Saturday, 20 February 2021

I Bequeath To Thee by Naomi Elana Zener

“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 your hands.”


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.


“Hi Bubbie.”


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 next door.”


“At least I have you,” Bubbie said, patting my back and ignoring my mother.


“You have all of us,” I offered.


 “My 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 you!”


“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.”

“The schnorrers 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 mother.”


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 asked.

“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 myself.”


“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 heat.


“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 ordered.


“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.


L’chaim!” 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 Erica shouted.


“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 advised.


“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 noise.


“What’s that sound?” my mother cried out from the kitchen.


“Shh!” Aunty Bev ordered. “We’re listening for it.”

“Listening for what?” my father asked.

Another bang was heard.


“It’s coming from outside,” someone shouted.


“Probably a raccoon going through the garbage.”


“I don’t hear anything,” my father advised.


“You’re drunk” Aunty Erica said. “Now, shh!”


“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 asked.


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 ceiling.


“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.”


“I’m mourning.”

“And, I’m not?”

“Well, you’re actually standing on a chair,” my dad chortled.


“Erica, you go up and check,” my mother instructed.


“My back is sore,” Erica advised rubbing her low back.


“It’s been sore since you were eight,” my mother retorted.


“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 offered.


“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 fine.”


“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 the stairs.


Then, the banging sounds increased in intensity and frequency.


““Oh God! 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 replied.


And, then the noises stopped.



“Ma, you ok?” my mother cried out from the top of the stairs.


Her question was met with silence.


“Ma! Ma!”


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 Reserved.