Open and shut case

Kreplach. I was only going to stay with my brother and sister-in-law in Israel for a few days before moving into my own place but, kreplach. Because how am I supposed to move to my own apartment and subsist on half-gallon containers of hummus and bags of day-old pitas when my sister-in-law makes things like homemade kreplach in clear chicken broth and sesame noodles in peanut sauce for dinner? So my three-day stay stretched a bit and became three weeks. I had come to Israel because nothing was really working for me at home in the States and I thought, New place, new luck, and also, you know, there’s something about Israel. It’s corny but it’s true. So when I got laid off from my latest dead-end job as a photographer’s assistant, carrying heavy equipment that she never let me actually use for minimum wage, it didn’t really take too much convincing for me to join my brother and sister-in-law in Har Nof and attend half-day classes at this little post-seminary place. The classes were interesting, there was good food (see: kreplach) and yeah, it was kind of dull, sure, but I figured it would pick up once I made a few friends. It felt right. It felt good. And did I mention the kreplach? If I did, sorry about that, but they bear repeating.

torah

Anyway, kreplach aside, I had done a few dumb things and made a few dumb choices that landed me exactly nowhere, which in turn led me to Israel, to this last-ditch attempt to redeem my life; and finally when things were looking up and the tide was about to turn, I almost ruined everything again. What happened was that my sister-in-law went into labor early. I know that, because she was in the middle of feeding my niece, Batya, some mashed banana goo for her breakfast when she turned white and dropped the spoon. She made no attempt to pick it up, and instead said to my brother, “Zev, can I talk to you for a minute?” At first I thought that I had done something wrong. That’s always my first reaction to anyone else wanting to talk to someone else out of my earshot—parents,teachers, counselors—because for most of my life that has been the case. But this time it had nothing to do with me. They both went into the tiny hallway for a minute and while I retrieved the spoon and resumed feeding a miffed Batya, they had a quick, muted discussion. This is what I heard: Hindy: Murmur murmur. Zev: What? But, but you said it was probably false labor, nothing to worry— Hindy: Murmur. Zev: But—how do you know? Are you sure? Hindy: Murmur murmur. Zev: But I thought we had three more weeks! Hindy: Murmer! Murmur! When they emerged, the whites around Zev’s eyes were twice their normal size, and Hindy was smiling a shaky kind of smile. Zev said to me gravely, “Remember how I said that soon I would need you to watch Batya?” “Yup,” I said. “I need you to watch Batya,” he said. “Now?” I asked. “Now,” he said. “Okay!” I said. I stood up.

Now was the time to pay them back for their hospitality over the past few weeks. I matched the grave expression on my brother’s face to show him how seriously I would take this responsibility. I took a deep breath. “You can count…“ “Great,” he said, and he walked away at a pace that was almost a run, and said without turning around, “and can you go to the storage room and bring up the little black suitcase that should be near the door?” It was not near the door, but I found it eventually, buried underneath a box of Pesach dishes and a moldy looking bag. I wheeled it over at a run. They packed in a flurry of motion, gave me instructions, and then they were gone, leaving me with a surge of adrenaline and nothing to expend it on. Batya was napping, the dishes were washed, the floors swept and sponja-ed, the garbage bag fresh. I thought about my laptop, but I couldn’t sit still. I needed to do something. I bounced back and forth between all of the rooms, but there wasn’t much space in the little apartment. Once I thought that I heard my phone ring, but it was a phantom ring. It was too early to call my friends in the States and I hadn’t made any real friends here yet. I opened up the fridge and closed it. I walked over to the pantry to peruse, when it struck me. The pantry. It was open, and I hadn’t opened it.

That was strange. I stood back, allowing the whole kitchen to come into focus. And that’s when I noticed that all of the cabinets were open. Hmm. A couple of days after I had arrived in my brother’s house, he had knocked lightly on my bedroom door. “Come in!” I called. “Hey,” he said, poking his head inside. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”“Sure,” I said to him. “Have a seat.” “Where?” he asked. So I cleared space for him on the bed by sweeping some rolled-up socks and assorted shirts, skirts and books onto the floor. “How do you live like this?” he asked me, staring at my scattered possessions in a sort of horrified fascination. “I thought that all girls were neat.” “I am not all girls, in case you haven’t noticed,” I said, and there was vehemence in my voice that I hadn’t meant to put there. It’s just that everyone always looked at me like that, expecting me to fit into one neat category or another, and I didn’t. I didn’t fit anywhere, it seemed. “I’m sorry,” Zev said, looking regretful at once, and I smiled to show no hard feelings. Zev was different, I knew. “Mommy only said that I need to make a fire line to the door in case of an emergency,” I shrugged. “Anyway, it may look like a mess, but I know exactly where everything is.” “Okay then,” he shrugged back, looking skeptical. Then he explained to me that although he doesn’t mind at all—“not in the slightest, Devorah, you know me,”—Hindy likes things very neat and clean and worked hard to keep the little apartment that way. “So when she finds things like knives sticky with peanut butter glued to the counter, or open containers in the fridge, she—” “Gets annoyed?” I asked. I got to my feet, as if to pack right then and there. “And wishes that I wasn’t here?” “Would prefer if you cleaned up after yourself, just a bit, you know,” Zev said, patting the space next to him again, for me to sit back down. “And other than that, she’s more than happy to have you here.” I nodded meekly, and made sure from then on to clear my plate from the dinner table, to wash utensils that I used during the day, and even made a pile of my dirty laundry instead of considering the whole room fair game. And it was weird, but after a while, it didn’t even feel like a chore.

For the first time in my life, I wanted to contribute, to help out, to be a part of something bigger than myself. Because the thing was, for the first time in my life, I felt like I was being seen as a person just like any other person, a person who could do good things with her life. I saw it in Zev’s eyes, I saw it in Hindy’s smile, and I even saw it in the way that little Batya reached for me, wanted to play with Tanta Devorah. And I wanted to kind of live up to how they saw me. So, the cabinets being left open was weird, and I was sure that Hindy wouldn’t want them like that. I didn’t even think; I just walked over and closed them one by one. Five hours later, Zev called. “Just a heads up that we’ll be here for a while longer,” he said, and I could hear the strain in his voice. “Everything is okay, but sit tight, okay?” “No problem,” I said. I was feeding Batya the food that they had left for her. “Tanta’s got this.” “Thanks, Devo,” Zev said. “Thanks so much.” Two hours later he called again. “Hey listen, I don’t know when I’m going to get home.” “Everything okay?” I asked. “Fine, fine, just, you know, if you could have Hindy in mind, if you don’t mind davening a little, that can’t hurt, right?” I said the few perakim that I knew by heart. And I paced back and forth, back and forth. Zev called a few more times to check on Batya, and to tell me that a little more davening couldn’t hurt. I made promises to Hashem, if everything would be okay. It was four in the morning, and I had davened more than I had ever davened in the entirety of my twenty-one years on this earth when Zev called again. I had fallen into a half-sleep on the couch with my laptop, and it nearly crashed to the floor when I lunged for the phone. “H’lo?” I croaked. “It’s a boy!” Zev said. “Mazal tov!” “Mazal tov!” I bellowed. I hesitated. “And how—“ “She’s fine, everything is fine now,” Zev said, and the relief of saying that made his voice crack. “Listen, I don’t have the energy to call anyone right now and besides, my phone is dying and I forgot to bring the charger.

Can you please call Mommy and Tatty, ask them to make the calls? Tell them that in the end it was an emergency C-section but everything is okay now. I’m going to come home pretty soon and collapse and wake up in about three years from now if that’s okay with you.” I called Mommy and Tatty, told them that everything was okay, and that they had a new baby grandson. As I told Mommy everything that I knew, I heard Tatty in the background reserving tickets to come in for the bris. Mommy pressed me for more details, but I had none to give. “It’s so hard being so far away when something like this happens,” she sighed. “I wish I could have been there for them.” “I was here,” I said. “I took care of everything.” “I know that you were here…” her voice trailed off and I tasted the familiar tang of resentment in the back of my throat. I had been there for them. I had been a big help; Zev had even said that it was such a relief knowing that I was holding down the fort and taking care of Batya. I wondered bitterly for a minute what it would take for my parents to see me, to see the real me, to see how responsible I could be if they would give me the chance. Mommy was still talking, wondering if they had done the segulos that she had always been so careful to do before we were all born. “I wonder if she ate that esrog jelly I had sent to them.

And the cabinets, I’m sure Zev opened up the cabinets, he wouldn’t forget a thing like that.” And a tingle of horror went down my spine. The cabinets. The open cabinets. They had been opened on purpose, of course they had been, how could I not have seen that, and in a rush of needing something to do, with the impulsivity that Mommy always accuses me of exhibiting, of leaping before I looked, I had closed them. I had been so busy proving that I wouldn’t let them down that I had let them down. Right after I hung up with Mommy, there was a soft knock on the door. I peeped into the peephole. Zev. “Just a sec,” I called, even as I was wondering just how much of a hand I had in tonight’s drama. Did these things work, these segulos? Could I, by closing the cabinets, actually have affected how things had gone in the hospital? Zev thought they worked. He had, after all, opened all of the cabinets before going to the hospital. Was I fated to mess up everything I touched? I pictured the respect in Zev’s eyes fading, Hindy’s smile turned downward, Batya’s arms behind her back. Zev knocked again, a little louder. “Coming!” I called. And right before I opened the door, I made a quick dash into the kitchen and flung all of the cabinets open.

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