Brazilians have Carnivale, New Orleans and the French have Mardi Gras, Russians have Shrovetide, Germans have Schmutziger Donnerstag, Sweden has Semla, Lithuana has Uzhgavenes, Indians have Holi and Duwale, Iranians have Norwuz, Japanese have Higan. Every corner of the world seems to have a Vernal Equinox Festival whose origins predate Purim by hundreds of centuries. Drinking, dancing, dressing, a bacchanale of life to usher in the new spring's regeneration when the noumenal world of No End becomes so full of light and essence that it has to contract some of its enduring majesty into empty space so that, in a divine leap, the shattered, phenomenal realm of sense and sensibility can grow in the hope that some essence of it can yet again leap back to the world of no end. "For fuck's sake don't bring your friends to this." "Nu? Why not?" "It just encourages Tateh. Nu?" Every weeknight after mishpocheh dinner, they'd talk for a few hours in the Katz basement, and she now spoke to in secret to her secret best friend more than to any school friend, not a secret for her sake, but a secret for his. Even with their family's detente, how would his mishpocheh react to knowing that Simcha was spending every free moment in the almost windowless basement of an halakhic shiksa. Meanwhile, Kristina had taken up with a thirty-two year old junior professor at Berkeley named Dan Krentzman and was rarely seen around the house anymore.
Bethany loved Simcha, just as she did all her friends, she just wasn't sure she could stand him. He seemed to think nothing of being so cynical, so stubborn, so argumentative. He acted as though making fun of everything she loved was the most generous thing in the world a person could do for his or her friends. And he more negative he was, the more need she felt to court his approval. She couldn't stand him for making her seek his approval, she couldn't stand herself for needing him to support her, and she couldn't stand him again for making her feel the need to be supported by him. And yet she loved him, as though there was instant understanding of the rules of a game that was as utterly strange to her as it was completely familiar to him. Her inner irritation at him was unlike anything she'd ever known, and gnawed into her intestines like termites to trees. For the first time in her life, she had to confront that not only did she disapprove of someone she loved, but that this person may disapprove of her too, yet still love her back. Around Simcha, from Simcha, because of Simcha, love was suddenly intermingled with dread, pettiness, anger, belittlement, cynicism. Would love, could love, ever feel the same again? "He wants to make a scene. He wants the whole city to see this and know we're here. Nu?" "But it's gonna be fun!" "Nu? Who cares? It's just going to end badly for everyone. Nu?" Pessimism was a responsibility to Bethany, not a state of being. If another person was sad, they needed to be cheered; if she was sad, she required a person to cheer. Her kishkes had the urge to leave every person and place more luminous than she found them in her DNA. But even Simcha's brighter moods seemed tinged with a bitterness she neither understood nor fathomed. She didn't resent him for this, she respected his right to feel any way he liked, how else could she cheer him up? But about precisely what did Simcha have cause to be so aggrieved as all that? It was simply a source of fascinated speculation. Yes, he was deformed and alienated, though nowhere near to the extent he thought was. He had a loving family, a God in which his faith was unshakeable, and such a God certainly knew he was not lacking for self-belief. In any event, Simcha wouldn't let her know why he seemed to think everything she suggested would end in catastrophe. "Don't get mixed up with Ian Greyling, nu? He's an erotoman and a shikker!" "Nu, don't invite your yenta friends too often while I'm here. They don't like me nu? and I wouldn't like them if I knew them better." "Nu, all your other friends play at being korvehs, but Kristina's the real thing! Nu?" When they first began hanging out, she would ask him, almost annoyed that he never made the transition, to translate these unfamiliar words that he spoke as though this linguistic porridge was all the same language. But the more she heard them, the more she realized she could guess infallibly. There was an onomatopoetic quality to all those weird Jewish words you never got from all those other languages of which she taught herself as much as her exchanged houseguests would let her. But whereas Kristina spoke a language which seemed to have a word for everything, Simcha's language seemed to have an infinity of words that seem to preciselymean only themselves. Simcha replaced Kristina as her confessor, and she was his replacement for Talmud which he studied with the insatiate curiosity of a Talmid Khakham, and asked the most pointed, personal questions of and about her, the friends of hers he disliked, the family she thought she knew until he demanded details of her background she neither knew nor thought her parents did. Being the perfect daughter of a doctor and a minister as she was, Bethany could not be more concerned with healing the world if she tried, but she seemed to know innately that mysteries do not exist to be solved. The fact that some essential details of life were beyond here ministrations did not trouble her. But for Simcha, the mysteries of people seemed to exist only to be divined. The universe in all its microscopic majesty was a tree growing citruses to be squeezed, a sea with oysters to be slurped. Wouldn't he be happier if he didn't want to know so much about everybody?
The Kaiser was an old man. He was the oldest emperor in the world. All around him Death was circling, circling and mowing. The entire field was already cleared, and only the Kaiser, like a forgotten silver stalk, was still standing and waiting. For many years his bright hard eyes had been peering, lost, into a lost distance. His skull was bare like a vaunted wasteland. His whiskers were white like a pair of wings made of snow. The wrinkles in his face were a tangled thicket dwelt in by the decades. His body was thin, his back slightly bowed. At home he shuffled about. But upon going outdoors, he tried to make his thighs hard, his knees elastic, his feet light, his back straight. He filled his eyes with sham kindness, with the true characteristic of imperial eyes: they seemed to look at everyone who looked at the Kaiser, and they greeted everyone who greeted him. But actually, the faces merely swirled and floated past his eyes, which gazed straight at that soft fine line that is the frontier between life and death--gazed at the edge of the horizon, which is always seen by the eyes of the old even when it is blocked by houses, forests, or mountains.
People thought Franz Joseph knew less than they because he was so much older than they. But he may have known more than some. He saw the sun going down on his empire, but he said nothing. He knew he would die before it set. At times he feigned ignorance and was delighted when someone gave him a long-winded explanation about things he knew thoroughly. For with the slyness of children and oldsters he liked leading people down the garden path. And he was delighted at their vanity in proving to themselves that they were smarter than he. The Kaiser disguised his wisdom as simplicity: for it does not behoove an emperor to be as smart as his advisers. Far better to appear simple than wise. If he went hunting, he knew quite well that the game was placed in front of his rifle, and though he could have elled some other prey, he nevertheless shot only the prey that had been driven before his barrel. For it does not behoove an old emperor to show that he sees through a trick and can shoot better than a gamekeeper. If he was told a fairy tale, he pretended to believe it. For it does not behoove an emperor to catch someone in a falsehood. If people smirked behind his back, he pretended not to know about it. For it does not behoove an emperor to know he is being smirked at, and this smirk is foolish so long as he refuses to notice it. If he ran a fever, and people trembled all around him, and the court physician lied to him, telling him he had no fever, the emperor said, “Well, then, everything’s fine,” although he knew he had a fever. For an emperor does not accuse a medical man of lying. Besides, he knew that the hour of his death had not yet come. He also experienced many nights of being plagued by fever unbeknownst to his physicians. For sometimes he was ill, and no one realized it. And at other times he was well, and they said he was ill, and he pretended to be ill. When he was considered kind, he was indifferent. And when they said he was cold, his heart bled. He had lived long enough to know that it is foolish to tell the truth. So he allowed people their errors, and he believed less in the permanence of the world than did the wags who told jokes about him in his vast empire. But it does not behoove an
emperor to compete with wags and sophisticates. So the Emperor held his tongue.
Even though he was well rested, and his physician was satisfied with his pulse, lungs, and respiration, he had had the sniffles since yesterday. He wouldn’t dream of letting anyone notice. They might prevent him from attending the autumn maneuvers on the eastern border, and he wanted to watch maneuvers again, at least for a day. The file on that man who’d saved his life, whose name had slipped his mind again, had conjured up Solferino. He didn’t like wars (for he knew that one loses them) but he loved the military, the war games, the uniforms, the rifle drills, the parades, the reviews, and the company drills. He was sometimes vexed that the officers wore higher hats than he himself, sharp creases in their trousers, patent-leather shoes, and overly high collars on their tunics. Many were even clean-shaven. Just recently he had spotted a clean-shaven militia officer in the street, and his heart had been heavy the rest of the day. But when he went over to the people themselves, they again knew the difference between rules and mere swagger. He could snap at certain ones more grossly. For in the army everything behooved the emperor, in the army even the emperor was a soldier. Ah! He loved the blaring of the trumpets, though he always feightned interest in the operational plans. And while he knew that God Himself had placed him on his throne, he felt upset in weak moments that he was not a front-line officer, and he bore a grudge against the staff officers. He remembered how undisciplined the retreating troops had been after the Battle of Solferino, and he had chewed them out like a sergeant and gotten them bac in line. He was convinced--but whom could he tell--that ten good sergeants are a lot more useful than twenty general staff officers. He yearned for maneuvers!
So he decided to conceal his sniffles and pull out his handkerchief just as little as possible. Nor was anyone to be forewarned, he wanted to surprise the maneuvers and all the people around him with his decision to attend. He looked forward to the despair of the civil authorities, who would not have provided enough police protection. He wasn’t scared. He knew very well that the hour of his death had not yet come. He alarmed everyone. They tried to dissuade him. He dug in his heels. One day he stepped into the imperial train and rolled toward the east.
In the village of Z, not ten miles from the Russian border, they had prepared his quarters in an old castle. The Emperor would have rather been billeted in one of the huts assigned to the authentically military life. Just once, during that unfortunate Italian campaign, he had, for example, seen a real-live flea in his bed but had told no one. For he was an emperor, and an emperor does not talk about insects. That had already been his opinion.
They closed the windows in his bedroom. At night, when he couldn’t sleep, but all around him everyone who was supposed to guard him was asleep, the Emperor, in his long pleated nightshirt, crept quietly out of bed and softly, to avoid waing anyone, unlatched the narrow wings of the high window. He stood there for a while, breathing the coolness of the autumn night and gazing at the stars in the deep-blue sky and the reddish campfires of the soldiers.
Once he had read a book about his life, which said “Franz Joseph I is no romantic.” They write, the old man mused, that I’m no romantic. But I love campfires. He would have liked to be an ordinary lieutenant, to be young. I may not be the least bit romantic, he mused, but I wish I were young! If I’m not mistaken, he went on thinking, I was eighteen when I mounted the throne. When I mounted the throne: that sentence struck the Kaiser as was the Kaisre. Certainly! It was written in the book that had been presented to him with the usual devout dedications. There was no doubt that he was Franz Joseph I! The infinite, deep-blue, starry night arched outside his window. The countryside was flat and vast. He had been told that these windows faced northeast. So you could see all the way to Russia. But the border, needless to say, was invisible. And at this moment Kaiser Franz Joseph would have liked to see the border of his empire. His empire! He smiled.
The night was blue and round and vast and full of stars. The Kaiser stood at the window, thin and old in a white nightshirt, and felt very tiny in the face of the immense night. The least of his soldiers, who could patrol in front of the tents, was more powerful than he. The least of his soldiers! And he was the Supreme Commander in Chief! Every soldier, swearing by God the Almighty, pledged his allegiance to Kaiser Franz Joseph I. He was a majesty by the grace of God, and he believed in God the Almighty, who hid behind the gold-starred blue of the heavens, the Alighty--inconceivable! It was His stars that shone up there in the sky, and it was His sky that arched over the earth, and He had allocated a portion of the earth, namely the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, to Franz Joseph I. And Franz Joseph I was a thin old man, standing at the open window and fearing that his guards might surprise him at any moment. The crickets chirped. Their chant, as infinite as the night, aroused the same awe in the Kaiser as the stars. At times it sounded as if the stars themselves were singing. He shivered slightly. But he was afraid of closing the window, he might not manage as smoothly as before. His hands trembled. He remembered that he must have already attended maneuvers in these parts long ago. This bedroom likewise resurfaced from forgotten times. But he didn’t know whether ten, twenty, or more years had elapsed since then. He felt as if he were drifting on the sea of time--not toward any goal but erratically, on the surface, often pushed back to the reefs, which looked familiar. Someday, somewhere, he would go under. He had to sneeze. Yes, his sniffles! No one stirred in the antechamber. Cautiously he latched the window, and his thin, naked feet fumbled their way back to bed. He took along the image of the blue starry round o the heavens. It was preserved in his closed eyes. And so he fell asleep, under the vault of night, as if lying outdoors.
He awoke punctually at oh-four-hundred hours, as he always did “in the field” (and that was what he called the maneuvers). His valet was already standing in the room. And the equerries, he knew, were already waiting outside the door. Yes, he had to start his day. He would scarcely have a moment to himself all day long. To make up for it, he had outwitted all of them that night by standing at the open window for a good quarter hour. He thought about that slyly filched pleasure and smiled. He smirked at the valet and also at the boy who now entered and froze lifeless, terrified by the Kaiser’s smirk; by His Majesty’s suspenders, which he saw for the first time in his life; by the tousled, slightly tangled whiskers, between which the smirk fluttered to and fro like an old, quiet, weary bird; by the Kaiser’s sallow complexion; and by his bald, scaling scalp. They didn’t know whether to smile with the old man or wait mutely. All at once the Kaiser began to whistle. He actually pursed his lips, his whiskers parted slightly, and he whistled a well-known melody, though slightly off key. It sounded like a shepherd’s reedy piping. And the Kaiser said, “Hojos is always whistling this song! I’d like to know what it is!” But neither the valet nor the boy could tell him, and by the time the Kaiser was washing, a bit later, he had already forgotten about the song.
It was a heavy day. Franz Joseph looked at the slip outlining his agenda hour by hour. The only church in the village was Greek Orthodox. Mass would be celebrated first by a Roman Catholic priest, then by a Greek Orthodox priest. The most strenuous duties of all were the church ceremonies. He felt he had to pull himself together before God as if facing a superior. And he was old already. He could spare me any number of things! the Kaiser mused. But God is even older than I, and his decisions seem as unfathomable to me as mine seem to the soldiers in the army. And where would we be if every subordinate could criticize his superior?
Through the lofty arched windows the Kaiser saw God’s sun rising. He crossed himself and genuflected. Since time immemorial he had seen the sun come up every morning. Most of his life he had gotten up first, just as a soldier gets up earlier than his superior. He knew all sunrises, the fiery and cheery ones in summer and the late, dreary, foggy ones in winter. And while he no longer recalled the dates, or the names of the days, the months, the years when disaster or good fortune had overtaken him, he did remember every morning that had ushered in an important day in his life. And he knew that a certain morning had been dismal and another cheerful. And every morning, he had crossed himself and genuflected, the way some trees open their leaves to the sun every morning, whether on a day of storm or a felling ax or deadly frost in spring or else days of peace and warmth and life.
The Kaiser stood up. His barber came. Every morning he regularly held out his chin, and his whiskers were trimmed and neatly brushed. The cold metal of the scissors tickled his nostrils and earlobes. At times the Kaiser had to sneeze. Today he sat before a small oval mirror, serenely and eagerly following the movements of the barber’s thin hands. Ater every little hair that dropped, after every scrape of the razor and every tug of the comb or brush, the barber sprange back and breathed “Your Majesty!” with quivering lips. The Kaiser didn’t hear those whispered words. He only saw the barber’s lips in perpetual motion, didn’t dare ask, and finally concluded that the man was a bit nervous.
“What’s your name?” asked the Kaiser.
The barber--he had the rank of corporal, although he had been with the militia for just six months, but he served his colonel impeccably, enjoying the goodwill of is superiors--the barber sprange over to the door, his bearing elegant, as demanded by his craft, but also military: it was both a leap, a bow, and a stiffening at once, and the Kaiser nodded benignly.
“Hartenstein!” cried the barber.
“Why are you jumping like that?” asked Franz Joseph. But he received no answer.
The corporal timidly reapproached the Kaiser and completed his work with hasty hands. He wished he were far away and back at the camp.
“Hold on!” said the Kaiser. “Ah, you’re a corporal! Have you been serving a long time?”
Six months, Your Majesty!” the barber breathed.
“I see, I see~ Corporal already? In my day,” said the Kaiser, as a veteran might have said, “it never went that fast. But then you’re a very smart looking soldier. Do you plan on staying in the military?”
Hartenstein the barber had a wife and child and a prosperous shop in Olomouc and had already tried feigning rheumatism several times in order to get out fairly soon. But he couldn’t say no to the Kaiser. “Yes, Your Majesty,” he said, knowing he had just messed up his entire life.
“Fine. Now you’re a sergeant. But don’t be so nervous!”
So. The Kaiser had made someone happy. He was glad. He was glad. He was glad. He had done something wonderful for that Hartenstein. Now the day could begin. His carriage was waiting. They slowly drove uphill to the Greek Orthodox church on the peak. Its golden double cross sparkled in the morning sun. The military bands were playing the imperial anthem, “God Save.” The Kaiser stepped down and entered the church. He knelt at the altar, moving his lips but not praying. He kept thinking about the barber. The Almighty could not show the Kaiser such sudden favors as the Kaiser could show on a corporal, and that was too bad. King of Jerusalem: that was the highest rank God could award a majesty. And Franz Joseph was already King of Jerusalem. Too bad, the Kaiser mused. Someone whispered to him that the Jews were waiting for him outside the village. They had forgotten all about the Jews. Ah, now those Jews too! the Kaiser thought, distressed. Fine! Let them come. But they had to step on it! Otherwise they’d be late for the fighting!
The Greek Orthodox priest hurried through the mass. The bands launched again into the imperial anthem. The Kaiser emerged from the church. It was oh-nine-hundred-hours. The fighting was to start at oh-nine-twenty, Franz Joseph decided to mount a horse instead of climbing back into the carriage. Those Jews could just as well be received on horseback. He sent off the carriage and rode out toward the Jews. At the end of the village, by the start of the wide highway leading to his quarters and also to the battle site, they billowedtoward him, a dark cloud. Like a field of strange black stalks in the wind, the congregation of Jews bowed to the Kaiser. He could see their bent backs from the saddle. Then, riding closer, he could make out their long, flowing, silvery-white, coal-black, and fiery-red beards, which stirred in the gentle autumn breeze, and the long bony noses, which seemed to be hunting for something on the ground. The Kaiser sat, in his blue coat, on his white horse. His whiskers shimmered in the silvery autumn sun. White mists rose from the fields all around.
The leader of the Jews, a patriarch with a wafting beard in a white prayer shaw with black stripes, flowed toward the Kaiser. The Kaiser paced his horse. The old Jew trudged slower and slower. Eventually he seemed to both pause in one spot yet keep moving. Franz Joseph shivered slightly. He suddenly halted, and his white horse reared. The emperor dismounted. So did his retinue. He walked. His glossy boots became covered with highway dust, and their narrow edges were coated with heavy gray mire. The black throng of Jews billowed toward him. Their backs rose and sank. Their coal-black, fiery-red, and silvery-white beards wafted in the soft breeze. The patriarch stopped three paces from the Kaiser. In his arms he carried a huge purple Torah scroll topped by a gold crown with tiny, softly jingling bells. The Jew then lifted the Torah scroll toward the Emperor. And in an incomprehensible language his toothless, wildly overgrown mouth babbled the blessing that Jews must recite upon seeing an emperor. Franz Joseph lowered his head. Fine silvery gossamer floated over his black cap, the wild ducks shrieked in the air, a rooster hollered in a distant farmyard. Otherwise there was silence. A dark muttering rose from the throng of Jews. Their backs bowed even deeper. The silver-blue sky stretched cloudless and infinite over the earth.
“Blessed art though,” the Jew said to the Kaiser! “Thou shalt not live to see the end of the world,”
I know! thought Franz Joseph. He shook the old man’s hand. He turned around. He mounted his white horse.
He trotted to the left over the hard clods of the autumnal fields, hs suite behind him. The wind brought hiim the words that Captain Kaunitz said to the friend riding at his side: “I didn’t understand a thing the Jew said.”
The Kaiser turned in his saddle and said, “He was speaking only to me, my dear Kaunitz,” and rode on.
Franz Joseph could make no sense of the maneuvers. All he knew was that the Blues were fighting the Reds. He had everything explained to him. “I see, I see,” he kept saying. He was delighted that the others believed he wanted to understand but couldn’t. Idiots! he thought. He shook his head. But they thought his head was waggling because he was an old man. “I see, I see” the Kaiser kept saying. The operations were fairly advanced by now. For the past two days, the left wing of the Blues, stationed a few miles outside the village of Z, had been constantly retreating from the cavalry of the Reds, who kept thrusting forward. The center held the terrain around P, a hilly area, hard to attack, easy to defend, but also vulnerable to being surrounded if the Reds--and this was what they were now concentrating on--succeeded in cuting the two wings of the Blues off from their center. Though the left wing was in retreat, the right wing never flinched, indeed, it graudally pushed ahead, showing a tendency to fan out, as if intent on circling the enemy’s flank. To the Kaiser’s mind, the situation was quite banal. Had he been leading the Reds, he would have kept retreating arther and farther, enticing the impetuous wing of the Blues to focus its combat strength on the outermost lines until he eventually found an exposed position between that wing and the center.
But the Kaiser said nothing. He was distressed by the monstrous fact that Colonel Lugatti, a Triestino, vain as, in Franz Joseph’s unshakable opinion, only an Italian could be, was wearing a high overcoat collar, even higher than was permitted for a tunic; nevertheless he displayed his rank by leaving that dreadfully high collar coquettishly open.
Tell me, Herr Colonel,” asked the Kaiser, “where do you have your overcoats made, in Milan? Unfortunately, I’ve totally forgotten the names of the Milanese tailors.”
Staff Colonel Lugatti clicked his heels and buttoned his overcoat collar.
“Now people could mistake you for a lieutenant,” said Franz Joseph, “You look young, you know!”
And he put spurs to his white horse and galloped up the hill, where, quite in keeping with older battles, the generals were stationed. The Kaiser was determined to stop the “fighting” if it lasted too long, since he yeaned to see the march-past. Franz Ferdinand would certainly take a different approach. He would favor one army, side with it, start ordering it around, and always win, of course. Where was there a general who would have beaten the successor to the throne? The Kaiser’s old pale-blue eyes swept over the faces. Vain sorts, all of them! he mused. A few short years ao he would have been annoyed. But no more, no more! He wasn’t quite sure how old he was, but when the others surrounded him he felt he must be very old. Sometimes he felt he was actually floating away from people and from the earth. They all kept shrinking the longer he gazed at them, and their words reached his ears as if from a remote distance and fell away, indifferent clangs. And if someone met with some disaster, the Kaiser saw that they went to great lengths to inform him gingerly. Ah, they didn’t realize he could endure anything! The great sorrows were already at home in his soul, and the new sorrows merely joined the old ones like long-awaited brothers. He no longer got annoyed so dreadfully. He no longer rejoiced so intensely. He no longer suffered so painfully. Now he did in fact “stop the fighting,” and the march-past was to begin.
They fell in on the boundless fields, the regiments of all branches, unfortunately in the field gray (another newfangled innovation that was not to the Kaiser’s liking). Nevertheless, the bloody red of the cavalry trousers still blazed over the parched yellow of the stubble fields, erupting from the gray of the infantrists like fire from clouds. The matte, narrow glints of the swords flashed before the marching columns and double columns; the red crosses on white backgrounds shone behind the machine-gun diversions. The artillerists rolled along like ancient war gods on their heavy chariots, and the beautiful dun and chestnut steeds reared in strong, proud compliance.
Through his binoculars Franz Joseph watched the movements of each individual platoon; for several minutes he also felt sorry to lose it. For he already saw it smashed and scattered, split up among the many nations of his vast empire. The huge golden sun of the Hapsburgs was setting for him, shattered on the ultimate bottom of the universe, splintering into several tiny solar balls that had to shine as independent stars on independent nations.
They just don’t want to be ruled by me anymore! thought the old man. What can you do? he added to himself. For he was an Austrian.
So to the dismay of all the chiefs he descended from his hill and began inspecting the motionless regiments, almost platoon by platoon. And occasionally he walked between the lines, viewing the new kit bags and the bread pouches, now and then pulling out a tin can and asking what was in it, now and then spotting a blank face and asking it about its homeland, family, and occupation, barely hearing the replies, and sometimes stretching out an old hand and clapping a lieutenant on the back. In this way he reached the rifle battalion in which Trotta served.
Four weeks had passed since Trotta had let the hospital. He stood in front of his platoon, pale, gaunt, and apathetic. But as the Kaiser drew nearer, Trotta began to notice his apathy and regret it. He felt he was shirking a duty. The army had become alien to him. The Supreme Commander in Chief was alien to him. Lieutenant Trotta resembled a man who has lost not only his homeland but also his homesickness for his homeland. He pitied the white-bearded oldster who drew nearer and nearer, curiously fingering kit bags, bread pouches, tin cans. The lieutenant wished for the intoxication that had overcome him in all festive moments of his military career: at home, during the summer Sundays, on his father’s balcony, at every parade, when he had received his commission, and just a few months ago at the Corpus Christi pageant in Vienna. Nothing stirred in Lieutenant Trotta as he stood five paces in front of his Kaiser, nothing stirred in his thrus-out chest except pity for an old man. Major Zoglauer rattled out the regulation formula. For some reason the Kaiser didn’t like him. Franz Joseph suspected that things weren’t quite as they should be in the battalion commanded by this man, and he decided to have a closer look. He gazed hard at the unstirring faces, pointed to Carl Joseph, and asked, “Is he sick?”
Major Zoglauer reported what had happened to Lieutenant Trotta. The name rang a bell in Franz Joseph, something familiar yet irksome, and he recalled the incident as described in the files, and behind the incident that long-slumbering incident at the Battle of Solferino. He could still plainly see the captain who, in a ridiculous audience, had so insistently pleaded for the removal of a patriotic selection from a reader. Selection No. 15. The Kaiser remembered the number with the pleasure aroused by minor evidence of his “good memory.” His mood improved visibly. Major Zoglauer seemed less unpleasant.
“I remember your father very well,” the Kaiser said to Trotta. “He was very modest, the Hero of Solferino!”
“Your Majesty,” the lieutenant replied, “that was my grandfather.”
The Kaiser took a step back as if shoved away by the vast thrust of time that had suddenly loomed up between him and the boy. Yes, yes! He could still recall the selection number but not the legion of years that he had already lived through.
“Ah!” he said. “So that was your grandfather! I see, I see! And your father is a colonel, isn’t he?”
“District commissioner of W.”
“I see, I see!” Franz Joseph repeated. “I’ll make a note of it,” he added, as if vaguely apologizing for the mistake he had just made.
He stood in front of the lieutenant for a while, but he saw neither Trotta nor the others. He no longer felt like striding along the lines, but he had to go on lest people realized he was frightened by his own age. His eyes, as usual, peered into the distance, where the edges of eternity were already surfacing. But he failed to notice that a glassy drop appeared on his nose, and that everyone was staring, spellbound, at that drop, which finally fell into his thick, silvery mustache, invisibly embedding itself.
And everyone felt relieved. And the march-past could begin.
“As far as I’m concerned, you can call me whatever you like. Call me a monster, call me a murderer; but kindly inicate that I do not hate Arabs. On the contrary. Personally, I feel much better among them--particularly the Bedouins--than I feel among the Zhids. The Arabs, those that we haven’t spoiled yet, are proud people, rational, but cruel or generous according to circumstances. The Zhids are completely twisted. If you want to try to straighten them out, you have to bend them really hard int he other direction. And that, in a nutshell, is my whole thesis.
“As far as I’m concerned, you can call the state of Israel by any pejorative you like. Call it Judeo-Nazi, the way Professor Leibowitz did. Why not? How does the saying go--’Better a live Judeo-Nazi than a dead saint’? Me, I don’t mind being Qaddafi. I’m not looking to the gentiles for admiration and I don’t need their love. But I don’t need it from your kind of Jew, either. I want to survive. And my intention happens to be that my children will survive, too. With or without the blessing of the Pope and assorted Torah sages from the New York Times. If anyone raises a hand against my children, I’ll destroy him--and his children--with or without your vaunted ‘pruity of arms.’ And I don’t give a damn if he’s a Christian or a Moslem or a Jew or a pagan. Throughout history, anyone who thought he was above killing got killed. It’s an iron-clad law.
“Even if you give me mathematical proof that the war we’re fighting in Lebanon--and don’t think it’s over yet--is a terrible war, dirty, immoral, disgusting, beneath us, it won’t matter to me. And I’ll tell you something else: it also won’t matter if you give me mathematical proof that we haven’t achieved, and we won’t achieve, any of our goals in Lebanon, not a friendly Lebanese regime, not breaking the Syrians, not the destruction of the PLO, not Major Haddad, not forty kilometers. It will still have been worth it. And if it turns out in a year that the Galilee is on the receiving end of the katyushas again, even that won’t make much difference to me. We’ll make another war like that and kill them and destroy them until they’ve had it up to here. And do you want to know why it was all worth it? Because it seems there’s a good chance that this war has turned the whole self-appointed civilized world against us again. This time for good. So now maybe we’ve finished once and for all with that crap about the Jewish monopoly on morality, about the moral lesson of the Holocaust and the persecutions, about the Jews who were supposed to have emerged from the gas chambers pure and good. We’re done with all that garbage. That little destruction job we did in Tyre and Sidon, the job in Ein Hilweh (too bad we didn’t wipe out the maggot’s nest for good) and the nice, healthy bombing of Beirut, and the mini-massacre--all of a sudden five hundred Arabs becomes a massacre!--in those camps (to bad the Christian Phalangists did it and not us, with our own delicate little hands!), all these blessings and good deeds have finished off that bullshit about a ‘Chosen People’ and a ‘Light unto the Nations.’ Yes, bullshit! We’re finished with that, not chosen and no light, and thank the Lord we’re done with it!
“I want you to know that I personally have absolutely no desire--and no reason, either--to be better than Khomeini or Brezhnev or Qaddafi or Assad or Mrs. Thatcher, or Harry Truman, who killed half a million Japs with two sweet bombs. Smarter than them, yes! I want to be quicker, more clever, more efficient than them, but under no circumstances do I have any ambition whatsoever to be more gussied up and moral than them. Tell me yourself, do the bad guys really have it so bad in this world? Do they lack for anything? If anybody tries to lay a finger on them, they cut off his arms and legs. And sometimes they do the same for people who haven’t even tried anything. If they feel like eating something, and they can catch it and kill it, that’s what they do. And they don’t suffer an upset stomach afterward or any divine retribution. So from here on in, I want Israel to be a member of this club. Congratulations! Maybe the world will finally begin to fear me instead of feeling sorry for me. Maybe they’ll start quaking in fear of my whims instead of admiring my nobility. Blessed art Thou who hast kept us in life, that’s what I say! Let them quake. And let them call us a mad-dog nation. Let them realize that we’re a wild country, deadly and dangerous to everyone around, awful, crazy, capable of suddenly going nuts because they’ve murdered one of our kids--even one!--and running wild and burning all of the oil fields in the Middle East. And by the way, if it happens to be your kid, God forbid, you’ll start talking the same way. Let them know in Washington, in Moscow, in Damascus, and in China that if they shoot one of our ambassadors, or even a consul, or even the attache in charge of stamp collecting, we’re capable of starting, suddenly, just for the hell of it, before breakfast, World War Three. If we get to have an image like that, it’s going to bring us--don’t be surprised--a little sympathy. In today’s terms, given the atmosphere among the youth, Western intellectuals, the sentimental cunts, if we act like that, it means we’re angry and desperate. And if we’re angry and desperate, it means we’ve been the victims of injustice. And if we’re victims, they’ll rush to demonstrate for us and to identify with us. That’s the way the perverted psychology of all those bleeding hearts works. Read Franz Fanon! In any event, with or without demonstrations of support for a desperate and dangerous Israel, the important thing is that they walk on tiptoe around Israel, so as not to provoke the wounded animal. Let them keep their claws retracted around us! It’s about time!”
We are sitting on the porch of Z.’s pleasant farmhouse in one of the veteran farming villages, looking westward at the sunset that burns between crests of clouds and lights up the horizon in dim fires of citron and purple and flickering gray. The cirtrus groves exude a lush, sensuous fragrance. There is homemade ice cream and coffee in tall thin glasses on the table before us. Z., about fifty years old, is a man with a history who has a certain reputation in some circles. Strong and heavyset, he is dressed in gym shorts, shirtless, his body a tanned metallic bronze--the tan of the blond man who lives out under the sun. He rests his legs on the table, and his creased hands lie on the arms of his chair like two weary beasts of burden. On his neck is a faded scar. As he dictates the essence of his philosophy to me in his fluent, cigarette-scorched voice, his eyes roam over his orchards and groves, which nestle at the foot of the mountain.
“And there’s one more thing, which is maybe even more important than all the rest. The sweetest fruit of this juicy war in Lebanon is that now it’s not just Israel they hate. Now, thanks to us, they hate all those high-falutin little kikes in Paris, London, New York, Frankfurt, Montreal, in their ratholes all over. They finally hate all the nice Zhids, too, the ones who keep shouting that they’re different, not like those Israeli hoodlums, that they’re a completely diferent kind of Jew, clean and decent. Like the assimilated Jew in Vienna and Berlin fifty years ago who begged the anti-Semites not to confuse him with the screaming, stinking Ostjude who sneaked into the civilized German neighborhood straight from some filthy ghetto in Poland or the Ukraine. It won’t do those clean Zhids any good, just like it didn’t do them any good in Vienna and Berlin. They can shout till they’re blue in the face that they condemn Israel, that they’re the good guys who wouldn’t and couldn’t hurt a fly, that they’d always prefer to be slaughtered than to fight, that they’ve taken it upon themselves to preach Christianity to the gentiles and to teach them how to turn the other cheek. But it won’t do them any good. Now they’re catching it because of us, and I want to tell you it’s a joy to behold. A real pleasure. Those are the Zhids who convinced the gentiles to give in to those bastards in Vietnam, to give into Khomeini and Brezhnev; to have pity on Sheik Zaki Yamani because he had a deprived childhood, and, in general, to make love, not war. Or not to make either one: to do a PhD dissertation on love and war. But that’s all finished now. From now on, even the most beautified Zhid is a pariah. It wasn’t enough that he crucified Jesus--now he’s crucified Arafat in Sabra and Shatilla. Now they’re identified with us, with no distinctions made, and that’s great! Their cemeteries are desecrated, their synagogues are burned, they’re hearing all the good old nicknames; they’re thrown out of all the hot-shot clubs; they’re getting gunned down right int he middle of eating at their ethnic restaurants. Their little children are being murdered here and there; they’re forced to take the mezuzahs off the door, to move out of the neighborhood, to change professions; and pretty soon they’ll find that old slogan smeared on the gates of their fancy houses: “Zhid, go to Palestine!” And you know what? They’ll start going to Palestine! Because they won’t have any other choice!
“All of this is a direct bonus of the war in Lebanon. Tell me yourself--wasn’t it worth it? And now, old buddy, any day now, the good times will begin. The Jews will start to arrive. The immigrants won’t emigrate and the emigres will come back home. Those who chose to assimilate will finally realize taht pretending they’re gentiles won’t help, that volunteering to be the ‘Conscience of Humanity’ won’t do them any good. That ‘Conscience of Humanity’ will learn through its ass what it couldn’t figure out with its thick head--namely, that the gentiles, now and always, are sickened by the Zhids and their conscience. And then the Jewish People will have only one option left: to come home, and soon, all of them, and to install steel security doors, and put up a high fence with machine guns stationed at all corners of the fence, and to fight like hell against anyone who even dares to make a peep in the neighborhood. If anyone raises a hand against us, we’ll just take away half his land, for good, and burn the other half. Including the oil. Including by nuclear weapons. Until they’ve lost any desire to make trouble for us. And do you know what will come out of this whole process? Hold on tight to your chair, buddy; I’ve got a little surprise for you. I’ll tell you exactly what will come out of this process. Three very good things will come out of it--moral, just things that you want, too, but don’t know how to achive: A) a total ingathering of the exiles; B) a return to Zion, wall to wall; C) a just and durable peace. Yes! And after that, peace will reign in the land for forty years, or more. And after that, ‘when you wish upon a star . . . your dreams come true.’ And after that, ‘down by the riverside,’ with each man sitting under his fig tree.
“As soon as we finish this phase, the violence phase, step right up, it’ll be your turn to play your role. You can make us a civilization with humanistic values here. Do the brotherhood-of-man bit--Light unto the Nations--whatever you want--the morality of the Prophets. Do the whole bit. Make this such a humanitarian country that the whole world will rejoice and you can rejoice about yourselves. Make them stand up and applaud--the world championship in high-jump morality. Be my guest. That’s the way it is, old buddy: first Joshua and Jephthah the Gileadite break ground, wipe out the memory of Amalek, and then maybe afterward it’s time for the Prophet Isaiah and the wolf and the lamb and the leopard and the kid and that whole terrific zoo. But only provided that, even at the end of days, we’ll be the wolf and all the gentiles around here will be the lamb. Just to be on the safe side.
“You’ll probably ask if I’m not afraid that all those Zhids escaping anti-Semitism and coming here won’t smear us with their snake oil and turn us into sisies like them. Well, listen, there’s also cunning in history, a dialectic, irony. Who was it that expanded the country of the Jews almost to the kingdom of King David? Who was it that spread the State from Mount Hermon down to Sharm al-Sheikh? Levi, son of Deborah [Eshkol]! Of all people, it was this socialist, this vegetarian, this female. And who’s about to put us back behind the walls of the ghetto? Who’s the foolish crow from Krylov’s fable who dropped the cheese when the fox asked him to sing? Who gave back all of Sinai so he’d look civilized? Jabotinsky’s right-hand man in Poland, Mr. National Pride. Menachem, son of Hassia [Begin]! So you can never tell. But one thing I do know. When you’re fighting for survival, anything goes. Even what’s forbidden is allowed. Even expelling all the Arabs from the West Bank. Anything.
“That’s right: Judeo-Nazis. Leibowitz was right. And why not? Why the hell not? Listen, friend, a people that let itself be slaughtered and destroyed, a people that let its children be made into soap and its women into lampshades, is a worse criminal than its tormentors. Worse than the Nazis. To live without fists, without fangs and claws, in a world of wolves is a crime worse than murder. Fact: Himmler and Heydrich and Eichmann’s grandchildren live well, on the fat of the land, and even preach t us while they’re at it, and the grandchildren of the sainted rebbes of Eastern Europe and those humanistic, pacifistic Jews who philosophized so prettily in Prague and Berlin--they can’t preach to anyone. They’re gone, never to come back.
“Go read the poetriy of a nationalist and a patriot like Greenberg instead of the snake oil of Gordon and Martin Buber. Go read the poem called ‘My God Father of the Gentiles.’ Maybe you oguht to learn it by heart. Maybe it will save your children one day. Just suppose our forefathers, so full of loving kindness, instead of writing books about the brotherhood of man and instead of marching to the gas chambers singing the praises of the Lord, had come here in time and had--now don’t fall off your chair!--wiped out six million Arabs, or only one million: what would have happened? Sure, the world owuld have written a couple nasty pages about us in the history books; they would have called us all kinds of names; but we would have been a nation of twenty-five million people here today! Pretty respectable, dont’ you think? And our authors would write elegant novels, like Gunter Grass and Heinrich Boll, about our collective guilt and shame and regret, and would collect a couple of Nobel prizes for iterature and morality. Maybe the government would have paid the Arabs we didn’t manage to kill some reparations from the oil revenues in Iraq. But the people of Israel would be sitting on its land! Twenty, twenty-five million! From the Suez Canal all the way to the oil fields. And, believe me, inspite of our crimes, all those bastards would be courting us, propositioning and sucking up to us. From Moscow and China all the way to Washington. In spite of our bloodstained hands and whatnot.
“Isten, even today I’m willing to volunteer to do the dirty work for the People of Israel, to kill as many Arabs as it takes, to deport, to expel, to burn, to see that they hate us, to put a torch to the ground under the feet of the Zhids in the Diaspora, so they’ll be forced to come running here whining. Even if I have to blow up a few synagogues here and there to get the job done. I don’t care. I don’t even care if, five minutes after I finish all this dirty work and the job is done, you bring me before a Nuremberg Tribunal. Ou can put me away for life; you can hang me as a war criminal, if you like. Then youcan carefully launder your Jewish conscience in bleach and join the respectable club of civilized nations. Go right ahead. I’ll take the whole filthy job on myself and you’ll be free to call me the worst names you can think of.
“What none of you manage to understand, for all your brains, is that the dirty work of Zionism isn’t finished yet. Far from it. True, it could have been finished in ‘48, but you got in the way, didn’t let us get on with it. And all because of the Zhiddishness in your souls. Because of your Diaspora mentality. Because you wanted to play fair! It’s a crying shame--we could have put all that behind us and by now become a normal nation with prissy values, with humanistic neighborly relations with Iraq and Egypt, and with a slight criminal record--just like everybody else. Like the English and the French and the Germans and the Americans--who’ve already managed to forget what they did to the Indians--and the Australians, who almost totally eliminated the aboringines. They’ve all done it. What’s the big deal? What’s so terrible about being a civilized people, respectable, with a slight criminal past? It happens in the best of families. And I’ve already told ou that I’m willing to take the criminal record on myself, together with Sharon and Begin and General Eitan. And I’m willing for you to be the future--rosy, pue, gutless. Write books of atonement for my crimes. And you’ll be forgiven Oh, boy, will you be forgiven. The international audience will adore your conscientiousness. They’ll receive you in the fanciest salons! But only after my cannon or my nasty napalm calms down the Indians and makes sure they don’t scalp your children and mine; and only after millions of Zhids have come home, here; and only after the house is big enough, with enough rooms for the whole family.
“Why do I keep calling them Zhids? I’ll tell you why, though not in my own words--after all, I’m a Judeo-Nazi--but in the words of Moses; right, the one from the Ten Commandments, a Jew with the seal of approval even from enlightened gentiles. Here’s what he said about us: ‘And among these nations thou shalt find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the Lord shall give the there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind, and thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and niht, and shalt have none assurance of thy life.’ That’s the whole Diaspora in a nutshell. That’s an exact description of the Zhid. Like under a microscope. And that is what Zionism meant to change. But we can’t change it until the Zhids understand what their real position is and what’s in store for them if they don’t get themselves home before dark. And the Zhid’s a little thick-headed. ‘A people like unto an ass,’ Foolish people and unwise.’ If you open your eyes and take a good look at the world around you, you’ll see that the darkness is closing in. The darkness is coming back. And we’ve already seen what happens to a Jew who finds himself out after dark. So it’s just as well that Israel, with this little sortie into Lebanon, darkened the sky a bit for the Zhids--let them be afraid a little, and suffer a little, so they’ll come home quik, at a trot, before real darkness begins. I’m an anti-Semite you say? All right then, erase me. Don’t write down what I say. We mustn’t quote anti-Semites. Then write down, instead, what that stalwart Zionist Lilienblum said. He’s certainly no anti-semite--he’s even got a lovely little street named after him in Tel Aviv.”
(Z. reads from a small notebook that was lying on the porch table even before my arrival.)
“‘Is this not a true sign that both our forefathers and we . . . desired and continue to desire to be a disgrace to mankind and despised by the nations. For we enjoy being gypsies.’ That’s Lilienblum, not me. Listen, friend, I’ve plowed through all the Zionist literature. Believe me, I’ve got sales slips for all of it. You want to hear something the great man himself, Herzl, said? Be my guest. ‘When a man is healthy and business is prospering, everything else is bearable.’ I don’t know if Herzl spoke Yiddish--they say he didn’t--but that statement is a typical Zhid perversion. Straight out of Yiddish. That statement is nothing but a roadsign to Auschwitz. Lilienblum and Herzl aren’t enough for you? Come on, listen to what Maimonides had to say--the major-league philosopher and physician. This is what he had to say about us: “This then is what caused us to lose our kingdom and the destruction of the Temple and prolonged our Diaspora . . . that our forefathers sinned . . . and did not study war and the conquering of countries.’ The conquering of countries, friend, not the defense of home and property! Not the Green Line! Not ‘war as an absolutely last resort.’ By the way, you have my permission to write that I’m the scum of humanity. I have no objections. On the contrary, I’ll make a working arrangement with you: I’ll do everything I can to deport the Arabs really far away, I’ll do all I can to provoke anti-Semitism, while you write odes about the wretched fte of the Arabs and hold the buckets to catch the Zhids that I’ve forced to take refuge here. And then you can teach these Zhids to be a Light unto the Nations. I’ll wipe out the Arab villages and you can hold protest demonstrations and write the epitaphs. You’ll be the family’s honor and I’ll be the stain on the family’s honor. Be my guest. Is it a deal?”
At one point, perhaps here or perhaps earlier, I interrupted Z.’s monologue for a moment and expressed aloud a passing thought, perhaps more to myself than to my host. Is it possible that Hitler not only killed the Jews but also infected them with his poison? Did that same venom in fact seep into some hearts, and does it continue to seep out from there? Z. did not protest at this thought, or raise his voice, just as he did not raise his voice once during his monologue--just as he apparently did not raise his voice during the most trying moments of those shadowy exploits in his past.
He replied calmlyd, “Listen, friend, if that celebrated Jewish mind had spent less time saving the world, reforming humanity--Marx, Freud, Kafka, and all those geniuses, and Einstein, too--and instead had hurried up a bit, only ten years, and set up a tiny, Lilliputian Jewish state, sort of an independent bridgehead just from Hadera down to Gedera, and invented in time a teeny-weeny atom bomb for this state--if they’d only done those two things--there never would have been a Hitler. Or a Holocaust. And nobody in the whole world would have dared to lay a finger on the Jews. And there would be twenty million of us here today, from the Suez Canal to the oil fields. We wouldn’t even have had to drop the bomb on the Germans or the Arabs. It would have been enough just to have a bomb like that in some Jewish storage shed in a tiny little state back in 1936 or ‘39, and no Hitler would have dared to come near a Jew. And those who died would still be alive--they and their offspring. Do you really think it was beyond the power of world Jewry to create a tiny state with its own tiny bomb? We might even have spared the gentiles World War Two. And spared ourselves five or six wars with the Arabs. Listen to what it says in Deuteronomy: ‘And ye shall be left few in number, whereas ye were as the stars of heaven for the multitudes because thou wouldst not obey the voice of the Lord, thy God.’ Doesn’t it give you goose bumps? And near that passage, somewhere in the same section, it talks about your type of Jew: ‘ . . . the man that is tender among you, and very delicate . . . of the flesh of his chlidren who he shall eat . . . in the siege and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemy shall distress thee in all they gates.’ You don’t care for that one do you? I can see it on your face that you didn’t enoy that passage too much. That’s not the nice side of Jewish tradition--eating the flesh of our sons. You’re right, it’s horrible. Phooey! But if we don’t want it to happen to us again, we have to cure ourselves of this Zhid disease, once and for all. To stop being the ‘tender’ and the ‘delicate,’ on this planet anyway. Maybe it’s all right on the planet of the Little Prince, but not on this one.
“Come on friend, let’s go into the house. The mosquitoes I’ve got around here don’t like left-wingers too much. You look like you could do with a drink. Have a seat. I’ve got good whiskey, two kinds. And there’s also Campari and Dubonnet. So what’ll it be? You probably need a couple of minutes for soul-searching on the matter. So search your soul; be my guest. When you’ve finished, let me know what you’ve chosen and we’ll make a toast. Never mind. Actually, I should have strung you up, along with all those friends of yours, but, instead, look at me--here I am making speeches to you and giving you my whiskey. Maybe I’m already a bit of a Zhid myself. It’s very catching.”
Brazilians have Carnivale, New Orleans and the French have Mardi Gras, Russians have Shrovetide, Germans have Schmutziger Donnerstag, Sweden has Semla, Lithuana has Uzhgavenes, Indians have Holi and Duwale, Iranians have Norwuz, Japanese have Higan. Every corner of the world seems to have a Vernal Equinox Festival whose origins predate Purim by hundreds of centuries. Drinking, dancing, dressing, a bacchanale of life to usher in the new spring's regeneration when the noumenal world of No End becomes so full of light and essence that it has to contract some of its enduring majesty into empty space so that, in a divine leap, the shattered, phenomenal realm of sense and sensibility can grow in the hope that some essence of it can yet again leap back to the world of no end. "For fuck's sake don't bring your friends to this." "Why not?" "It just encourages Tateh." Bethany loved Simcha, just as she did all her friends, she just wasn't sure she could stand him. He was cynical, he was stubborn, he was argumentative, he made fun of everything she loved, the more negative he was, the more need she felt to court his approval. She couldn't stand him for making her seek his approval, she couldn't stand herself for needing him to support her, and she couldn't stand him again for making her feel the need to be supported by him. And yet she loved him, as though there was instant understanding of the rules of a game that was utterly strange to her and completely familiar to him. Her inner irritation at him was unlike anything she'd ever known, and gnawed into her system like termites to trees. For the first time in her life, she had to confront that not only did she disapprove vaguely of someone she loved, but that this person may disapprove of her too, yet still love her back. Every weeknight after mishpocheh dinner, they'd talk for a few hours in the Katz basement, and she now spoke to in secret to her secret best friend more than to any school friend, not a secret for her sake, but a secret for his. Even with their family's detente, how would his mishpocheh react to knowing that Simcha was spending every free moment in the almost windowless basement of an halakhic shiksa. Meanwhile, Kristina had taken up with a thirty-two year old junior professor at Berkeley named Dan Krentzman and was rarely seen around the house anymore. "He wants to make a scene. He wants the whole city to see this and know we're here. Nu?" "But it's gonna be fun!" "Nu? Who cares? It's just going to end badly for everyone. Nu?" Pessimism was a responsibility to Bethany, not a state of being. If another person was sad, they needed to be cheered; if she was sad, she required a person to cheer. Her kishkes had the urge to leave every person and place more luminous than she found them in her DNA. But even Simcha's brighter moods seemed tinged with a bitterness she neither understood nor fathomed. She didn't resent him for this, she respected his right to feel any way he liked, how else could she cheer him up? But about precisely what did Simcha have cause to be so aggrieved as all that? It was simply a source of fascinated speculation. Yes, he was deformed and alienated, though nowhere near to the extent he thought was. He had a loving family, a God in which his faith was unshakeable, and such a God certainly knew he was not lacking for self-belief. In any event, Simcha wouldn't let her know why he seemed to think everything she suggested would end in catastrophe. "Don't get mixed up with Ian Greyling, nu? He's an erotoman and a shikker!" "Nu, don't invite your yenta friends over again." "Nu, all your other friends play at being korvehs, but Kristina's the real thing! Nu?" When they first began hanging out, she would ask him, almost annoyed that he never made the transition, to translate these unfamiliar words that he spoke as though this linguistic porridge was all the same language. But the more she heard them, the more she realized she could guess infallibly. There was an onomatopoetic quality to all those weird Jewish words you never got from all those other languages of which she taught herself. The words meant themselves. Simcha replaced Kristina as her confessor, and she replaced his Talmud with the insatiate curiosity of a Talmid Khakham, who asked her the most pointed, personal questions about her, the friends he disliked, the family she thought she knew until he demanded details of her background she didn't know and doubted her parents did. Bethany never concerned herself with the world except as it was, but she learned early that there were mysteries to the world that she would never solve. But to Simcha, these mysteries were to be divined. The universe in all its microscopic majesty was a tree growing citruses to be squeezed, a sea with oysters to be slurped. Wouldn't he be happier if he didn't want to know so much about everybody?