A story about a girl, a goy and a dybbuk.
|When my father in law died, my fiancé covered every mirror in our house.
I asked her gently, unsure of the meaning behind it. “It is time to sit shiva.” Her response was followed with a sad smile at my confusion. “I’m sorry, my love. Just an old tradition when we sit in mourning.” After covering the bedroom mirror with a black sheet, she turned to me.
Her chocolate eyes held back tears of sorrow. I embraced her as she quietly sobbed, warmth soaking into my shirt. Out of the corner of my eye, the shroud gently fluttered. But when I turned my head, it was motionless.
Shiva is the Jewish custom of mourning, only observed by the immediate family. “It lasts a week and for the duration you must not greet me or talk unless I speak first.” She watched my face while I digested this information. The strict rules were no surprise to me even though I was a goy, an outsider.
After all, I was marrying into this kind of lifestyle. I navigated Sabbaths and Passovers with ease, helping Frema in any way I could. She loved me even though I made faces at gefilte fish and sometimes forgot certain holidays. Frema was the apple of my eye, a Jewish princess with dark hair and mysterious smile that bewitched me.
Unfortunately our feelings for each other were not enough, Frema’s father refused to grant me his blessing.
“You think you deserve my yakirati? My chamudi? My darling daughter?” I remembered that piercing look, drilling into me from beneath a fur streimel. “Feh!” He spat.
Stinging from rejection, I gritted my teeth and tried to smile. “I only want the best for her-“
“All you Gentiles are the same, leading our children astray for worldly pleasure.” His grayed beard shook with anger, the fires burning within his eyes. As I left the room, his spiteful words followed.
“You will never be welcome in any house of mine!”
When she asked how it went, I admitted things didn’t go very well. Frema sighed and grasped my hand.
“He’ll come around, don’t worry.”
Now I would never get the chance.
I brushed my teeth before a black curtain, an empty void which felt as oppression as the silence pervading every inch of our home. Frema made sure to write down the customs of shiva for me so I wouldn’t have to interrupt her grieving with unbidden speech.
-No casual contact, physical or verbal.
-Meals will consist of bread, boiled eggs, lentils and a drink.
-No music, no television or anything which might be a distraction.
-I cannot leave the house, so please get any groceries we might need.
The last item made me sigh but I had anticipated something along those lines. Her footnote made me smile.
P.S. Thank you for being understanding, my love.
Even though her father might have hated the notion of me, I knew his loss hurt her. He would have been happy knowing she was following the holy laws and that I wasn’t ‘leading her astray’.
I put down the paper and felt my chin. The dark cloth hung before me as I scratched stubbly hairs. Tomorrow was the big interview, a fact that filled my stomach with nervous anticipation. It wouldn’t make a good impression if I walked in with five o’clock shadow... A quick shave wouldn’t hurt now, would it? Frema was in bed, after all.
Carefully, I pulled on the fabric until it dropped with a whisper. “Strange custom.” I muttered and opened a drawer. My groggy reflection stifled a yawn as I plugged in the electric razor.
The buzzing device wasn’t functioning right, it kept shutting off shortly after touching my grizzled cheeks. Irritated, I unplugged it and plugged it back in. This time there was no issue. Or so I thought.
A creeping coldness wafted onto my neck and back. I turned to see if the window was open, but it wasn’t. After I returned to shave the outer cheek the icy draft blew again. This time, I looked into the mirror. Only my reflection greeted me, trimming the last few hairs on my chin.
The razor buzzed in my ears as my eyes searched for an explanation.
And then I found one.
A wizened hand slowly crept out behind me. The twisted fingers had long yellow nails, digits curling until one filthy claw remained outstretched. Too late, did I realize what it was reaching for. With a flick, the light vanished.
Darkness smothered me.
I screamed in that inky abyss, sharp nails sinking into my face, slashing my chin as coldness poured into my soul.
“What is going on?!” Blinding light washed away the terrible shadows. Frema stood in the bathroom, eyes wide with fright. I realized I was still gripping the electric razor. Blood oozed from my chin. But I scarcely felt the pain.
Somehow, the black shroud was draped over the mirror, just as she had placed it.
“Everything okay, zeeskei?” I nodded, still in shock. “Yeah… sorry. Just caught some hairs shaving.” Frema smiled at me and wiped her eyes. “Thank goodness, you frightened me quite badly.” I stammered an apology as she shook her head. “It’s okay, just come to bed.”
Frema said nothing else as I crawled into bed that night. She didn’t need to. Her puffy eyes and red nose told me all I needed to know. I wanted to hold her again and say that I was here for her, but the rules of shiva forbade it.
All I could do was turn off the light.
Sleep was hard to come by, my throbbing chin and thoughts of disembodied hands made me restless. I wanted to ask her about the mirrors, the meaning behind the shrouds. Questions rattled in my skull until weariness took hold.
The gentle waves of slumber had just started pulling me when Frema jolted awake with a shriek.
“Muter! Muter!” She cried, hysterical until I grasped her in my arms, rocking back and forth. “Such a horrible dream.” Her small frame shuddered at the memory. “Do you want to talk about it?” I asked, rubbing her back.
Frema began to shake her head, but thought better of it. “I think… I think it was a message. My mother was trying to warn me of something.”
I waited for her to continue.
“She kept saying soul cleaver, soul cleaver.”
“What is that?”
Frema shivered again. “It’s a dybbuk.”
When I pressed her for more all she said was that dybbuks were evil spirits. “Is that why the mirrors are covered?” She nodded and lay back down. “Death attracts all manner of wicked things. Now let’s change the subject, or we will never sleep.”
I was amazed she was able to doze off so quickly. Perhaps I did as well.
The next thing I knew, the bed was empty and sunlight was filtering through the blinds.
Frema greeted me with a cup of coffee and wished me luck on the interview. “Make me proud, my love.” I promised that I would and blew her a kiss. That was how I got around the laws of shiva.
Perhaps it was the short night or maybe even the cut on my chin, but for some reason I kept spacing out when questions were directed towards me. The interviewer looked up from his clipboard, where he had been making notes. “In your own words, tell us where you see yourself in five years.” My mind blank, I struggled to come up with an answer.
That was when something else spoke.
“Nem zich a vaneh, altercocker!”
It was my voice, but they weren’t my words.
The suited man blinked and tilted his head. “Excuse me?” A string of foul insults poured forth from my mouth, an unpleasant mixture of Yiddish and English. I clapped my hands to my lips, shutting off the flood of dirty words.
But the damage had already been done.
As I trudged to the parking lot in shame, I wondered how I would explain my failure to Frema. Maybe I would just say that things didn’t go well.
It was strangely cold inside the car; I frowned and turned up the heat. While merging onto the highway, I glanced into the rear view mirror. A familiar face grimaced, features distorted and decayed yet unmistakable. The grayed beard and burning eyes which haunted my memories had returned.
Frema’s dead father grinned from the backseat as his long fingers reached for the steering wheel.
“Hope you have a pleasant journey, Gentile.”
His raspy laugh merged with blaring horns and all I could do was scream.
(WORD COUNT: 1,449)