This short story appeared in our Winter 2011 Issue 17. The entire issue is available for download in Kindle format.
I had been playing hop-scotch for an hour with Deena, a sixteen-year-old Orthodox girl who lived across the street from my grandmother’s Tel-Aviv home. Deena shook her calf-length skirt to cool her stockinged legs and tried in vain to blow into the top of her neck-to-wrist blouse. A year younger than she, I drank water from the faucet in the yard and splashed water on my exposed midriff above my short shorts.
My friend cupped water near her mouth, and asked, “Will you come to my wedding?”
“You’re getting married?” I assumed she meant light years away. “Seriously?”
She shrugged, her eyes downcast. “Tuesday.”
From the entrance to the wedding hall, I could see hundreds of bearded men in the Hassidi garb of black hats and long, belted coats. An usher blocked my way and directed me to the women’s hall, where the ceiling was lower and the harsh fluorescent lights made the panels on the wall look like Formica. Holding glasses of orange and grape juice, women in long modest dresses and head covers eyed my white-and-red mini suit with disapproval. I pushed my way through a cloud of fruity and sour smells and hordes of children running about until I reached a throne chair.
There was Deena, crying.
She didn’t just weep. She wailed aloud, her words garbled by the cotton handkerchiefs with which her mother and another woman dabbed her face. “Shhhhhh, Shhhhhh,” they repeated, but their tones suggested they were ready to stuff a handkerchief into her mouth.
I was about to approach her, when a woman yanked my arm. “Where do you think you’re going?” She tossed a glance at my tanned exposed legs. “Don’t contaminate the bride.”
I gulped and took a step back. There was something else strange about Deena I couldn’t pinpoint from under the veil pulled back over her head, until it dawned on me: She was wearing a wig. Her thick black braid had been cut, never again to present a temptation to men.
I watched with horror as more women surrounded Deena, speaking to her in Yiddish, their tones ranging from comfort to indignation. Her hysterical crying continued unabated. Finally, they pulled her to her feet. From the main hall, the men’s singing crescendoed as if preparing for the messiah’s arrival. I could just decipher the line calling for the bride and the groom. “Yavo’u ha’chatan ve ha’kala.”
Carried by the wave of women, I was herded through a narrow passage into the back of the main hall. Moments later, squeezed against a wall, I managed to climb a chair.
The sea of chanting and dancing black hats parted like the Red Sea.
There walked a gangly, tall teenage boy, led by two men, all three dressed in satin black coats and hard-rimmed black hats. Unlike the men’s chest- length, untrimmed beards, the boy’s meager, curly facial hair had barely begun to sprout. His Adam’s apple bobbed behind a sheet of skin in his long neck, and his eyes were wide with fear.
The men’s chanting was suddenly disrupted by Deena’s screams. “No! No! No! I don’t want to!”
I turned to see her mother and another ample- bosomed woman, each twice Deena’s size, propping the veiled bride on both sides like bookends, forcing her down the aisle.
Her crying continued throughout the ceremony. The rabbi stopped twice and ordered someone to give the bride red wine to calm her nerves.
Formerly the publisher of Savvy Woman magazine and a lecturer at international women economic forums, novelist Talia Carner’s heart-wrenching suspense novels, PUPPET CHILD, CHINA DOLL and JERUSALEM MAIDEN have garnered rave reviews and awards. As each touches a social issue never explored before, they are often the choice of reading groups in the USA and abroad.
Carner’s most recent novel, HOTEL MOSCOW, (HarperCollins, 2015) tells the riveting story of an American woman who travels to Russia shortly after the fall of communism and finds herself embroiled in a perilous mafia conspiracy while facing her own Jewish legacy in a country steeped in anti-Semitism. More about Talia Carner: http://www.taliacarner.com/
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