On the third Tuesday of Chesh-van, four months after they arrived in Jeru-salem, Yochanan finished early with his civic meeting and decided to make for home. He was just about to walk past the Glory of Israel Synagogue when he saw Esther step out of the front door of their house and turn to walk the other way. It was late fall, and chilly. She was wearing her long maroon coat and the wide-brimmed black hat that tipped down over her right eye and made her vision, she always explained, "a bit drunk feeling, you know, only half there and wobbly, but not too bad, I find my way after all." Yochanan loved his wife's way of speaking. Her sentences were curvy and full of original character.
Yochanan called out to Esther but he was too far for her to hear and so he walked on and meant to call again, but then he found himself walking quietly, stealthily after his wife around a corner, and again, another corner, and then down the street and into an alley. He stopped at the mouth of the alley and watched his wife walk through the bakery's back door. Her maroon coat wafted behind her for several seconds and then too, disappeared into the warm realm of dough and yeast.
Pulling back and into a doorway on which was graffitied the word sky in sloppy Aramaic, he looked up at the real sky, which was darkening with the foredream of a storm. He watched as the baker poked his head out and then shut the front door of his shop. Hidden, but only ten feet away, Yochanan didn't say a word. Then he walked to the closed bakery door and put his ear to the old wood of it. Soon he could hear his wife groaning. He stepped away from the door and looked up and down the street. No one was in the alley, nor walking toward it. He walked back and listened some more.
He became aroused almost immediately, and soon was picturing the baker holding Esther's naked breasts, petting them gently and then lifting up the nipples to his mouth. First one and then the other. And the baker's hand, Yochanan imagined the baker's left hand reaching in between Esther's legs, which she pressed together tightly. Soon, in his mind, they were pressing their naked bodies together and moving, back and forth, toward and away, with the tempestuous ease of a storm just brewing. The storm outside began to blow. Yochanan huddled into his coat, raised his collar, and ducked deeper into the doorway. Shutting his eyes, he leaned into the images as if they were the real door, open and welcoming, while the wooden one, closed and cold against his body, kept him out of all this. Now he heard the baker groaning. Esther let out a small passionate yelp. And as the two lovers inside reached satiety, the one outside reached down and touched himself, pressed there, pressed and pulled himself to solitary, intense pleasure. Only then did he leave.
Yochanan put his hands over his hat and ran through the rain. His feet swish-swished into puddles already forming in the narrow, stony streets. As he ran, he heard himself reciting an angry litany like an opposite prayer.
The baker has a face of moldy clay.
The baker has hands of heavy stinking wood.
The baker is a deformed gentile in disguise.
The baker is an eater of clams.
A descendant of Amalek.
The devil of devils.
The baker is . . . the baker is . . . the baker is shtupping my wife!
The rain hit him harder now, pelting from every angle and also straight up from the ground. He felt slowed by it, slowed and assaulted, as if each raindrop were a separate obstacle. Reaching home, he went inside, took off his great coat and hat, and set them upon the fine wooden rack that they had brought with them from London. Shaking out his beard and hair, he ran his fingers through them. Then he held his hands up to his mouth and breathed into his open palms. The warm air hovered there, but only for a second, and soon his skin was cold again. He breathed again, felt warm for several seconds and then cold again, warm and then cold. Cold. He dropped his hands down to his sides, thrust them into his pockets, and sighed deeply. But then everything changed. His mood rocked and swayed, and Yochanan felt a smile flutter to his lips.
Excerpted from The Family Orchard by Nomi Eve. Copyright© 2000 by Nomi Eve. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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