STEMPENIU: A JEWISH ROMANCE
- SHOLOM ALEICHEM
AFTER THE WEDDING SUPPER
The wedding supper had been over for some time
now, it was long past the "Hooray" melodies, past the presentation of wedding
gifts, past the bride's "chastity dance" - the company was reveling, everyone
tipped the band for a dance and did a cheerful jig. Yontel the slaughterer
performed a kazatska, and opposite him the mother-in-law herself was letting
go with lots of pluck and belly (pardon me!), and the entire crowd was
clapping to accompany Yontel, who didn't even notice that he was dancing
with a woman, and he squatted up and down like a daredevil, and opposite
him, the mother-in-law was hippity-hopping with her arms akimbo, and grinning
at Yontel, with a broad grin across her broad face like the moon at midmonth
. . . .
Things got even wilder after that. Men were dancing
in just their (excuse the expression) breeches. Isaak-Naphtali had already
removed his coat, he stood there in his broad, white shirtsleeves. They
had nudged and noodged him until he finally agreed to take off his coat,
and someone cocked a cap on his head down to his nose - and everyone laughed
at him with drunken eyes, and his own son Moyshe-Mendel, Rachel's husband,
dragged him by one sleeve into the round.
"Use your legs! Use your legs!" shouted Moyshe-Mendel,
jumping up to the ceiling.
The musicians were already playing alone, without
Stempeniu. They were totally letting go by now. One of the swollen-cheeked
buck-toothed boys was leading. Shneyer-Meyer, the second fiddler, with
the black tangle of hair, was dozing. Yokel the Bassist was asleep. Only
the younger men were concertizing to beat the band, and most of all poor
Mekhtshi the Drummer. He was thrashing away as if his life depended on
it. His red hair hung down to the drum, and all you could see was his shoulders
heaving and his bow legs stamping. And Stempeniu? Stempeniu was wandering
among the young wives, and especially around Rachel.
"Mother-in-law, do let's go home." said Rachel
to Dvosse-Malke, who stood there, watching Isaak-Naphtali in his white
sleeves and his cap.
"C'mon, dear!" replied Dvosse-Malke. "Tomorrow's
market day, we've got to get some rest. Just look at them carrying on!"
And Dvosse-Malke left with Rachel.
The edge of the dark-blue sky began turning lighter,
more radiant. Dawn was coming. A rooster crowed. And ten others responded.
From far, far away came the barking of a dog. All homes, even the farmhouses,
were still shut. Only Hersh-Ber the slaughterer's light was on. Hersh-Ber
always got up an hour before dawn to study the Talmud.
"Now, Rachel, wasn't Gnessi's daughter something?
Did you get a load of her getup??"
But Rachel didn't answer. She was lost in her
own thoughts. Who could tell what and whom she was thinking about? . .
"Mother-in-law!" said Rachel all at once. "That
was the first time I ever heard Stempeniu play."
"C'mon, child! The first time indeed!" replied
her mother-in-law. "What about that evening at Leybtsi's place? And at
Nekhemiah's home? And at Sarah's home? And at the rebbe's?"
"I don't recall," answered Rachel. "I only heard
about him a lot, but I never saw him."
"Well, obviously .... At that time, you were
just .... Well, what were you? A baby chick when Stempeniu played at the
rebbe's daughter's wedding in Skvirre. Oh, was that a wedding! May the
Good Lord bring such weddings to all my loved ones. What a wedding! Just
imagine, I was expecting at the time, I was carrying Yossel, and I was,
let me see, I was in my sixth - no, no, my eighth month .... Why,
where ever are you going, Rachel? We're home, and you're wandering off
to Gnessi's place! Goodness gracious me! Hahaha!"
"Oh dear," replied Rachel, peering all around.
"A fine thing!! Really! Hahaha!"
And the two laughing women entered their home
to lie down for a few hours, for tomorrow Mazepevke was having a huge market
day, practically a county fair.