“Nothing is more whole than a broken heart.”
– R. Menachem Mendel of Kotzk.
Weaving her own dogged pattern, she dusts the half-open blinds and the bookshelves and the new desk under his window. Dust persists in this place.
She adjusts the small picture-frame on the sill. Here he is at his bar mitzvah, so few years ago, the year they made aliyah, wide eyed and wondrous, innocent and whole. Unbroken.
In this house, everything will have its order. Strong November winds pull the world outside sideways in a blur. Nothing looks real.
Even this is an affront. Because everything here is real.
Because this is not a homecoming she ever dared to imagine.
She pulls herself from her son’s room and stores the duster in the hallway closet. The pale odor of construction overwhelms her as she passes the open door of the refurbished bathroom. Light gleams off the stainless steel bars newly installed by the toilet and the bath.
She will get used to all of it. A new normal.
In the kitchen, she checks the timer on the oven. She breathes deeper here, her space. The stove top is crowded with silver pots bubbling with scents majestic, ancient chemistries distilled with family traditions of saffron and spice infused with her sweat and, of late, her tears. She wants to believe she’ll one day stop crying. She has the strength of generations.
And so does he. He’s on his way home.
She checks the layout of the dining room table. What place he will take predetermined simply by space and convenience.
Everything seems in order. She looks at the bare, newly painted walls. New pictures will have to fill the old frames before they’re put up again.
She spends a moment in the bathroom. She checks herself. Tucks a stray of gray over her left ear. She reflects. Not too much. The checklist: She did get some sleep. She took her vitamins. She ate well. She went for a walk. The colors and smells and voices of Machne Yehuda took her away for an hour. Came home and sipped a glass of wine. Danced for a few moments to a song on the radio that she’d never heard. He’s alive, he’s alive, he’s alive is the only refrain she has had room for while he healed and learned the ways of his new life. She cooked. The beef goulash should be more savory. She cleaned. Her husband should be here. Is here, really, but not. Too many years. Don’t think too much. Read the news on her laptop. The workers have been paid. Gd has been acknowledged and thanked. Her other children and her grandchildren have called. One is bringing him home, finally, from the hospital. Her eldest grandchild returning her youngest child. Miracles. He’s alive, he’s alive. And he’s coming home.
Don’t think of his face, what he’ll look like, like his father. Just sitting there.
She pulls away from the mirror.
Her phone vibrates. She shudders. Phone calls are never the same after.
She looks at the screen, smiles, puts it up to her ear, answers tentatively, “Yes?”
“Yes,” she says, nodding again, “I mean yes.”
She puts the phone back in the pocket of her apron.
She opens the front door. The whipping winds pull on her tiechel. She tightens it.
The sawdust smell is strong, the sturdy ramp not yet painted or stained.
She walks down and stands on the sidewalk arms akimbo.
“Gd,” she says, a smile of grit forming on her face with the familiar phrase, “thank You for bringing him back home.” She wants to spit.
The new van pulls around the corner.
Invigorated by the wind, she feels an old strength fill her torso and limbs. The weather reminds her of days of running and playing soccer in crisp Northeastern fields of green. In her chest she feels colorless and numb, but she also feels her old self, the athlete, ply her muscles with energy. She stretches her neck. Ear to one shoulder. Ear to the other shoulder. All the way back, then chin to her chest. She rises on her toes, lowers her heels back to the ground. Shakes out her hands.
She looks up again as the van pulls to the curb. It’s cleanliness taunts her. The new machinery is well oiled and slick as the metallic ramp moves into place. There should be marks on the van, she thinks. Scars of use. This land is too mean for anything to stay clean.
She breathes deeply.
She will never be the same again. Her son has already accepted that of himself. They took so much with so little effort. But not everything.