A Time to Rejoice

A boundless mass of wild colors and waving limbs screamed and laughed and talked on the grim, dark expanse of the synagogue parking lot. Jonathan Schlom, a carpenter, watched the congregation as he headed toward the building. He seemed to be the only one wearing plain, black trousers, a white, buttoned down shirt, neatly tucked in at the circumference of his waist and a conservative solid, brown tie that choked his neck. A frizzy mess of gray and light brown hair stuck out of his leather cap. His wife of thirty seven years, Leah, walked slowly beside him mocking him, it seemed, with stark contradictions of colors. The dark blue blouse and green dress, a red scarf draped over her shoulders. It was a crazy, wild cult to Mr. Schlom though they all waited for him. Stiffly, he mixed into the sweaty crowd inside the synagogue. He had to bend his head foreword when he entered the coatroom. Jonathan peered over yellow hats with long feathers sticking out, and black slicked hair as they flowed into the sanctuary. He passed a table with two, sickly paper plates that begged him for money. Two heavy coins dropped in each one, upsetting the silence of the bills that were now supporting them. A large, white rabbit followed by a one-eyed pirate passed by as Jonathan Schlom stepped onto the large Bimah.

A loud, annoyed voice broke through the roar of voices. As the room quieted it changed, subtly to a pleading tone. The Rabbi addressed the crowd: "If we could have your attention we are ready to start reading the Magileh. Please keep in mind that you are obligated to hear every word." Jonathan took out the yellowing scroll that was in a tube on the brown wooden pulpit in front of him. The Rabbi helped unroll it and fold it into six column sheets. It was the same scroll his father gave him on his bar mitzvah and he learned to read it shortly after. And for forty nine years he had read it, someplace or another, on Purim. His voice had lost its agility over the years. As if a frog from his child hood crawled in his throat; but Mr. Schlom welcomed such physical reminders of his youth. The scars and stiffness, staining his body in various places, a sacred weariness and realization that he had done much in his life. These memories came teeming back in an unorganized flutter as everyone stood up and he started the preliminary blessings.

Along with his voice, the uneasiness and fear that was once associated with reading publicly, faded. Now there was only the empty mechanical memory of the sounds and a slight twinge of pain for his wife. Jonathan knew she was the only one who was not listening; who couldn't. His eyes wearily scanned the words, the bags tugging at the lids and blinking uncontrollably. Trying to remove the transparent mist of a budding tear. None of its brothers followed. That is what made his voice slacken and the tune to die and shrink into a shrill cry; a prayer.

Jonathan's callused palms filled with puddles of sweat and longed to hold onto something. But there was nothing now, not even a silver pointer shaped like a hand. Now he was to follow with his eyes and keep all the rows straight and clear in his mind. He succeeded with much trouble. "Va'yehi b'mai achashverosh hoo achashverosh ..."

There was silence except for some muffled sniffles or coughs. He rested his arms on the thin plastic that covered the brown, silk cloth. Beneath the fancy layers was an emaciated wooden incline held up by a thick column. It was not even gold covered, as if the traveling was over and it was in its final place. There were shiny pestilent blotches reflected from the lights. He ran his hand across the smooth surface. His thought flew behind the words he said and almost with a tune. Leah is not well ..must get help for her ...or ...not good to think about it ...not today ...it's ...a joyous time ...everyone else happy ...so ...I must be also ...a joyous time. The tune that carried his voice grew stronger. Even I shall rejoice ...not good ...to be sad so much ...anymore ...I ..I'll be happy now ...Leah! ...maybe she's hurting again ...a ...needs a doctor maybe ...too many doctors ...no one happy with doctors ...only sick ...only sad. Mr. Schlom reached the end of a column and forced his eyes to look up they dragged his thoughts with him.

In the second that his eyes averted and detached themselves from the page he looked for his wife. As he wiped around he was thrust into the stares of many strange, drunken faces. Painted with makeup or wearing strange hats, they glared at him angrily. The ladies section was quarantined behind him. Jonathan saw the myriad of faces, oval and sagging; looking mysteriously back at him. Over their heads now ...up to their combed down, styled hair. In his eyes they were all erratic blobs of flesh and color. Only one face sat, staring dumbly back at him, startled. That was Leah, her black wig a little lopsided and uncombed. A piece of wiggley flesh hanging below her chin. And the deep wrinkles of her face, reverberating waves of sunlight; all leading up, to her ears. But there was no sound for Leah anymore, just a jumbled hiss or murmur. She was still getting use to the feeling. The doctors told her that this loss was only a symptom ...of some disease she couldn't make out; not even with Jonathan trying desperately to translate. It didn't matter that much. She stopped listening to people and things long ago. Now she appreciated their sight, the way the colorful object curved everything around it; how everything was bland and ugly in comparison. And now she was sitting; unable to fulfill one commandment out of many she never really believed in. Oh she pretended to! But only with her friends and her parents. Only Jonathan knew how she felt although he tried to become deaf when he admitted it to him. Leah looked straight ahead of her in exaggerated piousness.

The two men who stood next to Mr. Schlom were, at times, his good friends. They stood, one at each side, and listened. Occasionally, when he got confused they would whisper the tune or the correct pronunciation of a word. He would give a hidden smile to thank them and they would never say anything afterwards, only shake his hand rigorously and congratulate him. And they would motion him to stop whenever there was too much noise. He'd catch his breath in the tense silence and refill his mouth with moisture between reprimands. The two men, the Rabbi, Mordicai Sofman, and sexton, Shalom Rangel, always had their heads bowed into a holy book, following each word he uttered carefully. Then their eyes would flare up and they'd scream the correction, stopping everything. And they would demand that he read more perfectly and that what he read was better and more important than the read. Jonathan would say the word over again, slowly, and wait for the angry stares to wear off.

Jonathan Schlom had been a happy man. That was before ...when he was the chief carpenter in Molson Building Co. He was the tallest man there and everyone needed his help when setting the foundation or putting up the roof. He liked to build things; to see each nail go perfectly straight into a piece of wood; to smooth out cement and tile a floor. He only wondered why Leah was so hard to control and unlike his tools. He kept telling himself that all she needs is a little grease and some time, but all he got was a giant oily stain. When he came home, to his one story red bricked house on Rodchester Street, he was tired. Leah would wait up for him but would always forget dinner.

"I was so worried about you I guess I forgot."

"That's okay I wasn't really hungry anyway. I can make something for myself."

And she would let him. And he would let her keep forgetting. So there were no children! They were just screaming house breaking nuisances. And yet he remembered waking up and longing for someone to teach. He wanted someone to admire him, or to criticize, someone to watch. "V'ayikbitzu es kol na'arah b'sulah tovas mareh el shushan ha'birah ..." He made up his mind long ago he would stay with her anyway. That is what everyone else did and what everyone else said was right. He thought to himself "I will be happy" and that was it.

The task was not as easy now. Now, he examined everything he said and observed carefully if it effectuated anything. That was Mr. Schlom's pain in his budding old age. He became a scholar somewhere along and was never the same since. As if some crazy man walked into a bar and convinced him. Only this is real ...I must see what is real ...there are no lies in heaven. But all there is in heaven is lies; big beautiful palaces; mountains of diamonds; singing, one legged angels. And the people Jonathan Schlom read the Megilah to believed them all. They are not lies, they demanded in a harsh tone, simultaneously behind his back, only the purest truth. Here is lies, exaggerated and murky (don't you feel that something is wrong when you see these) ... young, pleading Rabbis, brown, writhing trees, and deaf wives. The truth lays beyond them, lurking behind at the edges of their being. Often he had listened to them ...before ... and looked beyond what he saw. But he came back with a dark, red clipping of indentations when he closed his eyes. No white light, no salvation. And he knew they were lying. The answer was in the ancient scroll and in the tune he imitated.

In those black, fiery letters and the crowning, splotches there was the answer. They shined brightly as if newly anointed and Mr. Schlom could see space he could fit into. Somewhere in between paragraphs or columns there was room. The faint, mystic pencil tracings identifying to the scribe the page still remained. And large curves of darkness and gray on both sides. The uncurling strings that tied everything together. His wife would be faithfully mending it and trying to keep it from falling apart. The stiffness of the animal hide, the sacred, backwards letters. And his mouth singing over each word and the infinite affects as the sound pulsated through the synagogue. Jonathan was over them all now. Where his eyes read and his mouth uttered but thought were flying wildly and carried him away. He was in front of the ark again, pleading for forgiveness and for his wife. To hear the rustle of leaves or the scream of birds or the Megilah in all its life and power. It was all he wanted. Then he stumbled pass a three letter word and it brought him back.

One loud shout with infinite origins branched out. Sweeping forward and shaking the building. Feet stamped, horns blew, wild red faced men screamed with fury. The puncturing sound of metal clicking and whistles. All was pointed savagely at Mr. Schlom and none relented with pity. The sound grew louder and it scared the reader. So much noise ...a happy day even ...to whom do they shout? ...No ...she will never hear this ...even this she cannot hear ...even the taunting ...like gentiles. Must join them ...even in noise ...to be happy again. He wondered if his heart was upright anymore. Jonathan glanced again at his wife and at her ignorant smile. She could not know ...never again ...when will the noise end. Then the harsh waves of fury withdrew, leaving an old man, eroded and atrophied. In an instant he was reading again and the dark spot of blood flowed farther away. "Mee hoo zeh v'aizeah hoo ..."

And each time he came to the stumbling block and tried to pass it quickly, they attacked him from all sides. The whaling began again boring a hole deep within his head. And the howling and noise making, the rage and screaming became a praise; and the silence a taunting jeer of Ester the slut and Mordicai the wicked. After he had finished reading and rolled and hidden the scroll and myriad of hand thrust themselves upon him. There was no sound now, only the cruel, sweaty hands and sadistic faces. And, as Jonathan Schlom exited the sanctuary and joined his bewildered wife a smile drew itself on his face.

By Samuel Saks

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Copyright © Samuel Saks