“My father is getting re-married.”
“That’s great. Mazel tov. When did this happen?”
“Well, he came to me last week and took me out to dinner – to Weiss’s – and then he told me of this woman, Gila, her name is, an Israeli, whom he met and is ‘perfect’ for him.” The words came out in a rush. “He asked me if he could ask her to come over and meet her right there.”
“So, what did you say?”
As she spoke Yankel found himself noticing things about Leah against his will, as though his head was being intentionally pointed like a camera. His eyes were telephoto lenses forced to zoom in on one part of Leah or another. Now they close-upped on Leah’s lips. They were plump and red. “Lippelech vi karshelech in friling,” he said, as if a demon forced these words to his own lips.
“What?” Leah asked.
Yankel embarrassed, said “Lippelech vi karshelech in friling – like the old Yiddish song – your lips are like plump cherries in springtime.”
Leah took a deep breath. “No one has ever said that to me before.” It took her a moment to recover. “I thought you yeshiva guys weren’t supposed to notice such things,” she sweetly chided.
He usually took great pains to hide this part of himself – from the world and from himself, too – the eye that wasn’t supposed to look. Now he just shrugged. “But I did.” Outside, he could hear the urban noise and siren sounds on the avenue.
“So your father, he invited you to meet her. What did you say?” Her cheeks had a brightness and she was still smiling in a struck way, as though her mind still hadn’t – couldn’t – leave the aura of the compliment. Yankel quietly thrilled to be able to have such an effect on her.
“Go on,” Leah insisted, “I want to hear the rest.”
“Well, my father told me that this Gila woman was thirty-six or thirty-seven years old – and who knows she may have even been younger.” He couldn’t help making a face. “Quite frankly, I think the age he gave for her is an approximation. In fact,” he said, his eyes narrowing, “I have a feeling she is younger by a few years. Anyway, he wanted me to be happy for him, but there was something so crazy about the whole thing. I was overcome with embarrassment and even,” he flushed, “a little bit of hatred. My father is just so socially strange sometimes – sometimes I feel like I have trouble breathing in his presence.”
Talking with Leah now, he felt his agitation subsiding. “Well, after a lifetime of putting up with his fanciful stories, his strange and awkward ideologies, his deceptions, evasions, and self-delusions, I said: ‘Enough.’ I walked out on him. I just got up and walked right out of the restaurant.”
The lonely man behind the counter called out, “We’re closing soon.”
“You did what?” Leah said, open-mouthed.
“I walked right out on him. This was before Gila came, of course.”
“Oh my goodness. Just like that.” She snapped her fingers.
“Yes, I did. I really did – and don’t think it felt good at all.” In fact he felt a queasy sensation right then. “But I couldn’t just sit there.”
“Why not?” she asked in a mild tone.
“I can’t stand my father. And after many years, I couldn’t put up with his ‘surprise’ announcements.”
“You couldn’t?” Leah took a sip of water with lemon.
“I know it was not ois gehalten, it was not proper, but there are times one must be a man – a gavra.”
“I see.” She gently touched a napkin to her lips. “So a gavra walks out on his father?”
“What, Leah?” He stared at her through hurt eyes. “You talk as though you’re not on my side!”
“I am on your side and that is why I am going to tell you exactly what I think.”
“Nu…I’m all ears.”
She picked up the plastic placemat, wiped off a few crumbs and then put it down. “I think you need a little help, seriously. You father is,” she moved her head gently from side to side, “a tipus – a type. This is all he is – a nudnik perhaps, but nothing more, nothing less. Big deal! Don’t make him to be bigger than he is. You’re going to walk out on him every time he pulls something like this? Is this a good way to handle a difficulty?”
“But,” he sputtered, “all his life he is pulling these stunts – these – ” he groped to find the right word, “these surprises on me.” He said that word like it was filth.
“And he will be for many more years to come.”
Yankel moved back in his chair in exaggerated shock. “I can’t believe what you’re saying.”
“This is reality. There will always be somebody you don’t like or doing something you don’t like. You can’t walk out. What will be with us when there is a problem? Are you going to walk out on us?”
Leah’s boldness shocked Yankel in every way. She had used the word “us.” He was speechless. “No, I would not walk out on ‘us,’” Yankel stammered out at last.
Though he couldn’t put his finger on it exactly, it had occurred to Yankel that Leah had won him over with femininity more than reason. In fact, although she had used words, she had spoken “womanhood” – it wasn’t reason, even though it was reasonable. It was like hearing a message from a guitar or some other plucking musical instrument – better than reason. Why, Yankel wondered, had the Talmud said of women “daatan kalos” – they are light-headed. Were they really so? Not Leah, that was for sure. But what would such a young woman be interested in or need him for? He was about to wander off into that familiar rabbit hole of doubt and self-torture but just then caught himself for once. He felt happy, he had to admit.
Some music played. Oddly, it was an old Simon & Garfunkel tune, “Scarborough Fair.” “By what force have you come to me, Leah?” He leaned forward, both hands flat on the table, as if his entire body and being were leaning toward her. “You speak as if you know me – know what’s good for me… maybe better than I know myself – ”
“What do you mean ‘by force’? Should I know what force brings people together?” She gazed at him, her with the cherry lips. “I don’t know, Yankel. How should I know? We are together. This is what I know. I do not know how this comes.”
There was a quiet between them. A smoky, hazy but fertile quiet. Babies come from this kind of quiet, Yankel thought. He noticed Leah’s hands. They were lovely like a child’s but frightening to him nonetheless. He shuddered and then shook his head as though tossing away a thought.
“The Talmud says,” he began.
Leah put up her hand to stop him. “Tell me what is in your heart, Yankel. Forget the Gemara for a second.”
“My heart is with you,” he said.
And so they left the restaurant, more and more certain of their union.
(To be continued)