the Eternal Jew's biographer
In this episode, the view from a jail cell.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Sixteenth Era, Part 5, 1300 C.E., Lutsk
If you could have seen me when I sketched these notes! My lumpy head wrapped in rags, my left arm bound all tight to my side, my cheek black and blue, a swole up eye, sittin’ in a cell awaitin’ trial, my just rewards for going to war.
Not all the pieces had yet come clear, and some of the facts were bein’ withheld so the judge couldn’t know and decide for himself who done what, and the why of it. So this my statement, as the judge demands:
Well, you know how it all begun – Batkol gone missin’ and all of that. Rav Susya sent me to the soldier Yiftakh, with other townsmen that knew him well – Ahud, Gedone, and Othniel, and a couple more whose names I forget. Out we gone to find Batkol, missing and kidnaped it seemed to me. Yiftakh suspected where she were hid, and come to the huts in Bodgan’s fief. There I seen Yiftakh shoot and kill my wife. But I were wrong. A woman bedecked in my wife’s scarf been shot. But thinkin’ she were my wife, it seem I gone to batter Yiftakh. And the next thing I knew, I’m on the ground. My head been clopped, and people are dead, and Yiftakh been runnin’ up the road.
Now this I were told while lyin’ half dead and waitin’ for soldiers that Bogdan’s folk rushed off to find, and who arrested me:
There were a child about two year old come terrible sick in the heat of the day. And here come Batkol. The two of us thought to survey Bogdan’s fields, but couldn’t find them, so we split up, her to the hamlet, me thru the swamp. Approachin’ the women, here come Batkol and seen the sick child and starts to tend to him, amidst tears of them women who seen she can heal. All fuss and prayer and hackin’ cough while one of them runs to Bogdan’s wife to give her news of the deathly child and the stranger woman with healin’ arts. But Bogdan’s woman don’t trust it all.
“Probably them Jews what brung this on, and probably they wants our children’s blood. Bogdan! Them Jews brought Satan down. Best take your ax and make things right.”
Bogdan, he lumbers on down to the huts, but without the sharp edge and angry heart his wife had honed, just honest concern for the woman and child, and a skeptical eye. And there’s Batkol searching for herbs, collectin’ plants and bark and such. Night, then morning and a fire is lit for tea to steam them fragrant herbs, and to help the child breathe. In the chill of the morn a women goes out with Batkol’s scarf to bring word out to Susya and me. And that’s when Yiftakh and the rest of us arrived, unleashing arrows and death.
All mistaken our troubled ways. What I seen and what were true been far apart, and all my works misserved, exchangin’ ill for good. Not evil nor murder were in my heart, but only to rescue my wife from travail. May the court have mercy on my innocence.
I put down my quill in the flickery light in this dank and urine drenched prison cell. Moments later the candle fades. Darkness my shackle, darkness my bed, darkness my counsel and darkness my judge, darkness fractallin’ demons and dreams, faces and fears and other worlds. Such uneven ground we trek upon. Euclid’s planes, finite and flat; Ptolemy’s globe, regular, curved. But the planes and vectors of human thought decay, inconstant, shifty, unreal. You press down here with all your might and now thrust forward and now fall flat, and now you push and the world slips away. You plot a course from Athens to Rome and you find yourself in Jerusalem. You pursue justice but bring down wrath. You break the law and the law is blind. Goliath felled by a shepherd boy, and Titus destroys the throne of the Lor and parades our sacred Ark thru Rome. Like a dream we step thru a door we know and enter a courtyard we’ve never seen. Who will live and who will die? Who remembered and who forgot? This plane, this globe, this geometry, it has no rules that we can discern so we can predict the ark of it. Where does it curve and where does it fold, and where its disjunctures? Where is it broke, and where is the vertex* to a higher world?
* others say ‘vortex’
* others say ‘vortex’
In truth, I’ve lost my will to go on. Whatever I done, it ain’t good enough. Whatever I feel is tainted, impure. Whatever I am, it’s smoke in the wind. And still I eat and still I stand at the narrow window cut in the wall of this stinkin’ cell and gaze at the street, and see the wretched, the poor, and the sick, and those yoked in servitude, and feel pity at their bitter lot, and I think of myself as better off. And then from another cell a moan or a curse or pukin’ or a screamin’ fight, and some bastard walks down the hall with his rod bangin’ on doors, and curses fly back. Then I think, them people out on the street are surely better off than me.
In the next episode, rattle of keys, and Saadia’s teeth rattle too.