It was almost dark when the sound of crickets awoke her. She lit the Shabbos candles, observed the shadows against her hands, covered her eyes and said the blessing, and went up to the Kolker’s bed. His face was badly bruised and swollen.
Brod, he said, but she silences him. She brought up a small block of ice from the cellar and held it against his eye until his face couldn’t feel anything, and her hand couldn’t feel anything.
I love you, she said. I do.
No you don’t, he said.
But I do, she said, touching his hair.
No. It’s OK. I know you’re much smarter than me, Brod, and that I’m not good enough for you. I was always waiting for you to figure it out. Every day. I felt like the czar’s food taster, waiting for the night when the dinner would be poisoned.
Stop, she said. It’s not true. I do love you.
But I love you.
It’s OK. I’m OK. She touched the puffy blackness around his left eye. The down, which the saw blade had released from the pillow, clung to tears on their cheeks. Listen, he said, I’ll be dead soon.
We both know it.
And I wonder if you could just pretend for a while, if we could pretend to love each other. Until I’m gone.
She felt it again, the same as that night when she met him, when he was illuminated at her window, when she let her arms brush down her skin to her sides and turned to face him.