Sarah pushed aside the muslin curtain on her bedroom window and stared at the sidewalk. She was glad her father had invited him after dinner, rather than in the daytime. The shops had closed. The streets were empty of commercial traffic. Most people had settled into their evening rituals of reading, sewing, playing a game of cards or checkers in their parlors, or sitting and gossiping on the building’s stoops enjoying this splendid May evening. Even in the flickering light of the gas street lamps she would have no trouble spotting him coming down the sidewalk. She first noticed him across the room at her best friend’s wedding. When their eyes met and he smiled, her heart fluttered and she almost swooned. He was so handsome, so distinguished with his sweeping handlebar mustache. He carried himself straight and tall, sure of himself, not like the other men in the congregation who cowered when they walked, as if they were trying to draw themselves into a cocoon they thought would protect them from the outside world.
She ached to meet him right then and there, but women weren’t allowed to mix with men at weddings. That Biblical edict did not stop her from discretely inquiring as to who he was. When she learned he was the groom’s brother, she was overjoyed. Her father had to know him. He had taught all the Bresslers. On their walk home from the wedding she asked her father about him. Before her father could answer, her mother cut in and said, “He’s no one you are to concern yourself with, Sarah.”
“Why? What’s wrong with him?”
“Nothing,” her father said. “He was one of my best students.” Looking quizzically at his wife, he said, “I invited him to our house Wednesday evening.”
Delight engulfed Sarah. But her brief moment of ecstasy crashed into desolation when her mother shrieked, “You didn’t!”
Her father cowered at the rebuke, and offered his daughter no help when her mother told her, “You will be confined to your room.”
“Why?” Sarah cried.
“Because I said so. That is all you have to know.”
Despite her mother’s forbidding, Sarah readied herself anyway in hopes her mother would have a last minute change of heart. She put her hair up, and dressed in the white linen shirt-waist with flowing sleeves and ruffled cuffs trimmed in pink satin ribbon.
“Sarah, come away from the window.”
Startled by her mother’s voice, Sarah withdrew her hand from the curtain as if she had grabbed the hot handle of a skillet. “Why won’t you let me meet him?” she asked.
Her mother crossed to the bed, sat down and patted a place next to her. “Come, sit by me.”
Sarah obeyed and fidgeted with a strand of hair that had escaped from her bun.
Taking her daughter’s hand, her mother said, “He’s not right for you, my darling. He’s too old.”
“But he’s only ten years older than I. Father is twelve years older than you.”
“That’s true, but your father is a learned man—a scholar, a teacher. He is counting on you to carry on for him.”
“And I will.”
“Not if you were to become attached to Mr. Bressler.”
“Why? Mr. Bressler is an educated man. He knows the value of learning.”
“Father said he taught him.”
“But it does not mean he learned anything.”
Confused, Sarah stared at her mother.
“You know all the places you read about and are aching to see—the Eiffel Tower, Rome, the Great Wall of China? You will never see them if you marry Mr. Bressler.”
“How do you know that? My friend, Cecelia, Mr. Bressler’s sister-in-law, told me Mr. Bressler makes a wonderful living from his business.”
“Yes, a saloon.”
“He’s not a shiker?”
“His father is.”
“But he’s not a drunkard?”
“Not that I know.”
Sarah sighed with relief. “Then why won’t you let me meet him?”
“Sarah, please. You knew the Bressler family back in Latvia. The father is a carouser. The uncle is an azes ponim—an arrogant man. You are aware the uncle tried to get your father fired for teaching the writings of Karl Marx?”
Sarah didn’t answer, thinking, yes the father did neglect his family, and the uncle lorded his riches over everyone. But that did not mean Abe was like them. Her best friend, Cecelia—Abe’s new sister-in-law—said her husband was a wonderful man.
“You do know what a sow is?” Sarah’s mother asked.
“Of course. Trayf. Not kosher.”
“There is a saying I picked up in this city of silk which fits Mr. Bressler very well. ‘You cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.’ Let him go. He will stifle you.”