By Daniel M. Jaffe
Sweating like a squeezed knaidl, Abe sits on the patio and gazes across their patio and backyard. Cassie brings out two glasses of “August lemonade,” a new phrase that’s entered her lexicon. She sits on the floral, cushioned lounge chair beside him and he takes her hand. They sit and she comments on the azalea in the far right corner, the rhododendron in the left corner. “Are they new?” And about the dark wooden fence, “Was it always so dark?” And about the brick patio, “If I’d known we had such a beautiful patio out here, I’d have come out here ages ago!”
In response, Abe smiles and nods. He’s quiet, the rhododendron and azaleas sparking a memory. Last April, the middle of Pesach. Hungry for lunch, he walked to the kitchen, but froze on the threshold. Then he spun around on cotton-socked toes so as to flee before Cassie spotted him. For if Cassie saw him, he would need to comment. And if he commented, she would suffer mortification—not so much for the violation itself, as for her not having recognized it as violation, as fundamental violation, as primal violation of the Torah-commanded holiday.
Into the den. While flipping newspaper pages that Pesach day, he berated himself for having waited in the car while letting Cassie shop alone that morning at Shop Rite. He’d meant well, following doctor’s orders to grant her as much independence as she could handle. At least he was driving her almost everywhere. Each time she was about to leave the house, Abe volunteered to be her chauffeur. “Don’t leave me all alone,” he’d whine, and she’d smile and accept his offer.
What a switch. Years earlier, when he’d needed radiation treatment for prostate cancer, it was Cassie who drove him into Philly every day for weeks. She never complained about having to get up at 6:00 AM day after day. She never complained about the traffic. She never complained when he ceased having any interest in intimacy for two years—two years!—as a result of the female hormone treatment. And after the hormone therapy ended and gradually he started noticing her shapeliness, and a kiss transformed from being an expression of companionship into its old spark of desire—how she wept that first night he reached for her in bed despite her having removed makeup, despite her having dressed in her warmest, baggiest flannel nightgown. Only then, when he caressed her shoulder in that special way, did she admit for the first time in two years her fear that their intimate life had come to an end, never to return.
He’d retreated to the den because he discovered his wife eating a cheese sandwich on Pesach. On a Kaiser roll. At the kitchen table on one of their white porcelain dishes reserved for Pesach and atop the yellow-and-white daisied tablecloth used only that one week of the year. From behind the Cherryvale Gazette, Abe listened in wait for the sound of Cassie’s brass-footed kitchen chair scraping back against the tile floor, then the clatter of white porcelain dish into sink, the splash of tap water, the creak of her steps through the hard-wood floored dining room, her heavy footfalls up the carpeted stairs, the gentle squeak of their bed. Then he stood, trudged into the kitchen, took that chametz-contaminated white porcelain dish from the sink, and carefully dropped the remaining half-dozen Kaiser rolls into a paper bag.
He slipped on his shoes, went out back. He knelt on a corner of the patio he had once rubber-malleted into place by hand, brown brick by brown brick, the patio he had designed and constructed so as to bring Cassie spring and summer joy. He scraped aside the resin-fragrant wood chip mulch he had spread a few weeks earlier that April in hopes of enticing spring. He went to the garage and returned with a hand-shovel, plunged it between rhododendrons now thickening with buds, and he dug and dug the clay-like earth still winter cool. He set the chametz-contaminated white porcelain dish down deep beside two forks and knives already there, and he covered them all with purifying earth, the earth of Creation and new beginning, patted everything smooth and sprinkled chips back into place. He said a shehechianu blessing in thanks for being alive and healthy and able to look after his wife.
He then walked to the patio’s opposite corner, paused to look behind the azaleas at the dark wooden fence delimiting his land, defining all that lay within his gates. He knelt again, now to bury the paper bag of rolls. The white porcelain dish that should never have touched chametz…the milchik silverware that should never have touched meat…the fleishik silverware that should never have touched dairy… these were one thing. He knew they could be purified. But the rolls? Rolls from his own kitchen on Pesach, leavened bread he’d seen and touched and held on Pesach within his gates, leavened bread that his wife had just eaten—was purification possible?
He shut his eyes at a cool breeze carrying the faint scent of new honeysuckle from the neighbor’s yard. He inhaled spring’s sweetness deeply, swept wood chips aside, dug by the azalea, set the bag of rolls in, covered it, and patted as though making nice. He muttered, “Dear Lord, I offer here not a lamb at Temple nor another shank bone at table, but my humility as Pesach sacrifice to fulfill Thy commandments and honor Thy Name.”
Abe gave a firm, hopeful nod at that, pressed himself hands-on-thighs to standing and brushed off his pants. He paused just a moment until the knee ache faded, then he walked briskly to the garage, slipped in the side door, and scraped the dirt from beneath his fingernails so that Cassie might never know.
And if, upon waking from her nap, she asked about them, well… then Abe would do what he swore he never would—he’d lie that she’d misplaced them or that she dreamt the cheese sandwich. Or maybe he’d sputter something about her having finished the rolls an entire week ago, as part of pre-Pesach house-cleaning because Cassie was such a model Pesach homemaker, after all. She’d lift an eyebrow at that, shake her head, run fingers through a wave of brown-dyed hair and give her typical, “Good Lord, my mind’s a sieve these days.” She would, of course, accept her husband’s truth because she trusted him beyond all men.
“Good August lemonade,” he says now to Cassie as they sit side-by-side on the brick patio. “The best lemonade you’ve ever made.”
Cassie grins broadly and squeezes his hand.
Copyright © Daniel M. Jaffe 2011
Daniel M. Jaffe is author of the novel, The Limits of Pleasure (re-issued by Lethe Press, 2010), which was a Finalist for a Book of the Year Award by ForeWord Magazine upon the novel's initial publication in 2001. Daniel also compiled and edited With Signs and Wonders: An International Anthology of Jewish Fabulist Fiction (Invisible Cities Press, 2001), and translated the Russian-Israeli novel, Here Comes the Messiah! by Dina Rubina (Zephyr Press, 2000). Daniel's fiction chapbook, One-foot Lover, was published by Seven Kitchens Press in 2009. Read more at http://danieljaffe.tripod.com