All Vows



All Vows

By Randolph Splitter



Rachel? Alive? As he cleared the coffee cups and breakfast dishes from the kitchen table, Ezra Kaufmann saw his wife getting ready to go off to her job as a middle school teacher, pushing back her chair, picking up her tote bag brimming with student papers, saying something to him which he could not hear, he now taking a long, thoughtful look at her and thinking, Should I tell her? But tell her what?, the truth being that she had cancer or rather that she had had cancer and now she was, in fact, dead. Or was she? The clear evidence in front of his own eyes said no. She was back from the dead. It made no sense. It was a miracle. But there it was. In fact, he had found himself in the same situation numerous times since she had died. No point in telling her. Just hold his tongue and hope for the best.
Right about then the clock radio switched on—the news was always the same; he turned it off—and Ezra turned over in bed, the same queen bed which they had shared for many years but which he now slept in, on the same side, alone. The light was filtering through the blinds, the broken slat still broken, the blinds still slightly askew. He needed to fix them.
There was a knock on the door.
“Dad, can you take me to school? I’m running late.”
His sixteen-year-old son Jonathan stood in the doorway, already dressed in baggy jeans and a battleship-green t-shirt. Somehow he had become a shapeless, slightly overweight young man, with a mop of frizzy hair and no desire to comb it.
Ezra wished he had time to make himself some strong coffee, read the sports page, and avoid thinking about more serious things. Maybe even go out for a run. But no matter. It was good to spend some time with his son, especially now.
“Sure. Just give me ten minutes.”
In twelve minutes he had washed his face, brushed his teeth (the 42-year-old face that stared back at him in the mirror looking older than he remembered, the untrimmed eyebrows taking off in all directions, the bristly sandy-brown mustache lighter in color than his hair, the eyes a mixture of sleepy browns, cool greens, and golds), and put on some slightly mismatched clothes that, he hoped, didn’t draw attention to themselves.
“How’s school this year?” he asked on their way out to the car. “You like your teachers?”
It was September; the mornings were turning cool.
But Jonathan was listening to something on his music player and didn’t hear. Ezra tapped him on the shoulder. He removed one bud from his ear.
“I said, how’s school?”
Jonathan shrugged.
“Got any good teachers?”
His son dropped his pack in the back seat and climbed into the front of the ten-year-old Japanese sedan.
“I guess.”
They snaked through back streets, pausing briefly at stop signs, then turned onto a major thoroughfare that was quickly filling up with traffic.
“What are you listening to?”
“Uhh, it’s Not Rocket Science.”
“I know it’s not rocket science, Jonathan. I’m just curious.”
“No. It’s the name of a band. Not Rocket Science. A punk-rock group from England. You wouldn’t like them.”
Jonathan used to be a happy kid, Ezra recalled, singing in the shower or just bursting spontaneously into song while strolling through the house. But the songs he listened to now probably had no melody, and he didn’t sing along.
Ezra stopped in front of a two-story brick school building. Other students were climbing out of cars and hurrying through the gates.
“You need a ride home?”
“I’m staying after school for practice.”
“Football. I’m trying out for the team.”
“No kidding.”
“Dad, I gotta go.”
“Okay. Good luck.”
Jonathan marched off with silent music blasting into his ears.
“Hey, wait!” Ezra called after him, but his son was already gone. He wanted to remind him that tonight was the beginning of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
Ezra arrived home around six o’clock in the evening. The sun was low in the sky, but there was plenty of daylight left. He collected the mail from the box out front and brought it inside. Some bills, some catalogs, some nonprofit appeals, a magazine addressed to his late wife, various pieces of junk mail.
Rosh Hashana services would start in a couple of hours, and Jonathan wasn’t home yet. He took out his cell phone and clicked on his son’s number. It rang five times and transferred him to voicemail.
“Hey, Jonathan. I forgot to remind you about services tonight. We should go.”
Ezra tossed the junk mail into the recycled paper pile and glanced at the catalogs. Stuck between two of them was a small, hand-addressed envelope. He left it on the table and went upstairs to freshen up.
When he came downstairs again, he made a fresh salad and reheated some leftover pasta. It was almost seven o’clock. He called Jonathan again, but there was no answer, so he poured himself a glass of wine and sat down to eat his dinner alone.
The synagogue was small and nondescript, but the weak light slanting through the narrow windows gave him a sense of calm. The pews were hard. The rabbi, a bearded man about Ezra’s age, swayed back and forth on large feet as he chanted the ancient prayers.
Ezra wasn’t very religious; he didn’t even believe in God. But during her illness Rachel had decided to investigate the congregationnear their house. The two of them attended services and sometimes dragged Jonathan along with them.
Where was Jonathan anyway? He hadn’t come home for dinner, and he hadn’t replied to his phone messages. Ezra shook his head and turned his eyes back to the prayer book.
A couple of hours later, at the end of the service, the congregants gathered to eat apple slices dipped in honey, symbolizing the hope for a sweet new year.
Shana tova,” said Ezra, wishing his son a good year as he heard him coming through the front door.
Jonathan dropped his books on the stairs. “I’m starving,” he announced, to no one in particular.
Ezra almost tripped over the school books but followed his son into the kitchen.
“What happened?”
“Huh?” said Jonathan, opening the fridge and taking out ingredients for a sandwich.
“Tonight was the beginning of Rosh Hashana. We were supposed to go to services, remember? I left a message on your cell.”
“Oh, shit. I forgot. Didn’t check my messages.”
“Where were you?”
“Football practice.”
“At night?”
“Some of us went out for pizza,” explained Jonathan. “But I’m still hungry.”
He sat down and started eating while Ezra leaned against the counter.
“Okay. At least we can go tomorrow.”
Jonathan ate another bite and took a big gulp of soda to wash it down.
“Tomorrow? I’ve got school.”
“Jonathan, it’s a special day. A holiday. Can’t you miss one day of school to get in touch with, uhh, spiritual things?”
Jonathan stopped eating and looked at him.
“But Dad, I’ve got a math test, another practice—and since when are you into spiritual shit?”
“It’s not shit, and I’ve always been interested in that sort of thing. Now, especially, I think it’s, well, important.”
“Now? Why now?”
“You know, since Mom died.”
Jonathan took another bite.
“Dad, you can do whatever you want, but I’m not into that religious crap. Neither was Mom. I don’t even believe in God.”
“Look, it’s not about belief. Whether you believe or not doesn’t change anything.”
“What do you mean? If I don’t believe in God or religion or lighting the candles or keeping kosher, what’s the point? Am I supposed to just, well, lie? Go through the motions? Fake it?”
“God doesn’t care whether you believe in him—or her, or whatever. Keeping in touch with whatever’s out there might help you to deal with Mom’s death.”
Jonathan stood up, placed his dishes in the sink, and started to walk away. Ezra wondered whether the thought of washing them ever crossed his mind.
“Yeah, Dad. Like it’s helped you so much.”
Jonathan was right. It hadn’t. Ezra turned around and walked out of the kitchen.
When he was halfway up the stairs—damn, he almost tripped over those books again—he heard Jonathan call out, “Hey, Dad, I’m sorry.”
While drinking his morning coffee, Ezra opened the hand-addressed envelope he had come across the day before. The coffee made him more alert, but his head was still pounding from hours of sleeplessness. The letter was written on pastel stationery and emitted a faint but pleasing scent. Dear Ezra, it began.
I don’t usually flirt with guys at the office, but I decided to make an exception. Maybe ftirling—he looked twice at the typo—is the wrong word. I know you’ve been going through a rough patch, and I thought you could use some cheering up. I realize you’re busy. Meetings, deadlines, quality control. But maybe you could take a little time out. Meet for coffee or something. Talk. Surely there’s nothing wrong with that, the letter-writer claimed. How about 9:30 Saturday morning? The Starbucks near work.
There was no signature. What the hell was that all about, thought Ezra. Rough patch? Coffee? Nothing wrong with that? Mnn. The point was debatable. Ftirling? Well, yes, it was the wrong word. Was it Norwegian or something? A Freudian slip? Was that perfume he smelled on the paper? He had no idea who it could be. He realized that the best response would be to toss the letter into the recycling bin, but some part of him decided to hold onto it and give himself time to think. He sighed, put the letter back in its envelope, and slipped the envelope into a drawer.
The Torah reading that morning recounted the binding of Isaac, the strange story of the patriarch Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to please God. The story still shocked Ezra. Sure, it had a happy ending, with the sacrifice of a ram instead of a boy, and, when viewed abstractly, faith in God was a powerful idea. Obedience. Is that what God wanted? But why believe in a god who demanded, even as a test, the killing of innocent children? Could he imagine taking Jonathan out to some vacant lot, tying a rope around him, and pulling out a butcher knife? Just following orders, he would say. But it wasn’t just a test, since the sacrifice of children, not to mention mothers and fathers, was a constant occurrence on this planet. This god did expect us to swallow the blood and the tears and keep on obeying.
Ezra looked up at the pulpit, where the Torah scroll was spread open. One of the elders of the congregation, pointing to the sacred words, didn’t seem to pay much attention to the horror of human sacrifice. Nor did the other men and women, peering into their prayer books and mumbling the words along with him.
But between the readings of one portion and the next, members of the congregation were invited to gather around the pulpit for blessings focusing on illness, a new birth, and other special concerns. Ezra wasn’t ill, unless you counted insomnia and depression, but he went up to get the blessing for healing. He and the other men raised their tallesim, their prayer shawls, over their heads and recited the prayers before and after the Torah reading. Not that he thought that God was listening, but the blessing made him feel better, at least for the moment.
After the Torah portion of the service, some congregants went outside to smoke or chat. The women gathered in small knots to trade advice about their children or gossip about young singles. Or at least that’s what Ezra managed to overhear. Some of the men sneaked around the corner to make a call on their cell phones.
Soon the rabbi began his sermon. He rocked back and forth as if he were praying. Ezra hoped he was going to say something meaningful and constructive, not mouth the usual platitudes about defending Israel, resisting modern life, and making sure one’s daughter married a Jew. Ezra realized that if he didn’t like these old orthodoxies, he probably shouldn’t be there. But he wasn’t ready to resolve such contradictions.
He slept badly again that night. He dreamt people were chasing him with guns and knives, but he always managed, breathlessly, to stay just out of their reach. Still he forced himself to go out running in the crisp morning air. At least there would probably be no assassins chasing after him.
His thin running shoes pounded on the pavement for several blocks before he turned into a park and started jogging on an asphalt trail. A few cyclists and walkers shared the path with him. The park’s trees were full of leaves, which were just beginning to turn rust and yellow.
For the first mile, the cold air stung his lungs, but eventually breathing became easier and he settled into a comfortable pace. He thought about the reports he had to write, the meetings he was supposed to attend, his somewhat strained relations with Jonathan, and the mysterious letter he had received from the anonymous “ftirl,” but he couldn’t concentrate on anything and all that happened was that one thought led to another and one step led to another and he kept on going. The last few miles were more difficult. He returned to the streets, the sidewalk, dodging early morning pedestrians and delivery men. His legs started to feel tired, and his pace slackened. The only thing he concentrated on was getting to the end.
On the other side of the street a woman was walking by herself in the shadow created by a store’s awning. She seemed thin, maybe too thin, and in the shadows her face looked chalky-gray. Her gray, drawn face made her look unhealthy, as if she had been ill, had lost weight, had received debilitating treatment, had not been able to eat much. Rachel. His dead wife.
He started to run across the street, but some cars blocked his view and by the time he got there she was gone. He looked up and down the block. He popped inside the store. There was no sign of her.
In a few minutes he finally made it to the familiar, boxlike houses of his neighborhood, jogging the last few blocks at a slow but steady pace, and then walked up and down the street for a little while to cool off. His head felt like crushed popcorn from the lack of sleep and the apparition of his wife on the street bewildered him, but the run made him feel better. At least he had accomplished one small thing that day.
Against his better judgment, he found himself sitting in Starbucks, flipping through the morning paper and waiting for the anonymous woman to materialize. There was no real news. Partisan bickering continued in Washington. Indirect communications to lay the groundwork for more direct peace talks proceeded by fits and starts in the Middle East. The local baseball team was fighting to make the playoffs. The weekend was expected to turn stormy, with rain heavy at times.
Ezra debated whether to order a black coffee or wait for his mysterious correspondent to show up. He scanned the other customers’ faces one more time. Several were tapping away at their laptops. A businesslike older woman was sipping a latte. A younger, more attractive black woman was chatting animatedly with a smartly dressed man.
The sound system was playing some pleasant acoustic music by a singer he couldn’t identify. The aroma of the morning brews tickled his nose.
Just then a beautiful woman in her mid-thirties, wearing a stylish rain slicker, pushed open the door, shook out her umbrella, and looked around the room. His heart leaped up, but she didn’t stop at his face. She walked toward the counter and joined the ever-lengthening line. Ezra decided to join her, if only to order a cup of mocha java.
The woman’s wavy blonde hair hung halfway down her neck. Ezra stood behind her in the coffee line looking alternately at her hair and at the list of exotic coffees posted on a sign behind the counter. The fresh scent of the woman’s perfume mingled with the deep, winey aroma of the daily coffee. Or maybe he was imagining it.
His heart began to pound.
Perhaps sensing his eyes on the back of her head, the woman turned around.
“Excuse me?” she said.
“Uhh, were you looking for me?”
The woman blinked. “Sorry?”
“I was, uh, supposed to meet someone here, and I wondered if you, uh, were, umm, the one.”
The woman smiled at him, the corners of her lips and of her eyes rising in a way that made her face seem charming and lovely.
Then she shook her head.
“No, I’m sorry. I wasn’t looking for anyone.”
They stood there peering into each other’s eyes for a long second.
“Marty!” the young man behind the counter called out. “Double shot of espresso for Marty.”
“Can I, mnn, buy you a coffee?” Ezra asked the woman.
She batted her eyelashes or blinked or whatever it was she was doing with her eyes.
“No, thank you. I’m just getting a latte to go. I have to catch a cab.”
Ezra nodded. Gradually, the pounding of his heart began to subside.
When he returned home from work on Monday, he changed his clothes, went into the kitchen, and took a cold beer out of the refrigerator.
“Hey, Jonathan, did you check the mail?” he yelled, but Jonathan was doing homework or listening to music behind the closed door of his room and didn’t answer.
Ezra left the beer on the kitchen table, put on a windbreaker and a baseball cap, and marched out to the mailbox in the rain. Among the catalogs, charitable appeals, and political flyers were a few addressed to his wife. He figured they would stop eventually.
Taking a bracing swig of the bitter brew, Ezra sifted through the mail and noticed a familiar- looking, hand-addressed, possibly perfumed envelope addressed to him. He ripped it open and discovered, sure enough, that it was another letter from the anonymous “ftirl” who had stood him
up the previous weekend.
Where were you last Saturday? the letter began.
Where was he? Was she claiming it was his fault? The letter continued in the same vein for a few more sentences, without the specifics that might make the writer’s version of events plausible. It went on to suggest trying to meet for a drink at a tapas bar later that week. Tapas? He had never been to Spain, nor had he ever eaten little plates of Spanish food, as far as he could remember.
As usual, there was no signature or contact information. He wanted to toss the letter into the trash, but after eighteen months of grief and loneliness—trivial, he realized, in comparison to Rachel’s suffering and death—he was tempted to keep the appointment. Maybe a drink would be better than coffee, a little gentle relaxation and forgetfulness better than a shot of adrenaline. But that night would be the beginning of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. A day of fasting and reflection. Well, maybe he could have a quick drink before the sun set. Surely there was nothing wrong with that.
He changed his shirt three times before he found one he imagined was right for a tapas bar. Not too plain, not too loud.
When he arrived, the restaurant was already crowded, a bit surprising given its less than ideal location in a commercial area near his place of work.
He scanned the tables and the bar for women sitting alone, but the only candidate was the bartender herself, a twenty-something woman with short brown hair, a white tuxedo shirt, and tight black pants. Maybe she was dressed like a matador. He sat down and ordered a glass of Spanish garnacha from the list of wines available by the glass.
“Uh, you haven’t seen a single woman looking around for somebody, have you?”
The bartender smiled. “Blind date?”
Ezra took a sip of his wine. “Just meeting someone.”
“Well, I’ll keep my eye out.”
The wine was delicious, reminding Ezra of ripe berries. He perused the tapas menu. Spanish ham, cheese, and olives vied for his attention with asparagus, red peppers, bacon, and shrimp. He didn’t keep kosher, but the arrival of Yom Kippur reminded him that he would be violating the ancient prohibitions.
“Want anything to eat?” asked the bartender.
“Still thinking.”
How did the woman know him? Would she recognize him? And why all this secrecy?
Wait! What if she wasn’t a woman at all? That might explain the secrecy, the anonymity. Jesus! He began to sweat under the arms of the special shirt he had picked out. Not that he had anything against gay people, but he didn’t want to date one. Not that it was a date. He half-turned in the direction of the restaurant and looked around for effeminate men. A guy with earrings seemed to qualify, but he was eating dinner with another man. Besides, Ezra realized, he might have misinterpreted the earrings.
He checked his watch. Whoever it was was twenty minutes late.
He let his eyes drift over the room. A man and woman about his own age were sampling small plates, drinking wine, talking, laughing. The man, though better looking and more animated, looked a lot like him, with a long neck and a bristly mustache. That wasn’t so surprising; a lot of people looked like him. But the woman looked exactly like his wife, with a thin face, curly hair, clear blue eyes, and a buoyant smile. A time warp? Some kind of alternate universe? But if he was there at that table having dinner with his (dead) wife, who was sitting at the bar waiting to meet some mysterious, nonexistent “blind date”?
Maybe Rachel was trying to tell him something. Something like it was too soon for him to think about other women. Just remembering her last moments, her last breaths, made him want to cry all over again. Of course it was too soon. What was he thinking?
He took out some bills and laid them on the bar.
Maybe the whole thing was some kind of practical joke. Maybe Phil, his boss, had written the letter. Maybe Phil and his cronies were going to hold a surprise party for him when the company laid him off and read the letter out loud to the assembled guests. It would surely bring a laugh. They would show photos of him perched on a barstool in his sweat-stained tapas shirt like some out-of-place, drab-looking bird who had migrated from somewhere north of Spain and didn’t know how to get home. He was like a gray goose that had lost its mate, lonely and aimless.
He stood up, flapped his tired wings, and stumbled out of the bar.
The sun was just setting. He walked a few blocks in no particular direction and, having left his car at home to avoid the traffic that never materialized, hailed a taxi.
“Where you go?” said the driver in a Russian accent.
“Home,” said Ezra and gave the cabbie his address.
The showers had stopped, but it was getting colder. Ezra closed his window. Suddenly he remembered what day it was.
“Wait! I’m sorry, but I don’t want to go home.”
“Okay. What you want?”
He gave an address a few miles away.
“It’s a temple, really. Tonight’s the beginning of Yom Kippur, the, mn, Day of Atonement.”
The streets were slick, and the heavy vehicle bounced along them like a clumsy seal.
“Yes, yes. I am Jewish too, but we don’t practice in Soviet Union, and we never learn about Jewish things.” The cab hit a pothole. “Tell me, what is this Day of Opponent?”
“Atonement,” said Ezra,. “Making restitution, making amends, trying to repair the damage you’ve done. Even forgiving people who have mistreated you.”
The sun had definitely set now, and the buildings along the street were cast in a gray pall.
“Hey,” he continued, “maybe you’d like to come to Kol Nidre with me tonight.”
“What is Cold Knee Day?” said the driver.
“The first words of the service. They mean ‘all vows.’ ”
It was dark and gray outside of the cab, but Ezra could see a pale ghostlike moon hovering over some of the high buildings.
“What is all vows? What vows?”
“You know that in Spain around Columbus’ time Jews weren’t allowed to practice their religion either?”
The cabbie looked into the mirror and shook his head.
“Yeah, so they pretended to be Christians. Kol Nidre is older than that, but the Marranos, the secret Jews, used the prayer as a way of asking God for forgiveness for the false vows they had to make to a different religion.”
The cabbie pondered this explanation as he kept on driving over the rain-slicked streets. Ezra took the opportunity to call his son. There was no answer, so he left a message.
“Hey, Jonathan. I’m in a cab on my way to High Holiday services. I’m sorry I missed you, but it would be great if you could meet me at the temple. I’m sure you remember where it is.”
In a few minutes the cabbie deposited him in front of a modest wooden structure on a quiet street. Many men and women, some dressed up for the occasion in suits and fancy frocks, others wearing whatever was handy, were walking along the street on their way to services.
“You sure you don’t want to come in?” said Ezra.
“No, no,” said the driver. “But one thing I am not understand.”
“What’s that?”
“What if God make false vow? Cancel promise. What if he promise something, then take away? Tell me, this is all right?”
A cool breeze caused the leaves to flutter and fall from a nearby tree.
“I don’t know,” said Ezra. “I don’t know. Maybe you should ask the rabbi.”
He paid his fare and went inside the building.
The service began with the traditional plaintive melody, beautiful but melancholy, played on a single cello. Although the rabbi and the cantor were men, the cello player sitting by herself in the front of the synagogue on a simple straight-backed chair was a woman. She was young, attractive, serious, her head covered by a simple scarf. She reminded Ezra of his wife Rachel when they had first met.
During the playing of the music, he thought about the marriage vows he had made to Rachel. I am my beloved, and my beloved is mine. Would it violate those vows to meet other women, to develop a relationship, even an intimate one? What would Jonathan think? Certainly there was an aching need, both physical and emotional, inside him. Maybe the letter from the mysterious woman was God’s indirect comment on his vows. Or the fact that she never showed up. A different sign.
He remembered the week when Rachel’s illness was first diagnosed. She had been having stomach pains, so he dropped her off at the gastroenterologist’s office and went to work. When he went back to pick her up, she was no longer there. Someone referred him to the emergency room, where he tracked her down. She had become disoriented, delirious, from a chemical imbalance caused by the disease. They moved her to the ICU and determined what the problem was. The news was not good.
He remembered the tearful conversation with Jonathan, younger and less guarded then; the consultation with the young specialist at the research hospital, who told her point blank that she had no chance and justified his bluntness with the comment, “I believe in being honest with my patients”; the crocodile tears of the radiologist—”I wish I could help you”—followed by the emergency trip to the rabbi for spiritual reassurance, the very same rabbi who was now sitting quietly in his white silk High Holiday gown listening to the mournful sounds of the cello.
“Now?” he had asked her. “Yes, now. Right now.” Her face looked stricken. They drove over to the rabbi’s office and asked the receptionist if they could see him. “Just a minute,” she said. The three of them repaired to a small study, where they talked about life, death, and God. “Think of a butterfly,” said the rabbi. “When the caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly, she doesn’t know what is happening to her. She thinks she is dying. But in truth she is metamorphosing into a beautiful and serene new creature.” Hmm. Right.
He remembered the ups and downs. The trips to the emergency room in the middle of the night. The regular outpatient visits, brightened by the smiles and banter of the nurses. The oversized get-well card from her students. The pains, the vomiting, the taking of blood, the IVs, the radiation and the chemotherapy, the shrinking of the tumor, the stable blood markers, the emaciated body, the modest weight gain. The steady stream of friends and supporters, bearing frozen casseroles and good cheer. The trip to see the sold-out Broadway musical. The fear and hope. The meditation tapes. Acupuncture. The medical miracle books. The return to work. The books and supplies, the lesson plans, the burst of activity. The turn for the worse. The last visit to the doctor. The counselor from the hospice.
The cellist finished her piece, and the cantor, a round-faced man with a round belly, began to recite Kol Nidre.
What about the vow that God had made to her?, Ezra wondered. The taxi driver was right. Surely he had promised her something when he had created her—and the heavens and the earth and everything else—out of nothing. Surely there was some point to it all. Were they supposed to forgive the Big Guy for reneging on his promises? What could God do to make amends?
Of course there was no Big Guy in the Sky. That much was obvious. If God was anything, it was the mystery behind or among or within everything. That God didn’t make any promises.
The cantor finished the third and final repetition of Kol Nidre, and the rabbi, his big feet wearing tennis shoes in keeping with the ancient prohibition against leather, began tolead the congregation in the old chants and prayers.
In the middle of one of the prayers, Ezra glanced toward the other side of the small synagogue. He caught a glimpse of a woman with chestnut-brown hair covered by a thin scarf. Among the observant, married women covered their hair, but the woman’s face was unusual. It was Rachel, again.
He blinked his eyes, tried to peer more carefully across the aisle, lost his place in the prayer. Could it be? He flashed back to Rachel’s last day.
It was late afternoon; the blinds were half-drawn and the light was fading. She had stopped eating. She had lost the ability to speak. Her body was shutting down.
He had been giving her liquid morphine to lessen the pain and help her sleep. But she didn’t sleep. She breathed slowly, intermittently, with great difficulty. She tried to blink her eyes. She seemed to be trying to lift her head to indicate something above them. Jonathan was taking a shower; they could hear the water running. He ran upstairs, knocked on the bathroom door, and told Jonathan to come down as soon as possible. The two of them sat by her side. Ezra held her hand and told her he loved her. She fluttered her eyelids, struggled to breathe, stopped breathing.
Soon afterward the rabbi came. He gently checked her eyes and breath to make sure she was dead, recited a traditional passage about the worth of a good woman, and led them in the singing of the most famous Jewish prayer, the Shema, the one that called on the Jewish people to recognize the Oneness of God. The Godness of God. But when he tried to sing the prayer, he found that he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t carry the tune. All that came out of his mouth were discordant bleats and wails.
The same thing happened to him now.
Copyright © Randolph Splitter 2013
Randolph Splitter has published two books, the novella/story collection Body and Soul (Creative Arts) and a critical study of Marcel Proust (Routledge & Kegan Paul). His most recent publications are stories in Chicago Quarterly Review,, Ducts, and The Milo Review. He graduated from Hamilton College; earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley; taught literature, creative writing, and composition at Caltech and De Anza College; and edited the literary magazine Red Wheelbarrow. In the last few years, besides making short films, he has written screenplays, plays, and novels. 

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