"Come back tomorrow," he said.
Accordingly, Rotfeld knocked again the next day, and this time Schaalman opened the door without pause. "How much can you pay?" he demanded.
"Then it can be done?"
"Answer my question. The one will determine the other."
Rotfeld named a figure. The old man snorted. "Half again, at the very least."
"But I'll have barely anything left!"
"Consider it a bargain," said Schaalman. "For isn't it written that a virtuous woman is more precious than rubies? And her virtue," he grinned, "will be guaranteed!"
Rotfeld brought the money three days later, in a large valet case. The bank of the nearby ravine was newly disfigured, a piece the length of a man scooped away. An earth-stained spade leaned against a wall.
Schaalman opened the door with a distracted look, as though interrupted at a crucial moment. Streaks of mud crusted his clothing and daubed his beard. He saw the valet case and grabbed it from Rotfeld's hand.
"Good," he said. "Come back in a week."
The door slammed shut again, but not before Rotfeld had caught a glimpse inside the shack, of a dark figure laid out in pieces on a table a slender trunk, rough limbs, and one curled hand.
* * *
"What do you prefer in a woman?" Schaalman asked.
It was the following week, and this time Rotfeld had been allowed inside. The shack was dominated by the table that Rotfeld had glimpsed before, and the young man couldn't help sneaking glances at its burden: a human-shaped form, draped with a sheet. He said, "What do you mean, what do I prefer?"
"I'm creating a woman for you. I assumed you'd want some say in the matter."
Rotfeld frowned. "I like an attractive figure, I suppose"
"Not her physical aspects, not yet. Her temperament. Her personality."
"You can do that?"
"Yes, I believe that I can," the old man said with pride. "At least, I can steer her toward certain proclivities."
Rotfeld thought hard. "I want her to be obedient."
"She'll already be obedient," Schaalman said, impatient. "That's what a golem is a slave to your will. Whatever you command her, she'll do. She won't even wish otherwise."
"Good," Rotfeld said. But he was perplexed. Having put aside appearance and obedience, he had little idea what else he wanted. He was about to tell Rotfeld to do whatever he thought best but then, in a burst of memory, he recalled his younger sister, the only girl he'd ever truly known. She'd been full of curiosity, and a burden to their mother, who could not stand her always underfoot and asking questions. In one of the few generous acts of his life, young Otto had taken her under his wing. Together they'd spent whole afternoons wandering through the woods, and he'd answered her questions about anything and everything. When she died at age twelve, drowned in a river on a summer afternoon, he lost the only person in his life who'd ever really mattered.
"Give her curiosity," he told Schaalman. "And intelligence. I can't stand a silly woman. Oh," he said, inspiration warming him to his task, "and make her proper. Not lascivious. A gentleman's wife."
The old man's eyebrows shot up. He'd expected his client to request motherly kindness, or an eager sexual appetite, or else both; years of manufacturing love-spells had taught him what men like Rotfeld thought they wanted in a woman. But curiosity? Intelligence? He wondered if the man knew what he was asking for.
But he only smiled and spread his hands. "I'll try," he said. "The results may not be as precise as you might wish. One can only do so much with clay." Then his face darkened. "But remember this. A creature can only be altered so far from its basic nature. She'll still be a golem. She'll have the strength of a dozen men. She'll protect you without thinking, and she'll harm others to do it. No golem has ever existed that did not eventually run amok. You must be prepared to destroy her."
Excerpted from The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Copyright © 2013 by Helene Wecker. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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