Shall I tell you the story of the man
who loved playing his cello
and hated having to talk,
so ... [+]
I got the idea from one of your old stories. Building golems out of river mud and whatnot. Except I didn't want a golem. I just wanted you back by my side.
Peddling clayware in the sweltering heat isn't the easiest thing, especially if you're twelve and the only adult you have with you is one you created with your own two hands. The golem is melting like a beeswax candle under the midday sun. Its rich brown skin drips in irregular rivulets down its bulky body. Though I tried, the golem doesn't look like you at all, Abba.
A crash indicates the golem has broken another hand-painted vase from our makeshift wood-plank stall. He's clumsy as anything, and I have half a mind to box his ears like you used to box mine when I was younger. I was too short and skinny to handle our wares then. It wasn't my fault when I damaged our pottery, and it's not the golem's fault either. So I only release a long-suffering sigh and keep hyping our merchandise like you've taught me, with a booming voice and a dazzling smile no passerby can ignore.
During lunch break, I like to climb on the roofs of the mudbrick buildings overlooking the city, with its colorful tents flapping in the wind, its donkey-drawn carts, and its teeming crowds. If I squint against the sun haze, I can even spot the distant sand dunes. The golem follows. He takes the job of looking after me seriously, despite being a bit incompetent at it. I let my sandaled feet dangle over the hectic cobblestone street below and unwrap my lunch, offering half of my cornbread and goat cheese to the golem. He accepts although he doesn't need to eat.
"Look," I tell the golem between bites, "that's where you came from."
I point toward the twisting blue ribbon of the Euphrates River. The golem grunts in response, presumably staring at the river's distant muddy banks. My eyes move downwards, back to the network of busy streets. It's where you had the cart accident, but I won't think of that now.
After lunch, when I'm not talking to potential customers, I pass the time dragging a stick through the yellow dust, drawing shapes, numbers, and letters. The golem copies me. He's surprisingly good at it too.
Startled, I look up. Edya stands before my stall, and the tips of my ears redden. She's a cute girl, Edya, with twinkling eyes and wavy hair half-hidden under a purple shawl. Her elder sister used to look after me when I was too young to go with you into the market.
"Are you going to buy anything?" I mumble, because I don't know how to talk to Edya, especially when her eyes are trained on me and her lips are curved into a half-moon smile.
But then her gaze turns to the golem. The playful glimmer vanishes, and her eyes become sad and flat instead. I don't mean to, but I push all the anger I've been feeling lately into my voice, and I yell, "What? Like your dad is better than mine!"
Edya fidgets, but eventually she steps away from my stall, deeper into the market's haze of dust and spices. "I'm sorry!" I call, but she doesn't turn around.
The golem slouches miserably, though it's hard to tell with his body being so deformed. He attempts to rearrange our wares and breaks another clay pot. I mutter threats about hopping onto the nearest caravan and running away to the desert, but we know—you and the golem and I—that I'm not going to do that.
You should be glad I'm not going to do that.
Just after sundown, we trudge home, wheeling our wares behind us. Candlelight flickers through the latticework windows of our hut. The warm orange glow mellows the darkness of the cicada-serenaded night. I leave the wagon outside before ducking through the low door.
"Welcome home, Chaim," you say. The smell of my favorite eggplant dish greets me like a hug. Hunger flares in my stomach.
You're out of the bed today and have cooked, too. It's a rare sight post-accident, after you got your legs crushed under a speeding cart. We sit around the low table, father, son, and the golem I built so I could keep earning money in the marketplace and not end up in an orphanage, thank you very much.
Later, as I clear the dishes, you rest by the fire with your pipe, your bandaged legs stretched out before you. The golem sits on a stool beside you. In the bright heat, he gathers handfuls of melting mud and rebuilds himself so he looks almost human again. So he can keep looking after me, even when I grumble and groan and hiss like an alley cat.
I sense your eyes on me. "He's always acting sour, but don't let that fool you. He's a good kid, isn't he? The best."
You and the golem share a knowing, fond look. I turn back to the water pump to hide my smiling mouth.