My husband, Prince Manfred ‘Manny’ Susswig of Bavaria was late. I had already occupied my usual season spot in Seat One, Row Nine, Section One-Hundred Seven inside Madison Square Garden to watch our Knicks battle the Indiana Pacers that late winter, Tuesday night last year. I held a half-full beer in one hand and a nibbled sausage and pepper hero in the other when a tap pelted my left shoulder. I whirled around. Manny had arrived. As home-side forward Steve Novak drained a three, we shared a quick lip peck. I settled back into my seat. Many remained upright and stared.
“What’s wrong?” I wondered, now convinced a serious revelation was soon to be made. “Been texting for the last half-hour.”
“Was speaking to your mother,” he said, as I handed him a sandwich and a large, plastic cup of Amstel Light. “Better take this outside.”
We climbed up seven steps and shuffled towards a concession area.
“Is it Dad?” I asked as Knicks Center Tyson Chandler slammed the ball through the hoop, causing a thunderous cheer.
“Your father’s fine,” he said. “Esther isn’t.”
“Who cares?” I asked. “Know I hate hearing that name, let alone thinking about her.”
Many clutched my left hand.
“She suffered a stroke and isn’t expected to live more than a few days,” he said. “Your parents are flying in from Brussels tomorrow.”
“Give Mom credit,” I said. “Knew better than to call me. Let’s go. We’ll see Melo score forty another time.”
We motioned towards an escalator and scurried onto midtown’s pavement.
“I’m driving,” I declared.
We hoofed several blocks to a Quik Park garage on Thirty-Second. A twenty-something, Latino-appearing attendant with a killer tan retrieved our black Mercedes. Manny paid the lad and we hopped in. Two seconds after fastening our belts, I took it out on the accelerator, driving “Code Three” en route to our apartment on East Seventy-Second.
After tossing and turning until dawn, I surrendered to insomnia and checked email. Included among the twelve messages I had not yet seen was an already viewed blast communication from Mom informing recipients Esther died just after midnight. Services were scheduled for Friday, March 8, 2012, at Temple Abraham in Midtown, followed by burial at a Brighton Beach cemetery. Manny emerged from the bathroom and minced forward.
“You saw?” he inquired.
“Think I should go?” I snapped more than asked.
“You’re expected to.”
I leaped forward and paced.
“It’s so simple to you.”
“Yes, it is.”
Manny slogged towards the kitchen. I huffed behind and snatched a filter and dumped Maxwell House coffee to its brim and loaded the item into a Hamilton Beach Two-Way Brewer.
“Things happened,” I shouted.
“I don’t care,” he said. “You do what’s appropriate.”
“Can’t discuss this with you,” I said. “That’s why I’ve never tried.”
After storming back into our bedroom, I slammed the door and flung a pillow against a king-sized bed’s headboard. Seconds following Manny’s departure, I texted my oldest sister Tiffany, who freed her lunch hour for us to speak. At noon, I arrived at the Chase bank branch on Eighth Avenue and occupied a leather chair inside her private office.
“Gather you heard?” I asked.
“Mom called all of us this morning,” she said.
“You going?” I asked.
She moseyed towards a Poland Springs cooler and poured a packet of Lipton’s iced-tea mix into a paper cup.
“We ‘re all waiting for you to decide,” she said. “I didn’t know her. None of us did.”
I arose and flailed my arms.
“Don’t put it on me,” I yelled.
I hurled a Louis Vuitton purse onto lime green carpeting.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
Tiffany neared. I sighed, wept and ripped several tissues from a Kleenex box and dabbed my eyes.
“What?” she asked.
Despite taking numerous deep breaths, my sobs grew more pronounced.
“I’ll tell you,” I exclaimed. “Never told anyone. Not even Mom.”
“What?” she again inquired.
Tiffany sprung into the lobby, grabbed another chair, settled down beside me and grasped my hand.
“It happened in Seventy-Seven,” I began. “On the annual Goldens’ spring reunion trip to The Guggenheim.”
While she fetched a cup of water, I reached into my purse and snared two valiums from a prescription bottle. Tiffany returned, handed me a cup, then sat still and observed as I downed pills.
“She bought ice cream for and hugged all her grandchildren but me,” I said, stammering between tears. “Among my first childhood memories. Being ignored by Oma. And why? All because I was raised Catholic. Fuck her.”
Seconds later, Tiffany ascended and rubbed my shoulders.
“Now you know. Embarrassing isn’t it? Such a simple thing did and still hurts so much.”
She stood and wandered about.
“Those’re the ones which stick with you,” she said. “Good or bad.”
We again embraced and I headed out. Just as key met ignition, my iPhone chimed. Mom submitted a text.
“Call me,” read her message.
With eyes and throat both too sore to engage in any further conflict that day, I invited Mom and Dad to dinner the following evening. That morning, I trekked to our local market to purchase boneless beef roast, red cabbage, potatoes, apple sauce, and spätzle, then spent the day’s remainder preparing sauerbraten. Many pranced through the front door at half-past five and sniffed like our six-year-old shepherd Fritz.
“Peppercorns and cloves,” he said.
I lowered the flames under pots containing boiling potatoes and spinning spätzle.
“Correct,” I said.
He loosened his tie and entered the kitchen.
“Hand me a Beck’s please,” he said.
I grabbed and presented him one of the fridge’s six green bottles. We then kissed.
“Must be expecting another war?” he wondered.
“How often do you make my favorite meal?”
The doorbell rang at seven-thirty and dinner was served before Dad removed a raincoat and hat. None of us spoke during the meal. Manny studied me. Dad and Manny eyed each other. Mom and I exchanged several glares. Only ninety minutes had passed, but it felt like I had aged a decade when the Schneider grandfather clock chimed nine times. Manny and I cleared the dirty dishes away and brought out dessert consisting of apple strudel and Jacobs Kroenung ground coffee. I strode to Mom and handed her a full cup.
“I don’t want to go,” I declared.
Dad and Manny snared their coffee and sped off. My legs twitched.
“Dear,” she said. “Can understand your feelings, but…”
“No, you can’t,” I interrupted.
I stomped into the kitchen. Mom charged behind. The men were seated, fixating on the last of their treats.
“Baby,” Mom’s voice boomed. “Go for me.”
Mom’s face reddened. I flailed my arms, clumped back into the dining room, thrashed my right hand against a wall and bawled. Manny plodded towards me.
“Here she goes,” Manny said.
Manny placed a hand on my right shoulder. Seconds later, I pounced to my feet.
“You let her hurt me,” I screamed.
Mom expelled several loud gusts of air, clenched her teeth and closed in on me.
“Honey,” she growled. “You couldn’t be more wrong.”
“Bullshit,” I screeched.
“I saw what she did,” she said. “And that was the last time we spoke.”
Mom wept. I leaned against a wall and slid to the floor. Dad lifted himself up and caressed Mom’s shoulders.
“And you needed thirty-five years to tell me because?” I asked.
“Because it hurt me too much,” she said. “Having to make such a tough decision.”
I leaped up, rammed an elbow into a cabinet door and bolted for our bedroom, but instead of going inside, doubled back, pussyfooted through the hallway and eavesdropped.
“Don’t understand her,” Mom stated.
That quip rekindled my adrenaline, but as I advanced towards the kitchen, our four children pranced in. I held up, retreated to the bedroom and slogged into bed.
“How’re my enkelkinder?” Mom asked.
“Great,” Jovie said. “Just found out I’ll be on the varsity field hockey team next year.”
“Um,” Mike said. “Sorry to hear about great grandma.”
I rose and snaked into the hall. Mom opened her arms and the quartet of children surrounded and embraced her. Despite brushing away tears, I had never seen Mom display such a wide or bright smile.
“How’s it going with the girls Mikey?” she asked, as Matty vaulted onto her knee.
“Nothing steady,” Michael replied. “Getting lots of dates though.”
Jovie perched down next to Mom, who responded by stroking Jovie’s brown locks.
“Hey Steve?” she asked. “Loved those pictures from the skateboarding tournament. I don’t know how you can do that stuff.”
“Mom and Dad don’t either,” he laughed. “But it’s fun.”
I traipsed back into bed, laid down and cried for several hours. About a quarter past ten, I contacted Helene, our downstairs neighbor.
“Sorry to bother at this hour,” I texted. “Something’s come up. Will be out til at least four tomorrow afternoon. Can ya pick Matty up? Other kids have school activities till late.”
Within a minute, she responded with a smiley face icon. The following morning, I woke at seven, trudged to a closet and pulled out a black Vera Wang suit, black pantyhose and a pair of black Christian Louboutin heels. When Manny opened his eyes at eight, I was already decked out. He gazed up and grinned.
“Can you spare a personal day?” I asked.
He motioned his head up and down. Within a half-hour, he was dressed. We left at nine o’clock but did not speak until disembarking in the synagogue’s parking lot.
“Know better than to ask,” he said.
“Thank you,” I replied.
We held hands and traversed a long walkway through a courtyard leading to the house of worship’s entrance. I scanned the lobby in search of Mom amidst what had to be at least two hundred people. After several minutes, I spotted Mom, Dad, Tiffany and my four other sisters standing near the sanctuary’s door. Mom and I eyed one another. Everyone drifted apart as I approached. Mom and I shared a quick cheek peck.
“Well?” she wondered.
“It’ll always hurt,” I answered. “But now I know it’ll always hurt you more.”
I gripped Mom’s hand and escorted her into the sanctuary.
Matthew H Emma is a journalist and content writer who is also currently pursuing his dream of becoming a full-time creative writer. He has had more than 20 short stories and novelettes published and has sold one feature-length screenplay.