The Empty Swing
Glass of water stared at him from the kitchen table. Baruch’s reflection wrapped its surface, a collection of unhealthy pale features buried in a sprawling black beard. One hand stroked his beard, while his hands traced the tefillin nervously under the table. Occasionally, he made a dry gulping sound, but never touched the water.
He heard Dorit at the door. He turned, saw her dressed in the usual long black dress, hair wrapped in black scarves. Her bags sat at her feet.
“Where will you go?” he asked quietly.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Nu? I shouldn’t worry?”
“I’ll be fine,” she said.
“But where will you go?”
She sighed. “I’ll be at Deborah’s.”
“Your sister doesn’t keep kosher,” he keened.
She made a sound like brush in the wind.
“What will you do?”
She didn’t answer.
“Will you…are you still going to go to shul?”
“What?” she asked. “Why would I stop going to shul?”
He rotated the glass of water on the table, as though it might change the likeness looking back at him.
“Andy,” she said. “Why do you think I’d stop going to shul?”
“You think,” she said, “because I’m leaving that I’m going to somehow stop being Jewish?”
“You’re leaving the community,” he said, turning to face her. She looked into those hound dog eyes, and knew he hadn’t slept since their last fight. “You’re leaving for, for what? For the city? For, for a life of…what? What can be waiting for you down there that isn’t here?”
Her lips retracted, little whites showing. “So, because I’m leaving Monsey, I’m somehow leaving my faith? Is this…are you kidding me? Have you lost your mind?”
He turned back to his glass of water.
“No,” she said, rushing over to him. “No, this is not how it ends. Turn around, God damn it.”
“Don’t speak disrespectful like that. Not in this house.”
“Oh, come off it, Andy!” she barked. “You know, I was with you when you wanted to get closer to our roots–I was with you when you wanted us to start living Orthodox. I was with you when you changed your name. I was with you when you asked to stop working to devote my time to the house. I was with you when you wanted to move us to Boro Park with the Satmar. I was with you when you stopped talking to the rest of the family because they were too secular–I was even with you when you moved us all the way up here to this God-damned town in the middle of nowhere to be closer to the community! I came with you, Andy, because I love you, and that look in your eyes when you daven and study makes me love you even more–the passion, the intellect, the devotion. That’s why I came to Monsey. But you know what? It’s not why I stayed. I stayed because this is mine as much as yours. You understand? You don’t get a monopoly on faith just because you spend the day at yeshiva while I tend home.”
“Then why are you leaving?”
“Because I’m alone, Andy!” she said, pounding the table. “I am surrounded by families and people that I see everyday, all the time. At shul, at the market, at the doctor’s office, walking with their children–the same people. All the time. BURIED by people. But totally alone. Do you understand that? What that’s like? I’m all by myself here! They look at me, they look and they see me as we walk down the street, and they smile politely, and it’s like a million knives in my chest! They see me and they see you, and they see this house, and they see all the playsets you have built on the lawn, and they see them sitting there, Andy, empty. All day. They look at me, and they see this thing, this unholy thing, that can’t fulfill the basic commandment of fertility! And they smile, and they say ‘Good day, rebbetzin, how is the young Rabbi? Is he eating well? We have such high hopes for him! Such a talented Rabbi!’ And it’s like eating glass, because the rest of the sentence is right there, waiting for me to finish it. ‘NO, we’ve not been blessed with a child yet, NO, none of Dr Goldberg’s treatments have taken, NO, our prayers have not been answered!'”
“That’s why you’re leaving,” Baruch said, staring at his glass of water. “You’ve turned your back on Hashem. You hate Him,” he whispered. “And you hate me.”
Dorit took her husband’s face in her hands, turned him full around, and stared into his bloodshot eyes. “I don’t hate you, Andy. I don’t hate you, and I don’t hate Dr Goldberg, and I don’t hate this town, and I don’t hate God. But I am as He made me. And I won’t hate myself for that. And I won’t be alone anymore.”
She kissed him, felt the dampness of his beard, mesh of sweat and tears. Tried to pull him up, shake free the dust, bring him to his feet. But Baruch sat firm as stone. She released him. Took her bags. Disappeared out the front door. He listened as the car sped off; rose from his seat, stared out the kitchen window at the empty swing set on his front lawn. His throat was dry.
The water went untouched.