The Jewish Bride

  

The Jewish Bride

By Naomi Myrvaagnes

 

 

Even now,  on the train, Daphne couldn’t stop thinking about the woman in the painting — her aureole of crimped, light-brown hair, the expanse of pale ochre forehead, the slightly pudgy chin. Her dignity, the golden light, her sadness. The train made a little lurch as it started, a hiccup. Seated, miraculously, after their breathless run through the station, Daphne touched her husband on the arm. It was a big train, not the premium Euro-City Express, but solid, clean, right on schedule. Now she could let go, give herself to the liminal moment of departure, that moment in a public conveyance when the mind races with knowing that a totality, a world, has been left behind. Amsterdam, receding ever faster as the train picked up speed, would soon be as absent as home:  Westmont, Laurel Avenue. No matter: Daphne had the woman.

 
The smoothness of the operation seemed a sign that she had done the right thing, in spite of the guilt she felt for putting Dan through that rush and making them forego the earlier train that would have given them the afternoon in Paris. The museum she’d wanted to visit hadn’t opened until ten. But thanks to the efficient hotel clerk, and a taxi that sped them through traffic, Daphne had run in to buy the print — the one she’d realized she could not bear to live without — and they’d still made the 10:50 with four minutes to spare. Dan was annoyed. He even snapped at her for changing their plan at the very last minute. Hadn’t he already — with his usual graciousness — conceded a morning of antique ship engines at the Museumwerf so they could leave early?      
 
Finally, they could settle themselves. Dan had Highlights of European Cities on his lap and a yellow marker in hand. Daphne had the precious postcard from the museum tucked in the little sketchbook she probably wouldn’t open. The packed lunch from the hotel was stowed under the seat. Daphne’s heart still hammered — the uncertainty, the heavy suitcase that had banged against her calves as they raced through the station. She regretted having sent her husband’s temper into one of those painful little flares, but it had subsided quickly, and now she had her picture — reduced, it was true, and blurred, only a postcard, but a clear enough echo of the real thing, itself so much less than clear.
 
They had simply come upon it there on the wall across the gallery, a low sun spewing autumn light. Closer, they’d seen the figures emerge out of the haze of pigment: the man and the woman, bodies turned toward each other, yet each facing outward, away, each gazing far along a slanted axis that excluded the other. The man’s ballooning gold sleeve, her heavy, rounded red dress with the gold bodice, her sleeves as golden as his but smaller, stitched closer around her arms. The Jewish Bride.
 
After seeing the painting, Daphne could hardly absorb any others. The immaculate, chiseled Vermeers and Van Gogh self-portraits and twisted landscapes — all transcendent, but Rembrandt’s couple simply took possession of her. What were they thinking? That was all she cared about. The voluptuous light and color, and what they were thinking. The gestures — his hand across her tightly-bound breast.  In tenderness or authority? The woman didn’t seem afraid of him, not exactly. Her sumptuous outfit: had he supplied it? Impossible to tell how old she was.  Perhaps only a girl. The positioning of the hands suggested intimacy. Was it chosen? Desired? Her jewels gleamed. Her right hand rested on her womb.
 
Exotic. That was the effect. “Diffident tenderness,” said the guidebook. “In this magnificent painting Rembrandt has created marital love made absolute.”
 
 
*
 
 
Daphne had met Dan at a wedding. Cynthia Berger’s enormous white gown, the long train, the stiff veil, Cynthia’s halting march on the white runner to the satin wedding canopy — all were as vivid to Daphne as if the wedding had taken place only yesterday. The ceremony itself had been minimal, except for the indelible moment when the groom suddenly smashed the glass. And then, at Table 14 in the rose-latticed function room, Dan Erbst, classmate of the bridegroom, took his seat by the place card next to hers. When she clumsily knocked over her water goblet, the serious young man sacrificed the cloth napkin on his lap and, without a hint of criticism, absorbed the puddle. Daphne almost dissolved in gratitude. At their own wedding, a year later, they exchanged vows on the senior Erbst back porch under the management of a freelance rabbi with granny glasses. Daphne had been a cataloguer at the museum then and enjoying the independence of her little salary. The way they’d met lived on as a story they retold any number of times.
 
But this wasn’t a wedding picture. Daphne took the print out of its paper envelope to study it. Maybe a portrait of newlyweds but not the wedding itself. The title of the painting, the guidebook acknowledged, was a mystery. There was no record of it during Rembrandt’s lifetime. Some scholars even thought that the man was the woman’s father. Was she pregnant? Who could tell? No one knew if it was a portrait or a painting of posed models. Maybe the idea of a bride and groom, maybe a biblical pair like Isaac and Rebecca. Rembrandt certainly loved exotic costumes. He dressed up in them himself. One scholar thought the pair represented characters in an off-color play or perhaps the actors. “The two certainly are not Jewish,” he wrote. “The portrayal offends the sense of modesty that would have governed Jewish behavior in public.” The pair looked well-to-do for certain. If they were Jews, they would have come from cosmopolitan Spain or Portugal, not the rude villages to the east in Poland.
 
Daphne had done her background reading for this trip. Now in middle age she felt the force of Jewish history, absent in the chronicle of western civilization as she’d known it in her college years. Well, the expressions on the faces were real, even if Rembrandt made them up. Where art is concerned, it’s the emotional content that matters, Daphne believed, not speculative lore about the seventeenth century.
 
But it was striking how Jews from all over had converged in Amsterdam to take refuge. And had done so again, only too recently. She and Dan had waited an hour and a half in line to visit the Anne Frank house, both of them somber when they left. Daphne wondered about Dan’s unspoken feelings. The trick bookcase on the landing was what he’d lingered over.
 
Yes, Daphne’s head was crowded with Amsterdam. The empty rooms of Anne Frank’s attic, that bookcase on the landing. The anguish of it — Anne’s tacked-up photos of American movie stars. Daphne could imagine the young girl’s fascination with those faces, and she could hear again the booming clobber of the Westerkerk bell that had assailed her and Dan every quarter-hour in their hotel a half-mile distant. The Frank family had lived right underneath it, enduring its oppressive insistence for two years and ­twenty-five days. Rembrandt himself knew a Jew or two, maybe more. He learned an accurate “Mene mene tekel u’farsin,” the untranslatable words writ boldly on Belshazzar’s wall, from an Amsterdam Jew, probably the sociable Menasseh ben Israel. Daphne could now make out the Hebrew lettering herself. Rembrandt had lived in a Jewish neighborhood. Catholics, too, had been out of favor there. Dan, with his fascination for clever construction, had taken her to the Amstelkring museum, the house with its secret Catholic church in the attic. Three hundred years later, the cunning Frank bookcase told the same grievous story: Those centuries led nowhere — back to the same hiding, terror and death at insane, hate-filled hands.
 
Sometimes it was hard to breathe with what one knew. With Rembrandt, you could just look — look and feel. The hands in the painting were possessive. Not hate-filled, but ill at ease, perhaps. Unaccustomed. Daphne believed the man’s hands to be decent. And though she fumed at the presumption of the guidebook — “diffident tenderness” — the phrase wasn’t completely off the mark. Yes, the man was trying. He hesitated to display his proprietorship in its totality. The young woman also seemed to be trying. Trying to accept his well-intentioned gesture, trying to control her recoil, her wish to flee.
 
How would the first hours of an arranged marriage go? Right to the sexual requirement. Soon finances, living arrangements, acquisitions. The wife would plead for long visits with her family. Jewish wives had rights, legal standing. Odd, a 17th-century Jew without a beard. Maybe the title of the painting had grown out of a stereotype: Jews had warm and stable marriages.
 
If any human being wanted to make another happy — selflessly, just because — it was Dan. She felt bad for having deprived him of the ship engines. The man in the painting had a look like Dan’s — of tenderness, of generosity. The woman looked uncomfortable, withdrawn. Not exactly wary. What was Rembrandt trying to portray? Daphne couldn’t pin it down: possession, awkwardness, decency? Was it celebration or lament? As she stared, the little reproduction in her hand seemed to shift, to flow from mood to mood, thought to thought, feeling to feeling. Maybe it was the shiftiness of relationship that Rembrandt had captured. Weren’t there days when she looked at Dan and felt downcast — wished she were somewhere else, for just a moment? Didn’t she sometimes even wish he weren’t quite so good? A terrible thought, but his goodness at times compelled her to be nicer in return than she felt. She was, she knew, often impatient, wanting to wriggle away or leap on ahead, not wait for him to prepare and plan so protectively. Sometimes she needed to just burst out with . . . with whatever made her feel full to bursting. And what would her own face look like to a portraitist? Peaceful and under control? Poised to erupt? She could see Dan’s: tranquil, matter-of-fact. How would they appear together? Aglow in tender diffidence? She didn’t want to think about it too closely.
 
 
*
 
 
Guidebook in his lap, Dan was studying the schedule. “We did well. The next express doesn’t go until 12:30. We would have sat around in the station, and we wouldn’t have made it to Paris in time for dinner. I know you’ve been looking forward to French food.” He smiled and held out the guidebook. “Three nice restaurants within walking distance of the hotel. Why don’t you pick one?”
           
Dan labored over the timetable. “The Euro-City gets to Brussels in two-and-a-half hours. A half-hour faster than the express we’re on. With the 8:30 we might have been able to take the side trip to Bruges.” He flipped through the pages for Belgium. “I know you wanted to see the canals.”
 
“But I wouldn’t have my print. I’m really grateful you were willing to go back.” She felt guilty about the taxi, too — for what it had cost, they could almost have stayed another night. “I can’t explain, but I had to have it.”
 
“I think I’ll just look out at the scenery,” he said. “It will be a long time before we get back to the Netherlands again.”
 
“Let me give you the window seat.” Daphne stood up. “I should have made sure you had it.”
 
As agreed, they changed places.   The flat, glaring landscape slid by. Not Italy, as she had hoped for, mysterious ancient villages half-hidden among distant hillside trees.  Rather, Holland rolled by with the matter-of-factness of an old grade-school Scholastic film. Venice was what she wanted, a touch of the Byzantine, gondoliers. Tuscany, Umbria, Rome. But Dan’s materials science meeting was to be in Amsterdam, and they’d planned their trip to Europe around it. “If we can also go to Paris . . .” she had said, “. . . we can go by train. We can even stop on the way for a side trip to Bruges.”
 
“Bruges?”
 
“Canals. And swans. A little like Venice. Much smaller than Amsterdam, and the light is more subtle.”
 
They were going fast, but not so fast that she couldn’t follow the rhythm — field, house, barn. Field, tree-row, field. Bland, over-bright in the hot sun. It would have been enchanting to go to Bruges, to float by stone castle walls rising from the water. They might even have had time for the Béguinage. She bent down to rummage for her pamphlet on Bruges and Ghent. Suddenly the rhythm of the wheels began to change. She looked up: the landscape appeared to be slowing down. Called from her reverie, a feeling like sudden nakedness overcame her as the train lurched to a stop.
 
Dan was already consulting his watch and the timetable. “It’s only 11:25; we haven’t reached The Hague.”
 
Minutes passed. Passengers began standing to peer out windows, to inquire of one another what was going on. “I have a sinking feeling about this,” Daphne muttered. “But I’m also hungry.”
 
Dan reached down for the paper bags. He bit into his bread and yellow cheese with gusto. There were slices of cucumber to make it a sandwich. As Daphne chewed she thought ahead to Camembert, baguettes, apricots, dark cherries. In the unrelieved landscape, fields stretched far back to meager patches of thin trees. Very soon the compartment began to get stuffy. There was no longer a background whoosh of the ventilating system to mask the variegated guttural chug or stridency of Dutch and German conversation that surrounded them. Everyone was agitated, wanting to know what had happened, what to expect.
 
At last a trainman came slowly up the aisle with his announcement: “A substituting train will come.” Pelted with questions, he shrugged as he walked on by.
 
“Might as well take a nap,” Dan said. “I’ve mapped out our time in Paris. Let’s hope we won’t be too late getting in.” He looked at her sympathetically. “Bruges will definitely have to wait until our next trip.”
 
“Are you promising us another trip?” she asked. “Venice?”
 
He smiled and squeezed her hand, then settled his head and closed his eyes. Not even a mention of what he had missed in Amsterdam — the marine engines, the Avidome, the seventeenth-century maritime explorers’ collection. Dan had finished his lunch, but she put away her remaining cheese, rubbery on the mushy tan bread. The lights weren’t working, and it was too dark to read. She simply had to get up and do something — find someone to talk to. With luck, she could practice her French. After all, the train was headed to Paris. Daphne took her bag and said softly that she was off to find the café car; she hoped to bring him something good.
 
The aisles were filled with passengers, voluble, gesticulating irately, crowding into the vestibules to peer out and argue over why they were stopped in the middle of nowhere. Daphne pushed on and reached the café, a counter with one lethargic attendant. Not even coffee, certainly not the meals they’d have had on the premium express. In the car crowded with people restless like herself, hungry or thirsty, she spotted a seat at a table. A gray-haired man sat alone reading a French newspaper. Daphne claimed the vacant chair with her shoulder bag. She settled on two yogurts, apricot and strawberry, the strawberry for Dan, and an Orangina to sip right there. Sitting down opposite the Frenchman, she felt a buoyancy that demanded release. “Pardon,” she said. “Est-ce que vous êtes venu d’Amsterdam?”
 
He looked up and absorbed the question. “Mais oui, Madame.” He was studying her.  He asked if perhaps she spoke English.
 
“I’m American.” Maybe he’d appreciate the chance to speak English. She was bursting to talk, even in her native tongue.
 
“The Dutch seem to be very pleasant people.” She watched his expression shift further into the quizzical. “We’ve just visited Amsterdam, my husband and I,” she announced. “And I’m wondering why the train has stopped here. Can you explain it? We left later than we meant to in the first place.”
 
“No, Madame, I have not an answer. Perhaps the electric power or perhaps a fault to the engine.”
 
“I’m really concerned. We have only three days in Paris.”
 
The Frenchman lifted his arm in a gesture admitting ignorance.
 
Daphne opened her Orangina. “We had a wonderful stay in Amsterdam. I’m most excited about the paintings.” She watched him. “One in particular.”
 
Should she introduce herself? Conversations with strangers could be simple and ephemeral. But sometimes, particularly far from home, they could take a sudden turn into depths that invite revisiting, that require an exchange of cards or addresses jotted — often in appalling, illegible handwriting — on ticket stubs or napkins for future redemption. A certain romance in the air of travel perhaps explains these flourishes of affinity.
 
She took out her print and showed it to him. “Rembrandt.” She hesitated. “The Jewish Bride. Are you familiar with it?”
 
“Ah,” he said in a long sigh. “Most beautiful. The picture of the mariés, n’est-ce pas? I have seen it two, three occasions.”
 
“I would love to know,” she continued, “what you think of it. You call them a married couple. Are they young, just married? Are they happy? Do you think they are . . .” she wanted to ask about “Juifs” but stopped herself. She repeated her question. “Do you think they are happy?”
 
She felt his gaze reading her — frumpy hair, the travel-wear catalogue functionality of her dress and shoulder bag. She hadn’t expected to pass for a Parisian, but the palpability of her failure did hurt.
 
“Really, these are deep questions you ask an unfamiliar person. I do not feel myself easy to respond. Please pardon.” Politely, but crisply, he withdrew behind his newspaper.
 
He didn’t have to act like the target of a telephone survey. He had a distinguished sort of face — reading glasses on his nose, neat gray hair combed smoothly back, crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes. His dark blue suit suggested a profession, perhaps law. It would have felt exhilarating to speak French, to pursue her consuming, urgent questions, to make a connection with this stranger. How offended did she feel? Should she speak again?
 
“There you are!” It was Dan, calling out in a tone of worry and perturbation. “I didn’t know where you’d gone.”
 
“Dan!” she exclaimed. A forgotten ribbon tightened around her neck. She remembered distinctly telling him she was going to the café car; he must have fallen asleep instantly. “I was — foolishly, I guess — trying out my French on Monsieur . . .” She motioned helplessly at her new acquaintance, who looked up from his paper.
 
“Lapin,” the Frenchman acknowledged. “Philippe Lapin.” He extended his hand to Dan.
 
“Dan Erbst,” her husband replied.
 
“Daphne Erbst,” added Daphne. Looking toward Dan, she went on, “Monsieur Lapin speaks English very well. I was just leaving him to his newspaper.”
 
“Ah,” said Lapin, looking toward the doorway. “Voici my son and the wife-to-come. They are mariés in the next week.” He smiled at last. “She is born in Amsterdam.”
 
The young woman, Anna, had light brown hair and dark eyes. Daphne found her a few degrees friendlier than her father-in-law. Would she take the name Lapin, so French? Daphne wondered. “Congratulations on your marriage,” she offered. “You are Dutch?”
 
“Yes, thank you. I am making my home in Paris with Jules. You and your husband are en vacances?”
 
Daphne recalled that the eyes in the portraits, the Rembrandts, were dark. She wished she could recall the eyes in the Van Dycks. The Vermeer faces were mostly not looking at — she almost thought — “the camera.” While walking in Amsterdam, she’d noticed that living Dutch people seemed to specialize in eyes of blue or gray. There was something mixed about this girl, Anna, not typical. Were eyes in oil portraits dark for technical reasons, in order to be discernible? The Jewish Bride had dark eyes; maybe she had Mediterranean origins. Maybe Anna did too.
 
“Yes, it’s our vacation,” Daphne answered, standing to leave. “It’s been very nice to meet you.”
 
She could think and think, go around and around the possible and the logical and the necessary, without knowing any more than when she started. Jules and Anna struck her as an ordinary enough pair. Maybe she had the wrong idea about Lapin Pere being so distingué. Maybe he sold insurance or laundromat franchises. Would she never cease jumping to conclusions? “Dan, I bought you some yogurt,” she said. Wordlessly, in companionate body language over thirty years in the making, she included Dan in her departure from the café car.
 
Back at their seats, it was the oversweet apricot yogurt, together with the rest of the bread and warm cheese that almost made her gag. Daphne wished she had bought another Orangina and one for Dan. The cone of water she’d fetched for each of them from the cooler was small and tasted of paper. The water had dripped slowly; the cooler would run out before long. Another train lunged past them toward Paris. Dan checked his watch and the schedule: it was the 12:55. They’d been stalled for an hour and a half.
 
 
*
 
 
If they weren’t Jewish, why did the painting have that name? She wanted to think that they were Jewish. She wanted those gorgeous textures in the fabric to speak for a foreign tradition, something finer, at a higher pitch than what the painter saw every day. A marriage with more to it than those starched Calvinists understood, the ones whose His and Her portraits lined Dutch museum walls. And of which Rembrandt had done his share for bread and butter. This was one of a kind. And those golden sleeves!
 
Dan spoke. “Glad you got to talk to the Lapins.”
 
“What did you think of them? Didn’t you find the father stand-offish? Was it my imagination?”
 
He looked surprised. “What made you feel that?”
 
“I can’t say exactly. I wanted to have a conversation. I wanted to ask him about — something Jewish. But I hesitated.”
 
“A fellow at our conference is from an old Jewish family in France. Georges Robin. He was telling us about French-Jewish names. ‘Lapin’ has that ring to it.”
 
“Really, Dan? I wonder, then. That’s something I wouldn’t have guessed.”
 
One more chastening wrinkle in the surface of experience. Her mind surged back to the sleeves: opulent, romantic. But better to look out the window, to take in the sunshine. Most of the windows were open now, and there was a little breeze to allay the heat. They could be stuck there all afternoon. At least they were with other people.
 
Dan shrugged at the way she studied faces, as she was now doing on the train. These were Dutch faces. With the precious reproduction in her hand again, comparing, she was coming to believe that the face of the Jewish Bride wasn’t Jewish at all. Daphne had such a hard time registering faces that were “stills”; they all looked alike to her. She was embarrassed to admit that she had a hard time telling Saskia from Hendrickje. Let’s just say, Daphne concluded to herself, that Rembrandt painted moods or expressions. Portraits were like literature: possible reality rather than slavish record, and no one could paint the inner state without a human face to carry it. It’s just what fiction writers did. Maybe they wantedto write about feelings, the roil inside the head, maybe even hold choices up as object lessons. But they had to create characters to carry those feelings and thoughts. The characters might pose as individuals, but did they become actual, physical people? Who could hope to pick out the true Anna Karenina in a line-up of women with dark curly hair? Not important. The roil inside the head was the thing, and Daphne was sure she was seeing Rembrandt’s couple, in all their mystery, exactly as Rembrandt had meant her to see them.
 
As Daphne stared at the image in her hand, the woman’s eyes seemed to flicker with expectation, an obscure knowing. She was real. Both the man and the woman looked fair and Dutch; there are faces like theirs all around in the streets, in the train, here and now. Except for the dark eyes. She more Dutch than he, so delicately lean. Why was he beardless? A beardless Jew in that period? A Jewish man in the Netherlands could not marry a Christian woman. Definitely, it was he who had wanted the portrait done. She was his; he wanted that on record. How shy they looked with each other. Nothing like Jules and Anna, who had no doubt been living together, Anna probably on a salary of her own.
 
Daphne’s half-opened eyes wandered across the aisle. A row forward on a woman’s lap, hands held a mirror, tilted. Daphne could just make out a broad forehead and sad eyes gazing out from the small silvered surface, the face barely visible in the darkened car.
 
“I am to be married. He has claimed me,” murmured the lips in the mirror.
 
“Does it make you sad?” Daphne whispered. “Marriage lasts a long time.”
 
 “He is very kind.”
 
“I can tell you, life with a kind man is a good life: the safety of a home, the future of your children, knowing how to help each other.”
 
“I’d go to the colonies gladly, east or west. Malacca. Surinam. Here the language wheezes and grunts, the plays are pompous or silly, and men think of nothing but ships and profit. To be in Spain with poetry and music! Or the New World. Ceylon! I’ll die here with him, a husband content with this dullness.”
 
A man’s hand now settled over the fingers holding the mirror. A second, shadowed face appeared in it, almost touching the young woman’s.
 
“And you,” Daphne addressed the groom. “I suppose I should congratulate you.”
 
“I am fortunate. A beautiful woman, modest and good. I’ve a bid on a property, a double house next door to Hendrick Tulp — that’s Pieter’s brother, the Tulp that’s up for the Council. I’ve ordered the best — everything in oak. Her dowry supplies the bedclothes, utensils, cloth — nine chests of cloth. Indeed, you may congratulate me.”
 
The mirror tilted away, the image closed. The woman — a girl, really — rose from her seat and began moving down the aisle. Daphne jumped up to follow. The girl floated ahead, her fine, crimped hair bouncing and catching the light from each window in turn as she passed through the dim car. Daphne had so much to ask her. But she couldn’t catch up. Out into the noisy vestibule the girl went, then pushed her way into the next car, reappearing a car’s length away. Over and over. And then she vanished.
 
Daphne was sure they’d reached the end of the train. She had lost her. After her slow walk back, she saw the couple in the seats across the aisle. Both of them dozing. How the mind plays tricks. Dan, too. was asleep again. The air was like warm pea soup. Daphne took out her sketchbook but sat doing nothing. It was almost three o’clock. They’d been stuck there forever. In small gusts of rage she watched the occasional trains pass them by, swaying locals, bullet-like expresses. They were all going toward Paris. Why couldn’t they stop and take on the stalled passengers?
 
Hot even in her loose dress, Daphne had to go out by the doorway to breathe. She had to find out how long they’d be, what the plan was to take care of them. In the vestibule, a half dozen students sat at the open door, their legs dangling down. Two of the boys were in a heated, guttural discussion. The others, heads bobbing, were lost in their headphones. Holding the handrail, Daphne squeezed next to them to look out. The distance to the ground made her dizzy. The floor of the vestibule simply stopped! They were high above ground; there were no steps. Moving to safety behind the boys, Daphne asked in meticulously slow English if anyone knew what to expect. Just to wait, was the answer. No one seemed concerned. Daphne felt another rush of anger rising — a whole day lost of their precious vacation! Less of Paris, no Bruges. Would they make it to the hotel by midnight now? When would they eat again? Would anyone come to their rescue? She stood a long while behind the seated boys, squinting out, unseeing, over the fields in the glaring light, fear beginning to spread in her belly. Then she felt Dan’s presence at her elbow. He had come after her again. “Magnificent,” he said. “Is that what you were looking at? All those flowers?”
 
At first she demurred, but he was right. Now she saw them too. Yellow, scarlet, all the way to the trees. Long, long rows of steady little flames. She hugged him. How could she have failed to notice?
 
Abruptly, the trainman down on the ground stopped his idle pacing to concentrate on something in the distance, back toward Amsterdam. She could hear a train approaching, louder, slowing down. Slowly, slowly the engine inched up alongside them, a roaring behemoth followed by a string of empty passenger cars swaying like aluminum cans. She covered her ears as the engine screeched to a stop just past where they stood.
 
A passenger car was lined up exactly parallel to theirs and so close that another train could not have squeezed between them. But not close enough to reach, vestibule to vestibule. From the standpoint of access, with the long drop to the ground, it was impossibly far away. Crew men were nowhere to be seen. When would someone bring a stair or ladder? The new train throbbed with reined energy, an irritating urgency, considering how long they had waited. Its windows were open. Daphne could see that the seats were the kind with thin padding and worn, vinyl upholstery. It was a dumpy local with no air conditioning that wouldn’t go beyond the border. They’d have to change again later, with all of their luggage, in the heat. Paris would be many hours away.
 
“Time to get our bags,” Dan said. People back in the car were now noisily on their feet, chattering, crowding and pushing in the aisles. Dan led her back against the surge of bodies. While he lifted down the big suitcases, she gathered the small things and checked under the seats. When at last they got everything to the vestibule, Dan made sense of the confusion and assessed what they would have to do. “Looks like we’re on our own. I’ll throw the luggage across, then jump.” Dan was in command. “You’ll have to jump, too. Don’t worry. I’ll catch you.”
 
It didn’t seem possible, and she was afraid. She watched the skinny boys in front of them toss their packs and spring over. Then, in the crush, she and Dan had to take their turn. Strongly, accurately, Dan heaved their suitcases across and made his leap.
 
Daphne stepped to the doorway. She gripped her tote in her right hand and held the handrail with her left. She wasn’t the first, and she wouldn’t be the last. There was nothing to gain from balking. Her legs were shaky, but Dan was already gone. They were separated, and he was in the other train, facing her. Fixing her eyes on him, meeting his expectant look, she held her breath, let go, and vaulted across to the other side. When he caught her, her face lay buried against his chest, her heart thudding. Her body had gone limp, and she felt a little dizzy. On the dark screen of her eyelids, wild scarlet and yellow blooms flashed like balls of fire. Daphne felt them surge through her. She could hear the babble in the entryway, feel the press of new arrivals crowding past. She stood up straight and squeezed Dan hard. She was alive. She was ready. She squeezed him again before letting go. They could be on their way now.

 

Copyright © Naomi Myrvaagnes 2016 

Naomi Myrvaagnes is the author of The Third Street Temple, a tragicomic novel about a rabbi and her congregation. A Resident Scholar in the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, Naomi has written poems, essays, and fiction. Her work has appeared and won awards in publications ranging from the Harvard Review to Onthebus, from the Forward to the Christian Science Monitor. Her midrashic monologue, Rebekah, has been set as a chamber opera by composer Ruth Lomon and was performed at Brandeis in 2013. A recent essay, “The Atheism Spectrum,” in the webzine 614, examines the place of God in the mind and life of Rabbi Felice Whitman, protagonist of The Third Street Temple.


 

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