Apr 07, 2021
The first thing Sasha heard the following morning, as sunlight streamed into his cabin, was the sound of Tsilkes singing. He went over to the window and saw her in the distance. She was washing clothes in the stream.
There she was, singing . . .
The previous night, with Nikhe’s voice echoing in the night, seemed like a bad dream. The forest was so sunny, and when the sun shone all worries seemed smaller; its rays reached into the darkest corners of one’s soul, making sadness impossible, forcing you to believe in something.
Sasha promptly washed, dressed, and went out into the forest. He approached from the side; Tsilke did not notice him. She was beating the laundry, occasionally breaking into song, starting and stopping. Her voice carried far into the woods, rising above the tips of the trees and suddenly breaking off with the echo.
Lurie’s son had hatched a plan, and with hasty strides he headed back to Iser’s house.
Nikhe was working, it seemed she had been crying. Sasha came closer.
“Nikhe! Listen, Aunt Nikhe, I need you, I need your help today.”
Nikhe did not look at him, asking coldly:
“Aunt nikhe, There’s a rabbi in Mistebove, isn’t there?”
She looked at him, astonished.
“There’s a rabbi, yes. What do you need a rabbi for?”
“Listen, Aunt Nikhe, if you’ll help me, I’ll arrange everything myself, it must happen this very day.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t understand.”
“I want to marry Tsilke. You hear me, Aunt Nikhe, it must happen today.”
Aunt Nikhe was so dumbfounded she stared at Sasha and dropped what she was holding. Both fear and joy awoke inside her.
“Why the rush, without a father, without guests?”
Sasha did not let her finish.
“There’s no time to waste, Go straight to Mistebove, talk to the rabbi and have him prepare everything. We’ll be there this afternoon.”
“I’ll send Shleyme to Svislotsh to bring Iser back—he’s the girl’s father after all,” Nikhe said.
“There’s no need to send for anyone,” Sasha said sternly. “You love Tsilke, don’t you? This is about her happiness . . . Later it might be too late.”
She stared at him with wide, weary eyes and tucked her gray hair under her wig.
She did not move, so Sasha took her by the hand, and led her to the chest where she kept her shawl.
“Take your shawl and go to Mistebove!”
She obeyed. But first she went to find Shleyme at the distillery. She wanted to send him to Svislotsh to get Iser, but Shleyme was not there. She stood for a moment and hesitated, before setting off for Mistebove herself, littering the path with her sighs.
In the meantime, Sasha went to Tsilke.
But instead of responding she plunged the washboard into the water, splashing Sasha from head to foot, and went back to work.
“Did your Aunt say anything to you last night?”
“What did she do?”
“She cried . . .”
“I went to sleep.”
In that moment Sasha thought that she’d taken the whole thing in her stride a lot easier than he had. She’d gone straight to sleep, while he’d been tormenting himself by the window.
“Tsilke, do you own a nice dress?”
“I have shoes too. My father brought me some not long ago. But why are you asking?”
“We’re going to Mistebove . . .”
“What?” She put down the washboard and went over to Sasha who was standing by the water’s edge, smoking. “And what are we going to do in Mistebove?”
“We’re going to the rabbi, to get married.”
She through her wet arms around Sasha and shrieked; giggling and hopping up and down, she almost knocked them both into the stream.
She was delighted by the idea of going somewhere, that there would be a commotion, that it would be lively. She took no notice of the gravity of the moment. Sasha saw this and it endeared her to him all the more.
Suddenly she broke the silence.
“But why shoes? In summer, I walk to Mistebove barefoot, always barefoot.”
Sasha convinced her she should wear shoes because it “just wouldn’t do,” even though deep down he thought it would be very original if she stood under the wedding canopy in bare feet.
Then, when Tsilke resumed her work, she thought about the matter in more detail and began bombarding Sasha with questions:
“What’s my father going to say? Or your father? We haven’t asked anyone?”
Sasha reassured her:
“And what about yesterday, and the day before yesterday when we were kissing in the woods the whole time? We didn’t need anyone’s permission then either.”
“True, we didn’t ask anyone; we’re not children after all . . .”
She ran her hands provocatively over her dress, smoothing the creases, and posed proudly in front of Sasha, in front of the whole forest. Sasha noted again how much she had matured, how much she’d grown.
We’re not children after all—the phrase rang in his ears. He eyed her with enthusiasm.
“Don’t just stand there ogling; kiss me!”
But when he tried to kiss her, she bolted and would not allow herself to be caught.
She ran and he gave chase, while the forest listened in on their laughter. The laundry was abandoned back by the stream. Far off in the forest, Sasha caught her and paid her the kiss he owed her, with interest.
Afterward, she went inside to prepare her shoes and dress. Sasha was left alone.
He thought . . .
He thought that what he was about to do, must be done. Of all the questions swimming around in his head, he understood one thing for certain: You can’t leave someone like Tsilke . . . It must be done as soon as possible, this very day, they must erect a wedding canopy. Perhaps he was afraid of himself. What if he got cold feet, or other things got in the way that would hinder him from taking responsibility.
Just then, he saw, among the trees, someone new: it was a middle-aged Jew with wrinkled clothes, and a dented bowler hat. He approached Sasha slowly.
“Sholem-aleykhem, Mazl-tov!” and he extended his hand. Sasha shook his hand, and regarded him with a curious stare, as if to say: Who are you and what do you want?
“I’m the Mistebove rabbi’s shammes,” the man introduced himself.
And Sasha had the impression that a messenger from another world had paid him a visit.
“Everything is prepared,” the man continued. “The old woman Nikhe is waiting for you; if you like we can go there now.”
Sasha told the man to go to the road watchman Ivan, to tell him to saddle up the horse right away. The man did so without delay.
And there on the porch sood Tsilke, in her white dress, wearing shoes which didn’t really suit the usually barefoot girl.
She seemed taller and slimmer, and a shy smile lay on her face. While she had gotten dressed, she’d had time to think things over. There was a charming earnestness in her eyes. She looked around, examined the forest from every angle, as though she were saying goodbye to her only acquaintances, the trees.
Sasha noticed her and approached. Her eyes are blue again today. He thought. Strange, how her eyes change color, they often turn from gray to blue.
“Tsilke, the shammes has come from Mistebove; your aunt is waiting for us there. I sent him to Ivan to fetch the carriage.”
She went to him and lay her head on his chest, before looking up into his eyes.
A world of translucent blue, a good-natured soul, gazed into his eyes and touched the very cords of his soul. That moment was the first time in his life that Sasha had ever been so deeply moved. His heart pounded.
She was his. She gave herself over to him like a child, and in return for that trust he would do her no harm. In truth, he possessed his own kind of decency. He often thought that he would prefer not to get his hands dirty . . . But sometimes, he’d been a little indecent on occasion, but nothing that couldn’t be scrubbed clean if needs be . . .
Tsilke thought for a moment and asked:
“Do you really want to marry me?”
“Yes, kid, I’m absolutely sure.”
“And you won’t have any regrets?”
Sasha’s heart pounded hearing such a question, a question that so efficiently hit its mark, but he had already decided that today he would refrain from any soul-searching. There would be time for that later in the city. He answered Tsilke with a kiss, and that reassured her.
Ivan and the shammes arrived with the carriage.
All four of them mounted the carriage and they set off. There were empty fields nearby, entirely bathed in sunlight, all the fields surrounded in woodlands.
Tsilke forgot everything. The sun and the brightness took hold of her. She shouted at the horse, “Giddyup!” and broke into song several times. Sasha agreed with the shammes that there should avoid a commotion in the village. Only those who had to be there should know anything about the wedding.
The carriage came to a stop not far from the village. The shammes walked ahead. Tsilke and Sasha followed him. They followed the strange man as if they were lost. Tsilke found it hard to walk in the shoes; she’d been going barefoot for so long.
Later, they sat in a narrow room, where about a dozen people had gathered, invited by Aunt Nikhe. She sighed constantly, but in her sighs she understood one thing: If there had been an accident, Sasha could make amends now under the wedding canopy.
The rabbi asked Sasha something, and noted down the response in a large ledger. Then they carried a piece of embroidered cloth with four poles out into the yard.
They asked Sasha to say something, handed him a ring, and a goblet of wine. However serious and preoccupied he was in that moment, several times he felt like laughing: What do they want, all these people?
But he soon snapped out of it and thought: This is necessary, this is necessary. Just a few more minutes and I can be rid of them.
Afterwards the people began to drone like buzzing insects:
“Mazl-tov, Mazl-tov, Mazl-tov!”
Tsilke crossed her arms miserably and looked at the people. Aunt Nikhe cried and kissed Tsilke repeatedly.
A man approached Sasha and began to speak:
“The Luries, a lineage like that is no trifle!”
Sasha handed him a paper ten-ruble note and the man stepped aside. Soon another appeared.
“Your father . . .”
Sasha gave the second man a coin and he too stepped aside. The third man approached with a smile on his face:
“The bride was no fool . . . Haha . . .”
Suddenly he found himself surrounded by so many outstretched hands: a shammes, and undershammes, another assistant shammes . . .
Mazl-tov after Mazl-tov, each one costing Sasha a coin. Some girls found out about the whole thing, everything that was happening at the rabbi’s place. They came running, and Tsilke stood on the threshold of the adjacent room and spoke with them. Aunt Nikhe whispered something to the rabbi and Sasha was left to sit alone for a few moments, on an old-fashioned white armchair.
He had suddenly become smaller, in stature and in his entire being. He smiled inwardly: it seemed they had cast him aside.
Bearded men poked their heads in from the next room. Nikhe had stopped whispering to the rabbi. In conversation with her friends, Tsilke let out a laugh and Sasha snapped out of his reverie . . .
He approached Nikhe:
“Now then, Aunt Nikhe, you won’t need to cry anymore and have no reason to be angry with me.”
At which point she burst into a flood of tears. It was several minutes before she calmed down.
Now Tsilke also felt like crying. She thought it was what was expected of her. But Sasha had already sent the shammes to fetch Ivan, who was parked in the carriage just outside the town.
By the time they left the rabbi’s house a crowd of curious bystanders had gathered. Who could have kept such a thing secret?
“Lurie’s son has married Iser’s Tsilke.”
“A barefoot girl has married the foreigner.”
“He’s obviously gone mad.”
But there were people on hand to take Tsilke’s side.
“The city girls can’t compare to her.”
“She’s so beautiful, like a princess.”
Sasha was relieved when the carriage finally started to move. He had nothing against the people—by all means let them amuse themselves—but he wanted to be as far away from them as possible.
There were open fields already. They went on. Aunt Nikhe was still wiping her eyes. Tsilke held on to her to stop her from falling. She had something to ask Sasha, but she was reticent. She couldn’t hold back any longer and asked. after all:
“Sasha, when will our wedding be?”
Sasha laughed; he understood what she meant: for her a wedding meant music, dancing and a feast . . .
We’ll have one later, kid, later.”
And Ivan, the road watchman demanded his part:
“Barin, when will we have a little schnapps? A Mazl-tov like that, taking such a pretty girl away from us.”
And that “pretty girl” could not sit still on the carriage.
She had already snatched up a whole bouquet’s worth of wild-flowers from the side of the road. The few miles went by quickly.
As they reached the forest the sun was already burning its last fire. Many, formless flames fell on the trees, lying wriggling in death throes across their trunks.
Dusk was approaching. Everything grew dark. The evening with its eternal descended upon them . . . and Tsilke too felt the muteness around, but she did not want to worry, not even for an instant.
As the carriage came to a halt she ran to Sasha and began to shake him, laughing:
“Married, are we really married?”
Sasha calmly stroked her hair, lost in thought. The tumult around the marriage had left him somewhat disconcerted, but he was in a festive mood nonetheless.
Festive and melancholy.
The young people of Mistebove did not go to bed until very late that evening. The event had come as a surprise to them, and set them to dreaming.
“Would you hear the likes of that in a storybook?”
“And what will the silent Iser have to say about all this?”
“And what will the Luries say?”
“She’ll be living the high-life now, that Tsilke . . .”
“Who knows—It’s no equal match after all . . .”
Only one person kept his distance from all the gossip—Froyke. He left the village and twice set off in the direction of the forest, where the three cabins stood, but both times he turned back before he got there.
A few days later Froyke hitched his father’s horse up to the carriage and set off for Volkovisk.
He did not come back. A week passed.
Old man Barash went to find him only to discover that Froyke had sold the horse and carriage, and drank away all the money—he was still drunk when Barash found him. Froyke refused to come home.
All this was on account of Tsilke—that’s what they were saying in Mistebove.