He swore on his mother’s grave, but then he swore on just about everything. So really, being here at the cemetery, gazing down at the inscription etched into the granite was somewhat meaningless. It was more that he wanted to be somewhere different than inside the four walls of his top floor walk-up.
But sheesh! It annoyed him. He hadn’t got to see the gravestone before it had been set, a tortuously long twelve months after her burial. So much for tradition, something that he didn’t really set much store by, but seemed to mean more than anything else to his sister. Big on tradition, not so hot on spelling. True, Hebraic script wasn’t her strength, but why had she felt such a need to do it all herself? Did he not even figure these days, just because he didn’t attend shul except on High Holy Days, and even then, not so consistently?
So now, their mother would be for ever known by a name that wasn’t hers. If she could roll in her grave, she damn well would. Not that he believed in that kind of stuff.
Judah sighed. A passer by nodded in mournful camaraderie, and a flash of guilt reddened Judah’s cheeks. No, he wasn’t mourning the loss of his mother. Tom had lost 25 bucks at the races, and they had nothing to eat except a tin of peas and a slightly soft tomato. Not the dinner he had hoped would be theirs tonight. Still, Tom was a cheerfully optimistic kid and he’d just shrugged as he dropped his betting slip into the trash with an “Oh hey, something will turn up”.
The passer by returned. “I’m sorry for your loss, my friend.”
“Oh, thanks. She was old. It was to be expected.”
The old man smiled and shook his head. “No, no, I was down at the race track. Your boy there, he backed a loser, right?”
Judah smiled wryly. “He sure did. It’s all we seem to do, these days.”
“Don’t we all. Listen, you know what, it’ll all turn out right, just as your boy said. Let me tell you something. When I was thirteen, just before my Bar Mitzvah, we went to the country club just off Sandy Lane Turnpike. Remember it?”
“Oh yeah, we never had the money for membership. I always wanted to go there!”
“Sure. We got lucky that summer. Anyhoo, my father got lucky too, in more ways than one. There she was, Amy Gerstein, over by the pool, kissing my father. I thought my life had ended right there.”
“Sure! I was thirteen, raging with hormones and lust like you wouldn’t believe. I wanted her so bad – boy, she was hot!”
“So what happened? Your mother divorced your father, took him for all he was worth?”
“God, no! My parents hated each other, she couldn’t care less. They just stayed together to spite each other and show the Gersteins that they were above all that kind of thing.”
“Yeah, Amy’s parents. Their divorce went on for years, dragged down the whole shul.”
“Oh, Amy, Amy, Amy… You know, I married her in the end. Another Gerstein scandal, you see? Ten years her junior, I was.”
“Nice work, man.”
“Yeah, wasn’t it just. She turned out to be just as much of a meshuggenah as my dear dead mother. Still, I’m here to see her every week, regular as clockwork.”
“Very commendable of you.”
“Heck no, I’m just making sure she’s still six feet under. I ain’t got the energy for her shit no more!”
The old man took Judah’s hand in his, shook it firmly and shuffled off, cackling to himself.
Judah stared at the fifty buck note that had been crushed into his hand. He dropped three stones on his mother’s headstone, murmured a quick prayer and sauntered off, hands in his pockets. Just as Tom had said, something had turned up.