Robert H. Sachs
The puckered brow, the perpetual grimace: To see Cogan is to see his pain. It’s as if he carries on his back, the woes of everyone in the neighborhood. He walks with hunched shoulders; head down, looking much older than his forty years. But his dreams are the dreams of a king, dreams as wonderful as Jacob’s dream of a stairway to heaven. Cogan dreams of a wife, a family, a house with a garden. He dreams most of all of a special seat at shul, a seat reserved for the holy and the wise.
He never works on the Sabbath. Every Saturday, he walks to the synagogue and takes his usual seat on the left side, near the middle. He nods soberly to the other regulars, puts on his talit, the threadbare prayer shawl his father brought with him from Warsaw in 1906, and opens his prayer book.
This Shabbat morning, under the heavy, low clouds of an early Chicago spring, Cogan is sitting in the synagogue and, as he looks up from his prayer book, he notices a young woman—someone he’s not seen before—standing on the bema with the rabbi. He finds himself staring at her during most of the service. He allows himself to daydream. Often as he sits in shul he notices the married congregants. The loving look, the casual touch, the companionship of even the oldest couples. He’s not naïve; he remembers his mother’s dictum: Because we don’t know, it’s easy to see others as happy.
He sees and hears during the workweek from his customers that marriage is not always a bed of roses. But still, he thinks, life as a couple must be better than life alone. True, he never married, but he wouldn’t put it that way—he’d say he hasn’t married yet. And so he daydreams that a woman like this—the beautiful young woman who stands now next to the rabbi—could be interested in him. After the reading of the Torah, the rabbi introduces the woman as a newly converted Jew, and recites a prayer to welcome her into the family of Israel.
“Cogan,” a friend whispers, “put your tongue back in your mouth. You’re drooling.” Embarrassed, Cogan gives the man a dark look, but then forces a smile. He sells debit life insurance and is thus not in a position to alienate anyone. When he hears a couple in the neighborhood has had a baby, he drops by their apartment and talks to them about the benefits of life insurance for their newborn. Just a quarter a week pays for a debit policy, fifty cents for double the coverage. If, God forbid, the baby should die, there would be money for the burial. It’s not just babies—about half his business is covering adults—but since the War, baby insurance has been booming. Every week he stops by to pick up the quarter or half dollar and gives his customers a paid coupon from his debit book. While he’s in the apartment building, he knocks on other doors, rings other bells. He does this six days a week and rarely takes a vacation. He’s either collecting premiums or selling new policies. And everybody wants to tell his troubles to Cogan. He’s that kind of person. He has that kind of face. Deaf mutes, the rabbi once said, would speak in the presence of Cogan.
As a boy he was not observant and had little religious training. It seemed to him back then being a Cubs fan was at least as important as being a Jew. He remembered before the Great Depression how his father would take him to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play, how he taught Cogan to keep score. “Is there anything so beautiful?” his father would say as they mounted the bleacher stairs and saw the tailored pool of green that was the outfield. More than once they would scream their support for a shortstop who dove to his right, caught the ball barehanded on the first hop and then, on his knees, threw to first for the out. “That, Herman, is more thrilling than a hundred sermons. That,” his father would invariably conclude, “is true grace.”
But after the Depression, after he came back from the War, Cogan found himself drawn to the rituals as well as the culture of his inherited religion. He studied Hebrew, attended services regularly, and became devoted to his synagogue. Now, during the long workweek, he looks forward to Shabbat morning services as he once looked forward to a double header. Cogan knew his father was not happy about the change. He wanted his son to be an American, and to him that meant giving up the ways of the Old World. He would have thrown his talit overboard on the voyage to America, but his wife insisted it be kept for the next generation. As anxious as he was to have his son assimilate into the new culture, he nonetheless warned him against trusting people outside the faith. And he didn’t apologize for the inconsistency. “Deal with them,” he often said, “but cut the cards.”
At the sweet table after services, Cogan finds himself standing next to the new Jew.
“Mazel tov,” he says, extending his hand, worried that she senses his excitement. “Herman Cogan.”
“Thanks, Herman” she says. “Grace Dolan.” He has to admit the sound of his first name from the lips of Grace Dolan both startles and pleases him. Almost no one here calls him Herman.
“Try the rugelach,” he says.
On the walk home, he tells himself a convert is just as much a Jew as one born into the faith. That, after all, is the law of his religion. Still, he thinks, this is a woman who, until recently, prayed to Jesus. She probably wore a cross on a necklace, dressed up for Easter. He’s conditioned to keep his distance, but such beautiful eyes, such a lovely face.
“Ach,” he moans out loud. “What am I thinking? What am I doing to myself? The woman said hello, nothing more, and I’m already criticizing her religious background.”
The following Saturday, Cogan dresses with unusual care—a freshly pressed white shirt, shoes shined. He sees Grace sitting several rows in front of him in the synagogue, and while he attempts to pay attention to the service, he concedes to himself that his thoughts are more worldly than spiritual. At the conclusion of the service, he says Shabbat shalom to her. She smiles and returns the greeting. Later, alone with the rabbi, he asks about her.
“Ah, Cogan, I thought perhaps you’d notice,” the rabbi says, smiling. “A billing clerk at a publishing house downtown. Divorced, with two small children.”
“So young looking,” Cogan says, already blushing under the growing grin of the rabbi.
“Mid-thirties. A serious woman,” the rabbi says, putting his arm on Cogan’s shoulder. “Already a regular at the Monday morning minyan,” he adds, knowing Cogan’s dislike of the daily morning service. Cogan views it as a social hour, with nobody paying attention to the prayers. To sit and kibitz? Who needs it? he asks himself. The service starts at seven, which is another reason not to like it. Cogan usually gets up at seven, and to make the minyan, he’d have to get up an hour earlier.
On Monday, after completing his rounds, Cogan makes his usual stop at Stern’s drugstore.
“Nu?” asks Stern, the druggist, putting a glass of water and two Alka-Seltzer tablets on the counter in front of Cogan. Always Alka-Seltzer. Cogan smiles at how predictable his life has become. Stern always ready with the Alka-Seltzer, his mother always ready with the pot roast on Friday nights, the same seat in the synagogue every Shabbat morning. One day, perhaps he’ll shock them, do the unexpected.
“Glatstein’s got the diabetes,” Cogan says, feeding the druggist’s appetite for news, while he weighs the wisdom of seeking advice from him about Grace. He carefully unwraps the tablets and drops them in the glass, watching as they sink to the bottom and begin to dissolve.
“Glatstein? Thin as a rail, stands all day, eats only grass?” Stern says putting his elbows on the counter and leaning in. “You wouldn’t guess.”
“Still,” groans Cogan. The Alka-Seltzer tablets dance one last time in the fizz before disappearing. He takes a sip. “And Sapinsky. You heard his wife left him?”
“Muriel left Sapinsky?”
“Muriel walks in the store one day, sees nobody. She goes in the back, and there is Sapinsky with the counter girl, humping to beat the band. Muriel gives a geshray and faints. She’s got herself a lawyer, a real bulldog, I hear. Sapinsky could lose the store. More, I can’t tell you.”
But of course, there is more. Cogan could tell him about Grace. Surely, he thinks, a man like Stern would know what to do next. But he’s never had that kind of conversation with Stern or with anyone else for that matter. So he says nothing.
“And the counter girl?” Stern says. “Send her over here, I can use a good assistant.” Cogan tries to smile at the joke. Tell Stern a sad story and he finds what’s funny, Cogan thinks—a gift. He admires Stern’s ready smile. This short, plump man with thick gray tufts of hair over each ear, is a happy man, a family man, thinks Cogan. He downs the rest of his Alka-Seltzer before it turns flat, puts his briefcase on the counter, opens it and looks through some papers. Touching the stiff leather briefcase reminds Cogan of his father, who got the case free in the mid-Twenties for opening a bank account. The bank failed and the family savings were wiped out, but the briefcase, now Cogan’s, survives.
“And you?” Stern asks. “You look pale. Eating?”
“I eat. I eat,” he says softly, wondering if now is his chance to say something about Grace. But he shoves his empty glass toward Stern, says goodbye and heads for his apartment. In his one room efficiency above Foster’s Candy Store, he puts his briefcase in the closet, sits down heavily in the upholstered armchair his mother gave him, and sighs. Most of the people he grew up with are married, have families. Here he is, as good as any of them, alone. When did I make such a choice? he asks. What was I thinking? There have been women, dates, but never that spark. “I’m too tied up in the business,” he once told Stern. But he wasn’t convincing, even to himself. Everyone’s tied up in business, everyone’s busy. And yet... And yet at forty, he’s far from being an old man. Why despair? he asks himself.
“Smile,” Stern once told him. “You’re a good looking man. Don’t hide it behind a frown.” Cogan is reminded of Grace’s smile last Shabbat when she said hello. See, he thinks, I got a smile from her. I’m as good as any of them. Maybe better.
The following Monday at the morning minyan Grace is there along with ten men. Cogan sees some of them hovering over her, men who haven’t smiled since VJ Day, grinning from one gnarled ear to the other. “Good morning, Grace.” “How are you, Grace?” “Here, use my book, Grace.” “Don’t sit there,” one says taking her arm, “Friedman sits there. Sit over here.” Cogan stands in the back, watching. Let them make fools of themselves,he thinks.
After the service, in the boardroom, the men look through the Tribune, toast bagels, sip coffee and argue politics. Big shots, Meet-the-Pressniks, Cogan thinks. Grace pours herself a cup of coffee and says, “Hello, Herman.” Nine heads snap toward Cogan, as if they’ve spotted Moses standing before the burning bush.
“Good morning, Grace,” he says, feeling his ears turn red.
“It’s good to see you again,” she replies. Cogan smiles without meeting the open-mouthed stares of the other men.
“Herman?” he hears one of them mutter, but he ignores the comment. He’s trying to think of things to say, to prolong the conversation with Grace. This is, after all, why he went to bed early.
“You spend so much time at the synagogue,” he begins. “It’s wonderful, but how do you juggle work and family and all this?”
She laughs. “If something’s important to me, like my children or my religion, I find time.” She sips coffee from a cardboard cup. Cogan is transfixed. She is beautiful, yes, but in his eyes she is more than beautiful. There’s more to angels than wings, he thinks. She makes him tingle. Her glow brightens his spirit. He can’t find the words—he is, after all, a listener, not a talker.
Later, as he collects the weekly premiums, Cogan replays the encounter that morning with Grace. He finds himself smiling. He notices too that his clients are cheerful, everyone in good health and good spirits. He signs up three new families. If many of his older customers have complaints, illnesses, family arguments, visiting relatives, they’ve chosen today to be silent. By the end of the day, still feeling chipper, he stops by the drug store. The Alka-Seltzer is waiting for him, but he turns it down. “Today, Mr. Stern, a chocolate phosphate.”
On Tuesday, after extracting a promise of confidentiality, he decides to tell Stern.
“They say converts make good Jews,” Stern allows. “But I always wonder how they can completely put aside their belief in Yushkie. I mean, you’re raised thinking this guy’s the son of God, and also that he is God. And there’s this Holy Ghost business. Then all of a sudden it was a mistake? Gotta wonder.”
Cogan wonders too. He remembers the goyim he met in the army. The devout Catholics, with their “believe on Him” business. One God? Right, they’d say, the Holy Trinity. To Cogan this was mumbo-jumbo. Is it three or is it one? They were patient with him, quoted the New Testament, certain he’d see the light.
“They look at me as if I’m a slow learner,” he wrote home to his mother. “They can’t get through to me and I can’t get through to them. A Mexican standoff.”
Presumably, surely, Grace is not like them, he thinks now. She has given up all of that. She has seen the light. She’s a Jew like any other Jew. “I see her at shul,” Cogan tells Stern. “We talk. So what’s next? How do I get from here to there?”
“A movie? Dinner? Start maybe with a lunch,” Stern says working his way through the problem. “She works downtown? So meet her for lunch. What could she get? Half an hour? So you’ve invested a half hour. That’s my advice.”
He makes it sound so easy, Cogan thinks. Half an hour—what’s that, maybe two innings? Not so long. So he chances it and calls. Grace is busy. But, she says, how about Thursday?
“Yes,” he says. “It’s a date,” He decides to surprise her with a picnic lunch—tuna fish sandwiches, lettuce, tomato, potato salad, the works. Two bottles of Coca Cola. On the train downtown, he rehearses the conversation. “I thought we’d walk over to Grant Park and have a picnic.” How wonderful, she’ll say. I love picnics. You’re so sweet. He’ll tell her about his business. But he cautions himself against too much talk. Let her do the talking. Better you listen.
He sees her standing in front of the office building, and holds up the picnic basket. “Lunch,” he says. Grace smiles. The four pink sea horses in Buckingham Fountain are up and dancing in the water, throwing their manes about, the marble fish egging them on. Cars on the Outer Drive are driving in slow procession, honking their horns in a riff on And the Angels Sing, and just beyond, the deep blue water of Lake Michigan is toying with the sailboats. This is how it appears to Cogan as they cross into Grant Park.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” she says, as if reading his thoughts.
“Mmmm,” says Cogan, thinking more of her beauty than the scenery. They eat their tuna fish sandwiches as the sky reaches for a new and brighter blue. He is anxious to know Grace better, but unsure how probing he should be. “Your husband?” he ventures, wiping a spot of potato salad from the corner of his mouth.
“Gone,” she says quickly. “Out of the picture. Finito. I guess everyone makes mistakes, Herman, but mine was a doozy.”
With that, the questions come easier. He asks about her daughters, her parents, her work. She mentions her admiration for the rabbi. He tells her about his mother. They agree that mayor Kennelly has been in office too long and the city needs a change. He’s surprised at how easily he’s talking and then worries that he’s doing too much of it, asking too many questions. After the meal, he walks Grace back to her office and when he says goodbye, she invites him for dinner on Saturday. She wants him to meet her daughters.
“What do I know about little girls?” he asks Stern while unwrapping one of the Alka-Seltzer tablets.
“What does anybody know?” Stern says. “You make faces at them, get them laughing. You ask them silly questions. Ask them if they’re married. That kind of thing.”
“How could they be married?” Cogan says. “They’re five and three.”
“It’s a joke, Cogan. Kids have senses of humor. They’ll get it.”
The apartment, two doors down from a Catholic church (So close, he thinks.) is in a yellow brick, U shaped building with a nice courtyard. As he passes the church, Stern’s favorite joke pops into his head: Two Jews, Izzy and Joe, are walking past a Catholic church and they see a sign: “Convert today and receive $250.”
“I’m going in,” Joe says. “I’ll tell them I’m converting and they’ll give me $250. Easy money.” Izzy waits for him outside. An hour goes by. Two. Finally, Joe comes out of the church.
“Well?” asks Izzy. “You’ve been in there for over two hours. What happened?”
“I’ve converted,” Joe says.
“And the money?” asks Izzy. “Did they give you the $250?”
Joe looks at his friend with disgust. “Is that all you Jews think about?”
Cogan rings the bell, wondering what Grace would think of such a joke.
“What’s your name?” Katie, the older one, asks.
“That’s a funny name,” she says, pulling back behind her mother’s skirt.
“You can call me Cogan,” he tells her. “Everybody does.”
It’s not as bad as he feared. Grace makes a substantial dinner—kosher brisket, boiled potatoes, salad. He lies and tells her the brisket is as good as his mother’s. He finds the girls, all things considered, polite and well behaved. His mind races. He imagines fatherhood! That will take some getting used to. In the same breath, he chides himself for being worried about being a father. “We haven’t finished our first dinner and I’m worrying about family life?” He can see Stern, red-faced, laughing over such idiocy.
After dinner, Grace invites Cogan to take off his jacket and tie, get comfortable. She has a television set and tells him to warm it up while she puts the girls to bed. They watch Cavalcade of Stars and talk about the hydrogen bomb and Korea. Cogan mentions his admiration for President Truman – a saint since he recognized the State of Israel. He can feel the awkwardness rising in him like hackles on a frightened dog. What do I say now? Where does it go from here?
“Are you a Cubs fan,” he blurts out, with immediate regret.
“I guess,” she says. “I really don’t follow sports all that much. Do you?”
“I was raised on the Cubs. My father took me to games when I was young. Even now, I go occasionally when I can get away.” They fall silent and turn back to the television.
“I was raised Catholic,” Grace says during a commercial. “Catholic schools, the whole bit. But, you know, I never felt comfortable. After the divorce, I felt like an outsider and began searching for something.”
Cogan’s body is a knot, his hands clenched. The idea of choosing a religion, shopping around for the best one, is foreign to him. If you can choose your religion, you can choose to leave it, no? Like yanking the starting pitcher for a reliever. He wants to ask about her children: Are they still Catholic? Has she broached the idea of conversion with them? He wants to ask, but he doesn’t.
She tells him about her studies with the rabbi and how comfortable Judaism is for her. He listens, but says nothing.
When Grace fails to show up the following Monday at the morning minyan, Cogan worries. He decides to call her at work.
“Can’t talk now,” she says. “Call me at home tonight.”
He tries to tell himself nothing is wrong, but it was a different voice, a voice gone flat. Cogan moves through the remainder of his insurance rounds in a fog. When the Weintraub twins, spinsters always wanting to entertain Cogan, insist that he listen to a song they had written, he demurs, claiming lower back pain. He even bypasses the drug store on his way home. He sits on the side of his bed, the telephone in his lap, waiting. At seven, he calls.
“I was just worried,” he tells her. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Herman. It’s just...” Her voice fades, like a photo left out in the sun.
“Just?” It’s him, he thinks. Something he did. Something he said. Something that made her realize he was not the man for her, that he wasn’t good enough.
“We had such a wonderful time the other night,” she begins. “I went into my bedroom after you left and, forgive me, Herman, I knelt down and prayed to Jesus that things work out for us.” Cogan could hear her sob. “And I kissed the crucifix.”
“There’s a crucifix?” Cogan asks, feeling the earth sink beneath his feet. He meant to say, This is nothing to be upset about, Grace. Perfectly natural. Of course you prayed to Jesus. You’ve been doing that all your life. It’s automatic, like the infield fly rule. But he asks about the crucifix.
“On the wall, over my bed,” she says softly. “Oh, Herman, it’s awful, isn’t it?”
“You’re in transition,” he says. “Don’t be upset with yourself. Talk with the rabbi. It’s probably not unusual. He’ll tell you what to do.”
“Walk away,” counsels Stern the next day. “Something’s amiss.”
“There are Jews who put up Christmas trees,” Cogan argues. “What’s so different?”
“She’s praying to Jesus, Cogan. What you’ve got here is a Golden Calf situation. Walk away.” But Cogan cannot walk away. The thought of Grace has invaded him, plowed deep into his bones. One night he hears Jo Stafford on the radio singing You Belong To Me, and he finds himself repeating the words. He plods through the neighborhood for the next several days, collecting his quarters, listening to a chorus of sad stories. But as sad as they are, he realizes, none comes close to being as sad as an observant Jew in love with a convert who still has a crucifix nailed to the wall above her bed.
A week goes by with no word from Grace. He worries that he said the wrong thing, that he came off as uncaring. Then one night she calls. She’s spoken with the rabbi. He advised her to get rid of the crucifix. “You turn to it because it’s there, it’s handy. Throw it out, give it away,” she reports thee rabbi saying. “You’ll find solace and sustenance in Scripture. Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Hear oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” Cogan hears—imagines, perhaps—a sadness in her voice.
“So?” He envisions her with a hooded visor, acetylene torch in hand, melting down the crucifix.
“So I’ve done it, Herman. I’ve given it to my neighbor.” Cogan feels a tinge of disappointment, but he accepts it as progress. Grace begins again to attend the Monday morning minyan and they start seeing each other once or twice a week. Every time he passes the church so near to her apartment—in his mind attached, like an umbilical cord, to her apartment—he imagines her inside, kneeling, taking communion from a priest. He’s seen enough Pat O’Brien movies to know how this works—making the sign of the cross, confessing. He worries that Judaism is no match for Pat O’Brien.
She makes dinner for him one night and once the girls are asleep, they are on the couch in the front room, watching television. They kiss, caress. Cogan is shivering with excitement, anticipation and fear. After watching Kraft Television Theater, Grace takes Cogan’s hand and gently guides him to her bedroom. Sitting on the bed, Cogan can hardly control his excitement. He touches her naked shoulder, thin and bony. Fragile, he thinks, running his finger along her breastbone. Never was there a breastbone so beautiful, so perfect. He looks up—to heaven perhaps—and notices on the wall above her bed the faint outline of the crucifix that is no longer there. An icy chill runs through his body. “Grace,” he whispers, “I can’t. Not here. Not with the...” He nods in the direction of the shadow. He can see by the look on her face that Grace had been proud of her decision to take down the cross. He was sure she hadn’t noticed the outline that remained.
“It’s dirt, Herman. Dust. I didn’t have time to wash it off. It’s nothing.”
“Still,” he says, sitting up, staring with intensity at the pink drapes covering the window that overlooks…what? The church. “Still,” he repeats, as if to himself.
After the incident in Grace’s bedroom, Cogan is morose. He has trouble sleeping. “You look worse than usual, Cogan,” Stern says one afternoon. “It’s the girl, right?”
Is it that obvious? Cogan thinks. Is it written on my forehead? He gulps down the Alka-Seltzer, hardly waiting for the tablets to dissolve. “She’s a Jew and yet she’s not a Jew,” he moans. “How does this happen? The Holy One, blessed be He, is testing me, Stern. I don’t know which way to turn.” He expects commiseration, some sympathy, from his confidant.
“Enough with the Holy One,” Stern shouts. “You’re the one who’s testing you. If you had a dime’s worth of sense, you’d drop her. The conversion was a vaccination that didn’t take. She got a shot of Judaism, but she prays to you-know-who. That, my friend, is not normal.”
The rabbi, on the other hand, counsels patience. Cogan sits in his apartment mulling over the rabbi’s words. “Grace has studied with me for over a year,” he had said. “I did everything I could to dissuade her from converting, but she was persistent. She’s a serious student with a strong desire to become a Jew. We had long discussions of why she was leaving Catholicism and what was drawing her to Judaism. You’re aware she was here to see me. We had a frank give-and-take. She’s a sincere person.”
“Sincere,” Cogan repeats to himself as he recalls sitting slumped in the chair in front of the rabbi’s desk, his eyes focused on the grey green carpet.
“But this, I must tell you, is a new one on me,” the rabbi had continued. “A convert such as Grace, to have such a lapse at this stage of the game. Perhaps, it’s the stress of the relationship. You met her, after all, the very day she became a Jew. Maybe it was too soon. My advice, Cogan? Give her time to get used to her new religion.”
Too soon. Like bringing Roy Smalley to the majors in ’48, he thinks—a promise never fulfilled. Cogan nods to himself now, as he had nodded to the rabbi in his study. But he can read between the lines. It was his fault, the rabbi was saying. He should have known. Time. Maybe they both need it. It would take only a few minutes to scrub the wall clean of the shadow of the cross, but the deeper shadow is not so easily erased.
He calls Grace and tells her they shouldn’t see one another for a while.
“A while, Herman?” she says softly. Cogan imagines her holding back a sob.
“Yes,” he says. He tells her she needs time to get more comfortable with being a Jew. Too many changes all at once aren’t good. She understands or at least doesn’t argue. He doesn’t tell her that he too needs the time. “Give it six months,” he says. “We’ll see how we feel then.”
“If it’s love, it will work, Herman,” Grace says before hanging up. Cogan’s stomach flips. Isn’t it love? he asks himself. Should he rescind his edict? If they do love one another, why force this separation, this agony? But the shadow of the cross, this persistent afterimage, hovers in a corner of his mind. He needs to believe the rabbi. If Grace is open to the idea of love, he says to himself, there’s a chance. A chance that in six months her ambivalence—and his?—will have faded. He knows the odds. “But, still,” he says.
Cogan buries himself in his work. There are days when he actually looks forward to his rounds. He smiles when the Weintraub twins again ask to sing one of their songs for him. “Of course, ladies, sing. You twisted my arm.”
Friends call with phone numbers of women they think Cogan will like. After a few months, he begins to call these numbers and go out on dates. Is it his imagination or has word about his involvement with Grace made him more attractive in the eyes of other women? Each date brings a new ache, a new awkwardness. If he has a nice time, he feels guilty about feeling good.
He bumps into Joyce Finkle in the grocery. She was a year behind him in high school. They agree to go out for dinner, perhaps a movie. There’s Sandra Greenspan and Elaine Nuddleman and Denise what’s-her-name. After a while, he realizes he’s not automatically measuring each of these women against Grace. She has a place in his thoughts, but she no longer sits astride every synapse.
And yet, he wonders how this could be. A few months ago his stomach churned at the thought of not seeing her. Now he feels the both the guilt and the exaltation of an unfaithful lover. He finds the new companionship exciting. Like beating out a bunt, he says to himself. But his newfound enthusiasm for dating is far from unalloyed. While there is a certain thrill to his life, an almost audible hum, there is also the shadow of sadness that he is not with Grace. These women are company, nothing more.
At shul one Shabbat, Cogan spots Grace a few rows in front of him. He notices how well she davens; he hears her voice amid the chanting of others. It’s as if he can focus his ears as he focuses his eyes, blotting out everything but Grace. After services, she greets him with a kiss on the cheek. There is some small talk about her children, her job. She asks about his mother. “Been to any Cubs games?” she asks, smiling.
“They’re down in Mesa. Spring training. The home opener is in a few weeks,” he tells her. “We should go.” He realizes he’s under her spell every bit as much as that first time so many months ago when he saw her up on the bema next to the rabbi. Grace shines with a brilliance that blinds him to the other women he’s been seeing. She’s the real deal, he tells himself.
“Do you think we’re ready?” she asks, no longer smiling.
Cogan wants to convene his team of experts to discuss the pros and cons: Stern, the rabbi, perhaps even his mother. But he knows this is a decision he’ll have to make on his own.