Why would someone like this rent a room from a blind man? The answer can perplex anyone and can make anyone laugh and fear at the same time... especially a Jew. From the author's larger work, "A Rose From the Mines of Timnah."
Torrance CA, September 20, 2001
My eyes laugh and weep from a metaphorical opiate, my brother. It defies reason. My heart sings with rhythms of love mingled with sorrow reminiscent of the moror of Pesach.1 You must think me mad saying so because you live and pray near the calamity where Sheol2 swallowed those towers. Our enemies have returned. This time they haven’t only attacked ‘Eretz Yisrael.3 They attacked humanity. We can no longer dismiss their crimes as an internal intifada.4
O Shlomo, I feel hope more than anyone in the world and may our fathers forgive me for it. I’m not sure if you can. Perhaps you will never speak to me again after reading my story.
How shall I tell how thirteen years ago my Hadassah and her friend Genevieve danced hand-in-hand around my blood spattered broomstick of a Chrysler Imperial with a rhyme that little children sing? I heard it many times, dismissing it as a sweet song of childlike innocence. But I will never listen to that rhyme the same way again:
Ring around the Rosies,
Pockets full of posies;
We all fall down
Yes, Shlomo, I do associate those towers with those pairs of exclamation marks. I’m not sure if I can properly express the culmination of all those years leading up to what unfolded from those attacks. Was it a prophecy beyond our prophets? Was it a spell? Was it the opening of the jaws of Dante’s Hell to swallow us all in our nightmarish illusions?
Or maybe I’m just mad. Shlomo, I wish you could relate to me in these matters as a human if not as an American. I weep whenever I watch those incredible firemen swap buckets of God knows what in the desolation of Ground Zero with the resoluteness of pall bearers who bear away their dead. Under shadows of shard and smoke by day and glare of floodlight by night, they keep their flinty faces to their work till they bear away the last nugget of debris, even if they must work forever. We had scraped the sky too many years. Today the sky scrapes us.
But I can’t shake thinking about the rose in the context of these crimes against us, how it echoes in verses from Shir Hashirim5 we sing for lovers in that song, K’Shoshana bin Hachokhim.6 Have you pondered anything like the beauty amid thorns in our own Chavetzelet?7 I fear the Messianists don’t understand. I fear our Chasidim.8 don’t either. From what else did we find our current of sacrifice we still honor in our Siddurim9 that makes the rose so pertinent that it inspires us to write posies to the dead as if a Kaddish10 isn’t good enough?
Thirteen years ago Hadassah and Genevieve danced thirteen times around my rose bush after which Hadassah sat transfixed at Genevieve who uttered over and over, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose…” She seemed like she didn’t want to stop just like those firemen at Ground Zero didn’t want to stop. I stood as one dumb, taking in the strange scene till I ventured to ask a question. “Hadassah,” I said, “What are you two doing?”
“Genevieve is unlocking the magic of the rose,” she said.
“The magic? Hadassah…”
“What business do we have with this magic? Isn’t God enough?”
“But we could do so much good.”
“There is so much danger in it, Hadassah. Look at me. I’m thirty three years old with too much to lose. And above all I don’t want to lose you. Believe me, daughter, I would spare you the things that come with magic. It’s better for you to spend time with Torah11 studies. You must fill yourself with Torah before you begin to approach such things. You’re scarcely old enough for Bat Mitzvah.”12
Genevieve’s mantra faded into whispers. Genevieve must have been only twelve, not much more than a year older than my Hadassah, but emanating the intoxicating perfume of young womanhood. Her breasts and hips were already filling for the time of love and childbearing. Her hair and eyes framed a sensual demeanor as dangerous as her incantation, a beauty that screamed, “Jail bait.” This Genevieve Augert, the girl down the street, mystical and haunting… I had wondered what kind of woman she might become. Perhaps she was more inclined to occult degrees than academic degrees. Hadassah loved her. I had often thought to take Hadassah away from her friend but feared to lose my daughter full of smiles and curly caramel locks. What would you do in my position, Shlomo?
But I did not forbid their friendship. In retrospect, I believe I did the right thing. When Genevieve began to come down to planet Earth from her otherworldliness, she smiled like one who knew something I did not while unnerving me with her penetrating gaze. She seemed to buoy upon an intoxicating madness and I doubted what all this might have done to Hadassah.
“Ben,” a man’s voice called from next door. Genevieve’s eyes followed. “The morning feels beautiful doesn’t it?”
“Yes, Mr. Carmichael, it does,” Genevieve said, jumping in front of me before I could answer. Her smile had not faded. But her intoxicating aura seemed to waft away from me when she ran to him with the girlishness you would expect for a girl her age.
“Ah, Louis,” I said. “I’m grateful that you have chosen to show your face.”
Louis laughed. “Most people are at church this morning. I suppose you’re not one of them.”
“Why would I go there? I am a Jew.”
“O yeah. I forgot. Your sabbath is the same as mine.”
“Beginning Friday night?”
“You are Jewish? A Falasha?”
“What’s a Falasha?”
“Jewish Africans: some still live in Ethiopia and Somalia.”
“Really? No. I’m not that.”
“A Seventh-Day Adventist, then? Adventists are special people.”
“No, I’m not a Seventh-Day Adventist. I go to the Church of Christ, Seventh Day.”
“I never heard of such a church.”
“You did now, friend. You did now. Perhaps you can pay us a visit.”
“Hi, Sugar,” Hadassah said.
Sugar perked up her ears and looked up toward her master. He offered no command and so stood at her master’s side.
“Sugar is a working dog, Hadassah,” I said.
“Sugar’s a sweet working dog, Ben,” Louis said. “It’s okay, Sugar. I’ll just sit down here and then you can pet Sugar. Your father is right, Hadassah. You should ask before you pet a working dog.”
Louis sat at the table on his old wooden porch. The September sun had already withered the grass. Sweat beaded on Louis’ chocolate skin beneath the violet shadow of the overhang, a shadow too warm to be blue. Louis’ gaze seemed frozen forward behind his colored glasses despite the heat. He turned his head toward nobody. His shades hid the scars a cruel judge had ordered Korea to pay in exchange for his eyes for his service in the Army.
“How are you, Mr. Carmichael?” Genevieve asked, reaching to embrace him.
“I’m real fine, Genevieve,” Louis said. “I always welcome your hugs. What’s that you’re wearing? It smells kind of like cinnamon.”
“Frankincense? I didn’t know frankincense smelled like that.”
“It does when it’s an essential oil. It smells like lemon when it’s burned. It’s a clean smell.”
“Does it make you feel like praying? The priests in the temple used it, didn’t they?”
“They did,” I said.
“I love the smell of frankincense,” Genevieve said. “It makes me want to pray and dream.”
“Dream?” Louis asked. “For me, dreams are only dark hauntings from my past. Better to feed from the Word of God.”
“I consider it a privilege to dream just like it’s a privilege to pray.”
“One day you’ll understand that dreams are all just illusions to ignore, Genevieve. Ben, you know Genevieve is a member of my church too?”
“You don’t seem to share her mystical proclivities,” I said.
“What do I need with mysticism, man? One day Jesus will give me my eyes back.”
“There’s more than one way to see,” Genevieve said.
“What do you know about that, girl? You’re only twelve and have always been sighted. You should be learning sensible things.”
“I consider dreaming to be a sensible thing to do.”
“You better be careful, Genevieve. You might let in the devil.”
“Then God should not have made us to be dreamers.”
Louis sighed, shaking his head in disapproval. “Ben, girls, would you all like some iced herbal tea?”
“Herbal?” I asked. “You make a special tea?”
“It’s chamomile, peppermint, and alfalfa; better for you than that instant junk they sell at the store. I make a pitcher in the evening. By now it should be nice and mellow. Genevieve, would you be so kind as get the pitcher and the tumblers? I think you know where they are.”
“Coming up. Come on, Hadassah.”
“Have you made a decision on how you’re going to vote yet?” I asked. “We haven’t seen a three-way race like this since George Wallace formed his own party.”
“That Ross Perot talks a good talk,” Louis said. “The others should give a listen. But I don’t think he stands a chance against Dukakis or Bush. Can you believe that Dan Quayle? I don’t understand that choice at all. I really don’t.”
“Who are you going to vote for?”
“Me? Voting’s no business of mine.”
“You seem to follow the election closely, overly so for someone who doesn’t vote.”
“Why should I vote? The parties are already decided before voters even get a chance. Whether Republican or Democrat, the Illuminati has already determined who gets into the election in the first place.”
“The Illuminati? Louis, you actually believe that nonsense?”
“Benjamin Aryeh, we’re all chasing a satanic Pied Piper to perdition. If I vote for anyone, I give my stamp of approval on what’s already decided. No matter who wins, I’ll have blood on my hands. God’s people got no business casting a vote in such a crooked system.”
“O that’s ridiculous.”
“Believe it, man. Ronald Reagan had his Bohemian Grove. George Bush is a Freemason. The kingmakers all work through these secret societies.”
“Louis, you actually believe the secret societies control the world?”
“No. The ones who control the world also control the secret societies. It’s been that way for a long time. You heard about the Protocols, haven’t you?”
“The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.”
“O come on, Louis. Those are proven anti-Semitic forgeries. Who’s been feeding you this nonsense?”
“I apologize, man. I didn’t intend to offend your Jewish heritage. I don’t think the Protocols are about Jews at all. I think another party pretending to be Jews wrote that agenda.”
“More likely they were intended to just stir up more of Russia’s many pogroms.”
“I can see why you’d think so. Lyndon LaRouche thinks differently.”
“O yes. LaRouche. I hope you aren’t wasting your money on him. He really charges a hefty price for his magazines, you know. Four hundred fifty dollars for a year’s subscription sounds like price gouging to me.”
“I can’t spend money on him, Ben. I’m on disability. If I didn’t have people from the church helping, this porch wouldn’t even get painted. They help with the garden too.”
Genevieve and Hadassah returned with the pitcher of tea and laid out sparkling Plexiglas tumblers on the gray wooden table next to Louis whose eternal stare warmed with a smile at their girlish giggles. Hadassah held each tumbler as Genevieve poured, Genevieve’s hair flopping girlishly onto the scant condensate that had formed upon the chilled pitcher leaving brush marks in place of the fog. I thanked my daughter for the glass she offered me and tasted its aromatic sweetness. “Ooh, that’s nice,” I said.
“Good, huh?” Louis asked, visibly pleased at my newly found pleasure.
“Perhaps I should grow some herbs of my own. I mostly grow roses and calla lilies. Kinneret and I love those Chrysler Imperials when their deep red flowers pop out.”
“I don’t grow roses, Ben. Why would I tend to a thorny plant when I can’t enjoy anything but the smell? I use touch a lot when it comes to caring for plants. Color has long faded into a vagueness I can’t comprehend well anymore.”
“I can only imagine.”
“I have a sister who grows roses. She has one she likes that she calls a Sterling Silver rose. She says it’s silvery blue. But her next door neighbor hates it. She said it looks like death.”
“How does she know what death looks like?”
Louis shrugged. “I grow food in my garden: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, carrots, even some potatoes. When you’re on disability, you really need a garden.”
“How do you know when your tomatoes are ready?”
“They soften when they ripen and easily come loose from their stems. They smell different too. When you lose your eyes you pay a lot more attention to your other senses.”
“I’m happy you didn’t lose hope when you did.”
“I did, Ben. You have no idea how I had to learn hope all over again. And you know something? When I found it I realized I had no idea what hope was in the first place.”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“All right, I can dig why you don’t. Let me ask you a question, Hadassah. How do you hope?”
“I hope for friends.”
“Genevieve, how do you hope?”
“I hope for the divine.”
“See, Ben? I approached hope the same way these girls do when I had my eyes. Look at how they answered my question. When I asked it, they didn’t tell me how to make hope something real, but to just state an object to hope for, you know what I’m saying?”
“I think I do. How would you approach that question for yourself now?”
“I hope because the Word speaks to my heart… the Word, man. That Bible of mine is in Braille.13 But it’s the most precious possession I have. It inspires me. I draw hope out of that inspiration.”
“That makes sense. I draw hope out of the inspiration of life itself, especially my family.”
“So if you lost your wife and daughter, would you also lose hope?”
I looked away, not daring to admit the obvious. My breath desisted from entering into me as if I was one unworthy of wisdom. I said, “I don’t know, Louis. I really can’t know what would happen.”
“If I lost my Braille Bible, it would be a loss. But I could eventually obtain another and it wouldn’t change the Word of God. Heaven and Earth will pass away. But God’s Word won’t pass away.”
My gut wrenched with revulsion at his apparent attempt to proselytize. I looked out upon the fiery asphalt street and hit my tongue again with mild liquid sweetness and my nose with herbal fragrance to cover over my inability to answer. Louis had taken hold of something that lasted beyond generations, something better than I had done. I felt embarrassment and self reproach. Here I had told Hadassah how she must be full of Torah. But I keenly sensed I hadn’t done that myself. Besides, Genevieve’s aspirations for the divine seemed to derive from her dreaming proclivities and I couldn’t relate to that. I recalled briefly my most vivid dreams before dismissing them like I had dismissed them too often. Knowing my own hypocrisy, how could I forbid Hadassah from associating with Genevieve?
It was perhaps at that moment when I made a fatal decision. Not only would I allow Hadassah’s association, I decided to pay a visit to Louis’ church one day and to listen to my own dreams more closely. Genevieve’s aspirations for the divine weren’t extinguished by her dreams but seemed to be inspired by them. Why should my case be so different?
But I questioned my commitments. Did I really aspire to divine things or had I been fooling myself all along? This, Shlomo, I had to take time to assess. Because of my association with Louis, divinity such as I had not imagined divinity to be found us sooner than any of us expected. In fact, divinity turned my life and the lives of everyone around me upside down, and Louis was no exception. In retrospect, Torah means more to me now than ever. God means more than ever God did before. I’m no more Christian now than I ever was, despite what I had pretended to do. But those thirteen years that followed changed us all forever and led to a climax amid the catastrophe that has now come upon America and the world.
But, Shlomo, I cannot attribute to my own decision a visitation for which neither I nor my family had asked, one which I believe was more fatal than anything till recently. Like the dance Genevieve and Hadassah performed in play, this one would take place between people who gathered around the same rose. My wife Kinneret spent perhaps fifteen minutes in conversation with a strange and mysterious woman. I remained inside when they spoke. But when Kinneret came in to speak to me, her eyes seethed with flames of wrath.
“Kinneret,” I asked. “What has come over you?”
“That woman… one pretentious woman who thinks she knows everything.”
“Who was she, Kinneret?”
“She calls herself ‘Lovey’. I think she made up that name. What parent has ever named a child that way?”
“You might be surprised at the goofy names people give to their children. But I doubt if that’s what upset you so much. Tell me what happened out there.”
“The woman walked in from off the street to look at our roses. I was taken aback at her brazenness that she would step on the property uninvited and asked her, ‘Can I help you?’ She said, ‘I’m just admiring your roses.’”
“What is so wrong about that? We grow flowers because people enjoy them and it’s a good way to attract friends.”
“I asked, ‘Do you grow roses?’ She said, ‘I have been growing roses for a long, long time. They remind me of someone I lost many, many years ago.’”
“Many of us feel the same way.”
“But this woman began to say strange things, not to me, but to the rose.”
“To the rose?”
“Yes. It was a language I didn’t understand. I asked her what she was saying. She said, ‘Merely blessings for the roses. I bless all roses I pass in memory of the one I lost in Lebanon.’”
“Lebanon? Is she Arab?”
“She claimed not to be an Arab woman and I believe it. But what she spoke was kind of like Hebrew, but not the same. Perhaps it might be Phoenician. Then she spoke in Greek, or at least that’s what she said it was.”
“Phoenician? Nobody speaks that anymore, not even in Lebanon. What would a Greek woman have at stake in Lebanon anyhow?”
“I didn’t understand either. I still don’t. But she said, ‘Marvel not. Before any Arab wandered in that place, I was there.”
“What? She sounds like a nut case to me. Arabs owned that whole area for centuries.”
“That’s what I said. That woman couldn’t have been older than twenty five. But you know what she did? She just laughed at me.”
“Kinneret, I wouldn’t get worked up over a delusional woman.”
“But I detest blasphemy.”
“Blasphemy? Kinneret, what on earth are you talking about?”
“This woman claimed that neither of us would be here without her work. Ben, you know that work belongs to God and our parents, not some presumptuous woman on the outside who claimed the one who died was Adonai14 or something to that effect.”
“What? Did she really say that? Are you sure she didn’t say Adoní?”15
Kinneret sighed with seething of disgust and rage and spoke through clenched teeth, “Perhaps you should chase her down and find out for yourself.”
“Perhaps I should meet up with her, at least to learn the truth, because I cannot believe that there was anything intended to cause so much outrage.”
“Yes, perhaps you should. She didn’t consider her Adoní to be human like you and me.”
“How do you know this?”
“Because she doesn’t consider herself to be human. She said, ‘You humans never understand. I lost Adonai thousands of years ago.’”
“So now you’re laughing at me too?”
“I am laughing at her ridiculous claim. Kinneret, this woman is obviously deranged. I doubt if she was speaking either Phoenician or Greek. Come, sit with me. Forget this craziness. She will come to her own end.”
“She will when we see that nothing happens.”
“What’s supposed to happen?”
“The blooms of the rose are supposed to increase by the end of the day.”
“All right, Kinneret. I’m happy to put her to the test. If the blooms don’t change by the end of the day, then we have seen nothing more than a crazy woman you think is so blasphemous and condescending. If they do, then we can start to worry. Deal?”
Kinneret stopped for a moment and breathed deeply before finally venturing one of her lovely smiles, saying, ‘Deal’.”
Then come and sit beside me like we did when we met, and watch TV. You choose the program.”
“Nothing… I love you.”
“I love you too, my harp of heaven.”16
Shlomo, we didn’t just sit together. We fell asleep in each other’s arms. The next moment I knew, Hadassah jolted me awake. She had just returned from the park. I looked at the clock. It was past time to start supper.”
“Father, Father,” Hadassah said while bounding through the door barely able to breathe. “Look outside!”
Kinneret’s eyes burst into orbital roundness as if someone had blown a trumpet into her ear to awaken her. She joined me on the porch. I could not believe my eyes. Every rose bush we had planted had sprouted festoons of blooms and even sprouted new stalks that thickened the fence like a hedgerow. That broomstick of a rose bush near the walkway to our door had more than quadrupled in size, becoming a rose tree heavy with blooms. A crowd had gathered around the fence to gawk upon the wonder. One onlooker asked whether I was entering our roses in the county fair. Some pressed me for insight from my methods, asking me how I managed to grow so many boughs of flowers. I said, “I wish I knew.” I looked at Hadassah whose mouth had dropped open with deep-eyed gasps of amazement at the sight and Kinneret whose eyes bulged like gecko’s globes behind a face as red as the flowers at which she stood transfixed.
“Do you know what’s going on?” Hadassah asked.
“I shrugged my shoulders. But the glow of the late afternoon sun seemed to transfix upon Louis as he rested on his porch with Sugar at his side, their countenances like a pair of stony sphinxes.
Then I heard a crash on my porch. Kinneret had fainted. Hadassah reached for her with cries of “Mommy, Mommy!”
“Let’s get her inside,” I said, taking her up in my arms. “Hold the door open, Hadassah.”
She did so while I staggered, carrying her to the front room divan. I checked her breathing. “Get the first aid kit,” I said.
Hadassah returned. I plopped the kit open and cracked open some smelling salts. Kinneret’s cough signaled her revival in the land of the living.
“What on earth happened out there? “ Kinneret asked me. “I take pride in my gardening but never in all my days have I seen such a sudden and rich spurt of growth like this. What do I tell the neighbors?”
“The truth, I hope. Unfortunately, we don’t know what the truth is.”
“Remember that woman? It looks like she has passed her test. Now what do we do?”
“Who was she?”
“All I know is that name, ‘Lovey’.”
“Where does she live?”
“God only knows.”
Shlomo, all I could do was return to our roses to take in the wonder, for never in all my days have we encountered such bursts of crimson glory anywhere. The flowers seemed to explode with joy like the prayers and dances of Simchah Torah.17
Some who passed by snapped pictures of the scene. One said he was from the local paper and inquired on what I used to get such heavy blooms.
“Miracle Gro,”18 I said; perhaps the only one aware of my double entendre or the half-truth thereof.
But I looked again at Louis and Sugar as they basked in the golden rays of the mellowing sun. I excused myself from the sudden onslaught of fans and my embarrassment, working my way through the mob to Louis’ porch. “It sounds like you have quite a party around your house, Ben,” Louis said.
“I wish I could understand it myself.”
“You didn’t ask them over? Ben, I was thinking I was being short changed for being left out.”
“I had no idea they were coming. I confess I feel like a bit of a coward coming here because I haven’t the faintest idea what to tell these people.”
“What do they want, man?”
“It was so strange, Louis. A strange woman who called herself ‘Lovey’ stopped by to admire our roses and said some strange things in what seemed like another language and said that our roses would multiply by the end of the day. Now not only are there more flowers, they’re so heavy I’m now running from this epidemic surge of unsolicited publicity.”
“You said this woman called herself, ‘Lovey’?”
“That’s right. Do you know her?”
“She just moved in this morning.”
“Moved in? Here?”
“Lovey is my new tenant.”
“She’s inside right now unpacking. Someone she calls her son is helping her.”
“Perhaps you should introduce me.”
“Come inside and meet her. Sugar, come.”
Louis led me through the screen door and through an austere living room that had been decorated with little more than a table, a rocking chair, and a throw rug. While my living room has a lamp at almost every corner, Louis had no such fixture. I had to remind myself how a man in a state of perpetual night wouldn’t think twice at not having the sources of illumination we take for granted. But surely, he would need something if he was to keep a young woman for a tenant. Louis seemed unconcerned and knocked on a bedroom door. “Lovey, could you open up for a minute?” he asked. “I got a friend I want you to meet.”
A stunningly beautiful woman peeked through the doorway when she pushed open the roughly painted door. She glowed with such a lovely smile; I thought Lovey must be a perfect name. Botticelli’s painting of the birth of Venus did not do this woman justice.
“Lovey, I want you to meet my next door neighbor, Benjamin Aryeh.”
“How do you do? How do you like your roses?”
“Then you must indeed be the woman who so upset Kinneret this afternoon.”
“I apologize. Really I do. I sometimes forget the disconnectedness of your generation.”
“What? I don’t understand. Here you can’t be older than twenty five and yet you talk about generations like you’re a hundred?”
“Yes. You don’t understand. That is regrettable. But my age is not what you think.”
“Then you are an older woman? You certainly don’t look old.”
“I have been on this Earth for a very, very long time.”
“Kinneret told me. Had those roses not grown suddenly like you seem to have said they would, I would automatically dismiss you as a crackpot.”
“Yes, Mr. Aryeh, you would. But you have oodles and oodles of roses now. You can’t dismiss me so easily now, can you?”
“No, I can’t. Who are you really?”
“I am a bringer of life, Mr. Aryeh, and I face the Highest of all being.”
“What? You claim to look into the face of God himself? Louis, did you hear what she just said?”
Louis’ countenance clouded with stern displeasure.
“Perhaps we should talk more in detail concerning what I mean. Come sit down. Eros has already put some things away so there’s room on my bed.”
“Eros?” I asked. “Who is this Eros?”
“My adopted son.”
“Your family seems to select strange names.”
“Perhaps. But since I walk among you today with the name, ‘Lovey’, what other name could I give him?”
“I admit this seems to be growing stranger by the minute.”
“Perhaps. Sit. Please.” Lovey closed the door of her closet which held a series of glowing white, red, and green garments that seemed like bizarre anachronisms for a drab city like Torrance. Her brass bed was sumptuously dressed in Tyrian purple and gold. I felt the metal of the weft and it did indeed seem too heavy to be the usual aluminum we use for gold décor and genuinely pliable.
“I have to admit that this room is much more barren at the moment than what I am accustomed to seeing. That will change before long. Do you like flowers, Mr. Carmichael?”
“I do. I simply apply my growing to food because I’m blind.”
“I think, Mr. Carmichael, that you are not so blind as you think.”
“I’d like to know,” I interrupted, “what it was you did to our roses.”
“Simply what I do everywhere. I suppose I must explain.”
“Please do, madam. The way my family is so perplexed by the events this afternoon, I’m not sure we will make it to dinner.”
“Very well, Mr. Aryeh. I suppose I owe you that much. Have you read The Symposium?”
“Yes. Plato wrote a lot of truth about me and my son in that book.”
“We studied it back in college.”
“Was it fun?”
“I have to admit it was. But I don’t understand what that has to do with you or your son… Ooooh. You and your son Eros. The Symposium was about praises to Eros.”
“And some of those characters said some important things about me.”
“Are you telling me…?”
Lovey smiled and nodded.
“What is she saying, Ben?” Louis asked.
“I don’t believe it. Uh uh. Impossible.” I said.
“What? I don’t understand.”
“This woman claims to be Aphrodite.”
“What? O come on, Ben.”
“What your friend says is true, Mr. Carmichael. Those roses sprung up so aggressively because I blessed them with the means to do so. Tomorrow their flowering will be no less than what was seen today. It is in my power to do so as the Almighty granted me to do.”
“Louis, perhaps you should come over and find out for yourself how those roses had grown. I wish you could see them. But I still have a hard time believing this woman is in fact Aphrodite.”
“I quite understand your perplexity, Mr. Aryeh__ you too, Mr. Carmichael. But I can assure you both that I make no claim to omnipotence. I am not all powerful. Only One can claim that. But I work everywhere the One directs.”
“In my religion, Lovey, Aphrodite, or whoever or whatever you are, we hold to God’s commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
“If the world had the correct perspective on their religions before the Decalogue came to their knowledge, there would have been far better perspective concerning the role other divine beings play in the unfolding drama of life. God is God and the beginning and end of all being. Perhaps you recall the arguments Plato offered in The Symposium in terms of how Eros is not a god such as we think gods to be, but a communicating divine being?”
“I recall him being called a daemon.”
“That was a most unfortunate choice of words for your generation, for the daimonia 19 we spoke of among the Greeks for centuries were nothing like how you picture daemons in the forms of evil devils today. Some daimonia are beneficent and some are not, but all serve their appointed purpose if they are to maintain their vitality such as they are created to do.”
“Then you accept the idea of a creator?”
“Most certainly. But let us draw attention to the argument of why Plato wrote concerning the role of Eros and you will begin to understand my role as well. Would you indulge me that much?”
“Very well, I’m afraid the specifics of that dialogue are lost to me because it has been so long since I had read it.”
“Socrates is written to ask his companions whether love is the love of something or the love of nothing.”
“Yes, I think I remember that much.”
“Is love the love of something?”
“And does love desire that which love is?”
“If love desires what love is, then love desires to possess what love already possesses. That doesn’t make sense, does it?”
“Why doesn’t it?”
“If love possesses what it already has, there is no need for love to desire anymore.”
“Love always desires more.”
“You love your wife, don’t you, Mr. Aryeh?”
“More than anyone on earth.”
“And do you possess her?”
“My wife is not one whom I possess, but we freely give ourselves to each other.”
“So your desire for one another persists because you have allowed that freedom?”
“That is true.”
“And if she is free and not your possession then she retains that good you desire but do not possess.”
“Then surely you must agree that love desires that which love does not possess.”
“I concede your point.”
“Ben,” Louis said, “I don’t see what all this has to do with anything.”
“It seems, Louis, that Lovey’s claim to being Aphrodite is linked somehow to what the philosopher Plato wrote in The Symposium. I suppose you never read it.”
“I have no need for philosophers. I have the Bible.”
“If you follow along, Mr. Carmichael,” Lovey said, “I think you will agree that there is no need to believe that there should be any conflict between my existence and the teachings of your Bible. Tell me, Mr. Aryeh, how do you picture Eros in your mind, or ‘Cupid’ to use the name Romans gave to him?”
“I picture him as a cutesy little toddler with fluttery wings who shoots arrows into lovers’ hearts.”
“That is no surprise. Yet that is not how Plato depicted Eros, did he?”
“No, he didn’t.”
“How did he depict Eros, Ben?” Louis asked.
“A pretty rough character,” I said.
“Mr. Carmichael, Mr. Aryeh’s memory is lost on specifics so I suppose I should provide that answer with his permission,” Lovey said.
I conceded my pernicious forgetfulness, saying, “You have my permission.”
“On my birthday many centuries ago the Olympians held a feast at which Poros the son of Metis was a guest. After the feast, Penia came to beg. You would call Poros “Plenty”, Metis “Discretion”, and Penia “Poverty”. Poros fell into slumber in Zeus’ garden being full of ambrosia and Penia, knowing her desperate condition, slept with Poros and conceived Eros thereby. I am not the mother of Eros by Ares or even by Hephaestus. I am only the mother of Eros by adoption.”
“Yes. I recall that much of the story, but didn’t connect who your husband is… say… where is your husband? Why are you renting a room here?”
“All in good time… but you must understand that Eros isn’t like those ridiculous depictions of cherubs or like that silly naked toddler depicted for your Valentine’s Day. Cherubs are Keruvim, 20 mighty and majestic beings who serve as messengers of the Most High. You know what angels are, don’t you, Mr. Carmichael?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Then you can certainly appreciate how even in your Bible they are at times spoken of as gods as are also humans. Jesus even quoted from the Psalms which spoke of people as gods when the Pharisees challenged Him, didn’t he?”
Louis’ frowned as one who didn’t know what to say and dared not to admit.
“So Socrates spoke of Eros the way I know Eros to be, my follower and attendant, always poor, but anything but beautiful. He is rough. His clothing is ragged. He has no shoes for his feet. He has no house but dwells in deserted places under the cold winter sky and always in distress like his birth mother. And like Poros he is a mighty hunter, ever devising some scheme of enchantment. He is a mean between the wise and the ignorant, the gods and the fallen races, the communicator of desire that flows through me.”
“My Kinneret was angered by such claims and I can understand her accusations of blasphemy,” I said.
“But, Mr. Aryeh, what exactly is that blasphemy you attribute so readily? If I be a goddess of love and Eros a communicator of love, aren’t the arguments offered in The Symposium regarding the position of Eros as easily ascribed to me? After all, I make no claim to be the Most High.”
“That much gives me some relief, yet I still do not understand.”
“Still? Mr. Aryeh, remember the original question, whether love is the love of something or the love of nothing?”
“Let me think for a moment. If that argument led to the impeachment of common ideas concerning Eros as a god, it likewise makes common ideas about you as a goddess impeachable?”
Lovey smiled and nodded emphatically.
“Then you are also a communicator and not an originator or creator?”
“How can I create like the Most High creates? I am not the Most High. But I direct the work of communication of love at its highest level… love that is directly connected with Be-ing.”
I cradled my head in my hands and looked into the pattern of the hardwood floor. I had not considered such a hierarchy as Lovey claimed.
“Then what you really are, Lovey, is… an angel?” Louis asked.
“Perhaps for you that is a better description,” Lovey said.
“Perhaps what would be best right now,” I said, “is to let Lovey continue her unpacking for it’s still a bit much for me to take in. I still wonder how I am going to explain all this to Kinneret. One other thing: Kinneret said you told her that your Adoní had died. Who is this Adoní?”
“Don’t you know? You call him Adonis. I lost him near Apheca21 in Lebanon. O yes, the Lebanese call it Afiq today, don’t they? Sometimes I think the Arabic version doesn’t do the place justice.”
I exhaled like a wrestler who had taken a beating in the ring.
“Then perhaps we should talk another time,” Lovey said. “Perhaps it would do you good to show your roses to Mr. Carmichael.”
“Perhaps I should. At the very least, the smell of the roses should help to clear the air. Are you coming, Louis?”
“Me?” Louis asked. “O yes. Let’s do that.”
“Then I bid you farewell till another day allows us better understanding,” Lovey said, “which must come with more questions. One of your scientists today, I think his name was Albert Einstein, said, ‘As the circle of light increases, so does the circumference of darkness around it.’”
I nodded in pretended acceptance though I admit my face must have remained contorted with perplexity. “Thank you, Lovey. We may talk again another day.” For me, “Lovey” was enough of a name, for I could not as yet bear to address a woman with the name “Aphrodite”. Louis followed me outside to his porch whereupon I asked him what his thoughts were concerning our encounter.
“I don’t know what to think, Ben. On one hand the idea that she’s Aphrodite is just plumb crazy. At the same time I find it difficult to argue with someone like that.”
“I also find it difficult to argue after what happened to our roses. Perhaps you would like to come over and find out for yourself. What exists out there now is nothing like they ever have been.”
“I think I would. Come on, Sugar, let’s go for a walk.”
Benjamin led Louis and Sugar through the lingering mass of gawkers to his front yard and directed Louis’ hand to the rose tree that had sprung into arboreal majesty. “Remember how spindly the trunk was?” he asked. “It couldn’t have been more than an inch wide.”
Louis’ frown turned to a whistle. “This is like three inches, man.”
“See what I mean? You can smell those blooms all over, can’t you?”
“Sure can. It’s overpowering. I really don’t know what to say, man. I really don’t.”
“Well I know one thing bothers me above anything else.”
“What’s that, Ben?”
“If Lovey communicates love directly from God like she claims, what is she doing in your house as a tenant? You’d think someone like that should be everywhere on the planet at once.”
“I never thought about it that way. But, Ben, I know there’s one thing I can do.”
“Let her have an invitation to our evangelistic meetings coming up. Maybe that’ll straighten her out.”
Days passed, Shlomo, in which we grew accustomed to those heavy blooms in our yard. Kinneret cut many a flower, giving some to friends and selling some to our florist on Sepulveda. The florist had told her that never in all his practice had he seen such fine super-fancy roses like Kinneret’s. Kinneret fretted less about what this should all mean because she was glad to make some money off the miracle. But one morning when I was shaving I overheard voices from across the fence and realized then how close the bath window was from Lovey’s bedroom window.
“Ah, Eros, my dear one, I see that the meetings are not far away. Opening night is next Tuesday.”
“I suppose I must scope out some blind spots. Evangelistic meetings are excellent places for me to ply my trade. Shoot the hearts of the women so that they fall in love with their ministers, and the husbands and little ones follow along the way. They always attribute it all to the Holy Spirit, and it’s just as well for the intentions of the Most High are holy, are they not?”
“Come, now, Eros, do you think the Holy Spirit isn’t there after all? Take care what you speak.”
“I deal with practical realities, my Lady. Your part is to direct the emanations to my arrows; and let the Most High laugh with delight. But tell me, should I not direct something toward your landlord? He seems to be a lonely man, don’t you think?”
“It is the very fact that he is blind that makes my tenancy here so reasonable. After all, when you shoot, one falls in love with the first one he sees. If I reside with a human, it only makes sense to choose a blind man as a landlord because he can’t see me and fall in love like the sighted inevitably do. Otherwise it would be fatal to the poor fellow when it comes time for me to move on which sooner or later I must.”
“That may be a very long time, my Lady, or it may come sooner than we think. This seems like a cozy trysting place, but look at how wars persist all over the planet. Ares has been very busy this past century. Hephaestus upped the stakes with technology. Ares ignited the last world war. Hephaestus gave America the atomic bomb.”
“And without us, could life be replenished to compensate for the losses sustained upon the world? Listen, dear one, for as long as I remain with someone as unpretentious as Mr. Carmichael who eschews the new developments in computers, it will be difficult for Hephaestus to catch up with me. With wars still threatening all over the planet, he has a hard time keeping up with Ares. And with America so loathe to the idea of war after Vietnam, why should Hephaestus look for him here? But don’t you love the name of this city, ‘Torrance’? Doesn’t it sound so much like the course of love?”
“Yes, my Lady, it makes me a bit nervous to think about that.”
“Be of good cheer, Eros. And if you see need to send your arrow into Mr. Carmichael, you can at least understand that because he is blind, it will work differently from someone who is sighted.”
“Perhaps I should aim for his eyes that he can see with his heart and love with his eyes?”
“Eros, as you should know already, the blind already see with their hearts and will always love with the same. But what attracts the blind more than the sighted is not the goodness they perceive in physical beauty, but the good they see in the beauty of wisdom.”
“I wish it were so. I have met many a blind man who equates the beauty of the face with the beauty he perceives in the smoothness of a hand he feels.”
“I do not think that will be so with Mr. Carmichael. He’s almost in his sixties. What is beautiful at such an age is not beautiful to those who are young, even if the young be blind.”
“My God,” I said. “My neighbor must be warned. He must be out buying his groceries for the week for those two to speak so freely about such a conspiracy as this.”
So as I mused over the incredible words I had overheard, my routine had become displaced so that instead of shaving and showering like I was accustomed to doing, I shaved and showered and shaved again without giving it a thought. For once the cool bite of menthol upon my face shocked me to the stupidity of repeating my daily routine, I realized how frayed my nerves had become when I realized how I would normally dismiss that conversation as the idle words of pranksters. Then after I had dressed and turned to the kitchen table with my morning paper, the chime of the doorbell caused me to jump so violently I upended the table and sent the coffee crashing to the floor. I offered my profuse apologies to Kinneret and excused myself to answer the door.
“Genevieve,” I said when I opened it, “you need to get on to school. It’s getting late.”
“Lovey just wanted me to relay a message to you, Mr. Aryeh.”
“What, you were with Lovey this morning?”
“I was with her last night.”
“O, very well; tell me quickly. Do I need to drive you to school?”
“School doesn’t start till eight so I don’t have to be there for another hour. Lovey wanted me to tell you that whatever you heard is not to be taken as anything but the natural course of events.”
“What am I supposed to have heard?”
“About what Eros is going to do at the evangelistic meetings and why she’s living with Mr. Carmichael.”
“And when did Lovey tell you this?”
Last night and not this morning__ did this Lovey really have the foreknowledge of a goddess? Or did she and Eros do some cold calculating as to when I should be shaving with the bathroom window open so I could hear at exactly the same time Louis took his trip to the market, a trip designed for him to arrive just as the grocer opens so he could avoid the crowds? If I didn’t know better, I’d say I was losing my mind. But the haunting image of Genevieve at the front door with chestnut tresses flowing as if in the wind of storm and all those roses surreally framing her image with blood red warned me, “Take a deep breath, Benjamin Aryeh. This is the reality you made known. You don’t want to make another one that consists of a padded cell.”
But I still couldn’t shake the idea of an intermediary goddess, Shlomo. It wasn’t kosher.22 All I could do was acknowledge Genevieve and urge her to be on her merry way before the truant officer tracks her down as if with a butcher knife.
What business did Lovey have involving Genevieve? Bamboozling Louis and me should have provided enough fun. It was quite another to prey upon the gullibility of a young lady as desirable as Genevieve. I felt outrage at her using someone not grown up to understand sophistries and propaganda… outrage at the idea of Lovey attempting to subvert human sensibilities, even to the detriment of an entire church. I must still warn Louis.
“Who was that at the door, Ben?” Kinneret asked after mopping up my mess in the kitchen.
I tried to sidestep the issue. “That, Kinneret, was a voice crying in the wilderness.”
“It didn’t sound like crying to me, Ben. Be nice to me.”
“It was Genevieve stopping by on the way to school.”
“What did she want here?”
I tried to ignore her. But Kinneret pressed the matter all through breakfast. You know how Kinneret can be, Shlomo. Once she gets something into her head like a hornet that hums where it doesn’t belong she won’t stop her annoyances till it makes sense. Only then can she smoke her newfound hive into a peaceful slumber. But, of course, none of this whole affair made a great deal of sense to me. “Kinneret,” I said, “There’s something I need to do. I can’t say what it is yet but I hope I can by the end of the day.”
With that I left Kinneret wondering with mouth agape at what must be wrong with me. I wondered not only the same but also what paradigm shift I faced. I walked out through the archway of roses that had deeply grown over the front walk. I turned to walk to Ichabod’s23 Grocery Mart to find Louis when Lovey blocked my path. “Why, Mr. Aryeh,” she said. “Isn’t this day absolutely gorgeous? I’m on my way to meet Mr. Carmichael. Would you care to walk with me?”
“Louis? Isn’t he at the market?”
“I’m sure he is. I need to pick up a few little somethings myself. Perhaps some chocolate covered cherries. You do love those chocolate covered cherry cordials, don’t you, Mr. Aryeh?”
“Who cannot like them? But I’m afraid the day is too young for me to indulge in anything rich. It’s better to have something like that in the evening and savor it with my wife.”
“Ah, Mr. Aryeh, even at your age you haven’t lost the simple pleasures of love in things some people think are trifles. I salute you. You have fully learned as much of the way of love that was available to you.”
“So what do you plan to talk about to Louis?”
“This, Mr. Aryeh… did Mr. Carmichael give you one of these?”
Lovey offered a glossy handbill to me that spelled out in bold letters as if it were heralding the arrival of one of our weirdo comic book superheroes: “PROPHECY FULFILLED FOR OUR TIME! THE RETURN OF JESUS CHRIST IS NEAR!”
“Ah, yes,” I said, withdrawing my grasp. “No, I didn’t receive one of these, but I think he will give me one before long. He had told me this event was coming soon at his church.”
“Do you really think so, you being a goddess and this Eros together with you?”
“Why should I not think so? It exalts the Most High, doesn’t it?”
“And another thing, how dare you use a girl like Genevieve who’s too young to play at the game of love to send your messages to me? It isn’t right.”
“My dear Mr. Aryeh, it is far more correct than you think. Genevieve has been a dear friend of mine who knows far more about love than you do.”
“Genevieve has never been married and I have been married to Kinneret for ten years. How can you tell me she knows more about love than me?”
“And how old is Hadassah?”
“That’s not fair, Lovey.”
“It is fairer than you give credit. Kinneret was with child before you married. You know that. But look at Genevieve. Do you know how much time she spends at the nursing home to befriend the elderly? She has demonstrated altruism in love at a tender age when you struggle to keep a roof over Kinneret’s head. I know you love Kinneret. But the love you were led through her has set you up for the demonstrations of love in its fuller expressions. That is why I am here, much more than what you overheard this morning. But don’t tell that to Eros. It’s too much for him to comprehend.”
My eyes must have noticeably flashed at Lovey with malice. I held my peace and said nothing.
“Have you read what Aristotle wrote about love in Nicomachean Ethics, Mr. Aryeh?”
“Only a summary.”
“Did that summary tell you what Aristotle believed about love?”
“It told me what virtue was: a mean between two vices.”
“But nothing about love specifically?”
“What a pity. Do you agree that the object of love is happiness as a good?”
“You speak of it as if it’s a material good.”
“Material goods are good for their respective purposes and ideals are good in a higher way. It is no insult to either love or happiness to speak of them as goods. I ask again: do you agree that the object of love is happiness as a good?”
“Let us say that we agree.”
Lovey sighed with resignation. “What is that happiness, then? Is it pleasure? Is it profit? If it is either, then lovers who base their love upon such things cannot be rightly called lovers.”
The anger that had kindled in my eyes expanded into my tightening throat so that I struggled to articulate my words. “Do you mean to tell me that Kinneret and I are not lovers and that our marriage is built upon a sham?”
“No, Mr. Aryeh, I do not suggest that.”
“Then what are you saying?”
“That Aristotle made an important observation about love. The highest human love belongs to those who love good people for the sake of their goodness. Kinneret is a good person in your eyes, is she not?”
“Then nothing said here should insult your marriage. Don’t you see, Mr. Aryeh? The highest human love is freely given for the sake of another. While it is not humanly possible to love many people that way at once, it is possible to be helpful and pleasant to many people. That Genevieve has done and her mother inspired that in Genevieve.”
“What do you know of Genevieve’s mother? Her mother is dead.”
“But the mother, Francine Augert, also taught her the most important things about love, how one must freely give it without thought for one’s self. Haven’t you noticed how freely she offers affection to Mr. Carmichael even though he is blind and of another race? How many white women would do this, even if they claim not to be racist, a very funny thing for such women to claim if you ask me.”
“So what is Genevieve to you that you should account her as your friend?”
“Is that really so difficult to understand? Those who love freely are the priests and priestesses of love on Earth. Don’t look to your churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques where you live today because their teachers too often act like lower beings than Genevieve. This young girl has achieved love that’s decades ahead of others.”
“I know that Genevieve often looks into me with a haunting expression.”
“Or it may be that what you find so haunting is that which she understands far better than you do.”
My fist clenched with the rising sap of rage like they were limbs of a threatening oak as it awakens from its winter slumber. Lovey seemed to notice this and stepped away, again with a look of resignation.
“I fear,” she said, “that I have spoken too much. I apologize. Look. Mr. Carmichael approaches with his cart of groceries for the week with Sugar dutifully at his side. I will let you be with him alone.
I saw Louis and Sugar turning the corner just then. I turned to volley some final protest toward Lovey. But she was gone. I ran to Louis’ saying, “Louis, have you seen Lovey? She was going to talk to you about a handbill…”
“Ah, yes, Ben. I know the handbill. I was going to give one to you this morning.” He reached into his inner coat pocket and produced a handbill like the outrageously printed ad he had given to Lovey the previous night.
“Thank you, Louis. I happen to know that Lovey and Eros will be at those meetings.”
“Good. Good. You should come too, Ben.”
“Perhaps I should before Eros starts shooting arrows.”
“Arrows? O come on, man. You really believe Eros is all about that nonsense? You’re talking crazy, man. I asked them to come so that they could repent of this loony-tunes hocus pocus.”
What could I say, Shlomo? On one hand Lovey had confounded me with what I could not refute and on the other Louis obstructed me with his dogmatic disposition. Of course I would attend those meetings at Louis’ church. I cannot say I would be able to believe. But I can say that I was about to embark on a mission of my own that I knew must be far beyond what should be expected from any man, to foil the divisive purposes of Eros if indeed I could. “Ani od hoshiyah,”24 was my prayer. I knew I needed it.
- Moror of Pesach.the “bitter herbs” served at the Passover meal, consisting of horseradish.
- Sheol. (Hebrew) Hell or the grave.
- ‘Eretz Yisrael. (Hebrew) The “Land of Israel” as often spoken among Jews.
- Intifada. (Arabic) “uprising”, at this time pertaining to the uprising of Palestinians against Israeli rule, prompting the “2 State Solution” of the Clinton administration.
- Shir Hashirim. (Hebrew) The Song of Songs or Song of Solomon. Note that Shlomo, the brother the narrator addresses is the Hebrew name of Solomon.
- K’Shoshanah bin Hachokhim. (Hebrew) “As a Lily is Among the Thorns,” a popular romantic song for weddings and lovers in Israel, based upon the second chapter of the Song of Songs.
- Chavetzelet. (Hebrew) “rose”.
- Chasidim. (Hebrew) “Righteous ones,” most often applied to Hasidic or Orthodox Jews as opposed to “Messianic Jews” who practice a form of Jewish liturgy while asserting a belief in Jesus.
- Siddurim. (Hebrew) A Siddur is a prayer book used by Jews. Various Siddurim (plural for Siddur) have been published and appear as diverse from one another as various Christian hymnals are from one another.
- Kaddish. (Hebrew) The Mourner’s Kaddish is a responsive prayer in which the mourner rises to bless the perfect Judge as a vehicle for releasing one’s grief after a close relation has recently died.
- Torah. (Hebrew) “Law”, otherwise spoken of as the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books are central in the instruction of all Jews and especially Jewish youth.
- Bat Mitzvah. (Hebrew) “Daughter of a command,” the feminine version of Bar Mitzvah. Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah are rites like Confirmation to certain Christian traditions, each a threshold to manhood and womanhood respectively.
- Braille. A coding of language for blind people to read by touch. Braille letters consist of raised dots on paper or a plaque and correspond to letters in the common alphabet.
- Adonai. (Hebrew) “My Lord” as one speaks to God. The vowel pointing of Adonai is applied to the Tetragrammaton (Yudh He Vav He), the name of God in four letters to render the common vowelation of “Jehovah”.
- Adoní. (Hebrew) “My Lord” or “Sir” such as one speaks to a man.
- Harp of heaven. A play upon the Hebrew, “Kinneret” which translates, “harp”.
- Simchah Torah. (Hebrew) “Joy of the Torah,” or the observance that concludes the High Holy Days at which members of a synagogue take turns in joyful dances with the Torah scrolls taken directly from the Ark of the synagogue.
- Miracle Gro. A popular fertilizer sold at this time.
- Daimonia. (Greek) plural for daimonion, also commonly translated as “daemon”.
- Keruvim. (Hebrew) the proper name for “cherubs”, what are commonly called, “angels” who are mighty beings who, when encountered, must always first calm down whichever human encounters one because their appearance is so alarming.
- Apheca. A temple site at Lake Yammouneh in Lebanon on the stream called “Afiq” by Arabs today. It remains a nature preserve.
- Kosher. (Hebrew) “clean”, “proper” or “acceptable”.
- Ichabod. A play upon the Hebrew “Ei Khavod” or “Where (is) glory?” or “Where (is) honor?” 1 Samuel 4:19-22 describes the wife of the priest Phinehas, who upon the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines, travailed and bestowed this name upon her child before she died.
- Ani od hoshiyah. A slang Hebrew expression effectively saying, “Lord save me.”