Excerpt­ed from The Two-Fam­i­ly House by Lyn­da Cohen Loigman

The domes­tic, fem­i­nine scene unfold­ing before Mort did noth­ing to improve his spir­its. Upstairs, in his brother’s apart­ment, sub­stan­tial prepa­ra­tions were being made. Not just the brush­ing of hair and the tying of sash­es. Seri­ous words were being spo­ken from man to man, from father to son. Mort pushed away his break­fast plate and frowned.

Thir­ty min­utes before they were sup­posed to leave, there was a thud­ding of foot­steps down the stairs and a quick knock on the door. Got to go! See you there!” Abe’s voice rang with excite­ment. Mort had assumed they would all walk over to the syn­a­gogue togeth­er. What do they need to get there so ear­ly for?” he grum­bled at his wife. Know­ing bet­ter than to defend her broth­er-in-law, Rose shrugged her shoul­ders. I don’t know,” she answered.

Mort had been dread­ing this day, the day of his nephew’s bar mitz­vah, for months. In the weeks lead­ing up to it, the increased noise and activ­i­ty of his brother’s fam­i­ly over­head agi­tat­ed him. He found him­self imag­in­ing dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios to go with every thud and thump he heard. Was Abe’s wife, Helen, test­ing out a new cake recipe? Was his nephew Har­ry try­ing on his new suit? What were the oth­er boys laugh­ing about? Mort tor­tured him­self in this man­ner for sev­er­al weeks. He was a sharp, thin man, and in the month before the bar mitz­vah he had lost at least ten pounds. His increas­ing­ly angu­lar appear­ance alarmed his wife, but every­one else was too busy to notice.

Rose had been up ear­li­er than usu­al that morn­ing to make sure the girls were ready on time. Hair rib­bons were neat­ened and his three daugh­ters, clad in match­ing yel­low dress­es, were lined up in front of him after break­fast. They’re like a row of spring daf­fodils,” Rose entreat­ed. Don’t you think so?”

Mort looked up, but he was an unap­pre­cia­tive audi­ence. Judith was almost twelve and seemed too old for match­ing dress­es. She was fid­get­ing in the line, anx­ious to get back to the book she had been forced to leave on the kitchen table. Every week, Mort insist­ed that Judith present him with her cho­sen pile of library books for approval. Every week, Judith asked Mort if he want­ed to read one of her books too, so they could dis­cuss it. Every week, he declined.

Mimi, the pret­ti­est of the three, was the most com­fort­able on dis­play. She was only eight, but already she car­ried her­self with a styl­ish grace that Mort found unfa­mil­iar. Mort thought she looked the most like Rose. Mimi was for­ev­er mak­ing cards for friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers with pen­cils and crayons that she left all over the house. Last year, she found her father’s card in the kitchen trash pail the morn­ing after his birth­day. She ran cry­ing to him with it, wav­ing it in her hand and ask­ing why he had thrown it away. My birth­day is over,” he explained. I don’t need it anymore.”

Dinah, the baby of the fam­i­ly, had the most trou­ble keep­ing qui­et dur­ing Mort’s inspec­tion. She was only five, and though she had been taught not to ask her father too many ques­tions, she couldn’t seem to help her­self. What’s your favorite col­or?” she blurt­ed out, eyes wide with antic­i­pa­tion. Mimi, hop­ing the answer might give her some insight regard­ing the design of next year’s birth­day card, seemed eager for the reply. But the response was of no help. I don’t have one,” Mort said.

After Mort nod­ded his silent endorse­ment of the girls’ appear­ance, the fam­i­ly was ready to go. He usu­al­ly took the lead dur­ing out­ings like these, leav­ing every­one else strug­gling to match his quick strides. The girls knew bet­ter than to try to walk along­side him. Even Dinah had stopped try­ing to hold his hand years ago. Instead, they had tak­en to walk­ing sin­gle file on fam­i­ly out­ings, like unhap­py ducks in a sto­ry­book, with Rose bring­ing up the rear.

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Copy­right © 2015 by Lyn­da Cohen Loigman. Reprint­ed with per­mis­sion from St. Mar­t­in’s Press.

Relat­ed Content:

Lyn­da Cohen Loigman is the author of The Matchmaker’s Gift, The Wartime Sis­ters, and The Two-Fam­i­ly House. She received a B.A. in Eng­lish and Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture from Har­vard Col­lege and a J.D. from Colum­bia Law School. She grew up in Long­mead­ow, MA, and now lives in New York.