Parting, a scene

"Parting," first published in Hebrew in 1914, revolves around the biblical injunction (and the Jewish custom) that a man must marry and support his brother's widow. However, in later times, as bigamy was outlawed, wives were made to divorce their dying husbands.

. . . then the sun began to set.

And it sent its last rays to the window of the terminally ill man. The rays shone through the latticed curtain, and flecks of light collected on the wall near the bed. . . .

The room was still.

The ailing man lay supine on the bed and breathed with difficulty; every now and then he coughed and let out a heavy sigh.

Now and then he would open his eyes for a moment and note the setting sun . . . his grieving wife . . .

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Moments pass.

The flecks of light on the wall diminish in number.

The breathing of the bedridden man grows more lugubrious.

And the face of the young woman turns ashen.

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—He is coming! . . . called the next-door neighbor as he entered the room.

—Who?

—The rabbi . . . and the scribe, too.

. . . At that moment, the flecks of sunlight on the wall began to quiver, and some vanished altogether . . .

And the sick man began to cough again, spitting a few drops of blood.

The young woman shuddered and wailed again, large tears fell from her eyes. . . .

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In walked the rabbi, followed by the scribe.

Witnesses, too, entered the home. . . .

The rabbi's face was pallid.

And the scribe's nose gleamed a ruddy tint . . .

The rabbi sat himself near the bed and sighed.

The scribe cleared his throat. . . .

. . . Then the sick man opened his eyes.

—How are you, Reb Haim, —the rabbi inquired.

The ailing man did not respond. He looked at her . . . his wife . . .

—Yes . . . truly, rejoined the scribe, —you will yet live, ha! We will yet drink l'haim! This is just a formality . . .

Once more, the man regarded his wife.

—Reb Haim, the rabbi tried again, two tears shining in his kind eyes, —don't despair, Reb Haim, place your hope in the Almighty! He is certain to send you a cure . . . it happens every day . . . you will live, God willing, and once again wed your wife . . . this is just a formality, for the time being . . . just for good luck, nothing more. . . .

—Surely surely, the scribe confirmed, rubbing his palms together, —happens every day . . . I myself wrote numerous gets . . . and later on the sick recovered, rose from their beds, and now they are well . . . healthy, and strong, indeed, like rocks . . . and not only that, now they are fathers as well, to sons . . . good luck, for good luck, that's all . . .

The eyes of the man brightened a moment, a spark of hope flared in them . . .

Color rose in the cheeks of the young woman . . . in her heart, too, a glimmer of hope was rekindled . . .

On the wall, a few flecks of light remained...

The sun hadn't gone down yet . . .

. . . —Is everything ready? the rabbi asked the scribe.

—Everything, rabbi, all is set, replied the scribe, adjusting the spectacles on his nose.

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—Young woman! said the rabbi in a hushed voice, —please approach . . .

—Witnesses! It is time, the scribe called out.

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The dying man held the get in his hand. . . . A rumble rose from his breast, and his hand began to tremble. . . . The hands of the young woman, extended to receive the get, trembled as well, and the pounding of her heart was heard. . . . The flecks of light on the wall also began to flutter . . .

—Herewith is your get, the rabbi recited . . .

—He-eere-w-with is yo-ur g-g-ge-et, the sick man stammered. . . .

—From now on you are permitted to any man, the rabbi concluded.

—Permitted . . . to . . . any . . . ma . . ., said the dying man.

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—Young woman! said the scribe, —from now on, you are forbidden to dwell under the same roof with your husband. . . . You are divorced. . . . You must leave. . . .

. . . And the man opened his eyes and looked at his wife for the last time. . . . Here . . . she removes herself . . . and he parts from her. . . .

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The room was almost dark. . . . Two flecks of light still quivered on the wall. . . .

The eyes of the man were half open, and two tears glistened in them. . . .

. . . And all at once . . . a dreadful wheezing. . . .

The dying man opened his eyes . . . and shut them . . . for all time. . . .

He departs from the world. . . .

. . . At that moment, the two last remaining flecks of light faded on the wall.

The sun has set . . . it, too, departs . . .

And it was dark.

1The divorce document. 2In the Hebrew, "divorced," "expelled," and "evicted" share the same root.

First published as "Prudim," 1914. Translation copyright 2007 by Tsipi Keller. All rights reserved.