Fiction

3C, acrylic painting by Phyllis Green

Intentions

“You’re lonely,” they told me.

 

“I’m not,” I told them.

“You need to date! Sign up online with a dating service. Now you’ve figured out email and Amazon, the world is your oyster.”

“Not kosher,” Andy, my one grandchild, butted in, “I learned about all that in Sunday school.”

Thats what they teach you?” and under my breath, thats what I pay for?

I’m sure they meant well, though it was high time they stopped trying to organize my life and fix me up, get me out of their hair. Their father, Stanley, died after we divorced, leaving me with two teenagers and a hefty debt. Second husband Louis was definitely an improvement. This time round, without meaning to sound too mercenary, I inherited the house, all bills paid, and enough to retire.  

As soon as the official year of mourning was over, the girls booked a cruise for me up the West Coast, which was acceptable as I had cousins and college friends at nearly every port where we docked. So did I meet an admirer, a hopeful “third time lucky?” Everyone was friendly. No one invited me into their cabin, nor me to theirs. Nor should it be expected at my age. Without “a little touch of powder, a little pot of paint,” to quote an old adage, I didn’t feel too presentable, zaftig in some places but spindly legs. No. I don’t do myself justice.  For my age, I looked fine. I’m just about past my shelf life, if truth be told. 

When I gave them the rundown on the trip, they complained, “You were too particular!” One thing my daughters had learned from me was to contradict.

“Maybe Mr. Right will come along eventually,” I teased. “He’ll want me to go to church with him.”

“You’ll sign up for a Jewish dating service.” Lily wasn’t about to accept defeat. They must have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with me, and this was the plan. They tensed, waiting for another protest.

“Look at Auntie Ray,” Louise pointed out. “She is happily married now.”

“They met at a bar mitzvah,” I countered, “not on a computer.” Ray, an incorrigible malcontent, did seem less annoying now that she had married Sid, my older brother. I wouldn’t be caught dead with him, the sibling I’d never cared for since crib and stroller days. Even trying to sound less unkind, we all agreed he was idle, boring, and seriously overweight. His favorite activity, while Ray stood in the kitchen cooking for him, was pressing the remote to watch whichever sport was in season.

Eventually, I consented to join twenty-first-century romancing, albeit not quite graciously. They had the application form that I managed to submit online (after a couple of practices).

”Be truthful,” Lily commanded, “or they can catch you out.” 

“Why would I lie?” 

“You may say you like yoga or canasta.”

  “But I don’t.”

We filled it out honestly, but I didn’t sound like any sort of catch, financial or otherwise.

Taking a break from the application, we went through another shoebox of the photos that were stored in the closet, a task we had all promised each other for months. The first ones showed me as a baby, a cute baby. I saw myself in diapers, preschool, all the way to Junior Prom. Then I stopped turning the images, halted by the giggling.

“I deveIoped early,” I explained, “physically precocious. A little dressmaker my mother knew sewed a gorgeous dress, hot pink taffeta, too tight across the chest. Does anyone still know what taffeta is, I wonder?  

“Did you have a date, is this him?” Lily asked. She gazed at the short boy with ears that stuck out under his short-back-and-sides haircut. He was four inches shorter than I was and seemed to keep staring at my chest as if scared he might have to hold me close in a waltz. We danced, barely holding hands. But he had a cuteness about him. Benjy was his name, I think. We were never in the same class. I didn’t even know him. Teachers paired off everyone in case some of us didn’t have an invitation.

Senior Prom was a whole different memory. I was in love with Arnold, blond, at least six feet tall, a tennis player. I wore a very sexy dress for those days, quite low cut, light blue jersey with an abstract motif and satin shoes dyed to match. I felt on top of the world. At the end of the semester, the family moved to Oregon, and that was the last I saw of Arnold.

Then came college, a couple of years dating a series of mostly unappealing young men, followed by marriage, the usual sequence at the time.

Now, it was time to complete and send in the form with the girls’ approval. Within a few days I received four choices: the first appeared to lie about his age, one I recognized as the husband of a distant cousin (shame on him!), another lived in Kenya, and the fourth was a retired rabbi.

“A rabbi!” the girls hooted. ”Just your style, Ma!” I’d been so dedicated all those years, fielding the arguments about Hebrew lessons, bat mitzvahs, seders with homemade gefilte fish that no one would touch. I thought my days of strict Jewish observance were over.

And now, a rabbi!  His age and marital status (divorced) were fine. He had twin sons, married with children and living in Ohio, or Iowa, one of those states I could never locate with confidence.

“Heaven help me!”I exclaimed, hoping that wasn’t sacrilegious. 

The retired rabbi emailed me. “I’ll phone Saturday evening, after shabbos.” 

“We don’t observe,” I confessed when he called, needing to get that straight right away. 

“Nor do I,” he replied. “Strictly Reform.”

We exchanged career details, and I admit I was a little interested. He had served as the rabbi of a medium-size congregation for a few years, then changed track and worked in jails, ministering to incarcerated men, women, and teenagers. I told him I’d taught special education high school students, then became a feature writer on our weekly newspaper. I reckoned I didn’t sound either inadequate or threatening.

“When shall we meet? I have a sister who lives not 80 miles from you,” he said. “I could fly in for her 75th birthday.” There seemed no reason to waste time. 

He was about 5’10,” sported a short beard and a longish modern haircut, and was of reasonable build and weight. I can’t say I was exactly attracted, but I enjoyed the evening. I think he did, too.

And then came the bombshell: A couple of days later, he texted, “Let’s really get together!” 

The idea of a further meeting did seem agreeable. So I texted back, “Give me a date. Let’s spend a day or two in Vegas, and not tell our kids, if yours harass as much as mine do.”

What a lark that would be! And during a weekend together we could get it over, I told myself. No dithering and being embarrassed, denying ourselves the option.

The hotel was all that every Vegas hotel seems to be. He took one room (yes, I was a little uneasy), but with two beds. Was he cheap not paying for a second room? Did he not fancy me? I was game though, throwing caution to the wind as the old saying goes. Lets just get it over, I told myself again.

We spent the night in the two beds, schmoozing, laughing, both of us smoking cigarettes the way everyone used to, buying expensive little bottles of Scotch from the locked cabinet. The whole weekend was wonderful!

Maybe I felt so relaxed because something about him felt familiar. Was it his accent? His smile, the short index finger? When we stopped talking at about three a.m., I fell asleep right away.

The next morning, both of us still enjoying each other, we rode to the airport to fly our separate ways. I knew we’d get together again. 

“We’re too old for this game!” He hugged me, and I realized he meant the exact opposite. 

I wasn’t sad when we left the shuttle. The future beckoned. The nagging feeling of déjà vu persisted, but I said nothing. We parted with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He grinned as I started down the slope.  “Pink taffeta!” he called out, ’hot pink taffeta!” 

 

 

Mother Tongue
by Joyce Kornblatt
"Mother Tongue is not only dramatic and engrossing, it is also insightful and wise. Read it! Read it! You will never forget it!"
— Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist

"Joyce Kornblatt’s voice is lyrical and powerful, and this lovely novel is about being lost and being found, in the deepest, most primal sense. A beautiful, beautiful book.”
— Roxana Robinson, author of Dawson's Fall, Cost, Sparta, and more

"This author's worthy return is full of grace . . ."
Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Mother Tongue begins with a shocking discovery.  In a powerful fiction that reads like a true story, the details of the crime and its aftermath unfold. In mid-life, Australian fiction-writer Nella Pine learns that she was kidnapped as an infant from a hospital in the United States, taken to Australia, and raised there by the woman she knew as her mother, but who was actually her abductor.  “When I was three days old, a nurse named Ruth Miller stole me from the obstetrics ward in Mercy Hospital and raised me as her own.” In four voices of those whose lives were changed forever by the abduction, the mystery of Nella’s kidnapping emerges. Why was she taken?  How was the secret kept for so long?  What became of the family she was stolen from? Mother Tongue invites the reader to participate with these memorable characters as they unfold the impact on them of a terrible crime. Published by https://publerati.com $17.95 wherever books are sold. Available from Amazon, Bookshop.org, or your local bookstore.

Bios

Originally from the north of England, Jane Manaster is now a longtime Texan. In addition to creating short stories, she wrote newspaper columns for children and later for grandparents. Also a geographer, she has published three short natural history books. At present, she reviews nonfiction books.
Phyllis Green is an author, playwright, and artist. Her art can be found in ArLiJo 123, Gulf Stream magazine, Rip Rap, Rathalla, Talking River, Cinematic Codes Review, Superpresent, I70 Review, and other journals.

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