Michal's Destiny, p.8Roberta Kagan
They walked to the hotel and checked in. The desk clerk gave Michal a sly smile, and she turned away, embarrassed. He is thinking about what will happen between Taavi and me when we go to our room, Michal thought, and even though she and Taavi were married, she felt ashamed.
They walked up two flights of stairs and then found the room. Taavi turned the key in the lock and opened the door, allowing Michal to enter first.
Michal glanced around the hotel room. To her, it looked like a place for sleeping, and also for doing shameful things. There was nothing there but a bed, a small dresser, and a nightstand. Down the hall were two bathrooms, one for men the other for women. It was strange and a little awkward to be confronted by the sight of the bed immediately upon their arrival. The room was pleasant enough, with matching quilt and drapes in a colorful floral pattern. Unlike the shelter, the temperature was perfect, not too hot or cold, and the room had a faint smell of bleach. At least it was clean.
Taavi set their luggage on the floor. Then he sat on the edge of the bed.
“We can lock the door to this room. Nobody will be able to get in here. Our things will be safe. We can leave them and go out. Would you like to go and have dinner?”
A restaurant, a hotel, a city, and a new husband were a lot for Michal to digest. She shrugged her shoulders, then nodded her head.
Taavi cocked his head and looked into her eyes. He raised her face to meet his.
“What’s wrong?” he said, his voice soft and kind.
“I don’t know,” she said and felt the tears slide down her cheeks. “I’m just.…”
“You’ve been through a lot. I understand, Michal. We can go slowly.”
“But we only have this one night together of privacy. Then we have to go back to the shelter until we can find an apartment. I feel like we are forced to consummate the marriage tonight. I feel so much pressure.…” She gestured to the bed with her hand. “And I feel so afraid, and so … I don’t know.”
“Shaaa. It’s all right. We don’t have to do anything now except have a wonderful dinner. Let’s go and enjoy some good food. It’s been a long time since we have been able to do that.” He kissed her forehead and then smiled into her eyes.
She smiled back. He was kind and gentle. What was she so afraid of? “Can I go to the bathroom and get cleaned up a little first?”
“Of course. There’s no hurry.”
“I want to take a bath,” Michal said. It cost extra money to use the bathtub and hot water, but Taavi didn’t mind. She told him how much she loved the feeling of being clean. Even though most people were quite satisfied with a weekly bath, Michal had always bathed more often, twice, sometimes three times if she was able.
“Yes, certainly, go ahead and I’ll pay the clerk for your bath. In fact, I will do the same for myself. I’ll go the men’s bath and you go to the ladies. Then we’ll meet back here and go out for a nice meal.”
“All right,” she said. He was trying to make himself as attractive as possible for her and she appreciated his efforts.
It had been a long time since Michal had enjoyed such delicious food. Everything was served on beautiful china plates. They had brisket and latkes with applesauce and sour cream. Taavi ordered a bottle of sweet red wine. It tasted similar to the wine she’d drunk when she’d celebrated holidays with Avram. The wine warmed her throat and eased her tension. Taavi made her laugh and she began to feel comfortable, warm, and safe.
Taavi put his arm around Michal’s neck as they walked back to the hotel room. Such open displays of affection were foreign to her, but the alcohol and the laughter had brought down her guard. She was far away from everyone and everything familiar. This was to be a new life, a new way of living. Timidly, Michal leaned her head on Taavi’s shoulder.
When Taavi closed the door to the hotel room and turned to Michal, she began to feel the effects of the wine wearing off. She was shy and frightened again. It wasn’t so much the guilt she felt about Avram as it was the Cossack. If only she could get his face out of her mind and the terrible feeling of his intrusion out of her body. Taavi seemed oblivious to her trepidation. He walked over to her and took her into his arms, kissing her tenderly. She liked him, cared for him deeply, but her body refused to cooperate and she froze, unbending, unyielding. Gently, he tried to remove her coat, but her arms stiffened and he was unable to help her. She didn’t want to resist. She wanted a home and a husband; she wanted Taavi.
“It’s all right, Michal. We’re married. You’re my wife. I will spend my life trying to make you happy. Let me get close to you. Please.” He touched her shoulder. “Please, stop fighting me,” he whispered and began kissing her again. Her lips would not respond. She knew she was pushing him away from her, but she couldn’t yield. The thought of being naked, of being touched, her damaged body being explored, sent a shiver up her spine.
“What is it, Michal? You don’t care for me? I thought you did,” he said, backing away and sitting on the bed. She could see that she’d hurt his pride. As her husband, he had the right to force her to comply with her wifely duties, but she could see that he had no such intentions. “If you don’t want me, then you don’t have to worry, I won’t touch you.” He turned away and faced the wall, refusing to look at her. The room was silent, but in the silence, Michal could hear her own soul crying out with deafening screams. But she continued to quietly get ready for bed.
There were so many things she wished she could say. Her heart was breaking; she was losing a man she cared for so deeply, but how could she explain what she was feeling? How could she tell him that she could not forget the horror of the day of the pogrom when her body had been violated? How could she make him understand that she felt unclean, that she felt she might never be clean again? It was a filth that no visit to a Mikva could ever wash clean.
They lay on opposite sides of the bed. Michal shivered as she listened to Taavi breathing. There were so many things she yearned to tell him, so much she wished she could find the words to explain. But her voice had left her; she couldn’t speak. Instead, she listened to him until his breath grew slow and steady and she knew he’d fallen asleep. Then she buried her face in her pillow and began to cry softly.
Sometime during the night, Michal drifted into the nothingness of sleep.
In the morning, Michal awakened to find Taavi gone. Her heart pounded hard in her chest. Was he gone forever? Had he left her? After all, she did deserve to be abandoned after her behavior last night. But now, what would she do? Where would she go? A woman alone in such a big and dangerous city. If she had to get a job, she had no real skills. Her hand caressed the money she had buried deep in her bra, the money Bepa had given her. It might be her saving grace after all. Michal’s eyes fell upon the pillow where Taavi’s head had left an indentation. She touched the place where he’d slept. He had meant so well, paying for this fancy hotel room, and taking her out for that overpriced dinner. There was no doubt in her mind that Taavi loved her. So why couldn’t she accept the fact that her life had changed and Taavi was her husband now? She owed him the same wifely duties that she’d allowed Avram. It was only fair, only right. Now, he’d left her, alone in a hotel room, without a friend or job, or any place to go because she had denied him. Michal bit her lower lip. The only thing she might be able to do was find a job as an assistant to a midwife. Bepa had taught her enough to allow her to be of some help. But where would she find a midwife willing to take her on as an employee? A shiver ran up her spine. She should have stayed with Bepa. Did she have enough money to travel back to Siberia? If she could get back, then she would return to living and working with Bepa. Michal reached into her bra to count the money. She had not counted it before. How foolish of her. Somehow she believed that she would never need that money. Taavi would take care of her. They would marry and have children. That was how a good Jewish woman was raised to live. The idea of depending upon herself had never entered her mind. Just as she was about to pull the cash
“I brought us some breakfast,” he said.
She was relieved that he had returned, but she felt terrible about her behavior the previous night. She’d denied him his right as a husband. And she knew that her body would not allow her to succumb to him even now.
“Thank you.” Her voice was small as she took the coffee. She took a sip. Of course it was turnip coffee, but at least it was hot.
He smiled. “I found a bakery down the street. I brought some strudel. It’s vinegar raisin strudel.” He pulled a square of cake from the bag and took a bite. “It’s pretty good. There’s almost no sugar, but the raisins help to make it sweet.” He handed her the bag.
“I’m sorry about last night, Taavi.”
He shrugged. “I wouldn’t want you to do something you didn’t want to do. I’m not a desperate man. There are plenty of women who would be more than willing; in fact, they would want to be intimate with me. If I have to force you, I would rather not make love to you at all.”
Make love? She’d never heard such a word. Intercourse was expected of a good wife. It was to be endured for the importance of for producing children. Making love?
“I didn’t mean to act that way,” she said.
“Forget it,” he said. “I’d rather not talk about it. I won’t try to touch you again.”
Taavi sat on the other side of the bed and sipped his coffee. Instead of looking at Michal, he was gazing out the window. There was so much she wished she could say, yet her throat was closed and as dry as sandpaper. All she could do was watch him in silence.
After he’d finished eating, Taavi turned to Michal. “I’m going to the carpentry shop to let them know that I’ve arrived in Berlin and am ready to start working. Then I will look for an apartment where we can stay. For today, I will drop you back to the shelter. I’m hoping to have a permanent residence for us by tonight. Once I have everything set up, I’ll come and get you.”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she followed him out to the street. He did not walk beside her.
Taavi left Michal at the shelter with all of their possessions. She wondered if he would return. She couldn’t help but understand if he didn’t. What a foolish woman she was. Women had endured far worse than she. Was she so childish that she couldn’t overcome a tragedy that took less than an hour of her life? There was a very good chance that she could lose Taavi over this. Michal sat on a new cot that she had been assigned. She had no place to go and nothing to do. Then, she saw Yana. She remembered her from the boarding house. Yana was sitting on another cot rolling a small silver tube in her fingers.
“Hello,” Michal said from across the room. “Yana, right?”
“You remembered my name.”
“I’m sorry. I’m ashamed. I’ve forgotten yours.”
“Yes, that’s right. The biblical name. I thought it was something like Sarah or Esther. A biblical name. But Michal … now she was a lofty woman, mother of King Solomon.” Yana laughed.
“It is a biblical name, but Batsheva was the mother of King Solomon.”
“I don’t believe in any of that nonsense. But Michal is a pretty name.”
“My husband doesn’t believe in the Bible either,” Michal said, shrugging her shoulders.
“Would you like to see something beautiful?” Yana asked.
“Look at this.”
Michal looked at the silver tube with a thick red tip. “What is it?”
“What do you do with it?”
“Wear it on your mouth. Here, watch.” Yana put the lipstick on her mouth. Then she ran her fingers over her lips and smeared a little of the red sticky stuff on her cheeks and rubbed hard until it was absorbed into her skin, leaving her face as if she had a natural healthy glow.
“You look beautiful.”
“Would you like to try it?”
“Oh, I don’t know. In my home town it is vanity for a woman to paint her face.”
“Come on. You’re in Berlin now. It can’t hurt to try.”
Michal nodded and Yana laughed. “You’re a sheltered one, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Michal said, straightening her back.
“Please, don’t be offended. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Let’s try this lipstick on you.”
“All right,” Michal said, shaking her head. It was hard for her to believe that she had agreed to wear cosmetics. Three years ago, Michal could not have imagined that she would be sitting in a shelter in Berlin smearing red paint on her lips.
While Michal waited in the shelter, Taavi rented a small apartment in an old rundown tenement building just a few blocks from the shelter. The apartment had three rooms: a kitchen with a table and two chairs, a bedroom, and a sitting room. The bathroom was down the hall. The hall smelled of garlic sausages and sauerkraut. Children with tangled hair, dirty faces, and running noses played in the streets outside. Women with deep wrinkles and worn clothing waited in lines trying to purchase whatever foodstuffs their husbands’ small salaries would afford them. Due to the inflation, prices changed within hours. In the morning, milk or bread might be a million marks, but by nightfall it could be two million. Taavi began working at the small carpentry shop where his friend from Siberia had sent him. The boss, Moise Rivesman, was a demanding employer. Taavi understood how hard it was for Rivesman to afford to keep him on. There were few sales. Far too many people had begun purchasing furniture from factories. It was less expensive and served the same purpose. Taavi would have easily been qualified to work at one of the factories, but they did not employ Jews. Sometimes rich clients would come from other parts of Germany and even Austria to purchase lovely pieces, which Taavi spent hours slaving over. Other times, Taavi made simpler pieces for the Jewish clientele who lived right in town, which he delivered by horse and cart. Nearly two months had passed and he had not attempted to consummate his marriage after the first time. His pride and ego were bruised, and he swore he would never be that vulnerable to a woman again. When they finished work, Taavi and Lev, his friend and coworker, would go out and spend their money at the taverns. Sometimes they would visit the Jewish prostitutes who stood on the docks.
One night when Taavi was quite drunk, Lev suggested that they leave the Jewish ghetto and go out into the real city to drink at one of the cabarets.
“There are things going on there like you have never seen before.”
“Like things that are different. There are famous psychics that can tell you the future, and sex shows … crazy wild stuff like you have never imagined.”
Taavi cocked his head “I don’t know. We’re Jews. You think it’s a good idea?” He was quite drunk. “We could get ourselves into trouble.”
“Ehh, don’t be silly. Why not? Let’s go and see what there is to see, huh? We don’t have to tell them we’re Jews. I’ll change my name. I’ll say my name is Stefan. Come on, it will be fun.”
“Maybe tomorrow,” Taavi said, but he began to think about it. He couldn’t help being a little fascinated by the idea. Sex shows? What was a sex show? He’d had quick sex with the prostitutes against the walls in the alleyways, but he’d never even really seen a woman’s naked body. The idea ticked in his mind as he walked home.
Michal was awake. “You’re very late,” she said, “I was worried.”
He shrugged. He was glad that she was worried.
“You smell like you’ve been drinking.”
“I work hard. I deserve a release at the end of the day,” he said.
“I don’t want to see you fall to ruin.”
“I know. I wish I could be.…” She took a plate out of the stove. “I kept your dinner warm.”
“I don’t care about your cooking for me,” he said, flinging the plate to the floor. He was suddenly furious, fueled by words he’d kept buried inside of him. He pushed her onto the table. She was crying, but he didn’t stop. She turned her head to look away from him as he forced himself inside of her.
When it was over, Michal stood up and straightened her dress.
“I’ll be leaving here in the morning,” she said, having no idea where she would go. Then she went into the bedroom, slammed the door, locked it, and wept.
The following day when Michal arose, Taavi had already left for work. She dressed warmly and walked to the shelter. The only person she knew was Yana. She asked for her when she arrived, but no one knew where Yana had gone. When Michal left her apartment, she’d felt brave. But here, amongst strangers, she began to feel lost and afraid. It was hard not to notice the men gawking at her. The rooms in the shelter were cold, and she knew that she could only stay for a short time. Then where would she go? What would she do? All she could do was take a train back to Siberia all alone. And she wasn’t even sure that the money she had from Bepa would be enough to get her all the way back to Russia. Besides, Michal had never been on her own in her entire life. Someone had always been there for her; someone else had always been in charge. The idea was terrifying. When she thought about the previous night, she hated Taavi. But he was right. He was her husband and she had been denying him his rights for far too long. Perhaps she should go back to the apartment and swallow her pride, then they could try to come to some agreement.
A biting wind slapped her face as Michal walked back to the apartment dejected. She despised herself for her weakness. If only she didn’t feel so lost and empty, so powerless. The only thing to do was make things right with Taavi. Just thinking about him made her angry, angrier at herself than at him. The thought of sitting alone in the apartment and waiting for Taavi to come home was unbearable. It was a waste of money to stop at a café and have a cup of tea, but she decided that she deserved to splurge. She entered a corner café, where she sat down at a table for two. Across the aisle sat a young mother with a boy who looked to be about three or four years old. The child had wild hair like a flaming torch and a personality to match. His mother seemed exhausted and at her wits end, as she yelled at the boy to return to his seat and be still. However, the child didn’t listen and dashed through the walkways between the tables, as if he were running a relay race. Just as the boy rushed by Michal, he tripped and almost fell forward. Michal caught him before he hit the ground. His mother rushed over and grabbed her son.
Michal's Destiny by Roberta Kagan / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes