For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Stories

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Stories by Nathan Englander Read Free Book Online

Book: For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Stories by Nathan Englander Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nathan Englander
Tags: Religión, Contemporary
Its smooth single-malt contents rode up and down its inner walls, caressing the glass and teasing Mendel in a way that he considered cruel.
    Dismissing the peril to which he was exposing the others, Mendel sought out a benefactor who might sport him a drink. It was in this way—in which only God can turn a selfish act into a miracle—that Mendel initially saved all of their lives.
    An expert on the French horn complimented Mendel on the rustic simplicity of his costume and invited him to join her in a drink. It was this tippler who alerted Mendel to the fact that the Mahmirim were assumed to be acrobats. Talking freely, and intermittently cursing the scheduling delays causedby the endless transports, she told him of the final destinations of those nuisance-causing trains.
    “This,” she said, “was told to me by Günter the Magnificent—who was never that magnificent considering that Druckenmüller always outclassed him with both the doves and the rings.” She paused and ordered two brandies. Mendel put his hand out to touch her arm, stopping short of contact.
    “If you wouldn’t mind, if it’s not too presumptuous.” He pointed to the decanter, blushing, remembering the Rebbe’s lectures on gluttony.
    “Fine choice, fine choice. My pleasure.” She knocked an empty snifter against the deep polished brown of the table (a color so rich it seemed as if the brandy had seeped through her glass and distilled into the table’s surface). Not since the confiscation of the Mekyl Rebbe’s cane had Mendel seen such opulence. “Barman, a scotch as well. Your finest.” The barman served three drinks and the musician poured the extra brandy into her glass. She drank without a word. Mendel toasted her silently and, after the blessing, sipped at his scotch, his first in so very long. He let its smoky flavor rise up and fill his head, hoping that if he drank slowly enough, if he let the scotch rest on his tongue long enough and roll gradually enough down his throat, then maybe he could cure his palate like the oak slats of a cask. Maybe then he could keep the warmth and the comfort with him for however much longer God might deem that they should survive.
    “Anyway, Günter came to us directly from a performance for the highest of the high where his beautiful assistant Leine had been told in the powder room by the wife of an official of unmatched feats of magic being performed with the trains. They go away full—packed so tightly that babies are stuffed in over the heads of the passengers when there’s no room for another full grown—and come back empty, as if never before used.”
    “And the Jews?” asked Mendel. “What trick is performed with the Jews?”
    “Sleight of hand,” she said, splashing the table with her drink and waving her fingers by way of demonstration. “A classic illusion. First they are here, and then they are gone.
    “According to the wife of the official, those who witness it faint dead away, overcome by the grand scale of the illusion. For a moment the magician stands, a field of Jews at his feet, then nothing.” She paused for dramatic effect, not unaccustomed to life in the theater. “The train sits empty. The magician stands alone on the platform. Nothing remains but the traditional puff of smoke. This trick he performs, puff after puff, twenty-four hours a day.
    “After Günter heard, he forgot all about Druckenmüller and his doves and became obsessed with what Leine had told him. He would sit at the bar and attempt the same thing with rabbits, turning his ratty bunnies into colored bursts of smoke, some pink, some purple, occasionally plain gray. He swore he wouldn’t give up until he had perfected his magic. Though he knew, you could tell, that it would never match the magnitude of a trainload of Jews. I told him myself when he asked my opinion. Günter, I said, it takes more than nimble fingers to achieve the extraordinary.” With that Mendel felt a hand on his knee.
    Pausing only

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