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Celery Hearts

Celery Hearts

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Gray light entered through the yellow shade as Becky awoke. Dreary-eyed, she looked at the empty bed beside her: Chaim was gone.

She put on her warm robe, and then passed by the yahrzeit memorial candle still burning in the dining room next to Chaim’s tefillin. The flame gave off such a cold light in the tall red glass. The rabbi had said she could let the candle burn out by itself. Like her.

Time was so unforgiving; Becky was not readyOnce in the kitchen, she turned on the gas to boil water for coffee. Nescafe instant—which she had used only on Shabbat—was fine for every day now. Nothing tasted good these days, not even brewed coffee.

Yesterday, shiva over, the rabbi had said, “It’s time for you to go out.” Time was so unforgiving; Becky was not ready. Especially not ready to see her face in the mirror: her hair grayer, the skin underneath her green eyes darker, face color nonexistent.

Today being Friday, she had to buy food for Shabbat. That’s if she wanted to eat. Becky forced herself to eat a boiled egg and bagel after the funeral. Then everyone else could eat. For the next few days, she’d eaten to keep up her strength for the visitors.

Today, coffee was all she wanted. Then Becky donned her black raincoat with a hood.

Only last year Chaim had said, “Great—a hood, in case of rain.” He put down the paper to admire Becky as she showed off her new raincoat.

Had he started to look pale then?

Pulling the hood over her head, Becky forced herself out the door. Once outside, she was not sure if raindrops or tears were sliding down her cheeks.

No need to get eggless challahs, fresh fish and vegetables, all Chaim could eat after his heart surgery. The rain matched Becky’s mood as she walked up Harvard Street, busy with other shoppers and students, backpacks bulging with their future plans.

Entering the Butcherie, her favorite market, she took off her hood and grabbed a small cart. As soon as she entered the first aisle, someone shoved into her with a large wagon.

“Pardon me,” Becky said, then turned to see Shirley, Chaim’s first wife, surrounded by potatoes, onions and carrots.

Shirley whined, “You can say hello.”

“Hello.” Picking up some celery hearts, Becky smelled them. They reminded her of spring, and fresh air, and her ma’s chicken soup bubbling on the stove before Shabbat.

Since Shirley had not shown up for the funeral, Becky hadn’t minded the twin boys standing together, yet apart from everyone else at the graveside. They stood by as Chaim was lowered into the ground, then escaped without saying a word to Becky.

How she wished they had said some word of kindness, or an acknowledgment that Becky existed. How she wished they acted like Chaim, not just looked like him.

Was it her fault, what happened between Chaim and Shirley? From that, Becky never wanted to know.

It was still painful that she and Chaim had no children. No one to whom she could pass on his precious prayerbook. No one to help her through the mourning process.

How she wished they had said some word of kindness, or an acknowledgment that Becky existed“I didn’t come to the funeral, because I thought it would bother you.” Shirley flung her thick finger, adorned with a huge flashy diamond, into Becky’s face. “I’m happy now, as you can see.”

Happy was not a word Becky could even imagine using now. Looking down at her own tastefully small ring, she never would have worn such a vulgar piece.

Cart filled with knishes and chickens, Shirley said, “I told my boys to go, out of respect for their father.”

“It would also have been respectful if they paid their condolences to me.”

“They never forgave their father for abandoning them.”

Abandoning them! After all the weekends we invited the boys and Shirley had said no. Shirley had no case.

Chaim was heartbroken so many times, Becky suspected it added to his strain.

She bought candles to bring in Shabbat by herself.

Mulling over which kind of frozen dinner she should purchase, Becky heard Shirley gush about her ring to someone else.

When would Becky be happy? She pictured her ma lighting candles, white lace scarf covering her head, small hands circling the warm orange flames reflecting off her round face.

Becky ran around the store, buying chicken, onions and dill, Ma’s secret ingredients to add to the celery hearts for soup. Smelling the aroma while the soup was bubbling will make a sweet Shabbat.

Looking out the large window, the sun inched out through the clouds, as if it forgave them.

She noticed Shirley by the checkout counter. Maybe Becky should forgive Shirley for all her bad behavior. “After all,” the rabbi had said, “not forgiving someone is bad for your heart.”

She stepped over to Shirley and said, “Shabbat Shalom to you and your family.”

Becky left the store with a heart that felt less heavy. Tonight, when lighting the candles, she would thank G‑d for all she had.

Linda Goldberg lives in Natick, Mass., where she belongs to the Chabad Center. She founded The Metro West Writers’ Workshop and led it for 17 years. She is blessed with four grandsons.
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Anonymous October 7, 2016

Todah rabah i relate to Becky. Loss of a husband is a stuggle. A very painful struggle Reply

Linda Goldberg Natick, Ma November 16, 2011

Celery Hearts First of all, to Menucha: thank you for encourging me to send out this story
I wrote in the writers workshop that you lead.
I enjoyed your story A Positive Call and now realize I should have posted a comment.
For Sharon: you gave me another story idea. Many times I've gone to the supermarket just to buy food and end up getting hit unexpectedly by a hurtful comment.
To Batya: thank you for posting a comment. It is satisfying to know I touched readers with my story.
I have recieved emails from other members of Chabad Center in Natick
where my husband Joel and I belong.
This has been a wonderful experience for me.

Reply

annonymous ottawa, canada November 15, 2011

Becky Becky handled that well. Reply

Batya Australia November 15, 2011

so poignant and beautifully written! Reply

Menucha Chana Levin Jerusalem, Israel November 15, 2011

Lovely story What a nice surprise to see your story here, Linda! Mazal tov - may it be the first of many! Reply

Sharon Lockwood-Habram Tucson, AZ November 15, 2011

Celery Hearts Sometimes it takes everything we've got in us just to go on. Having been through such a situation in a supermarket dealing with a similar attitude from someone who seems clueless--or maybe just on a completely different track--regardless, we do possess within us the very human ability to rise up and reach out with hope, and bless life. By doing so, as we heal others, we heal ourseives. Reply

Linda Goldberg Natick, MA November 15, 2011

Celery Hearts Thank you for your comments.
As a writer I appreciate both receiving and being able to respond to comments.
Thank you Chabad.org Reply

Anonymous FAR, KALIFORNIA November 14, 2011

Becky Very real story. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles November 13, 2011

Yasher Koach Linda - you capture the mood and feelings so accurately in this difficult - and very real - situation. Yasher koach for writing the article. Yasher koach to Chabad.org for publishing this piece. Reply

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