“I’ll never forgive you, Sid,” Marvin pouted. “Did you forget that Eliot’s a Rabbi?”
“Of course not. But he’s a grown man and he’s got eyes in his head.” Sid shook his head slowly. “Honey, we’ve been living together since your Sadie died, and my Rosie, may she burn in hell, ran off to a women’s commune.”
“Why should she burn in hell for living with that nice group of ladies when you and I were already panting for each other?”
“Don’t change the subject,” Sid said. “What Jew goes on purpose to live in the countryside and chop wood? It’s a questionable set-up.”
“She has the right.”
You’re talking about the mother of my children.”
“You don’t have any children.”
“Well, I was speaking metaphorically.”
“But I do have children, and one of them is a Rabbi. I wanted to spare Eliot the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, no matter what he knows in his heart of hearts.”
“He was 22 when Sadie died. He now has three children past bar mitzvah age. You schlep me wherever you go. They know, Marvin, they all know.”
“They don’t exactly know, Sid, not explicitly, and neither does your Rosie.”
“She’s not my Rosie, she’s my former Rosie.”
“Still, I am counting on you not to spill all the beans, Sid.”
“I only said ‘mate.’ I said, ‘We’re mates.’ Like buddies. You know, like the English people say.”
“You’re from a village in Poland.”
“Me? No, you’re confusing me with my father. I’m from New Jersey.”
Marvin was pacing in their living room. When Sadie died, Marvin sold the house and divided half the money among his kids and half he kept. When Rosie left, she and Sid sold their house and split the dough. The lovers pooled their funds and bought what they called their “bachelor pad.” It was a one-bedroom house on a large lot, but they put a pretend single bed and a few of Sid’s old clothes in the little den to fool all the visitors. They kept all the photos of themselves together in the bedroom where they could be easily hidden in a drawer. And often were. And until the day he retired, Marvin used feminine pronouns when talking to his colleagues about his weekend companion to the movies or a meal. “She and I had a lovely time.”
“Why don’t you just call me Gloria or Isabel or something?” complained Sid. “Don’t you know that times are changing?”
“And they could change back.”
The next day they began to plan their shopping list. Eliot and his wife Rebecca, as had been their wont since their kids were born, were hosting the Pesach Seder on Thursday.
“I’ll make my chocolate matzah,” Sid says. “And a big veggie salad.”
“I think I’m going to need about 30 chicken thighs to bake. And the potatoes to go with them.”
Rebecca would make all the holiday specifics – the horseradish, the gefilte fish, the haroset.
As they sat around the Pesach table, Rabbi Eliot announced, “We’re using a new Haggadah this year. It was put together by a feminist group in the Reform movement.”
They took turns going around the room to read from the Xeroxed text. Marvin and Sid were sharply aware of the editing liberty taken with the traditional text, not the least the substitution of feminine or gender-neutral plural pronouns. And there was added participation. When it got, for example, to the dramatic reading of the ten plagues, Rabbi Eliot asked people to go around the table adding any modern plagues that concerned them. “Racism,” said one of his sons. “Sexism,” said Eliot’s daughter Leah. And “homophobia,” said Rebecca, the Rebbitzin.
Marvin felt his gut twist with a sense of ambush. He stared at the Haggadah and figured that everyone was examining him for his reaction. Being outed by his daughter-in-law at a full family occasion was the last thing he needed. But then it got worse.
Leah held up the Seder plate. In addition to the traditional foods – from the shank bone to the egg, the horseradish, the vegetable or karpas, and the sweet paste haroset – they had added an orange for some unknown reason. “Many Jews,” his granddaughter said, “are now adding the orange to signify all the LGBT people who have been wrongly excluded from the Jewish fold for too long.”
“Excuse me,” Marvin mumbled, and left the room quickly. He rushed up the stairs to the bathroom just in time to lower down on his knees and vomit into the toilet. He was sure they could all hear him heaving downstairs, which only added to his humiliation. These younger generations had a lot of nerve to expose his business like this. None of them had spoken to him, ever, about his true relationship with Sid. None of them had talked to him about being in the closet or living a lie. None of them had asked him how he felt about changing the Haggadah, just in order to expose him and Sid. Again he retched over the bowl, his knees throbbing on the tiled floor.
There was a light knock on the door. “Go away Sid!” he said.
“Then go away Rebecca.”
“Are you okay? Can I help?”
“Now you ask if can you help? Leave me alone, please.”
She went silent but he could sense that she was still outside the door. He wanted to get up off the cold hard floor but he felt he needed a hand. He was now weak and stiff.
He heard Rebecca go down the stairs and someone else approach. “It’s me,” Sid said. “Let me in.”
Sid rushed over to Marvin. “Give me a hand to get me on my feet and then get out of here.”
Marvin wanted nothing more than to brush his teeth, but a dollop of tooth paste on the end of his finger was probably the best he would be able to do until he got home.
“Are you sick, honey?”
“Were you in on it?”
“No, I had no idea. But it was a nice gesture, no?”
Marvin just shook his head. “I hate you right now almost as much as I hate them. I’ve never felt so violated. Never felt such an invasion of my privacy. It was all because of you blurting things out to my family.”
He turned on the cold water and scooped up a handful of water to rinse out his mouth. “Give me the keys, Sid. I’m going home. The kids can bring you later.”
“In the middle of the Seder?”
“I feel I’ve been visited by a whole new plague. So some Reform Jew makes a right-on Haggadah just after you give them an opening, so now they’re all about spilling my guts onto the holiday table.”
“It’s your family. They’re trying to bring us in from the desert.”
“There was a reason the Jews stayed in the desert for so long – so that new generations could be born without chains. As for my chains, I’m used to them. I know them. I’ll shuck them if and when I want. Why should this night be different from all other nights?”
Marvin held out his hand. Sid fished out the car keys and handed them over.
“Aren’t you even going to speak to them? Explain?”
“Did they speak to me? Did they ask?”
Marvin rinsed out his mouth again, left the bathroom, went down the stairs, and out the front door.
Sid returned to the table. “He’s gone.”
Rebecca jumped out of her chair. “Shall I run after him?”
“To bring him back,” Sid answered, “it would take a Passover miracle.”
“No, Sid,” answered the Rabbi, “that would be Chanukah.”
Sue Katz’s business card identifies her as a “wordsmith and rebel.” Her books, stories, and journalism have been published on the three continents where she has lived and worked, first as a martial arts master in Israel, then promoting transnational volunteering in the UK, and most recently, teaching fitness and dance to seniors and elders in the States. Her books include Lillian’s Last Affair (six short stories about the love lives of older people) and Lillian in Love (unique novel about a romance between two old women in senior housing).