A Room With a View

Hayyai Sarah — Genesis 23:1-25:18

By Daniel M. Jaffe

Published November 17, 2006, issue of November 17, 2006.
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‘Your parents bought us burial plots beside theirs?” Cassie brings hand to face in disbelief. “Without asking us first? Who buys someone burial plots without asking first?”

“You know how traditional they were, honey,” Zach says in a nonchalant tone. “They wanted to get a little Cave of Machpelah action going for our family. Like Abraham and the other patriarchs. It’s all described in Hayyei Sarah, in case you need — ”

“I’m familiar with the Torah portion and the history of patriarchs and matriarchs, thank you very much. But, our suburban Cherry Hill isn’t exactly the land of Canaan. And no disrespect, but your parents were not exactly Abraham and Sarah.”

“They were very family-oriented people. It’s a crime to want their only son beside them for all eternity?”

“It’s my eternity, too.”

“That’s why they bought you a plot. They didn’t forget you.”

“Mazel tov to me.”

“Would it be so terrible to spend eternity beside my folks? They always treated you well — birthday cards, Hanukkah presents, only a few criticisms of your weight and hair style now and then, which, to tell you the truth —”

“How long have you known about this? About the plots?”

“Look, you don’t like the idea — fine! We’ll sell the plots and force my parents to spend eternity lying with strangers.”

“Your mother might like that.”

Zach looks at her with suspicion. “What are you insinuating?”

“Your mother often complained about not getting out enough and meeting people.”

“It’s not like we’ll have the option of being buried beside your social-butterfly parents.”

“It was my father’s right to be cremated and sprinkled over his favorite golf course! And it’s Mom’s right to follow suit when her time comes. It’s still ‘dust to dust,’ just a different route, that’s all. Their bodies — their prerogative.”

“Their souls will never be resurrected when the messiah comes.”

“Superst —” Cassie stops. She notices the new worry lines extending from the corners of Zach’s eyes. She takes his hand. “Zach, last week you went to the doctor and now you’re talking burial.” She searches his eyes, feels his hand tug as if to pull away, but she won’t let go. “You said everything was fine.”

“I didn’t want to worry you. So, my PSA’s a little higher than usual. The doctor says to come back in six months and we’ll check again.”

“You didn’t tell me.”

“I can worry enough for two people.”

“He’s a good doctor, Zach. Thanks to him, I only needed a lumpectomy. Six years and I’m still fine.”

“I know. But just in case. We should talk about…burial…just in case.”

She bites her tongue hard.

He kisses her on the cheek, puts his arm around her shoulder. “I should have told you about the plots a long time ago. I’m sorry. I was afraid you’d be upset.” “They bought us the plots after my father died, didn’t they?”

He nods. “Right after they heard he was cremated.”

“I see. They were afraid I wouldn’t bury you in the traditional way… assuming you go first.”

“Safe assumption,” he says, smiling, “with all the grief you give me.”

“Zach, just because I eat shrimp in restaurants and go to the mall while you’re at shul doesn’t mean I’ll ignore burial traditions. Didn’t I say Kaddish for my father? Don’t I light yahrzeit candles?”

“You said Kaddish for one week, not 11 months. You never go to Yizkor services.”

“Daddy wouldn’t have wanted me to do those things. I’m honoring his soul by mourning the way he’d have wished. And I’ll do that for you. However you wish.” She looks up to the ceiling. “You hear that?” she says, raising her voice. “Your son’s going to get a white shroud and a pine box in the ground. Not so much as a metal nail in sight.… And right next to you.”

“Thank you,” Zach says.

“And I’ll arrange it so that when my time comes, I’ll lie down beside you and give the worms a double feast.” “You’re such a romantic.”

“We’ll lie there together forever,” she says.

“Until we’re resurrected together,” he says.

She shrugs.

“You’ll love it, Cassie, I promise. On a sunny hill, in the shadow of an oak tree with a view of a pond.”

“A view? Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Who could turn down a room with a view?”

Daniel M. Jaffe is a fiction writer and essayist living in Santa Barbara, Calif.






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