Morning and Evening, Pt. V
The fourth installment in an ongoing narrative, told week by week
Yossel feared both his mother’s rage and her sorrows, which came on without warning. In the height of summer, winter would enter her heart and darken it. She would lie in bed and bemoan her fate until even her lips were too weak to move, and on such days Yossel would eat cold bread and await her return, as if from a long journey. She lies in the bed: sweat dampens her brow, her eyes grow filmy and dark; days may pass, or only half a day. When the darkness was heaviest she neglected the tavern and the house. Yossel would slip out to heder in the morning and when he returned in the evening dust had gathered in his wake on the stoop, but little else had changed.
Sometimes she called out for her mother in a little mewling voice, as though she were a small girl, though her mother had died of a fever long before Yossel’s birth. Or else she would call his father’s name and laugh hideously, in grim imitation of a gay, youthful flirt. On these days—the worst days of all—Yossel lit a lamp and stared fiercely at his books until the letters swam before his eyes, and the very air of the house grew dense with the spirits of the departed. He would bring her bread or boiled potatoes and beg her to eat; she stared at him without recognition and turned her gaunt, pale face to the wall like Josiah the king in his last days.
And then without warning she would rise, hang out the bedclothes to air, wash herself vigorously—and ask how many days had elapsed in her “spell of foolishness.” Again the tavern doors would be flung open, with profuse apologies to the regulars, and she would play tunes on the fortepiano while the drunkards sang.
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