Five minutes after the time for candle-lighting, Sharon was still unsure what she could squeeze in before accepting Shabbat. Her face was already smoothed with a thin layer of cream and her eyelashes were already mascara-ed, but her eyes still needed shadowing and her lips were completely untouched—no lipstick or pencil. Could she do all three? But then she didn’t even choose an outfit. Were the candles even set up? No. OK, that is essential. Then again, so is eye shadow…all right, not really, but she couldn’t leave her eyes completely bare. Fine, eye shadow and just lip gloss—no lipstick or pencil. Wait, is the light off in the fridge?
“Tamar!” she yelled to her roommate. “Is the light out in the fridge?”
“Yes,” she heard from the other room. “Do you want me to set up your candles?”
“Please!” Sharon screamed back. Great, another minute…but she already glossed her lips. So she’ll get dressed before lighting; she remembered one of her high school teachers saying that it’s more kavod to Shabbat to finish everything before lighting, but then again, so is lighting on time. But what to wear? Her eye shadow was turquoise, but the turquoise blouse was in the laundry pile. She could Febreeze it…no time. Why did she choose that eye shadow? Didn’t she get it that time she ran into that guy Jake at Macy’s? Maybe he’d be at O-Z tonight…can’t think about him, no, not now…Fine, then what else will match the turquoise? Maybe just go with black, but which black top went with her boutique skirt?
Sharon eventually stepped out of her bedroom into the living room/dining room where the candles were set up above her grandmother’s dresser. Tamar had already lit her candles and was setting the table, also wearing a black cardigan and a gypsy skirt. Sharon froze, looking to see that there were still three minutes to change.
“Just light,” said her roommate, also noticing her ‘mirror.’ “It’s not like we’re eating together tonight anyway.”
“But we will be walking together,” said Sharon as she dashed to the candles. She lit her two tea lights and said the bracha, concluding with an elongated sigh and a collapse onto the loveseat. Through the window in front of her, she could see between the buildings a nice strip of the western sky above the Hudson River. The sunset was already colored with deep oranges and pinks at the horizon and for the first time she noticed how nicely the setting sun and its sky fit with the new curtains she put up. It was part of her attempt to take the interior design of her grandmother’s apartment out of the 1970s. She had already covered the brown couch and matching loveseat, stored the shag carpet in the hall closet, and added a necessary halogen light to the reading corner, but the bulky coffee table and the wooden bookshelves and their collection of cheap novels with fading covers just couldn’t be ignored. Looking around the house, she delighted in seeing the kitchen sink empty of its perennial pile of dishes. She realized that she could really do a lot around the house when she didn’t have any real work.
She was jolted out of her half-asleep musings by Tamar’s voice. “Do you want to walk together?” she was asking. “Where are you going?”
“O-Z,” Sharon replied with a grimace. “Esther told me to meet her outside.”
“Well, I’m headed towards the Center, so you don’t have to worry about matching.”
Sharon felt very blessed to have ended up with such a personable roommate. She’d heard all the horror stories, but she didn’t want to live alone and leave a bedroom entirely unoccupied. So Tamar’s rent money paid for Sharon’s utilities and a few other expenses, giving Sharon a chance to live on the Upper West without the burden of having to work to pay an exorbitant rent. She kept from complete boredom by taking freelance magazine writing or editing jobs and an occasional translation of an official Hebrew document for her uncle’s law firm, but she was essentially enjoying her time hanging out with whoever was available, uninterested in pursuing a career or any particular hobby.
“Hey, what happened to Joey?” Tamar then asked. “He keeps popping up on your screensaver and I can’t remember the last time he was here.”
“Don’t ask,” Sharon sighed. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He seems to prefer isolating himself in his basement apartment in the middle of nowhere.”
“He hasn’t come around in a few weeks now, right?”
“Try a few months,” she said sadly. “He got upset the last time I arranged for us to eat by this friend from college who ended up having a whole soiree for, like, two dozen people. Joey’s been living in Brooklyn for so long that he forgot how social he was at NYU.”
“Well, I wouldn’t worry too much. Friday night parties aren’t for everybody.”
“I guess not,” agreed Sharon. She lifted herself from the couch. “Let’s go out together,” she suggested to Tamar. “I’ll wear my denim jacket.”
She took the bottle of Chenin Blanc that she had found at the wine store from the refrigerator. It was advertised in the store as having won some Chairman’s Award, whatever that was. She put her trust in the chairman’s tastes and hoped that her host would enjoy it. Then she left with Tamar down the eleven flights of stairs to the lobby and out to stickiness of the humid evening.
Sharon was off to Ohav Tzedek, a popular synagogue in the Upper West, though not because anything extraordinary went on inside the walls. With the departure of the congregants after the service, the sidewalk of 95th Street became the flocking ground for scores of Upper West Side Jews and their guests and well-wishers exchanging salutations and sound-bite conversations before leaving for their respective Shabbat evening meals. It was such a neighborhood attraction that the police even stationed a lone officer to ensure its safety. For some reason, this was where her host told her to meet her.
Already as she turned off Amsterdam Avenue, she glanced down the block and found that the davening had ended and the sidewalk was already filled with people. She passed a few older men in dark sport coats as she made her way towards the shul, eventually arriving at the edge of the crowd. The sidewalk was thick with people all trying to hear themselves above the din of so many simultaneous conversations. She stepped on her tip-toes to search for her host but could only see hair, hats, and kippot. Still in the air, from her right she was addressed by the unmistakable voice of Devorah Marcus.
“Hello darling,” Devorah said in British-sounding way. Sharon lowered her heels and turned to find Devorah extending her arms.
Sharon accepted the embrace, reciprocating lightly. “Shabbat Shalom, how are you?”
“Very good Devorah,” Sharon had started to say, but Devorah interrupted by turning to a short balding man with thick frameless eyeglasses and sweat beading on his forehead.
“Sharon, meet Ralph.” He waved enthusiastically with a full smile, which Sharon almost had to mirror. She lifted her hand that was holding the wine in a similar salute.
“That’s a pretty special wine you have there,” Ralph then said, pointing to the bottle in Sharon’s hand. “It won the Chairman’s Award in 2002.”
“Wow,” she faked surprise. “Does it taste like the Bartenura Moscato?”
“Not at all,” Ralph answered, pulling out a handkerchief and wiping his forehead.
“Completely different. Make sure you present this to your host before the dessert. It’s really more of an aperitif.”
“Thanks for telling me,” Sharon tried to say with enthusiasm. “Hey, Devorah, do you know Esther Jacob?”
Devorah shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. Does she daven here?”
“I don’t know,” Sharon said, looking around. There’s that guy Jake… “She told me to meet her here.”
“Sorry,” Devorah said. “Good luck. How is everything?”
Sharon responded absently, thinking that she saw Esther on the other side of the crowd.
Without noticing that she left Devorah and Ralph, she walked around the police barriers and into the street. In the middle of the street she realized that the well-dressed woman she was looking at was in fact Esther and so she doubled her pace. The solitary police officer was standing by the barrier, watching Sharon’s odd behavior, and upon realizing his suspicious glance she assured him with a gesture that she knew she was in the middle of the street and that she was returning to the sidewalk.
Esther was older than Sharon, somewhere in her thirties, but she carried her age with a maturity that Sharon hoped to emulate one day. She even looked the part: her dark curly hair was held up by a big spider clip and she wore what looked like an evening gown with matching pumps. It was as if she had on no make-up, or very little, but nonetheless looked put-together and fully in touch with her position as hostess of the evening. As Sharon got closer, almost exactly at the right moment Esther turned to Sharon and her face brightened.
“Shabbat Shalom Sharon!” Esther beamed, her enthusiasm unmistakably genuine.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Sharon said as they hugged. “Were you waiting long?”
“No, I also just got here,” Esther answered. “I go to the Sephardic shul.”
Before Sharon could ask why they had to meet here, two guys intercepted Esther from the side and Sharon waited patiently for Esther to greet them. They were a strange pair, completely mismatched, but they seemed to know each other well, as Esther wasn’t addressing them individually. The shorter looked older than his companion, his light-brown hair parted to one side rather conservatively. He wore a white shirt and simple dark gray pants with a pattered red tie clashing with his white-and-blue knit kippah. The other guy had short hair, stylishly flipped up from his forehead, and wore a suit with no tie. After a moment he noticed that Sharon had previously been speaking with Esther and his glance lingered on her eyes.
“Esther, who’s your friend?” he asked, still looking at Sharon.
His dark-blue eyes penetrated into Sharon’s, and for a moment she lost her gall and inwardly hoped that Esther would hurry up and introduce them.
“Andy, this is Sharon. She’s my guest for the evening.”
“My loss,” he conceded. Then he smacked the other guy on the arm. “Last time I let you make my Shabbat plans.”
Sharon knew that he was trying to humor her but she still felt flattered. “Next time. Your name is Andy?”
“That’s right. I’m sorry about your meal tomorrow.”
“What do you mean?”
“After eating Esther’s cuisine you won’t be able to enjoy anything else for a while…maybe by next Shabbat.”
“Oh stop,” Esther pleaded. “Take your compliments and find yourself a girlfriend already.”
He was looking at Sharon when he said, “Whatever you say.” Turning to his companion, he again smacked him on the arm. “Let’s go, David.”
“Shabbat Shalom, Andy,” Esther said. “Shabbat Shalom, David.”
Esther and Sharon watched the guys as they walked down towards Amsterdam Avenue, pushing each other as they walked. After a few moments the girls turned to each other and rolled their eyes.
“They’re all the same,” Sharon told Esther.
“Yeah, but what can you do?”
“They’re friends of yours?”
Esther thought for a moment. “You could say that.”
Sharon then suspected that Esther turned them down because of her. “Look, they don’t have to eat alone. I don’t want to be the reason…”
“Don’t worry,” Esther assured her. “I don’t have guys over for meals.” Then she added, more quietly, “not anymore.”
Sharon turned to Esther and was surprised to find her wearing a stern face. “Oh,” she added nervously.
“Come,” Esther then commanded, squinting at the crowd and pivoting away from it.
“Let’s get out of this heat.”