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Bubbles

Naomi Raksin

I wailed. I begged. I stormed. While my parents exchanged loaded looks above my head and whispered empty, heartless platitudes like, “She’ll get over it”

Monday, May 29, 2017

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B efore everything changed, I wouldn’t have called myself a thief. No one else would have called me a thief either. And yet, there I was, walking stealthily in the shadows, taking what no longer belonged to me.

It was because of the nightmares that came after Bubbles died. They invaded my dreams, night after night, always a little bit different but also the same. Sometimes it was a herd of wild beasts, the thunder of their marching hooves echoing across the curving landscape as the vegetables cowered in their places, shriveling into themselves, trembling against their stems. Sometimes it was rain, throwing itself down in torrents, snapping the roots of the cucumbers and tomatoes, swallowing them in swirling merciless waters so when the storm stops, there is nothing left.

I’d wake up in a tangle of sheets, my hair matted to my forehead, my heart in my throat. I’d whisper into the darkness, telling myself it was just a dream, and then I’d remember that it wasn’t.

There was talk about selling the house already during shivah, during the sparse snippets of quiet time when the masses thinned enough for family members to move freely through Uncle Laizer’s living room.

“The house is old and small. Sort of sagging everywhere. We won’t get much for it,” Uncle Nachum had protested, and though I cringed at his words, I sort of sagged in relief myself.

The relief lasted for the seven days we sat on low stools and remembered Bubbles. Bubbles, who never believed she was old, who never let anyone believe she was old. Bubbles, who floated around in her flowery tichels and flowery housecoats, followed by the scent of honey and fresh-cut grass and something else no one could quite place. Bubbles, who greeted everyone on Friday afternoon with a kiss on the forehead and plastic tubs of cucumber and tomato salads and peach cobbler tucked under her arms. Oh, the love that went into those peach cobblers; almond flour for Dina who had celiac, whole wheat for Aunt Minna who liked it healthy, fat-free for Uncle Nachum who was on a diet, and sugar-free for Uncle Zev who had diabetes.

 

I never got any tubs or trays at the door. Instead, I got them at the oven. I tasted the cobblers, every last one; the almond flour and the whole wheat, the fat-free and the sugarless, right when they came out of Bubbles’s oven. I chose the vegetables with Bubbles at my side, grabbing them close to the root, twisting gently then tugging sharply, just as Bubbles taught me. I stood next to Bubbles, scouting the fresh batch of heirloom tomatoes for the juiciest ones. We’d bite into them, watching squirts of tomato juice hit the countertop. I’d slice the cucumbers then crunch into the ends, closing my eyes as my mouth filled with the taste of cucumber, only better, sweeter, more delicate than any kind you can ever buy.

“Tell me something miserable,” Bubbles would say when it was time for the onions. And sometimes I’d say, “We ran out of Cocoa Pebbles this morning,” and sometimes I wouldn’t. Sometimes I’d tell Bubbles which teachers I hated, which tests I’d failed, which girls in my class made me miserable. Which sibling had annoyed me, which parent had annoyed me, which facet of life annoyed me. Bubbles would listen with a look in her eyes that told me this was the only thing in the world that mattered and also, in the grander scheme of things, didn’t matter at all. That was Bubbles, always making the impossible seem so possible that you truly forget it was ever impossible. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Teen, Issue 38)

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