Beneath The Bureau

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Door with Key
07 Aug 2008

Sometimes, when she lay in bed exhausted, but wide awake with worry, when her mind would race thinking about the latest electricity bill, the late camp payment, the roofer who charged so much but did nothing, she’d look over at her husband, tranquilly asleep, and feel a sense of rage.

Adina wasn’t prone to rage, and the feeling unsettled her far more than the worry that was her familiar companion. But, as if with a mind of its own, the rage would engulf her in a hot red wave. Why, oh why, was she the one who always worried? Why was she laying awake at 3 am, heart racing and head pounding, doing the math again and again, but never managing to get the numbers to come out even? Why was she the one who would wake up bleary-eyed and miserable, while Ephraim would rise with energy and good cheer?

The anger would burn within her until her better side forced her to think other thoughts. She’d think about Ephraim’s schedule – the second job he took on in the evenings, the work he’d bring home over weekends, the overtime he put in at the office. She’d picture him sitting in his study, poring over the bills and checkbooks, his brow furrowed. She’d remember his worn winter coat, the one he refused to part with because a new one cost too much. And the fire would begin to die down.

Then he’d snore lightly in his sleep, and she’d glance at the luminescent dial on her alarm clock, and once again feel choked. They shared a bank account, and lived with the same financial reality, but she felt utterly alone. The worry pecked at her soul, and drained her joy, while he remained untouched. While she muttered about the plumber’s rates, he mentioned Rosh Hashanah and how their losses and gains had already been decided months before. While she bit her fingernails until there was nothing left to bite, he spoke of their Father above Who gave all they were meant to have and willed all that was.

His faith was rock-solid, unshakeable as the monstrous bureau they had been given as a wedding present and had never been able to move since the movers had set it into place. Goodness knows how many marbles, pacifiers and safety pins were tucked beneath its clawed legs. She wondered sometimes what she would find if anything would ever manage to shake Ephraim’s belief that all that happened was meant to be. Not that she didn’t admire him. Not that she didn’t acknowledge in the depth of her heart that he was right. But how she ached for someone to feel her fear.

Things didn’t get better; they got worse. One day the mailman dropped the letter that Adina feared above all. It was from the bank. They regretted to inform Mr. Ephraim Sternfeld that he had defaulted on his mortgage payments for the past six months. If the sum owed was not paid in full within ninety days, the bank would be forced to foreclose on the house. Adina felt her world going black.

When the kids were in bed and the supper dishes washed, they sat down at the kitchen table with a pile of papers and the small black calculator Ephraim had been using since high school. They added and subtracted, threw out the camp applications and resolved to ask for long-overdue raises from their bosses, but the numbers just didn’t add up. After two fruitless hours, Ephraim claimed he was heading to bed – he would deal with this tomorrow with a clear head. The rage welled up inside Adina, but she bit her lip and said nothing.

An hour later, she was tossing in bed while he slept soundly. Two hours later she had finally fallen into a fitful sleep. Then a car alarm went off and awakened the neighbor’s Golden Retriever, and the resulting ruckus jolted her awake. She looked over at Ephraim’s bed. It was empty. Curious, she slid out of the room. He was not upstairs. Adina tiptoed to the landing.

He was sitting in the living room, hunched over a small tehillim. His face was turned slightly upward, imploring the Father in whom he put his faith. In seventeen years of marriage, this was the first time she had seen him cry. Ashamed of trespassing on something so intimate, so pure, Adina soundlessly returned to bed.

She lay there utterly still, her thoughts frozen. She’d discovered what lay beneath Ephraim’s bureau.

Bassi Gruen is a licensed social worker, a professional writer, and the Editorial Director of Targum Press. She’s published hundreds of articles in numerous Jewish publications. Bassi is the author of A Mother’s Musings, a collection of articles taking an honest look at the challenges and joys of motherhood. She lives with her husband, her children, and her dreams in Beitar Illit. This article is reprinted with permission from The Front Page.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.