Short story excerpt
Robert Boris Riskin
Vera said. You are a fool, Baruch. Therefore, you are a man. Or is it the other way around? It doesn’t matter.”
Baruch smiled at her. Vera was his sister, the eldest. She had been on this theme for a long time. It was almost a year since Natasha had died; it would soon be time for the unveiling.
“Call me what you like, Vera. I must do things my own way.”
“And what is your own way?” Vera’s blue eyes speared him. She was a woman of forty, attractive. Her eyes were her best feature now, and she accented them with green eye shadow. “What is your own way…to board them out with one of your sisters at a time for the rest of their lives? We cannot take care of them forever. We have our own children. And you know I do not speak selfishly.”
“Of course not.” Baruch looked down at his rough hands. “I thought I would hire a woman to watch them during the day until they were old enough for school.”
“Where will you find a woman to do that? What will you pay her with?”
“I am earning enough.”
“Enough to raise them. Not enough to pay someone to raise them.” She leaned across the kitchen table and touched his arm. “Baruch. We all love your little ones. They are wonderful children. But they need a mother. All children need mothers.”
Baruch laughed. His teeth were widely spaced and his gray eyes closed at the corners. “You are very wise, Vera, to think of such a thing.”
Vera had no sense of humor. “I don’t take credit for the thought,” she said. “We have all discussed it and decided that is the only solution.”
“Suppose I tell you that I don’t want to remarry.”
“It is not a question of what you want, anymore. It is a question of what is best for your little girls.”
Baruch stood up. He was angry, and he wanted to impress on Vera that he was angry. He was younger than his three sisters, but he was the oldest male, and they all looked to him for advice when it was needed. Now they had proceeded to turn the tables on him and he didn’t like it. He spoke quietly. He had gained a great deal of control over himself since Natasha’s death. Outward displays of emotion had always been common in his family and in their circle of friends, but he no longer indulged himself.
“Listen to me, Vera. When it comes to what is best for my girls, I will make the decision. Nobody else. I won’t inconvenience my sisters any longer. Tomorrow night I will come for the children. It is the last day you will have to take care of them.” He walked to the door of the kitchen. “I am going home now. Good night.”
Vera ran after him. “Baruch,” she cried. “I didn’t want it to sound like that.” She held his arm. “Don’t be angry. Come back.”
“No. It is late. I must go.”
“Then don’t be angry. I want to take care of them. I will take care of them forever for you, Baruch.”
“Thank you, Vera. You won’t have to. Good night.”
He went into the street and buttoned his coat up to the collart. It was cold and raw. It was nearly a mile to where he lived. He decided to walk. As he walked he felt the irritation that had been within him for some time growing in size. He had been aware since Natasha’s death of the problem his two children represented. It was a difficult task to raise two young ones without a mother. And as of this time he had not come to any solution. During the year they had been staying with his sisters one month at a time. He had been contributing to their upkeep, but needless to say, it was an unsatisfactory arrangement. It was not good for the girls. It did not please his sisters. It did not please him. There were few alternatives, however. He had not found another woman he wished to marry—nor had any woman expressed an interest in him. He would never place them in foster homes under city guidance/ He could not really afford to hire a woman to care for them during the day while he worked. He knew what the answer was as well as his sisters, who had been trying to force it on him for months. Even Eugene had hinted that it was the only solution. Eugene was Natasha’s brother, but in no way like her. Where she was lively and free, he was a traditional person who saw no wrong in anything if there was a precedent. But he, Baruch, was not made the same way. He did not consider himself a poet, a man of extreme sensitivity, although he painted in oils and played the piano. But his sensitivity was affronted by the proposal, set down in Jewish tradition, that the widower left with children marry his wife’s sister, since she is closest to the wife in nature and appearance and closest to the children in love.
Theoretically it might be a good idea but he could not bring himself to do it. He tried to recall an image of Natasha’s sister. It had been six years since he had seen her, and then only briefly, not really seeing her, not seeing anyone but Natasha, his bride. He remembered her having dark eyes similar to Natasha’s but there was little other resemblance. Natasha was delicate; her sister, Genia, was sturdy, a little heavy, with a round face, a longer nose than Natasha’s, a thinner mouth, although with the same black hair. He remembered her only vaguely because he could not think of her and Natasha at the same time. He could not put them together in his mind. Natasha was the most beautiful thing in the world. No one could compare with her, no one could replace her.