Morning and Evening, Pt. XVIII
The latest installment in an ongoing narrative, told week by week
“Do you know, this isn’t the first Sunday supper I’ve taken here?” said Pawel, keeping his eyes on his fingers. “I know this wood. This stream. This pool. I made this pole a year ago… Since I’ve grown, every Sunday it’s the same. I return home from the church. My father tells me to take my belly elsewhere, that there’s nothing for me at his table. I steal the pigs’ bread and go. Every Sunday I break the Sabbath here, and return to the church after. I sleep on my pallet by the altar, and Jesus looks down at me, and I can’t meet his gaze. All the good Christians are at their Sunday suppers now, wives and fathers and daughters and sons… but I sit here, and when the water freezes over—I’ll steal a saw too, and cut the ice open, and catch my supper still. I’ve never told Father Arkady about it. You have no father, and mine regrets my life. I’m cursed, and you’re unlucky. And now it seems we both have secrets.”
“I don’t feel unlucky—here,” Yossel said, his heart beating wildly.
Pawel cocked his head, looking at him. The sun was sinking now, and his face was dyed in the hot colors of the fading sun above, and the embers below.
“Teach me my name,” he said.
“You said you could teach me to write my name. Teach me my name, before you go. Or I’ll be an X all my life—if I have to sign anything. If you teach me, I can be Pawel, instead.”
Yossel nodded, and took in his hand the sharp stick they’d used as a spit. Charred black, it wrote on the rock in careful curves: P, a, w, e, l.
“You are not cursed,” he said, staring at the word he’d scrawled in ash. He looked up at the older boy—whose one eye had seen him better than anyone. “I don’t care what your family says, or the farrier, or the goatherd. You’re not cursed. You’re Pawel. Not an X, or a bad omen. And I’m no rebbe in the making—not here. Not today. Take it up—” he gestured at the stake— “and write it yourself, on the rock. Start with the first letter and move forward: P, a, w, e, l.”
They sat by the pool in the gathering dusk, until darkness obscured the letters they traced in the dust. When they walked back towards the town, the wind sang between their shoulders, covering the words they’d spoken and those they had yet to say.
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