Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Adulthood (07/30/09)
TITLE: And then he smiled...
By Rachel Phelps
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I had but one distressingly distinct characteristic. I was taller than the other women. It was my daily concern as I passed through the bewilderment of becoming a woman and my limbs continued to grow long after my sisters’ stopped. It was by no means a glaring defect, but the matchmaker had little dowry to tempt a man with for a daughter in the middle of 10 children. She needed no other discouragements from making me a match.
I watched as one by one my friends made matches. All of my older siblings weremarried and my younger sisters grew impatient with me. My childhood friends were all having children and could speak of nothing but the tiresome duties of diaper-washing and nursing. I turned instead to the younger girls, still in the hopeful dream-days of praying the matchmaker would bring them a handsome, rich, godly Jewish boy. I smiled indulgently at their fantasies and hid similar longings beneath a veil of sagacious aloofness.
At long last, my match was made. I would soon turn nineteen, and was beginning to wonder what would become of a girl who was not deformed or afflicted so as to be an object of charity, but could not attract a husband. I remember my mother’s tears of joy at the matchmaker’s announcement. I cried too, some from joy, some from fear, some from an indefinable feeling of loss. I was truly an adult now.
I had not seen my betrothed, and the mystery only served to reinforce my mother’s advice not to expect overmuch from a marriage. This seemed to work for my parents. Theirs was an easy relationship, they talked and smiled together at mealtime but rarely saw each other outside of those hours. They seemed satisfied. I should expect no more. The days before the wedding did not give me much time to ponder, but confusion crept in at night as I lay awake, not allowing myself the comfort of my old dreams. It was time to grow up and be a proper wife for Shmuel.
The morning after the wedding we woke on the far edges of the bed from one another, stiff from hours of holding ourselves there after we presumed the other to be asleep. I’ll never forget how utterly alone and confused I felt in the chilly grey of night and dawn intermingled. I was in my husband’s home, a place I had never been, in bed with a man who until yesterday was a near-stranger.
My arm wrapped around my belly as I curled into myself. Mama’s advice had not prepared me for the night, nor the sudden lonely stabs that jolted me from bleak dreams to reality to discover there was little difference.
Then, just as I was holding my breath, hoping Shmuel would get up before I started crying, I heard his voice, husky yet with sleep and perhaps a touch of hesitation.
“Good morning, Shaindel.”
I couldn’t answer. A tear leaked from my eye onto my pillow. He took a breath as if to speak again, but only the strangled beginning of a word came out. I felt him get up, heard the padding of his feet on the dirt floor. He settled on my side of the bed, staring at the floor. I shifted under the covers to allow him more room, breathing in shallow pulls. He stuttered out another syllable and lapsed into silence. The arm clamped to my belly loosened slightly as I studied his profile. It was a kind face…
When next he glanced at me, our gazes collided and I saw in his grey-green eyes the same fear I know was impressed on my face. There was an odd moment of bonding, as if our souls began a tenuous stitching together. Shmuel reached over, still hesitant, to touch me.
“I’m glad you’re here.”
Then he did something that tied the final knot to my heart. He smiled. Shmuel was a short man with uncertain bearing in his day-to-day living, always starting and stammering lest he give offense, but when he smiled… he could charm the Queen of Sheba, I believe. I swallowed around the still-threatening tears and smiled back.
“It is a good match.”
Based on a character I recently portrayed in my college’s production of Fiddler on the Roof.
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