From the apartment below came a resounding tattoo, performed on the ceiling with a broomstick, accompanied by a roar of rage. Fortunately, the words were indistinguishable.
“What did we do?” asked Shifra. “I’ve been tiptoeing around all evening.”
“I dropped a quarter,” admitted Baruch.
“Honestly!” exclaimed Shifra, throwing her hands up. “We must have the craziest landlord in town! Thank heaven he doesn’t notice Chavi’s crawling, but this business of walking around in socks is insane. And every step Tova and Shimmy take seems to set him off. Baruch, are you sure we can’t afford a place of our own? I’ve been cutting back everywhere and I’ve managed to save a little.”
“I wish you could find work,” said Baruch. It was an old complaint, and he didn’t expect anything.
“I’ve told you over and over, Baruch,” Shifra said with a touch of impatience, “the children are too young. I’m not one of those superwomen who can hold down a job and run a house and be a perfect mother as well. I’m sorry, but it wasn’t written into the kesuba and nobody told me that was part of the job.”
“Even a part-time job would help.”
“I know it would, but I’m not a teacher and there isn’t really anything else. And I don’t have any relatives who will die to order – chas vesholom – and leave me a million dollars.”
There was a pause.
Then Baruch said, “I wasn’t going to say anything about it because you know we agreed we didn’t want to ask our parents for money, but Mom called me this morning. She said she couldn’t bear to think of her grandchildren being emotionally damaged by this crazy landlord. She said it reminded her of people in hiding during the war.”
“Oh, Baruch! It’s bad, but isn’t that overreacting a little?”
“Who cares? The upshot was that she said that if we really needed it she could lend us a few thousand, enough for a down payment. But we have to pay it back within five years. Can we do it?”
“Baruch! Isn’t she wonderful! Why didn’t you tell me on the spot? Come on!” She pulled a chair out carefully. “Sit down right now and let’s do the arithmetic.”
Half an hour later, Baruch looked up at Shifra. “You know, we might just be able to swing it, if we find something cheap enough. You’re a marvel! I wouldn’t have thought an accountancy technician’s salary was enough for more than survival, but – ”
“You’re lucky to have gotten a wife from a poor family,” Shifra said ruefully. “My mother used to say she got to know every penny before she let it out of the house. I guess I learned from her. And, Baruch, I truly will keep looking for work. I only wish I had some qualifications. The school I went to didn’t believe in them.”
“I know. You’ve told me. They tell the girls to support the family to keep the husband in learning, without giving them the tools to do it. If only your family had had a little foresight!”
Shifra sighed. “Yeah. It isn’t only when husbands are in learning that the wife needs to contribute. Of course, it would have been nice if your yeshiva had prepared you to do something besides learn, too…”
Baruch laughed. “I can’t argue that, can I? Anyway, now we can at least think of moving.”
They made the rounds of the real estate agents, but found that anything they could afford would cost more than the purchase price to make habitable. They scanned the house ads in the newspapers. Baruch talked to people in his minyan. But for weeks, nothing appeared. And then – suddenly – there it was. The house itself was far too small, only three bedrooms, one of them hardly more than a closet. But the garden — !
“It’s the most beautiful place,” Shifra sighed. “Such a wonderful garden!”
“We can’t live in the garden, you know,” said Baruch, amused.
“Well, no, and I know we’ll have to extend the house pretty soon,” admitted Shifra, “but we can live in it as is for a while, and the view out the kitchen window — !
“Looking out at it is fine, but we’ll have to replace all the windows, at least if we want to open them,” Baruch warned.
“And we’ll have to put in some kind of kosher kitchen, but I’ve been looking around and you can get floor samples and end-of-range bargains,” Shifra returned hopefully.
“Not if I have to put the cabinets together,” said Baruch. “You know I’m not very handy.”
“No, but I am! Who puts up the toothbrush holders and the towel racks? Who assembled your shtender?”
“Well…you,” Baruch admitted. “Do you really think you can cope? It’s an awful lot of work.”
“For that garden…” Shifra said with a note of determination in her voice.
Baruch was still doubtful. However, nothing else remotely possible came up, and in the end, he gave in.
“I don’t want to force you into a house you hate,” Shifra said, with a sudden feeling that maybe she was doing the wrong thing.
“No, I like the house. It’s comfortable in a very small and cramped sort of way. It’s just your fixation on the garden. Do you actually know anything about gardening?”
There was a pause, during which Tova and Shimmy’s argument over a toy ended in Shimmy’s falling down, which was followed by another concerto for broomstick and voice.
“Well, no,” said Shifra reluctantly. “But I can learn! And isn’t it worth it to get away from that nutcase downstairs?”
What could Baruch do but agree? Life on tiptoe was insupportable. Besides, seeing Shifra so excited and happy lifted his own spirits. He had settled well in his new job, but Shifra missed her old friends. She hadn’t had much success making new ones. It worried him. Shifra wasn’t a social butterfly but she thrived on congenial company. Maybe moving into a house, living like a normal person, would help her relax and make new friends, he thought.
So the purchase went ahead.
At last the day came when Baruch and Shifra appeared at the lawyer’s office to finalize the arrangements. Their own house! Shifra looked at Baruch. “I feel as if I don’t dare breathe,” she whispered.
“You can always back out.”
“Not a chance!”
Proceedings dragged, though, with a page missing from the paperwork, and with Mrs Owen, who was selling the house, arriving late, held up, as she explained, by a crash on the highway.
“Look, I’m really sorry, but I have to leave,” Baruch eventually murmured to the lawyer. “Have I signed everything I need to?” He had taken the afternoon off, and if he left in the next forty seconds he’d just make it to the shiur he attended at the end of the workday.
“As long as you’re happy for your wife to take care of anything else.”
Baruch exchanged a smile with Shifra. “No problem.” Shifra had been driving the whole house purchase, anyway, he thought.
He stood up, shook hands with the lawyer and nodded cordially at Mrs Owen, apologized once more, and left.
Mrs Owen’s disapproving gaze followed him out the door.