better, she lived alone in New York in a stifling apartment with only
one window facing a filthy alley.
One very hot summer morning, she wanted one thing: to see the
beach and play in the cold waves under the fiery sun. It wasn't only
that. She felt that a man should love her and drive her there, but she
also studied the interesting parts in the Code of Jewish Law, conduct
between women and men.
Mother's parents didn'’t worry. After all, they did not live in Sokolivka where girls thought only about husbands. Here, in New York, girls thought about colleges and careers. It would have been shameful if Mother actually thought like those dumb Sokolivka girls, and so she never revealed her secret desire.
Every morning, Mother walked to work on the steamy
streets, a wind belching smoke and heat from the pizza
ovens and yellow rice paella cauldrons on Amsterdam Avenue.
At work she would bend over the company's accounts, surrounded by textiles
drenched in chemical fumes, and one day the fumes made her doze on top of the account book and accidentally knock over her coffee, and
then she got fired.
At first Mother felt heavy with regret, and then the thought hit like a
blast of cold water from onrushing waves. The beach called to her.
The E train would take her to Queens; from there the Long Island
bus to Freeport and from there the beach.
Mother began the journey with one long, hot wait for the E train and
another wait in the noonday sun for the Freeport bus, and then
someone told her there was no other bus that day, so she had to go back.
Later that week, the local newspaper listed an Israeli belly dance
nightclub in Manhattan. Mother traveled there by city bus and
subway train and found within the noisy black walls a lot of homesick
Israeli former soldiers, men and women, smoking and drinking beer
while a belly dancer moved to the Middle Eastern music, but nobody else
danced. Mother stood up to leave and one of the male smokers
asked her name and gave her the card of a licensed plumber named
Rafi, who was himself. He followed Mother outside and grasped her hand.
"I don’t hold hands,"” Mother said, pulling away.
Rafi stubbed out his cigarette. “Okay.”
At home that night it was too hot to sleep. Mother listened to the
whoosh of traffic outside, ticking off sixty seconds and again sixty
seconds. It was too hot to breathe. Mother called the plumber.
“I wonder if we could go to the beach tomorrow.”
“Okay,” said Rafi. He paused for Mother’s address and hung up.
Mother waited all the next morning; packed and repacked her
sweatshirt, her bathing suit and towel; her sun lotion and hair brush;
then she packed some cream cheese sandwiches and bananas and
a thermos of milk, and waited.
Mother waited until the sun beat on the dingy skylight. The cream
cheese melted; the milk turned sour; the bananas turned black and
sweet. The sun became an interrogator’'s lamp:
At last Mother broke down and called the plumber. “Why don'’t you
take me to the beach?
He was silent a moment. Then he said, without tenderness and
without anger, “What do you want with the beach if you want
religion? Why don’'t you find a rabbi instead of a plumber?
Mother cried a long time. She took all the money from her bank
account--$500--—and bought a car that day. This needs explanation;
one needs a driver’s license, and Mother didn't have one. She found a friend and convinced her
to buy the car with all the money Mother had saved from her job in
the textile industry. They drove out together under a still burning sun
toward the beach, and in the middle of the Long Island Expressway
smoke and fire erupted from the engine and they had to leave the
car to simmer in the middle of traffic. They tramped by foot in the
blazing sun back through Long Island City to Manhattan, and then Mother walked