STEMPENIU: A JEWISH ROMANCE
- SHOLOM ALEICHEM
RACHEL GOES BACK TO THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW PATH
"Help! Help!" the company heard a shout from the side room, and they
all dashed in and saw Rachel stretched out on the bed, her head thrown
back, and Moyshe-Mendel standing next to her, scared out of his wits.
"What's wrong? What's happening? Fainted? Water! Hurry!"
"Water! Water!" everyone shouted and no one moved.
"Oh, goddamn it all!" screamed Dvosse-Malke and got a dipper of water,
took a mouthful, and sprayed it on Rachel's face, which was as dead as
"Get the doctor!" screamed Moyshe-Mendel in a strange voice.
"'The doctor! The doctor!" they all screamed, looking at one another.
"Tie her hands with a handkerchief and squeeze her nose!"
"Her nose! Her nose!" they all screamed and stood where they were.
"That's right, Dvosse-Malke, harder, harder!" the guests spurred her
on as she worked with might and main, rubbing, squeezing, pouring water,
pulling eyelids - until finally they revived Rachel from her faint and
got her to sit up. Rachel looked around groggily and then asked: "Where
am I? I'm so hot. so hot!..."
"Move away, everybody, give her air!" said Dvosse-Malke and sent the
whole company into the living room, while she and Moyshe-Mendel stayed
with Rachel, whose eyes were fixed on Moyshe-Mendel.
"What's wrong, daughter, what happened?" the mother-in-law asked.
"What is it, Rachel?" asked Moyshe-Mendel, leaning over her.
"Please ask your mother to leave," Rachel answered softly.
"Mama, please step outside for a moment," said Moyshe?
Mendel. He accompanied his mother out of the room and then returned
to Rachel's bed.
"Tell me what's wrong," Moyshe-Mendel asked her for the first time
with deep love.
"Oh, Moyshe-Mendel, swear you won't tell anybody.... Swear it'll remain
our secret .... Promise you'll forgive me for what I've done to you....
If Haia-Etel, Lord rest her soul, hadn't warned me .... Oh, if it hadn't
been for Haia-Etel.... Oh, Moyshe-Mendel, my darling!"
"Just listen to what you're saying, Rachel. You're raving! What do
you mean, Haia-Etel?"
"My friend Haia-Etel, may she rest in peace. Haia-Etel the orphan,
she's been in the True World for a long time. I've dreamt about her several
times. But today, now.... Ah, Moyshe-Mendel, bend over to me, nearer, nearer....
That's right, I'm scared.... I'm sorry for what I've done, oh, how sorry
And Rachel moved closer to Moyshe-Mendel until she was lying in his
arms. The room was dark. Only a single ray of light entered from the door
to the living room, and Rachel and Moyshe-Mendel could hardly see each
other. Their eyes met and a tiny fire kindled in them, the kind of fire
you see when people fall happily in love for the first time, when the heart
and not the tongue does all the talking, when people converse with their
eyes and not their lips.
"Tell me, Moyshe-Mendel my darling, do you really care for me?"
"How can you ask?" Moyshe-Mendel replied. "You're right in my heart
like a - I don't know like what...."
Moyshe-Mendel had no other way of expressing his love for Rachel. But
we can believe that he meant it with all his heart, seriously - and perhaps
more seriously than the fine fellow who has a greater knack for uttering
his feelings in words.
But let's leave them, the happy couple, there in the half-darkened
room, where, a year after the wedding, they had their first chance to have
a heart-to-heart talk, as they sat there like doves. Things that had been
hidden deep down for an entire year suddenly came to the surface like trees
Once Rachel felt a little better, Moyshe-Mendel sat next to her, softly
crooning the "Elijahs" under his breath.
"Elijah the Prophet ... Elijah of Tishbi... Elijah of Gilead...."
And Rachel said to him:
"I want to ask you to do something for me, Moyshe-Mendel. Promise you'll
"Well? What is it? Tell me, Rachel, I'll do anything you want me to."
"I think we've lived with your family long enough. You're no longer
a student, we've got a little money tucked away, thank goodness - why don't
we move to a big city, Yehupets. Once I'm there, among my friends and relatives,
and with you - I'll feel as fine as ever. We'll be alone. It's time we
stopped living off your family, honestly, I'm so sick and tired of it that
I can't enjoy anything. We're like strangers with your family, absolute
Moyshe-Mendel sat there, gazing in surprise at Rachel. Then he began
rocking and swaying like before, singing his "Elijahs."
"Okay, very good, 'angry man,' it's fine with me. 'Elijah the Prophet'...
this very week!"
"You'll do it for me, Moyshe-Mendel, won't you?" Rachel said to him
with deep love. "We'll be on our own, I'll have my own household, and I'll
take care of you like the apple of my eye. Ah, Moyshe-Mendel, you're usually
so absent-minded that you never say a kind word! But today you're so different,
"Elijah the Prophet...." crooned Moyshe-Mendel softly, "Elijah of Tishbi...
Elijah of Gilead...."
And in the living room, the men were having a different kind of conversation:
they were trying to figure out why Isaak-Naphtali's daughter-in-law had
suddenly fainted. One man said it was an evil eye, another concluded the
opposite, she'd been caught in a draft, and the third one, an elderly Jew
with married children, had his own explanation:
"Believe me, I've got three daughters-in-law, I know a thing or two
about such matters, I tell you, she's having 'whims.' Isaak-Naphtali, get
set for cakes and vodka or a circumcision. Mazel-tov, Dvosse-Malke! Your
daughter-in-law - well, well, she'll be all right! Why are you so embarrassed,
Dvosse-Malke? Don't worry, it's perfectly kosher.... Jews do it all the
Dvosse-Malke was simply melting with delight, she'd been anxiously
looking forward to this for a long time.
"Well, well!" she said, pretending to be annoyed. "Cut it out - you
and your jokes! I'd better see how the borsht is doing. It's taking longer