Estelle had found the first lump by accident on the morning of Adam’s wedding. The night before, Charlie had given her a pill and she’d overslept. She’d rushed through her makeup, painting on eyebrows and coloring her cheeks. She’d been zipping herself into a dress she wore to another wedding the previous summer, but it didn’t sit right in the bosom. As she slipped it this way and that and adjusted her bra, she felt something hard and uneven in her right breast, like the end of a chicken bone. She thought about all those medical shows, the books she’d read, and the women she’d known who’d gone through such things. They compared the size of their tumors to food: a pea, an orange, a grapefruit. This lump was nothing that familiar and nothing that round. This was like a knuckle, a dagger, a hand grenade. She sat on the edge of the bed and smoked three cigarettes in a row. The phone rang twice and each time she just sat on her damask spread and smoked and smoked.
The first time the answering machine picked up, the caller didn’t leave a message. That was Adam. Adam didn’t leave messages.
The second time it was Charlie.
“Hi, Mom. Just seeing when you want me to pick you up. Call me at the hotel.”
This is meshugge, she thought. People do this every day. People got married. Other people dressed up and traveled for hours to see the bride and groom recite their vows and step on the wine glass. They ate fancy food and drank champagne and slipped checks into the groom’s pockets. They smiled, wished them well, gossiped about the in-laws, and debated the couple’s chances in the car on the way home.
Estelle didn’t know about that Liza. She just didn’t know. There was something wrong with the girl’s family. Liza’s parents had turned away from their Jewish faith as if it were an overcoat not good enough to mend. Okay, so Estelle herself wasn’t completely by-the-letter observant—she drew the line at the onerous dietary laws, and hadn’t kept kosher since the children came along. But there was something wrong with the way Liza was raised by her father, like a boy. Adam needed a woman. He had Eddie’s feckless streak and needed a firm hand, someone like herself. She didn’t know if Liza was up to the task. But she seemed like a smart girl, a practical girl. They’d make pretty children, most likely, but Estelle hoped to God Liza was smart enough to figure out how to make the marriage work.
The phone rang again. If she didn’t answer, maybe the boys would think something was wrong and rush over. She couldn’t tell them, not like this, not on Adam’s wedding day. Whatever her opinions about Liza, Adam seemed happy. She wouldn’t make this the day he found out the time bomb went off. But she prayed it wasn’t Adam calling.
It was Charlie, asking how she’d slept.
Fine. She’d slept fine. “Your father,” she said, “may he rest in peace, he couldn’t drop dead on the golf course like everybody else? He couldn’t go quietly in his sleep? No, he had to have a massive coronary in the middle of synagogue on Yom Kippur and make the newspapers and scar the entire community for life.”
“I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose, Mom. Although if you have to go, it might as well be memorable.”
“Adam could have gotten married anywhere. A catering hall. Or that beautiful park on the river. But no, he had to pick Temple Beth Make-the-rest-of-your-mother’s-hair-fall-out.”
“You need more Valium?” Charlie said.
Estelle lit another cigarette. “Bring the bottle.”
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