Morning and Evening, Pt. IV
The fourth installment in an ongoing narrative, told week by week
Yossel and Pawel parted at the church steps in the village square. It was later than he had thought, Yossel realized suddenly; the shadows of the squat wood stores canted eastward. He cocked his head as Pawel ascended the stair, his gait returning to its customary clumsiness. Gone was the grace that had lent itself to those thin limbs, freed of the heavy brown broadcloth that encased them now, and the brilliant quickness of his movements, which, it had seemed then to Yossel, could have colored even the empty air with light, reverted to a kind of crouched and shameful homeliness, a careful humility of posture. And then the arched doors of the church opened and closed again. In the sleepy Sabbath afternoon, when the dust was still under his feet, when the procession of men returning from synagogue had passed and their wives and daughters coming forth to greet them had passed, Yossel was alone.
When he closed his eyes, he saw again the white expanse of Pawel’s body splayed out on the plateau of stone, under the lush skirts of beech and oak. Painfully the vision lodged in his mind, jutted against his throat, knotted his gut. The ease with which he had scrambled over roots toward the hidden lake had departed from him also. Like a drunk he lurched homeward, remembering by degree his hunger for his mother’s cholent and the drowsiness of a Sabbath afternoon. Everywhere sunlight fell heedlessly at his feet. His mother would be waiting at the door, as she was every week, unless she came to the synagogue to greet him. She would have her black curls wrapped in a kerchief, as was her Sabbath custom. She would have no idea—nowhere in those clear dark eyes would be knowledge of what he had done. And what had he done? Swum in cool water with a half-mad Polish boy, who called to the sky in Church Latin and wore a crown of gold hair between his legs, a crown seared now, stitched now in burning thread, under Yossel’s two thin eyelids.