Rivka stumbled into old age
with an air of bewilderment
as if all the signs on the Concourse
were now in foreign script,
as if her own body
had become a stranger:
her olive skin tattooed with
ugly brown islands,
her once silky hair,
victim of a kabbalistic spell,
now falling out in small clumps,
her razor-sharp memory
a jumble of disconnected wires.
Only her hazel-specked eyes
retained their original luster.
A shayna maidel,
her father had called her,
as she strolled coquettishly
on the beach at Sheepshead Bay,
pursued by suitors
too numerous to count.
How to unearth her?
Seated at her vanity,
she applied lipstick and mascara.
She rummaged through
a musty cardboard box
and found an ancient summer frock
with yellow butterflies.
A cerulean scarf of Chinese silk
concealed the bald spots on her head.
She took the elevator to the lobby,
ready to confront the world.
“Big date tonight, Mrs. G?”
asked Juan, the Puerto Rican doorman.
“Que mujer hermosa.”
“In Yiddish,” Rivka told him,
“we say shayna maidel.”
So that’s what he began to call her.
“Shayna,” he’d say, opening the door,
“you look like a cool million.”
In gratitude, she gave him
her husband’s Armani suits,
his Cole-Hahn loafers,
his Rolex, diamond tie stud,
and a check for eight thousand smackers.
Her daughter audited the account,
had the shayna maidel
and committed to a “home.”
She departed peacefully
without a hint of protest,
serene in the knowledge
that the check had already cleared.
(originally published in The Jewish Magazine)