Morning and Evening, Pt. XX
The latest installment in an ongoing narrative, told week by week
Yossel is standing in the nave of the church again. It is empty of worshipers and of the priest himself; even Pawel is nowhere to be found. On the lectern in the center is a tray of bread and a squat jug of wine, but the glasses and plates on it are empty. Saints gaze at him from the walls just as before, with their sharp faces and reproving eyes. Jesus is slumped against the cross with his thin arms spread wide; blood weeps from his wounds, staining his linens. But the god turns his tormented face towards Yossel suddenly. Then the church begins to whirl and whirl, a brightly colored blur, whipping around him like a Hasid in an ecstatic dance; the only fixed point is the pained eyes of the god, until even his face begins to shift and change. Then it is Schoenbrun leering at him from the pedestal in the place of Jesus, raising a shot glass, letting the liquor stream into his dirty beard and laughing; then the room spins again, the face of the god transforms; it is his mother looking at him, with the same pained gaze; it is Pawel, the gold crown of hair between his legs shining; it is Yossel himself gazing at his twin with black eyes dark as glass. And then again it is the god, facing him from the gold-framed wall of icons; he is mouthing a word that Yossel cannot hear, over and over. Or perhaps he is singing.
On the morning of the third day of his illness, the eve of his bar mitzvah Shabbes, he awoke as the last beads of sweat cooled and dried on his brow. His fever had broken. He felt weightless as he rose from his bed, as if he had shed his fear, his pain, along with so much water. His limbs felt weak, but cleansed somehow, and his mind was sharp and clear.
When he appeared by the stove his mother clutched him and wept, and her hands grasped his thin shoulders tightly enough to cause him pain. But he held her hands where she stood, so close; as she wept, exclaiming words of joy, he closed his eyes. In the cool dark world under his lids there was only silence, and a feeling of tremulous lightness.
This strange feeling persisted in him even when they sat down to eat their Sabbath meal; he could only sip a few spoonfuls of soup, and pick at the rest of his supper. He felt burnt clean, hollow as a sucked egg. When he saw himself in the glass, his face was drained and pale, and his eyes gazed black and huge over his hollow cheeks. That night he slept and did not dream.