Gitl Schneiderman Learns to Live With Her In-Laws
by Rebecca Fraimow
Shprintze, you nudnik,
Before you ask again, I’ve gotten all your letters scolding me for not writing—and Esther and Sarah’s too. Well, I’m sorry about it, but with one thing and another, my cousin’s kid crying all the time on the one side of me and Gitl crying all the time on the other, I haven’t had two wits to rub together, let alone two words to put onto a page for you. Anyway, what’s the point of going on a visit only to spend all your time talking to the same people you’d talk to at home? But everything’s calm to the point of boredom now, so I can spare a little time to catch you up, and then you can share this letter around and catch up everybody else.
Now you might well say, what was all this crying about? Isn’t everything coming up well for your cousins? And what’s the trouble with our Gitl? So she’s become a widow, it’s very sad, her husband’s memory for a blessing and all; still, it’s been almost a year, shouldn’t she be over her sobbing by now? After all, she only knew this Schneiderman a month before they married, and then it was just another month until he got conscripted. Not much of a marriage, I’d say!
Well, as you know, I feel a little responsible. If she hadn’t come to keep me company last time I visited my cousins in Lodz, she’d never have been here to meet him in the first place, and would still be having a good time with all of us back home in Vilna. Instead she’s been stuck under the eye of her in-laws playing out the role of a pious widow. What a fate! I mind my own business, you know that, Shprintze, but when my cousins invited me to stay again, how could I not come to see how she was doing?
Honestly, you’d have been shocked to see her, so pale and sad and quiet—our wild Gitl, always laughing, who used to talk of running away to the theater!—that I really started thinking more than ever that all this business of love and marriage was a bad affair. Hours and days I sat with her in that dark room with all the mirrors covered, and if ever she did raise her voice a little like she used to, her in-laws would start glaring as if the very idea of a smile disrespected the dead. I couldn’t entirely blame them, either. The family had come in for some real bad luck; it wasn’t just Gitl’s husband who’d passed that year, they were grieving a daughter, too. The shiva had just ended when I got there, and it seemed like this Mirele and Gitl had been close.
So you can see why I didn’t much feel like writing to you and the others, when all I had was such bad news.
Still, I kept coming. Mostly, of course, because it seemed a mitzvah to sit with her, and, as I told you, I felt a little responsible. But don’t think I’m making myself out to be so good; there’s other reasons, too, that I was wanting to be over there, instead of staying all the time in my cousin’s house.
As you know, my cousin’s husband Yudah is rabbi these days to a small synagogue in Lodz. It’s a nice synagogue and a nice neighborhood, so there shouldn’t be any problems. Only, every night, when everyone ought to be asleep, there was this fiddle playing out the window—every night on the week, even on Shabbes!
Truth be told, it wasn’t so loud; just a single fiddler, far away, and from what I heard he played pretty good. If it were only me, I’d sleep through it. But my cousin’s kid, two years old now, he’s got ears like a bat. Every time he heard the fiddle playing, he’d wake up and holler like anything.
“Our son’s got no ear for music,” Yudah said, whenever this happens. “Listen to them, they’re playing well! You never heard such a clarinetist!” But Bluma hadn’t slept properly since before I came to visit, and was in no mood for jokes like that.
So you can see why I was spending as much time as possible by Gitl and her in-laws, only to have a little peace and quiet. Only then, of course, Bluma and Yudah started poking their noses into that, too! You wouldn’t think they’d have time with everything else, would you? But if you thought that, you don’t know my cousins.
“So Shaina,” Bluma said to me one day, as she mixed dough for kneidlach, “of course you’re welcome to stay by us as long as you like, but a person can’t help but wonder—are you thinking to marry here in Lodz, like your friend Gitl? Has she got any brothers-in-law that you’ve been meeting over there?”
“Do you think I want to marry?” I told her. “Do you think you two and this screaming child are setting me such an example that the state of marriage looks like a blessed one? I’m going to Gitl’s to see Gitl, that’s all there is to it.”
Bluma and Yudah gave each other a look. “Ah!” said Yudah. “To see Gitl, only Gitl! You’ve forgiven her for getting married, then!”
So maybe I was a little surprised when she got married here in Lodz last year, instead of coming back to Vilna with me—there’s no need to bring such things up now, when Gitl’s had such a hard time. “There’s nothing to forgive,” I informed him. “Me and Gitl, we get on very well together and always have.”
“I’d say so,” remarked Yudah, “since you spend ten hours a day by her place.”
And then Bluma and Yudah shot each other another look, so much of the same mind that I wanted to knock their heads together. Let me tell you, I prefer it when they’re quarreling!
“Well,” Bluma said, dropping the kneidlach in the soup, “the Schneidermans have given you so much hospitality, we ought to exchange it. You’d better bring Gitl by for Shabbes dinner tomorrow. We’ll be glad to see her again; it hasn’t been since the shiva.” (Gitl and the Schneidermans daven at the big Altshtot synagogue near Market Square, not my cousin’s little Congregation Ze’ev.)
“And if she doesn’t want to walk back after,” Yudah added, “she can stay the night by us, Shaina, if you don’t mind sharing the guest bed.”
What could I say to that? On the one hand, given how loud it is in this house, hosting Gitl didn’t exactly seem a mitzvah. On the other, it seemed like maybe a night out from under the noses of the Schneidermans will do her some good. I thought how much I’d like to see her laugh without anyone scowling at her for doing it, and then I went to invite Gitl to come by my cousin’s for Shabbas.
Well, you can imagine how it was—you’ve been by my house for dinner enough times. Yudah Cohen can charm the curls off a Hasid when he tries, and I expect the same Hasid would give up his hat for another bite of Bluma’s kneidlech. It was like that even when they lived as paupers in my father’s house, and now they’re householders of their own, you could invite King Solomon there without feeling ashamed. Even the two-year-old’s on his best behavior, all giggles and chubby cheeks, so if I didn’t know better I’d really think that motherhood was a treat!
By the time the soup’s done, Gitl’s smiling, and by the time the chicken’s out, she’s laughing. You’d think I’d be happy to see it, and of course I am. But of course, you know, I’m also feeling a little bit like chopped liver; I’ve barely got a smile out of her this past month, and now here’s a dozen in a night. I should have got her out of that house before, only I was so glad to be out of this house, I didn’t think it.
But then Gitl started shouting her opinions about a play we saw together back in Vilna, talking with her hands the way she used to, and I was back in charity with the whole world. We were having such a good time we hadn’t noticed the clock, until that violin started to wail again in the street.
“Oh no,” Bluma wailed, “on Shabbes again,” and dove to cover the baby’s ears, but of course it’s too late for that. The perfect cherub we’d had with us the past few was is gone as if he never was. So here’s this red-faced terror sobbing and kicking, and Bluma desperately rocking, and Yudah grimacing and rubbing his temples, and I turn to Gitl to apologize for the fact that we’re neither of us going to get any sleep tonight—
But to look at Gitl, you’d think she hadn’t noticed the baby at all! She stared out the window towards the sound of the fiddle, like a person transfixed. Then she went right over to it, and opened the latch—opened the latch of someone else’s house, which normally you’d think you’d ask before doing!—and leaned all the way out and shouted, “Mirele!”
And just like that, the fiddle gave a jump, then stopped altogether.
“No!” cried Gitl. “Mirele, come back!” She turned and ran for the door, but Yudah stood in her way.
“Gitl Schneiderman,” he said politely, “why were you calling for your dead sister-in-law?”
Gitl answered: “That was her playing the fiddle, I’m sure of it! Let me go find her!”
Yudah raised his eyebrows and said, “Was it, now?”
Now Gitl had that expression I knew all too well, from all the times she got caught sneaking out to the theater, or meeting with a boy, or doing anything that she wasn’t supposed to do. She kicked her feet on the floor, and I put my hands on my hips and said, “Gitl Schneiderman! Are you trying to get yourself caught by a dybbuk?”
Everyone turned to look at me then, and Yudah said, “Now, Shaina, you’re about the last person I’d expect to hear talking about dybbuks, such a modern girl as you are!”
As if this was the time to kibitz at me! “I can put two and two together as well as the next person, can’t I? Gitl’s sister-in-law Mirele is dead, so if she’s out there playing the fiddle, what else could she be but a dybbuk?”
“Well,” said Gitl—and the guilty way she said it was familiar, too. I swung back to her. “What do you mean, well? What’s more to be said?”
“I don’t know that Mirele’s dead,” said Gitl. The words came out all at once and fast. “She ran away, you know? She wanted to play fiddle on the stage, and her parents wouldn’t approve. But she said she would write me, and she never did! Not a sign, not a word! I’ve been so afraid for her, I hardly could eat or sleep—please, won’t you let me go look for her?”
And here I thought she was still grieving for dead Schneiderman! Husband, schmusband!
Yudah sighed. “You must have known her playing very well,” he said, “if you could pick her fiddle out of that whole orchestra.”
And now it was our turn to stare at him, for none of us could fathom what he meant. Bluma, of course, looked crossest of all—as I suppose she might, for her husband had been making the same joke for weeks now. “Yudah Cohen,” she snapped, “can’t you see this is serious? Won’t you stop joking around about an imaginary orchestra, and focus on the problem that we’ve got?”
“Imaginary!” said Yudah, indignantly. “What do you mean, imaginary? You all heard it! We’ve been hearing it for weeks!”
“A fiddle!” said Bluma. “We’ve been hearing a fiddle! A fiddle and an orchestra, it’s not at all the same!”
Yudah stroked his beardless chin, and frowned round at all of us. “Well,” he said, finally, “There’s certainly something strange here. Now, whether it’s a dybbuk, or something else, I can’t say just yet, but I promise you, Gitl, we’ll look into it, and find what’s become of your sister-in-law.”
“And,” said Bluma, “while we’re at it, get her to stop making such a noise in the middle of the night!”
Well, of course there was nothing to be done until Shabbes ended, so instead we all went to bed to get some rest now that Gitl had chased off the fiddler. You’d think I’d have taken the chance to sleep well, wouldn’t you? Not a bit of it! Remember, I was sharing a bed with Gitl! For her, the floodgates had opened, nothing somber and silent about it; the whole night it was Mirele this, and Mirele that, and did I think Mirele was really all right, until I almost wished the fiddle back again to distract her.
But really what I wished was that you were here, and Esther and Eidel and the two Sarahs, and we were all just the same as we were before everyone started marrying themselves off. I wouldn’t have minded a bit staying up all night then.
Well, but let’s not have the same quarrel all over again. I was telling you about Gitl and her Mirele—and it’s a lucky thing my cousins are so respectable these days, for otherwise I don’t think the Schneidermans would have let Gitl out of the house again for a month. But no one says no to a rabbi. Gitl went home after Shabbes so her in-laws would know what’s become of her, but she came right back the next day, and not a moment too soon, either; the fiddler didn’t give us even one day of peace, she was back in force right after Havdalah!
But this time around Bluma and Yudah were fortified. It seemed that night of quiet, though more than useless to me, had done them a world of good. They spent all the next day beaming at each other like newlyweds, and when Gitl came by again, Yudah was all ready to set to work. He’d got with him Bluma’s mother, my Tante Leah—she’d been out by a friend’s when Gitl came by before, as she always is on nights when the moon’s particularly bright. Well, I’ve said it before, it’s none of my business what my aunt does with herself. “All right, Gitl,” Yudah said, “did you bring something of Mirele’s?”
“I’ve got this shawl she made me,” said Gitl, and held up a beautiful blue piece of lace-knit. “Since she left, I haven’t had the heart to wear it.”
Yudah nodded. “Now, you and me are going to go out and we’re going to find your Mirele. You remember my mother-in-law—she’ll be coming with us, so between a rabbi and a matron, there won’t be a thing that’s improper about it.”
“Do you think I care what’s improper,” said Gitl, heatedly, “if there’s a chance of finding her?”
“Well, no,” laughed Yudah, “but I’ve got to care a little, you know, a person in my position!”
I didn’t see why my aunt should have to trouble herself to come along when I was going to be there, and I said so, but Yudah waved me off. “It’s a few more years, Shaina, before you’re of an age to chaperone! Come if you like, but your aunt’s coming too, no way around it.”
So out we all trooped into the dark of the street—all of us except Bluma, who said in no uncertain terms that if she met this Mirele who’d caused all the trouble, she couldn’t find it in her heart to be polite to her, dybbuk or no, and as a result she had probably much better stay home.
The fiddle had never sounded so very loud in the house, and even once we got outside, it wasn’t so clear to me which way to go to find it. Gitl was turning in circles too, but Yudah took charge at once, in his usual know-it-all way. “Here, Shaina—you’ve got a cool head, nothing will startle you, so you’d better hold the lantern. As for you, Gitl—no, don’t call out, not yet!—but it’s chilly, and my mother-in-law’s not getting any younger out here! Would you mind lending her that shawl your Mirele knitted?”
Gitl handed it over. “Thank you,” said my Tante Leah, in her meek little voice. She buried her face deep in the shawl for a moment and then wrapped it around her neck, took a deep breath, and set off down the street with all of us trailing after her.
Finally we turned into an alley where even I could hear the music clearly. I held up the lantern ahead of me. The light cast a great shadow up on the wall, as if a dozen people were there, with a dozen instruments lifted up in song—but to cast the shadow, there was only a young woman, more or less the same age as you or me or Gitl, with a fiddle held up to her chin.
When the light fell on her she gasped, and the bow dropped from her hand. “Gitl!” she cried, and Gitl shouted back, and ran towards her. I started to go towards them, too, but Yudah put a hand on my shoulder.
“Shaina,” he said, “how many people do you see there?”
“Only the one,” I answered—though I wasn’t at all sure what to think about her over-crowded shadow.
“There’s only one,” my aunt agreed. “It must be Mirele Schneiderman.”
“Hm,” said Yudah. “Stay here, Shaina, and keep that light steady.”
I suppose you’d think we should have been frightened, seeing a dead person in front of us. But my aunt, you know, who knows what she gets up to, and as for me, I’m not so easy to scare. One dead girl only my age isn’t much when weighed against all that trouble with the demon last year, when my cousin and her beardless husband got their kid to begin with—but never mind, that’s a story I’ve promised not to tell!
Anyway, it didn’t seem at all that Mirele wanted to hurt us. Up ahead, in the alley, Gitl was already holding out her hands to her, but Mirele kept her distance: “No, Gitl, it’s not right! You and I shouldn’t be like this—and anyway, the living shouldn’t talk to the dead.”
“At least tell me what happened to you!” Gitl pleaded.
Mirele shook her head, backing away step by step. “I didn’t know myself I was dead until the others told me. It’s all right, Gitl—I’m not unhappy! I’m not shaming my parents, I’m not wanting anything I shouldn’t have, I’m only making music all the time, and that’s all I wanted, really. Go home to my parents, and forget you saw me.”
“I can’t!” declared Gitl, passionately. “I won’t! I’ll never forget you, never!”
All those mannerisms Gitl used to practice when we did readings in your spare room, they were getting a workout now! But she really was crying, so it wasn’t only melodrama. Even I felt a lump in my throat, and you know how I never weep at plays.
I looked over to see how my cousin and my aunt were taking it, and what they thought to do about it. My aunt’s brow was furrowed, she was puzzled as anything, but that Yudah Cohen wasn’t paying any attention; he was busy in conversation with what looked to me like the empty air.
“No,” he said, with the air of a person explaining something to an elderly relative, “though I can see how it’s an easy mistake for you to make. But my family’s here, and they’ll clear it all up for you.” He turned to me and my aunt. “Hey, do me a favor, will you? Won’t you say who I am, and what I am to you?”
“Why,” said my aunt, confused but willing, “you’re my son-in-law, Yudah Cohen, who brings our family such naches.”
“You’re my cousin’s husband Yudah Cohen,” I said, “the biggest know-it-all in Vilna or Lodz.”
“Thank you,” said Yudah Cohen, “thank you especially to my favorite cousin Shaina, your kind words always fill my heart.” He turned back to the empty air. “So, you see—well! They’re gone!”
“Mirele’s gone!” wailed Gitl at the same time. “What were you doing, Rev Cohen? You said you’d help me, but you weren’t paying attention at all! She’s dead and no one knows what happened and no one cares a bit!”
Yudah had told me to keep where I was and hold the lantern up, but my friend was crying, and I wasn’t about to stand still! I gave the lantern to my aunt, and went over to comfort Gitl. “There,” I said, putting an arm around her, “at least you got a chance to talk to her a bit, that’s not nothing.”
Yudah had been about to answer Gitl, but now his eyes fixed right on me. “You saw her, Shaina?”
“Of course I saw her,” I answered. “Didn’t I say she must have been a dybbuk? There she was, right there, talking about how the living should stay away from the dead!”
But my aunt shook her head, looking more puzzled than ever. “Excuse me, Shainele,” she said, “I don’t want to say you’re wrong, but I saw that girl too, and I don’t think—no, I really don’t think she can be dead.”
Well, you know Gitl, if there’s two things she hates, it’s something not going her way and somebody contradicting her. She started crying harder than ever. “My sister-in-law’s dead, my heart’s broken, and you’re all standing here and arguing about it!”
“All right,” said Yudah, raising his voice a little, to be heard over Gitl crying. “Let me clear this up a little. The three of you, you all saw Mirele?”
“You know that already,” I said, angry on Gitl’s behalf; what kind of a rabbi was he, not to say a single comforting word when she was so upset!
“But none of you,” Yudah went on, “saw or heard anybody else? Not a drummer, not a clarinetist—”
Gitl stopped between one sob and another. “What did you say? What instruments?”
“A drummer,” said Yudah, “a clarinetist, and a guitarist—a full klezmer band, in fact. Why, Gitl, did you see them too?”
“No,” said Gitl, shaken, “but Mirele said that’s who told her she was dead. A ghost band, she said—a drummer, a clarinetist, and a guitarist!” (I suppose that’s what they’d talked about when I was busy telling Yudah Cohen his own name. Well you can’t pay attention to everything at once.)
“That’s them,” said Yudah. He might have been talking about the neighborhood boys playing in my brother’s wedding band, he was so cool. “Really, it’s a shame you can’t hear them—they’re pretty good, especially with your Mirele’s fiddle! It’s true you can’t have a klezmer band without a good fiddler, she must have seemed a real gift from God. Still, it can’t be allowed to go on; a living person should really only play music with other living people.”
“A living person?” echoed Gitl.
“Certainly a living person,” answered Yudah. “First of all, you all saw her, and none of you saw the rest of the band. Second, you all could hear her, and none of you heard the rest of the band. And third—” He turned to flash a smile at my Tante Leah. “My mother-in-law says so, and everyone knows, the mother-in-law’s always right!”
That one, he knows exactly how to wrap my aunt around his finger! Doesn’t it just make you want to gag, to see a person suck up to his in-laws like that?
Well, I’m sure you’ll want to know just what makes my cousin’s husband so special that he can see ghosts and nobody else. Once we all got home, he explained to us what he thought about it. “These dybbuks,” he said, “they’ve been wandering around playing their klezmer for decades or more, bothering nobody. I bet there’s a real story behind that, if anyone had the time to hear it—but living people can’t hear them, so what’s the harm? But then your Mirele comes along. She’s a living person, but her parents been done everything as if she were dead, haven’t they? Said the kaddish and covered the mirrors?”
Gitl nodded. “I hated to go along with it—still, they’re mourning a son, I didn’t want to shame them. And, you know, even the great David Kessler’s parents sat shiva for him when he left to join the theater, and Keni Liptzin’s father too. Half the actors of the Yiddish theater have a story like this. For a real artist, if you’re called to do something, it’s worth the price. So I didn’t really start to worry until I didn’t hear from her for so long, and then I knew something must have happened.”
“What happened,” said Yudah, “is those dybbuks got confused. Mirele Schneiderman’s family said kaddish for her, so it’s natural that those dead who are still hanging around would think she’s another neighbor to them. It’s not the first time I’ve run into this situation,” he added, “for when I left home my parents sat shiva for me just the same.”
Gitl’s face was really shocked. I suppose she didn’t think a rabbi, even such a young rabbi as Yudah Cohen, could have any kind of a scandalous past. When she opened her mouth, I was all ready to kick her to stop her from asking a rude question. But I suppose our wild Gitl really has grown up a little; she only looked at Yudah and said, “That must have been hard. I’m sorry for it.”
Well, you know how Yudah is, he’ll make a joke out of anything: “It’s something of a comfort,” he answered, “to know I’m in such good company as the great David Kessler!”
But when he saw Gitl was still looking at him, he said, more gently, “It was a long time ago, in any case. As for the dybbuks, there’s usually no reason for the dead to come and bother a stranger—and if they ever do, all I’ve got to do is explain that they’re mistaken, and I’ve got a family here who’s not mourning me at all.”
My cousin, who was sitting by Yudah, took his hand in hers and then brought it up to her lips to kiss the back of it.
“But about Mirele,” I said, before everyone could get any mushier than they already were. “You said she must have seemed a gift from God—is it because those dybbuks wanted a fiddler for their band that they introduced themselves?”
“That’s what I think,” agreed Yudah. “But if Mirele had been struggling when they spoke to her, maybe she had run into trouble, or hadn’t eaten in a day or two—well, now she’s stuck in the middle, thinking she’s a dead person, and acting like one, too.” He shook his head. “She’s right to say a living person really shouldn’t spend so much time with the dead. When was the last time she ate good food, or took a sip of wine? Before long, there really won’t be any difference. I don’t think that’s the outcome anyone wants, no matter how well her band plays—”
“We certainly don’t!” said Bluma and Gitl, nearly as one.
“– so what we’ve got to do is convince those dybbuks that Mirele is alive, whatever her parents say. Now—” He sighed. “There, I’ll admit, I’m a little stuck. For myself, I’ve got a name and family that have nothing to do with the old ones, it’s easy to show a ghost that they’ve got the wrong idea. Once they see that, they get embarrassed and leave me alone. But Mirele’s got none of these advantages. What would be best is if her parents would come out and clear the whole thing up. Gitl, do you think you could convince them?”
Gitl didn’t look at all certain; still, she held her head up. “I’ll try,” she said. “I’m all they’ve got now. They’ve said that enough times, so maybe they’ll listen to me.”
So the next day Gitl went back home to her in-laws, with an invitation to come by ours for dinner. While Yudah was with the minyan, my cousin and aunt and I spent all day cooking: stewed chicken, cabbage kreplach, sweet blintzes, a potato kugel, we really went all out! You’d really have thought it was King Solomon himself coming for dinner, rather than a couple of grim old fogeys who thought that a smile was a scandal. But the best way to convince anyone of anything is on a full stomach, so I let Bluma boss me around without a word of complaint, and beat eggs and rolled dough and folded blintzes until my arms ached.
And all for nothing (except to fill our own stomachs), as it turned out, for when Gitl returned that evening, there wasn’t anyone with her at all.
“They wouldn’t come,” she told us, her eyes red with tears. “I begged them and they wouldn’t budge. I told them their daughter needed them, and they said they didn’t have a daughter. Well, they won’t have a daughter-in-law, either! I’m done with them!”
Yudah looked at the spread of food that we’d prepared, and then sighed and made a gesture with a hand, dismissing the Schneidermans as if they weren’t worthy of consideration. “That would have been the easiest way, but you can be sure it’s not the only one. Tomorrow, I’ll go back to the books—”
“Tomorrow!” cried Gitl. “Tomorrow’s too long to wait! Let’s find her again now. Rebbe Cohen, I know it’s not the same as having her parents there, but I’m her family too. Now I know she’s not really dead, I won’t let her go without a fight. Please let me try!”
So there again we all were, trooping through the dark streets after the lonely sound of the fiddle—and to make a long story short, when we found Mirele, she didn’t look any happier to see us than before. “I told you to leave me alone!” she wailed. “Why won’t you listen? Go home, Gitl! I don’t want to see you here anymore!”
To tell you the truth, if any of my friends shouted at me that way, I’d likely take them at their word. But Gitl just tromped forward and grabbed onto Mirele by both arms, so that the poor girl nearly dropped her fiddle. “Mirele,” she declared, “you’d better listen to me, and tell your dybbuk friends they can listen to me, too! You’re a living person, not a dead one. It doesn’t matter a bit what your parents have to say about it. So you’d better not ask me to leave you and not follow you; where you go, I’m going!”
And though Mirele started by trying to pull away, the more Gitl repeated her words, the less she struggled, until in the end her head came to rest on Gitl’s shoulder.
“Oh,” said Yudah Cohen, standing next to me, “that’s really clever, I should have thought of it myself. Certainly it’s the strongest claim an in-law could ever make—or one girl to another, for that matter.”
Of course I asked him what he meant, and he looked at me, a little surprised. “Why, didn’t you recognize it? It’s the Book of Ruth!”
Honestly! As if everyone were a rabbi, and had every word of the Megillot memorized—some of us have better things to do!
Anyway, Mirele and Gitl were both crying by now. “Gitl, what am I going to do?” wailed Mirele. “I can’t hear the music anymore, and I can’t ever go home again. What’s left for me now?”
“You’re going to do what you said,” answered Gitl, “and go to play with the theater—and I’ll go with you, so you won’t be alone. We’ll stick together, the two of us. We’ll be each other’s family. That’s what matters, doesn’t it?” And she lifted herself up on her tiptoes, and kissed the tears away from Mirele’s eyes, and Mirele flung her arms around her.
“So that’s how it is,” remarked Yudah Cohen, in that know-it-all tone I really can’t stand, and then turned to me. “Well, Shaina—when we asked you to bring your friend Gitl around by our place, I can’t say this is exactly what your cousin and I expected to happen. How are you with all of this?”
“I’ve never known why people get so sentimental about the Book of Ruth,” I answered. “What’s so exciting about following one’s in-laws around all the time? Still, if Gitl’s happy, it’s all right by me.” For you know, Shprintze, how our Gitl’s always making one wild decision or another—and it’s true you couldn’t say that running off to the theater with your sister-in-law shows good sense. Still, if you ask me it’s still better than marrying some stupid boy you barely know with parents like a pair of prison wardens.
Yudah squinted at me for a moment longer, and then laughed and patted me on the shoulder. “Well, in the end, maybe it’s just as well.”
Just as well, indeed! As if he had anything to say about it! Really, is there anything more annoying than a person who thinks they know everything?
So that’s about all the news there is by us. Now that Gitl’s gone off with Mirele, I haven’t got much to do with my days except sit around and help my cousin and aunt around the house—and now that we’re not all kept up at nights with fiddling, my cousin and her husband are more disgusting with each other than ever. I’m really just about at the edge of my patience! I expect I’ll be heading home to Vilna on the next train after this letter, and I’ve sent one to my father, too, to let him know I’m coming. Come by the station and meet me, if you’re free, and I’ll tell you everything else I forgot to write about—though I’m sure this letter’s already gone on long enough—and you can tell me how everything’s going with the wedding plans, or if you’ve thought better of the whole thing.
As for me, I won’t tell you what I think about it unless you ask; unlike some relatives of mine, I make it a point to mind my own business!
About the Author
Rebecca Fraimow is an author and archivist living in Boston. Further adventures of Yudah Cohen and his family can be found in PodCastle and Diabolical Plots; Rebecca’s work has also appeared in Daily Science Fiction, The Fantasist, and the anthology Consolation Songs, among other venues.
About the Narrator
Barbara Krasnoff has had short stories in over 45 print and online publications, including Space & Time, Andromeda Spaceways, Mythic Delirium, Abyss & Apex, and a variety of others. Her story “Sabbath Wine,” which was published in the anthology Clockwork Phoenix 5, was a Nebula Award finalist. The History of Soul 2065, her mosaic novel published by Mythic Delirium Books, follows several generations of two mystical Jewish families. She earns her living as Reviews Editor at The Verge. You can find her website at Brooklynwriter.com.