Updated: Jul 5
Beth had spent the last few days getting settled in at Grandma Belle’s. She was staying in the Sunroom, a spare room downstairs that was behind the living room. The back wall was made up of several side-by-side picture windows, which overlooked the backyard. Her bed was a trundle that was normally used as a place to sit, with bolsters against the wall, but converted to a bed with no effort. The backyard was thickly wooded, a bit unkempt, and on the east side of the house. Every morning she woke with the sun shining down through the cover of leaves, creating shapes and shadows on the floor that moved with the wind outside. Though she had not been looking forward to staying with Grandma Belle for the summer, she was comforted by her current situation of being there. It was good to be hugged again and in an environment where she felt cared for. She had been without comforting touches for a long time.
Grandma Belle was so delighted to have her granddaughter stay for a while that she was full of hugs, shoulder touches and already cooking up a storm. Grandma Belle, though she was Beth’s father’s mother, had an awful lot in common with her own mother. The pair made breakfast together each morning, and Grandma Belle had spent Beth’s first full day in the house making jam. Beth enjoyed the fruity aroma coming from the kitchen while she did the final paperwork for her fall entry to SUNY. Grandma Belle enjoyed having someone to cook for so much that Beth overheard her humming to inaudible music while she worked in the kitchen. Belle had been alone for many years and having her granddaughter stay with her for the summer was exactly what the doctor ordered. She was glowing with happiness and even snuck into the sunroom to catch glimpses of her granddaughter, now a grown woman, sleeping peacefully.
Belle could see the grief in Beth. In fact, it was precisely why she had devoted a day to making jam. She hoped to help Beth feel closer to a part her mother’s life and traditions, encouraging her out of grief and possibly into appreciating her visits with her mother at the nursing home more. She understood grief and loss as she had experienced it herself, first when she lost her parents first and then later her husband of over 40 years. She never had before thought of grieving the loss of someone while they were alive but considering Ann’s condition it made sense. After all, Beth had lost all recognizable forms of her mother. Beth’s recent visit to her mother at Amberwoods nursing home had provided an absolute finality to her non-existence within her own mind. Ann was present in body only much of the time.
The girl’s father should be there for his daughter, and since he was not, Belle was irritated. She had not raised her son to be so cold. His participation in the mess of World War II had changed him, and she often excused him because of it. Nonetheless, she was still annoyed with him over it. Well aware that Beth was staying for the summer and well aware of Ann’s condition had progressed and Edward was nowhere to be found. Belle wouldn’t dare to contact him, as she wasn’t one to interfere with her children’s lives. Her mission was merely to enjoy perhaps the last time she would have so much access to her granddaughter. In between colleges and semesters, she had needed a place to recoup from the world, and Belle was glad to provide it. She was quite proud of her granddaughter. She had become a responsible young lady with very little guidance in the way of doing so during her high school and early college years.
“Nana, don’t make dinner for me tonight ok. I’m going out.” Grandma Belle raised an eyebrow and glanced at Beth. She didn’t ask any questions, but her expression asked the question of where Beth was going for her. Beth noticed and decided to fill her in. “I have a date, a blind date. I’m, well, it’s not something, uh well Carrie set it up, and I feel obligated to go. So I’m going.” Belle could see the struggle Beth was having. She did not want to move forward in life because she was stuck in grief, reliving it with every visit to her mother. “I think it’s a good idea for you to get out and have some fun. You could use a little of that in your life you know.” Grandma Belle encouraged, continuing, “You are far too young to take life so seriously. Go, enjoy, maybe you will even fall in love.”
The phone rang then, and Belle answered. After a pause of listening she spoke, “Oh Carrie so good to hear your voice, how are you dear?” She paused and then said, “Good, good, hold on, and I’ll pass the phone to her.” Beth smiled and took the phone from her. “Hi, don’t worry, I am going, I knew you were going to call to make sure.” Carrie had an unusual request. She paused before explaining. “Beth, I know this is going to sound weird but, well you know he is Jewish and keeps the Sabbath so since today is Saturday he can’t go shopping or anything. That’s why I set the date up for 7 pm, so this is kinda my fault.” Beth was puzzled now and asked, “Oh, so did he cancel?” She was almost relieved. She would much rather stay in her safe cocoon tonight with her nana anyway, maybe watch The Ed Sullivan Show together. “No, no nothing like that. It’s just that Tony saw him Friday before the sundown, you know that’s when it all starts and he said he was out of toothpaste and was quite upset because he wouldn’t have time to stop at the store before sundown. So I was thinking perhaps since you are going to pick him up, that maybe it would be a nice gesture is all.” Beth roared with laughter then. “Wow, what are you getting me into Carrie? A man who keeps the Jewish Sabbath and runs out of toothpaste, now this is getting really interesting.” “Well,” Carrie replied, “I know his culture is different, but trust me, I think you will like him.” “Ok,” Beth relented, “It is odd, but I can pick up a tube.” “Ok then, Colegate I think” Carrie was smiling now on the other end of the phone. Beth could almost hear Carrie’s grin. “Let me know how it goes ok? Maybe come by for tea time after church tomorrow, you know mom would love that.” “Sure,” said Beth, “sounds good. I’ll bring Nana Belle. How goes the bump?” She asked, not wanting to mention the word pregnant in front of Grandma Belle. They talked in code now. Carrie answered, also without letting any nearby ears overhear the truth. “Still small enough, but we are going upstate next weekend. I was going to wait and see if you and Akiva hit it off, but I was wondering if you two might join us, sort of a double date.” Beth laughed again and with a little touch of sarcasm replied “Wow you already have everything all planned out for both of us! I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ve got to get going, especially if I have to stop and get toothpaste on the way.” She replied with a little sarcasm. “Brooklyn isn’t exactly around the corner.”
Beth pulled into the A&P Market. She shook her head at herself, hardly believing that she was going on a blind date, to begin with, and even more so that she was actually bringing a tube of toothpaste to a stranger.
She parked her car on the street and looked around at the numbers on the brownstone doors. After looking again at the scrap of paper with the address that Carrie had given her, she got out of the car and headed for the right door. She left her crutches behind, and though her ankle still ached, she walked on it anyway. She rang the doorbell, the time was 7:00 pm on the dot. Akiva opened the door within only seconds almost as if he had been waiting on the other side of the handle. Beth suddenly realized she had not planned what she would say. She fumbled for words as she looked at him. His look was different from the boys she had grown up with. His skin was tan, a reddish brown, as though he had been spending time in the sun. his dark hair was shoulder length and a little bit frizzy. He wore modern day John Lennon style glasses. Even though he was fully clothed, she could see that he was incredibly fit. He wore a short sleeve collared top, it was slightly tight, as was the current fashion, and showed enough of his biceps that she could see they were quite chiseled. Without words, she thrust the small paper bag that held the toothpaste in it out towards him and smiled. “You must be Beth!” He took the bag and unfolded the top of it, looking inside he chuckled. “You brought me toothpaste? How did you, oh nevermind, how perfect, I love it. I’m sure Carrie told you. One of a kind. She said you were one of a kind and this proves it. Who else would bring me toothpaste, nobody that’s who? Come in, come in.” He stepped away from the doorway welcoming her inside.
She had explicitly planned not to come in, but she genuinely could not resist. He motioned her down the short hallway and moved in behind her to close the door. Try as she might to hide it, her limp showed as she walked down the entryway hall ahead of him. He noticed immediately and took her arm, supporting her as he guided her to the dingy blue couch. The apartment was covered with paintings, one of them looked like they were still wet. In place of a dining room table was a drafting table. On it lay a picture of a Greek-style column and next to it a light brown paper with small lightly penciled boxes. He saw her looking at it and explained, “I’m re-creating the column for a play. I’m a scenic artist, I make the scenery for the actors and actresses to perform upon.” Beth nodded in approval. She thanked him for his help walking and then said “I heard you work at Radio City Music Hall?” “Yes,” he replied “Is your ankle hurt? sprained?” “Yes, it’s not too bad though.” She answered. "Perhaps I should order in, instead of traipsing you all over town. The nearest subway is two blocks from here. Chinese? There is a local china man that is really good, but first, let me see your ankle” He offered. Again, this was totally not Beth’s plan, but she felt instantly comforted.
He picked up a stack of art books off the footstool and motioned for her to sit down on the couch. Sitting on the footstool, with his legs spread across the sides of it, he patted the center for her to put her foot up in front of him. Beth sat down and complied without any hesitation. She immediately felt that he was very caring, warm and interesting. The apartment was small but quaint. While he examined her foot, she examined her surroundings. In every direction, there were neatly arranged art supplies resting on homemade shelving. A shoe box full of chalks, a tin can full of different lead weight pencils, canvases stacked against the wall behind each piece of furniture. She felt like she had just walked into an art studio rather than his home. The “bedroom” appeared to be created by a short wall built out of art books, stacked higher than her waist, partitioning the one big room into two.
He lived inside his art. She was intrigued, and replied, “Sure, Chinese sounds great.” She winced a little when he pressed into her ankle. “I don’t think it’s broken, but swollen for sure.” He asked what she wanted for dinner, then stepped into the tiny kitchenette off the living room and picked up the phone to place an order. His leaving the room gave her a little leeway to look around unobserved. She could hear him placing their dinner order with a familiar tone, as though he ordered from there often.
Her curious eyes combed the room even more while he was in the tiny hallway of a kitchen. When he returned, it was with a glass of wine poured for each of them and an ice pack for her ankle. By the time the food arrived, they were deep in conversation. She had learned that he dropped out of college in his last semester, to support his family. His father had suffered a heart attack, and Akiva had run the family’s Laundromat during his dad’s three and a half month absence. During that time he had secured safety for the family business by contracting with the local mafia men who patrolled the streets. The Laundromat was more than a place for people to have their clothing laundered. It was a place of employment for every new Jewish immigrant that funneled in from Poland or Russia. Akiva felt obligated to protect that. His name, after all, meant 'to protect and shelter' in English. He explained that to come to the US, an immigrant had to have a job waiting for them on arrival. His grandfather used the Laundromat to sponsor families who were escaping lives of poverty and prosecution for their Judaism. Each family sponsored was deemed a “cousin” whether they actually were or not, nobody knew.
Beth was enthralled with Akiva’s level of compassion for people. So often people protested, talked about changing the way the world worked. This man was doing something, his part. And all the while he spoke, he catered to her, refreshing the ice pack on her ankle, her wine, and adjusting the pillows behind her back to keep her comfy. Unable to return to college for the final semester after his time away because of the Laundromat, Akiva began working in the art field. He was skilled enough and was invited to join the United Artists Union.
While he handed her different pieces of his art for her to examine, with her foot propped up and on ice, he asked about her life. He was avidly interested in what she had to say, to discover her goals and aspirations to be involved with cutting-edge technology, and work on teams of people that built computers and robots. They had much in common with the love of art. She too had immense respect for family, yet had long felt so isolated from her own, it was refreshing to meet a man who was so involved with his. They both had dealt with a sick parent and found common ground there. He asked about her family, and she told him of her mother’s mysterious illness of the mind, that they called Parkinson's but seemed to be something more. Of her father’s torrid affair with his new lover and her application to SUNY. Within a few short hours, they felt as if they had known each other for a lifetime.
At one point Akiva made the sincerest eye contact with her and said; “Bethany, I feel like I can see your soul when I look in your eyes and from what I see in there, your beauty is far more than skin deep, you are an angel on earth, a real angel.” He said. Her heart melted. This was exactly what she needed, a caring and creative man. As fascinated as she was with his family history, she was equally fascinated with his good looks, strong arms and tough guy presentation, which she had utterly unexpected to find in conjunction with the sensitive artist type. Beth's best friend Carrie knew her so well, she was not entirely shocked. His love for family was apparent. He would do anything for them. She wanted that kind of love. The type of love that was devoted instead of walking away when you were sick. He even mentioned following his sisters and hiding in the shadows when they went on their dates to ensure their safety, at his mother’s request.
Before dinner was through, and the second glass of wine kicked in, she found herself being carried over the threshold of the entry way to the other side of his art book built wall. For the first time in a long time, she let go of all of the burdens she had emotionally carried. She let go of her fear of starting a family; she let go of the loneliness sparked by visits with her mother and her anger towards her father. For once she felt nothing but bliss. She fell into his bed with abandon, and they made love over and over again, all night long. She never wanted to be apart from this man again. She suddenly wanted to have the love that she longed for her parents to have, one that would last through the wedding vows of “in sickness and in health.”
Against her moral code judgment, Beth stayed the night, all night. Exhausted and glowing she opened her eyes and realized that she was not at Grandma Belle’s. She gasped and sat up quickly. Akiva was softly snoring beside her, and her quick movements woke him. “Hey, good morning.” He said, reaching over and gently stroking her back. “My nana is going to be worried, I’ve got to go.” Beth jumped up and went around the room picking up parts of her clothes, they seemed to be scattered everywhere. “Oh, right, ok, do you want me to come with you?” Akiva asked her. “No, no, definitely not a good idea, I have to go with her to church.” She was dressed in the blink of an eye and went to his bathroom. She borrowed his toothbrush and the paste she had brought, rushing to get out the door. “Want to come to one of the shows at Radio City this week? Watch from backstage with me?” He asked, anxious to make sure he got a commitment to see her again before she disappeared from his life. It was the best date he had ever had, and he didn’t want to let her get away. She didn’t answer, she just kept moving. He didn’t even have her number yet, and his anxiety was almost starting to feel a little panicky. With her teeth brushed she was moving quickly again, looking for her shoes. He followed her into the kitchen and handed her a scrap of paper and one of his lead pencil sticks. He handed them to her “Your number?” he asked, with an expression of hope in his hazel eyes. She took the paper and lead pencil and scrawled it down. She paused then and looked at him, her eyes were close to misting up with happiness, but she wasn’t ready to show him that just yet, so she pulled him in for a hug and then a goodbye kiss so that he couldn’t see. As she left, Akiva stood in the doorway of the brownstone watching her go. He couldn’t believe his luck. She was everything he had hoped for.