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He would narrow his eyes and purse his lips, as if he were thinking, thinking, thinking. "Mrs. Houghteling," he would then say, pronouncing both the H and the gh with a hard, exaggerated Yiddish ch, as if he were clearing a hairball from his throat. It was only years later that Annie and Miranda discovered the proper pronunciation was Hefftling. "Mrs. Chechtling," the girls would chant back at him, feeling the word, an ugly word for an ugly soul, vibrating deliciously in their throats. " They had heard the story so many times that "chechtling" had become a Weissmann family verb for snobbish behavior.
Now, as Miranda walked beside her sister, she wondered if Josie wanted to be free, free of Annie and herself. As well as their mother, of course. "It's so sad," she said. " She felt her phone vibrating. When she saw who it was, she didn't answer. "Christ," she muttered, but Annie didn't hear her. "And expensive," Annie was saying. " That had certainly been her experience. She had been married, many years ago. She had two grown children to prove it. But her husband, such an intense, driven young man, had turned out to be a gambler.
As the weeks wore on, the marriage mediation sessions began. Betty and Joseph went to an office oddly situated in Chelsea. " Betty asked. " "This is a very dumpy office," Betty whispered. They had walked down the narrow stairs of a decrepit brownstone to what was the basement level. "This was called the English basement when they first started doing them in New York. Nineteenth century. Very Upstairs, Downstairs, don't you think? Do you remember when Annie hired a carpenter she found in the Village Voice classifieds?