Although I don’t do much, relatively speaking, that doesn’t mean I feel comfortable when I watch my wife doing the housework. I suffer pangs of conscience when I face her accusing, exhausted look as she prepares food and then cleans the floor after every meal. After all, there’s no choice, she says rightfully, because the children, mainly the baby − even when he’s buckled up in his high chair next to the kitchen table − manages to scatter the rice all the way to the bedroom floor and smear the sofas with tomato sauce.
The situation becomes incomparably worse on weekends − oh God, the weekends − which are supposed to be days of rest that will recharge our batteries for another week of work. The weekends − in spite of everything, I continue to have daydreams that the day will come when I can be glued to some comedy series for adults instead of “Fireman Sam”; the weekends when I’ll just read the Friday papers in bed and relax; the weekends when I’ll be able to doze off even during the day and sink into a soothing afternoon nap with a broad smile on my face, as a book slides out of my hand.
Reading, that great true love, has become a rare commodity. Except for those isolated moments when my wife and I are seized by profound fatigue as soon as the children are in bed; except for those moments when I can’t hold a book in my hand. Sometimes I’m even ashamed, embarrassed or actually afraid if my wife catches me with a book during the day.
“Are you reading a book?” she yelled on one of the Saturdays when I asked for a cigarette break and went into my study. “You have no shame,” she said accusingly when she opened the door to the study − to which she had come on tiptoe − and caught me red- handed. “A book? On a Saturday?” I apologized that day, promising it was a one-time slip, and that I wouldn’t break the rule of no reading before dark. Occasionally I can’t restrain myself, and find myself going to the bathroom with a new book hidden in my underpants.
“Maybe you’ll finally hang up the picture?” my wife asked this past weekend, before the visit of dear friends for virtually our first dinner since the baby was born. “Maybe it will get us back into the routine,” said my wife, and I could see the hopeless look in her eyes. I love her, my wife, and recently I’ve been afraid of her, and constantly feel a need to apologize for not doing enough and for being unable to let her have the rest she needs so much. “Yes,” I said, “it really is time.”
It was a lovely painting, given to us by the friends we had invited for dinner that evening. They bought it in honor of the exhausting and successful renovation, and my wife and I thanked them sincerely, because we really liked the painting, and it’s exactly what we needed to make the living room perfect. It was the first original painting ever to have entered our home. Oil on canvas, and a pastoral village full of hope and sadness.
I’ve always wanted art, I envied those who have it. Except for children’s drawings on the refrigerator and a few framed Modigliani posters, we’ve never bought a work of art. And here it is, a large, colorful, beautiful picture, and as the interior decorator said when she examined it, “Oh, that’s exactly what you needed.” And there was no more suitable time than that Friday afternoon to hang up the picture − a job I had postponed repeatedly. It was a picture that required drilling in the wall, rivets or whatever you call them, and then a screw. I’ve never done such work, and to tell the truth, except for a rusty Leatherman I got for my 21st birthday, I have no tools in the house.
“I saw that Jonathan has one,” said my wife.
“Jonathan?” I asked in great surprise, “Jonathan has a drill?” What does that gentle art critic know about drills, I thought as I knocked with embarrassment at my neighbor’s door.
“Of course I have one,” he said with surprising pride, “I have an excellent toolbox,” he continued to tease me, generously offering to help me hang the new painting.
The art critic entered the house wearing work gloves and holding a drill like a professional. Suddenly I realized I had a great neighbor. “Hmm,” he groaned when he looked at the painting.
“What?” I said in panic, since I know nothing about art and I was afraid that the picture I had admired was considered by knowledgeable Ashkenazim to be pure kitsch that wasn’t worth the time of day. “”Isn’t it pretty?” I asked.
“It’s pretty,” he said, clearly ill at ease, and then looked at the painting closely: “An oil painting, original, it probably cost a fortune. A lovely frame, an unknown but promising artist, but ...”
“But what?” I asked worriedly.
“What’s the connection between you and Yemin Moshe?” he asked.
“Excuse me?” I replied with a lack of artistic understanding, thinking that Yemin Moshe was a style or school of painting, or whatever it’s called.
“Yemin Moshe,” said Jonathan, “don’t you see, it’s Montefiore’s Yemin Moshe.”
“What?” I replied, standing away from the painting for a moment and gazing at the pastoral neighborhood I had thought was of some village in Holland.
“The windmill,” continued Jonathan, “the red tiles, the Jerusalem stone, and the green dome; there’s no question, Montefiore would have been proud to receive such a painting.”
“And it’s considered Zionist,” I stammered, wondering what to do with the painting.
“Let’s put it this way,” he said, scratching his beard with his work gloves. “It’s an understatement to say that it would be surprising for you to give pride of place on your main wall to the first Jewish community outside the walls [of the Old City].”
“What’s the problem?” asked my wife, placing a basket of laundry on the floor, with a threatening look in her eyes.
“Yemin Moshe,” I told her, pointing to the painting.
“Expensive?” she asked Jonathan.
“It certainly looks expensive,” replied our neighbor.
“So hang it up, quickly,” she decided.
“It’s all right, it’s in memory of the Destruction of the Temple,” she said, picking up the laundry basket again.