The first time Rebekah saw Eliza was like poetry. Like the Emily Dickinson description of poetry, feeling like the top of your head has been lifted right off. Eliza had blushed and told Rebekah that she was her first client.
“But I’m learning from the best,” she said. “Tova has 250 married couples under her belt. She’s training me in all her secrets.”
Rebekah nodded, barely aware that she was staring, and ushered Eliza into her mother’s sitting room (her mother liked old-fashioned words like that). Eliza pulled out a list of questions and clipped it delicately to a clipboard that she balanced on a perfect, narrow knee.
“Our clients look for specific things in a wife,” she explained. “So there are no right or wrong answers here. What brings you to seeking out a shadchan?”
“Oh. My mother, I suppose. She thinks I need to be married sooner than later. I thought it was going to happen during college, but here I am twenty-seven and nothing on the horizon. She wants grandchildren and I’m her only real prospect, so I thought… Well, our synagogue is a small one and most of the men my age are already married so I thought I might as well try shidduch.”
Eliza pursed her lips. “Your mother put you up to this? Do you want to be married?”
“I do. I just suppose I thought…” Rebekah trailed off, unsure how to finish the sentence. But Eliza nodded confidently.
“You thought it would happen naturally. You’d see someone and it would just be, like, boom. You’re in love.”
“It doesn’t happen like that for most people, you know. And especially if you want to marry in the community. But what we always tell people is that marriages aren’t based on thrills; they’re based on long-term happiness. Don’t worry, we’ll find you a good one.” Eliza reached forward and squeezed Rebekah’s hand, and gave a broad and beautiful smile of reassurance, and Rebekah felt that she was no longer on this world but had been carried straight away after the top of her head into the world to come.
The second time Rebekah met Eliza was at a small café that had gotten a kosher certificate because they were so close to the Jewish district even though the owners were Korean. She had combed and steamed and ironed her curly hair into submission until it fell in glamorous waves down the side of her face, and had purchased a small pink lipstick from a drugstore on the way. She kept catching sight of herself in the big plate glass windows in the front of the store, and looking away embarrassed, unable to comprehend how much more beautiful she had become with such a small transformation.
She had asked to meet somewhere else because her mother’s sitting room had become oppressive, but when she caught sight of Eliza across the café she regretted it instantly. The wave that washed over her at the sight felt as if it was obscene in this public place, something to be experienced away from eyes. She waved her hand, and again Eliza flashed that brilliant smile that was like a moon shining from its distant orbit.
“You. Look. Stunning.” Eliza slid into her seat. “Not that you didn’t before, but that hair really suits you.” She giggled. “Unfortunately I know how long it probably took you. But if you wear that hair when you go to meet him…”
“I’m sorry, who?”
Eliza sparkled with a secret. “I’ve been showing your picture around. We have an offer.”
“What?” Panic bubbled up her throat. “Already?”
In response, Eliza slid a small box across the table. “As soon as he saw you, he said that you were the girl he was going to marry.”
Rebekah opened the box. Inside were a tiny, perfect set of gold earrings with a matching bracelet.
“What is this?”
“He said that he wanted me to bring a gift when I came to ask if you’d meet him. Rebekah, you’re going to love him. He’s really one of the sweetest men I’ve ever met. We’ve had the hardest time marrying him off for that reason. He’s one of those people who really looks into the soul of a person, and he could see that you had a beautiful soul the same as I could when we first met. I told him that he was picking the best, not that I needed to say anything. If you’re not engaged within the week I’ll be shocked.”
Rebekah’s whole world seemed to blacken out until it was only her and the tiny box, occupying her whole field of vision. What was the answer here? What would make Eliza happy? Would she marry this unknown man just to make Eliza happy? Or would she refuse, and if she did, could she bear to reach across the table and see whatever answer lay in Eliza’s eyes?
“What if it happens?” she asked at last.
“Oh, it will,” Eliza said confidently. “Mr. Abramson is really head over heels.”
“No, I mean… The boom. What if I do this, and then one day…boom. Does that ever happen? With your clients, I mean. Do they regret it?”
Eliza’s face went serious. She took Rebekah’s hand.
“I don’t know,” she said at last. “I don’t know if it happens, or what would happen if it ever did. But I do know that even in love matches, things happen. And I’ve known Mr. Abramson for a long time now. If there was ever anyone you could fall in love with, it’s him. He’s a wonderful man. Serious and kind, a good job, generous to the shul and to charity. He’s a good husband, Rebekah. I don’t know if you’ll feel the boom, with him or ever. But I know that he’ll treat you with kindness and respect and love because that’s how he treats everyone.”
Rebekah was weeping softly, not even bothering to wipe the tears. Eliza had done all of this for her, and now here she was hating it, wanting only to keep that soft, small hand in hers forever. But that wasn’t how this worked. Rebekah closed the small box softly and whispered,
“Let him know I’ll meet him.”
The third and last time Rebekah met Eliza, they were back in her mother’s sitting room. Rebekah was wearing the bracelet and earrings and a diamond ring. Eliza beamed when she saw it, and leaned in with a warm, lingering hug. Rebekah allowed herself to let the smell of Eliza wash over her, musky and soapy and beautiful.
“I’m so happy for you.” Eliza kissed Rebekah on the cheek and leaned back to stare at her, her eyes misty. “It’s such a beautiful thing to see two people so compatible from the beginning. When I saw the two of you meet… It was like fireworks. That man can’t take his eyes off you.”
Rebekah nodded and swallowed hard.
“So?” Eliza asked conspiratorially.
“Was there a boom?”
And this was it. The last chance. Rebekah nodded.
“I knew it!”
“But not with him.”
“I don’t understand.”
Rebekah placed her hands on either side of Eliza’s face, leaned in, and kissed her, so gently that their lips barely touched, but rockets flew up and down her spine. It lasted for an infinite moment, the whole world boiling down into the molecule between them. And then Eliza pulled back. Her eyes were full of a question, and Rebekah knew that the question wasn’t for her but one that Eliza was asking herself.
Then Eliza gasped, or perhaps sobbed. “I’m so sorry,” she said, and she left.