Eric Maroney is the author of two books of non-fiction, Religious Syncretism (2006) and The Other Zions (2010). His fiction has appeared in Our Stories, The MacGuffin, ARCH, Segue, The Literary Review, Eclectica, Pif, Forge, The Montreal Review, and Per Contra. His non-fiction has appeared in the Encyclopedia of Identity and The Montreal Review. His story “The Incorrupt Body of Carlo Busso” was the runner up for the 2011 Million Writers Award. He has an MA from Boston University, and lives in Ithaca, New York with his wife and two children.
"Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.'”
Talmud Bereshith Rabbah 10:7
DANIT: My son was born under the carob tree, and all three fathers were there to greet him. The pains came on suddenly and I had been unaware of the signs. I continued with my work. Two dozen tiny hands had been gathering berries in the little garden when my water broke, and my skirt was soaked, and then the pains began. I was led by Ori under the tree in the matted grass and it was moving very fast. Someone called the midwife, and she hitched up my skirt and told me the head was crowning.
YOEL: When the truck arrived, she was in the back, with some used furniture brought over from Haifa for the kindergarten. And when she came down from the truck, and Gabi the driver held her arm as she jumped off the rear fender, I knew that I loved her. Her long, white neck gleamed in the sun; her brown, shabby dress clung to her body in the wind, revealing a light muscular frame. And then she took a step and limped, and my love flipped from the side of desire—like a coin tossed into the air and landing in the grass below my feet—to the side of compassion. Here she was, wounded in the war. Here she was, limping off to her new home. And here I was, lonely for a woman and in need of love, and snared by her in one sudden moment.
GABI: People asked me why her, why this Danit woman? After all her troubles, she was nearly mute. She only talked to the children in the kindergarten. But when I heard her talk, it was like the angels were singing. She never scolded a child, or raised her voice. Instead, when a child was misbehaving, she would point at the lad and say 'This boy has no light.' When a child performed a task well, she would beam with joy, and ask the class: 'Do you see how the light shines on this girl?' It was then that I fell in love with her. I would stand by the window in the grass and hide in the shade of the carob tree, hoping she would not see me, but also wishing that she would. And all the time I would watch with murderous rage as her little assistant, that runt Ori, so small he could not even enter the army, so weak he could only work with little children, spoke to her and touched her arm. And my heart was filled with hatred for him, because he spoke softly to her and my voice was loud and coarse.
ORI: People blamed me, of course. They have nothing but hatred in their hearts, and because I am fair, and my limbs are not strong, and I suffer from this cough, I am not the type of man that the kibbutz needs. So I am blamed more. And so I see what people really are: evil to their very bones. And they stick me with the children. But I have no gift for dealing with them. When the old teacher came—that dreadful German woman from Jerusalem—I did nothing to stop her rages. And everyone blamed me. Then Danit came, a war refugee. Where was she from? She did not say. But one day she was limping more than usual. At recess, as the children were running about in the field, tossing stones and digging in the grass, I caught a glimpse of her exposing the bare skin of her bad leg. A long, jagged, poorly healed scar ran from the upper part of her calf, disappeared behind her knee, and then reappeared around the top of her thigh. She did not see me look. And when she turned my way, I averted my eyes. I did not want her to get the wrong impression. I looked not to gape at her wound, but because my love for her swelled inside my chest and set my heart to burst at its seams.
DANIT: They were each very different, and each had needs at odds with the other. The easiest course would have been to pick one of them and get married. But I delayed. I could not find in a single man the thing I needed. Especially after all I had been through. I felt I needed a balance between freedom and safety that no single one of the three could provide. There was Gabi, that rough, big man, with the dark coarse hair jutting out of the top of his shirt and his beat up tan cap. He always seemed to be around when I needed to lift something. 'Please let me help, Ms. Danit.' In the spring, when the mud was bad, he was always there when I would stumble on my bad leg. His firm arm grasped me. He laughed. 'We can't let the children see Ms. Danit covered in mud, now can we?' And all the while I knew what he wanted. He wanted my love, but he also wanted the control that my love would give him. He wanted to steer me and guide me and my limp toward his world to bring it greater clarity and joy. His joy. But he did not know that a greater force controlled him. That it controlled us all. I had seen it at work, and I could see it now. But I could not tell a soul. I could only hint at what was at work.
YOEL: I was the bookkeeper, so I had reason to see her when I had to settle the weekly accounts with the school. And I would linger outside the office, on the big grass field, with my ledger and receipts, hoping that she would come outside for recess. One day she did. Ori had the children in the marsh, collecting reeds to make flutes, and she was limping along, ready to join them. I took off my hat and dropped my ledger. Papers flew to the grass. She tried to pick them up, but I begged her to leave them be. Then I urged her to come and walk with me tonight on the hill behind the kibbutz. I assured her it was not dangerous there, and that she would be safe with me. Her face said no but she mumbled yes, and before she changed her mind, I rushed off the grounds with wild joy.
GABI: I don't woo women. I don't feel the need. They come to me; we do what has come naturally since the days when Adam knew Eve. What can I say? It is how I was made. Those women who understand ultimately know that you can't change a person. We are what we are. You can tinker with the body a bit, like I do with the trucks and tractors and combines, but the soul—the essence of the machine—remains the same. Still, with Danit it was different. She moved something deep inside of me, and I couldn't control myself. My love for her was like someone had tied a tourniquet around my head. I suffered greatly when I saw her, but even more when I didn't. I kept finding excuses to go down to the school, to watch her with the children. Her small waist, her crown of curly brown hair, her firm nose, her round cheeks, the little way her eyebrows were slightly raised, as if the world surprised her. I felt as if a fist was pounding on my breastbone. Is this love? I asked. Has love finally landed its anvil on Gabi? And that afternoon I found her on the path back to her shack in the long unmowed grass and I begged her to come with me to the field where a special pear tree grows; its fruit was as ripe and sweet as the fruit in paradise. She laughed at me, frowned, and then said no. I pleaded with her to give me just an hour under the pear tree. Its fruit was like no other, and only I knew the location. If she came with me, I would leave her alone forever, if she wished. And I wouldn't touch a hair on her head. And so she relented, and my heart was pounding in my chest like a hammer. This strange, mysterious woman had finally relented to my love.
ORI: No one believes me, of course, but Danit kissed me that day. We were cleaning up the classroom, and I was telling her about the death of my mother—about the long and painful illness she suffered—and I was crying softly. She grasped my arm. I was surprised by her firm grip. It was as if she was trying to anchor me to the ground. She took her other hand and wiped my tears with the flat of her thumb. Then she reached across the empty space between us and kissed me on the lips. She told me: “Tonight I'll leave my door open. If you don't want to come, I understand. If you're scared, I understand. I'm scared most of the time too.”
DANIT: I felt sorry for that poor boy. He was a virgin and alone. When he cried about his mother, I felt a pang of love. It wasn't love for him. It was a piece of a greater love. I felt like a mother comforting a child who is not her own. But he was a man, so I had to comfort him as a man. It was sweet in its way, and I thought it would do no harm. And then Yoel, the bookkeeper, held such great suffering in his heart. There he was, bleeding before me, a ragged wound up and down his soul, like a victim of some terrible calamity. My heart ached, and I loved that part of him—the part that opened to me like the petals of a poppy. Gabi was different. His force was so strong it scared me, but there was honesty in him. I knew this man was not lying. His love was real and unbreakable, and the fact that I did not return it did not deter it. So I acted quite unlike myself. I opened up that evening and took him in and took them all in. I had a gift to give and I gave it freely. They were only moments. What did I think they would mean in the wider span of my life? I had learned during the war that we can do nothing to alter our fate. Either we are destined to live or we are destined to die. I had lived, and inside me, I felt a great, inner pulse. There was a secret unfurling around me, and as I was beginning to read its strange script, everything around me was growing vibrant.
YOEL: The hill behind the kibbutz was flowing with flowers and swaying with grasses. All sorts of colors danced before us: green, red, blue, yellow. I picked some for Danit and she thanked me and grasped them in her hand. But she began to pluck the petals, and one by one she stripped them bare, leaving a trail behind us on the gravel track. “Is this walk too much for you?” I asked her. “No, why?” She countered. “Well, because of your leg.” She looked at me with anger. “My leg has never stopped me. I dragged it across half of Europe!” I apologized. I told her I loved her. I explained to her, as much as I could, my loss of love, the woman who once loved me but left for that man from Tel-Aviv who came selling tractor parts. She sat on the ground and picked a blade of grass. “Do you know the story from the Talmud about grass?” she began. “It says that everything in the world has its own angel—even a lowly blade of grass. And do you know what those angels tell their blades of grass all day and all night?” I told her I did not. “They say, Grow, Grow, …” I don't know how it happened, but I started to cry. I again told her that I loved her. That I had loved her as soon as she had gotten off the truck with Gabi. There was something powerful moving under the ground beneath us. Maybe an angel whispering in my ear, Love, Love. Through my tears we kissed. I did not expect it: the two of us lying on the pillow of soft grass. But we moved quickly and with purpose.
GABI: Of course I knew the bookkeeper and that runt were in love with her. That was apparent to all. But I did not know that night, when I showed up after one too many glasses of schnapps, that she had been with the bookkeeper on the hill in the afternoon and that the runt had just left her shack because it was after his bed time. If I did, I might have gone and murdered them both. She let me in, although she knew I was drunk. I sat with my heavy hands in my lap, and she sat across from me, quiet and still. “I don't want to go to those damn pears. I love you, Ms. Danit.” I told her quietly. She said nothing. The stillness in the room was as loud as a siren. “Do you know what it takes, Ms. Danit, for a man like me to tell a woman he loves her? Do you know what it feels like here?” I pointed to my chest. “Do you know? I haven't eaten a thing since you arrived. I've stopped doing my job. I can't think of anything but you and you and you. Do you know what you have done to me? Your name rings in my ears, Danit, Danit, and I can't get it out.” She looked at me and thought hard. “I didn't do a thing to you. I'm just here to live and no more. Living is everything. It is a sacred thing.” I rose toward her. Something in her response had angered me, but I intended to try and kiss her, and if she resisted, to burst out of the shack and into the engine shed and shoot myself with the pistol so her whispered name would stop. But she kissed me back and she let my hands roam. And in a moment, my bare skin was pressed against her bare skin, chest to chest.
ORI: I cried when it was over. Danit was kind, but I was embarrassed. I expected something else, and when it didn't happen, I was filled with sorrow. Danit kissed me. She comforted me. “The first time can be odd,” she said. “Later, you'll grow accustomed to women's bodies, and it'll grow less strange. Eventually, you'll see a woman's body—a woman you love—as an extension of your own. Making love is not only about pleasure; it is about forming something bigger than you. A little voice whispers secrets about life in your ear and you obey. And this is a great secret, sweet Ori.”
DANIT: He was born under the carob tree, and all three fathers were there to greet him. When the woman laid him on my belly, I looked down at the baby, wet, pink, and pinched: a little boy who would be circumcised in eight days. But greeting him was all I would let the men do. For nine months they fought over who was the father. What did I care? The child was mine without a doubt. The child was born of a Jewish mother, so did it really matter who was the father? I let the men work out the details. I let them squabble and yell at each other like beasts. I thought it would come to blows. I let them make their illusion with words and I let them ignore the tiny voice they each heard inside their souls. We had all heard it, and we had all obeyed, but afterward, they had allowed the old ways to reassert themselves. We had all felt the great urge in the world for things to grow and expand. Inside the kernel of death, was life. Outside the husk of decay, was the chance at new growth. And I called this God. This was God! People move as if pulled by invisible strings. They act and act and pretend that they have control, but it's not true. I knew what brought me my son. I knew his fathers' great need and the secret of those nearly silent workings. But I buried it in my heart and never revealed it to them, because if we do not protect it, we will banish it forever. It is the great and fragile mystery: there is a force behind everything, and it repeats but one word. Grow. Grow. Grow.