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Authors: Anita Diamant

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“What does Aaron think, at that particular moment, about the God they’ve been chasing
around in the desert? A God who would do such a terrible thing to his kid sister,
the only one in the family who can sing, who composes beautiful songs in praise of
Adonai?

“‘What kind of deity am I serving,’ he thinks. ‘What kind of God punishes Miriam and
not me?’

“Maybe Aaron wonders if he could have protected his sister. Maybe he’s thinking, ‘Why
didn’t I challenge God and ask why she got punished and I didn’t?’ Maybe Aaron suffers
over what he perceives is his own cowardice.” Rabbi Hertz took a long breath and scanned
the room before going on.

“Now, as biblical characters go, Aaron doesn’t have a lot of charisma. We don’t know
a whole lot about him, and besides, we tend not to trust high priests. But I imagine
Aaron sitting beside his sister’s hospital bed with his head in his hands. I see him
as just a regular Jew, like the rest of us. Guilty. Afraid. Wondering about the meaning
of pain. Struggling with his faith and searching for comfort. But also connected by
blood and history and love to his brother, Moses, to his sister, Miriam, and to the
Jewish people’s unending project of discerning and creating meaning in a seemingly
random, sometimes cruel universe.”

Kathleen’s cheeks burned. She felt as if the rabbi were speaking directly to her and
almost looked around to make sure no one was staring at her. But everyone seemed intent
on the rabbi’s story. Even Ida, notorious for fixing her lipstick during sermons,
was listening.

Kathleen struggled with the rabbi’s words. Why didn’t I argue with God about my cancer?
She had been frightened and worried, but she’d borne her cross (hah!) without complaint,
like a martyr.

But she knew why she didn’t argue. She believed her cancer was a punishment. The doctor
had cut a hole into her breast as retribution. She had survived Danny’s death. What
kind of mother reads stories to other people’s children after throwing dirt on her
own son’s coffin?

It should have made a louder sound, but the box had been so little. She had wanted
to climb down into the too small hole, cut into the warm soil. The world had smelled
so good that day. The damp earth, the cut grass. She had wanted to die.

She had gotten cancer because it was her turn to suffer, as Pat had. Though Patty
hadn’t deserved it.

Kathleen realized that everyone else was standing and scrambled to her feet. Rabbi
Hertz asked that anyone who had come to honor the anniversary of a loved one’s death
now speak that person’s name. Voices came from different corners of the sanctuary,
some barely audible.

“My father, Moshe, who died twenty-five years ago this week.”

“Lena Swartz, my sister.”

A woman in the back said, “My father, Charlie, the atheist, who would have been mystified
to see me here.”

The rabbi didn’t have to do nearly as much coaxing to get the congregation to sing
a final song, and the melody caromed off the thirty-foot-high dome, doubling the sound.
“Now that was some really joyful noise,” Rabbi Hertz said, beaming. “Please do stay
for our Oneg Shabbat coffee hour, which is provided by our wonderful sisterhood. The
only requirement is that you say hello to at least two people you’ve never met before
— and that includes me.”

Kathleen was the first to greet the rabbi. “I enjoyed your service so much,” Kathleen
said, watching the rabbi fold the prayer shawl and tuck it into a red velvet bag.
“It was exactly what I needed tonight.”

“And what was it you needed?” the rabbi asked, taking Kathleen’s hand and not letting
go.

“A place to be grateful, I guess. I had good news this week.”

The rabbi, still holding on, raised her eyebrows quizzically.

“It seems that I’m not going to die from breast cancer.”

“I’m so glad. My mother had breast cancer, too.”

Kathleen started to laugh and, mortified, clapped her hand over her mouth. “Oh, no.
Sorry, I, oh . . . it’s just that it seems every time I tell anyone, they tell me
about their mother or friend. I’m sorry. I must be at the end of my rope.” Kathleen
lowered her voice. “How long ago did she die?”

The rabbi laughed at that. “My mom is alive and well. In fact, she’s off in India
on an elder hostel.”

Kathleen didn’t know how to respond.

“You must be going through a lot,” the rabbi said. “Is it okay if I say a Mi Sheberach
for you tomorrow morning?”

Kathleen, embarrassed, admitted she didn’t know what that was.

“It’s a traditional prayer for spiritual and physical healing for members of the congregation
and their families.”

“That sounds awfully, um, Catholic,” Kathleen said. “I mean, when I was a child, we
prayed to all kinds of saints for healing.”

“Did it work?”

Kathleen didn’t know how to respond. How could the rabbi be so cavalier about a question
of faith? “I don’t think it works that way,” she finally said.

“Neither do I,” said Rabbi Hertz, putting a hand on Kathleen’s shoulder. “But I know
that public prayer can work like an embrace for people in pain, and there’s no such
thing as too many hugs when you’re hurting.”

Kathleen, almost stammering, said she wouldn’t be there the next day.

“That’s okay. You’ll be in our thoughts. Thanks for coming up and saying hi, Kathleen.
Let’s get together, soon,” the rabbi added, and turned to greet the young couple waiting
behind her.

Kathleen walked toward the coffeepot at the far end of the sanctuary. “Genevas are
my favorites, too,” she told a dark-haired woman who had just picked up the last one.
Joyce smiled, snapped the oval neatly in half, held out one piece to Kathleen and
said, “It tastes better if you share it. Or at least, that’s what I used to tell my
daughter when she was little.”

Kathleen accepted the half-Geneva. “Are you a regular?” she asked. “I haven’t been
here for ages. The last time I was at services, the rabbi was an older gentleman who
looked like Ichabod Crane.”

“This is my first time here, ever.” As Joyce spoke, Kathleen realized she was talking
to the woman who had described her father as an atheist. “My dad died fifteen years
ago tomorrow. I never go to services for kaddish, but I couldn’t find any of those
memorial candles in the supermarket. And I wanted to do something real, something
physical, to remember him.”

“The candles are by the shoe polish at the Star Market,” Kathleen said, smiling.

“I’m glad I came, anyway.” Joyce smiled back. “I always wondered about the Gloucester
synagogue. It’s kind of a conceptual oxymoron — a Yankee temple. But the service was
pretty interesting, much better than the last one I went to, which was just deadly.
That must be five or six years ago for a bar mitzvah.”

“Are you here for the weekend?” Kathleen asked, admiring Joyce’s outfit, a casual
but sophisticated cream-colored chenille sweater over black silk pants. Her silver
earrings caught the light as she talked.

“Actually, my husband and I just bought a little house up here — near East Gloucester
square, you know? Over by the theater? We’ll be summer people, I guess, though we’ll
probably have to rent the place most of the summer to help cover the mortgage.

“We hope to come up on weekends during the school year. My daughter’s at a sleepover
tonight. She’s twelve, so she’s almost always at a sleepover.”

“My sons are long gone,” said Kathleen. “It’s just me and my husband, who’s here somewhere.”

“Frank’s here, too.” Joyce looked around the room. “Actually, I’m kind of mystified
that we’re here at all. Normally at this hour, I’d be in bed with a book.”

“Oh? And what are you reading?”

“I’m about to start the new Amy Tan. And you?” Joyce asked, approving of Kathleen’s
elegant posture, her thick, white hair and the darkest blue eyes she’d ever seen.

“I’m just finishing the latest of the Harry Potter books — belatedly for me. It’s
work as well as pleasure; I’m a children’s librarian.”

“Ah, a librarian.” Joyce put her hand over her heart and bowed her head. “May I kiss
the hem of your garment?” She grinned. “I can’t tell you the number of times librarians
have saved my deadline.”

“You’re a writer?”

“For women’s magazines, mostly.”

The trays were being cleared as the two of them started for the door, where Buddy
waited with a dark-haired man, who held out a jacket to Kathleen’s new acquaintance.

The women turned to each other and laughed. “This is my husband, Buddy Levine. I’m
Kathleen.”

“Joyce Tabachnik. This is Frank.”

“You mean you don’t even know each other’s names?” Buddy asked. “You’ve been over
there gabbing like you were long-lost cousins.”

The four of them walked out of the synagogue and paused on the steep stairs to the
street. The building had served the town’s Jews for a century, but it would always
look like the foursquare New England church it was built to be. Below them, the lights
of the docks and the big fishing boats were mirrored in black water.

Joyce took a deep breath and said, “God, it smells good up here.” Kathleen shivered
and Buddy rushed over to help her into her sweater. They said their good-byes.

“Nice people,” Buddy said as he and Kathleen got into their car.

“Nice people,” said Frank as he and Joyce pulled out of the parking lot.

 

A FEW DAYS LATER
, Kathleen thought she saw Joyce ahead of her in the produce aisle at the Star Market,
but she then caught sight of the Naked Coed Golf T-shirt. The woman she had talked
to at temple wouldn’t wear such a thing in her own bathroom, much less in public.

Kathleen wondered if Joyce would trade an insider’s tour of Gloucester in exchange
for a trip to the mall. The corduroy jumper she had worn to services that night must
be fifteen years old.

Joyce had walked past the same bananas earlier the same day, keeping an eye out for
Kathleen. “That’s what I want to look like when I grow up,” she had told Frank on
their way home from services. Joyce thought about calling Kathleen but worried that
she might not want to have coffee with the author of a romance novel — though of course
she hadn’t mentioned
Magnolia’s Heart
when they’d talked.

The following week, Joyce heard her name as she walked into Tomaso’s. “I was hoping
to run into you. I see you already know about one of Gloucester’s crown jewels,” Kathleen
said, opening her arms in adoration of the crowded Main Street storefront. Mismatched
metal shelves held tomatoes, pasta, oil, and tuna with unfamiliar Italian labels crowding
out the American brands. Dean Martin crooned from unseen speakers.

While the women behind the counter took orders, Kathleen explained the merits of the
special sandwiches, named for neighborhoods and saints. “The calzone always sells
out early in the summer.”

Joyce nodded and inhaled the store’s heady mixture of yeast, sawdust, and salami.

A grim-faced woman wearing orange lipstick and a green T-shirt asked for their order.

“Hi, Ginny,” Kathleen said. “How are the grandkids?”

Ginny’s frown dissolved as she pointed to a photograph taped to the counter. “The
best.”

Kathleen introduced Joyce and mentioned the house on Forest Street.

“Mary Loquasto’s house,” Ginny said, nodding. “You the writer?”

Joyce blushed and nodded.

“It’s a nice house,” Ginny added, almost daring Joyce to disagree.

“We’re very lucky,” Joyce said.

“There are no secrets in a small town, you know,” Kathleen whispered. She bought a
loaf of scali bread; Joyce ordered three dozen cookies for Nina’s soccer team. Dean
Martin followed them out into the street. “Sometimes they play opera,” Kathleen said,
pointing up at the speakers under the awning. They stood for a moment and listened
to the end of “Return to Me.”

“Are you in a rush?” Kathleen asked. “The pastry shop over there has wonderful cappuccino.”

As they walked into the café across the street, the woman behind the counter said,
“Hi, Mrs. Levine.”

“Hi, Philomena,” said Kathleen. “Is Serena over her cold?”

BOOK: Good Harbor
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