Commentary Magazine


Children of Peace

Tuesday morning, the synagogue still dark. Locking the car, she looks up at the old, red-brick building, once, a hundred years ago, a home for a wealthy family. She feels a little sick to her stomach when, again, she sees the temporary sign—a makeshift on paper laminated over cardboard, in place of the stolen sign. B’nai Shalom. Children of Peace. The temporary sign contradicts the words: The original, simple, professional sign, urethaned, carved in maple, was stolen a couple of weeks ago; graffiti on the synagogue wall, now erased, cursed Israel or condemned Israel. Last week the local giveaway weekly newspaper gave the vandalism a lot of space. Children of Peace? Whatever peace she finds here will be the peace she brings with her, and today that’s not much.

As usual, she’s the second congregant for the Tuesday morning minyan. Only Sam Schulman is present so far in the small sanctuary, his blue-and-white full-body tallis covering him like resting wings, tefillin strapped to his arm and above his forehead. In gray light from the windows Kate sees the little hard leather boxes, attached by leather straps, not as containers for holy words but as conduits of spiritual energy. Traditionally, women didn’t strap them on; but why shouldn’t they? She’d like to wear tefillin, especially now, whatever the Orthodox say. She’s not Orthodox. Like the synagogue itself, she’s unaffiliated. Just a Jew, a convert. She could do with some holy energy.

In the absence of other congregants, Sam has begun chanting morning prayers, rocking a little to their rhythm. Last week, Kate remembers, Sam recited Mourner’s Kaddish for his older son, two years gone. She, too, has a son, so precious to her; she can imagine what Sam’s gone through. She felt his loss almost as if she had been a second mourner.

Balding, a long, strong face, clean-shaven. Not conventionally handsome like Mark, her ex. She likes his face, Sam’s face. He’s a tall, broad, physically powerful man, too. She imagines his strength as a symbol of moral strength, though of course she knows the two are unrelated. In her mind it’s as if carrying his son’s death, a burden to lift daily, has strengthened him morally, the way lifting weights gives physical strength.

Hearing her come in, without turning or stopping, Sam nods his head. Kate puts a small tallis over her shoulders and begins murmuring with him.

At the end of a blessing he stops, turns to her. “Before everyone else comes, tell me—what did the court say?”

Yesterday “the court”— in fact, not a judge but a kind, young social worker, aide to the clerk magistrate—talked to Kate while Danny cooled his heels in the waiting room. “You don’t want Danny to end up with a record,” Ms. Bennett said. “At fourteen? But before we can drop charges, we need to know he’s acceding to the treatment plan he’s given. That includes doing therapy if the court so mandates. And Mrs. Schiff? If I were you, I’d be concerned about his attitude.”

“Well you know,” Kate said, “he goes to a good school, and he gets straight A’s. He’s a strong student. Lately he’s made these terrible friends.” She’d already let Ms. Bennett know, as if casually, that she has all sorts of credentials of respectability. She was ashamed to do this; it was cheap, degrading, vulgar. But she did it.

“That’s fine, Mrs. Schiff. But when I tried to speak to your son, he wouldn’t look me in the face. Here’s the thing—we don’t expect some make-believe repentance, but we want to see a reasonable, respectful attitude. He messed up. Okay? I messed up. It won’t happen again. That’s all. But if the clerk magistrate sees sourness, hostility, arrogance—well, frankly, what happens here isn’t fixed in stone, Mrs. Schiff. He might well be arraigned. It depends on your boy.”

“Absolutely. I’ll talk to him like a Dutch uncle.” Looking at the woman’s face, she realized “Dutch uncle” was meaningless to Ms. Bennett.

Kate sat next to Danny, evaluated his expression, and forced a smile. Skinny kid, still small. He’s like a puppy with the big feet that let you know he’s going to grow. In fact Danny’s just begun a growth spurt. She ran her fingers through his wild-man, half-dreadlocked hair. He pretended to her—and to himself—that he minded, and pulled away. Yes, he did look sour, looked almost convincingly hostile and arrogant.

“Dan? Danny?” He needed—though she wouldn’t put it to him this way—to eat crow, to express remorse. And the thing is, the boy felt remorse. The hostility, the surly swagger, the dead-eyed cool—all were cover for his shame. A stolen wristwatch in his pocket? Guilty. A little bag of marijuana? Guilty. And of stunning stupidity: Guilty—to shoplift on a dare with drugs in his pocket!?

He dressed for the court as if he were going to synagogue, but if she hadn’t demanded, he’d have worn torn jeans and a T-shirt. She wanted this to end in real change, not humiliation. The court mandated: He was going to be kept out of Harvard Square for six months “except when with his parents.” Meaning just Kate, since Mark, his father, the rat, is working at his own biotech something-or-other in Hawaii, where his new wife is from.

This requirement to stay out was actually a gift to Danny as well as Kate; though he groaned, she was sure he was in fact relieved—it didn’t have to be his choice, his renunciation, staying away from the cool kids who hung near the subway kiosk and the hamburger place.

And really, she tells Sam this morning in the small sanctuary, when Danny’s with those kids, all older, they get crazy together. The shoplifting was just a dare, a challenge, she tells him. They literally ran through the store—no style, no strategy, grab, pocket, and out again. A wilding. Danny, last boy out the door, got caught.

“I know what it’s like,” Sam says when she tells him in a few words what happened at court. “Listen. My boy, my son at B.U., he has in fact been part of some very dumb things, too.” He turns, is about to say more, but instead makes a pocket of his two hands, and for a few seconds captures Kate’s hand in sympathy. It comforts them both. Now the Breitbarts come in and Amy, the Hebrew-school teacher, with her six-month-old baby in a sling, and Sam returns to davening. In a few minutes they’re short only one congregant, and soon Ernie Shorr, education director at the synagogue, is present. They have a full minyan and can chant Kaddish and the Barekhu.

At the end of morning service, she asks him quietly, “Sam? Can you come over to my place tonight? I’ll be too busy to cook, but we can share a couple of pizzas, the three of us. Okay? Frankly, I’d like you to talk privately to Danny. Not to advise. To listen to him. I think he can be helped by a man, listening. A man he respects. He respects you.”

He smiles, he nods. He asks no questions. “Of course. What time?”

It’s the first time they’ve ever been anything but synagogue buddies.

Now she’s off to Tufts, where she coordinates an aspect of the STEM programs—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. God knows she’d never imagined she’d become an administrator. Let alone that she’d like it. But she’s so busy. All day she runs, she runs. Meeting to conference to telephone call. Taking yesterday morning off to go to court with Danny, then talk to him and bring him to school, means that today she has to squeeze in even more than usual. But she can’t skip the morning minyan—especially because Sam is prayer leader.

Tonight Kate finds Danny already home from school. And he’s set the table for three—she’d texted him that Sam Schulman would be here. That Danny came home early and actually set the table—these are very, very good signs. Putting down her laptop case, she kisses Danny’s forehead and straightens the living room, placing all the embroidered pillows diagonally at the corners of the couch. She remembers Mark making fun of her for buying those pillows. And that glass-fronted bookcase—she found it in an antique shop, slightly damaged, for practically nothing. This is a gracious house, furnished gracefully, each piece chosen with love—a beautiful, old-fashioned house in Brookline, Edwardian, 1908, that’s been very well kept up. The living room has stained wainscoting and a bay window that in the daytime offers a wash of light. Now, late January, it’s dark out. She pulls the drapes across the darkness and lights little candles everywhere.

The solid, expensive furniture comes from when they were a family, a well-heeled family. The house is so much bigger and more elegant than they need; Mark ceded her the house when he left, but it’s up to her to pay the mortgage. And that’s been hard. And hard to pay for heat; she’s closed off more than half the house. She’s always on Danny’s case: Turn out the lights when you leave a room. Sometimes, when Danny’s not home, she steps into one of the unused rooms, and for a moment she’s back in her old life. She imagines the room clean—she used to have a cleaning person in once a week. At first, for a few moments, she doesn’t see the dust, doesn’t feel the chill, half-sees Mark at his desk working on his laptop, or, in another room, bare, so bare, imagines Mark’s barbells and rowing machine—all the things she sold on Craigslist last winter.

Mark pays child support, but less than any court would have mandated. This was her fault. All she had to do was demand. But she didn’t want to see herself as one of those greedy, hostile women. What a snob she’s been, pretending to have some kind of phony aristocratic grace. So fast, the way her life (and therefore Danny’s life) has slipped, until it’s inches from the edge. Every day she says, Tomorrow I’ll have to put the house on the market and get out from under the mortgage and look for a small apartment.

Most of the furniture will have to be sold or stored. How she’ll hate to lose this.

She slides the two pizzas into the oven, puts together a salad, opens a bottle of wine. And here’s Sam at the door. Danny knows Sam only a little. Sam helped him shape his Torah talk, his d’var Torah, for his bar mitzvah last year. And it was Sam who, on behalf of the synagogue board, handed Danny the prayer book and Kiddush cup. Danny is very formal with him, calls him “Professor Schulman,” calls him “sir.” Calls almost nobody “sir.” Kate gives Sam a quick hug and goes off to the kitchen so Sam will have a chance to talk with Danny privately.

She hears only fragments. But enough. Hears mostly Danny, whose voice, high-pitched though broken, can be made out from one end of the house to the other. She hears an evenness of tone. Neither one excited. Neither one angry or trying to talk over the other. Though it will dry out the pizza, she keeps the oven temperature low to give them time. When she calls “Pizza, gentlemen,” Sam calls back, “One minute, okay?” And then it’s five minutes. More. So what? Let the pizza dry out.

After dinner, Danny goes to his room to do homework. Kate stops him at the foot of the stairs. “Good conversation, honey?” He shrugs. “Yeah, actually.”

Returning to Sam, she whispers, “That seemed to go well. You don’t need to tell me what you talked about.”

“Nothing very secret. I think it went well. Yes. Suppose I take him on as something of a project. This sounds stupid—but I mean, be a kind of uncle.”

Tears well up. “Why should that sound stupid? Thank you.”

“Danny’s a real good kid. I like your son. I like him a lot.” Without asking, he fills her glass with wine and sits beside her on the couch. Now, surprising her, he puts his arm around her and, smiling, squeezes. As older brother or uncle? As father? As comforter? As lover? She knows very well. She leaves the arm but shakes her head. He doesn’t argue. But sighs.

She says, “We’re both serious people, Sam.”

“What does that mean?”

She doesn’t say.

“I know. I’m so much older than you. I know that.”

Yes, you are. Nineteen years older, in fact. And what is she supposed to say?—oh, years don’t matter. The gap doesn’t matter. But sure it matters. She in her mid-thirties, he in his mid-fifties. She just born when he graduated college. If they get together, if they stay together—she’s already thinking that far ahead!—when she’s sixty, he’ll be almost eighty. Still, she realizes they’re already in the midst of checking each other out. Knows all at once she asked him over as much for herself as for Danny. Those aren’t separate. She’s recruiting (God help her—to be that foolish!) a family savior. Is that it?

Sam encourages her to feel held. He offers both her and Danny a grounding—a solid male presence. Yes, exactly. Well? She’s not ashamed of that. And this sense of being held—bolstered, supported—let’s face it, it makes her feel how shaky her ordinary single self really is. She feels often, especially at night, that she inhabits the Country of Chaos—or that chaos inhabits her. Strange: At work she continues to be efficient and creative. Chaos enters when she’s alone, or when Danny’s in another room and she, she’s supposed to be holding the fort.

And she’s afraid—afraid as if this were the middle of a wilderness. As if they were surrounded by savages and the fort isn’t all that strong.

It’s as if Sam might offer protection and order, take her hand and (a change of metaphors) lay down a clear grid over her too-fluid life, offer boundaries; make a story of her life instead of a hodgepodge of copings. When she talks to him—on a Saturday morning after services, say—she can feel herself enter a sensible world. Of course it’s his world, but she doesn’t mind that.

It’s odd to think that structure, order, can feel, well, erotic.

“I’m wondering,” he says, changing the subject, “if Danny might like to shoot hoops some evening. I think my son Gabe can slip Danny into the gym at B.U.”

“Sure. I know he’d love that. If he has time. He’s on his junior high team.”

“It’d be good for Gabe, too. I’ll explain sometime.”

Now they don’t speak. She collects the dishes and silverware, brings them to the sink; he loads the dishwasher. At length she says, “And maybe…” (as if this followed logically from his suggestion) “we can meet for coffee some time without Danny.”

It’s a Thursday, an evening without Danny, who’s playing pickup basketball with Gabe. It’s worked out. Sam didn’t have to twist his son’s arm, he tells Kate, to get him to pick up Danny, take him to the gym. “Gabe feels he owes me. He got involved with some arrogant students. A club. They were self-righteous—they were damn foolish. Worse than that. Gabe himself didn’t do anything terrible, but the group did. And he knew something about it.”

“Don’t think you have to tell me.”

“Of course it has to stay private. But since he’s with Danny, I think you ought to know: The group is ‘Justice for Palestine’—a couple of them stole the synagogue sign and defaced the wall with swastikas and hate words. Ironically, they’re mostly Jews. Full of half-baked ideology. The group protests Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Ultimately, they want peace. Some stupid way to bring about peace. Gabe knew something about it. He didn’t do it, but he knew. He’s left the group. We got the sign back a couple of days ago. And they made a deal with the rabbi. They’ll replant the sign and pay what it cost to erase the marks.”

“Gabe is such a good young man.”

“He is. He made a big mistake. He’s okay. He’s making changes.”

Sam had suggested they meet for a drink on Commonwealth, but as he was driving to meet her, she called and said, “Sam? Why don’t you just come over to my place?”

Now a bottle of wine sits almost full on the coffee table in the empty living room. They don’t finish a single glass before he draws her shoulders into his thick hands. She presses toward him, gives herself to those big hands of his, and he stands with her and kisses her, long, long. She leads him to her bedroom.

Now Sam and Kate lie naked under her covers looking into each other’s eyes and touching, stroking. Everywhere he touches wakes her. “This,” he says, “is so beautiful.”

“Yes.”

Kate, listen Kate, I’ve been wanting you since I first saw you.”

She rehearses beautiful things to say back to him, but ends by nodding and burrowing her head into his big chest.

Having undressed slowly, now they make love slowly. Oh, very sweet. She almost reaches the end, but doesn’t. She’s left brimming with desire, desire all over. Now he begins to kiss her body, as if there were lips everywhere. And then all of her is flowering, it’s as if they’re growing something together, blooming together. She finds herself crying. She apologizes for the tears: “It happens sometimes. Really, Sam, it’s a good crying.”

By the time Danny and Gabe are home, Sam and Kate have washed and dressed and look like respectable adults having a glass of wine with dinner. Gabe heads back to B.U.; Danny sits at the table with them and Sam pours him a very little wine. “They actually let me play,” Danny says, his voice rising and falling. “You know—a pickup game. Some of the guys I could fake right around. Like this.” He demonstrates. “I actually did okay. I’m not great, and those guys were a lot bigger—but I’m fast. At first they let me get around them. Then they tried to stop me for real. Then Gabe and I went out for Chinese.”

Kate knows Danny; she can hear him play Excited Child. It’s kind of a role, kind of a fake, pretended innocence, a cover. Why? Is he nervous about Sam? Does he know something’s happened? He’s friendly but he doesn’t look straight at Sam. Is it that obvious? Or is she the one feeling uneasy and projecting her unease onto Danny?

Already she’s imagining life within Sam’s story: life in a traditional family, meaning a family that respects traditions, with a strong, loving father—well…stepfather—who can bring a traditional life, a Jewish life, to the table. She imagines sharing a Seder with Sam and their two boys at Passover. She imagines imbibing from him a heritage she didn’t grow up with.

A few years ago, she would have been ashamed to give over any of her authority, her power, her work of self-creation, to any tradition or any person. When she married Mark, yes, she converted and even took Mark’s name: Schiff. But at first nothing changed; she simply went from secular Christian to nominal Jew. It didn’t mean much to Mark. He was busy “growing the business” seven days a week; she began attending Shabbat services while Danny was in Saturday Hebrew school. Then, slowly, especially when Mark was preparing to leave and Danny was studying to become a Bar Mitzvah, she took it upon herself to learn to chant Torah, though she barely knew what the words meant and it took her hours to learn a few lines.

Last October, for the festival of Sukkot, a year after Mark left, she and Danny built their first sukkah, an open shelter of two-by-fours bolted together, walled in fabric—a structure commanded in Torah, a shelter defined in Talmud, through whose “roof”—strips of burlap—one can see the stars. And surprise—it didn’t fall down. They ate some of their meals in the sukkah. As commanded.

It isn’t that she wants to give up all her responsibility for making a life. But she wants to enter the dance. What’s self-deprecating about that? So what if it’s not a dance she was the one to choreograph. Do we each have to be Huck Finn lighting out for the territories? Abraham may be a better model; God instructs: Go, go, take yourself from your father’s house and from your native land to the land that I will show you. “That I will show you” makes all the difference. Sam isn’t Abraham; she’s not Sarah. But maybe both of them can live according to one beautiful paradigm.

Sam’s looking at a photograph of Danny, a framed photograph on Kate’s desk. Danny’s at an away game, so they have a rare few hours alone together. “I know we have to take it slow,” Sam says, pointing to the picture, meaning Danny, considering Danny.

When Danny’s home, Sam’s been stopping by, simply like a new, good friend, every few days. He brings take-out or he comes for Kate’s soup. Brings a video or watches a basketball game with Danny. She admires his simple strategy and loves that he’s willing to consider a strategy at all. Loves that in the middle of a busy school week, when he has to prepare to teach modern novel at B.U. the next day, he takes off the time to be with them. Or meets them on a Sunday afternoon to skate at Larz Anderson Park.

And when he comes over, miraculously Danny settles down, doesn’t balk, doesn’t become his sometimes snotty self. He becomes serious. Or childlike. Or a pretend adult. You’d never know what he can sometimes be like. A teenage monster. For there are times, oh, yes, when she can’t do anything right. Doesn’t that fruit belong in the fridge, Mom? Or do you want it to get rotten? Why don’t you sometimes, once in a while, close the doors of the cupboard?—I’m always closing them (slam, slam). Do you have to tell me when to do my homework? God, Mom, you can be so annoying.

Oh, she loves him dearly, even at his worst, even when at the same time she’s angry at him; she feels that honestly it’s her fault when he gets mean. She has never been firm enough—even before his father left. And now, she knows, Danny’s taking that departure out on her.

When Mark calls, Danny is “too busy to talk.” Mark wants Danny to fly to Hawaii next summer. Kate, not wanting to get between them, hands Danny the phone. She hears him grunt, not answer. He slams down the receiver and says: “That bastard thinks he can just whistle and I’ll come. Well I won’t. He can go screw himself.”

“You’re making a mistake,” she says. “He is your father,” she says, setting herself up for eye-rolling. “You loved him. It wasn’t you he was leaving. You know that. Maybe you should think about it. You really want to lose your father? You’d be cutting off a part of yourself.”

“You and your big psychology! I should spend a month with him and his babe? Yeah, right—you know when? When he gets a court order.”

“He won’t, Danny. You know that.”

“Well, good. Great.”

She feels a kind of ugly delight well up. She resists the feeling.

Danny is vaguely aware of his mother and Sam, their relationship. Yesterday he said, “You don’t have to pretend, Mom. About Sam. It’s okay with me, I mean, if you’re kind of romantic. He’s cool.” He may be cool, but what’s wonderful about Sam is that he doesn’t act “cool.” In fact, he doesn’t act. He has no style; he wears old wool sweaters full of pilling, which he removes, God help us, with duct tape or Mark’s old left-behind electric razor. Sam manifests humility—a humility with strength. He doesn’t placate Danny or challenge Danny, and Danny doesn’t chal-lenge him. For a while during the gray dregs of winter Kate thinks maybe it’s going to be easy.

No such luck.

The snow has melted, the days are warmer. Kate is working hard with students who have been accepted at Tufts for next fall, students interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics. It’s hard to find time to be with Sam. There have been a couple of sweet evenings when Danny’s hanging out with a friend. She’s been hiding her sexuality from her son as she once hid it from her parents.

Then comes a Saturday when Danny’s playing an away game. She takes him to school, where the minibus and a few family cars will be starting from. A gray day, a light drizzle. She’s excited: She goes to synagogue—only half an hour late—and sits with Sam. After services, not staying for the blessings over the wine and bread, the nosh and schmooze, they slip away, breathless, filled with tenderness; his car follows hers back to her house.

The rain is a little heavier, but they’re wrapped up in each other, squirrelled in under her sheets. She presses her cheek against his, collects the warmth, draws it into her. They fall into a Shabbos nap.

How could they have guessed that the roof of the gym in Wellesley would be leaking so badly that the game would have to be canceled—that they’d hear the buzzer, then the click of a key in the front door lock and bolt up, both of them, out of bed?

“Mom?”

They’re into their outer clothes in a few moments; the clothes they don’t have time for, their underwear, gets kicked into the bedroom closet. She straightens her blouse, runs her fingers through Sam’s thin hair—it doesn’t help make him more respectable—and they call out, “Hi, Danny! Hi! Ah, you’re home!” He stands at her bedroom door and doesn’t look at either of them. Looks at the crumpled bed, pastes on a smile, and backs away. “See—big leak in the gym roof. The rain poured in like you wouldn’t believe. Tony’s mom drove me home.”

“Want hot chocolate, Danny?”

“No. Uh, uh. No, thanks.”

Why should Danny be so disturbed when he already knew that they were “romantic”? Dumb question. She gets it, she gets it. A man not your father, even a man you respect, in your mother’s bedroom? Knowing, and facing it almost head-on—oh, different, so different.

Sadly, Danny’s different. Maybe it’s their expectation of difference that changes him, expectation of his unease that makes him uneasy. They must act differently, too. Is he attuned to their embarrassment? Whatever’s going on—he’s distant this afternoon, and they’re distant—and more awkward. When Danny’s off in his own room, Sam says, with regret, “I’m afraid it’s going to take a while for things to get easy again.”

Sunday, she thinks, should help. Gabe has gotten him and Dan into a demonstration and master class with a Celtics player, Courtney Lee. Is Gabe’s kindness a sort of payback to his father? She supposes it is. But he seems to really like Danny. Danny hasn’t been able to talk about anything else all week.

But Sunday morning Danny’s moody; he snaps at her. “Your boyfriend coming over?” he asks, extending boy, making Sam into a joke or worse—something nasty. She snaps back: “Listen, Danny. You got a problem? You stop taking it out on me. I’m doing my best, goddamnit.”

“Look at you. He’s so ancient,” Danny says. “You’re robbing the old-age home.”

Nasty—but comic. She wants to slap his face. She knows that the comedy is meant to lighten his challenge. Still, her anger has been building—she forgives and placates too much till now she’s had it. It’s happened before. “You go to your room until you can live with me like a civil person! I expect respect from you!”  Though in fact, let’s be straight here, she doesn’t expect respect. Quite the opposite. She just prays for it. Mornings (except for Tuesday at minyan) she says only a few prayers—prayers in her own words—but always the prayers include a petition that she be a good mother to Danny, that she stand up to his blows, and that he recognize how much she tries, that he value her.

Then Sunday at lunch, while they’re waiting for Gabe, Danny won’t talk to her. Won’t look at her. And now, as if simple distance isn’t sufficient punishment, he changes his mind about the afternoon. “You know what? I’ve got to go do some homework.” He goes for his raincoat. Somehow he feels he’s won points in their battle.

“But what about Gabe? The basketball class!” she says. “Gabe worked hard to get you in. He’s coming for you. Danny!”

“You just want me out of the house so your boyfriend can come over. Well, don’t worry—I’m going.” He stops. “But tell Gabe I’m sorry.”

And Danny’s out the door. She expects he’ll cool down and call, even if only to put her down for something. That’s standard when he’s mad. She steels herself for the call, understanding what it will really be about. But by the time Sam and Gabe arrive, he still hasn’t called.

Sam says to Gabe, “Sorry. I know you went out of your way.”

Gabe shrugs. “He’s a kid. It’s okay. I’ll go anyway. It’s a cool thing. To watch a guy make those moves?”

“Sure, but it’s really not okay,” Sam says. He takes Gabe’s arm. “Come into the living room with me. More going on than you know. Let me fill you in.”

And Kate retreats to the kitchen. She can’t hear much of what they say, especially over the hum of the fridge and the snap of her knife chopping onions. It’s more the tone she picks up. She knows that Sam is telling Gabe about yesterday, telling him delicately. What about Gabe? she wonders. Will he get upset, too? She hears: “…acting out…” She hears: “…stupid of us…” Now Sam calls out, “Kate?” and she comes in, apron bowed in back. She feels like an embarrassed teen, but unlike a teen, she can calm herself down and smile. It was so much harder facing Danny.

Sam says, “Gabe doesn’t think he went off to a friend’s house to study.”

Gabe says, “Dad told me about the trouble Danny got into. I’m wondering, you know, like, you think he might be going back to see his old friends? Where d’you think they might be?”

“Oh, my God,” she says. “You’re right. He’s gone back to Harvard Square.”

“Where he’s not allowed,” Sam says to Gabe. “Because he’s not allowed. If he’s picked up, he could get placed in juvenile detention.”

Kate undoes the bow on her apron. Sam says, “We’ll both go.”

And Gabe says, “Me, too. I’ll go, too, Dad. Danny wouldn’t do so good in juvenile detention.”

“Oh, my God,” Kate says and puts on her raincoat. “Oh, please God.”

They take Sam’s car, drive across the river and into Harvard Square. A miserable, gray day. Not likely that Danny would stay on the streets in this weather; still, Sam is going to drive around the area looking while Kate and Gabe split up on foot.

Every few minutes one of them calls another. Anything? Nothing. Kate looks through the Harvard Bookstore, where Danny used to like to browse. And the Chinese restaurant. And Au Bon Pain. The Harvard Coop—its bookstore. Its café. The clothing store in the main building. Everywhere, she shows staff a photo from her wallet. Nobody remembers seeing him. In the Coop she spots Gabe searching. Kate phones him across the main floor. “Gabe?—I’m going to check out the Charles Hotel.”

On the way she spots three, four of the kids Danny used to hang with. No Danny. She’s thankful. But she’s beginning to feel panic, as if Danny had decided to run off to Hawaii somehow. She rushes down Eliot Street to the Charles Hotel and looks through the elegant lobby. Sometimes he used to go there to read. Sam calls her. “Any sign of him?” Then a call from Gabe: “I’ve found him, Kate. I’m at the Coop. Better come right away.”

She hurries back to the Coop. Danny’s standing by the café next to Gabe and a powerfully built young man in a cheap suit. A store detective? The man’s hand rests on Danny’s shoulder. A paternal hand? A controlling hand? “Please—what’s going on?” she asks, as if simply for information. Her heart is beating a mile a minute.

“Danny was just doing homework in the café,” Gabe says, “working on his laptop. Someone spotted him—a manager—he had photos of kids who aren’t allowed in the Coop. There was Danny. So the manager called the police. Right, Detective?” Gabe says.

“But listen,” he says, offering this with open palm. “He’s allowed to be here with family. Right? So? This is his mother. Okay? And I’m his brother—his stepbrother. I was just on the other side of the store a few minutes. It’s my fault, not my brother’s.”

My brother’s. A pang goes through Kate.

The detective, who works with juveniles, says, “Okay. Okay, folks. No problem. But you better take him out of here.” And they call Sam, he circles and meets them out front. All this time Danny hasn’t spoken. He mumbled “thanks” to the detective. That’s all. But in the car, he says thanks to Gabe. And says, “Sorry, Gabe. I don’t know. I was just in a pissy mood.”

Kate says, “But Harvard Square. What were you doing in Harvard Square. You want to go to a reformatory? You really want that?”

Danny seems to ignore her. But he doesn’t seem angry or depressed now. Then he says to Sam, “You know what? Gabe called me ‘brother.’ Wow. Hey, Gabe. Hey, bro.”

Gabe laughs, Sam laughs, but Sam wasn’t in the store, and so Kate’s sure Sam doesn’t get it. Kate explains: “He could only be there with a parent, but the detective let it slide, partly because he was there with a brother.”

“A brother!” Sam says. “That’s great, really great, Gabe. Your saying that. Just great! We’ll be a family, huh?”

Kate’s sitting in the back of the Camry with Danny; Gabe of the long legs is sitting beside his father up front. Right away she understands by the exaggeration in Sam’s voice that, yes, it’s great…but also not so great. It makes him a little uneasy. The man feels caught. She knows, yes, he wants to catch her, wants to be caught by her. She sees, when he turns his head slightly, that his eyes are glowing with tears. Can you imagine! But isn’t he scared, too? Oh, he is.

And is she sure she wants to catch him? To catch this man? This man, she keeps saying. He’s still strange to her. Increasingly strange. But how good they might be together. She and this man. This family.

It’s as if their sons were their parents, their parents acting as marriage brokers. She and Sam are being railroaded into marriage by their own children! It’s comic. Someday the boys will find it comic. Not now. Certainly, at the very least, the whole process of courting is being madly speeded up. It’s a fast train. And surely she and Sam want to be on the train, but still…Oh, my God. This man I’m going to actually marry. She looks at him as if examining a stranger. She feels more than a little scared deep in her heart. And, yes, glowing, radiant.

It’s another Tuesday morning, another minyan. The synagogue sign has been replanted, its wooden legs replaced with steel and bolted onto Sonotubes. They’re still living apart, sleeping apart, Kate and Sam; they arrive at the sanctuary separately. He’s there, alone, when she comes in. The others will be there soon. Sam’s in front of the closed ark in full-body tallis, davening. He turns to smile at her. Kate covers herself in her smaller tallis and takes up his chant.

About the Author

John J. Clayton is the author, most recently, of Many Seconds into the Future. His latest stories in Commentary are “Reading to Jacob” (July/August 2013) and “Light Gleams an Instant” (July/August 2012).




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