They said the animals in the pasture below us – odd, red-hued shaggy beasts, long-horned and squat – were Highland cattle. Neither dairy nor meat but pets; farmer’s favorites. A soft looing drifted up when the air was right. Such a different sound than the black and whites, and browns. Craving contact, we galumphed our way down the hillside, following overgrown stone fences breaching like hump-backed whales. Propriety and a rusty wire fence halted our advance. Up close the pasture reveled in its ragged edges. Scraggly grass and wildflowers laughed in the breeze at our expense: there was no herd to be seen. Just one solitary cow, regarding us from underneath a small grove of misshapen trees. The farmer died unexpectedly – everyone hoped he had died happy, or at least content. Our pets disappeared. Without its cattle, the pasture stretched out its legs and let itself get comfortable. We expected deer to take over but when we saw them it was only as a running streak, bounding across open space. There were stories of a bobcat, a bear. We imagined we saw the grass bend against the wind and wondered what was hidden from view. A tractor, squat and red and trailing smoke, came calling, trumbling through a break in the trees. The man-made beast cut scars into the pasture’s face, turning beauteous chaos into a tidy ruin. The air brought us the sweet, damp smell of freshly cut grass as the pasture was bundled up and carted away. A few leftover bales stood vigil, discarded draughts from a half-finished game, until one morning they too were gone.
PASSOVER. KYIV. 1995
Here, in the city of Pechersk and Babi Yar, I expected my celebration to be a quiet affair. How was I to know that most of my colleagues had Jewish branches hidden in their family trees?
The fax machine beeps again. The wealth of my loved ones – nurtured though continents and centuries, passed faithfully from mouth to ear – spills forth in an endless scroll of perforated paper. Food is a sermon everyone understands.
Their stares are a silence that shouts. Not here – around the corner – stop asking! a voice chastises from within the passing crowd. I turn and find a section of the market I’ve never seen. Nearby sit a father and son in clean but blood-stained butcher smocks. I ask my carefully prepared question once more: Do you have a shank bone, from a lamb? Yes, they reply. Happy Passover.
The Rabbi motions me to sit without offering to shake my hand. Our religion shares the same name but the gulf dividing our beliefs is too wide to cross. Then we realize we are both Americans from New York City and fans of the Yankees. I leave the synagogue lugging enough matzo to feed me for a month.
Such bad luck, to borrow an egg, my neighbor huffs fondly. Wait until the stores open tomorrow. When I tell her why I need the egg, her goodwill crumples up and blows away. Te Zhidka? she hisses. I flinch. This word – from the woman who invites me in for tea – whose daughter I help with her homework? Nyet. Ya Evreyka. I am a Jew, not a Yid. Horror finds a home between us. Is one egg really that important? she asks. I think about what the egg represents: Life. Sacrifice. Potential. My Seder would be meaningless without its egg. Da, I say. It is. She nods slowly and turns away, but comes back with one egg. Keep it, she whispers. Don’t ever tell of this to my husband. She never speaks to me again.
Guests arrive; the apartment grows but cannot fit inside itself. We take the front door off to use as a table. Still people keep crowding in. Languages fill the air and dance together in a swirl of cigarette smoke. We sing our praises and the thread binding us together thrums. These prayers have been spoken here before; they will be said again when I am gone. The door is open. Elijah, come home.
KS Lack is a writer and letterpress printer residing in New York. Her work has appeared in publications and galleries such as the New York Center for Book Arts, Tishman Review, temenos, and the London Centre for Book Arts. You can view highlights of her work at www.zitternpress.com. Making gefilte fish, dying Easter eggs with her nieces, and listening to records on lazy Sunday mornings are a few of her favorite things. She has been living with disability and chronic pain since the age of eleven.