Rolling bones rolling home
They had lain some of the train tracks back to front and this caused a great deal of confusion—you would think you were on the train to New York and arrive in Kinshasa, or to Shanghai and found yourself lost in Istanbul. Travelling this way, you can easily lose track of not only place but time as well—it moves forward and backward and when you step out on the platform, it is almost impossible to determine where and consequently when you may be.
There are very specific reasons people chose to take the train nowadays. Obviously cars or buses are more efficient. Planes for long distances. These vehicles are designed to get you expeditiously to specific destinations. But trains are something you take when you want time to yourself and when you want to put a large, unknown distance between you and your life. When you want to place something far enough behind you that you couldn’t find your own way back to it. Trains are something you take when you want to misplace yourself.
It was the third day that Yom-Tov Lipmann had been travelling on the Pacific Surfliner. He boarded with a ticket to Albany but, as far as he could tell based on the views from his window, he was heading South. It was February and he imagined upstate New York would be frozen and grey but outside the sun shone down on stunted, thick expanses of trees and brush emerging from a sandy soil. For a while the previous night, Yom-Tov was sure he heard moving water under the dull roar of the engine. He had been awake all night. Since Abraham, Yom-Tov had known no rest.
So he passed time trying to determine how old he was. Depending on where he was, he was either 41 or 42. It was either right before, right after, or exactly his birthday. If he could determine if he was heading East or West, he might have been able to discern a time zone. But the train was moving at a speed that made the motion of movement seem stagnant. 42 is a good age, Yom-Tov thought to himself. He knew that G-d created the universe (a vast black unending night) from this holy number. It is of this world but free from it at the same time. Something Yom-Tov wanted to be. He took a long swig from his bottle and found comfort in its burning.
Yom-Tov was running from a mistake he had made, or rather several mistakes that culminated in one gigantic mistake. He relived it every time he saw his wife’s face. Rachel. Her stoic, pale façade held such a hardness that Yom-Tov could not help but see a reflection of every poor decision he had made as a husband, a father, and a man. Yom-Tov was a holy man and, as with all men, he was tormented by the weight of the responsibility it entailed. His suffering did not manifest itself in scabs, or drought, or any denial of happiness. In fact, Yom-Tov had a beautiful wife, fifteen children, a strong faith, and an important job in his community as a mohel. Yom-Tov’s decline was found in his inability to stop from trying to lose himself. Before he boarded the train, he used liquor to take small respites from his life. Over time, he’s not exactly sure when, these respites accumulated and instead of little breaks dotting the continuum of his life, they eventually joined together to form one dark hovering mass. Like a cancer. Like a blindness. Like a deep, wide hole outside of time.
The train car was not full, but strewn with bodies all dressed the same—everyone inside seemed to be Chassidic. They were quiet; either staring ahead or out the window sullenly. They all seemed lost in thought or captured in some horrible trance. Like they were waiting for something that would never end. Yom-Tov had been drinking steadily, unnoticed. He was trying to get drunk, though the closest feeling he had was the numbness of an all-encompassing sorrow. In front of him, a child sat alone. An infant. It lay swaddled and softly whimpering without anyone to comfort it. It was greatly unnerving—to see a baby by itself, to see something helpless without anyone around to protect it. Yom-Tov squeezed his eyes shut and hummed to drown out its sadness.
Most of Yom-Tov’s forty-two years revolved around babies. From his siblings to his job to his family, he had been a part of hundreds of new lives. Almost three weeks ago, Rachel had given birth to Yom-Tov’s 16th child—a boy they had named Abraham. While the multitudes that 42 contained seemed magnetic, the number 16 seemed like a weight on Yom-Tov’s chest. The amount he was drinking up to the b’rit milah was enough that he had begun losing track of the days and of where he belonged. Abraham’s accident belonged more to a dream than reality. It happened in a darkness. He couldn’t remember the details but what he did remember was the blood and the misshapen flesh. The agony afterwards and then a stillness that could not be alleviated. It rested in Rachel’s white stone face. He had never felt such a need before, a need for movement—a need to be anywhere but facing this horrible, unforgiveable mistake. Singing a soft prayer to Elijah, about mercy and redemption, Yom-Tov thought he smelled sweet spice fill the air as he pressed down on the two-sided knife.
There was a sudden, sharp halt in movement and bodies clothed in black began to gather at the ends of the train car. Yom-Tov craned his neck and saw a sign that read NOF EIN SOF. Outside the sky was as grey as Albany in winter but there was no snow. Instead a long red and gold mountain range broke the sky in half. This was it. Yom-Tov had lost himself and ended up exactly where he was meant to be. As he slowly moved himself towards the exit, Yom-Tov realized that no one had taken the infant. He reached down, lifting the child up into his arms. The infant stirred but didn’t cry. Yom-Tov wrapped his hands around its small body and felt a heaviness lifting. Together they moved out into the unknown. Rain was dripping from the rusty gutters and it made a curtain between the platform and the tracks.
Jesi Bender is an artist from upstate New York. Her work has appeared in Split Lip, Luna Luna Magazine, ZOUCH, Flash Fiction Chronicles, and was recently selected as a finalist for "The Best Short Fiction of 2015" compiled by Queen's Ferry Press. For a complete creative CV, please visit www.jesibender.com.