ruthie blum 88.
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"So I told Mom that I simply had to get away to clear my thoughts," Galia says, raising her voice to compete with the surrounding din of the mall. She is talking to her sister, with whom she has come to buy gifts for their parents - and one another's children.
"Lucky you," Mili says, pursing her lips so tightly that they virtually disappear. "I wish I could roam around Crete all week instead of cleaning, cooking and gaining five kilos just in time to squeeze into my bathing suit."
"Come with me, then," Galia suggests, her sincerity enhanced by the knowledge that Mili won't take her up on her offer.
It's not that she doesn't love her older sister. On the contrary, Galia has always looked up to Mili. In turn, Mili has always served as her Rock of Gibraltar. This past year was no exception. In fact, Galia doesn't know how she would have survived her recent trauma without Mili's common sense and shoulder to lean on.
But the purpose of this trip is to escape matza and martyrdom - not to take them along. And Mili has been turning into an eerie clone of their mother with each passing pregnancy.
"As though I could drop everything and hop on a plane," Mili says, snorting at the very absurdity of the idea. She stops at a stand outside a housewares store to examine a hand-painted vase holding a bouquet of long-stemmed silk flowers. Lifting it up to look for its price tag, she mutters under her breath, "Some of us take our familial duties - and other people's feelings - seriously."
Galia pretends she doesn't hear the dig. She tells herself that the pang of guilt that has crept up on her - not entirely by surprise - is merely a cramp. One she won't allow to crimp her style. Or her plans. Not this time. Not now, when she finally has the most prized possession a woman in her state can have on the eve of a family gathering: an excuse not to attend. An excuse even her mother accepts, however grudgingly.
"How about we buy her something different this year?" Galia asks, trying to change the subject, as she stares at the endless mounds of dishes and bric-a-brac that all look alike to her. "Not yet another same-old, same-old kitchen item."
"You mean, like jewelry?" Mili responds in a tone Galia is unable to decipher, due to unbearable background noise.
"For instance," Galia says, though what she and her sister are doing by now is closer to shouting than talking, in order to make themselves heard.
"As though she'd ever have any place to wear it," Mili yells, implicitly indicating that the subject of seder-evasion - and guilt imperative - is still on the table.
"Well, maybe it would give her a reason to find one," Galia retorts, hinting that some misery is self-imposed - and that she's neither going to take the blame nor back down.
"That's easy for you to say," Mili blasts.
Galia throws up her hands in exasperation, inadvertently knuckling a passerby.
"Hey, watch it!" reprimands a man with a baby in one arm and several oversized shopping bags in the other.
"So sorry," she apologizes with embarrassment, then coos at the infant she is relieved to discover she hasn't harmed. Galia has always felt clumsy, uncouth. Like a bull in a china shop. Or so her husband used to claim. Which, of course, made matters worse. Indeed, the harder she tried to tether herself, the more unwittingly unbridled she became - and the more he berated her for it. Her discovery, then, after the divorce - that he had been sleeping around throughout their 15-year marriage, and having a serious affair for several prior to his grand exit - was as liberating as it was an additional blow to her ego.
"No wonder he spent all his time putting you down," Mili had told her. "Telling himself it was your fault he was unhappy gave him the excuse to misbehave."
"And the excuse not to feel guilty about breaking up the family," Galia had agreed.
"HOW CAN you say it's easy for me?" Galia challenges Mili, as they board the escalator, hoping to get luckier on another floor. "After what I've been through?"
"Don't lay that guilt trip on me of all people," Mili warns, alluding to all the help and support she provided during Galia's divorce - and marriage. "The point is that your ordeal is not Mom's fault, or your kids'."
Galia stomps off the escalator, almost tripping in the process. Being reminded that her children will be spending Pessah with their father is the last thing she needs right now.
"Who's saying it's their fault?!" she fumes.
"By not coming with them to the Seder, you're punishing everyone - including me," Mili accuses.
"Including you?" Galia gasps, stopping in the middle of the throng. "How in the world am I punishing you, of all people?"
"By leaving me to do all the work," Mili states matter-of-factly, marching past her sister with determination, as though she is the only one of the two actually focused on the task at hand.
"What work?" Galia groans, running to catch up to her sister. "Mom never lets us lift a finger, even when we beg, so she can complain about it afterwards."
"The work of having to make sure everybody at the Seder is having a good time," Mili says, as though only an idiot wouldn't have understood at the outset.
"So don't do it, then," Galia says. "It's not your responsibility."
"That's easy for you to say," Mili repeats, walking into the Michal Negrin shop and fondling a necklace. "You're not going to be there."
"Come with me, then," Galia repeats, this time meaning it with all her heart. There's no way she's going to be able to enjoy herself in Crete carrying all this guilt.
"I can't," Mili wails, placing the necklace on the counter and taking out her credit card. "I don't have an excuse."
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