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The Fifth Question

© 2013

The Fifth Question

My name is Jane and I am a carb-aholic.

However, this week is Passover and for a week, not even a crumb of Chametz has touched my lips.

Every year, we ask the four questions. I always add my own question “Why, this week, do we eat only unleavened bread, when any other week, we eat leavened bread?”. I do it because it is tradition, and as much as I love my carbs, it’s only a week.

At least that is what I told myself today.

Today is the 7th day of Passover, as of sundown, I have 24 hours left. If I lived in Borough Park or Monsey, this holiday would be easy. But I don’t live in either Borough Park or Monsey and that’s where will power comes in.

One of my colleagues, Erica, brought back pasta from the buffet down the street. I had to force myself to not look at her lunch. Thankfully, my phone rang.

An hour later, the garlic bread from Erica’s lunch sat next to the refrigerator, still wrapped in the plastic. I had to force myself to look away.

But I couldn’t look away; it looked so yummy and crumbly. I could already feel it on lips, going down my throat, entering my stomach, feeling satisfied. Nothing but heaven.

It was hypnotizing me, calling my name, begging to be eaten.

“Jane” it called to me. I could see the invisible eat me sign, like the cake that Alice eat in Alice in Wonderland.

I could hear the voice of my grandmother Hannah begging me not to eat it, not forgo thousands of years of tradition for one moment of temptation.

I didn’t know what to do, I was frozen. I wanted the bread, but I knew I couldn’t eat it.

“Hey Erica, do you mind if I finish your bread?” Sam asked from the other side of the room, breaking the spell it held over me.

“Go ahead; I’m still full from lunch”.

I breathed a sigh of relief, silently thanking Sam for saving me from temptation.

When I got home, I took out the spinach Tzimmis and the roast beef I got from my parents.

I had only 24 hours left, and after that, my duty was done, but only until next year.

“Why, this week, do we eat only unleavened bread, when any other week, we eat leavened bread?”.

To paraphrase Fiddler On the Roof: tradition

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© All Rights Reserved, 2013

Gloria hoped it wasn’t breast cancer. But she had a feeling it was, the lump in her left breast that she had discovered the week before.

The cancer was in her blood. Her grandmother had developed breast cancer toward the end of her life, but it was the heart disease that ultimately killed her. Her mother received the diagnosis when Gloria was in her early 20’s. After fifteen years, multiple rounds of chemotherapy and multiple pronouncements that her mother was in remission, she lost her battle with the disease.

Gloria had done everything right. She eat properly, regularly attended the yoga and aerobics classes at the local gym, tested herself regularly and had her annual mammogram every year since her mother’s diagnosis.

But she was 45, only two years younger than her mother when she received the initial diagnosis. Death was not an option, she still had so many things that she wanted to accomplish. Her twin sons, Gavin and Michael had just graduated high school; two days ago, they made the reservations for the hotels so the boys could attend freshmen orientation.

What would her husband, Tommy, do without her? He had never done a stitch of housework, or stepped into the kitchen to make a meal, except for the not so secret pre dinner snack. Without Gloria, her boys were likely to live in a pig sty, wear dirty clothes and eat fast food for the rest of their days.

“Mrs. Rikowski?” the nurse called out from the front desk.

“Here” Gloria picked up her jacket and purse, trying to calm her nerves.

“The doctor will see you now” the door to the long hallway of exam rooms opened. The nurse, an African American man in his late twenties, wearing all white and a calm smile on his face led her to one of the waiting rooms.

The room was covered in white. White paper on the examining table, white counter tops, white shelves. The only color was on the posters on the walls and the gleaming silver of the instruments.

The sounds of the foot steps and the creaking of the hinges announced the doctor.

“Here goes nothing” Gloria though to herself.

“How are you today, Mrs. Rikowski? I’m Doctor Frischmann” the blonde woman not much younger then her asked.

“I’m as well I can be” Gloria tried to hide her nervousness.

“According to your chart, I see that you have a history of breast cancer”.

“My mother and grandmother both had cancer”.

“If you can stand there, we can begin”.

Gloria’s heart began to pound as she stepped behind the machine.

Her heart didn’t stop pounding until the test was over.

“We will call you in a couple days once we have analyzed the test.”

“Thank you”.

“May I share something with you, Mrs. Rikowski, woman to woman?” the doctor asked as Gloria stepped from behind the door of the dressing room. She knew the look on Mrs. Rikowski’s face, every woman who walked through the doors wore the same look.

Gloria nodded her head in agreement.

“I understand how you feel. My aunt had breast cancer, it was unfortunately caught too late to do anything. You’re in good hands here; I promise you”.

“I appreciate that”.

When Gloria got home, it was nothing short of normal.

“Hey ma, what’s for dinner?” the boys came in from work right after the other. Michael was a lifeguard at the county pool and Gavin bussed tables at a nearby burger joint.


“Again” Gavin groaned.

“Gavin, your mother put a lot of effort into the meatloaf. Instead of whining, you should be appreciative of the food you have”.

“Sorry, ma”.

“It’s ok”.

After dinner was cleared, Tommy surprised her by offering to dry the dishes.

“How was the doctor’s appointment?”

“Fine, I suppose. They said they will call with the results in a couple of days”.

“Whatever happens, we’ll get through it”.

Despite his lack of doing any sort of housework or cleaning, Tommy was a good man. They had only started dating when her mother was initially diagnosed. He was with her every step of the way, driving them to her mother’s doctor’s appointments and holding her as she cried after her mother’s funeral.

Two days later, the call came.

“Mrs. Rikowski, this is Betty from Dr. Frischmann’s office. We have the test results”.

Gloria held her breath as the nurse continued.

“You don’t have cancer, Mrs. Rikowski. Dr. Frischmann believes it’s the bone under your breast you felt”.

“You don’t know what a relief it is to hear that”.

“I’m glad you’re relieved; if you have any more questions, please call us back”.

“Thank you, you have a nice day”.

“You too ma’am, bye”.


There was always next year, next month, it could come at anytime. But Gloria would not dwell on it, there was too much to live for.

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