“Amy, you are beyond late!” my mother shrieked.
“I’m sorry. I had to stop by FedEx to pick
up a package,” I replied.
“Today, of all days. You couldn’t go
tomorrow? Or, next week? I don’t understand how a package could be so important
that it had to be picked up on the day we buried my father!”
“Ma, I had to get it. The notice came four
days ago. I was already late in getting it.”
My mother shook her head. Nothing was worse
than the castigation of Jewish motherly disappointment.
“They’d have sent it back to the store, and
I’d have lost my money! It was a final sale.”
My mother ’s head shot up.
“Why didn’t you say that in the first
place? I don’t want you to lose your money. Did you get a good deal?”
“80 percent off!”
“Ok then. Now, go upstairs, put your stuff
away and then help me put out the food. You can show me what you got later.”
I started towards the stairs.
“And, don’t forget to wash the cemetery off
I nodded. I went back out to the front
porch, and used the cup in the water bucket left by the funeral home to wash
off any trace of the funeral from my hands. It’s not like I buried anything. I had
worn gloves when I used the shovel to toss dirt on the casket. But, tradition
is tradition. So, I removed my gloves, rinsed my hands and said the requisite
prayer before returning inside.
I ran up the pink-carpeted stairs of my
grandparents’ side split-level bungalow. They lived there together for 70
years. They moved in shortly after their wedding. Now, it would it be known
only as ‘Bubbie’s House’. I went into
her bedroom: the walls papered with giant green palm leaves, the bed dressed to
match with a palm-themed bedspread and sheets. The ceiling was painted in a
soft blue, and the carpeting was brown—the only place in the house where it
wasn’t pink. Bubbie never had grandiose tastes or dreams, in fact, she only had
one dream: spend her winters in Miami Beach. Since she could only afford to go
there for the winters, decorating her bedroom to look like the beach was the
next best thing. So, a small 1950s style bungalow became Bubbie’s version of
Miami Beach 365 days of the year. I tossed my coat and package on her bed, and
retreated to the kitchen, where my mother was with Bubbie, to help serve food
for the shiva mourners.
I leaned down to hug my five foot minus
three inches grandmother, who was seated at the kitchen table. She claims she’s
really 5’3” tall, conveniently ignoring the fact that the extra three inches come
by way of her orthopedic high heels. What she lacks in stature she makes up for
in hugs, as if she’s a polar bear standing on her hind legs and bringing you
into her fold with an invitation to hibernate inside her forever. You could
live in her hugs.
“Oh, my shaina
Amy maidel,” Bubbie said.
She pulled me in closer than usual. She
missed my Zaidy. He was 97 when he died suddenly and painlessly in his sleep.
It was like he died on the beach, she said, which was how he wanted to go. What
Bubbie failed to tell my mother, and only told me in an unguarded and
unfiltered moment after his body was taken to the funeral home, was that he
died having sex on the beach. “Do you
know what I mean, bubbaleh?” Bubbie asked, winking at me as I escorted her to
the limousine. I gave her a knowing smile. “Just don’t tell your mother. She
wants you to keep thinking that you were made like Jesus. He was Jewish, you
know.” While lust ran deep in my grandparents’
genes, it clearly skipped a generation—my parents stopped having sex once my
mother’s pregnancy test came back positive.
“I know you miss, Zaidy. We all do.”
“Married for so many years, I don’t know
what I’ll do without him. I’m all alone.”
“Ma, you’re not alone. I basically live
“At least I have you,” Bubbie said, patting
my back and ignoring my mother.
“You have all of us,” I offered.
children abandoned me!”
“Ma, I live down the street.” My mother rolled her eyes.
“Exactly, down the street. Not next door. It’s like a need a passport to see
“Bubbie, maybe I could stay with you for a
while. So you don’t have to be alone?”
“Such a good girl.”
“Enough hugging. Amy, take this to the dining room.”
My mother shoved a platter into my hip to break
up our hug. Truth be told, my bond with Bubbie bond always rubbed my mother the
wrong way. She thought I loved Bubbie more than her. I didn’t, but she didn’t
care for the truth. She cared about what she could use to guilt me to her will.
Clearly, that gene didn’t skip any generations.
“Ma, go out and sit with your guests.”
“They’re not my guests. This isn’t a party. I’m sitting shiva. And, if I want to sit shiva
on the floor of my kitchen, so help me, I’ll sit shiva on the floor of my kitchen!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. People are here to
pay their respects to you and daddy.”
are only here for a free meal. I bet you no one signs up to send us a
single meal for this whole week.”
“I bet if you put out a bag of potato
chips, no one would stick around to help make a minyan for evening prayers,” I added.
“Would it hurt you to take my side instead
of Bubbie’s for once? I am your
I took the tray from my mother and kissed
her on the cheek.
“I’m going. I’m going. Bubbie, come with
me. Let’s go see Bev and Erica.”
“If you see my good-for-nothing sisters,
tell them to bring their tuchuses
into the kitchen and help me bring out the food.”
I nodded my head and escorted Bubbie into
the dining room adjacent to the kitchen, which in turn opened onto the living
room filled with mourners. It was a packed house. My father was in the corner
pouring shots of schnapps for a group of Zaidy’s gambling buddies. My mother’s
sisters were sitting on the cushion less plastic-covered sofa, half a foot
lower than everyone else who was seated, in accordance with Jewish custom out
of respect for my departed Zaidy.
“I forgot to ask, did you get the package?”
“I did. I put it on your bed.”
“Thank you! You’re such a good
granddaughter,” she said, kissing my hand.
“I still can’t figure out how to order
things from that jungle.”
“It’s not a jungle, Bubbie. It’s called Amazon. I hope it’s what you wanted.”
“Ma, sit next to me,” Aunty Bev ordered.
“No, sit next to me,” Aunty Erica pled.
“First you abandon me. Now, you fight over me?” Bubbie shook her head. She went
over to the couch and wedged herself between her other two kids. The ones she “never”
saw anymore because they each lived on separate Canadian coasts, except for when
they visited for the high holidays and every other Passover, to enjoy some kugel and a lecture on how they abandoned
their mother and father in Toronto without anyone to care for them – even
though my mother never left their side since we lived five houses down the
street from theirs. I perched myself on the armrest of the couch. “So, I see
you came back for the funeral.”
“How are you doing, Mommy?” Aunty Bev asked
a little too sweetly.
“Now I’m Mommy? When your father was alive
I was ‘Ma’.”
Aunty Bev rolled her eyes.
“Can I get you something?” Aunty Erica
“You’ve been parked on this couch since we got home from the cemetery. Now,
you’re suddenly going to get up and help me?”
“I’ll ask Amy to get you what you want. Or, Sheila’s in the kitchen, she can
get you what you want.”
“Always getting someone else to do your work. If I want something, I’ll get it
“So, um, we want to talk to you about
something,” Aunty Bev said.
“Yeah, we do,” Aunty Erica added without
really adding anything.
“So, spit it out.”
“When are we going to read Dad’s will?”
Aunty Bev asked.
Bubbie gaped. She said nothing.
“I have to get back to Vancouver in a few
days…” Aunty Erica started.
“Get back? You just got here last night,” I
shot back. “Zaidy has been lying under a duvet of dirt for barely an hour, and
you have the nerve to…”
“I get everything. You get nothing. There,
you’ve read his will,” Bubbie advised, patting my knee—her way to quiet me. “Go
back to the city of vans.”
“Um, you didn’t actually read anything,”
Aunty Bev said.
“I gave you the audiobook version. Now,
shut up and mourn fast so you don’t miss your flight.”
Aunty Bev and Aunty Erica were stunned into
silence. Bubbie turned to me. I smiled at her. She knew how to shut people
up. I always told her that she should
take her show on the road, but Bubbie would always say the world wasn’t ready
for two Joan Rivers.
I returned to the kitchen to help my
mother, who was being run off her feet replenishing the food that the mourners
ate to fill their bellies while regaling Bubbie with stories of Zaidy. Bubbie
was right, these people were only too happy to eat free food—if you cook it,
they will come.
“Sweetheart, come toast your Zaidy with us.
You know my daughter, Amy?” my father called out to me.
Dad poured me a drink. Then he poured all
the men and himself another. The men’s cheeks were redder than the beets on the
dining room table. The sweats had set in, and a few of the men had loosened
their ties. They’d all removed their kippot
to allow the heat to escape. A bare head was the body’s natural air
conditioning system, my Zaidy always said. Being bald, he never appreciated
that fact more than in summer or while waiting out winter in Miami’s sweltering
“How many have you had?” I asked.
My father shrugged, swaying side-to-side
ever so slightly.
“Who’s keeping count? This is a shiva!
“During shiva, we drink,” one of the men
“To your Zaidy!” another man announced.
“To Zaidy!” the chorus echoed.
We all tossed our drinks back.
“Another!” the chorus commanded.
My father poured another round.
my father shouted.
“You don’t say l’chaim during a shiva! Show some respect,” Bubbie shouted.
“That’s like saying Macbeth in a theatre,” Aunty
“What does Macbeth have to do with sitting
shiva?” I asked.
“It’s bad luck.”
“What kind of back luck could you be worried
about? We’re at a shiva!” I laughed.
“Someone could drop dead,” Aunty Bev
“Zaidy already did.”
Bubbie shook her head.
“This is too much for me. I’m going to my
room. I need to lie down.”
“Ma, do you want me to take you upstairs?”
my mother offered, running over from the dining room while untying her apron.
“Oh, so now you want to help me? Where were
you when Amy was offering to move in with me?”
“Ma, I live five houses away from you. Amy lives in New York. She was offering
to come home for a while. I never left.”
“That’s because she loves me more.”
My mother threw up her hands and returned
to the kitchen. Bubbie walked up the stairs, shooing visitors away.
The cacophony of voices resumed their
natural cadence as conversations naturally resumed after Bubbie left the room.
Dishes clanged. My mother continued to cook. My father continued to get drunk
with a group of nonagenarian men who’d left their dentures to soak in Bubbie’s
fine crystal tumblers full of seltzer. Bev and Erica remained on the couch,
happy not to help my mother or be with their mother, and remaining lost in the
endless scroll of whatever app they were preoccupied with.
Suddenly, we heard a big bang. Voices
quieted to a dim hum. Then, we heard another loud bang. Followed by another.
The voices stopped altogether. Everyone listened intently for the source of the
“What’s that sound?” my mother cried out
from the kitchen.
“Shh!” Aunty Bev ordered. “We’re listening
“Listening for what?” my father asked.
Another bang was heard.
“It’s coming from outside,” someone
“Probably a raccoon going through the
“I don’t hear anything,” my father advised.
“You’re drunk” Aunty Erica said. “Now,
“It sounds like banging against the wall.”
Bang. Bang. Bang. Then suddenly, a muffled sound was heard.
Followed by silence.
“It’s not a raccoon.”
“I think it’s a raccoon,” Aunty Bev said.
“Where is that coming from?” my father
Then, the sound became louder. Everyone
congregated in the living room.
“Ooh! Oh! Ah!”
“It’s not a raccoon. It’s a person,” one of
the mourners cried.
“Someone’s in trouble,” a woman shrieked.
“Maybe it’s ma,” my mother cried. “I think the sounds are coming from her room.
Everybody shut up so I can listen.”
My mother stood on a chair, with a glass in hand, trying to listen through the
“What are you doing on that chair? Just go
up and check on her,” Aunty Bev ordered.
“You get off your fat ass and check on her.”
“And, I’m not?”
“Well, you’re actually standing on a chair,” my dad chortled.
“Erica, you go up and check,” my mother
“My back is sore,” Erica advised rubbing
her low back.
“It’s been sore since you were eight,” my
“Oh, shit” I muttered.
“What’s wrong?” my mother asked.
“Nothing’s wrong. Everything is fine. Let’s
just let Bubbie rest. Go back to whatever you were doing.”
Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Ooh! Oh! Ah! “Ooh! Oh! Ah! “Ooh! Oh! Ah!”
“It doesn’t sound like she’s resting,” Bev
“I think she’s in pain,” Erica added.
“I’m sure she’s fine,” I said.
“I’m going to check on her,” my mother
advised, climbing off her chair and starting towards the stairs.
“You really don’t need to check on her,” I countered.
“She’s not fine! She’s shrieking in pain.
Erica, Bev, come with me!”
“No one needs to check on her!” I shouted,
following after my mother, Aunty Erica, and Aunty Bev, who had began to climb
Then, the banging sounds increased in
intensity and frequency.
““Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!
“What the hell is going on in there?” my
father shouted from the living room.
“Nothing. Nothing is going on in there,” I
And, then the noises stopped.
“Ma, you ok?” my mother cried out from the
top of the stairs.
Her question was met with silence.
Thirty seconds later, Bubbie came out of
her room and stood outside wearing robe and slippers. Her face was dewy and her
hair could stand to be brushed.
“What’s with all the shouting down here?
This is a shiva!” She pushed past her daughters and walked downstairs.
“We thought you were having a heart attack
up there,” my mother advised, standing at the foot of the stairs with Bev and
Erica at her flank.
“I need a drink,” Bubbie announced.
My father poured her a schnapps.
“Make it a double.”
She slammed it back.
“Give me another.”
My father obliged.
“What was all that noise coming from your
room?” my mother asked. “I thought you were resting.”
Everyone leaned in for her answer.
“I was praying.”
Everyone leaned back, nodding their heads,
and returned to their conversation. Aunty Bev and Aunty Erica returned to their
phones. My mother returned to the kitchen to check on her cholent. Bubbie walked over to me and gave me a hug.
“Amy, you’re a doll. Thanks for the
vibrator. It’s the exact one Zaidy told me to get in his Will. He said it would
give me the same orgasms he gave me for 70 years. And, boy did it deliver.”
“I'm so glad. I got it on sale, too. 80% off!”
“Well, it got me 100% off, so hallelujah
and thank God for that.”
© 2021. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights