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 widely separated 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 for 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 rugelach 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 shocked. “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 needs 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 bull poop! 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.” I said.
“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 the 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 and 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 and said, “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, and I 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,” he said. “She is the only one of my children or grandchildren who inherited her grandmother’s spirit. You’ll be perfect together.”
Enjoying stories about 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 and give him time to forget his plan.
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. He is presently shopping for a publisher for his novel, It’s Not Easy Being Green.