Morning and Evening, Pt. XIII
The thirteenth installment in an ongoing narrative, told week by week
When the congregation rose to engage in silent prayer, Yossel stood also, but the prayer book dangled limply from his hand. He wanted suddenly to clench that hand into a fist, to clamp his mouth tight against the service he knew so well; not to entreat, but to curse, not to ape the words of Scripture, but to call out all the obscene words he knew. The dark slats of the shtiebel walls, the stench of damp wool overcoats, the mildew blotching the edges of his ragged prayer book, filled him with unease; he thought, my shoes are shined and my heartis barren; his lips were wet for the taste of other lips, for the cool metal of a golden cross, for marbled flesh and all his stifled longings. The prayer for Jerusalem with its accompanying obeisances filled the air of the cold crowded room, that holy desert city so long abandoned to exile: and Yossel, his free fist locked tight against his ribs, wished with all his might no longer to stand in the snow and dream of the hot dry places of the sacred past; rather to lie on the black earth outside the warped wood door until it bloomed, rather let his blood run hot with sin and close his mouth against apology, never again beat his breast to beg forgiveness.
But before he could speak, or break the tranquil monotone of hurried prayer with a hasty exit, the service had ended; and at once he was borne from the room by the men of Hanachiv, stamping their feet to warm them before the long walk to laden holiday tables.