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“Two possibilities. Us or yourself. Probably both parties.”

“Talk about cynical! C’mon, Sheila, give me a break. You still haven’t supplied a motive for my lying about this, if lying I am, which let me assure you I’m not.”

“What you’re doing, dear Irwin, is what is nowadays called virtue-signalling. You’re telling us that, beneath your rough — and highly profitable — exterior beats a large and good soul. Sorry, I don’t buy it.”

“What would it take to make you believe it?” Irwin asked.

“I’ll believe it,” Sheila said, “the day you show up for dinner at Twin Orchards in a Salvation Army uniform.”

My wife, pouring the dregs of the bottle of Zin, giggled. Artie looked down. I tried to keep a straight face.

“I guess you’re next, Sheila,” said Ellie. “What’s your great self-deception.”

“My greatest self-deception,” said Sheila, “one I refuse to relinquish, is that I shall one day conquer the anxiety that has been with me all my life. I hope I’ve succeeded in camouflaging how prevalent it has been from all of you — my sweet Arthur of course excepted, who has had to put up with it all these years.

“What you can’t know, because I’ve never brought it up, even with you, my closest friends, is that my mother, prominent in the Sisterhood at Ner Tamid Synagogue, was an alcoholic, a functioning one, I guess, as we nowadays say. But when she’d be drinking, her capacity for shaming my brother Eddie and me could be very impressive. She wasn’t above showing up late and loaded for a teacher’s conference, or neglecting to pick me up for a dental appointment after school, or burning our dinner. My father bailed out on her when I was eleven and Eddie fourteen. Jewish divorces in those days were rare, at least they were in West Rogers Park. The official story, some of you may remember, was that my father had run off with a younger woman. The truth is that he ran away from a secret drunk, my mother.

“Somehow my brother hardened himself to our mother’s behavior. I never could. Not being able to depend on an only parent shakes a child’s confidence, and shakes it permanently. I know it shook mine.

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