Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #137, Illuminators

Gilders, Nuns; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Sister Anna’s Probation, by Millais, in the public domain.
Gilders, Nuns; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Sister Anna’s Probation, by Millais, in the public domain.

In this episode, Hamlet wagging his finger and Ophelia in a nunnery…

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Nineteenth Era, Part 1, ~1432 C.E., Mallorca

There’s three women standin’ there, but they ain’t workin’. They’re hoverin’ around a fourth. I can’t see what’s wrong. Maybe she ruined a page of work. The abbess rushes ahead to inspect. As we approach they all step aside. A sobbin’ woman, her face in her hands. Enrique gently takes her arm. She lifts her face. It’s Batkol!

And there we be, the two of us, weepin’ like babies among the nuns.

“Shall we go to a private room?”
Enrique proffers. We’re swept along.

Such a Gordian knot. Where to begin to try to unravel the threads of it? I’m thinkin’,
‘She’s become a nun to hide herself away from me.’
And I’m thinkin’,
‘I want no parts of her if she has chosen this life.’

And full of that, I say:
“I come to Palma lookin’ for you, wonderin’ if maybe, or possibly our marriage ain’t come to its end. But I had no idea you was here, livin’ in this here nunnery. The Senior just said he wanted me to judge the works of some local scribes. I never expected to find you here.”
And I stops, knowin’ the tone of my words were unclear, maybe salvin’ her hurts, or maybe cuttin’ into her heart. Will they mend or will they rend?

“I didnt want to go away, but I didn’t know how to stay. I seen such visions up in the hills. I seen such terrors up there too, with her, that healer, that Lilith in the flesh. Were she Jewish or a pagan jinn? Were I dreaming or pursuing sin? It shocked my body and shook my faith. And then back home, and all my world so hollow and small, and your rigid heart, intolerant of questions and doubts or different ways to live as a Jew; rejecting Juan like he were scum. If you had eyes to see inside me, you’d have cast me out, just like him. Soon enough you’d have seen my doubts, how far I’d fallen away from that simple faith I once held, now all crumbled in my soul. You’d have cast me out, for sure. *Against your justice I took arms and ran away. Oh witches and gloom…*”
* Rimbaud, A Season in Hell

I didn’t know what words to say, my worn-out thoughts, hollow and small. But like a barrel with a rotten stave that finally fails and its wine gushes out, Batkol poured out her dammed heart. Nor could I drink down all that gush without vomitin’ some of it back. Here, some particularly choice drams. I remember well their acrid taste.

“… Torah of truth or Torah of ruth… Will I change or keep her in chains… Seduced by angels and higher spirits in pleasures awful and passionate… I no more trust my own thoughts; how, then can I trust yours?… But somehow the Lor is holding my soul and weaving me in a Jewish spirit… I’m so frayed, I’m so afraid…”

That Senior, he were exceeding discreet. We sit in silence after that. As if the sun got stuck in place, each moment compressed and excruciating. Finally a knock; as if a judge impatiently is ending an inquisitor’s time to extract confession from the accused.
“Come. Senior Vallseca waits.”

It was only then that words break out of the shell where they been coiled. And now I have to choke them back til we might be alone again. I only manage to whisper this:
“I’m so sorry. I been so lost I didn’t know how to reach to you. I have so much to say, if you still care…”
“Of course I care, you old fool.”
And for a moment I feel relief.

It seems Vallseca has been waiting for us. Sitting on a chair ornately carved, he bows his head with regal calm, gracious to me who had been so insolent. Or so he appears. But I’m so absorbed in dialogs and arguments that twist and unravel inside my head, that among the roomful of faces I see — me and Batkol like glintings of light reflectin’ on choppy waves of the sea — Vallseca seems more like a statue to me, cut in stone. Or so he appears.

In short, I’m mostly thinkin’ about if we can really repair our love if we don’t first repair ourselves.


In the next episode: hearing without understanding.

About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan. My poetry is devoted to composing long narrative poems that explore the clash between the real and the ideal, in the lives of historical figures and people I have known. Some of the titles of my books are: The Song uv Elmallahz Kumming A Pilgimmage tu Jerusalem The Pardaes Dokkumen The Atternen Juez Talen You can listen to podcasts of my Eternal Jew posts on my personal blog, Textures and Shadows, which can be found on my website, or directly, at: I live just outside Washington, DC with my bashert, and we have two remarkable sons. Those three light my life.
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