Sometime on Sunday morning, Sharon was startled from her sleep by a sharp feeling that she was being watched. At first, she thought that it was the end of some strange dream, but looking around she saw her younger sister, Tehilah, in the middle of her room, standing perfectly straight and staring at her. Sharon waved to her while stretching and saying Modeh Ani.
“Ima told me to wake you,” Tehilah then said.
“OK. But what time is it?”
“I don’t know,” she replied in a childish way before turning and skipping out of the room. Sharon sat in her bed for a few moments and admired the cleanliness of the room that was never this tidy when it was exclusively hers. Then she dragged herself down to the kitchen where her mother was listening to a small clock radio suspended above the counter where the family ate its quick meals.
Her mother was dressed in a silk blouse and a knee skirt, drinking coffee and eating Israeli salad.
“A very healthy breakfast,” Sharon noted to her mother. “Ethnic too.”
Immediately her mother shushed her. “I want to hear the traffic report,” she explained.
Sharon raised her arms in a way that said, ‘I’ll stay out of your way’ and poured herself a glass of calcium orange juice from the fridge. Sitting on a stool, she waited for her mother’s attention to return to the room.
“Your grandmother isn’t doing well,” she eventually said, looking out the sliding doors at the side patio. “We should go visit her.”
Sharon knew that we should meant you’re coming, so get dressed. “You’re going today?” Her mother hummed an affirmation. “I was planning on returning to the city a little earlier—”
“I’ll bring you to a train station,” her mother offered, though Sharon wasn’t sure whether it was in response to what she had said. She didn’t pursue the matter when she could think of no response that wouldn’t sound intrusive.
After a makeshift breakfast, she chose an outfit that wouldn’t be too ostentatious for visiting a nursing home and packed whatever she absolutely needed into a single shoulder bag in the event she had to meet Andy straight from the train. They left around 10:30 AM, arriving in Lakewood at 12:00. When they got there her grandmother was awake and very happy to see them. She clutched at Sharon’s hand for a long time, smiling faintly and looking at her with glossy eyes as she quietly answered Sharon’s mother’s questions about how she was being treated. Sharon’s little sister mostly sat with a book in the corner. After only an hour a nurse came and said that their grandmother was very tired and should be left to rest. Her mother protested, and the nurse allowed them to stay for twenty more minutes. They said their goodbyes and silently left after her grandmother had fallen asleep.
They ran through the rain to their car, buckled their seatbelts, and started home in heavy silence. Sharon leaned her head against the window, listening to the classical piano emitting from the radio and watching the plinking of the rain against the glass. She didn’t know whether her mother wanted to talk or whether she preferred not to, but when the concerto finished, and the radio announcer started talking, her mother lowered the volume.
“She seems to be all right,” she said pleasantly. “Your uncles don’t think so, but I don’t see the issue.”
“Does Grandma not know how to talk anymore?” Tehilah asked innocently.
There was another minute of silence. “It’s hard for her to talk,” her mother eventually answered, glaring at Sharon in the passenger seat. She understood that the little one was not to know the full extent of the situation. They changed the subject and sped along the Garden State Parkway with little traffic.
When she got back to the apartment that her grandmother had lived in for nearly forty years, she spent a long time sitting on her bed, really her grandmother’s bed, staring blankly at the bedroom furniture. She had been a strong woman, surviving in the city on her own for more than ten years after Sharon’s grandfather passed away, and seeing her in her current frail state left Sharon numbed and unable to do anything. For some reason she felt an urge to call Joe, but before she could Andy called her.
“Hello,” she answered without emotion.
“Hey Sharon, it’s Andy,” he replied.
“Andy, she repeated,” shaking her head to jumpstart her energy. “I’m sorry I couldn’t talk earlier—”
“No problem. I just wanted to be sure we’re still on for this evening.”
“This evening?” she exclaimed as she stood up and started looking through her clothing. “How late do you want to meet?”
“Sorry, whatever. I meant around 6:00, which is still evening.”
“Oh, well then. You have to be specific with me. I was an English major.” What am I doing this for?
“I’ll try to remember that. Shall we go for dessert? I don’t feel like a whole meal.”
She pulled out her denim jacket and returned it to the closet with a disapproving shake. “That’s fine with me. I ate enough over Shabbat.”
“So, should I come to your building at 6:00, or is that too early?”
“I’ll be downstairs at 6:30.”
“Great. See you then.”
She hung up. She had heard somewhere about hanging up first to keep him wanting more. With only three hours to prepare, she resumed scanning her wardrobe for the perfect outfit that was both casual enough for a ‘dessert’ date but not too casual, as if she could just as well be going out with anybody. Eventually Sharon settled on an outfit and proceeded to grooming and primping. After flattening her hair, she painted her toenails and fingernails the same color, knowing full well that she would be wearing closed shoes. Before make-up she ate a bowl of cereal and a banana. By 6:00 she was ready and with half-an-hour until she was to be downstairs she sat down on the couch and closed her eyes.
At 6:40 she was shaken awake. “Your phone has been ringing nonstop,” Tamar told her.
Sharon jumped up, ran to her room, and sprayed herself three times with perfume in three different places. With one final glimpse in the mirror, she grabbed a shoulder bag as she ran out, waving to Tamar in thanks. The elevator didn’t come right away, despite her pressing the button repeatedly, but when it finally arrived she used the fifteen seconds while descending to compose herself, apply one last coating of lip gloss, and breathe.
She saw the back of his head peeking up from one of the couches in the lobby. “I’m sorry for keeping you waiting,” she announced, prompting him to turn and stand.
“I was afraid that you’d forgotten,” he said as he stood and pivoted to face her. All her preparations had been for that moment when he looked her over and, from the fact that for a moment or two he wasn’t able to speak, she knew that it was worth it. “I guess you were in the elevator or something.”
“Or something,” she repeated. He was wearing a dark blue Oxford shirt, black pants and a 3/4 raincoat, which she felt was appropriate. He was also holding a black umbrella. “It’s raining?”
“On and off all day. It’s for you.”
“For me? You think I’m going to let you get wet?” Upon her skepticism, he pulled out of his coat pocket another umbrella the size of a small water bottle. “Very well prepared,” she complimented.
Under their respective umbrellas they walked to the subway, which didn’t bother Sharon. She wasn’t spoiled enough to expect a taxi when they were probably just going two or three stops on the express. She didn’t even care to ask where exactly they were going, letting him surprise her.
“So I don’t know anything about you,” he said as they waited for a train. “All I know is that you live in one of the Five Towns. Did you go to HAFTR?”
“Yes,” she admitted. “How did you guess?”
“It’s the only school I know there. There was a guy from HAFTR in Shalevim. Morty Shulman.”
“Shulman, yeah. It figures that he would go there.”
They heard the familiar beep warning of a train entering the station. “Uptown local,” he blurted out.
“What?” she gave him a puzzled look. “We’re on the downtown platform.”
“No, it’s a game,” he explained. “Me and the guys bet from which direction it’s coming. Quick, what do you say?”
She glanced down the tunnel and saw a reflection of headlights. “It’s our train.”
“Nah!” he groaned. “You looked! You cheated!”
“Oh, sorry,” she pouted. “It’s my first time.”
“All right,” he excused her. “I’ll let it slide. But next time—no mercy.”
“OK,” she agreed, with a smile. “What were we discussing?”
“Morty Shulman. You knew him?”
“Not really. He won a lot of competitions and so his picture was all over the yearbook. He was in your year?” Andy nodded. “So I guess we’re of the same year.” I thought he was much older.
“You worked on the yearbook?” he asked before their train blew its loud horn as it entered the station. “That’s kind of cool.”
“No, it’s not,” she laughed at the suggestion. The clacking of the train was so loud she had to wait to explain herself. “No one hands in things on time and the layout people don’t know what they’re doing and everyone complains about how expensive it is and ‘why am I only in it thirteen times?’”
He looked down. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right. I’m not that bitter.”
“If you say so.”
Sharon allowed him to be playful. She didn’t know why she wasn’t being as critical with him; the barrier she put up with other men seemed to have been forgotten somewhere along the way. When the train stopped and opened its doors, they sat down next to each other on the bench along the wall with some space between them.
“And what about you?” she asked. “What type of Jewish name is Andy?”
“It’s not my real name,” he admitted. “It’s says Randall on my passport, but that wasn’t what I was called at my brit.”
Sharon waited with eager eyes. “So…what’s your real name?”
He paused and took a big intake of air, adding to the dramatic revelation. “Refael Yechezkel.”
“Wow,” was all she could say.
“I take it that Sharon isn’t your real name either.”
She leaned in close, as if telling a secret. “Actually, it is. My father’s a Sabra, and I’m named after his mother. Really it’s Shar-on, but only he calls me that.”
“And your mother?”
She leaned back to finish her story. “From the Bronx, of all places. She backpacked onto my father’s kibbutz in the seventies and stayed until she convinced him to move here. His whole family bounced from the kibbutz at some point because they all live in Rechovot now.”
“It was a religious kibbutz?”
“We drove through one time when we were in Israel and I didn’t see much. I really don’t know what happened.”
Andy nodded. They were speeding past the 59th Street station and she noticed his eyes rapidly shifting back and forth as he tried to focus on the mosaic tiles of the walls of the station. However, the train was still traveling too fast to focus on one tile long enough before it passed from sight, and so his eyes kept trying over and over again to find a tile it could stay with—to no avail.
“It’s interesting how that happens,” she commented, “how people’s eyes move back and forth like that.”
“Like, they shift very quickly back and forth. It happens only when the subways are entering or leaving a station.”
He hummed. “I never noticed it.”
In the pause she detected the slight stubble around his face, as if he hadn’t shaved since before Shabbat. She wondered how old he was, but then he said that he had been in the same year as she had.
“Mark Shulman was in your year at Shalevim?” she asked him.
“I don’t remember him as Mark. We called him Morty, but he was called to the Torah as Mordechai.”
Ah, so he is older than me. “I was talking about Moshe, his younger brother.”
“Who names their kids two ‘M’ names? It just gets confusing.”
“People are into that,” she said.
“Are you?” he asked.
“I never thought about it,” she admitted. “Let me have a few kids and I’ll see what I do.”
“That’s fair,” he said.
As she predicted he stood up at 42nd Street. “I always like Times Square at night,” she gushed. “The lights are much more captivating than in the daytime.”
“Would you like to go on the Ferris wheel?” he offered. “It’s probably the only thing to do there besides Broadway shows or shopping for shoddy souvenirs.”
“Ferris wheels are for children,” she commented pointedly. “Besides, where is there one in Times Square?”
“In Toys R’ Us.”
“Ha, I told you,” she said in a sing-song way. “It probably isn’t running now anyway.”
“But you’d be interested?” he urged her.
“Maybe another time,” she assured him. “We came to have dessert, so let’s do that.”
They got off the train and walked underground as far north as they could, only to find the Broadway entrances closed. Turning back to the escalator at 42nd Street, they came onto the sidewalk to find a light mist falling from a light gray sky. Andy opened his umbrella, signaling for Sharon to follow suit, and they walked close together towards 6th Avenue.
“Let’s go up Broadway,” she suggested. “If we’re walking through this rain, we might as well be covered by the awnings.”
“You don’t even know where we’re going,” Andy reminded her.
“You’re right,” she conceded. “Are we going in that direction?”
He nodded, motioning for her to lead the way. Despite the overcast sky and the rain, Broadway appeared as bright as noontime as huge floodlights illuminated the billboards so that not a moment would pass without passers-by being reminded to Enjoy Coca-Cola. People walked quickly, much to the chagrin of the peddlers who were already contemplating closing shop as the dreary weather persisted.
As they stopped at a red light at 45th Street, Sharon looked across Broadway towards the bright neon flash of a Fuji film advertisement, and through the drizzle noticed what she detected as an obvious couple on a shidduch date. The girl wore an open beige coat over a simple cardigan and a black skirt that reached just above her ankles, while the guy wore a dark suit with a dull orange tie and no hat.
“Look over there,” she pointed to Andy. “Tough luck to have a shidduch date in this weather. His umbrella doesn’t even look big enough for both of them.”
“How can you tell?” he squinted. “They’re, like, 500 feet away.”
“Come on, what else would a couple dressed like that be doing on a Sunday afternoon in Times Square?”
“Coming out of a Broadway matinee,” Andy guessed.
“With a kippah like his?” Sharon countered.
“You can see under that umbrella?”
Sharon turned back and caught them leaping over a puddle as they entered the crosswalk heading south, and for some reason she thought that she recognized that particular tie pattern from somewhere.
“Maybe you’re right,” she conceded. Her eyes were still following them when Andy’s hand passed in front of her eyes.
“We can cross now.”
Who is the mysterious couple that peaked Sharon’s attention? How well IS Sharon’s grandmother being treated in her nursing home? Is Andy a fan of classical piano? Find out the answers to these and many more questions by buying your copy of Outdated NOW from www.nathanwolff.com or Amazon!