Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Alter's Divorce, xi, The End

After a year, no child was born.  Alter continued to do his duty, but without even a small measure of joy.  When Sarai had her time, he felt relieved.  He was an old man, and the stamina of marital relations was sapping his strength.   
He longed for Safed, its winding allies, the snow covered hills, his study with the tiny stove and his precious holy books.  But no one would let him be.  No one could forget that his return was a miracle, and it seemed to Alter that miracles were often came with a portion of punishment.  This miracle, he thought,  may put him in his grave in misery.  He could not even find a copy of The Zohar in the whole province.  He tried to write out passages he remembered, but as soon as they were in his mind, he forgot them as pen was laid to paper.  Alter felt the spool of his live unraveling.  I do not have long for this world, he lamented. 

Alter often hoped that he would not be able to perform when he slept with Sarai.  But deep within him the evil impulse stirred.  Despite himself, he was able to act.  Every time Sarai entered the bed, he felt that he would be unable to perform.  Then they could get in the carriage and head to Podloz and in good conscience be divorced.   
But each and every time Alter was a fit husband.  Then one day he failed, but Sarai took him in her hand  and then her mouth, and they performed the deed.  Another time he was too exhausted to take command, so Sarai climbed atop him, and Alter was mortified: it was well know that such a position bred weak and crippled offspring.  But what could he do?   
Except for his member, he felt as if his body was loaded down with lead.  It was as if only the evil impulse, the sexual urge, was keeping him alive.  If only it would depart from him, he could rest. 

But it did not end that way for Alter.  He died one night beneath Sarai, and in the dark of the night and she did not discover he had stopped breathing for a long time.  She ran screaming to the Burial Society.   
No one in the village had ever heard of such a thing.  It seemed that Alter and Sarai were touched by some special fate, but no one knew if it was good or bad.   
Alter was buried the next day before nightfall.  After the proscribed period of mourning Sarai married the foreman of her cobbler’s shop; after nine months she gave birth to a child, and tongue’s wagged from the village all the way to Podloz.  Sarai had borne a child!  For many years people imagined she was the source of the problem.  Now the Jews of the village were left wondering about Alter, as if he was to blame.  No one could solve the puzzle, despite the hours and hours of talk and gossip.

After a spell, everyone forgot about Alter Ashkenaz.  Babies were born, old people died.  Life continued on its wayward path.  And then they began to come, at first without announcing themselves, and then more openly.  Men made the trip to Alter’s grave to pray for his intercession with the failure of their intimate functions.  Alter’s grave was trampled down by the feet of hundreds of pilgrims.  His tombstone was garlanded with a thousand piles of pebbles.  Small notes were crammed into the cracks beneath the stone pillars, asking for his intercession.

Even in his grave, Alter found no peace.  His posterity revived him; men said to their sons who misbehaved, guard your tongue, lest you suffer the affliction of Alter Askenaz…

No comments:

Post a Comment