3. I was in my pajamas.
4. The ones with a hole on the butt, so that my underwear showed.
I looked at the rabbit. "Let's not get it," I said, but Oliver hopped off my lap and began to sniff around the bottom of the door.
"Maggie?" I heard. "I know you're in there."
"Daddy?" I got off the couch and unlocked the door to let him in.
"Shouldn't you be at services?"
He took off his coat and hung it on an antique rack that my mother had given me for my birthday one year, and that I really hated, but that she looked for every time she came to my house (Oh,
Maggie, I'm so glad you've still got this!). "I stayed for the important parts. Your mother's kibitzing with Carol; I'll probably make it home before she will."
Carol was the cantor-a woman with a voice that made me think of falling asleep in the summertime sun: strong, steady utterly relaxing. When she wasn't singing, she collected thimbles. She went to conventions as far away as Seattle to trade them, and had one entire forty-foot wall of her house divvied up by a contractor into minuscule display shelves. Mom said that Carol had more than five thousand thimbles. I didn't think I had five thousand of anything, except maybe daily calories.
He walked into the living room and glanced at the television. "I wish that skinny girl would just ditch McDreamy."
"You watch Grey's AnatomyT
"Your mother watches. I absorb by osmosis." He sat down on the couch, while I mulled over the fact that I actually did have something in common with my mother.
"I liked your friend the priest," my father said.
"He's not my friend. We work together."
"I can still like him, can't I?"
I shrugged. "Something tells me you didn't come all the way here to tell me how fabulous Father Michael is."
"Well, in part. How come you brought him over tonight?"
"Why?" I bristled. "Did Mom complain?"
"Will you just stop with the Mom thing?" My father sighed. "I'm asking you a question."
"He had a hard day. Being on Shay's side isn't easy for him."
My father looked at me carefully. "How about for you?"
"You told me to ask Shay what he wanted," I said. "He doesn't want his life saved. He wants his death to mean something."
My father nodded. "A lot of Jews think you can't donate organs, because it violates Jewish law-you're not supposed to mutilate the body after death; you're supposed to bury it as soon as possible. But pikkuah nefesh takes precedence over that. It says that the duty to save life trumps everything. Or in other words-a Jew is required to break the law, if it means saving a life."
"So it's okay to commit murder in order to save someone else?" I asked.
"Well, God's not stupid; He sets parameters. But if there's any karmic pikkuah nefesh in the world-"
"To mix metaphors, no less religions..."
"-then the fact that you can't stop an execution is at least balanced by the fact that you'll be saving a life."
"At what cost, Daddy? Is it okay to kill someone who's a criminal, someone society really doesn't want around anymore, so that a little girl can live? What if it wasn't a little girl who needed that heart? What if it was some other criminal? Or what if it wasn't Shay who had to die in order to donate his organs? What if it was me?"
"God forbid," my father said.
"It's morality. You're doing good."
"By doing bad."
My father shook his head. "There's something else about pikkuah nefesh... it clears the slate of guilt. You can't feel remorse about breaking the law, because ethically, you're obligated to do it."
"See, that's where you're wrong. I can feel remorse. Because we're not talking about not fasting on Yom Kippur since you happen to be sick... we're talking about a man dying."
"And saving your life."
I looked up at him. "Claire's life."
"Two birds with one stone," my father said. "Maybe it's not literal in your case, Maggie. But this lawsuit-it's fired you up. It's given you something to look forward to." He looked around my home-the place setting for one, the bowl of popcorn on the table, the rabbit cage.
I suppose there was a point in my life when I wanted the package deal- the chuppah, the husband, the kids, the carpools-but somewhere along the line, I'd just stopped hoping. I had gotten used to living alone, to saving the other half of the can of soup for the next night's dinner, to only changing the pillowcases on my side of the bed. I had become overly comfortable with myself, so much so that anyone else would have felt like an intrusion.
Pretending, it turned out, took much less effort than hoping.
One of the reasons I loved my parents-and hated them-is that they still thought I had a chance at all that. They only wanted me to be happy; they didn't see how on earth I could be happy by myself. Which, if you read between the lines, meant they found me just as lacking as I did.
I could feel my eyes filling with tears. "I'm tired," I said. "You should go now."
When he reached for me, I ducked away. "Good night."
I punched buttons on the remote control until the television went black. Oliver crept out from behind my desk to investigate, and I scooped him up. Maybe this was why I chose to spend my free time with a rabbit: he didn't offer unwanted advice. "You forgot one little detail," I said. "Pikkuah nefesh doesn't apply to an atheist."
My father paused in the act of taking his coat from the world's ugliest coat rack. He slipped it over his arm and walked toward me. "I know it sounds strange for a rabbi," he said, "but it's never mattered to me what you believe in, Mags, as long as you believe in yourself as much as I do."
He settled his hand on top of Oliver's back. Our fingers brushed, but I didn't look up at him. "And that's not semantics."
He held up a hand to shush me and opened the door. "I'll tell your mother to get you new pajamas for your birthday," he said, pausing at the threshold. "Those have a hole in the butt."