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Willow


I’ve lived five years next door to Ira Schwartz, but we never exchanged more than a brief hello. I stopped in to check on him a few months ago, stayed for tea and cake, became addicted to stories of his late wife, Ida’s original, and contrarian views. We’ve become friends, though we belong to different generations. I’m in my twenties and he looks old enough to have passed out the cups and saucers at the Boston Tea Party.

We hadn’t seen each other in a few days, and he beamed when he saw me. “Hello, Spencer, don’t just stand there. Come in. Come in. I got some blueberry rugelachs that are to die for.”

“Stop feeding me, Ira. I have enough trouble fighting the Covid fifteen.”

“Nonsense. Everyone needs something sweet from time to time.” Arguing was useless. Nothing stops Ira from force feeding a guest. I followed him into his kitchen and sat at the yellow Formica dinette table while he bustled, boiling water, and laying out pastries. He settled across from me but refused to engage in conversation until I bit into the pastry. “Aren’t they fabulous, Spencer?” He asked. “Yes, they are, Ira.” A smile spread across the ridges of his weathered face, like sun rays over a mountain range. “Good! Good! Blueberry rugelach were always Ida’s favorite and brought out her most interesting opinions. I’ll never forget the last time we had them together.”

“Ira,” she said, “I hate to say it, but the Almighty doesn’t respect women.” I was stunned. “You can’t say such things about the Master of the Universe, Ida.” 

“Why not? I’ve thought about it and it’s the only plausible conclusion. When you read the Bible, Ira, does the Almighty ever talk to a woman? No! He only talks to men. Let’s them mansplain to us what he said. If he has to say something to a woman, he sends an angel to do the talking,” She took a deep breath, her cheeks aflame, her chocolate eyes blazing with righteous indignation, “and since we’re talking of angels, Ira, why are they all, men? Not a woman amongst them; even in heaven we’re second-class citizens. You think it’s hard to break the glass ceiling, Ira? Try breaking the celestial one.” I was treading on dangerous territory, feared breaking in when Ida was cresting a wave of righteous indignation, but felt I needed to stop her before she went too far, and blasphemed. “Ida, the sages say angels are both male and female.” She dismissed me with a wave of her hand. “I don’t care what the sages say, Ira. It’s bullpoop! If what they said was true, why do they always have men’s names, like Michael or Gabriel? Even the fallen angel, Lucifer, is a man. Why aren’t there any angels named Shirley or Joanne?”

“She had something there, Ira.”

“Of course, she did. She wasn’t just a pretty face. Don’t nibble at the rugelach Spencer. Ida always said eating pastry is like having sex; the people who get the most pleasure from both don’t phumph around. They commit to the act; don’t ruin it by worrying about consequences.” I blushed, unprepared for what a woman my Grammie’s age thought about the best way to enjoy sex. It was time to switch to safer ground. “So how did it end, Ira?” I asked.  

“How did it end? I caught her hand in mid angry wave, kissed it. Told her I’d always assumed the Almighty was infallible, but she was right. The Master of the Universe had an occasional blind spot, and I admired her courage for calling him out.” He sighed. “I lost my compass when she died, Spencer.” Two large tears rolled down his cheeks, “without her, I’m never sure of the right way.” He looked at me, “how old are you, Spencer? Twenty-five?” 

“Twenty-eight, Ira. Why do you ask?” 

“Twenty-eight!” He shook his head, “and you’re wandering through life alone, deprived of the love and guidance of some wonderful woman.” I’d already heard the same criticism from Mother, didn’t need a refresher, “I’m not lucky like you Ira, haven’t yet met my Ida.” A broad smile spread across his wrinkled face. “You must meet my granddaughter, Willow, Spencer. She is the only one of my children or grandchildren who inherited her grandmother’s spirit. You’ll be perfect together.

Enjoying stories of Ida’s original world view differed from dealing with her live avatar. I grew up with women bred for restraint, had no experience or desire to cope with someone as fierce as Ida. It was time to leave, escape before he ensnared me in his good intentions. I glanced at my watch. “I’m sorry, but I must run. Thanks for the rugelach, Ira, they’re delicious. I’ll see you soon.” The wrinkles on his face drooped with disappointment like melting wax on a candle, but he was gracious and accompanied me to the door. “Let me know when you’re free, Spencer. I’ll invite Willow. You’ll love her.” I doubted it, planned to avoid Ira for a few weeks, give him time to forget his plan.

It was Christmas Eve. I didn’t go home for the holidays; Mother and Father traded the harsh New England winter for a cruise in the Caribbean. Sprawled on the couch, I sipped single malt scotch, surfed TV channels, looked for anything not filled with cloying Christmas cheer, remembered I hadn’t visited Ira for a while. I’d been avoiding him since he got the idea of fixing me up with his granddaughter. I hoped enough time had elapsed for him to forget all about it. An afternoon of tea, pastry, and reminiscences of Ida’s unique world view was just what I needed.

I knocked on his door, but instead of Ira, I saw a five-foot-tall bundle of exuberant curves tightly squeezed into a thigh-high riot of primary colors. She looked me over with a pair of enormous brown eyes peeking out from under an unbridled mop of curly black hair. “You must be Spencer,” she said “Grandpa will be so happy. He hasn’t seen you in weeks, worried there was something wrong with you.”

“I’ve been busy, so much work this time of year.” I mumbled. 

“It doesn’t matter. Come on in. You’re just in time to distract him, give him someone else to stuff with food. I swear one more Danish and I’ll bust out of this dress.” I followed her into the kitchen, wondering how she busted into it. Ira’s eyes lit up when he saw me.

        “Spencer, you couldn’t have come at a better time. Willow is here.” He clapped his hands. “It’s an omen. You’re meant for each other.” I looked down, embarrassed. Willow, who wasn’t privy to the old man’s matchmaking plans, turned towards him, eyes blazing. “What’s this we’re meant for each other stuff, grandpa?” She glared at him. “Did Mom make you do it? I’ll kill her!” He lifted his hands. “Calm down, Willow. I never listen to your mother. You and Spencer are perfect for each other because you’re the best people I know.”

Willow shook her unruly mop and turned towards me. “Did you know about this?” I looked at the floor, “Yes, but I paid it no mind, hoped Ira would forget.” She put her hands on her hips. “Why? Did you think I wouldn’t be good enough for you?”

“I never met you, Willow. I had no opinion, but like you, I’m not interested in being fixed up.” Willow crossed her arms over her ample bosom. “You needn’t worry Spencer, there’s no danger of you being saddled with me. You’re not my type; way too white bread.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant by white bread, but sensed it wasn’t good. Miffed, I planned to assure her I didn’t care for fruitcake, even during Christmas season, but Ira intervened. “Children, please don’t fight. Sit down, have a Danish, drink some tea, get to know each other.”

“Grandpa!” Willow cried out, but Ira shushed her. “Humor an old man, Willow. All I’m asking is a half hour. That’s not much.” Willow shrugged, looked at me. “I can never say no to Grandpa, but you don’t have to. Can you handle a half hour with me?” I smiled. “Piece of cake, Willow. I love Ira too, and if he’s right and you’re as interesting as your grandmother, the half hour will end too soon.” Willow looked startled. “You think being like Grandma is a good thing? Most people, other than Grandpa and me, thought she was too much; a pain in the ass.”

“The people who thought that had closed minds, Willow.”

She smiled, “Good on you Spencer.” She was something, wasn’t she? I just wish she’d focused on the plight of women now instead of dwelling on the past. Who cares that God only spoke to men two thousand years ago? He can keep doing that, as long as he tells them to stop being dicks and oppressing women.”

“What oppression are you talking about?” I asked.

“What oppression?” She lifted her eyes heavenward, buried her hands in her voluminous curls, shook her head, irritation and disbelief competing for predominance on her face. “What oppression? Where do I start? OK! Let’s skip pay inequality, the glass ceiling, sexual harassment, and hundreds more. I’ll pick one you can relate to.” She looked me in the eye. “Let’s say we hooked up Spencer.” I felt my face turn bright red, and though I couldn’t see it, knew the heat racing through my body was spreading the color from ears to toes. “We just met Willow.” I croaked.

“I know. So don’t get your hopes up. It’s not gonna happen.”

“Of course. I knew you were talking hypothetically.” 

“Good, but let’s imagine we had sex. You turned out to be competent in bed and we both had a good time. A month later, I find out I’m pregnant, but I’m not ready to become a mother. What can I do? The Supreme Court overturned Roe and I live in Texas where I’m not allowed to have an abortion. You’re free, but I’m stuck. Don’t you think such laws passed by men oppress women?” 

Ira was right. Willow was Ida reincarnated. Like her grandmother, she forced into the light what others found convenient not to notice. “You’re right, Willow. This is outrageous! I never thought about it that way before.”

“Of course you didn’t. You’re a man and no one is oppressing you. Well, now you know, what are you going to do about it?”

“I’m not sure, but I’m appalled, and agree this must stop.”

Willow cocked her head, looked me over. “You doing anything tonight, Spencer?” 

“No. Nothing special. Why do you ask?”

“I’m going to a party with some friends. You could tag along if you got nothing better.”

“A Christmas party?”

“No! A winter solstice celebration.”

“You’re a Wiccan?”

“Yeah! You got a problem with that, Spencer?”

“No! No! Why should I? I know nothing about Wicca, except for sensational dribs and drabs I read in the papers.”

“Forget that bullshit, Spencer. It’s designed to titillate the masses. We don’t cast spells or dance naked around a bonfire. I became Wicca because, unlike the patriarchal religions, its deities--the Goddess and the horned God—are equal. So, you wanna come?” 

          Anything was better than returning to my couch and Christmas specials. “Sure. Yes. What time should I be ready?”  

         “After we finish visiting with my sweet grandpa.” She bent down and kissed his bald pate. “We’ll stop at your place so you can change.” 

“Is it formal? Do I need a suit and tie?” Willow burst out laughing. “Suit and tie! You’re killing me, Spencer. No, I want you out of these boojie clothes. They make you look like every other preppie clone.” 

She came over, put her hands on my shoulders. Up close I smelled her exotic perfume, which, unlike Mother’s Chanel No.5, aroused rather than calmed the senses. I felt heat radiate from her hands, and parts of my body gained a mind of their own. She got even closer, looked up at me. “You’re kind of cute Spencer, far better than you appear at first glance. Let’s finish this cup of tea and go rummage through your closet. See if we can find something that isn’t J. Crew or Abercrombie and Fitch.”

“OK.” She said she didn’t cast spells, but she’d taken control of my compass, and it pointed due Willow. 


Michael Fryd lives and writes in Philadelphia. Born in Poland, he spent his childhood in Paris before moving to New York at age 15. He earned a PhD. from NYU in Chemistry and later an EdD. in Group Behavior from Temple University. After long and successful corporate and academic careers, he returned to his early passion, writing. Michael's short fiction has been published in Intrinsick, Easy Street, Page and Spine, Evening Street Press, and UK Short Humor. His memoir of surviving the Holocaust, My War and You're Welcome to It (renamed My Mother's War), was a semi-finalist in the 2014 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition in Creative Non-Fiction and is now published by Story Sanctum books and available on Amazon. He is presently shopping for a publisher for his novel, It’s Not Easy Being Green.


Photo credit: Krin Van Tatenhove via Midjourney AI

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