And A Child is Born - 8. A Little Death
“I am sorry, mama. I know this is horrible for you, but this isn’t a convenient time.”
“Jimbo, I don’t understand. He was your father. The two of you didn’t set horses all of the time, but he died, and now you say you won’t come to his funeral. What will I say when people ask where you are?”
“Tell them I am in Paris and couldn’t get home.”
“You’re in Paris?”
“Yes, Matan and I are in Paris for the summer. Well, we are traveling between Paris and Brussels.”
Yonatan then heard his mother crying. His heart started aching for the woman who had raised him. She had done the best she could.
“I don’t know what to do. I am here all by myself, and I don’t know what to do about the funeral and the farm. I need you to make some decisions. Your father always made the decisions. Please, come help me.”
“Let me see what I can do. I will call you back. Schedule the funeral for next Monday.”
“Well, I don’t know that next Monday is the best day…..”
“Mother, you asked me to make decisions. I am making them. If you don’t like me deciding things, then there is no reason for me to return to the states. It is the earliest I can get there.”
“You are right, of course. When will you be here? I picked some butterbeans today, and they are right fittin’ this year.”
“I will arrive on Sunday afternoon. Call Mr. Camp, and ask him if he wants to talk with me about purchasing or leasing the farm. If he is not interested, call Mr. Wiggins. We will underwrite the mortgage if needed. You can’t run the farm and it is the middle of the growing season.”
Yonatan hung up the phone and turned to Matan, who was sitting in the kitchen of their Parisian apartment.
“Well, the son-of-a-bitch is dead. They found his body in the back field; apparently, he had a heart attack. I will fly home for the funeral and then get back as soon as I can. I need to let Monsieur Lambert know I will be out for a week.”
“An entire week? If you are going to be gone that long, then I am going with you.”
“I need you to stay here. You may have to fly to Tel Aviv on your own.”
Matan’s eyes widened at the prospect.
“I think I should go with you. You should not have to do this on your own. I insist.”
“When it rains, it fucking pours. Let me get organized, but I am doing this on my own. I need you to stay here to take care of things.”
Just at that moment, Black walked into the kitchen.
“I will make travel arrangements. Green, Pink, and Yellow will stay here.”
“I think I can do this on my own, Black. You don’t need to come with me.”
“Yonatan, I am coming with you. Besides, it will give me time to see Tim.”
That brought a smile to Yonatan’s face.
“Getting horny, huh? You want some of that man-meat? Okay, but it will be a quick trip. We will leave early on Sunday morning and hopefully return on Wednesday or Thursday.”
“You’ve got it, boss.”
Yonatan decided that he could make the necessary calls the next day from his office. Even though he was an intern, staff saw him as their potential boss, the partners treated him as a peer, and Monsieur Lambert kept thanking him for introducing Lee Humbert to him. Monsieur Lambert had a spring in his step that had been missing for many years. Lee was also an intern working in the corporate law division, and Herbert Jenner had agreed to supervise his work for the summer. He had nothing but praise for Lee’s efforts.
Matan called Yonatan at work and asked when Jan and Nash were due to arrive.
“They are due next week. They are flying into Brussels, getting settled there, and then will take the train to Paris. Maybe, I should postpone their arrival for a week. Mr. Arendt is meeting them at the airport and then take them to the apartment. You did right by putting him on a retainer. We have to remind him that he is not to bow to us. It gets embarrassing at times. I think Mr. Cohen told him how much money we have, and now he is almost obsequious in his deference.”
“I think he is proud that he found me and that he is showing deference because of how much money we gave him for maintaining the apartment for all of those years.”
“Well, I am thankful we use a car service because I could see him proudly wearing a chauffer’s uniform while driving a Mercedes to pick us up at the airport. He keeps saying we need a car, but I always have a reason why we don’t need one.”
They both laughed at how Mr. Arendt had joked initially with them about not having enough money for a maid to clean the apartment and then finding out their true wealth. He was so proud to be associated with the family. When he connected with Abraham Emmanuelson, he had cried on their shoulders. He said he had never made much of his life but now saw that his role in life had been to protect the family property for its return to the heir. He called Matan the Prodigal Son, who had come home. Yonatan said he understood the inference, though it wasn’t as clear to Matan and his family.
Yonatan’s work schedule was packed with legal cases that were being reviewed. It was an intense learning curve as Yonatan had only completed his first year of undergraduate school. The attorneys in the firm told him that he would be a star by the time he started at Harvard Law School. As hard as it was, Yonatan made them speak French to him. He and Matan spoke stilted Hebrew at home. Yonatan was insistent that he was going to be multilingual.
Pink was in Tel Aviv surveilling the hospital and the hotel where Yonatan, Matan, and the newborns would stay before flying back to Brussels. Yellow was at the apartment in Brussels and prowled the neighborhood around St. Catherine’s Square, learning the city and the labyrinth of its ancient streets, and who the neighbors were not only in the apartment building but in the neighborhood. He helped Mr. Arendt maintain the apartment though that took very little of his time.
Yonatan and Matan took the train from Paris to Brussels every other Friday afternoon. They left Paris in time to be at their apartment before sunset. They would take a nap before eating a late dinner in the neighborhood. The two men spent Friday night decompressing from their busy internships. They had said they wanted to be challenged, and their mentors took them at their word. Sometimes, they would be found reviewing documents over the weekend, but they preferred to think of it as their time. On Friday, Yonatan took the train by himself as Matan had been in Brussels since the day before. Matan said there was research he had to conduct in Brussels. Green had traveled to Brussels with Matan, and Black traveled with Yonatan. Black and Yonatan were standing at the apartment door joking about their trip when the door opened. Matan was standing in the portal in his loincloth. Black gasped and excused himself, while Yonatan had a broad smile that slowly moved across his face. There were candles lit in the apartment. Matan stripped Yonatan of his work clothes and helped him put on his loincloth. There was a blanket spread on the living room floor with platters of food placed in the center. First, Matan pulled out paint pots, and the two men painted each other. They immediately fell into the reverence of the Indian culture and their personae.
“It has been one year, Degataga, since you took me as your own. Tonight, we celebrate our anniversary.”
They fed each other from the containers of food that Yellow had delivered. There were no utensils, so they used their fingers and pieces of pita bread to scoop up the various foods. There was also a bottle of red wine that they quickly consumed. Their words were few, but the energy between them crackled with intensity.
After eating, Degataga pulled Che Sequah into his arms, and they started kissing. Degataga could smell the unguent, and Che Sequah straddled Yonatan’s hips and lowered himself. Che Sequah hissed about how good it felt. That was the first of several times of making love through the night. Just as dawn was breaking the horizon, they found their way to the shower before crawling into the bed. Degataga pulled Che Sequah to his chest and kissed his shoulder blades.
“I love you more and more each day. We have been so busy, I wasn’t sure you would remember.”
Che Sequah chuckled and said that he would always remember that Friday night. They awoke later in the morning as the smell of coffee invaded their bedroom. Black stood with a tray of mugs filled with coffee.
“Gentlemen, it is time for you to arise. I have called a HazMat squad to clean the living room. Who knew that two Indian braves could wreck an entire room? And it smells like teenage hormones. I sometimes forget that you are still boys.”
Black grinned at Yonatan and Matan.
“Also, you will need to figure out how to get that greasepaint off your faces, bodies, and bedclothes before the Exhibition Committee from the Museum arrives in an hour.”
“Fuck, I forgot.”
Yonatan watched as Matan jumped from the bed and ran into their bath. Black was used to seeing them scurrying around the apartment sans clothes. It had taken Yellow a bit more time to get used to seeing these fellows in the buff.
Black was still holding the tray with the coffee.
“I will take my coffee. Luckily, I don’t have to meet with them.”
Yonatan heard Black clear his throat.
“Do I really?”
“Yes sir, you do. One of the family foundations is co-sponsoring the exhibition, and their attorney will be attending. He will want to meet with you while Matan is showing the curators the artwork. The caterer will be here in thirty minutes to start setting up in the dining room. Also, Mr. Arendt has already arrived in his best black suit. He said that he will serve as the butler for the afternoon. I suggest you let him tell the history of this apartment to the woman writing the exhibition's catalog. He has a fascinating story that will resonate with a lot of older people in Brussels.”
Yonatan wondered if he would ever have a day off from work. Between the internship and the family foundations, he was busy seven days a week. So much for their being a Sabbath of rest and worship. However, he did worship Matan all night long – he liked that worship.
When Mr. Arendt admitted the first person, Yonatan and Matan were dressed and ready to greet her. Matan had mentioned the possibility of an exhibit to the curator in Brussels, and all of a sudden, it was happening. A meeting with two people turned into a meeting with a dozen, and today they were all coming to the apartment. It would be the first time that anyone from the art world had seen this artwork since before the war. Matan was worried that they would decide the paintings and sculpture were not of sufficient merit to be shown.
Most of the people gasped at the beauty of the apartment when Mr. Arendt opened the door and announced them. Yonatan remembered that in their first meeting with Mr. Cohen, he had been told that the apartment was world-class and would be the envy of many people. Mr. Arendt introduced each person as they came through the door. Yonatan chuckled and thought that it would not be any grander at the Palace though this space was much smaller. He now saw it as just where they lived in Brussels and not the opulent space he remembered when visiting for the first time the prior October. His perspective about everything had changed so much in the past year.
Yonatan led people into the dining room, where a repast was laid out on the table. There was an assortment of beverages available. He noticed that for most of the people, their eyes were flickering from painting to painting in the dining room. When everyone had assembled, Matan suggested he give them a tour of the apartment. Yonatan and the lawyer moved to the home office, where they reviewed the paperwork.
“Of course, you want this to be reviewed by your attorney, Monsieur Jenner-Ward.”
“Of course, I will have my father-in-law review it on Monday. I have business out of the country but should return by the end of next week. I do not anticipate any problems.”
They stopped talking when they heard a noise from the hallway. Matan had opened the door to the storage area, which was filled with additional artwork. The museum curators knew of the collection's size, but it was something else seeing it, and the curators were astounded that this work had been hidden for so many years. People were gasping at what was in storage. Yonatan heard Matan ask Mr. Arendt to tell them his story of the apartment and the artwork. They were all amazed at the selflessness of this older gentleman whom they had thought was a mere doorman. Matan walked up to Mr. Arendt, put his arm across his shoulder, and told them that it was because of this man’s generosity of spirit that they were able to see the collection.
“There is one piece not here. It is hanging in my parent’s apartment in Paris. It is a painting of my great-grandparents - Oscar and Rebekah Feldsher. It should be included in the exhibit also since they were the ones who put together this collection. The Nazis destroyed all photographs of them, so the painting is the only way to know what they looked like.”
Everyone returned to the dining room, where Yonatan and Matan encouraged everyone to eat the pastries that had been put out on silver salvers. Matan had the pastries flown in from Vienna, the home of his great grandparents. The caterers had boxes of pastries to send home with each person from the museum. Beautiful satin ribbons were tied around each box. The curators were ecstatic about the exhibit and said that it would be the hit of the holiday season in Brussels. They had agreed that it would open on the first night of Chanukah. The show would be a light to the world about the survival of the Jewish people in the darkest of times.
After the last person left, the caterers packed up boxes of food that would go back to Paris with Matan for the interns at the Musee. Yellow told Matan that he would accompany him to help carry the packages. Black said he needed to pack for the trip to Virginia and suggested Yonatan do the same.
The next morning, the two boys hugged and promised to speak later in the day. Yonatan felt Matan slip something into his coat pocket. He smiled, knowing it was a poem for Yonatan to read on the plane. The traffic was light on Sunday morning as they headed to the airport and they were on the first plane heading to the United States. Yonatan settled himself, asked for a cup of coffee, and pulled out the paper from his pocket. It was the poem “Dirait-On” by Rilke which made Yonatan smile.
Abandon entouré d'abandon,
tendresse touchant aux tendresses ...
C'est ton intérieur qui sans cesse
se caresse, dirait-on;
se caresse en soi-même,
par son propre reflet éclairé.
Ainsi tu inventes le thème
du Narcisse exaucé.”
Yonatan suddenly had a deep need for Matan to be with him. He hadn’t anticipated that something as simple as a poem would make him so emotional. Surely, it wasn’t grief for his father. He had no feelings for his father other than relief that he was dead. No, he knew it was his deep, abiding love of Matan who was a constant presence in his life. How foolish it was thinking he could make this trip on his own.
The plane put down in New York, and from there, Black and Yonatan took a commuter jet to Norfolk. Yonatan said that he would drive to the farm after they landed in Norfolk. His mother was preparing dinner for him. Black had agreed to all of Yonatan’s plans. They both knew that Black would always be just a few minutes away from Yonatan. Yonatan had stopped asking why – it was his life.
As Yonatan pulled into the drive at the farm, it seemed like it had been a lifetime ago since he was last there. Of course, the last time he was there, his father had threatened to kill him. When he knocked on the porch door, his mother came running from the kitchen. She looked the same as always. There was flour on her hands, but that didn’t stop her from hugging Yonatan. She cried as she told him it was so good to have him home.
She laughed and said she was about to put the biscuits in the oven. Yonatan followed her to the kitchen. There were bowls of food on the table. She laughed when Yonatan asked her how many people were coming to dinner.
“It is just the two of us. I have never known how to cook for just one or two.”
“Do you mind if I invite others to join us?”
Yonatan’s mother had a frightened look on her face, then it cleared, and she said it would be nice to have company. Yonatan called Black and told him to be at the house in twenty minutes for dinner. When Yonatan quizzed his mother about her reaction, she related how his father had become even more a recluse in the last year, and she never knew what his mood might be. He could be quarrelsome with even his oldest friends. Most people had started avoiding him.
Black and Tim arrived at the house, and Yonatan introduced them. His mother remembered seeing them but didn’t know their names. As they were eating slices of fresh blackberry pie, Yonatan asked about the funeral arrangements for the next day. She told him about the service and then the burial in the church graveyard.
“Is the funeral home sending a car for us?”
“No, it cost so much money for the rental of the car. I thought we could just drive over.”
Yonatan looked at Black, who discretely nodded his head.
“What about music?”
“Well, the woman who plays for services wanted $150 to play for the funeral. I figured we could do without music.”
Again, Yonatan looked at Black.
“Who is giving the eulogy?”
Yonatan’s mother looked uncomfortable. She busied herself and asked if anyone wanted more pie and coffee. Black grinned and said he would take seconds of both.
“You are the best cook. Gosh, I miss this good food.”
“Where do you live, Mr. Black?”
“I am in Europe with Yonatan and Matan. We are in Paris during the week and in Brussels at the weekend.”
Yonatan’s mother looked confused.
“Mother, we are in Europe for the summer. I told you. Matan and I have internships. Black works for us. Tim lives in Portsmouth.”
“I guess it is just too much for my old brain to comprehend. I get confused, sometimes.”
“I understand, mother. Now, I was asking you about the eulogy. Is the preacher giving the eulogy?”
“Actually, I thought you would do it.”
Black looked at Yonatan and tried not to snicker. But then Black saw the look on Yonatan’s face; he was glad that he had been able to control his emotions as Yonatan had lost all color in his face. Black quickly jumped from his chair and knelt beside Yonatan’s chair, where he wrapped Yonatan in his arms and slowly stroked his back.
“You’re okay, Yonatan. You’re okay. Stay with me, Yonatan. Stay with me.”
Yonatan’s body was shaking, and even though his eyes were open, they were unfocused. Yonatan’s mother and Tim sat, not saying a word. Black continued to hold Yonatan and speak quietly to him.
Black noticed that Yonatan’s respiration had slowly returned to normal. His eyes slowly regained focus; Yonatan looked around the table and asked if everything was okay. He noticed that Black was kneeling beside his chair.
“You were having an event, Yonatan. You are okay. It was not bad at all.”
Yonatan’s mother sat in amazement after observing her son go into a trance and that Black knew precisely what to do. She had no idea what had just happened. Black knew that Yonatan was not at baseline. He had Yonatan match his respiration and mopped his brow with a napkin, yet he was still medically fragile. Yonatan was clammy from the perspiration.
“Drink some water, Yonatan. That will help.”
Yonatan picked up the glass and took a sip. He blinked his eyes a couple of times and then turned to his mother.
“I apologize. Did you answer when I asked who was giving the eulogy tomorrow?”
Yonatan’s mother looked at Black for a cue. He shook his head.
“I wasn’t sure what you wanted, but I will have the preacher give one.”
“That is a good idea, mother. Tell him to make it short, very short. Plus, if he does a salvation call during the funeral, I will walk out. Tell him he doesn’t want me walking out in the middle of the funeral.”
“Why don’t I have you call him tonight and talk to him. I think men should handle these things. That is why I wanted you here to manage everything.”
Yonatan called the preacher and was adamant about his requirements for the service. The preacher was unhappy but acquiesced. Who was this young whippersnapper telling him what to do? But he promised to do as Yonatan demanded.
The next morning was a hot sunny day in southside Virginia. They ate breakfast under the oak tree in the side yard. They had some time before leaving for the funeral, so they sat under the tree and enjoyed the morning air. They were in the exact place where Yonatan had dreamed that his father had tried to shoot Matan. Finally, it was time to dress, and Yonatan pulled out the suit that Matan had packed for him. It was a beautifully cut Italian suit in black linen. The crisp white shirt was the perfect compliment. Matan had found the perfect black necktie for Yonatan to wear. When Yonatan pulled out the black silk socks from his suitcase, he laughed and said he was still a Virginian and hence forewent wearing socks of any kind. Luckily, Matan had packed Yonatan’s Wayfarer sunglasses. His blond hair was swept back from his forehead. He looked like a European playboy. He only needed a cigarette and a cocktail, and the picture would have been complete.
Fifteen minutes before the service, a Black Cadillac from the funeral home drove into the yard at the farmhouse. Yonatan and his mother climbed in, and when the car pulled onto the road, there was a line of cars waiting to follow them to the church. Yonatan was unclear who was in the cars, and his mother said she didn’t know either because the pallbearers were meeting them at the church. When they arrived at the country church, the Cadillac pulled up to the front sidewalk and stopped. Yonatan watched as the other cars pulled in behind them, and people started getting out. There were Mr. Cohen, Ayal, and Zeke. In the next car were Todd, Erick, Tayloe, and Eron. The next car held Pate and Timmy. Professor Antonucci and a companion were in the next vehicle. Finally, Black, Tim, Jeremiah, and Bobby were in the last vehicle.
They all lined up and waited for Yonatan and his mother to exit their vehicle, and they followed them into the church. Someone had set aside several rows for family, and Yonatan’s logical family filled the seats. Yonatan yearned for Matan to be by his side. Why had he made his partner stay in France? He realized just how dependent he was on Matan to maintain his sanity, and he was on the verge of losing it again. He had not had a pseudo-seizure in several months, and as soon as he was back at his parent’s home, he had one. Matan would know what to do. Hopefully, he wouldn’t have one in the middle of the funeral. At least, Black was there to help if needed.
Just as the service was about to start, there was a slight disturbance at the back of the church. Yonatan turned to see Black talking into a phone. The preacher was looking at Black, who shook his head. The preacher motioned for the organist to play another song, and this was followed by yet another hymn. The clock was ticking, and Yonatan didn’t know why the service had not started, and he was growing increasingly anxious. He turned to signal Black to help him when he saw Matan and his parents walk into the church. They were followed by the Emmanuelsons, the Reynolds, Max Lambert, and Lee Humbert. Black was grinning as he shook hands with Green. Matan took his place beside Yonatan. His suit matched Yonatan’s, which made Matan smile. Yonatan grabbed Matan’s arm, leaned in, and kissed him on the cheek in front of the congregation.
Black gave the preacher a cue, and the service started. This small country church had never seen such a gathering. As requested, the funeral was short, and no one could understand why Jimbo Ward had such a big grin on his face the entire time. The congregation followed the casket to the graveyard behind the church, where appropriate scriptures were said before the preacher said a final prayer. Yonatan’s mother thought that having a tent over the gravesite cost too much money, so they were standing in the intense sun. They were glad to head indoors, where the church women had prepared a reception in the Sunday School building. Everyone loved the homemade food. Yonatan, his mother, and his extended family were first through the buffet line. Yonatan knew that this funeral would be the talk of the community for many years.
Black arranged for the family to have use of the space for the rest of the afternoon.
Yonatan was holding onto Matan. “How is it that you are here? I was sitting in the pew, thinking about how much I needed you, and then you walked in the door.”
“Well, Black telephoned me after what happened last night. I called dad, and he said we had to be here for you. The hardest part was arranging for a car from the airport in Emporia to the church. I swore everyone to secrecy in case something happened and we didn’t make it. Anyway, we all made it to support you. I love you, and all of these people love you, and don’t you ever forget that.”
Music by: Morten Lauridsen
You probably have a crazy and hectic schedule and find it hard to keep up with everything going on. We get it, because we feel it too. Signing up here is a great way to keep in touch and find something relaxing to read when you get a few moments to spare.
Create an account or sign in to comment
You need to be a member in order to leave a comment
Create an account
Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!Register a new account
Already have an account? Sign in here.Sign In Now