I didn't tell Sveta how painful it was to hear my daughter announce, at the end of the summer, that she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life ("Neither do I!" I'd said. "And I'm sixty-three!"), that she'd chosen this career simply because she was terrified of never discovering what she did wantonly then to run off to Jerusalem and return with Ya'akov. I didn't tell her how even walking from the subway to Beth's new apartment made me jittery and cold. I felt like I was walking back in time, back to when I was still a religious kid living in Brooklyn. Back when my family had enough money for a silver kiddush cup but not for new winter coats, back when we were just another poor family with too much faith in God.
Everything felt so new and fragile with Sveta that I didn't want to make the mistake of oversharing too soon. There was a huge part of me, hearing Sveta talk so openly about her marriage, that didn't want her to know my own had failed. And I knew my closeness to Bethwhom I'd always felt understood me better than anyone else in the world, including her mothermight sound odd if I attempted to describe it to another person. So I didn't tell her how Gail would snap about some mess I'd left in the kitchen and Beth would catch my gaze and roll her eyes: she had a way of making me feel she was on my side without ever explicitly saying so. I didn't tell her that when Beth wasn't around and we were left without a buffer, Gail and I could barely share a meal without a blowup. Everything I did ignited a fight: the way I chewed my food, the way I folded laundry, the way I made love. I told Gail it was impossible to live with someone so critical; Gail said it was impossible to live with a man who dealt with emotion by avoiding it altogether. But I had wanted to work things outif not for us, then for Beth. I suggested counseling; Gail flew to Burlington and fucked a retired architect she had met online.
"The fantastic thing about Gail is that we're still great friends," I lied. "I couldn't imagine not being in touch after sharing so much."
Sveta touched my face. "I told Galina I wasn't ready for new somebody, but she said there were many other people out there."
I waited for her to finish the thought, but she didn't. She tucked her body around mine and shut her eyes, as if there were nothing left to say.
Excerpted from The Unamericans: Stories by Molly Antopol. Copyright © 2014 by Molly Antopol. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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