‘Deborah’

The following is an excerpt from Kreitman’s novel, which will be rereleased September 1 from The Feminist Press.

Next Deborah had to pay a long succession of calls on her dressmaker and tailor. They took her measure and gave her innumerable fittings. Mechanically Deborah did all they asked her to do; she no longer consulted her own wishes and had lost all her will power. So she was going to get married after all, and yet it was sheer madness! If she were to decline even now, what could her parents do to her? And even supposing no one would accept her as a nursemaid, nor yet as a servant, could she not remain as she was and cling to her home? Thus the trend of Deborah’s thoughts as she stood in front of the mirror, while the dressmaker adjusted the semi-finished clothes on her living dummy, putting pins in and taking them out again, undoing seams and sewing them up again, basting and chalking and talking. Deborah lifted her arm, lowered it, rested her foot there, rested it here: she obeyed orders.

“Dear me, you will be a radiant bride, to be sure!” the dressmaker hissed her flattery at Deborah from between clenched teeth, for she had a pin in her mouth.

“So I’m going to be radiant, am I?” said Deborah, with only a hazy notion as to why she had spoken.

“Bless your little soul, of course you will! Now just have a good look at yourself in that mirror. Why, you look like a born princess. Honestly, a queen at her best couldn’t look any prettier. I hear you’re going to settle in Germany. Am I right?”

“Belgium!” Deborah corrected her.

“Go on! Isn’t Belgium somewhere in Germany?”

“No, of course it isn’t.” Deborah smiled.

There was nothing to smile at, as far as the dressmaker could see. One was entitled to ask a question and receive a polite answer. All the same, it was not policy to argue the point with a client.

“Surprising your parents should let you go that far,” the dressmaker resumed, taking the pin out of her mouth.

Deborah was silent. All at once she felt she was going to tear off the half-finished frock, dash it to the ground, and herself fall to the ground weeping and tearing her hair. She forced back a tear which sparkled in a corner of her eye for a fleeting instant, and then she turned her right shoulder towards the mirror (as requested by the dressmaker).

“Must be a love match, that’s what it is,” the dressmaker went on, trying to draw her client into conversation. Finding that she could get no information, she formed her own conclusions. “Nowadays parents have absolutely no control over their children. I hope you won’t think I’ve been putting my nose in where it’s not wanted, only knowing your father was a Rabbi, it seemed rather funny he should allow you to go away and live in Germany.”

“Shut up and go to hell! Fool, idiot!” Deborah fumed in her thoughts. “Please hurry up!” she said aloud, by way of reply.

The dressmaker said not another word, but she was most curious to know how the lovers had first met; she was simply burning with anxiety to find out. Some girls had all the luck. Here was a slip of a girl, there was not much to her, really, and yet she had her love affair and was going abroad to marry him. Probably he was of the passionate type. Some girls had all the luck. Others, like herself, had no luck at all.

Deborah’s reserve of patience finally gave out. As each passing day brought her closer to the impending wedding, her nerves became more and more inflamed. Now at last she began to protest, to entreat her parents to break off the engagement, or at least to arrange for her to meet the man she was supposed to marry.

“What’s that? You want to put us to shame now that the wedding is only a few days off and all the arrangements have been made and everybody knows? Stuff and nonsense!”

At last she quieted down; she ceased tormenting herself; her strength deserted her, and she took to her bed with a nervous breakdown. The home was plunged into chaos and utter despair. Raizela stooped like an old woman as she went about her work. She fumbled all she did; everything she touched slipped through her fingers. And there was more to be done now than ever. Michael became her right hand, and he did for the remaining crockery. Reb Avram Ber walked about like a man in a dream: he was in a continual state of alarm lest Reb Baruch Laib, Deborah’s prospective father-in-law, should get to know how things were.

But they succeeded in hushing the matter up (for which the Lord be praised!). The doctor, without actually saying so in as many words, led Reb Baruch Laib to believe that Deborah was indisposed with a feverish cold. After a while the doctor reached the decision that his patient’s nervous disease was not to be cured by keeping her in bed. On the contrary, she must get up, take plenty of fresh air, mingle with the crowd, shun solitude of any kind, and — very important this — she must avoid dwelling on any painful thoughts which might be afflicting her; plenty of fruit was what she wanted, plenty of vegetables — and most important, said the doctor, pulling out his watch — on no account must she worry. In his opinion her indisposition was due to some trying experience, such as would leave a deep impression on a highly-strung adolescent mind. That was why she must do everything within her power to banish foreboding thoughts. Her condition did not give rise to anxiety; the illness could now be nipped in the bud; but to do so, it was essential that his advice be acted upon rigorously, and then he went on to give the most unprofessional sort of advice, the sort that left one flabbergasted, coming as it did from a medical man… .

Some weeks passed. Deborah regained the merest semblance of a young, healthy woman. This, therefore, was the appropriate moment to marry her off. There had been several postponements of the wedding, but the happy event could not be put off forever.

“Do you mean to say you’re worrying about what the doctor said? Can’t you see the man’s crazy?” said Reb Zalman at the family conference, scornfully shrugging his shoulders and flinging out his hands in mock despair.

Raizela and Reb Avram Ber were both obliged to acknowledge that the doctor was as mad as a hatter. Obviously no sane man would say to a bride, who had completed all her arrangements for the wedding and had her trousseau all ready, that she must find a job as a saleslady so as to keep her mind occupied, and if the man who said such things — a doctor at that — was not sane, clearly he was insane.

“Goyim will be Goyim!” said Reb Zalman.

Again Reb Avram Ber and Raizela were both obliged to acknowledge that Goyim will be Goyim.

“Have you ever heard of such a thing? Here’s a girl on the threshold of her married life, with all her life before her, and some silly fool of a doctor comes along and has the impertinence to tell her to… . Why, it’s monstrous! Monstrous! As if we wanted his advice! A doctor’s job is to give you medicine and pills,” said Reb Zalman, “and if we stand in need of advice, we shall know where to get it: we’ll go and consult a Tsadik!”

“You’re quite right. And, please God, she will be all the better for an early marriage.”

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‘Deborah’

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