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Authors: Leanne Lieberman

Tags: #Religious, #Jewish, #Juvenile Fiction, #JUV000000

Gravity

Gravity

Gravity

Leanne
Lieberman

Text copyright © 2008 Leanne Lieberman

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be
invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Lieberman, Leanne, 1974-
Gravity / written by Leanne Lieberman.

ISBN 978-1-55469-049-7

I. Title.

PS8623.I36G73 2008                 jC813’.6             C2008-903058-3

First published in the United States, 2008

Library of Congress Control Number
: 2008928573

Summary
: An Orthodox Jewish teenager comes to terms with her sexuality and her faith.

Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs
provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book
Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada Council for the Arts,
and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council
and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

Cover and text design by Teresa Bubela
Cover photo by Getty Images
Author photo by Bernard Clark

O
RCA
B
OOK
P
UBLISHERS
                    O
RCA
B
OOK
P
UBLISHERS
PO B
OX
5626, S
TN
. B                                PO B
OX
468
V
ICTORIA
, BC C
ANADA
                          C
USTER
, WA USA
V8R 6S4                                             98240-0468

www.orcabook.com
Printed and bound in Canada.

11  10  09  08   •   4  3  2  1

For my parents, Carole and Lucien Lieberman

Acknowledgments

M
any people offered advice and feedback during the writing of this novel. I’d like to thank Amanda Dafoe, Tina Grabenhorst, and the other members of my Graduate Writing Workshop at the University of Windsor for their editing suggestions.

Thank you to my Toronto writing group: Elizabeth MacLeod, Dianne Scott, Roswell Spafford, Ania Szado, Elsie Sze and Anne Warrick. Your encouragement, friendship and excellent editing skills are invaluable.

Many thanks to Marcy Lieberman and Louise Friedman for their advice on early drafts of the novel.

A special thanks to Darryl Whetter for his tight editing and for his recommendation that I enter the Orca writing contest.

I am indebted to my agent Pamela Paul for her perseverance and interest in Ellie’s life.

I am grateful to both the Ontario Arts Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for awarding me grants.

Thanks to Sarah Harvey for fine-tuning my book.

Several people inspired the writing of
Gravity.
Jamie Miller told me about “hitting the high note and staying in the room.” Rick Negrin let me know that God is a force just like gravity. Robbie Stocki educated me about Judaism. I owe a special thanks to my brother, Jeff Lieberman, for coming out to me while we were on a walk in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. You got this novel started in my head.

My parents, Carole and Lucien Lieberman, have supported and encouraged both my ongoing interest in Judaism and my writing. I am thankful for their love and support.

And most of all, thank you to my husband, Rob Smith. You keep my feet on the ground and my head in the sky.

One

N
eshama shoves an enormous blue duffel bag down the stairs. It slides sloth-like down a few steps and then stops, caught by the wooden banister.

“What, are you leaving forever?” I ask.

“I wish.” Neshama smoothes a long blond curl behind her ear and adjusts her fake designer sunglasses on her head.

I snort. “Hard to travel with that bag.”

She flaps her shirt away from her stomach. “Will you pleeeese help me?” She smiles, tilting her head to the side.

I sigh and climb up the stairs. Neshama started packing weeks ago, randomly throwing T-shirts, fashion magazines, eyeliner and half a dozen lipsticks into her bag. This morning she was still stuffing romance novels under the bulging zipper.

We each pick up a strap of the duffel bag and half lift, half drag it down the stairs. As we lug the bag into the front hall, I knock my elbow on the newel post; pain shoots up my arm. Neshama tries not to snicker. Even though she’s two years older and entering her last year of high school, I’m already four inches taller. That’s four more inches of gangly arms, rangy legs, pointy elbows and bony knees.

“That’s all you’re taking?” She looks at my small red suitcase by the front door.

“It’s just going to be Bubbie and me at the cottage.”

Our Abba rushes down the stairs behind us with a large canvas suitcase, sweating through his white shirt.

“Ellie, go help your mother, please.”

“What’s the matter now?”

“Something about her sun hat.”

I’ve already refolded the clothes in Ima’s suitcase twice: last night and this morning. Ima has been preparing for months to go to Israel. She made lists: Immodium, film, laundry soap, walking shoes. She went shopping, made neat piles on our dining room table. This morning she is still rearranging her suitcase, randomly sticking things into her bag, wrinkling her blouses, shoving socks and bras into corner pockets.

“Anyway, she needs help. We need to be ready to go before you do.” Abba stops. His eyes flicker to Neshama’s legs. “Neshama, is that what you’re wearing to camp?” He runs his fingers through his curly brown beard.

“Yeah, what’s wrong?”

“Your skirt.”

Neshama peers over her shoulder at the slit in the back. “It’s fine.”

Abba frowns. “You can see the back of your knees.”

Neshama sighs. “It’s hot outside, and everyone wears skirts like this at camp.”

“Go and change.”

They stand, glaring at each other. I slink up the stairs.

“Ima?” I peer into her dim bedroom. The curtains are drawn, the air conditioner is turned off. Ima sits on the end of her bed, hands slack in her lap, her pointy shoulders hunched. Her open suitcase is a twisted mess of clothes.

“Are you ready to go?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Abba says you can’t find your hat.”

“Oh, I found it.” She holds up a crushed straw hat with floppy yellow chrysanthemums on the brim.

“Okay, so can we go then? Bubbie is going to be here any minute.” I sit down on the bed next to her, peer at her drawn face, the deep circles under her eyes.

“I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.”

“What?”

“Well, I’m not sure.”

“Do you have your toothbrush?”

“Yes.”

“Plane ticket? Passport?”

“Abba has those.”

“Well, then don’t worry. Everything else you can get in Israel.”

Abba leans into the room. “Are you coming?” He drums his fingers on the wall, looking at Ima. “Your mother’s here.”

“I’ll be there in a second,” Ima says. She turns to me. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay with Bubbie for the whole summer?”

“Totally fine. Don’t worry.” I squeeze Ima’s hand and zip up her suitcase, stopping to refold a blouse. Ima sighs as she tucks a chestnut curl under her scarf. She adjusts
the belt on her new, long-sleeved sundress and follows me downstairs.


Nu
, so are we all ready?” Bubbie says. She pushes an enormous pair of rhinestone-studded sunglasses up her forehead and settles them carefully in her silver hairdo.

Bubbie, Ima’s mom, is our country club grandmother. She plays bridge, volunteers for Hadassah and meets friends for golf or tennis twice a week. Today she wears a white polo shirt, beige walking shorts and pink high heels.

“We just have to say
t’fillah ha’derech
,” Abba says.

“There’s really no time—” Bubbie protests.

“It’ll just take a second.” Abba whips his prayer book out of his fanny pack and starts chanting the prayer for safe travel, his voice slightly nasal. We stand in the tiny front hall surrounded by luggage. I chant the prayer under my breath. Neshama rolls her eyes. I notice she has changed into a different skirt. Bubbie wiggles her toes, the perfect pale pink ovals of her toenails peeking out of her open-toe pumps.

Abba finishes the prayer, and Ima says, “Amen. Now we sit.”

“Oh, c’mon, this is ridiculous,” Bubbie says. “You’re going to miss your flight.”

“Just one minute.” Ima ushers us into the living room.

“Ima, the bus is going to leave without me,” Neshama wails.

Ima smiles and sits next to Abba on the beige sofa. Neshama, Bubbie and I wait in the doorway.

A moment passes. Ima smiles. “Okay, let’s go.”

Outside, the sun glares through the thick muggy air. I leave my suitcase on the front porch and help Neshama load her duffel bag into Bubbie’s trunk. Abba piles his and Ima’s suitcases on top and squishes the lid closed.

“Okay,” Bubbie says, “pile in.”

Abba hands me a shoebox lined with wax paper. “
Knishes
and
rugelach
.”

“Thanks.”

He clumsily smoothes my hair, his wedding ring grazing my forehead. “You’ll be careful, right?”

“Yes, Abba.”

Ima squeezes my arm and stands on tiptoe to kiss me. “Have a good time at the cottage.”

Neshama hugs me. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“I’ll be back to pick you up in an hour,” Bubbie says. They pull away, waving and smiling.

I walk up the street to drop off my fish tank at my friend Becca’s house. When I get back, I sit on the front porch next to my suitcase and stretch out my long legs, wrapping my skinny arms around me. The humidity makes my straight hair flip out at the ends. A sticky layer of sweat forms between my almost touching thighs.

My red vinyl suitcase holds two skirts—one khaki, one denim—a saggy one-piece bathing suit, seven pairs of cotton briefs, two beige A-cup bras, a rain slicker, my old gray sweater and five pastel T-shirts with three-quarter-length sleeves in mauve, peach, baby blue, yellow and mint green. In the outside compartment are books (
Encyclopedia of the Ocean
;
Linnaeus: The Man and His Work
;
Frogs of Ontario
), binoculars,
one Hello Kitty notebook, six
HB
#2 pencils, three ballpoint pens, a magnifying glass and my
Complete Artscroll Siddur
. I’ve been ready to go for weeks.

I can hear endless cars and trucks whizzing by on Eglinton Avenue. Weeds push up through the walkway to our house; a small spindly tree wilts on our square plot of lawn. The heat rises thick and squalid with Toronto summer pollution. I get up and step into the shade of the front porch and settle into an old tan wicker chair, picking at the loose strands on the armrest. Only one more hour, and I’m done with the city for the summer.

I’m leaving asphalt, concrete and traffic. I’m leaving polyester school skirts stained with sweat from sitting on vinyl seats. It’s the summer of 1987. I’m fifteen and I’m leaving Torah and
Mishna
classes for trees, the lake and the blue blue sky.

When Bubbie pulls up in her white Cadillac an hour later, she rolls down the window and leans her head out. “Are you ready, kid?” I nod and she releases the trunk. “Let’s blow this pop stand.”

I drop my bag in the car and hop into the icy cool, beige and maroon leather interior.

Two hours of traffic: stalls on the 401, rubberneckers in minivans, pickup trucks with
ATV
s, old Volkswagens carrying fancy canoes. Exhaust shimmers in the heat off the asphalt. Off the collector lanes, then back on. Bottleneck at Pickering. An old Mustang full of teenage boys snakes up the center shoulder,
BMW
s politely honking. We pass mini malls edged against Lake Ontario, industrial areas, the occasional
rolling hill. Bubbie sings along to the Supremes.
Can’t help myself. I love you and nobody else
.

Finally we turn off the 401, and there are just trees and rocks and bushes, the occasional marsh, black stumps growing up through the water like prehistoric remnants of forest. I want to roll down the window and let the fresh air blow my hair back, but I know Bubbie will complain about the wind on her neck.

I twist sideways in my seat and lean against the door. A smile sneaks across my lips.

“Do you think it’ll be warm enough to swim?”I ask.

“Of course. I bought you a suit. I wasn’t sure if you had one.”

“Oh, thank you.”

Bubbie sighs. “You don’t have one?”

“No, I have one. It’s just plain black.”

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