Gagworthy by Cheryl Spinner

It's Williamsburg, the height of wedding season. Chaya hasn't been there in years, except for the occasional trip to visit to her mother. She, like most of the Jews, moved on to bigger and better things, like expensive cars, flashy jewelry, and big houses on Bedford Avenue. She remembers watching the shootings from the window of the apartment on Roebling, remembers her mother being attacked in the hallway on the way home from work, and in remembering all of this she's glad it's all behind her.

Staring out the car window as her husband drives, images of her childhood begin to pop up: the dirty mattress she slept on as a child, the roach filled cabinets. Taking her eyes off the window, she looks at her husband. He was handsome once. She remembers that jet black hair, thick and heavily parted, now thin and gray. She looks out the window once more. She remembers the day she brought Mordy home to meet her parents. They had to walk the eleven flights up because the elevator wasn't working, but should wouldn't have cared, she thought, if the apartment the apartment was nice and clean. Instead, it was still roach infested and ugly, just as she had left it.

Her thoughts begin to wander once more. This time, she recollects her most recent visit to the apartment. She hasn't visited the apartment since her parents died, and that was about twenty years ago, but last year, on a whim, she decided to go back. Just showed up one day and knocked on the door, it was that simple. A young couple answered. They offered her freshly brewed Ethiopian coffee. It was a nice gesture, she thought, but somehow it all felt wrong. Chaya politely declined. They let her walk through the three bedroom apartment, the walls now swathed in colors like Crushed Apple and Rich Raspberry. They really cleaned up the place, and she couldn't help but hate them for it. Even now, one year later in a car on the way to her niece's wedding, Chaya's face still burns with envy, or shame, or maybe all of those things mixed into one.

Carried off by these thoughts of hers, Chaya is surprised when Mordy tells her they've arrived. Thin-wristed and wrapped in a fur coat, she steps out of the car, waits for a minute, and says,"Hey, Mordy."


"Which hall are we going to?"

"How should I know?"

"You didn't bring the invitation with you?"

"I didn't bother shleping it."

"Didn't bother shleping it! That's really brilliant, Mordy. Eh, I think it's this one anyway." She says as she raises a scrawny finger and points to the one in the middle. It's Flushing Avenue, the Vegas strip of Jewish wedding halls. There's at least four of those halls and they look the same. The same shmaltz and everything.

They make their way to the coatroom, Chaya checks her fur, and heads to the shmorg, making sure to ditch her husband. After twenty-four years of marriage they've run out of things to talk about.

On the way she catches her reflection in the mirror. It's the big kinds that are only seen in wedding halls and fancy hotel lobbies. Even in the dim brown light, she can't help but notice how old she looks: that sagging skin, those bulging eyes. She grabs the shawl that's been tightly wrapped around her neck, wraps it even tighter, and continues walking.

She passes by a pyramid of champagne glasses that are filled with ginger ale and resting on a table covered in gold foil. The tower of glasses is blocking the marble fountain that lies behind it.


After walking past all of this, Chaya finally makes her way shmorg, shoving people as she goes. She spots her niece, Sara, at the far end of the room.

Sara's managed to find a seat, even though the place is packed. Bodies are bumping into each other left and right, toes are being trampled, and the bottoms of tulle dresses shredding from all the trampling. Tables are scattered all over the place. It's a "seat yourself" kind of affair, and Sara's lucky to have gotten one.

She notices her dad, alone in a corner, trying to eat with a plate of food in one hand, a fork in the other, and a drink juggling between the two. "Why's he standing off in the corner by himself?", Sara mutters, he baffles her sometimes. She decides to get up and join him, even though he doesn't really deserve it. Sara's been annoyed with her dad the whole night. It started at home, when Sara was getting ready to go to this thing. She's starting to regret what she said. "What did I say exactly?" she wonders to herself, trying to remember the details of the argument. Something like, "They've got these antiquated views on marriage. Chaya's going to say something, I just know it, about me being twenty-two and not married. It's like they're stuck in some kind of time warp and are still living in a European Ghetto. I'm not going," pops into her head and she nods to herself. "Yep, that's about right." Then she remembered her dad's response, "Do it for me, if not for them," pulling out the pity card, "And, please, whatever you do, don't cause a scene."

Sara chuckles to herself as she makes her way through the crowd—he pulled out the pity card, gets her everytime. She's still angry at her father, but she's lonely too at this thing, doesn't have anyone to talk to, so she starts walking towards her father with intention of making amends. As she makes her way across the room, the toe that's been throbbing for the last hour suddenly begins to hurt so badly that she can't walk anymore. "It's these damn shoes," she sighs. She pushes herself to walk a little farther, to the nearest open spot. There, she spreads herself out on the stone floor and kicks off her shoes. "Maybe it's better this way", she mutters to herself, "let him suffer a little while longer." Sara then directs her attention to the plate of food that's lying on her lap. It's stacked with strawberries, three slices of freshly cut turkey breast, garlic bread, and nice helping of pasta salad.

Sprawled out on the floor in the corner, looking straight ahead, she's got a pretty good view of the room. The walls are covered in gold foil, like everything else in that hall. There's also about ten crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling in a straight line. She's not impressed. Her attention then becomes fixed on the guests. The men are all wearing their suits, no real problem there. The women, on the other hand, are a mess if you ask her. They're all wearing the same satin dress with a tulle skirt here, a big lace bow there, and a generous amount of ruffles. The dresses vary in color: some are red, others are a light pink, and then there's the bright orange, green, and yellow ones. Once again, it's all just too much.

Finished with these judgements and aware that she's finished her plate, Sara decides to hunt for some more of that pasta salad. She gets up, shoes dangling from one hand, and makes her way to the stretch of tables once more. She crams herself between a group of old men hovering over the pasta salad, gets hold of a clean fork, and fills her plate high.

She spots an empty seat at a nearby table and sits down. Chaya's there, nibbling on a couple of nuts. Sara tries to be polite and asks Chaya how her son is doing in medical school, but the conversation is awkward. For starters, the floral arrangement in the center is making it really difficult for them to have a normal conversation. It's this huge monstrosity of a thing: tons of flowers cramed into in gold foil vase. Chaya loves it, she thinks it's the most beautiful thing she's ever seen. The fact that Chaya's one of the last people Sara would like to be sitting next to isn't exactly helping either . The woman's a skeleton. Sara's far from fat, but compared to her Aunts—she's got three of them: Tillie, Ruth, and Chaya -- anyone would develop a complex. She knows for a fact that one of them is bulimic. It's Ruth. Sara's heard her puking in random bathrooms too many times to count.

Chaya give Sara the requisite, "You look great" comment, but Sara knows Chaya is secretly, repeating to herself, "If I was as fat as you I'd kill myself" which would explain Sara's awkward "Thank you." How am I supposed to respond, she thinks, when I know you're lying through your teeth. She doesn't care though. Sara knows she looks smokin' tonight. She's got on one of those formfitting tea length dresses, and she's working it tonight. Yeah, they're just jealous, she concludes.

The conversation isn't getting any better. Chaya's new fur is now the topic of conversation. She's been bragging about that thing for the past five minutes. It's floor length, mousy brown, and flares out at the bottom in the shape of the trumpet—even more schmaltzy than the wedding hall, and that's schmaltzy. In the middle of all this, Sara's shoving mouthfuls of pasta into her mouth while Chaya gives her the look of death.

"Sara, so, when are you getting married?" Chaya says, changing the topic once again, as she waves her wedding ring in Sara's face, making sure the light dances across its sharp angles.

"Excuse me?" She asks between mouthfuls.

"You're twenty two years old and aren't getting any younger," Chaya sighs, "and My Marcia was married at eighteen. You don't want to turn out like Tillie, do you? Her and those cats, it's sick I tell you, sick…"

Chaya suddently stops in mid-sentence, blanches, and gives one sharp tug at her shawl. Sara knew Tillie was behind them the whole time, and now Chaya finally realized. "Serves her right," Sara thought, "she's always talking about people behind their backs. Doesn't feel so good when you're caught now does it?"

"I see I'm the topic of conversation." Tillie says as she shoves Sara out of her chair. "Chaya , Would you leave the poor girl alone. Sara, go and occupy yourself. Chaya and I have got a lot of catching up to do."

Tillie's dress takes over the whole table. It's big, plaid, and exploding with fabric. She's also got on these long press-on nails. Theyr'e painted white—her daggers, as she likes to call them. Her lips are thin and lined in red lipstick that's bleeding into the corners of her. Her hair is Marilyn blonde, her eyebrows dark brown. Sara does her best to hold in a laugh, "Man, she's scary looking. Those nightmares about Aunt Tillie coming plucking me out of bed with those nails of hers are all making sense now."

Sara knows when she's not wanted and starts heading towards the bathroom, but she's mad. You can see it in her walk. She looks like a tea kettle ready to explode. She's mad at Chaya for making that ridiculous comment and even madder at herself for not telling her off on her own. She should have said something like, "If I wanted to be as miserable as your daughter looks I'd marry the first loser that was interested in me" or something simple like, "Mind your own damn business." But she knew she couldn't have done anything anyhow because she had promised she wouldn't make a scene.

She pushes her way through the crowds of people and finally makes it to the bathroom, finds an empty stall, and shuts herself in. Everything from the toilet flusher to the toilet paper dispenser is covered in gold foil. "Real classy," Sara mutters.

It's a summer wedding. The air conditioning is shot and beads of sweat are starting to form on her skin. She can hear the music in the dining area, and recognizes the howling voice right away. It's Fishel. He's the musician of the family. Does Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, but he's terrible. Grandma seems to be the only one enjoying the show. Sara's dad, standing in the middle of the dance floor, rolls his eyes while his mother shouts,

"Such a talent. Leonard, Isn't he such a talent?"

"Yeah mom, a real talent."

While Fishel's butchering Hava Nagila, Sara realizes what Hell is. It's sitting in a bathroom stall in Williamsburg having to listen to your deadbeat Uncle massacre Jewish songs that weren't very good to begin with.

The main door to the bathroom opens. She can hear the shuffle of feet. Someone enters the stall next to her, and when the puking begins Sara knows its Ruth. The smell of vomit fills the air, and Sara, unable to contain herself any longer, climbs on the toilet, cranes her neck over the stall, and shouts "Hey Ruth, so how's the family?"

Cheryl Spinner currently lives in Durham, N.C., where she is a doctoral student in the English Department at Duke University. She received her Master's Degree in English at Georgetown University in the spring of 2010. A native of Queens, N.Y., her writing intertwines yiddishe kopf with a certain kind of New Yawk flair. You can follow her research blog at