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Written by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub. Taub is the author of four books of poetry, “Prayers of a Heretic/Tfiles fun an apikoyres,” “Uncle Feygele,” “What Stillness Illuminated/Vos shtilkayt hot baloykhtn,” and “The Insatiable Psalm.” “Tsugreytndik zikh tsu tantsn: naye Yidishe lider/Preparing to Dance: New Yiddish songs,” a CD of nine of his Yiddish poems set to music, was released in 2014. Taub was honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage as one of New York’s best emerging Jewish artists and has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net award. His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Jewish Literary Journal and Jewish Fiction .net. His website is www.yataub.net. For more Jewrotica writing by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, see Early Talkie, From Night to Night, Portrait of a Predecessor, and In Blue Moonlight.
A tepid afternoon light filled the beys-medresh. It was the sort of day when it wasn’t clear whether it was sunny or cloudy, mild or chilly. The gilt bindings of the sacred books that lined the walls and covered the shtenders seemed to glow more steadily, more brightly in such ambiguity of light and climate. The scholars, all of them married, were in various poses of study. Some were seated; some were standing. Some were bent over the shtenders in concentration, while others gestured passionately. Some even jumped up and down to emphasize a point or an insight only just gleaned from a particularly thorny passage of the Talmud.
Although Meyer had seen and been a participant in this scene and others like it for many years, everything seemed strangely sharper and clearer to him today. Maybe it was because of the weather. Or the absence of Yerukhem, his khavruse, might have been the cause. Yerukhem’s wife Brokhe was in the hospital about to give birth to their first child. Although he occasionally spotted other scholars “bumming” around in the hallways or the coatroom or sometimes even in the beys-medresh itself, Meyer rarely joined them. Nor was he prone to bouts of looking around the room. As a rule, Meyer tried to stay focused on the text under scrutiny. His time here was precious, and he didn’t want anything to distract him from learning.
His wife Feygi wouldn’t have wanted that, either. Meyer considered himself fortunate that Feygi supported his Torah study both financially and emotionally. Feygi was a manager in a supermarket a few blocks off the main shopping avenue. Her father also provided additional financial support during the holidays or when the occasion warranted it. Feygi never complained about the meager stipend that the kolel paid Meyer.
Of course, Yerukhem wouldn’t have allowed Meyer’s attention to stray far from their study. Yerukhem was renowned through the kolel for his ability to comprehend a difficult text and to extricate layers of meaning with great speed. His originality of thought coupled with his profound humility (a rare combination) had endeared him to his teachers from an early age. Recently, just several years into kolel study, Yerukhem had published a volume of original commentaries on the tractate Sukkah fronted by five letters of rabbinical approbation. Yerukhem intended to remove his name from the volume but Meyer convinced him otherwise. Why shouldn’t people know these were his insights? Besides, Meyer was proud of Yerukhem’s accomplishments and wanted others to know of them, too. Meyer donated a small amount and helped gather the funds to finance publication. When he first received a copy of the volume, Meyer turned to the preface and was pleased to see that Yerukhem had thanked him profusely for his contributions in the acknowledgments. He made sure to convey his own thanks to Yerukhem for the mention.
Meyer was surprised when Yerukhem agreed to be his khavruse. He could easily have selected any of the most outstanding young men in the kolel. Meyer had heard that Yerukhem’s previous khavruse was leaving the kolel to go into business with his father-in-law and wasted no time in asking him. An electronics store was the previous khavruse’s new line of business, if Meyer wasn’t mistaken. Maybe it was just a matter of timing, of being the first to ask Yerukhem. Maybe Yerukhem took pity on him, Meyer sometimes thought. Meyer’s father had died of an unexpected heart attack at age fifty-three, a month and a half before Meyer became a bar mitzvah. Meyer had been in a period of intense preparation with his father for his pshetil, regularly fine-tuning it with his father’s guidance. One day his mother had found his father bent over his shtender and broke the news to Meyer when he came from yeshiva.
Still, if timing or pity had landed him Yerukhem’s khavruse-ship, they alone could not have guaranteed its continuity and success. Meyer found himself rising to the occasion. He prepared at home every evening, readying himself for Yerukhem’s probing questioning the next day. He reviewed not only the page of the Talmud but also Rashi and Tosefot as well as some of the more advanced commentaries if time permitted.
Meyer had prepared with similar focus and intensity after his father’s death. Arguably, this was when he really developed the discipline to become a Torah scholar. His mother did not permit him to buckle under the grief. After the funeral and the mourning period, which Meyer now remembered as a wash of grief and gray, his mother came into his room and told him that he had to go on. He had to go back to yeshiva and continue his preparations for his bar mitzvah. This is what his father would have wanted for him. Even as she plunged into the preparation of the vast amount of food for the celebration, his mother kept Meyer on track. Meyer could hardly recall his father’s voice now and sometimes wondered if he would recall his face if his mother hadn’t placed photographs discreetly yet strategically around their apartment, such as on bookcases, end tables, and in the dining room breakfront.
During the period after his father’s death, Meyer studied every night until exhaustion in the dining room beneath the portraits of rabbinical sages who had influenced his father. The portrait of Reb Hirsh, the head of his father’s yeshiva, who was still living and had delivered the eulogy at his funeral, had been enlarged and hung above his father’s now empty seat at the table. When Meyer was seven years old, his father had brought him on the eve of Yom Kippur to Reb Hirsh for a blessing. He remembered Reb Hirsh’s kindly face and the touch of his hands on his head, if not the words of the blessing itself. Perhaps it was the long-ago blessing given by Reb Hirsh that had helped him become who he was today. Reb Hirsh sat at the table next to him during his bar mitzvah festivities. While delivering his pshetil, Meyer looked out at the room and saw his mother standing with the women in the back (in the next room actually), beaming with pride. Reb Hirsh was the first to offer him yasher-koyekh after he completed the pshetil without error.
As Meyer looked around the beys-medresh, his mind wandered to Yerukhem and Brokhe. He hoped that all was well but he didn’t want to reach out to them at this point. Not just yet. Let Yerukhem and Brokhe spend this time together. It was a special time for them, when they would fulfill the biblical commandment to be fruitful and multiply, when they would be blessed with a source of nakhes for themselves, when they could bring a new member into the House of Israel.
Meyer and Feygi had tried without success for more than three years to conceive. It hadn’t been easy for Meyer to fulfill his duties as a husband. He’d known for years that he was burdened with unwanted same sex attraction. It had started at puberty and never relented. He was always careful never to let anyone know or suspect, keeping his eyes averted in the locker room or elsewhere. It had been especially hard in the yeshiva dormitory, but he managed by taking a shower very early in the morning. Fortunately, the yeshiva showers had not been communal.
When he was in bed with Feygi, Meyer found the images of handsome men coming into his mind—men he’d seen on the street or the rare occasions when he rode the subway or even in the beys-medresh itself. He didn’t exactly welcome them, but neither did he turn them away. As much as he tried not to, he sometimes even thought of Yerukhem himself. In addition to his intellect, Yerukhem was gifted with a fine physique—broad shoulders, muscular chest, slim waist—and a handsome face illuminated by penetrating hazel eyes. Despite the many hours they spent together each week, Meyer trained his eyes to look away from Yerukhem’s physical self and to focus instead on the texts in front of them. But sometimes just hearing Yerukhem’s voice excited Meyer. Somehow Meyer was able to consummate his marriage, even as he knew that Feygi must surely have suspected that the desire wasn’t there on his part. He hoped that Feygi didn’t attribute his performance to her own shortcomings, and he tried to be especially attentive with her during their time together outside the marital bed.
Still, Meyer could tell by the sidelong glances that Feygi gave him when she thought he wouldn’t notice or by the sighs that seemed to inadvertently escape from her that she knew quite well who he was and what he wasn’t giving her. In fact, Meyer had detected just such a glance and sigh this morning when she was sipping her coffee standing at the kitchen sink, her slim figure piercing the indeterminate light, while he was seated at the table eating his granola with bananas. His thoughts flicked lazily from the water in the dishpan to the gray of Feygi’s housecoat to the light outside. Could light be dishwashy, he asked himself.
But more pointedly Meyer couldn’t help but notice that even in a frayed housecoat Feygi somehow maintained a certain elegance. Meyer wondered if the housecoat itself was a sign. Growing up, his mother had never worn such a garment in the kitchen, even at the beginning of the day. It seemed to Meyer that Feygi’s unhappiness didn’t stem merely from their childlessness as a couple or even from her dissatisfaction with his present absence in the night chamber, but rather from a deeper, essential lack in Meyer himself. Meyer thought back to their few “dates” in a restaurant after their match had been made by a neighborhood rebetzin. Their conversation often faltered, despite their shared objective of raising a large, Torah-observant family. Even then Feygi had been quiet (perhaps furtive?), loath to make full eye contact yet somehow not missing anything. Had Feygi known even then about him? If so, why had she agreed to marry him? Of course, he could never bring himself to ask her.
Meyer had wondered for years whether his attraction to men would prevent him from getting married. When his mother spoke with him about a matchmaker who was investigating possible matches for him, Meyer made an appointment to visit Reb Hirsh. Although he’d seldom seen him since his bar mitzvah, Meyer felt that Reb Hirsh could guide him. Reb Hirsh’s talmed muvhek who functioned as his assistant, ushered Meyer into Reb Hirsh’s book-lined study. Reb Hirsh welcomed him and immediately launched into an analysis of the Talmudic tractate he was then studying (Bava kama). As their discussion deepened, Meyer wondered how exactly he would bring up the cause of his visit. Only he didn’t have to. Reb Hirsh asked Meyer about his marriage plans. Meyer had thought carefully about how he was going to speak about this matter with Reb Hirsh.
—Rebe, I actually came to speak with you about that inyen. This is hard to talk about, and I haven’t told anyone else about it. I’ve been attracted to men all of my adult life. I’ve tried to stop these thoughts but I can’t. They never go away. I don’t know if I can be mekayem my khiyev with a woman. Does the Rebe think I should get married?
Reb Hirsh didn’t seem shocked or even surprised by Meyer’s revelation. He looked down briefly and then replied:
—I’m glad you told me about this, Meyer. Her zikh ayn/listen, we all have the yeytser-hore/the evil inclination inside of us. Everyone faces challenges to remaining on the derekh ha-yosher/the path of righteousness of the Torah and Khazal/our sages of blessed memory. This tayve/lust is your challenge. You have to work hard, harder than you’ve been working, to overcome what the yeytser-hore has set in front of you. ou must get married and be mekayem the mitzvah of peru u-revu. Don’t separate yourself from Klal Yisroel. And don’t forget that you are a ben yohed. It’s your responsibility to carry on the name of your father. Think of your mother. Think of how much nakhes she will get from you as a father and from grandchildren!
Both of them looked down and fell into silence following Reb Hirsh’s response. There didn’t seem to be anything else to add. Nothing Reb Hirsh said was new to him. After what seemed like an appropriate interval, Meyer thanked Reb Hirsh for his guidance, shook his hand, and left, this time without the accompaniment of the talmed muvhek. Even if his burden hadn’t exactly been lifted, Meyer was relieved to have shared it with someone.
As he left Reb Hirsh’s office, Meyer found himself wondering (not for the first time) if would he have “developed” differently if his father hadn’t died at that crucial point in his life. This conjecture had arisen from a magazine article he came across in the dentist’s office shortly after his father’s death. He remembered shuddering back then while reading it, hoping his mother wouldn’t notice. And buried in her Psalms, she hadn’t. Even if she had noticed, his mother probably would have attributed it to his dentist-waiting-room-nerves. Of course Meyer now knew that that the once reigning theory that a close mother and the distant/absent father led to sons like him had long been categorically discredited by all reputable scientists. And yet he was also quite aware that there were entire programs dedicated to “changing” the desires of those like him. He had seen their advertisements discreetly placed in various communal publications. Meyer was grateful that Reb Hirsh had not suggested such a program.
After several dates with Feygi (one at a Chinese restaurant, the other a walk in the park the next neighborhood over), Meyer considered telling her about his “condition.” But he really was enjoying her company, and he felt drawn to her slim figure and grace, her way of listening to his words as if they were of great importance. He felt that he had the potential to build a God-fearing home with Feygi. He didn’t want to scare her away and ruin his chances. He’d already been rejected by two other young women. It really was time to settle down. When he was walking down the wedding aisle, his arm linked in his mother’s, he wondered again whether he should have revealed his secret to Feygi. As she completed her seven circles around him under the khupe and stood by his side, Meyer understood that it was too late, that he would now never reveal this part of himself to Feygi.
As his mind continued to drift in Yerukhem’s absence, Meyer decided to step away from the beys-medresh. It was nearly lunchtime in any case. Grabbing his jacket but leaving his fedora in the coatroom, Meyer left without informing anyone. He walked briskly towards the subway station and descended the station. Sometimes Meyer thought of the descent into the subway station as his descent into the underworld, into Gehenem/hell itself. Here commenced the voyage that would take him into the heart of what he simultaneously desired and what he desired to avoid.
The theater auditorium was dark, with little illumination from the scene onscreen. Meyer waited briefly against the wall to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkness before making his way to a seat in the back. He had little experience with theaters since movies, with their incitement of lust and their overall frivolity, were forbidden in the community.
But Meyer had been coming regularly to this theater and several others like it for several years, nearly immediately after his marriage. He came at times of the day when he imagined himself to be least conspicuous—late afternoon or after dinner, when he was supposed to be at his seyder. It only took about a half-hour each way to reach the area in the city where the theaters were located. If he were careful, the entire excursion could last no more than two and a half hours, sometimes considerably less. Meyer found such visits considerably less risky than purchasing magazines from the kiosk. He really had nowhere safe to hide them. A locked desk drawer in his study might have aroused Feygi’s suspicion when she came in to clean.
Meyer had been in the neighborhood to visit the central library when he first happened upon on this theater. Yerukhem had asked him to examine an early edition of a commentary, printed in Vienna in the middle of the nineteenth century, of which only eight copies were known to be extant. Yerukhem’s insistence had been well-placed. Meyer found the edition to be rich with insightful glossa handwritten by another commentator who was clearly not the author. He wondered if Yerukhem had informed the librarian of the treasure but decided not to approach him. He’d ask Yerukhem later. Buoyed by this encounter with a rare text and glossa, Meyer decided to walk around the neighborhood before returning home. After several blocks, he noticed the proliferation of theaters with flashing white and red lights. Most had the outlines of the female form above their door. However, on a side street just off the main avenue, Meyer spotted one with a male silhouette and a sign that read “Adonis” above its door. Meyer felt his heart begin to race and quickly paid the entrance fee.
The smell in the theater was both stale and sharp. There was a sour human odor that could not be eradicated by a regularly applied overlay of industrial-strength cleaning fluid. Meyer entered the auditorium and looked at the film on screen. He realized that, with his fedora, beard, and long black coat, he was conspicuous even in the dark theater. Meyer’s eyes drifted from the images onscreen to the movement in the theater itself. Individual men stood in the theater aisles before finding companions who were already seated. Sometimes they sat with them for a long time, embracing, groping, stroking, even sucking. Meyer could hear the slurping and gagging sounds. He could see that the seated theatergoers who had their crotches completely exposed and their pants on the floor were the most likely to invite company. Meyer kept his pants on, not wishing to attract any company in the seats next to him. He obtained up some paper towel and, when a fellatio scene onscreen struck him as particularly pleasing, reached efficient release and exited the theater.
Meyer had come a long way since that first time. He stopped wearing his fedora and suit jacket here. He put his yarmulke in his pocket and kept his tsitses underneath his pants, instead of outside them or in his pockets as he typically wore them. He rarely sought the company of any of the theatergoers, although sometimes he allowed one of them to stroke him to orgasm. Meyer never tried to excuse this activity to himself. He understood that what he was doing was proscribed and prayed he would one day, somehow through divine intervention, be freed from his demon.
Thinking of Yerukhem and Brokhe in the hospital, Meyer found a seat in the middle of the auditorium. His eyes drifted lazily to the scene onscreen. There wasn’t much happening—a square-jawed man was driving a pickup truck through the desert. Meyer felt a presence beside him and a hand rest on his thigh. He allowed half a minute to elapse before turning his head slightly. A young man, in his early twenties, perhaps just a few years younger than himself, smiled at him, radiant in the dark. Meyer smiled in return and felt the young man’s hands travel ever so slightly up and then down his thigh. Meyer was surprised when the young man’s hand didn’t reach for his groin. Instead, when he turned to him, the young man moved his face closer and began to kiss Meyer. Meyer turned his head more fully to him, ran his hands over his shirt covering a lean upper body, and moved his tongue deep inside the young man’s mouth. When they stopped to take a break, the credits for the film rolled up the screen. Meyer realized that he had to get home. He smiled and introduced himself to the young man, who introduced himself as Silas. As he stood up to go, the young man gestured for him to wait. He found a scrap of paper in his wallet, wrote down his name and number and handed it to Meyer, who thanked him, pocketed the piece of paper, and hurried out of the theater.
Several days later, the good news arrived. Brokhe had given birth to a baby girl; both mother and child were in good health. Yerukhem, Brokhe, and their families were relieved that the birth had not needed to be a Caesarian as feared. Yerukhem had remained with Brokhe in the delivery room throughout the birthing process. Back in the beys-medresh, Yerukhem was surrounded by well-wishers and greeted everywhere with “Mazl tov!” and handshakes. Throughout their sedorim, they were exuberantly interrupted by congratulations for Yerukhem. When the fifth group of well-wishers left, Meyer found it difficult to refocus his attention on their study and asked Yerukhem about their plans for the upcoming kidesh for the baby. He knew that Feygi was baking a lokshn kugl and a chocolate cake, but did they need anything else? As Meyer listened to Yerukhem’s plans, he wondered if his own carefully crafted home life was going to unravel just as Yerukhem’s was becoming fully anchored.
The scrap of yellow paper, with the name and phone number blazed in his wallet. Meyer found himself thinking repeatedly about the young man from the cinema. Meyer had never heard of the name “Silas” before. What kind of name was it? One afternoon, he slipped into a telephone booth on the avenue and called him. He was about to leave a message (without his number) on the answering machine when Silas answered the phone.
—Hello. Is this Silas? Oh good, this is Meyer. M-e-y-e-r. We met several weeks ago at the theater in the city. Yes…yeah, that was me. Um…I was wondering if you’d like to meet some time for coffee some time. Maybe late afternoon?
Silas agreed immediately, telling Meyer that he was free any evening that week. He suggested a Thursday, two days from now, a café downtown that had comfortable sofas and chairs in separate groupings that would allow privacy. Meyer said he’d find it and looked forward to meeting him. When he hung up the telephone, he was pleased that he wouldn’t have to think up an excuse. The meeting would be between his afternoon seyder and supper. He’d be able to meet Silas and be back at home in time for supper.
Silas looked even more appealing in the lamplight of the café. His light brown hair was neatly combed, not long exactly, but not a crew cut, either. He stood up and smiled at Meyer, hugging him and asking him if he wanted to order anything. Meyer declined but accepted a glass of water when the waitress came by to take their order. Silas ordered a slice of white chocolate mousse cake. As the waitress left their seating area, Meyer glanced around the café and noticed men sitting with other men, and women sitting with women. He’d heard of gay bars, of course, but were there also gay cafes?
Silas now worked at a gay bar in the evenings, having just quit his job at a health foods cafe. He’d moved from the country to the city only a year ago. When he first moved to the city, he lived at the YMCA and had just moved to a studio apartment about a half hour from this café, in fact. The name “Silas” was probably a shortened form of the name “Silvanus,” a companion of Saint Paul in the New Testament. Another interpretation was that it was a Greek form of the Hebrew name “Sha’ul.” Did Meyer have any opinion on this debate, Silas asked with a smile. Meyer replied that he did not and confessed that he wasn’t very knowledgeable about the New Testament and had only a smattering of Ancient Greek.
He wasn’t sure what to share exactly about himself. He’d never met anyone in a social, let alone erotic/romantic situation that didn’t know anything about him. Meyer decided therefore to be totally upfront. He said:
—I’m a scholar of the Talmud and rabbinical literature. I’m married without children.
—I’m surprised to hear that you’re married. I didn’t see a ring on your fingers in the theater and don’t see one now. Did you take it off?
—The men in my community don’t wear wedding rings; they’re for women only. The husband utters the words to his betrothed: “With this ring you are consecrated to me.”
Meyer tried to speak in a lively tone, hoping that he didn’t sound teacherly or pedantic to Silas. But Silas appeared attentive throughout, asking pointed questions about his community and keeping the conversation going. After about an hour, when Meyer glanced at his watch, he realized (again) that he had to return home. The two made plans to meet the following week.
The baby’s name was Miryem-Zisl after Brokhe’s maternal grandmother and Yerukhem’s paternal grandmother. The kidesh in her honor was very well-attended, overflowing even. The men sat on long tables in the living room, and the women stood packed in the dining room near the kitchen. Meyer made sure to sample Feygi’s lokshn kugl and chocolate cake. He would compliment her on both when they got home. Yerukhem gave a brief speech, thanking all of those in attendance for their support and good wishes and sang the praises of Brokhe, his one-and-only and a true woman of valor. As the celebration unfolded, Meyer thought about how he could bring it to life for Silas at their next get-together. What details would be the most telling? The sentiments of Yerukhem’s speech? The food? The singing? His own happiness for Yerukhem and Brokhe laced with longing (envy?). No, not that. Of course, not that. The two had already seen each other several times, and Meyer was looking forward to seeing him again, even if he couldn’t quite bring himself to use the word “date” yet.
That “get-together” (more neutral) arrived sooner than Meyer expected. Silas lived on a noisy street, with music blaring from windows and children playing in the street. Meyer opened a squeaky metal door and climbed some metal stairs, hearing the sounds of babies crying, and presented Silas with a bouquet of white roses that he had purchased in a kiosk near the subway station. Silas’s apartment was narrow, with each room leading into the other “railroad” style.
The table was set; Silas said that he’d wanted to surprise Meyer. He knew Meyer had to get back home, but he wanted to cook him a meal, his favorite one that his grandmother used to make. He’d made chicken and green beans. Silas told him that his grandmother—Gran he called her—had raised him from a young age and that he called her twice a week. Gran’s picture stood on a table beneath a mirror near the front door to Silas’s apartment. The statue of Jesus that stood next to the picture had been sent to him recently by Gran, with whom he had once attended church every Sunday.
Meyer tried to conceal his panic. He’d planned their get-togethers so carefully until today. And now this. A non-kosher meal in an apartment with a getshke with a man nisht fun di eygene. What was he doing here? Just one of these variables wouldn’t have been so egregious, but each seemed to build on the other, creating a tower of transgression.
He wanted to tell Silas that he couldn’t eat this food even if it looked delicious, that he kept kosher. Maybe it was the smooth skin peering out from Silas’s shirt or his slightly flushed face or all the trouble he had gone to in preparing the dinner but Meyer couldn’t refuse him. In any case, he could see that there was no pork or anything obviously treyf on the table. It would have to be ok tonight. Meyer would ask God to forgive him yet another trespass. He sat down and devoured Silas’s meal and complimented him on his cooking skills, ones that he lacked entirely. Meyer’s mother, the cook in the yeshiva, and then Feygi cooked all his meals. Meyer had done little more than prepare scrambled eggs or a tuna fish salad sandwich.
Silas led Meyer to the couch, and the two began to kiss. Silas unbuttoned Meyer’s shirt and began to lick his chest and nipples. He led Meyer to his bedroom, the windowless middle one in the railroad apartment and stripped, glowing in the light of dusk. He stood before Meyer fully erect. Except for his pubes and underarms, Silas’s body was mostly hairless, so unlike Meyer’s own. Meyer quickly followed his example and placed his clothes on the chair next to his bed. Silas placed a lubricated condom on Meyer (just in case!), lay on his stomach on the bed, and opened his legs.
As Meyer entered Silas, it occurred to him how different this was from his entering Feygi. On this night, the goal was to prevent the semen from swimming out; on all other nights, its dissemination (!!) was eagerly sought. After a brief clenching, Silas rose to meet Meyer’s thrusts. The two found a rhythm; Meyer felt himself expanding into Silas. As Meyer wrapped his arms around him, finding his points of pleasure, Silas moaned in abandon. Meyer felt that this was where he belonged, where he was meant to be. When he came shortly after Silas, he stayed on top on him, his cock resting between Silas’s ass cheeks. The two lay like that, until their breath was restored to evenness.
Meyer was awakened by the quiet. The boom boxes had gone silent; children were no longer playing on the pavement. Meyer didn’t want to awaken Silas who was snoring lightly in his arms. He extricated himself gently from Silas’s arms and quickly dressed. He left a note on Silas front table next to the portrait of Gran and the statue of Jesus, stating simply, “Thank you!” and left.
On the subway ride back home, Meyer considered the many sins he’d committed in just one evening, the pleasures of forbidden food and flesh that he’d savored. He wondered how he would get right by God; surely the accounts against him were stacking up in the ledger. What would he pray for next Yom Kippur? How could he have so blithely betrayed the memory of his father and the dreams of his mother who had lifted him from his grief after his father’s death to become a Torah scholar?
And yet as the train went underground, Meyer observed his smiling reflection in the window. To be sure, he was not smiling as widely as Silas when he saw Meyer standing in his doorway with a bouquet of white roses, but smiling nonetheless. He thought of Silas leaving his grandmother to live in the city. He thought of the miracle that was Silas finding him in the theater auditorium, with its groping and sticky floors and industrial-strength cleanser. Meyer wished he could share the news of Silas with Yerukhem or Reb Hirsh or his mother, if not Feygi. He wondered if he would have the strength to leave the world he’d always known as Silas had done, if their life trajectories would ever parallel each other or even converge. He wondered if his mother would continue to speak to him, as Silas’s grandmother still spoke to him, if he ever did leave the community. He thought about the sins he’d committed, which somehow didn’t feel like sins. Meyer thought of Silas’s smile, of his light brown curls, of his hand on his thigh, of his slim body opening to him. And the word “sin” didn’t feel right, or even relevant here.
As he walked up to the door of his apartment building, Meyer did not feel that he was returning from the underworld as he usually did when returning from the theater. He had been in light, and would now continue to be in light. The duality in which he had lived all of his adult life had somehow taken a turn. The dialectic between dream and reality had been bridged. With the touch of Silas still tingling on his skin, he was a different man somehow. For all the transgressions committed, he was tonight the man he needed to be. Soon he would see Feygi in their marital bed, her breath rising in slumber (or feigned slumber). Tomorrow he would be with Yerukhem, the excitement of the birth of Miryem-Zisl having leveled off. They would continue in their study of the tractate Sukkah, and Meyer’s eyes would not be averted from his khavruse. His joy would meet Yerukhem’s. As Meyer unlocked the door, he thought of the three people of his generation who were closest to him and the web of knowing and not-knowing that connected them all, and he was filled with an almost overwhelming sense of affection for and well-being in the world. And he thought too of his mother, whose image had somewhat receded since he’d first met Silas. He thought of how overjoyed his mother was at his choice of Feygi as a bride, how she approved of Feygi’s modesty and steadfastness, and of the deep affection that remained between the two of them since the wedding. As Meyer closed the door stealthily behind himself, he took pleasure in the quiet only broken by the refrigerator’s song and the occasional rattling of pipes. His elation still undiminished, Meyer sat on the sofa in the dark and wondered how those connections, threads really, would be reconfigured in these rooms and beyond. Humming soundlessly, Meyer entered their bedroom where Feygi (really) was fast asleep in her bed, the two twisted strands of her white night tikhl spread against the linen like arms extended in welcome.