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Better Late – 13

June 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Shaynah turned onto an even darker, quieter street. Here there were no parked cars, and the only people were women in outrageously revealing outfits, strutting along or lounging together under streetlights. Shaynah had heard of these women… in fact she had heard that her late husband, Itzhak Gnavisch was a frequent customer of these courvehs who did sex for money. She didn’t care, and was happy that she didn’t have to make physical contact with him more than once a year or so.

“Looking for a party, lady?” one of the girls on the street called out to Shaynah as she drove slowly along the dark street.

“No thank you,” Shaynah answered, and wondered what kind of party the girl meant.

“Want a new experience?” a petite black girl called out. “I can show you the ropes.”

Shaynah accelerated and drove more quickly down the street and turned for home at the first corner. The black girl’s words rang in her head… a new experience. Shaynah realised that at 44 she had almost no experience. No experience in social behaviour in the secular community, no experience in the foods they ate, and certainly no experience in love or sex. Shaynah imagined that some of the teenage girls she saw on the streets and in the sidewalk cafes had far more experience than she, even though she had three children. She turned for home, determined to learn more about that beautiful home on Sequester Island. Perhaps she might be able to learn even more about secular society from David Goodman.

Mister Goodman… David had written “…if you wish to experience it in person, please get back to me.” Flushed with excitement, determined to fill the remainder of her life with the colours, flavours, fragrances and activities of the liberated society that surrounded her, Shaynah Levy hurried home. The night was warm and dark. Wisps of cloud drifted across the face of the moon when Shaynah paused on her grand veranda to look up at the heavens. With a half-prayer and a half-wish, she expressed to the moon and to herself a desire for strength and intelligence. She didn’t question her desire to make the transition out of the severely restrictive life she’d agreed to live and into a secular life of experience and adventure.

Shaynah prepared a bath in the large Jacuzzi tub that had been installed for the therapy that Itzhak Gnavisch needed for his severely flawed legs. Shaynah had secretly believed that the misshapen legs and feet of the Gnavisch family was because of the intermarriage among cousins. She was filled with relief each time she could see that her new-born infant was not similarly afflicted.

She had rarely used the soothing massage of the Jacuzzi jets while Itzhak was alive. She felt it was somehow dirty, or tainted by him. After his death, when she was filling time in her mourning period, Shaynah had scrubbed and cleaned the large tub thoroughly, until it appeared to have never been used by anyone. She felt this was a perfect time to initiate the fresh, clean Jacuzzi. Symbolically, Shaynah imagined it to be a reverse Mikvah, the cleansing bath that is required by gentile women if they convert to Judaism. Shaynah was converting from a Hassidic sect, a severe form of Judaism, to become a secular Jewish woman.

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Better Late – 12

June 22, 2014 Leave a comment

“Do you think a woman in her 40’s living alone there would be safe?
“It depends upon what she wants to be safe FROM. She would not be safe from solitude, long winters, bad weather and things like that. She would be safe from interruptions, noise, pollution, excessive activity and ugly surroundings.”

“Is the boat I saw in the background pictures included in the price? Is the price negotiable for cash?
“Those are two questions and it’s not totally clear if you are asking if the price on the property is negotiable or if the sailboat can be bought with the island. The whole answer is that Sabbatical (the boat) is not for sale at any price. For Sequester Island, I will consider any serious offer I get, and I’ll decide what I will or will not accept.

“I hope you don’t mind my questions, sir, but I am honestly interested in your property and wish to learn all I can about it before I can proceed.”
“Of course you should investigate thoroughly, because it is more than just a big investment, it would represent a total change in the way you live and the routines that you were raised with.

“I don’t know why you are thinking about this property, and I will be honest… I doubt very much that it would be suitable and comfortable for you. However, if you wish to experience it in person, please get back to me.”

Shaynah sat back in her chair. She didn’t know what to think. It was the first time she’d ever heard anyone advise a potential customer not to buy the product. She thought that David Goodman was either a fool or an honest man like none she’d ever known. It was late on a warm summer evening, and Shaynah felt drawn to the outdoors. She put on her comfortable walking shoes and stepped out her front door onto the grand porch. The instant she emerged she was greeted by Bess and Morey Himmelfarb who were passing on their evening walk. Shaynah smiled her response and descended toward the sidewalk. Before she reached the end of her own walkway she was again greeted, this time by Rhona Greenspan who was watering her lush lawn next door.

The attention of neighbours rankled Shaynah. She wanted to be alone with her thoughts, and the intrusions emphasised her urge to live a more serene life in a more remote place. Shaynah decided to avoid additional friendly neighbours. She pressed the remote in her purse and the electric door rolled up and away. Shaynah stepped into her Lexus and backed out onto the quiet, tree-lined street.

The summer night had grown dark, and Shaynah drove out of the quiet, luxurious residential district toward the bright lights of downtown. This was a new experience for her, to be out in the secular night alone, in the heart of the city’s nightlife. Young people streamed along the sidewalks, flirting, window-shopping, and ducking in and out of fast food places to eat or drink. Shaynah turned off the glaring, busy main drag down a quieter downtown street. Parked cars lined both sides of the street, and characters of all kinds strolled the sidewalks or occupied outdoor tables in cafés, bars, and clubs that clustered along the sidewalks.

Better Late – 11

June 17, 2014 Leave a comment

“You want coffee?” he said over his shoulder. The woman didn’t answer, but followed him up the stairs. David filled and started a coffee maker and went to his computer. He saw the incoming mail icon and opened Shaynah’s email. He began to laugh to himself, but didn’t let on that he had Shaynah’s response to his ad. David hoped Janine didn’t learn of his ad online because he didn’t want his ex-girlfriend to know his business. He decided to wait until she’d left before he responded to Shaynah’s email. David and Janine drank their coffee in relative silence, passing just a few innocuous comments between them about subjects of no consequence. Afterward, they returned to the boat and set about checking all the hardware and lines, all the while talking casually about the sailing strategy that would be most likely to win over his friendly competitor, Leo.

Shaynah tried to put the lovely island home out of her thoughts. She was mesmerised by the idea that a person could live in a beautiful, luxurious home isolated from society by what amounted to a giant moat, like that which had surrounded ancient castles and fiefdoms. This little island could become her of fiefdom… her own municipality, where she could do as she pleased, welcome those she wished to see and banish any she wished to avoid. These thoughts haunted her, nagged her, and she was uncharacteristically impatient to get a response from David Goodman. So tortured was she by her anxieties that she contemplated using the phone number that the video had provided. At the same time, she was overwhelmed with inhibition, and feared that she’d be struck dumb at the sound of his voice in her ear. Shaynah was agitated as never in her life, and wondered at her own foolish impatience and anxiety about something that didn’t matter. She was unable to imagine any sequence by which she could successfully purchase and live upon that lovely island in the deep blue water. Shaynah was about to go out for a walk to calm herself when she heard her computer ding that an email had arrived. She opened the mail and eagerly scanned David’s response. He used his favourite style in responding, putting his answers between the lines of Shaynah’s query, in a different typeface. Shaynah had never seen that technique before, and it made her feel like she was conversing with David Goodman face to face.

“Mister Goodman, I am interested in your property and have some questions that I hope you will not mind to answer.
“I will answer any question about the property completely and honestly.”

“I am a Jewish woman alone, and I think you might be Jewish because Goodman is usually a Jewish name. If you are Jewish, where do you worship? Is there a congregation nearby?
“That is not exactly about the property, but yes, I come from a Jewish family. I am not interested in any religion, so I suppose I’m an atheist. Even if I did want to worship, I doubt if there’s a synagogue within 100 miles of here.”

Better Late – 10

June 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Shaynah Levy returned to the computer’s media player and watched the video ad again, looking intently at the images of the property and trying to evaluate the trustworthiness of David Goodman. She sat back and drank in the colourful images, as if her spirit was dried to a crisp and the fantasy of life in that place was an oasis of quenching potential. Shaynah could almost feel herself changing. Throughout her life, she had felt as though a second Shaynah was moving through life with her, on a parallel course through a different society… the society that had surrounded her as she lived within the cold cocoon of the religious cult. Now as she sat before her computer monitor, Shaynah gave herself permission to dream.

In this newly liberated state of mind, Shaynah succeeded in breaking down the emotional and intellectual barriers against contemplation of life in nature, facing the adversities of weather and climate rather than costs and profits. She could not see herself living on an island totally alone, and she wondered if any of her sons would consider life in that environment.

David was on his sailboat checking the rigging when Shaynah’s e-mail arrived on his computer. His interest was in preparing the boat for a friendly race with Leo Schwartz, who had an island directly opposite David’s, on the far side of the large lake. While he worked, humming to himself, he squinted across the sparkling surface to see the dark silhouette of a powerboat against the glare of the sun on the water.

The sleek speedboat approached, slowed to an idle and sidled up to the dock behind the sailboat. David did nothing to acknowledge the arrival. When the engine was stopped, silence again filled the serene environment. A young woman scrambled out of the boat and hurried to catch the ropes at the bow and stern and hitch them skilfully to the chocks on the dock.

“You son-of-a-bitch, David,” she shouted up at him. “I agreed to crew for you on this childish race of yours. The least you could do is be courteous and help me moor the boat.” David didn’t respond, and kept his attention on the coils of rope that he was arranging in precise order, to avoid lost time during the race.

“Christ!” she cried, “Will you ever grow up?”

“Oh shut up!” David said without stopping his work. He spoke with his back to her. “Imagine it had been me having an affair with your sister,” he said. “Would you feel good in my presence, do you think?”

“Well then why in hell did you ask me to sail with you?” she said.

“You might be a stinking lesbian cheat,” David snarled, “but you handle the sheets like a man… and I want to beat Leo again this year. He spent a bundle on his boat, just to beat me. I haven’t done a thing to Sabatical, and we can beat him if we work together.”

“Why in Hell should I help you?” she demanded

“Because you like to win, you like to sail, and you know we can win if we do it together.” He said. David stepped from the boat onto the dock and walked toward the boathouse to climb the stairs to the quarters above.

Better Late – 9

June 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Shaynah hesitated a moment before she opened her e-mail. With David Goodman’s address typed into its field, she paused to think about what to put in the subject line. The only kind of communication Shaynah ever had on line was about business, never anything personal… with a man. She decided a businesslike approach was most appropriate.

“Property enquiry:

“Mister Goodman, I am interested in your property and have some questions that I hope you will not mind to answer.

“I am a Jewish woman alone, and I think you might be Jewish because Goodman is usually a Jewish name. If you are Jewish, where do you worship? Is there a congregation nearby?

“Do you think a woman in her 40’s living alone there would be safe?

“Is the boat I saw in the background pictures included in the price? Is the price negotiable for cash?

“I hope you don’t mind my questions, sir, but I am honestly interested in your property and wish to learn all I can about it before I can proceed.”

Shaynah Levy read her note over and over again, hoping to make certain she was not too bold, and she didn’t realise that her approach was clumsy and stilted. She signed off as “Shaynah Levy” and felt a little thrill, a small dash of spice in her pabulum life when she used her maiden name.

She went into the kitchen and started a pot of tea. She thought she heard the ping of an email coming to her computer and left her chore to rush to the monitor. There was nothing there. It had been her imagination. Embarrassed by her immature behaviour Shaynah returned to the kitchen to finish preparing the tea. She again heard the ping of incoming mail, but refused to be fooled again. It was her imagination. Shaynah stood at the large window that looked from her luxurious kitchen out across the huge yard with its groomed lawn and perfect array of colourful flowers in meticulously sculpted beds. The Asian gardeners she’d hired years before had always done a wonderful job, and had never missed a week to come to mow the lawn and tend the gardens.

When the tea was steeped to her preference, Shaynah sauntered back to the computer and sat down in front of the monitor. She let herself slowly look over at the screen. The new mail icon was there. She put her coffee mug down on the desk and eagerly opened her mail. It was just business – confirmation of an order. Shaynah forwarded the order to the appropriate person at the warehouse and sipped her coffee. Her imagination struggled to form scenes of what life could be like for her alone on an island, but she couldn’t manage it. She had no frame of reference for such a life, because her scope had been severely limited by the doctrines of her religion.

Better Late – 8

June 4, 2014 Leave a comment

A scene faded in. A beautiful sailboat with a glossy, black hull sat at the edge of a wide wooden dock, tied with its stern toward the viewer.

The name of the boat, ‘SABBATICAL’ was lettered in gold leaf across the spotless transom. Below the name it read ‘Sequester Island’ in smaller letters. The boat rocked gently at its mooring when a man emerged through the hatch from the cabin below. He crossed the teak deck in two strides, stepped over the edge of the boat onto the dock and approached the camera with a steady, confident walk until his head and shoulders filled the frame.

Shaynah stared into the dark blue eyes that looked out at her from the monitor screen. She felt like he could really see her, and unconsciously fluttered her hands at the high throat of her heavy tweed dress. She wondered at the warmth that she thought she saw in his eyes, but Shaynah was no fool. She reminded herself that this man was doing a selling job, and would obviously project as positive an image as he could. He might even be a professional actor making the ad for money. His body in the tight, white T-shirt could be a movie star’s. His skin was tanned golden brown everywhere it showed. His legs were well muscled and moved with graceful masculinity like a dancer or an athlete when he walked toward the camera. A large, lean, black dog walked happily at his side.

He smiled before he spoke, and his white, even teeth shone out of his handsome, tanned face. She guessed him to be about thirty years old. When he spoke, his warm, gentle voice sent a shiver through Shaynah’s body.

‘Hi! Thanks for your interest in Sequester Island. I’m David Goodman and I’d like to show you around my little island. If you like what you’ll see, I hope you’ll call me to talk about a personal visit.’

Shaynah’s mind half stopped at that, and she didn’t really hear what David Goodman’s magnificent electronic image was saying. She was aware only of the silken tones of his voice rumbling easily from his tanned throat and floating into the clear, sunny air like warm honey through his full lips.

The camera followed David through the house, showing room after room of calm, rustic elegance. It followed him out of the house and down a flat stone path through dense foliage and mature pine trees to a boathouse at the water’s edge on the far side of the island. A broad wooden dock similar to the first one was in front of the cabin. Shaynah was mesmerised watching his tight buttocks undulate in his form fitting blue shorts. After he conducted a gracious tour of the boathouse, David showed off a splendid apartment up a set of outdoor stairs over the indoor docking space. Finally, David Goodman strode to the edge of the gallery that was cantilevered out over the front entrance of the boathouse. He turned to the camera with his dazzling smile.

‘Thanks for your interest. I hope you’ll get in touch.’ He turned and dove from the high gallery into the sparkling blue water, and cut into it like a knife with barely a splash. The image zoomed in on the sparkling water where he’d disappeared beneath the surface. He did not resurface. An e-mail address and a phone number faded onto the screen. The picture in the background faded away, and the information remained on a black screen. Shaynah quickly wrote the information down before she clicked the image away.

Better Late – 7

June 1, 2014 Leave a comment

“Come, Lina,” she said. “Come tell me what you think of this.” Lina crouched behind her mother and peered at the monitor.

“Mother, why are you looking at such things?” she said.

“Tell the truth, Lina. What do you think of this?”

Lina studied the ad. Shaynah vacated the seat so the girl could comfortably take time to peruse the ad and understand it.

“It’s beautiful, Mother, but it’s not a place for us,” she said and dismissed the ad with a wave and turned her back on the pictures that faded in and out on the monitor. “But why are you looking at things that are not for us?”

“Why should it not be a place for us?” Shaynah demanded, irritated more by her own fears and doubts than by her daughter’s negative attitude. “Would I be less of a Jew if I lived in that place, in that way.”

“How would you keep the prayers, the kosher?” Lina wailed.

“Tell me the truth, baby daughter,” Shaynah pleaded. She took Lina’s hands in hers. “Do you like the way we must dress? Do you never look at the girls your age on the streets and envy their freedom? Their boldness? Even their sexual understanding?”

Lina stared at her mother and staggered back. She raised a frail hand to her mouth.

“Mother! How can you speak so?”

“Answer your mother, beloved daughter. Speak the truth,” Shaynah demanded.

Lina walked slowly across the room and sat down in a plain wooden chair in a corner farthest from her mother. She looked down at her hands in her lap for a long moment before she looked up at her mother. She heaved a shaky sigh before she spoke.

“Yes, mother,” Lina said. “I hate these clothes, I envy the girls on the street, and I am disgusted by the thought that the Rebbe will appoint some idiot cousin to be my husband and father my children.” Lina looked down at her hands again.

“Let us change it,” Shaynah said.

“What?” Lina gasped. “How? How could we do that?”

“This is a free country,” Shaynah said. “It is only our fathers’ beliefs that keep us in this narrow life. But we can ignore those beliefs if we choose to, and live any way we wish, within the limits of civil laws.”

“I don’t know what to say. It’s such a bold idea. You would be forced to leave the community, and the synagogue,” Lina moaned.

“What has the community given me? A dirty job caring for a worthless man. The synagogue has given little, and taken much of our wealth,” Shaynah said.

“I beg you, mother, be prudent,” Lina said. “The family will be outraged.”

“And you, my darling? Will you hate your mother?” Shaynah said softly.

“I will always love you, mother. You know that.” Lina crossed to her mother and hugged her head to her breast. “I will support you in whatever you decide to do,” she said. “But please… think twice. Be careful.”

“What do you think your brothers and sister would do if I left the synagogue?” Shaynah said.

“Each child loves you mother, for all that you are,” Lina said. “No matter how you choose to live, you will always be all that you are.”

After Lina left, Shaynah returned to her computer. She clicked on the link that said contact vendor and began to type in the pop up e-mail form. Abruptly, she stopped and cancelled the form and began to peruse the ad more carefully. There was a link that offered more details that Shaynah clicked on. Within a few seconds a video player appeared on the monitor. Shaynah looked at the frame and controls for a few minutes to discern how to view the video before she clicked on an icon that made it play.