Ellie stood in line at the kosher butcher shop debating between the boneless rib-eye steak and the London broil. She and Seymour preferred the London broil but couldn’t afford it at double the price of the rib eye. She should order brisket, but she had cooked brisket for their last two Shabbat dinners.
“Excuse me,” a matronly woman with a slight Mexican accent said. “Are you interested in help with shopping, housekeeping, or yard work?”
Ellie turned towards the voice. She realized she was being addressed and laughed.
“Who doesn’t at my age?” Ellie said. “But pay for it how?”
“My name is Mrs. Sanchez,” she said, handing Ellie her card. “And your name is?
“Ellie Fischer,” she said, looking around to see if anyone could hear.
“Would you rent out one of your empty bedrooms to a young couple in exchange for mortgage or household help?” Mrs. Sanchez asked in a lowered voice.
“Strangers live with us?” Ellie laughed again. This time nervously. “No, I don’t think so.”
How did this woman know she had empty rooms? Had she followed her? Practically everyone in this neighborhood had grown children and saved the rooms for the grandchildren’s visits.
Ellie didn’t want to be rude so she took her card. Squinting, Ellie read “Helping Hands” with the words “Helpers of All Kinds” underneath before placing the card in her purse and snapping it shut.
She put her pocketbook and the groceries down on the Formica counter in the kitchen.
“Seymour!” Ellie called out.
Her husband must be in the darkroom.
She unpacked the steaks, the potatoes, and the salad fixings. Seymour, her poor Seymour. How much he missed owning the camera shop. He couldn’t compete with the chain stores on cameras and photo development services. Finally, digital cameras had finished off the business. After forty years on Fairfax Boulevard, she and Seymour shut it down. They were living on the money from the sale of the store’s equipment plus social security payments. Seymour had set up a darkroom in their converted garage.
She placed the steak and potatoes in the oven and turned to the one-inch stack of unpaid bills. A small knot between her ribs expanded. There was not enough money to cover all their outstanding debts. The electrical and water bills were essential. The garbage and cell phone could wait. She couldn’t pay off the credit card balance. How could the banks get away with charging so much interest?
She admired how crisply she wrote her name, “Ellie Fischer”, on the checks before sliding them into their envelopes. She licked and placed them out for the mail carrier. Then, she prayed to Hashem that there would be money in the account to cover the checks inside.
The garage door banged shut. Seymour wheezed. She hurried to the top of the back stairs to hold the screen door open.
“Well?” she said when he entered the kitchen. “Are you developing beautiful pictures, my love?”
Her dear husband thought he could increase their income by selling his own photographs. Colorful landscapes and vivid sunsets over the Pacific Ocean.
“I’m working on the ones from the Santa Monica Pier,” Seymour said.
He opened the cupboard, took a glass, and filled it with water.
“I captured a few good sunset moments and birds in flight.” His curving back made him look like a question mark as he leaned against the chipped countertop. “I don’t know how I am going to sell these photos. Gerry’s son keeps telling me I need to have a web presence. Maybe I should take a computer class at the senior center.”
“Sure, why not?” Ellie said. “I have the list of center classes — somewhere.”
Seymour’s health needed to improve before she told him about their unpaid bills or the fact she hadn’t paid the mortgage increase in close to six months. Their mortgage payments had dropped temporarily after the refinance. But when the payments increased there wasn’t enough income to cover the higher monthly amount and pay their bills.
“Dinner will be ready in ten minutes,” Ellie said. “Would you prepare the Shabbat candlesticks for lighting?”
Shabbat, her favorite time of the week. For twenty-four hours she’d rest, let go of her concerns, and focus on the blessings Hashem provided her.
“Have you seen our box of candles?” he asked. “I can’t find them.”
“Oh! That’s what I forgot,” Ellie said. “I knew I forgot something at the butcher’s earlier today. A woman in line asked me all sorts of questions.”
Ellie opened the pantry door.
“Wait. There, on the top shelf. Can you get that box down?”
Seymour opened the box and examined the hand-rolled beeswax candles.
“I could do this,” he cried. “In addition to photography, I could start a little business making Shabbat and Havdalah candles. I’ll just need some seed money from Lawrence. Recently, he told me Seattle’s looking up and business is good.”
“She asked me about empty rooms in the house and getting help with the lawn,” Ellie said. “I took her card so I wouldn’t seem rude.”
“Who?” Seymour said. “What card? What are you talking about?”
“The woman at the butcher shop,” Ellie said, handing Seymour the business card. “She flummoxed me so. I forgot the candles.”
“Helping Hands.” Seymour scratched his head. “If this candle-making operation gets off the ground, I may be able to use some help.”
He handed the card back to Ellie. She had planned to throw it out but, instead, she pinned it on the kitchen’s corkboard.