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Praise for the Mommy-Track Mysteries
THE BIG NAP
“A humorous tale . . . . Juliet’s voice is strong and appealing, and the Hollywood satire is dead on.”
“Funny, clever, touching, original, wacky, and wildly successful.”
—Carolyn G. Hart
“A delightful debut filled with quirky, engaging characters, sharp wit, and vivid prose. I predict a successful future for this unique, highly likable sleuth.”
—Judith Kelman, author of After the Fall
“Told with warmth and wicked humor, Nursery Crimes is a rollicking first mystery that will leave you clamoring for more. Ruby’s adorable and Juliet is the sort of outspoken and funny woman we’d all like as a best friend.”
“[Waldman] derives humorous mileage from Juliet’s ‘epicurean’ cravings, wardrobe dilemmas, night-owl husband, and obvious delight in adventure.”
“Unique . . . will intrigue anyone who values a good mystery novel.”
—The Tribune-Review Pittsburgh
“[Waldman is] a welcome voice . . . well-written . . . this charming young family has a real-life feel to it.”
—Contra Costa Times
For helping me to understand the Hasidic community I thank Karen Zivan, Alex Novack, and the incomparable Esther Strauss. All mistakes are most definitely my own. For medical information I thank Dr. Dean Schillinger. I am eternally grateful to Mary Evans and to my husband, Michael Chabon, without whom nothing is possible.
Table of Contents
I probably wasn’t the first woman who had ever opened the door to the Fed Ex man wearing nothing from the waist up except for a bra. Odds are I was not even the first to do it in a nursing bra. But I’m willing to bet that no woman in a nursing bra had ever before greeted our apple-cheeked Fed Ex man with her flaps unsnapped and gaping wide-open. You could see that in his face.
I thought about being embarrassed, but decided that since I’d been too tired to notice that I wasn’t dressed, I was definitely too tired to care. “You have to air-dry them,” I explained. “Or they can crack.”
“That has to hurt,” he said.
I signed for the package, which turned out to be yet another sterling silver rattle from Tiffany (that made seven), closed the door, and dragged myself up the stairs to the second-floor, duplex apartment where I lived with my husband, Peter, my three-year-old daughter, Ruby, and the mutant vampire to whom I’d given birth four months before.
“Yes, yes, yes. I know,” I sang in a mock cheerful voice as I scooped my screaming baby out of his bassinet. “Finished your six-minute nap, have you? That’s all the sleep you’ll be needing this week, isn’t it? Hmm?”
Isaac eyed my conveniently exposed nipple and increased the pitch of his wail. I settled my bulk into the aggressively ugly glider rocker that had taken pride of place in our living room and lifted him to my breast. He began suckling as though he’d just gotten home from vacation in Biafra. It had been all of half an hour since he’d eaten. I leaned back in the chair, ran my tongue over my unbrushed teeth, and looked up at the clock on the mantelpiece. Noon. And I’d been awake for eight hours. Actually, it’s hardly fair to say that I woke up at 4:00 A.M. That was just when I’d finally abandoned the pretense that night was a time when we, like the rest of the world, slept. Isaac Applebaum Wyeth never slept. Never. Like really never. It was my firm belief that in the four months since his birth the kid hadn’t closed his eyes for longer than twenty minutes at a stretch. Okay, that’s not fair. There was that one time when he slept for three hours straight. But since I was at the doctor’s office having a wound check (bullet and cesarean, but that’s another story altogether) at the time of this miracle, I had only Isaac’s father’s word that it had actually occurred. And I had my doubts.
Sitting there, nursing Isaac, I entertained myself by imagining what I would be doing if I were still a federal public defender and not a bedraggled stay-at-home mom. First of all, by this hour of the day I’d have already finished three or four bail hearings. I might be on the way to the Metropolitan Detention Center, hoping my smack-addict clients were straight enough to have a conversation about their plea agreements. Or, I might be in trial, striding around the courtroom, tearing into a quivering FBI agent and exposing his testimony for the web of lies that it was. All right, all right. Maybe not. Maybe I’d be watching my client self-destruct on the stand while he explained that the reason he was covered in red paint and holding the sack of the bank’s money complete with the exploding dye pack was because his friend borrowed his clothes and car and did the robbery and then mysteriously gave him the bag. And no, he doesn’t remember his friend’s name.
But I wasn’t a public defender anymore. I wasn’t even a lawyer. I was just an overtired, underdressed mother. I’d quit the job I’d loved so much when Ruby was a baby. This decision shocked the hell out of everyone who knew me. It certainly hadn’t been part of the plan I’d set out for myself when I walked down the aisle at Harvard Law School with the big diploma emblazoned with the words “Juliet Applebaum, Juris Doctorat.” I’d left Cambridge brimming over with ambition and student loans and began my career as a corporate lawyer, a job I hated but with a salary I really needed.
Then, one day, I got into an argument with the clerk in my local video store that changed my life. Never, when I started dating the slightly geeky, gray-eyed slacker who gave me such a hard time when I rented Pretty Woman, did I imagine that he’d pay off my student loans with the proceeds of a movie called Flesh Eaters and move me out to Los Angeles.
My husband Peter’s success had given me the freedom I needed to have the career I really wanted, as a criminal defense lawyer. Our decision to start a family had derailed me completely. I know lots of women manage to be full-time mothers and productive members of the work force at the same time, but, much to my surprise, I wasn’t one of them. When I tried to do both I succeeded only in being incompetent at work and short-tempered at home. At some point I realized that it would be better for my daughter to have me around, and if I was bored out of my skull, so be it.
Isaac must have gotten sick of listening to me yawn, because he popped off my breast, let loose a massive belch, and graced me with a huge smile. He was, like his sister before him, bald but for a fringe of hair around the sides of his lumpy skull. He had a little hooked nose and a perennially worried expression that made him look, for all the world, like a beleaguered Jewish accountant and inspired his father to christen him with the nickname Murray Kleinfeld, CPA.
I kissed him a few times under his chins and hoisted myself up out of the chair.
“Ready to face the day?” I wasn’t sure who I was asking—my four-month-old son or myself.
Only a mother of an infant knows that it is in fact possible to take a shower, wash your hair, and shave your legs, all within a single verse of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” The trick is finishing the E-I E-I O’s with your toothbrush in your mouth.
Balancing Isaac on my hip, I gazed at my reflection critically. Washed and artfully ruffled, my cropped red hair looked pretty good, as long as you weren’t looking too intently at the roots. My face had lost some of that pregnancy bloat, although sometimes it did seem as though Isaac and I were competing to see who could accumulate the most chins. My eyes still shone bright green and I decided to do my best to emphasize the only feature not affected by my rather astonishing weight gain. I applied a little mascara. All in all, if I was careful not to glance below my neck, I wasn’t too hideous.
“Isn’t your mama gorgeous?” I asked the baby. He gave me a Bronx cheer.
I rubbed some lipstick off my teeth.
“Let’s get dressed.”
A mere half-hour later, a record for the newly enlarged Wyeth-Applebaum household, Isaac and I were in the car on our way to pick up Ruby at preschool. He was, as usual, screaming, and I was, as usual, singing hysterically along with the Raffi tape that played on a continuous loop in my Volvo station wagon.
One really has to wonder how children make it to the age of ten without being pitched headfirst out a car window.
ON the way home, my children thoughtfully contrived to keep me from falling asleep at the wheel—not an easy task given that I’d been averaging more or less eleven minutes of sleep a night—by regaling me, at top volume with (in one ear) a long, involved story about Sneakers the rat and how he had escaped from his cage, and (in the other) the usual hysterical weeping.
As we pulled into our driveway, Ruby said, “Mama, can we go to the park? Please oh please oh please oh please.”
It was only because I was momentarily distracted by thoughts of the proper diagnosis of sleep-deprivation psychosis that I forgot that I’d been looking forward to turning on Sesame Street and enjoying an hour or so of TV-induced stupor (mine rather than theirs).
“Okay, honey,” I said. Oh well, there was always the possibility that Isaac would fall asleep on the way there. I bundled the two of them into their double stroller and set off for a walk to the playground.
Our neighborhood, Hancock Park, is one of the oldest in Los Angeles, dating all the way back to the 1920s. It’s full of big old houses, most of them stuccoed Spanish-style numbers with the occasional elaborate English Tudor thrown in for variety. The broad tree-lined avenues arc in gentle, carefully planned curves. While the addresses might have hinted at a certain long-ago grandeur, the neighborhood’s proximity to downtown L.A. and a number of less savory neighborhoods has, in the last couple of decades, made it a haunt of car thieves and even the odd mugger or two. That’s kept the housing prices lower than in some tonier areas. It’s also kept out the movie-industry riffraff for the most part. We lived in one of the many duplexes sprinkled throughout the neighborhood.
On our walk to the park, I was taking up quite a bit of sidewalk space—all of it to be exact. Without realizing it, I’d caused something of a traffic jam behind me, which I noticed only when a polite little voice said, “Excuse me, may we pass?”
I turned around to see a gaggle of boys, ranging in age from about six to ten, gliding on Rollerblades behind me. They looked like your basic boys, kneepads covered in mud, shirttails flying, except that their shirts were white button-downs and they wore black trousers. They also wore yarmulkes and sported long, curling sidelocks. Hasidic Jewish Rollerbladers.
Los Angeles, like New York, has a large and vibrant Hasidic community. These are the most observant Jews; they follow the rules of Judaism to the absolute letter. They wear traditional clothing, the men in dark suits with their heads covered at all times. The women dress modestly, in long dresses with sleeves past their elbows, and their hair concealed by wigs and hats. The Hasidim follow a rebbe, a spiritual leader. There are different sects that, if you are more familiar with them than I, can sometimes be told apart by their distinctiveness of dress; some groups of men wear knickers or fur hats, some women wear only dark tights and eschew light-colored stockings of any kind.
The Hasidic community is about as different from your basic, garden-variety assimilated Jew as the Amish are from the members of your local Episcopalian church.
Because my neighborhood is relatively inexpensive, and because the duplex apartments are large and comfortable, it has become home to much of Los Angeles’s Hasidic community. The neighborhood boasts a number of yeshivas and synagogues, and it’s always possible to find “a piece herring,” as my grandfather would say—except on a Saturday. That’s when the myriad little kosher grocery stores and markets close up tight until Sunday morning. Because this is Los Angeles, the land of weird contradictions, there’s also a huge Honeybaked Ham store right in the middle of the Hasidic enclave. Go figure.
I didn’t have a lot of contact with the Hasidim. They keep pretty much to themselves. The mothers rarely take their kids to the park, although the older children do seem to have free run of the streets—unlike the other neighborhood kids, most of whom are chauffeured by their ex-lawyer or stockbroker moms from carefully organized play dates to music lessons to ballet to soccer practice.
“Sorry, guys,” I said, and pushed the stroller up a driveway so they could whiz past.
“Why do those boys dress so funny?” Ruby asked.
“They don’t dress funny, sweetie. They’re just wearing yarmulkes and tzitzit.”
“They do so dress funny. What’s a yummyka and tis tis?”
“Okay, maybe it is a little funny. A yarmulke is a little hat and tzitzit are those long strings hanging out of their pants. Those are special things Jews wear.”
“We’re Jews and we don’t wear those.”
“True.” What to say? That’s because we’re bad Jews? I settled for something that one of the teachers at Ruby’s Reform Jewish preschool would have said. “Everybody celebrates religion in a different way.”
“Our way has Christmas.”
“Well, that’s not exactly how we celebrate being Jewish. That’s more like how we celebrate being Christian. Sort of. Hey, look at that doggy!” It’s nice that three-year-olds can’t usually sense when their mothers are desperately trying to change the subject. Ruby and Isaac’s status as children of a mixed marriage, while certainly run-of-the-mill, does bring up the occasional unanswerable question. My husband, Peter, is vaguely Protestant and decidedly non-practicing. The closest he comes to religion is Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. My approach to Judaism is similarly low-key, expressing itself primarily in a deep-seated identification with Woody Allen and a guilt-ridden love of bacon.
Up ahead of us the boys were gathered around a frisky golden retriever puppy on a leash. Its owner, a much-pierced, artfully bored, post-adolescent of indeterminate gender, was leaning against a tree.
One of the boys reached out his fingers and said, “Nice girl” as the dog sniffed his hand.
Another immediately piped up, “What for you tink she’s a goil?” Here was this eight-year-old on Rollerblades with a thick Yiddish accent that made him sound like a pint-sized version of my great-uncle Moe.
I maneuvered the stroller around the Hasidic boys and continued up the street. On the corner of La Brea we passed a little kosher market.
“Hey, Ruby, want some gelt?” Ruby and I share a soft spot for the chocolate coins in gold foil that used to be available only around Hanukkah. You can get them year round in my neighborhood.
We walked up to the entrance of the store and I leaned forward over the stroller, trying to reach the door handle. No luck. I walked around to pull it open and then had to leap for the stroller, which was starting to roll down the sidewalk. The door slammed shut. This is the twenty-first century. By now weren’t all doors supposed to glide soundlessly open, activated by heat-sensing devices? For that matter, weren’t we all supposed to have personal anti-gravity packs that would make awkward double-strollers a fond memory?
For some reason, and totally out of the blue, this disappointment of the futuristic fantasies created in my generation by The Jetsons made me cry. I leaned against the handles of my stroller and sobbed, inelegantly and furiously. I just felt so overwhelmed and hopeless, and most of all, tired. Deeply and completely tired down to my very bones. I stood there weeping while my two children stared.
“Please Mama. Don’t cry,” Ruby whispered. Isaac whimpered. The terrified looks on their faces sent a wave of guilt washing over me and made me cry even harder. Suddenly, the door swung open, propped by a small, sneakered foot. I wiped the back of my hand across my streaming eyes and nose and quickly wheeled the stroller through the door and into the small, dimly lit market. The store was packed with shelves overflowing with merchandise unknown to my usual grocery store: kosher canned vegetables, Israeli candies, products made by companies called Feingold and Essem and Schwartz’s. I turned to thank the owner of the foot, a breathtakingly lovely teenage girl in a calf-length skirt, dark tights, a man’s white Oxford shirt buttoned up to the neck and a pair of decidedly spiffy Air Jordans. She had long, dark hair plaited into a single braid down her back and the loveliest eyes I’d ever seen. They were a very dark blue, almost purple, and were fringed with thick dark lashes. A Jewish Elizabeth Taylor.
“Thanks so much,” I said, gulping a little.
“You’re welcome,” the girl answered, in a soft voice. She looked away from my blotchy tear-streaked face and knelt in front of the stroller. “Hello there. What’s your name?” she asked my three-year-old.
“Ruby,” my daughter answered.
“Ruby! What a coincidence! I have a ruby ring.” She showed Ruby the small gold band with a tiny sliver of a ruby she wore on her right hand.
“Bootiful,” Ruby said, reaching out a finger to touch it. “My mama only has a stinky old plain ring.” My daughter, Paloma Picasso Wyeth.
“That’s my wedding ring, Rubes. It’s supposed to be plain,” I said.
“Her wedding ring has sparkling gems,” Ruby answered, derisively.
“Oh, that’s not my wedding ring,” the girl said with a smile. “I’m not married. My daddy gave me this for my sixteenth birthday.”
“It’s lovely,” I said.
“Is this your little brother?” she asked Ruby.
“His name is Isaac,” Ruby said. “He’s a very bad baby. He cries all night long.”
“Oh no. How can you sleep? Do you have to cover your ears?”
“No. He sleeps in Mama’s room so he doesn’t wake me up.”
Suddenly, we were interrupted by a loud voice.
“Darling, what’s wrong?”
I turned around to see the shop owner leaning over her counter. She was a middle-aged baleboosteh with round cheeks, deep-set eyes that were about half an inch too close together, and a bright blond wig perched on the top of her head. She motioned me over.
“Come here, darling. Wipe your eyes.” She held out a box of tissues. I walked over to the counter, took one, and blew my nose loudly.
“I’m so sorry. This is so ridiculous. Bursting into tears like this.”
“Don’t be silly. Why do you think I keep a box of Kleenex on the counter? What’s wrong, darling? Did something happen to you?”
“No, nothing happened. I have no idea why I’m so emotional. It’s just that I’m so tired. Isaac, that’s the baby, he never sleeps. He’s up all night and all day. I haven’t slept more than an hour straight in four months.”
“Exactly like my brother Baruch! My brother Baruch didn’t sleep until he was three years old,” she said, with a snort.
“Oh, my G—Oh no,” I said. “Please tell me this won’t last three years.”
“Darling, it was awful, I can tell you. And my mother, aleha ha-shalom, wasn’t like you, she didn’t have just one other little one. She had four older. And then she had two more before Baruch shut his eyes.”
“Did she survive?”
“I’m telling you, none of us thought she would. I remember she said to my father, alav ha-shalom, ‘One more day of this and Baruch and I, we go over a bridge together. Over a bridge.’ She wasn’t kidding, I’m telling you.”
I felt my voice begin to quiver again. “I don’t think I can stand three years.”
Things had been a lot easier at home when Ruby was a baby. There were two of us to deal with her back then. When I’d gone back to work, Peter had even been Ruby’s primary caretaker. This time, it was different. When Ruby was a baby, Peter had been writing movie scripts and had at least some control over his schedule. A few weeks after Isaac was born, Peter sold an idea for a television series to one of the networks and was currently involved in shooting the pilot. As soon as that happened, it was as though he’d disappeared off the face of the earth. He showed up just in time to go to sleep and then slept like one of the corpses in his series (better, actually), until the next morning when he woke up and rushed off. I knew I should be supportive—after all, he was supporting us, financially at least—but it was hard not to be ticked off. I had, for all intents and purposes, become a single mother, and I resented every second of it. I’d been happier when he was working hand to mouth.
“Darling, it sounds to me like you need some help around the house,” the shopkeeper said, handing me another tissue. “Does your mother live nearby?”
“No. In New Jersey.”
“Ach. So far. What about your mother-in-law?”
“Up near San Francisco.”
“No. Nobody lives here. We’re all alone.” That set me off again and I buried my face in the tissue.
“Okay, okay, mamaleh. Enough with the crying. You need to hire a babysitter.”
“I can’t do that. I don’t work. This is all I do all day. I shouldn’t need any help.” When I’d left work to be with Ruby, I’d fired the nanny who’d been coming in the morning to watch Ruby until Peter woke up. I was determined to do it all myself. After all, the world was full of women raising their children without professional help. Why should I be any different? But that was before I gave birth to the child who never slept.
The shopkeeper rolled her eyes at me. “Look, darling, you’re clearly exhausted. All you need is a nice young girl to come spend a few hours with the baby every day so you can run some errands, maybe even take a nap. When’s the last time you had a nap?”
I shook my head.
I couldn’t pretend the idea didn’t appeal to me. I imagined myself handing Isaac to a baby sitter, just for an hour or so. Just so that I could sleep. “You know, you’re right. It’s not like I’m hiring a nanny. I just need someone to come in for a couple of hours so I can take a nap.”
“Listen, Fraydle.” The shopkeeper turned to the teenager, who had, meanwhile, taken off Isaac’s sock and was tickling his toes. “You help this nice lady out. It slows down here around ten in the morning. You go over to this lady’s house and help her out a couple hours.”
Fraydle looked up. “But Tante Nettie, my father said I could work for you here in the store. He didn’t say I could baby-sit for . . . for . . .”
Tante Nettie put up a hand. “My brother won’t mind if his girl helps out a neighbor.” She turned to me. “You are Jewish?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” I said.
“You see?” she said to Fraydle. “You’ll help out a nice Jewish neighbor lady and maybe you’ll show her how to light the Shabbos candles while you’re at it. Your father will love the idea. He’ll make you do it, I’m telling you.”
“And I’ll pay you!” I said. “Just tell me how much.”
“Of course you’ll pay her,” Tante Nettie said. “You’ll pay her six—no, seven dollars an hour. For two hours. From ten to noon. Every day but Friday. Friday I need her here. For the Shabbos rush, I need her. By the way, I’m Nettie Tannenbaum, and this is my niece, Fraydle Finkelstein.”
“I’m Juliet Applebaum and I am so incredibly pleased to meet you both.” I turned to Fraydle. “You’ll do it?” I asked.
“Yes,” the girl almost whispered.
I scrawled my name and address on a piece of paper.
“Tomorrow,” she replied, looking worried.
“Okay, enough,” Nettie said. “Fraydle, run to your mama’s garage and get us another case of Kleenex. This nice young lady used them all up.” She cackled and poked me in the side. I laughed.
“You need anything else from the storage area, Tante Nettie?” Fraydle asked.
“Yeah, maybe another case of chocolate. I have a feeling some little girl might want some.”
Ruby’s eyes lit up. On our way home Isaac fell asleep, and Ruby and I felt happier than either of us had in weeks. She, because she had piles of chocolate coins in her lap, and I, because I had a nap in my future.
THAT night I informed Peter that I had hired a mother’s helper for a couple of hours a day. He opened his mouth, probably to remind me that every time he’d suggested the same thing, I’d insisted that since I was staying at home full time we didn’t need any help with child care. I shot him a look full of such murderous venom that he clamped his lips shut.
The next morning, at precisely 9:59 A.M., my doorbell rang. I’d showered and dressed early in the morning so that I wouldn’t treat Fraydle to the terrifying sight of my unwashed, morning persona. On my way downstairs I checked my shirt front quickly, to avoid a repetition of the FedEx incident. I opened the door to find my baby-sitter standing awkwardly on the front step. She was wearing the same outfit as the day before. Isaac, who was perched on my hip, reached out a hand to her and cooed.
She smiled at him and held out her arms. “Come, motek.”
“My grandmother used to call me that,” I told her. “It means sweet, right?”
“Mmm.” She was busy making googly eyes at the baby.
“Be careful; he can’t sit up by himself yet, so you have to sort of prop him up on your hip.”
“He’s nice and big,” she said. “I have a sister his age and she’s much smaller.”
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” I asked.
“We’re eight in all. Three girls and five boys. I’m the oldest.”
“My God!” I exclaimed.
She looked up, shocked at the expletive.
“I mean, wow. Gosh. That’s a lot of kids.”
“Not so many. There are many families with more. Ten. Sometimes even twelve.”
I shuddered. “I’m barely managing with two. I can’t imagine dealing with eight. Your poor mother.”
“She has me to help. And my younger sister, Sarah.”
“But still. It must be exhausting. Do you think she’s finished having children?”
“Oh no. She’s only thirty-five years old. I’m sure she’ll have more.”
My mouth hung open. Thirty-five? The mother of eight was only two years older than I? Oy vay.
I ushered Fraydle into the house and showed her around Isaac’s bedroom. It, like the rest of our apartment, was full of huge piles of brightly colored, molded plastic in various stages of disrepair. Our home had started to look like the “seconds” section of a toy store.
“Do you mind if I take him out in the stroller?” Fraydle asked. “That way you can maybe sleep a little.”
“Oh, that would be wonderful. He loves the stroller. Usually. Did you see it parked at the bottom of the stairs?”
“I’ll find it,” she said.
“He shouldn’t need to eat, but if he does, there’s a little bottle of expressed breast milk in the fridge. You can heat that up.”
“Don’t forget to bring extra diapers.”
She nodded again.
“So I guess I’ll go take a nap now.”
She nodded once more.
I walked slowly back to my bedroom. I perched on the edge of the bed, wondering exactly how I was ever going to fall asleep while I was so worried about my little boy off in the hands of a complete stranger. Two hours later I woke up with a start. I’d conked out, half-sitting, half-lying on the bed, and had rather elegantly drooled all over the quilt. Wiping my mouth, I got out of bed and staggered into the bathroom. I splashed some cold water in the general direction of my face and stared into the mirror. My right cheek was covered with angry red creases and my eye was puffy. My hair had flattened out on one side and was doing its best Eraserhead imitation on the other. I halfheartedly patted at it and, giving up, wandered out into the living room. It was silent. No baby. No baby-sitter. I opened the window overlooking the front of the house and leaned out. Below, I saw the stroller, carefully covered by a baby blanket. Presumably Isaac was inside. But could he really be sleeping?
I leaned out a little farther, looking for Fraydle. She wasn’t on the stoop. Panicking a bit, I leaned out farther still. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of her standing about thirty feet down the block. She was talking to a young man in a brown leather bomber jacket. Just then, she glanced back at the stroller and saw me leaning out the window. She gave a startled little jump and said something to the man, who hurried away. She ran back to the house and I started down the stairs to meet her.
I opened the door to find her blushing furiously and apologizing.
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Applebaum. I only left Isaac for a minute. And he was sound asleep. I could hear him from where I was. I promise you I could.”
“That’s fine, Fraydle. I trust that you wouldn’t leave him alone. You were close enough to hear him. It’s really fine. You can call me Juliet, by the way.”
She seemed to calm down. “I really am sorry.”
“It’s okay, Fraydle. I would do it, too, I’m sure. Except, I’ve never actually been in the position to. How the heck did you get him to go to sleep?”
“I just walked with the stroller. That’s all.”
“When did he go down?”
“Right after we left. As soon as we started walking.”
“You mean he’s been asleep for two hours?” I was utterly and completely shocked.
Fraydle looked at her watch. “A little less, maybe. I’ve got to go back. My aunt is expecting me.”
“No problem. Just wait a sec and I’ll get my purse.”
“No, no. Pay me at the end of the week.”
“All right, if that’s really okay with you. Fraydle?”
“Who’s the boy?”
To her credit she didn’t say “which boy” or “nobody” or anything else teenager-like and evasive. She just got very quiet.
“Please don’t tell my aunt Nettie or my parents, Mrs. Applebaum.”
“Juliet. Of course I won’t tell your parents. Who is he?”
She paused and then breathed, “Yossi.”
“He’s not Hasidic.”
“Why is his name Yossi? Is he Israeli?”
“Is he your boyfriend?”
“No!” She sounded almost terrified.
“We’re Verbover Hasidim. Even stricter than Lubovitch. I can’t have boyfriends. I’m not allowed to have boyfriends. The only thing I’m allowed to have is a husband. A husband my parents choose for me.” Her voice was low, rushed, and even a little bitter.
“You’re a little young to be married, aren’t you?” I asked.
“My mother was seventeen when she married my father, and I’m eighteen. I’ve already turned down two matches. I’m going to have to accept one soon.”
“Your parents have already tried to marry you off? Are you serious?”
“Twice. I said no to both, but there’s only so many times a girl can do that before she starts to get a reputation as a snob. Or worse.”