Morning and Evening, Pt. III
The third installment in an ongoing narrative, told week by week
Previously published: Morning and Evening, Part I and Part II
“Good morning, Yossel,” Pawel called out.
“Good morning, Pawel Janowic,” Yossel replied.
When Pawel reached the bottom stair he held out his hand in greeting. The lines of his red palm were thin and deeply etched, his fingers coated in dust; he must have been sweeping the church. Yossel lifted his own hand tentatively; it felt so heavy he thought it might slice the dry air in two. Pawel clasped it in greeting and let it go at once—as if the moist heat of Yossel’s palm might burn him.
“It’s hot today,” said Pawel. In the full light, the sagged lid of his left eye showed a blue vein, the skin nearly translucent. He cocked his head, gazing at Yossel. “Isn’t it your Sabbath day?”
“Yes,” said Yossel. And then: “Today we read prayers from the prayer-book and words from our holy book. And then we go home and bless our bread and sing to God.”
“But you’re not praying now,” said Pawel, “—you came to the square.”
“I know,” said Yossel. Hot light spilled over Pawel’s folded knees, swaddled in brown broadcloth; again he stood silent over the older boy, where he sat on the bottom stair, bracing himself with frail white hands. Yossel wished his shoes were gone so he could feel the hot earth on his feet—hot enough to anchor him here—lest he float and hover, skimming the church spire and the village roofs. His heart was hammering, straining up toward his collar; the sun was big and yellow as a round of fried dough on a blue plate of sky. Yossel felt a thousand miles from the dark shtiebel, penned between muck-yards where even the trees had died; he shuddered, thinking of the fishyard where cut skulls studded the dust, burst eyes, gaped mouths, and a snow of scraped scales draping the sides of the barrels.
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