On the other side of the door

Rid­ing a wed­ding day rol­lar-coaster cri­sis

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • ABI­GAIL KLEIN LEICHMAN

We don’t know much about Margie ex­cept for one firm fact: She does not want to get mar­ried. At least not now, not on the very day that 500 guests are ex­pected at her wed­ding.

“‘Not get­ting mar­ried. Not get­ting mar­ried. Not get­ting mar­ried,’ she re­cited in a flat, al­most bored voice that sounded ex­tremely dis­tant and neb­u­lous, like the fi­nal va­pors of a scented clean­ing spray,” the au­thor of this de­light­ful novella in­forms us on the open­ing page.

Those words are spo­ken from be­hind the locked door be­hind which Margie has fled. As the clock ticks down to­ward the planned wed­ding hour, she is not heard from again ex­cept in the cryp­tic form of a Leah Gold­berg poem about a prodi­gal daugh­ter that she scrib­bles on a piece of pa­per and slips un­der the door.

No, we don’t know much about Margie and we will never find out what drove her into the room. But the story is re­ally less about Margie and more about the peo­ple on the other side of the locked door.

About them, we learn a great deal by their re­ac­tions to the wed­ding-day cri­sis un­fold­ing in the mod­est Is­raeli apart­ment of Margie’s wid­owed mother, Na­dia.

Matti, the groom-to-be, “tried to ig­nore the el­e­va­tor loaded with dark dis­tress climb­ing up in­side him, from the pit of his stom­ach to his neck.”

Pac­ing around the apart­ment wear­ing the glit­tery patent-leather wed­ding shoes Margie had made him pur­chase, against his bet­ter judg­ment, in one of the bridal shops on Dizen­goff Street in Tel Aviv, Matti pe­ri­od­i­cally begs her to open the door or at least of­fer an ex­pla­na­tion. Did Margie sud­denly re­al­ize she doesn’t love him? And, in fact, does he love her?

As the day wears on, he starts to envy his fi­ancée. “He was not jeal­ous of Margie, at the thought that she might pre­fer some­one else to him, but he was ter­ri­bly en­vi­ous of her. Like her, he longed to lock him­self be­hind a door, to put ev­ery­thing on hold .... For a mo­ment he had the urge to go back to the hall­way and beg her to open up again, but this time not to make her come out but to make her let him join her, so they could lock the door be­hind them both.”

Mean­while, Matti’s par­ents, Arieh and Peninit, show up at Na­dia’s apart­ment to help strate­gize. Both moth­ers are in a com­i­cal state of semi-dress for the wed­ding.

Peninit’s “red hair was braided into a high updo stud­ded with pearls, stretch­ing her painted eye­brows out to­ward her tem­ples, but she wore a zip-up track­suit top so as not to mess up her hair­style.”

Na­dia’s “fleshy shoul­ders... were en­cased in the tight-fit­ting, prickly lace sleeves of the light gray evening gown she had been try­ing on, at the hair­styl­ist’s re­quest, though her feet were ab­sent­mind­edly clad in plaid win­ter slip­pers with zip­pers down the front. Her dyed blond quiff perked up in sur­prise over her fore­head.”

Peninit makes a few calls and man­ages to con­nect with Ju­lia, a psy­chol­o­gist from an emer­gency ser­vice called “Re­gret­ful Brides.” Be­cause Ju­lia feels it is cru­cial to talk to Margie face-to-face, Arieh calls a pal from the Is­rael Elec­tric Cor­po­ra­tion, who sends over his pal Ad­nan from the Pales­tinian Author­ity’s elec­tri­cal com­pany, with a lad­der truck.

But Ju­lia has a fear of heights and balks at go­ing up the side of the build­ing on the truck’s flimsy lift. Who will save the day and ac­com­pany Ju­lia? That would be Ilan, the 21-year-old cross-dress­ing nephew of Na­dia, and ten­der livein care­taker of Na­dia’s con­fused old mother, “Gramsy,” in the apart­ment next door.

Gramsy pro­vides a bril­liant foil to her grand­daugh­ter. Like Margie, she is locked in­side a room – al­beit of her own mind and not in­ten­tion­ally – and when she does speak, her mean­ing tends to be ob­scure.

“She was hard of hear­ing and gen­er­ally ‘not with us,’ as Na­dia put it, and through­out all these hours of wait­ing she had sus­tained a daz­zling smile, full of the pearly white teeth in­layed by the den­tist only a week ear­lier, in honor of the wed­ding.”

Nev­er­the­less, ul­ti­mately it is Gramsy who may hold the key to un­lock­ing her grand­daugh­ter’s de­spair.

And the Bride Closed the Door, pub­lished in 2016 in He­brew, re­ceived the Is­raeli Bren­ner Prize the day be­fore au­thor Ronit Mat­alon’s death at the age of 58 the fol­low­ing year. The book was trans­lated by Jes­sica Co­hen, co-re­cip­i­ent of the 2017 Man Booker In­ter­na­tional Prize, with au­thor David Gross­man, for her trans­la­tion of Gross­man’s A Horse Walks into a Bar.

(Ilus­tra­tive photo, Eka­te­rina Anchevskay­a/Reuters)

WED­DING DAYS can be ex­plo­sive. Fire erupts from wed­ding cake at wed­ding.

AND THE BRIDE CLOSED THE DOOR By Ronit Mat­alon Trans­lated by Jes­sica Co­hen New Ves­sel Press 128 pages; $15.95

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