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Summer Fiction Fest

Mishpacha Contributors

Three original fiction stories

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

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Imperfect Mondays

Rikki Ehrlich
A ball is thrown into the air with a velocity of 40ft/second, its ht in feet t seconds later given by the equation y=40t-16t2. Estimate the instantaneous velocity when t=2.

Evaluate the following integral: f’(0) of f(x)=sin2(3-x)

The figure below shows the graph of f’, the derivative of a twice-differentiable function f, on the closed interval 0
I’m going to fail.

My heart pounded as I stared at the computer screen, palms clammy. I, Dafna Landy — former class valedictorian and summa cum laude graduate at a real four-year college, thank you very much — I, Dafna Landy, at age 29, am about to fail my first exam ever.

I finished the last of the calculus CLEP questions, holding my breath as I clicked the submit button. The screen went black. A scaled score of 50 was considered a passing grade… I closed my eyes, exhaled, then opened them.

Scaled Score: 49

I’d failed.

I pumped my fist in the air with a silent victory whoop.

One week earlier.

“I’m a perfectionist, that’s why,” I told Chayala. “If you can’t do it well, don’t bother doing it at all. That’s my philosophy.”

“Mine, too,” Toby agreed, observing us from the corner of my room.

“Turn left and close your mouth,” Chayala commanded, adjusting her tripod, and I obliged. I was posing as her model for her portrait-painting class, and she was maneuvering me into different positions. “I disagree, still think you should’ve stuck out the class with me, maybe you would’ve been good at it? And it’s fun, regardless.”

Chayala and I had enrolled in an art class together Tuesday evenings. I’d gone the first few sessions, taking detailed notes on the anatomy and proportions of the human skull — who knew the distance between the eyes and chin is two-thirds the length of the face? — and then quit.

“The color-mixing part killed me,” I said, moving my lips as little as possible. “One skin tone, three colors? I don’t have that kind of abstract—”

“Stop talking!”

I firmly closed my mouth.

“You’re too much of a perfectionist, Dafna, that’s your problem.”

“Me, too,” Toby said proudly. “Even worse than Dafna.”

“Seriously— stop, Dafna, don’t move!” I froze. “If your perfectionism inhibits you from trying new things….”

“You might have a point.” Toby propped her legs on my desk. “Hmmmm. What if you could be imperfect — were supposed to be imperfect, like it’s a rule — for just one thing? An exercise in imperfection, just to loosen the habit?”

“Dafna, look toward me again — no, close your mouth, I hate painting teeth — okay, great. Maybe a slight smile, no teeth, don’t look so serious — stop! Stop!” I fixed myself into position “Hold it right there, a-may-zing, okay—” She exhaled. “Done. I got like 20 pics, different angles.”


Toby straightened her legs. “Maybe only one day a week?” she continued, oblivious to our conversation. “We’ll do something deliberately wrong or imperfect, just once a week? An exercise, like Mondays only?”

“You’d purposely botch something up?” I asked incredulously.

Toby hesitated. “Chayala’s right. This perfectionism… it’s not always healthy. I’ll do it.” She paused, looking at me through narrowed eyes. “If you will.”

The challenge in her voice was unmistakable, and I narrowed my eyes back. If she could do something imperfect, then I could do it even worse. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 553)

Poor Little Girl

Esty Heller  


Together, Tatty says, an open window and ceiling fan create a draft — cross-air venfication, or something like that — and it’ll be cool. Aidy strokes the gap on her pajama top where Puppy’s eye used to be and watches shadows spin on the ceiling.

The pajamas are big and scratchy. Once, when they were brand-new with a tag, they were soft and cuddly. Elky wore them back then. She wore them for two years, and then they became Gittel’s. That’s when Puppy lost his eye.

It’s only pajamas. It’s stupid to care about them so much.

In the bed under Aidy’s bunk, something stirs.

“Gittel?” Aidy whispers.


“I can’t sleep, Gittel!”

“Count sheep.”

“But you’re also not sleeping.”

“I’m trying to.”

Aidy hugs her pillow. “Is Tuli really expelled from yeshivah?”

The bed creaks. Aidy grips the rail.

“Go to sleep,” Gittel mumbles.

“No, tell me.”

“It’s none of your business.”

“I think I saw Mommy cry.”

“I said it’s none of your business! Go to sleep.”

“I can’t, it’s so hot.”

“I know. Go take a drink.”

A drink won’t help, but she can’t sleep, so Aidy climbs down the bunk bed and pads over to the kitchen.

Tatty and Mommy are up, talking. Aidy pauses in the hallway.

“How does he even know that word, Asher, how? He’s fifteen. A kid!”

Tatty sighs. “He wanted that bein hazmanim trip so badly. He didn’t get over it yet.”

Tuli said a bad word? Which bad word? Aidy called Shoshana a stupid smelly meanie brat yesterday. Was the school going to expel her? She crouches on the floor and peeks into the kitchen. Mommy is stringing beads at the table. She’s always stringing jewelry for people. Aidy bites her nail.

“It wasn’t a normal request, Asher. Come on, you think all parents gave permission so easily? It’s not even just about money. Fifteen-year-old boys going away for three nights? I never heard of such a crazy idea in my life.”

“That’s not the point. He doesn’t want to feel different.”

“What, so we should have let him go?”


“But that’s ridiculous! It was $500, for what?”

“It’s important. You want his friends to think he’s a rachmanus?”

Mommy puts down the necklace she’s beading and pushes back her chair. Aidy holds her breath.



“We got a second cutoff notice today.”

Tatty makes a funny noise. “That’s… I hear.”

“Can we ask Shmuel for money again? We still owe him $1,000.”

“No. No, we can’t ask Shmuel. I’ll figure it out, don’t worry.” He drums his fingers on the table. “It’s— The truth is… we don’t have to worry about that.”

“What do you mean?”

“The electricity. It’s not my greatest fear right now.”

Mommy is quiet. Aidy tilts her head and squints. It’s hard to see Mommy’s face. “What are you afraid of?” Mommy asks, her voice shaky.

Tatty stands up. “Sergio.”

The room seems to freeze, and Aidy shivers. She knows Sergio. Sergio is the landlord. She doesn’t know what a landlord is, really, except that it must be a bad word — maybe the word Tuli used? — because every time Tatty says the word, Mommy’s face turns white. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 553)


Ice Cream Love  

Faigy Schonfeld


The first thing that hits her at the airport is the aroma of coffee.

The sweeping sense of it, the way the aroma soothes all the senses, strong and rich, streaking heat through the wet tingle of nerves and energy and sweat she finds on her forehead before flying.

Coffee, nerves, energy, Ellie thinks. She slows, to match her long strides with Shaya’s measured steps. Nerves. That’s for sure. And I’m not even flying.

She swallows. Nerves happen when you’re about to meet the daughter you haven’t seen in four years.

It’s barely morning outside, sky a numb gray, the night’s chill lingering on the breeze. But inside, the airport is teeming. Ellie feels it again, the tangle of nerves, over the rumble and whip of so many people and suitcases moving, moving, moving. Something heavy locks in her chest. She takes a breath and the feeling brushes against her lungs, coarse like a rope.

“Relax, Ellie,” Shaya murmurs. “This is good. Great. Rochel’s coming, with the whole family! Just relax.”

Ellie wants to wring her hands, close her eyes, sigh hard. She smiles. “Yeah.”

Two teenagers in sweats lumber past. A woman with bleached hair and watery eyes pushes a cheap plastic stroller, a few rowdy kids in braids hanging off her pants. Ellie purses her lips. Rowdy kids are never a good sign.

Especially not when they’re your own.

The thought makes her grimace. She knows… she knows she hates when parents allow their children to walk all over them. When a mother is not strong for her children.

When Rochel is not strong for her children.

She sighs, and for a moment the earthy smell of coffee mingles with the scent of dust and long-ago apple tea, the one her mother would have after a good cry. She hears the clink of spoon against Mami’s chipped mug.

Shaya nods toward a screen hanging across the arrivals terminal. “I’m going to see if they’ve landed.”

He’s edgy too, Ellie realizes. Guilt leaves an acrid trail in her stomach. Yes, Rochel’s parenting was painful to watch, but heavens, she’s learned her lesson. A strong-worded comment on a windy Pesach morning and it’s been four years since Rochel came home.

Four years.

A bar mitzvah on the other side of the family finally lured her back from Eretz Yisrael. Before Ellie had called Rochel to ask if she wanted to stay with them, she’d spent a full hour doing deep breathing exercises until she felt reasonably assured that she could stay collected.

Ellie clenches her fists around the leather strap of her shoulder bag. I’m not going to let this happen again. I’m not saying a word to Rochel, even if it kills me. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 553)

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