The Golem let go of the latch, turned, and ran.
Up on the deserted main deck, she found a bench and sat there until morning. A chill rain began to fall, soaking her dress, but she ignored it, unable to focus on anything except the clamor in her head. It was as though, without Rotfeld's commands to guide her, her mind was reaching out for a substitute, and encountering the eight hundred passengers that lay below. Without the benefit of the bond between master and golem, their wishes and fears did not have the driving force of commands but nonetheless she heard them, and felt their varying urgencies, and her limbs twitched with the compulsion to respond. Each one was like a small hand plucking at her sleeve: please, do something.
* * *
The next morning, she stood at the railing as Rotfeld's body was lowered into the sea. It was a blustery day, the waves white-tipped and choppy. Rotfeld's body hit the water with barely a splash; in an instant the ship had left it behind. Perhaps, the Golem thought, it might be best to hurl herself overboard, and follow Rotfeld into the water. She leaned forward and peered over the edge, trying to gauge the water's depth; but two men hurriedly stepped forward, and she allowed herself to be drawn back.
The small crowd of onlookers began to disperse. A man in ship's livery handed her a small leather pouch, explaining that it held everything that had been on Rotfeld's person when he died. At some point a compassionate deck-hand had placed a wool coat about her shoulders, and she tucked the pouch into a pocket.
A small knot of passengers from steerage hovered nearby, wondering what to do about her. Should they escort her below decks, or simply leave her be? Rumors had circled the bunks all night. One man insisted that she'd carried the dead man into steerage in her own two arms. Then there was the woman who muttered that she'd seen Rotfeld at Gdansk he'd made himself conspicuous by berating the deck-hands for not taking care with a heavy crate and that he'd boarded the ship alone. They remembered how she'd grabbed at the doctor's hands, like a wild animal. And she was simply odd, in a way they couldn't explain even to themselves. She stood far too still, as if rooted to the deck, while those around her shivered in the cold and leaned with the ship. She hardly blinked, even when the ocean mist struck her face. And as far as they could tell, she hadn't yet shed a single tear.
They decided to approach her. But the Golem had felt their fears and suspicions and she turned from the rail and walked past them, her stiff back a clear request for solitude. They felt her passing as a slap of cold, grave-smelling air. Their resolve faltered; they left her alone.
The Golem made her way to the aft staircase. She passed steerage and continued down to the depths of the hold: the one place in her short existence where she hadn't felt herself in peril. She found the open crate and climbed into it, then drew the lid into place above her. Muffled in darkness, she lay there, reviewing the few facts of which she was certain. She was a golem, and her master was dead. She was on a ship in the middle of the ocean. If the others on the ship knew what she was, they would be afraid of her. And she had to stay hidden.
As she lay there, the strongest of the desires drifted down to her from the decks above. A little girl in steerage had misplaced her toy horse, and now wailed for it, inconsolable. A man traveling second class had been three days without a drink, trying to make a fresh start; he paced his tiny cabin, shaking, fingers knotted in his hair, unable to think about anything except a glass of brandy. Each of these, and many others, pulled at her in turn, rising and falling. They urged her to climb out of the hold, to help in some way. But she remembered the suspicions of the passengers on the foredeck, and stayed in the crate.
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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