Tale 12 from David-Horodok by Kathryn T. Winston



"Move, Bosseleh, or you'll fall under my broom and be swept out of the house like this dirt." Bossel jumped aside quickly as Razel's relentless strokes moved toward her. The young girl slipped behind the window and leaned against the frame, staring out, only to be reprimanded again by her mother.

"Bossel, we still have the windows and floors to wash, so if you wouldn't mind, lend a hand. Your father is picking up that Pinsker fish merchant in Lakve today, and they will be home from the train station by noon. Before then I want the floors scrubbed white and every bit of mud off the porch." Bossel sighed, picked up the bucket Razel had pointedly placed in the middle of the dining room floor, and went into the back yard to fill it from one of the water barrels.

Razel called after her, "When you're done, put newspapers down until he comes. We won't impress the man with our good business sense by showing him a sloppy house."

Razel frowned at her daughter's retreating shuffle. Her Zeyde's death had been hard on Bossel, but while Razel sympathized, life had to go on. Razel was not one to steep herself in grief or long for people or places gone, even if she had had the energy or time for it, which she did not. Razel got on with things. Her "getting on" was greatly admired in a town full of occasions to be gotten through, which made Razel something of a local heroine. She had gotten through economic and wartime disasters, natural disasters and disasters of tsarist invention. For Razel, death was just one more thing to overcome.

"Mama not only doesn't miss zeyde, she won't let me mourn him either," Bossel complained sourly as she sloshed water randomly into her pail.

"Talking to yourself again?" Gnesha playfully pulled her young sister's head back by the braids and smiled down at the upturned face. "People will think a dybbuk has gotten hold of you!" Gnesha, Bossel's elder by some twenty-five years, had come over to help Razel prepare for The Guest.

"Zeyde's gone and I miss him. I have the right. I don't know if I'll ever see him again, even if the rabbi says we'll meet in Heaven. And Mama won't even let me be sad; she's at me all the time: 'Do this, do that,' as if sitting and crying were a shande."

"Mama's only trying to help you get over Zeyde Gershon's death, blessed be his name, the same way she does-by doing and forgetting. For you it may not work. That doesn't mean she isn't trying to help." Gnesha took the bucket from Bossel and filled it with water.

"Come along now; let's shine up the house for the fish merchant. Then he'll be content; Mama will be happy, and Mama and Tateh will sell their fish in Pinsk again next year." Gnesha raised the girl's chin and kissed her forehead. "And you, mamehleh, will continue to eat." Gnesha hurried Bossel and the bucket into the waiting house.

The arrival of the all-important guest focused Razel's attention elsewhere, allowing Bossel finally to slip out of the house to the Greble Bridge and the Horin River. She always went there on fall weekdays when she wanted to be alone; traffic over the bridge was light then because people were busy preparing for the coming winter.

Bossel sat on the edge dangling her legs over the side, while solitude comfortably closed in around her. Her chin rested on the lowest fence rail. The wind was up, and she could smell approaching rain in the damp fullness of the air. Rolling waves chased one another over the surface of the water; autumn bleakness covered the sky. A sea gull swooped down and sped off with a fish in its beak.

"Thinking about Grandpa again?" Gnesha asked as afternoon gray wavered into dusk. Bossel continued to stare at nothing and nodded, comforted by her sister's sudden familiar presence.

"You know by Jewish law, you're only supposed to mourn for so long and then forget. God wants us to be occupied with life, not death." Bossel didn't respond.

Gnesha was about to try another approach when they both heard footsteps hurrying across the bridge. Their mother was racing toward them.

"Oy the trouble you two cause! I send one daughter after another and lose both. We have to get back to the house right now! Cossacks are coming through David-Horodok to the front. Your cousin Label on his barge this morning saw them headed this way. He just docked and is warning everyone."

Gnesha and Bossel did not need to be told twice. Ever since the bloody Chmielnitzki uprising in the 1600s every Jewish child knew about the cruelty of Cossacks. And as their mother spilled her news the nightmare appeared before them. With fear they turned to see a column of tall soldiers mounted on horses, waving their cursed whips, ride toward the bridge. Terror gripped them as Razel began running toward town, pushing her children in front of her. They heard the column stop at the foot of the bridge and then caught the fateful cry: "This is a Jew-town. Let's have a little fun." It was too late to reach home.

Hooves pounded on the wood behind them as Razel, Bossel and Gnesha reached the end of the bridge. Razel pushed her daughters under the boards and leapt in behind them, missing by seconds the steel horseshoes and stinging whips of the vanguard. Bossel clung to her mother while the wood overhead vibrated and thundered, and the screams of those who had not been as quick as Razel tore at her mind. Then, as suddenly as they had come, the horsemen rode out of David-Horodok, leaving their legacy of death and injury behind.

Razel took home her badly frightened Bosseleh, who in the next weeks, as the dead were buried and the injured tended, thought more than once about her mother and Zeyde Gershon. Staying alive apparently required more attention and less distraction than she had realized. Although sadness still called to her, she resisted. She had begun to understand what the rabbis had learned long ago: if a Jew's eyesight strays too far from this world, she might be swept into another.



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