GOD COUNTS HER TEARS
Shelly Kisherman looked up at Adolph and said to him with invincible assurance, “I am pregnant.”
Only a moment before, Adolph had found Shelly sitting underneath the apple tree in the campus Old Quad reading a book. Adolph then had approached her on a direct course, like a torpedo, armed for his self-righteous explosion that would rip apart the tissue of their relationship the way Shelly had ripped apart his letters from Shifra.
Adolph had ignited, hissing down upon her, “Shelly, you fucking bitch…,” but Shelly had raised her face and Adolph had thought to himself, “like a fucking Buddha,” and Shelly had then chanted to him, “I am pregnant.”
Shelly calmly meditated upon Adolph’s reaction as he halted and his mind vibrated like a brass gong.
Adolph sensed that Shelly was not lying but he fought back, saying, “How do I know…?”
Shelly interrupted, “Yes, it is your child, ‘Dolph.”
Adolph faltered, “But how…?”
Shelly taunted him a little, saying, “You know that pony you like to ride? I wasn’t letting anyone else ride that pony but you, ‘Dolph.”
Adolph babbled, “But how…?”
Shelly smiled sweetly and stung him, asking, “Do you have time for a blood test today, ‘Dolph?”
Adolph said, “I’m, I’m sorry. I’m sorry but can’t be serious, Shelly. You are going to end this, right?”
Shelly replied, “I will never do that. You ask me to murder? Your! Child! That would be like suicide for both of us, you and me, together, don’t you see? How does your God feel about suicide? You are going to do the right thing, ‘Dolph.”
Adolph felt faint and he turned to walk away and said, “We, we can talk about this. I will talk to you later.”
Shelly smiled and said, “So now you want to talk to me, don’t you, ‘Dolph?”
Adolph wandered the campus and shuffled away into the surrounding neighborhood and found himself in front of the house where he was renting his bedroom. That bedroom. That gallows.
As Adolph walked up the sidewalk and climbed the porch steps just like it was a gallows and then he heard Zelmo singing. Zelmo was on the living room couch watching Sheriff John’s Lunch Brigade on television. He sat in a cloud of reefer madness, snickering and singing along to the “Birthday Cake Polka”.
We’ll have some pie and sandwiches
and chocolate ice cream too
We’ll sing and play the day away
and one more thing I’m going to do
I’ll blow out the candles on my birthday cake
and when I do, a wish I’ll make
Put another candle on my birthday cake
I’m another year old today
He called to Adolph who stood in the doorway, “Hey, man! Sheriff John read my name and said ‘Happy Birthday, Zelmo’.”
Adolph asked in a detached manner as he entered, “It’s your birthday?”
Zelmo hooted, “Of course not!”
Adolph sat down slowly on the couch next to Zelmo, who held up his reefer as always out of courtesy, but this time, for the first time, Adolph took it from him and put it in his lips and Zelmo said to him facetiously, “Hey, I’m Zelmo. Who are you, man?”
Adolph sucked on the reefer and he coughed and choked.
Zelmo quickly took the reefer out of Adolph’s fingers and said, “Don’t drop that baby, man.”
Adolph turned his head to Zelmo and asked, “What? What did you say?”
Zelmo’s fiery red eyes searched Adolph’s face. Zelmo said, “’Dolph, you are acting like a Pod, man. Who snatched you, daddy-o?”
Adolph repeated, “Daddy-o. That’s funny.”
Zelmo said, “’Dolph, you’re on something stronger than reefer, man. What is it?”
Adolph stood up slowly and answered, “Life, daddy-o,” and then he shuffled down the tunnel of that hallway to his bedroom, thinking that he must get control of this runaway train. He needed to think clearly. He couldn’t think clearly. There were voices wailing in his mind. He had to talk to someone.
Adolph whispered his prayer, “Shifra.”
He knew that it would be an act of desperation but he stood next to his dresser and pushed aside his spare change and the deodorant and the new light bulb for his dresser lamp and the slice of pizza and he centered his yellow notepad and took his pencil and he began to write a letter to Shifra. He had to see his thoughts chiseled onto paper, he had to pretend that Shifra would read the letter, and he hoped that he could miraculously conjure up in his mind just what Shifra, herself might reply.
Adolph wrote for half an hour. When he was done he felt that the letter could not have life unless he mailed it but he didn’t know where Shifra was. He had lost contact with her years ago. But wait, her father Officer Bruce Cohen would know. He could forward this letter. Yes.
He strode out into the living room and startled Zelmo by asking behind his back, “Can I borrow one of your ‘bikes’?”
Zelmo turned and looked over his shoulder and asked, “Sure, man. Where are you going?”
Adolph said only, “I need to go home for something.”
Zelmo raised his reefer high over his head in offering and he said, “You’re welcome, man.”
Adolph muttered as he departed for the back yard, “Happy birthday.”
Officer Bruce Cohen opened his front door and said, “Adolph. Good Lord. This is a surprise,” then Adolph thought he heard Officer Cohen say, “You can’t imagine,” and then Officer Cohen shook his head, saying, “What next. What next. I haven’t seen you since Shifra’s…” and he halted himself before he said “wedding” because he remembered that Adolph did not attend the wedding and that Brahm and Sarah had told him why.
Adolph stood on the porch since Officer Cohen did not open the screen door and said, “I am really sorry to bother you, sir. I need to ask you a great favor, if I could.”
Officer Cohen thought to himself, “Another great favor?” but he nodded and said, “Well, Adolph, you are certainly able to ask.”
Adolph bowed his head and withdrew the envelope from his jacket pocket and he said, “I was hoping you could forward this letter to Shifra, please. It has been years, I know. But I just wanted to, to…”
Then Adolph heard that voice behind Officer Cohen, from beyond the matted shadows displayed on the screen door, saying, “It’s alright, Daddy.”
Officer Cohen bowed away backwards and then there was Shifra standing on the other side of the screen door.
Shifra said softly and gently, “Hello, ‘Dolph.”
Adolph could not speak at first and he blinked and his mouth opened and closed like a fish drowning in oxygen and finally he whispered, “Shifra?”
Shifra pushed the screen door open and Adolph passed by her closely as Shifra said, “How are you, ‘Dolph?”
Shifra had sad edges around those eyes but they still looked out ahead into the world. She wore a pink sweater and she was plumper than Adolph remembered.
Adolph still held that letter in front of himself and he looked at it and then he looked back at Shifra and nervously grinned, “I wrote a letter.”
Shifra said, “Yes, I heard. Do you still want me to read it?”
Adolph put the letter back into his shirt pocket and said, “No, no. Good God, Shifra,” and then he tensed up and asked, “Is Herman here?”
Shifra looked down and said, “No.”
Officer Cohen excused himself and said in parting to Adolph, “Nice seeing you again, son,” and he smiled like the Mona Lisa.
Adolph asked Shifra, “Are you just visiting? Are you stationed back in the United States?”
Shifra clasped her hands in front of her waist and looked down and answered, “No, ‘Dolph, Herman and I are getting a divorce. He’s still in Germany. I’m staying with my father until, until…”
Adolph was genuinely concerned but only for Shifra’s apparent shame and sadness, saying, “Oh, no. I am sorry, Shifra. It happens. I’m sure that…” and Adolph paused as his trains of thought collided.
Shifra asked Adolph with a wry smile, “You’re sure that what, ‘Dolph?”
Adolph said quickly and sincerely, “Sure happy to see you and so happy to actually hear you, really, Shifra. You have no idea.”
Shifra teased him, “Oh, I might,” and they both laughed at last.
Adolph and Shifra sat upon the couch and spoke easily and warmly together until Adolph suddenly halted, remembering Shelly Kisherman.
Shifra noticed the change in his expression and asked him, “What is it, ‘Dolph?” and Adolph felt himself falling away from Shifra and then his eyes grasped at her, “’Dolph?” Shifra asked, and then Adolph leaped from his runaway train and said, “Shifra. I love you. You know I love you. Marry me.”
Shifra sat back wide-eyed.
Adolph said again as if she had asked him to repeat himself, “I love you. Marry me. I’m not that immature kid anymore!”
Shifra began to say, “’Dolph, there is something…”
Adolph steamed ahead, saying, “I’m in college now but I work in the shop and it will soon be mine. I can give you a great life…”
Shifra tried again, saying, “’Dolph, you don’t know…”
Adolph did not slow down, saying, “I know you are the God-given purpose of my life, Shifra, and…”
Shifra finally touched Adolph’s arm, silencing him, and then she parted her pink sweater and she looked down, drawing Adolph’s eyes to that tiny pot belly and she said, “’Dolph. I’m pregnant. With Herman’s child,”
All of Adolph’s volition went into trying to grasp that abstraction. He looked away from Shifra and stared out into God’s universe for understanding, for explanation, for justice.
Shifra sighed, “It is one of the things we fought about. He wasn’t ready. He wanted me to…”
Adolph turned back to Shifra, “I don’t care. I don’t care. Be with me. Marry me. You can’t raise a baby here, not here at your father’s house. It isn’t fair to him. It isn’t fair to anyone.”
Shifra’s eyes were glistening and she said softly, “Grandma Sasha can…”
Adolph argued, “You’re going to need money. If you are going to work you just can’t make your elderly grandmother raise an infant. Your father certainly can’t be here to take care of a baby. Does he even know yet?” and Shifra nodded. Adolph pointed out, “And if you don’t work, you will be a burden to your father, even if he denies it, and I know he denies it, am I right?”
Shifra covered her mouth and sobbed.
Adolph spread his arms and said, “This doesn’t have to be sad. Marry me. I love you. I will love both of you,” but even in his rhapsody Adolph was blue thinking about Herman’s presence. Adolph found himself wanting to say out loud, “So this is the bargain, eh, God? Well, I take it. Yes, I take it but I can’t understand you at all, God, why you make me love Shifra and then you work so hard to put so many things between us.”
Brahm and Sarah wanted to provide a lavish wedding for their son and Shifra but Adolph explained with a disappointment of his own that Shifra could not face the neighborhood with another big wedding under the circumstances: her divorce barely hours final. Only Officer Cohen knew of Shifra’s secret besides Adolph.
Adolph explained, “Shifra wants a small Jewish wedding.”
Brahm looked at Sarah and asked seriously, “Is there such a thing as a small Jewish wedding?”
Sarah answered Brahm by saying, “We can have the ceremony in our back yard.”
And so on the wedding day there was erected in the back yard of Brahm and Sarah Meistermann the wedding canopy, called the chuppah, which had a sheet of fine prayer cloth supported on four corners by poles, symbolizing the presence of God over the covenant of marriage. The honor of holding the four poles was granted to Adolph’s friends Billy and Zelmo, and to his brother Reuben and to his sister Judith.
By tradition Adolph covered Shifra’s face with a badeken (veil) witnessed by all the guests. Adolph then entered the chuppah first, to symbolize his ownership of their “home”. Then Shifra entered the chuppah, symbolizing the shelter provided by Adolph and symbolizing his new responsibilities.
Rabbi Reiner, presiding, raised a wine glass while Adolph and Shifra recited the Sheva Berakhot, the seven blessings. During the celebration that followed the ceremony a wine glass was raised for grace, then another wine glass was raised during the second recital of the seven blessings, then the wine from both of those wine glasses was combined into yet a third wine glass that was shared by Adolph and Shifra. Then this third glass was wrapped in cloth and broken under the feet of Adolph and Shifra while the guests cheered, “Mazel tov (congratulations)!” but Sarah saw Rabbi Reiner silently scowl and Sarah knew as well as Rabbi Reiner did that the breaking of the glass was meant to be a sober expression of sorrow over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Billy brought out his trumpet and jammed along in a strangely appealing jazz fusion with the clarinet, violin, accordion, mandolin, and upright bass of the tradition klezmer music wedding band.
Zelmo read a poem of his that he had written for Adolph and Shifra. Despite Adolph’s trepidation the poem was not beatnik poetry.
‘Dolph and Shifra
Who is great? Who is like God?
Binding together vapor and ashes
Through unfathomed bold embraces,
Holding them dear and gathering faces,
Gesturing hearts and sealing affection?
His promises will be heard.
Proclaim futures without fail, here and now!
Resplendent beauty, sight-unseen,
Avows boastful spirits when they convene
Inside a chuppah. Perish your doubts within.
‘Dolph, now confide your faith in each other,
Sharing a secret long ago spoken:
Only death remains unbroken,
Put yourselves back together with loved ones.
They are great. They are like God,
‘Dolph and Shifra.
Then Adolph, Billy, and Zelmo sneaked into the back alleyway to consume a cigarette carefully loaded with reefer. It made Adolph dizzy and he said, “Man, I feel wavy.”
Adolph thought that he was hallucinating when he saw Shelly Kisherman coming down the alleyway.
Billy and Zelmo called out a jovial hello to her. They did not notice Adolph blanch like a corpse.
Shelly smiled frightfully and called back, “Adolph! I didn’t get my invitation to the wedding.”
Billy and Zelmo giggled, unaware of the gravity distorting Adolph’s world, and Billy said, “We’ll leave you two alone,” and Zelmo said, “Don’t worry, we’ll just tell Shifra that you’re shitting in the alleyway.”
Shelly sauntered up to Adolph who tried to look defiant while she said, “You motherfucking bastard. Tell me again why I won’t crash your little wedding and tell Shifra about our wedding gift for her?”
Adolph said, “Shelly, I beg you, that isn’t going to help anyone. Don’t do this. You, you don’t know what I would do. I swear to God, I don’t know what I would do. Shelly, I was thinking about how I could, could take care of you, if you just don’t do this. You know my family has money. I’m going to be running the business soon. I could take care of you even if you chose to…”
Shelly narrowed her eyes and sneered, “What? Murder our child for you? ‘Dolphy dear, I don’t think so. You are going to have two wives, ‘Dolphy dear. Just like in the Bible. You are going to share all your ‘joy’ with both of us.”
Adolph pleaded, “Shelly, you don’t…”
Shelly finished, “Or you won’t have any fucking ‘joy’ to share with anyone, do you understand me, you lying, motherfucking, bastard asshole?” and then she turned and sauntered back away like a sated lioness.
Adolph and Shifra moved into his parents’ house at Sarah’s insistence. Sarah had said, “Your new wife needs a woman’s help.” Sarah had known all along that Shifra was pregnant.
Adolph left college despite his parents’ misgivings and their offer to support them both. Adolph began to work long full-time hours with his father. Adolph was now the firm’s Chief Accountant announced Brahm, the family having three stores in the Ontario, New York, region.
Shifra was having a difficult pregnancy.
Sarah said soothingly, “Dear, it is well that you two agreed to live with me and Brahm for awhile,” and Sarah watched Shifra wince with another bolt of pain.
Sarah cooked rich soups for Shifra and worried that she was becoming gaunt. Sarah would say, “Try to eat, dear. You are not plump enough for this baby. We can call the fashion magazines after the baby is born. This baby is very demanding now,” and she tried to smile, “but just you wait.”
The baby was finally born after a long labor.
Adolph said to Shifra in the hospital room afterward, “I can’t tell you apart from the bed sheets,” and he tried to smile nonchalantly.
Shifra held her baby, and Adolph was thinking against his will, “Her baby not mine,” and Shifra smiled beatifically and informed Adolph, “I want to name him ‘Mathew’, ‘Gift of God’,” and when she looked down at the newborn she did not see that Adolph glared at the boy and clenched his teeth when he repeated, “Gift of God”.
Shelly Kisherman, meanwhile, had told Adolph to send his “love” for her straight to her bank account and then to go straight to hell and never come around her, “Unless I conjure you,” Shelly would say vindictively. Adolph had enough authority to hide his tithing to Shelly under a fictitious consultant’s account.
Shelly taunted Adolph about that, saying, “So now I work with you at the family shop, don’t I?”
Shelly soon enough told him to appear at the hospital where their child was to be born.
Adolph was busy now with more and more business, more and more meetings, and more and more travel, so it was not very difficult to get away and to go to Shelly at her bidding.
In the Fathers’ Waiting Room a stranger shook Adolph’s hand and said, “Mazel tov (congratulations)!” The stranger thought that Adolph must have been exhausted since he barely smiled.
In the hospital ward bed Shelly was disheveled but even her anger at Adolph could not extinguish the glow of the new mothers’ flame. She looked up at Adolph and said to him, “Say hello to your son Isaac.”
Adolph Meistermann now had two sons. One bore his surname but was not his. The other bore his blood but was not his.
Adolph became glum and introspective. His mother and his wife were worried that he was working too hard. His father listened to Sarah and to Shifra when Adolph seemed to them distant and superficial in his listening. Brahm thought of his own father and he nodded to himself that he understood the burdens that all men apparently must bear in this God-given life and the women then thought that Brahm nodded in agreement with them.
Sarah presumed that Adolph and Shifra must now need their own house, a sense of their own destiny, and so she easily persuaded Brahm to buy for them a house in the neighborhood.
One day, a few years later, Adolph came to Shifra as she was reading to young Mathew, “Matty-boy”, the slender book entitled The Little Prince, and Adolph said, “Shifra, I love you so much. It is time for a child of our own.”
Shifra was afraid because Mathew had been such a difficult labor for her and then her doctor had hinted obliquely, “Shifra, perhaps you can persuade your husband to be happy with one special child to spoil,” not knowing the truth about Mathew’s real father, Herman. Shifra saw in Mathew the ripples of Herman. She was certain that Adolph also must have noticed those things silently and stoically.
Shifra then felt very guilty thinking that she could see how Adolph had been bent with his brave responsibilities; responsibilities that he had asked for but responsibilities for which he did not have to ask, yet ask he did out of an exquisite and sincere love for her; responsibilities that she did not have to grant so selfishly, but no, not selfishly, for she only worried for her unborn child; responsibilities that Shifra admitted to herself at last appeared to be beyond Adolph’s God-given constitution and, after all, she herself had prayed sincerely to God for a way to be of comfort to Adolph.
Shifra gave herself and she became pregnant.
At first, the pregnancy was a blessing like a warm fire around which she and Adolph sat closely night after night, a God-given contentment as promised at last. But then Shifra began to lose color and weight as she had before. Her doctor was concerned and Adolph became alarmed and sleepless. Finally Adolph demanded that Shifra be admitted to the hospital no matter what the cost until the child was safely born.
Shifra became suddenly very ill late one night though ensconced in a modern hospital, in mockery of Modern Man’s medical wisdom. Her blood was inflamed and a massive cascade of infection and toxin rendered the hospital citadel breeched and helpless and Shifra retreated into the last stand of a coma.
In the nurses’ station of the Intensive Care Unit, Adolph and his mother Sarah and his father Brahm and his brother Reuben and his sister Judith and Shifra’s father Officer Cohen and Shifra’s doctor stood in a circle with their arms together, praying earnestly, bleeding tears.
The attending nurse watched the family behind the glass of the nurses’ station and then turned to Shifra. Suddenly, the mechanical medical devices clutching at Shifra all alarmed in a macabre chorus.
The baby died and then Shifra died.
Adolph fell to the floor beside Shifra’s death bed and clawed toward Hell, his mouth open gagging and drooling and vomiting his belief in God forever.
To be continued…
This is a section of my entry for Carl Reiner’s Writers’ Contest; to read Carl Reiner’s Chapter 1 go to: [http://carl-reiner.com/contest/?utm_campaign=]
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But, the most ancient scrolls are kept on: THE TABLE OF MALCONTENTS