Leah shook her head. “It’s okay. It’s just that this is a moment – a big moment – and you just shrug it off with yeah.”
“You’re not going to get into an argument with me now, are you? I am not a person who feels so much. You’re beginning to find this out.”
Leah did up her coat more tightly. “I guess we don’t have to think and feel the same things always.”
“But I want to, Leah, I want to. I want to be with you.”
“You’re a good boy,” she said with a slight wave of her hand.
“I’m older than you,” Yankel reminded her.
“You’re older than me, but you’re young,” Leah said. Then she quickly added, “I still want you, don’t worry.”
She took out a small orange from her purse. “Take this. It will protect you against the cold.”
Yankel felt the pulpy orange with his hand. He held it, then pinched it. “What’s this, Leah, a peace offering?”
She handed him a napkin. “Eat it, Yankel, it’s good for you. Let’s not talk anymore.”
Yankel was puzzled. He was young, he was old. It didn’t feel like a compliment either way. Now he wasn’t to talk about it – but they were full steam ahead anyway. He wondered whether their impending marriage was one of those “bargains” that people made that come back to haunt them. Such a bargain he was certain is what his parents had made thirty years earlier. They had never gotten on together. Maybe that was the problem. They had made no bargains at all. They were just in each other’s way until they moved each other out of the way.
And he never got on with his father either, small wonder. But he would have to get money out of him since he felt that the day would come very soon for them to get married. No easy thing, no easy thing. The thought of him talking to his father about anything brought him to despair.
Leah wiped the passenger window of condensation. “I know you’re thinking about us visiting with your father now.”
“Yes, I am,” he said. What a mess, Yankel thought. He turned on to Bay Parkway. He was greeted by a sea of headlights. The radio said it was nine degrees. Exhaust poured out of the tailpipes of the cars. End-of-January Bay Parkway looked like a nighttime soup, with lights – a watercolor image of red brake lights and yellow, green, and red traffic signal lights. In the frigid air people still went out to walk their dogs and get groceries. The turn signal of the Oldsmobile was stuck in the “on” position; an annoyance. He fiddled with it, but to no avail.
“Tomorrow will be snow,” Leah said. “A big one.”
Yankel looked at Leah. “You must be hungry. I saw you didn’t eat much at my mother’s.”
“I was too nervous,” she admitted.
“Would you like something to eat? There is a place right here along Kings Highway.”
Over a bowl of mushroom-barley soup Leah said, “I confess I am both dreading and looking forward to meeting your father. I want to meet the man who made you – or didn’t make you is a better way to say it.”
Yankel was twisted in knots, sitting small and scrunched up in his chair. A young woman swept the restaurant floor.
“Your father is a shadow that comes over you back and forth. Now he’s in you and then he’s not.”
Yankel nodded. “It’s my trouble, not yours.”
“That’s very gallant of you, but the fact is, we’re in this together.”
“Nice words, but no one can really help me with him.”
“That’s nonsense and you know it.”
The waiter, a portly man with a dark complexion came. “Is there anything else?”
Yankel shook his head no and then looked at Leah. “I don’t want anything.”
After the waiter left, Leah persisted. “You need something from him. He has to give it to you. He’s not a reptile, for goodness’ sake.”
“You shouldn’t need anything from him,” Yankel said as he buttered his onion roll.
“I’m sure whatever he is, he wants to do right by you, by us.”
“Good luck. No one in the family has ever gotten a cent from him.”
“And your sisters’ weddings? Who paid for them?”
“My grandmother had left a few dollars for them, in trust. My father refused to supplement. It was a major embarrassment.”
“Then you have nothing to lose by asking him.”
“Just my pride.”
“Pride? You sound like a child! What’s the worst thing he can do to you? Say no?”
“He’ll laugh at me.”
“So? We’ll laugh together at him.”
Yankel smiled wanly. “We’ll see.”
It was a foregone conclusion that Yankel would have to see his father, if only to introduce Leah.
Yankel’s father invited them to his apartment in Queens. His father was there alone without his fiancée and no mention was made of Gila. Perhaps it was designed this way, but the meeting was kept short; only about three quarters of an hour. He said he had an “engagement” to go to. Probably some right-wing pro-Israel rally or dinner, Yankel thought with a scowl. This was only the biggest moment so far in Yankel’s life, but his father had a “pressing” meeting!
The apartment held all of the afternoon sunlight, a hothouse of hanging plants, with parquet floors and terrariums on the shelves. Small plates of almonds, raisins, and walnuts and hummus rested on the table. The bookshelf consisted of various Hebrew books and books about Rabbi Soloveitchik, the father of Modern Orthodoxy.
Yankel could not recognize anything of his in his father’s apartment. No mementos of his youth, no memories, no scrapbooks, no pictures of Yankel or his sisters, nothing. It was like being in the apartment of a stranger. At the end of the meeting his father hugged him and placed a check in his breast pocket of this jacket. “This is my down payment,” he told Yankel.
Yankel gave him a quick hug. “Thanks, Abba.”
His father excused himself. “Mazal tov,” he said with an Israeli accent. “Maybe soon to all of us. I hope to be seeing much more of you.”
When they left Leah said, “He asked nothing about me, nor did he ask even whether we were going to get married.”
Yankel spread out his hands. Typical. This is exactly what he had expected.
“What did he give you?” Leah asked.
Yankel fished out the envelope from his breast pocket. He handed it to her.
Leah opened it and she gasped: “A check for $500.”
Yankel felt a twinge, almost to cover for his father’s cheapness. “He ‘said’ it was a down payment. You could wait for a summer’s day in January for that down payment to come. In other words, never.”
Leah shook her head. “We can’t let this slide.”
“He goes back to Israel in two days,” he added.
Leah thought fast. “Call him tonight. Tell him you must see him before he leaves. Tell him you want to meet his kallah.”
(To be continued)