* * *
The task was finished the night before Rotfeld set sail. He made his final trip to Schaalman's leading a dray-cart loaded with a large wooden crate, a modest brown dress, and a pair of women's shoes.
Schaalman appeared not to have slept for some time. His eyes were dark smudges, and he was pale, as though drained of some essential energy. He lit a lamp that hung above the work-table, and Rotfeld caught his first true glimpse of his intended.
She was tall, almost as tall as Rotfeld himself, and well proportioned: a long torso, breasts that were small but firm, a sturdy waist. Her hips were perhaps a bit square, but on her it seemed correct, even appealing. In the dim light he spied the dark shadow between her legs; he glanced away from it as though disinterested, aware of Schaalman's mocking eyes, and the pounding of his own blood.
Her face was wide and heart-shaped, her eyes set far apart. They were closed; he could not tell their color. The nose was small and curved under at the tip, above full lips. Her hair was brown and had a slight wave, and was cut to brush her shoulders.
Tentative, half-believing, he placed a hand on her cool shoulder. "It looks like skin. It feels like skin."
"It's clay," said the old man.
"How did you do this?"
The old man only smiled, and said nothing.
"And the hair, and eyes? The fingernails? Are they clay too?"
"No, those are real enough." Schaalman smiled, blandly innocent, and Rotfeld remembered handing over the case of money, and wondering what sort of supplies the old man needed to buy. He shivered, and decided not to think about it again.
They dressed the clay woman, and carefully lifted her heavy body into the crate. Her hair tangled about her face as they arranged her, and Rotfeld waited until the old man's back was turned before gently smoothing it into place again.
Schaalman found a small piece of paper and wrote on it the two necessary commands one to bring her to life, and one to destroy her. He folded the paper twice, and placed it in an oilskin envelope. On the envelope he wrote, Commands for the golem, and then handed it to Rotfeld. His client was eager to wake her, but the old man was against it. "She might be disoriented for a time," he said. "And the ship will be too crowded. If someone realized what she was, they'd throw you both overboard." Reluctantly, Rotfeld agreed to wait until they reached America; and they nailed the lid on the crate, sealing her away.
The old man poured them each a finger of schnapps from a dusty bottle. "To the golem," he said, raising his glass.
"To the golem," Rotfeld echoed, and downed the schnapps. It was a triumphant moment, marred only by his persistent stomachache. He'd always had a delicate constitution, and the stress of the last few weeks had ruined his digestion. Ignoring his stomach, he helped the old man lift the crate into the dray-cart, and then led the horse away. The old man waved after the departing Rotfeld, as though seeing off a pair of newlyweds. "I wish you joy of her!" he called, and his cackle echoed through the trees.
* * *
The ship set sail without incident. Two nights later Rotfeld lay in his narrow bunk, the oilskin envelope labeled Commands for the golem tucked away in a pocket. He felt like a child who'd been given a present and then instructed not to open it. It would be easier if he could sleep, but the pain in his stomach had grown into a lump of misery on the right side of his abdomen. He felt slightly feverish. The cacophony of steerage surrounded him: a hundred diverse snores, the hiccupping sobs of babies, an occasional retch as the ship rode from swell to trough.
He turned over, squirming against the pain, and reflected: surely the old man's advice was over-cautious. If she was as obedient as promised, there'd be no harm in waking her, just to see. Then he could command her to lie in the crate until they reached America.
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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