From ‘A Graft of Roses’

A Novel-In-Progress by Aliza Fogelson

Published April 01, 2005, issue of April 01, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

A synagogue. I had never before visited one, but knew from friends in Prague that the women sat separately, in the balcony. A portly rabbi with a formidable tri-colored beard and a whip-thin cantor stood on the altar, in front of a wooden ark heavily inlaid with metals and carvings. The foreign words of the prayers washed over me, a droning, soothing rhythm. A muffled din filtered down from where the women chattered and gossiped. I imagined Marthe, smiling politely, hands folded in her lap. She would not be interested in complaining about the scarcity of fresh fruit at the market, about the lack of good husband prospects. Her eyes would widen as she focused on the ark, and soon her face would engage, her lips begin moving.

A sharp stab moved through my gut. I hadn’t known Marthe was Jewish. Had I even considered the possibility? Of course she had a history, a life even beyond what my overactive imagination fashioned… but it had never occurred to me that it might contain something so rare, so unique, that was not of her flesh, but infinitely more ancient. Had she kept this from me as she did her exploits with men, out of some sense of politeness or professionalism? Or perhaps, I thought, seized by anguish, it didn’t even occur to her to share this.

For the first time, I noticed a bright flame glowing above the altar, filtered through a rosy glass, like a classy brothel lantern. Last night Marthe rested her head against my chest, fingering my lapel. She had murmured something over and over about a light. It was a soothing chain of sound, vaguely familiar, like a spell sautering us together. I tried to touch each red strand that shot through her hair. Sleep was just starting to overtake me, but my limbs jolted, startled me awake. I thought of Venus and Mars caught in Vulcan’s invisible web, and could almost hear the mocking laughter of my mother, of Sarah, of Drouen. The joke was definitely on me: I had wanted to be original, and I had fallen in love with a prostitute.

Circles of red light emanated from the flame as I stared. An intense heat swept across my face, and sweat sprung out on my brow. Soon the sweat trickled down over my nose, my cheeks, into the thicket of my mustache, over my chin and down into the folds of my collar. A warm glow insinuated itself into my coat, under my vest and into my armpits, up my back. It tightened like a vise at the back of my skull. My eyelids flew open wider, strained to take in that rosy hue, and I felt I could hear the congregation singing through the membranes of my eyes.

I was muttering audibly. The men around me glowered; it was permitted to chant from piety, not insanity. Excusing myself, shamed, I lurched out of the pew, through the doors, and into the night. Eternal light, she had said. Eternal heat.

I swept along the quai toward my studio, nodding here and there at a familiar face, at Clovis the maitre d’, who seemed shocked when I did not stop for a nightcap. I plunged onward through the dim lights seeping from Notre Dame — hulking, spindling form resolutely anchored in the stream of time. I stopped short and ceased trembling: The heat of the eternal flame had met something within me, had not penetrated me entirely. It had touched some inner core that it could not shift or sully. The streets, the river, the shops and corners and turrets of Paris spooled through my mind, one red-golden skein: my anchor. Anchored, at last.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach!
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.