Malka’s First Crush

For Malka and Aiden, Great Godfrey Daniels was the only restaurant in Skokie. 

Ma was very pleased with her flounder. “It tastes like cake,” she said. 

I raised my eyebrows, nodded once and said, “Hm.” Although I’ve never eaten fish that tasted anything like cake, I took her word for it. 

Nearly every five minutes Carolyn offered Ma a lemon wedge—that is, to squeeze over her “cake” flavored flounder. Ma repeatedly declined. Hearing isn’t exactly Carolyn’s forte. More and more, neither is remembering. 

Aiden’s seemingly inexhaustible obsession with the word, if not the concept of, “butt-cheeks,” as a tongue-in-cheek insult, but also, presumably, as an anatomical curiosity, i.e. for an eight year old, is very nearly disturbing. 

As a rule, kids won’t easily let go of any curiosity that adults find very nearly, or even outright, disturbing. 

Malka—Aiden’s sister, older by three years—was sulky. Malka is frequently sulky following one of her ballets. There’s always a different reason. Tonight’s reason was a boy named, Russ. 

Malka is desperate to know if Russ “likes” her. The boy hasn’t exactly been forthright with his opinion. He never replied to the note Malka hand delivered to his mailbox. What did the note say? I forgot to ask. Days (weeks? months?) before she penned and delivered said note, she had asked Russ, during school, point-blank, if he liked her. “Maybe,” said Russ. Just like a boy, huh?   

“Well…” I said, “’maybe’ isn’t, ‘No,’”  

Randy, Malka’s father, had provided the same analysis. 

“Daddy,” said Malka, “Maybe you can make friends with Russ’s father.” 

(My apologies if the addition of the third “s” in “Russ’s” in nonstandard in your book.)

Randy finished cutting into his London broil. He pointed his steak knife at Malka. “Enough about Russ,” he said, with a bit of an edge in his voice. 

Undeterred, Malka handed me her yearbook and pointed at Russ’s photo. I squinted at the boy’s little, black and white, rectangular, head-and-shoulders photo. He appeared to be a fine lad. Without a doubt, he looked nothing like the schmuck I look like every time a camera captures my image. Even so…

“You can do better,” I told Malka, passing her yearbook back. “You’re gonna break plenty of hearts,” I added.

Malka’s mother, Kim, nearly gagged on her sip of Coke. “Um. What?” she said, after clearing her throat. Kim didn’t care for my prediction. Malka was perhaps a bit young to hear it. 

Having fully succumbed to unrequited puppy love, Malka deliberately sank all the way off of her chair. She disappeared beneath the table. On her way down, she accompanied her sour expression with a plaintive…groan?…whimper?…mewl?…it was plaintive.   

Say a kid blasted “Baby Shark” on all of the speakers (dumb and smart) throughout your house every day, for a month: That’s how fed up both Kim and Randy were of this longing for Russ’s liking. For Aiden, it was “butt-cheeks”; for Malka, it was Russ.

“Get back in your chair!” demanded Kim. 

Pouty Malka slowly climbed back up. Faster than you can sing, “Baaaby shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo—doo…” she let gravity have its way with her once again. 

If dessert hadn’t arrived, then Randy would’ve made good on his promise to drag Malka out of the restaurant by her feet. This made Aiden giggle. He briefly embarked on a descent of his own. Luckily, ice cream has an elevating effect on children.

Ma took the developmental angle: “Girls mature faster than boys.” But this rationalization did nothing for Malka. She wanted to take action. “So here’s what you do,” I said. “Next time you see Russ, say, ‘Hurry it up, will ya?’” 

Malka ate her dish of melting vanilla ice cream so quickly that she splashed some of it onto her hair. I pointed this out, discreetly. Malka leaned over her dish and squeezed the ice cream out of her hair. She then resumed spooning it up the same way a thirsty kitten laps milk. 

Carolyn wrapped her unused lemon wedge with a napkin and dropped it into her purse. 

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