Elijah’s hands worked the cool clay until the little girl’s eyes reflected innocence, and her lips formed a smile. The figure, half his height, mimicked a child of seven or eight. Sculpting had shaken off the dread brewing since the call an hour ago.
A light knocking on the front door caused his stomach to sink. There was no need to go to the window. He knew Rabbi Gorlitz’s knock. Like his voice on the phone, it was unassuming for such an important man. Elijah wiped his hands on his smock and took it off before going downstairs. After a pause to pray for strength, he opened the door.
The Rabbi appeared somber but composed, unlike Elijah’s son, Jacob. The narrow-eyed boy stood on the porch next to him with arms folded and lips pursed. Whose blood stained Jacob’s shirt this time?
“You know the story,” the Rabbi said, tugging the brim of his black fedora.
Jacob twisted and pulled on his blond side curls. His yarmulke was missing. “David started with me. He said something about mom. He—”
Elijah’s jaw muscles grew taught. “I heard. It doesn’t excuse your behavior. Go to your room.”
“No,” Jacob sneered.
The Rabbi raised an eyebrow. He didn’t need to say anything; the boy was making the man’s point for him.
“Go!” Elijah threw his finger at the stairs.
Jacob cursed, shouldering Elijah as he passed him before stomping up the steps. Elijah avoided the Rabbi’s eyes and sighed. He stepped back and gestured for him to enter. The Rabbi touched the mezuzah in the doorway and kissed his fingers before stepping inside, a pointed reminder that Jacob hadn’t.
After hanging up the Rabbi’s coat, Elijah pulled out the chair at the head of the dining room table. He waited for his guest before taking a seat. The ceiling vibrated with Jacob’s rock music, but at least he wasn’t eavesdropping. “I know what you’re going to say.”
The Rabbi stroked his gray beard. “Do you?”
“But according to the teacher, the other boy did say something about Jacob’s mother.”
“Jacob has no mother.”
Elijah took a deep breath. “But he remembers a mother. Adolescence is a difficult time for any—”
“Jacob put another boy in the hospital.”
“Who? David? Is he okay?”
“He will be.”
Elijah bowed his head. “I’m sorry.” He felt the Rabbi’s cool gray eyes bore into him.
“Today, four men could barely hold Jacob down. This episode also lasted much longer than the last.”
“I’ll talk to him. I’ll punish him.”
The Rabbi folded his arms. “You’ve tried both many times.”
“We may need him, you know,” Elijah retorted, hoping an even tone masked his desperation. “Hate crimes in the city are on the rise.”
The Rabbi snorted. “This is not the sixteenth century. We have laws and police to protect us.”
“I bet my grandfather thought that too before Hitler.”
The Rabbi wagged his finger. “Moshe, a Kohain, used the Name when the SS came to his village.” Elijah’s eyes widened. Papa never told him. “The bodies soon piled up, Germans and Jews alike. Your grandfather, like the rabbis who came before him, was forced to use the Name once more. He made your father vow never to speak it.”
“I know, but I found Papa’s writings.”
The Rabbi got up and took his coat. “A shame you didn’t find his wisdom. Shalom.”
“You know I can’t father children,” Elijah pleaded. “That’s why Sarah left me.”
“Whoever brings up an orphan in their home fulfils—”
“Adoption isn’t the same. It can never be the same. I gave life to Jacob. He is truly my son. I can save his neshama!”
The Rabbi paused at the door and, without turning, replied, “He has no soul to save. He cannot return your love. Sooner or later he will kill.”
Elijah clasped his hands together in prayer. “Jacob’s my son…my only son! What if I can school him at home?” he asked, his hope sparked.
“If you are to suffer his wrath,” the Rabbi said with a somber shake of his head, “who will be left to use the Name? Only a full-blooded Kohain can.” The front door closed softly behind him.
Ascending the stairs, Elijah felt as though a starless night had fallen. He came to his son’s door and stood frozen a moment before finally able to knock. The throbbing beat stopped.
“Go away!” Jacob raged. “I’m not apologizing.”
“I’ve come to apologize to you,” Elijah’s voice shook. “You’re right. The teachers and the Rabbi have no business telling you you can’t stick up for yourself.”
The door opened. Jacob’s brow furrowed. “No…no they don’t.”
Elijah took into the room. An untidy NFL bedspread, the rock posters…It was so easy to forget the truth. When his gaze fell on the open laptop, the background a picture of him and the boy together, Elijah’s heart stopped. His eyes met Jacob’s. “You hurt David badly you know?”
The boy shrugged. “I’m stronger than he is. I’m the strongest in the school.”
“That’s why you can’t do that.”
“Tell the teacher to get kids to stop bothering me, and I won’t have to.”
“It’s only words, Jacob. You can stick up for yourself without throwing a punch!”
Jacob looked at the floor. “I try not to. Really. Every time. But I get so angry, I want to. I…I need to.” He raised his eyes. “You forgive me, right?”
“Of course I do.” Elijah opened his arms and as they embraced, he whispered the Name into the boy’s ear.
Tears fell on the body of cool clay in Elijah’s arms. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
He staggered to his workroom and steadied himself against the wall. Sunlight stretching from beneath the window blinds touched the face of his fresh sculpture. Elijah traced one of her curls with his finger and sighed. Everyone would require a plausible explanation. Maybe the recently orphaned daughter of a close friend who’d been living in Israel. Yes, that would work. She’d have Jacob’s room because he went to stay with relatives upstate. Getting away from the city was what the wild boy needed, Elijah would say. He wiped the moisture from his eyes.
He crouched before the clay girl and leaned forward. At first his voice failed him, but the need to fill a void outweighed any fear of the consequences. Elijah spoke the Name into her ear.
© 2014 by Jason Gorbel
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