sandbox disputes, dogs on a sniffing adventure, babies swiping at mobiles, cats sizing each other up. Life going by. I felt like G-d and the whole world couldn’t be bothered with me. Maybe I didn’t even exist. Maybe I was just a bubble in somebody’s dream – or nightmare.
What in the world had Hashem been thinking when He put me and Binyamin together? Why was I condemned to suffer? I was in the midst of such bleak thoughts one afternoon when I heard a creaky old voice say, “Ruchella, you’ve oif ge’hakte tzures and vee got to get you outta dis mess.”
“Who? What?” I sat up bolt straight on my bench. My heart slammed against my rib cage. “Who’s that?” I shouted. I couldn’t see much beyond the Japanese maple tree except a black blur.
“Calm down a bissel,” said someone in a Lower East Side accent, the kind of voice you don’t run into much in the South.
I craned my neck and made out an old man coming toward me, hunched so that his white beard went right into his chest and you couldn’t tell he had a neck. His long black coat looked old as dirt, like a sneeze could make it fall apart.
“How do you know my name?” I quavered.
He sat himself down on the farthest end of the bench. “My ears, dey still pick up tings, tanks Gott.” He spoke in a nasal voice, part whine, part soothing. “And vat I’m hearing is a shanda, a terrible ting is heppening to you.” Then he dug into his coat pocket and threw a handful of crumbs at a few pigeons.
I closed my eyes, feeling waves of humiliation gently slapping me. I must’ve been muttering out loud.
“Don’t vurry, Ruchella, vee not giving up.” De Aybishter” he cast his milky eyes skyward “He hesn’t given up, eider.”
I stared at his puffy white beard, coming to a point on his chest like a fluffy triangle. Just then the wind blew, ruffling his beard, letting me glimpse a sprightly red bow tie underneath. He looked part rabbi, part hobo.
I reached into my paper bag. “Care for a rugalach?”
He eyed the rugalach and slowly, carefully took one, as if a sudden movement would topple him. “Testy,” he said, after he’d made a beracha and taken a bite. “Now tell me vat’s heppening.”
Shaindy, don’t laugh, but I told him vat’s heppening.
While I spoke, he tossed crumbs here and there at the pigeons, trying to distribute them fairly. Boy, did he love those critters. “You’re not even listening,” I reproached him, whereupon he said, “Den your husband called you a shoteh, eh? ” – a half-wit was the actual phrase – “and he veell never set you free?”
“Right,” I said, wincing.
“When he yells, does he mebbee try to hit you?”
No, he didn’t, but a person had other ways to terrorize you.
The old man gave a sigh, a half-shrug, and another sigh. I heard so much compassion in those small breaths he let out, I wished I could bottle them.
He sat there, in no hurry to speak, one hand fiddling with his red bow tie. “So dis man…is he…eh…eestanees?” he said at last.
“Huh? What’s that.”
“Eh…det’s de Talmud’s vord for par-tee-cyu-lar.”
“Particular’s putting it mildly,” I snorted. Binyamin liked his baking soda tooth paste here, his Power Grip nail clippers there, the washing cup hanging on a peg, and his clothes fitting just so. He loved his car like it was an only child and kept it gleaming. He hated the spice basil, and fussed with his hair like a teen-age girl. Lots of things like that. He was an eestanees, all right.
The old man pinched one last crumb between his thumb and forefinger and tossed it at the frailest bird who gobbled it. The bird seemed to bob its head toward the old man in recognition. I have to tell you, Shaindy, there was something different about that man.
“What’s with the pigeons?”
“Dey never hurt enybody.” He shrugged. “Except for de vorms.” He shut his eyes and rocked like he was praying up a storm. I caught a few words. “…A lady dat can’t get a koysher divorce? …Aybisthter, Aybisther…nisht gut…nisht nisht.” He turned to me. “Ruchella, you a very smart voman. Vy not you listen vat your brain tell you to do, de same vun de Aybishter gave you?”
Aybishter. I dismissed the Creator with a wave of my hand, that’s how annoyed I was at Him. “What are you talking about?”
“Dat’s de problem. Ach!” He regarded me from under the ledge of his shaggy white brows. “You know vat? Go home end mek your husband a vonderful meal.”
“And then Peace in the Home will reign?” I said cynically. And here, I’d been half-hoping this old gentleman might be my Get Angel. “I’m not interested in any Shalom Bayis potion. It’s a Get I want.” Anyway, I made Binyamin supper every night. It gave me something to do in that lonely McMansion and kept the atmosphere fairly civilized.
“You vill get dat Get,” the old man declared. “Vun vay or anoder. Just listen vat I tell you to do.” He took out a faded handkerchief and blew his nose with a loud trumpeting sound.
I gazed at him in wonder. “What’s your name, anyway?”
“Reb Getzel,” I insisted. “Where are you from, Reb Getzel?”
“Oh, from a leettle Polish village you never hoid of, Sosnowica.”
It sounded familiar, like a famous massacre had happened there.
He tucked his handkerchief away. “Just go home, Ruchella, do vat I say end hev a nice sit down meal.”
So I went back home, made stuffed chicken cutlets in lemon sauce, because I had defrosted the chicken anyway. I roasted potatoes with rosemary and Dijon mustard. While I chopped celery and apples for a Waldorf salad, I kept rolling my eyes. Why had I told my problems to a total stranger, some hobo? Why was I preparing this idiotic meal as if so much depended on it?
Binyamin walked in the door at six, running his fingers through his plentiful sandy-brown hair that he was so proud of. Right behind him trailed a man in a black coat. A rabbi, I surmised. Or maybe a charity collector.
“Oh, I didn’t realize…” I paused uncertainly. “I’ll set out another plate.” It was unlike Binyamin to invite guests, but I didn’t mind.
“Whatever for,” he said in that measured chilly voice that made me feel tinier than a bug’s eye.
I swallowed. He always saved his most condescending tones for just the two of us. For the world he put on the Happy Couple Show. I gestured toward the rabbi, and then I stopped. My mouth went dry as smoke. That fluffy triangle beard, the no neck, the fossil coat, the bits of red bow tie like paprika in his beard. Reb Getzel. It was him peeking out from behind my husband’s back. Him.
“What’s he–” again I gestured feebly. My arm fell.
Binyamin looked over his shoulder. “What’s who–?” Then sighed in his too-patient voice that said he’d lost all patience with me.
It dawned on me. Binyamin couldn’t see the old man. Only I could. Reb Getzel nodded his fluffy beard at me. I reeled. A shudder seized my shoulders. I felt woozy, like I was falling through air. Then I forced myself to straighten and say, “Supper’s ready.”
Reb Getzel shuffled over to our bookcase and took out a volume of the Talmud. He perused the book while Binyamin and I dug in. And Shaindy, if you think I made this up, then pigs are kosher, babies fly, and Mona Lisa was a man.
Wait. There’s more.
To be continued…