<by Wendy Zierler
On a Tuesday morning that began like any other, Joseph Cohen, Senior Editor at Metropolis Magazine, boarded the 7:21 BXm1 Express Bus from Riverdale to Mid-town Manhattan and took a seat on the right side of the aisle, next to a window. Placing his leather knapsack by his feet, he settled into the plush, high backed chair and pulled out a brown hardback book with gold Hebrew letters on the cover. He was eager to get to his office, but all in good time. Some people resented their commute, but not Joseph, who enjoyed this morning bus ride with each of its constituent parts. Even the occasional act of looking out the window assumed ritual significance.
When Joseph was still a child, his father Milton Cohen, of blessed memory, taught him that an awareness of language and time was what distinguished human beings from other animals. So much in life, he said, depended on knowing how to use time and words correctly.
Perhaps this explained Joseph’s recent attraction, despite his secular upbringing, to Orthodox Judaism. The Torah taught God created the world in six days, according to a specific and recurrent verbal formula: And God said, let there be…and there was evening and there was morning. A while ago, he read a story about a man who asked the rabbis to teach him a verse that encapsulated the entire Torah. One rabbi adduced the verse, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Another countered with the verse dealing with the daily sacrifice: “The one lamb you should offer in the morning. The other lamb you should offer toward the evening.” Not that Joseph downplayed the importance of love and kindness to his fellow man, but in his mind it was no contest, choosing between the fog and murk of ethics and the solid ballast of routine: daily devotion and service.
Given his discipline and steady disposition it was a wonder, really, that at thirty-seven, Joseph was still unmarried. Unlike many men, he had no problem with commitment. He wasn’t what you would call handsome, but was definitely pleasant-looking, slender and fit, if not tall; his light brown hair was thinning but not ridiculously so; his yarmulke covered the emerging bald spot on the top of his head. He had blue-green eyes, marked on each side by smile lines that curved agreeably upward. He dated, of course, even blind, though he usually found the process disruptive and disappointing: the initial phone call and small-talk, the negotiation of when and where to meet, the subway ride to wherever and the anticipation of what the night would bring, which typically was nothing at all. Not that he expected sex; his newfound religious commitments meant that he was willing to wait for marriage for that to happen. It was just that with each new Rachel or Esther, a sense of possibility ballooned within him and somewhere midway through the evening this possibility popped, squealing and hissing so loudly all over the floor of his mind, that it was surprising that no one else in the restaurant stood up to see where all the noise was coming from. They were nice women, many of them, and yet ultimately mysterious and impenetrable to Joseph, his conversations with them taking place as if through a pane of glass.
Before becoming Orthodox, he dated a woman named Carla, a lapsed Catholic. For his thirty-fifth birthday, she rented a Corvette, picked him up at his Riverdale apartment at 9:00 PM, and drove him to Atlantic Beach, where she set up a candlelight dinner and had even arranged for a violinist to play Happy Birthday and serenade them while they ate.
“Isn’t this fabulous?” she said, almost squealing with satisfaction.
“Oh yes,” he said haltingly.
“Come, let’s run barefoot in the water!”
“Let’s run in the in the ocean! Come!”
“But Carla, it’s October!”
“Who cares? It’s the ocean.”
“I don’t know, Carla, these are new slacks.”
“Then roll them up.”
“I’d rather not.”
“Oh my God,” she said. “You hate this. You hate this whole thing.”
He tried to appease her. But it was no use trying to pretend. Truth was he found the whole episode nothing short of excruciating. Who ate dinner at 10:30 at night, and on the beach, where the sand insinuates itself into everything, and where the candles blow out with the slightest breeze, and where a salty-film smears your eyes? How could he explain to this obviously well-meaning, lovely person that what he really wanted was to eat dinner at home with the same woman every evening, and to get into bed with her every night, and fall asleep with the full confidence that they would wake up together in the morning and start another day, without surprises? Shortly after their break-up, Carla married an executive form American Airlines who took her on surprise weekend getaways. And Joseph, though willing to date, mainly kept company with his routine.
Which nowadays went something like this. His alarm went off at 5:45 AM. From 5:45 to 6:05, he put on his tefillin and said the Shaharit prayers. Though strange at first, the business of laying tefillin had by now become second nature, the leather straps sliding as if into pre-made grooves on his arm. And the prayers became a familiar and soothing early-morning mumble. By 6:15, after a brief session of stretching, he was out on the road for his morning run. Come 7:00, he was in the shower. Dressed by 7:10, he gathered together his lunch—the chicken sandwich and the fruit he had assembled the night before and some dry cereal in a bag for breakfast—and headed down to the lobby to catch the Express bus. Years of taking this bus had taught him certain tricks. If you want to read on the bus, make sure to sit in the middle or you’ll get nauseous from all the starting and stopping. Always say hello and thank-you to the bus driver. And avoid the 9:11 AM and 4:25 PM buses that for some reason have this polka-dot lining all over the windows that makes it impossible to see outside.
For Joseph, it was crucial to be able to see outside. Not that he spent the entire time on the Express bus staring out the window. On any given day there were books to read and review for the literary section of Metropolis. And there was the daily daf of the Talmud. The regimen of learning a page every day, though challenging, fit his disposition, as did the architecture of the Talmudic page itself: flanked on all sides, like a copy-editor’s page, with comments and marginalia. At this rate of a page a day, it would take him seven and a half years to complete reading the 63 tractates of the Talmud—no mean feat when all was said and done. He was hardly an expert in this kind of study, but there was always the English translation. He took in what he could.
And to sustain himself through the dryer or more daunting passages he looked out the window. He especially liked to watch this one family that lived on the southbound service road of the Henry Hudson Parkway and waited outside every day on the columned front porch of their house for the school bus to come. For more than two years, already, Joseph had been watching them. As the Express bus drove south on the service road to make the left turn at Kappock Street, they were there, three kids in all: two girls of almost identical height, one blonde and one sandy-brown haired, 8 or 9 years-old, and a younger boy, age 5 or 6. And a blonde-haired mother, most-of-the-time in her pajamas, though sometimes in work clothes, and with a jacket on during the winter. Occasionally the father, a man of medium height with a curly kink to his brown hair, appeared in the porch in a dark business suit and dress coat. The blonde-haired daughter seemed particularly attached to him and liked to sit in his lap twirling one of her fingers through his hair. There was a white cement ledge on either side of the porch steps. Sometimes the kids sat on the ledge, or stood up on it assuming various postures, causing the mother to pull them back down onto the ledge on their bottoms so they wouldn’t fall into the flower bed or hit their heads on the cement. Other times they sat on white plastic porch chairs, lined up in a row. Occasionally, as Joseph passed, one of them would suddenly get up and run back into the house and bring out something forgotten.
Day after day, Joseph watched the theatre of their lives, noting all the variations in wardrobe and choreography: today the blonde-haired girl is missing; the brown-haired girl is reading a new book, thicker than the one she was reading yesterday. The father, in a business suit, is having a catch with the little boy on the driveway. Joseph wasn’t much of a baseball player and yet, he felt of twinge in his temples, watching father and son lob that ball back and forth to one another. And then the day when all three kids spread out in a line across the side walk, each of them twirling a hula hoop around their hips; the blonde-haired girl, who had a flair for the dramatic, twirling and brushing her teeth at the same time. “Bravo!” Joseph called out from the window that he slid open on a whim, surprised somewhat by his own outburst. “Thanks mister,” said the girl, flashing a toothless grin.
On this particular Tuesday morning, Joseph settled into reading the daily page of Talmud from the large marble-edged book shortly after boarding the bus. Yesterday he had begun a new volume, Tractate Avodah Zara. Each new book of the Talmud was in its own way, an unfolding mystery. You never knew what gems you might unearth amid the digressions from the central legal point. This morning he stumbled upon a remarkable description of a day in the life of God: The day consists of twelve hours: during the first three hours the Holy One Blessed be He studies Torah; during the second three He sits in judgment of the whole world, and when he sees the world is so guilty as to deserve destruction, He moves from the seat of Justice to the seat of Mercy; during the third three he feeds the entire world. During the fourth quarter, he sports with the Leviathan. Said Rav Abba: What does the Holy One Blessed be He do in the fourth quarter? –He sits and instructs the departed schoolchildren.
Joseph considered for a moment these differing descriptions of God in the waning hours of the day— Man of Leisure, sporting with a huge mythical beast, versus Compassionate Schoolteacher of those young children who died too young to attend school for the living. The image of God playing with the Leviathan was appealing, to be sure: a model for how one might enjoy life and not only toil from sunrise to sunset. Clearly, though, Rav Abba thought the image of God at play too trivial in light of human suffering, hence the theodicy he offered in the form of God as teacher of Torah to those innocent souls who die before they could study. As Joseph pondered the consolation contained in the story, his gaze drifted out the window. It was still the beginning of the school year. When he passed by the white house with the columns, the family was there, as usual, the mom and the two daughters seated in the porch chairs, the boy playing on the driveway, the dad, presumably already on his way to work. The brown-haired daughter was holding a new purple backpack on her lap and was wearing eyeglasses. The blonde-haired daughter seemed distraught; the mother was leaning toward her and smoothing her hair, trying it seemed to encourage her. Meanwhile, the boy was bouncing a super- ball down the sidewalk, too close, Joseph wondered, to the side of the road. Just then he saw the mother wave to the boy to move away from the side of the road. Seeing the boy back away from the curb, Joseph felt a desire to wave in approval at the mother, though he knew she could not see him through the dark tinted windows of the bus and the window could not be opened from this particular seat. Even without the wave, though, Joseph felt a strong and silent kinship, born of months of careful watching.
The bus pulled finally pulled away from the stop adjacent to the white house—a lot of people had boarded at this stop—and Joseph turned his attention back to rest of the daf. When done with the page, he took out the pile of galleys he needed to proof to meet the deadline for the magazine to go to print later that afternoon. Traffic was lighter today than usual. After exiting the Deegan Expressway, the Express Bus seemed to hit only green lights. Joseph reached the editorial offices of Metropolis on Seventh Avenue and 31st well before 8:00, affording him the uncommon luxury of checking his email before his 8:15 editorial meeting—a good start to the day.
At the meeting, Laura Goldman, a recent transfer from Vanity Fair who had a talent for holding an entire room in thrall, surprised everyone assembled around the conference table by suggesting that they do away this year with the Thanksgiving edition of Metropolis. “I admit I’m being a bit of an iconoclast here,” she said. “But all the Americana, the turkey cookbooks, and the colonial lore, year after year, isn’t it all becoming a bit cliché?” Ever since joining the editorial staff, Laura had been coming to these meetings with new ideas and hip promotions.
Joseph, not used to speaking up at meetings when Laura made a pitch, felt the need this time to respectfully disagree. “There’s a difference between recurrence and cliché,” he said, looking down at the table, averting Laura’s eyes. “We take in air recurrently, but none of us would ever call breathing a cliché, even though we need to do it about 18 times a day in resting pose. I timed it once. Certain kinds of meaning,” he insisted, “come precisely because of repetition.”
“Excuse me?” said Laura, taken by surprise, especially when a host of others lent their support to Joseph’s position.
“Shall we submit this to a vote, then?” asked Mort Handelman, editor-in-chief, eager to dispense with an idea that was sure to infuriate advertisers.
“It’s alright,” said Laura, her voice flattening uncharacteristically. “I’ll concede this one. No need to vote.”
Joseph blushed as he received pats on the back from various colleagues on his way out of the conference room. For a moment, he felt elevated, as if looking out the window at the city from the window of a tall building.
He did not linger long, however, on this lofty perch. It was Tuesday, after all. There was work to be done. Joseph made his way down the hall without fuss to his office and quickly became engrossed in proofing a review of The Definitive Architectural History of New York City. A few minutes later, however, he began to hear murmurings from down the hall. Then Laura Goldman, who worked in the office right next to his and kept a radio on as she worked, screamed out Ohmygod, ohmygod. Joseph overheard something about an explosion. Several of his colleagues drifted out into the hallway. Though usually capable of blocking out all distractions, Joseph was drawn by voices and into the conference room, where the wall-mounted TV was showing pictures of a tower torched with fire, and then another. Joseph barely had time to gather together his things before the announcement came to evacuate the building.
As they filed down the stairs, Joyce Winter, an associate editor, had her arms around Laura Goldman who was walking unsteadily. Laura’s husband, he overheard, had been transferred from the Trade Center office of his firm to the firm headquarters in Connecticut, only a week ago. Joseph, who trailed her on the steps, felt a sudden wave of guilt as well as the urge to reach out and lend a hand in supporting Laura down the stairs, though he did not want to be inappropriate. The sight of this otherwise indomitable, self-possessed woman bent over and weeping in worried relief, like the images of the planes crashing into the towers, stunned and confused him. If he were to reach say something to her, to anyone, what might he say? But before he could come to any decision as to what to say or do, they were at Lobby Level. Outside, on Seventh Avenue, cars and vans were parked by the curb with their doors wide open, and their radios tuned to WCBS or 1010 WINS so all could hear. People stood beside storefronts trying to make cell phone calls and payphone calls without any luck. Women and men in business suits were walking uptown in the middle of the street. In the distance, Joseph could see a dark billowing cloud of smoke. For some reason, the smoke cloud made him think of picture he once saw of a man walking against the background of a locust plague: the landscape all dulled and flecked with shadows, littered with moving specks that devoured the open sky.
Joseph’s late father Milton, a city planner of some renown, had always stressed to Joseph that if one failed to plan properly one courted disaster. Standing on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 32nd Street, people passing him from every direction, it dawned on Joseph that what he needed to do was to get out of midtown Manhattan, but what would be his plan? He heard someone say that all subway service had been suspended and all the bridges had been closed. He took a deep breath, calmly considered his options, and decided he would walk. He would avoid highways, all tall or prominent buildings: Penn Station, the Javitz Center and Grand Central, the 42nd Street Library, and Port Authority—all of these were out of the question. First, he would stop by the Citibank on the corner and withdraw the maximum amount of cash the machine would allow. As soon as he got his money, he’d walk west to Ninth Avenue and then walk north until well past the theatre district, and only then walk back eastward to make his way up Broadway to the Bronx. He would skirt the subways and Lincoln Center. He would zigzag out of harm’s way.
At Ninth Avenue and 49th Street, Joseph stopped as a Korean grocery to buy two bottles of water, one for now and one for later. Paying for the water, he looked down at his shoes, the tan Bostonians that he had found in his mother’s closet when he was moving her into the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale. At that time, his mother still had lucid moments; when she saw the shoes in his hands—his father’s favorite dress shoes—tears beaded around her eyes and hung on her lashes like liquid crystal. These were certainly not the shoes he would have chosen to wear to walk twelve or thirteen miles in one shot.
At that moment, a woman ran out of the front door of a marble-faced building screaming, “My baby my baby!” A group of pedestrians circled the woman, who rolled up like a snail in the center of the circle. Joseph stood still for a minute, wondering if he should join the huddle. But as the crying continued and the circle thickened, he looked away and continued his walk.
When he reached the 60’s, he stopped for a moment to drink some water and listen to the radio blaring from a black Ford Explorer. No weather or sports reports, only shocking reports about the planes, the towers, the desperate people. Solemnly, Joseph resumed walking. Fellow pedestrians came in and out of his peripheral vision as he walked, a slow-motion marathon without the uniforms, strangers striding anxiously next to one another, the sound of radios punctuating their route.
Around 140th Street, Joseph was suddenly approached by a Hispanic woman with long dark hair, who was walking in her stocking feet and carrying a pair of stiletto boots in one hand.
“You have any cell phone reception?” she asked.
“I don’t have a cell phone,” said Joseph.”
“No cell phone?” said the woman incredulously. “You from the Dark Ages?”
“I don’t really need one. No wife, no kids, don’t drive,” he said apologetically.
“Damn. All I want is to be able to get a call through to my husband and kids and tell them that I’m okay.”
“Sorry,” said Joseph.
“S’okay, not your fault,” she said and kept on walking north next to him, talking to him unstintingly all along the El route into the Bronx. Her name was Desiree; what was his? She was a receptionist in a Midtown insurance company. Her husband was a mechanic. They had two kids, a boy and a girl. She was studying part-time to be a paralegal. She loved going to the movies and had a soft spot for high-heeled shoes. “You see the shoes I choose to wear on a day like this,” she said holding up her stiletto boots. Joseph smiled uneasily. It was true. Her shoes were a much greater impediment than his.
When they reached 181st Street, Desiree suddenly stopped talking and said, “My stop! Time to get off!” She then turned to Joseph and gave him a warm hug, which caught him off guard.
“Good luck with your studies,” he said, haltingly, his face flushed.
“And good luck to you Mr. Joseph Cohen!” she said patting him on the back. “When’s the good Lord ‘gonna send you a Mrs. Cohen to light up your days?”
Within seconds she was out of sight, swallowed up in the crowd of walkers turning right. It was a good forty minutes walking alone before Joseph reached 230th street, making a left turn up the hill into Riverdale. As he finally reached the service road of the Henry Hudson Parkway service road, he looked across the highway to the white house with the columns and heaved a sigh. The kids were surely home by now, he thought; all the schools in New York, he had heard, had closed.
The next day and the day after that, the offices of Metropolis were closed as well, causing whole structures of time to tumble down in Joseph’s mind. In the mornings, he read his page of Talmud, but found that he retained little of what he read; he needed the movement of the bus, it seemed, to take it all in. He phoned his mother at the Hebrew Home several times a day, though in her advanced state of dementia, she couldn’t be relied to remember who he was. He even called Carla, who seemed surprised to hear his voice, after all this time. When Joseph told her about his turn toward Orthodox Judaism, she said “I always knew you had a spiritual side,” a comment which embarrassed him, as he had never thought of himself in those terms. He felt astonishingly misunderstood.
At night, he had frightful, recurring dreams. In one he was made of feathers; someone had split him open on one side, and was scattering him out the window of his 9th floor apartment. In another, he was running through a tunnel, chased by a ball of fire. The dreams shocked him out of his sleep each night. In the mornings he woke up groggy, unable to pull himself out of bed.
The following week was Rosh Hashanah. At synagogue, Joseph found himself fixating on the stains that marred the upholstery in the pew in front of him. When the cantor recited Unetaneh tokef, the prayer about will live and who will die—On Rosh Hashanah is will be written and on the fast day of Yom Kippur it will be sealed—he kept thinking about the magazine and how they had not closed the issue. Surely it was the writing metaphor that threw off his concentration. He tried to focus instead on the image of God the Shepherd who passed his flock under his rod, keeping careful count of each and every lamb, but this too sent him off on an editorial tangent. Was this whole prayer not itself a terrible cliché? Not since he was a child, attending the High Holiday prayers at Temple Emmanuel with his parents—a once-a-year, inscrutable occasion— had he felt so disconnected from the service and the people around him. Before the Mussaf prayers, the Rabbi added in a special mourner’s Kaddish and two Minutes of Silence for the Dead. During the two minutes Joseph was not aware of his fingers anxiously tapping the wooden pew in front of him, until Morris Goldberg, who sat in that pew in front of him, turned around and politely asked him to stop.
He would start feeling better, he told himself, once the holiday was over and he could go back to work. When Thursday came and the alarm went off at 5:45 AM, he was grateful. He put on his tefillin and took his morning run. He showered, gathered together his breakfast and lunch in a bag and caught the 7:21 bus. All was in order, and yet he remained troubled. The daf that morning presented a plan for world history in which the world was to exist six thousand years; two thousand years of void; two thousand years of the Torah, and then two thousand years of the Messiah, but because of our many sins many of these have already passed and the Messiah had not yet come. For the life of him, Joseph couldn’t make sense of any of this plan. Why would God create the world just to have it be empty of meaning for the first two thousand years? And as for the Messianic age, hadn’t two thousand years already lapsed since the time of the rabbis, who themselves were already lamenting the delay of the Messiah? Had the timetable not already expired? Frustrated, he looked up from the page to catch a glimpse of the family on the porch, but from the corner of his eye, he noticed that no one was there.
The same on Friday and again on Monday. Both times, as he passed by the white columned house on the service road of the Henry Hudson Parkway, the children and their mother were missing from the porch. Not one of them on the cement ledge, on the plastic chairs, or on the driveway. It didn’t seem likely that they would all get sick on the same day and for three days in a row. Perhaps their school bus was picking up now at a different time? On Tuesday, Joseph took a longer run than usual, thinking that maybe, if he left a bit later, he might catch them then. But when his bus passed by, and the porch was once again empty his distress began to mount. These people, who had become a fixture in his life, where on earth could they be? On Wednesday and, he reverted back to normal time, but still no luck. The next day was Yom Kippur; another day of reckoning with God the Scribe. He knew the family was Jewish; he had seen the mezuzah on the door. Perhaps they had gone to relatives for the High Holidays. Surely by Monday they’d be back.
On Monday, as he boarded the Express Bus to work, he felt a sudden panic. What if they were not back? It couldn’t possibly be. The kids had school; you can’t just go on missing school day after day. As the bus barreled up the service road of the Henry Hudson Parkway, Joseph craned his neck to catch the very first glance of the white columned house. In the distance he saw what seemed to be a child—the youngest?—kicking something up and down the sidewalk. As the bus neared the house, he saw them all! The boy with the soccer ball, the two girls huddled next to their mother on the porch chairs, the mother wearing pajamas, her hair still uncombed! Joseph jumped up from his seat on the bus and screamed out, “Stop here! I have to get off! I have to get off!” As he hurried off the bus, the bus driver said, “Everything okay, buddy?” but Joseph was already down the stairs, darting down the sidewalk in the direction of the white house with the porch and the columns and the children.
When he reached the house, he loped up the steps to the porch and threw his arms around the two girls, locking them in a warm embrace. “You have no idea how worried I was about you all!” he said. “And you too!” he said, pulling back and glancing in the direction of the little boy. “Each day I looked for you!” he said. “I’m so relieved to see that you’re okay!” Stepping back from the girls, Joseph looked at the mother, whom he had for so long been glimpsing from a distance and through a window, and whom he was finally seeing in person. She had the most remarkably large and vivid blue eyes! Only then did he realize how long he had been waiting for this moment: to stand before this family, to see them up close, but not just to look at them: to talk to them, to tell them how long he had been watching, how many little things he know about them, how he felt as if they were his own.
The woman herself could hardly speak from the shock of seeing this man she did not know run onto to her porch and begin hugging her girls. She wanted to scream but was frightened. Was he some kind of lunatic? Or perhaps, someone from Adam’s side, a relative who hadn’t heard until now? She found herself stuck between the impulse to call for help and the contrary impulse to nod her head in mournful appreciation. But she did neither, accepting this man’s greetings, a message from another place and time, before the waiting, and then the sitting, and the memorial candle, the watery remains of which were somehow still flickering in that tall glass jar by the window.
Joseph, who was facing away from the house, patted the little boy on the back and told him that he had a terrific soccer kick. “And those are lovely glasses,” he said to the brown-haired daughter, who had retreated into the cavity under her mother’s left arm.
“Hey mister,” said the blonde-haired daughter, pointing down the service road. “There’s another bus coming.”
Joseph looked up in regret as he saw another BxM1 bus rumble down the block. Since when did the Express busses come so frequently? He felt robbed, and yet happy. They were here. They were okay. They would be here tomorrow.
“Well, better be going now, I guess. See you later,” he said, backing off the porch toward the bus-stop, the way one backs away reverently from the ark or the bimah in synagogue, never, G-d forbid, turning one’s back to the Torah. Thank G-d, he said to himself as he backed up toward the bus, overcome with gratitude.
“Who is that man, Mommy?” Joseph overheard the brown-haired daughter ask her mother, as he boarded the BxM1.
“I don’t know, honey,” the mother answered, her face downcast. “Maybe someone who wasn’t able to come until today.”
Joseph quickly took a seat on the right side of the bus next to a window that he knew could open, in the hope of responding to the daughter’s question. Before he could open the window, though, the Express began to pull away slowly from the curb. And just then, as well, the yellow school bus pulled up near the house. The children hurried off the porch, and began to climb up the black steps onto the school bus. As the Express bus began to drive down the service road, Joseph glanced back quickly at the woman who was blowing kisses to the children, then momentarily clasping her chin and her mouth. He would have to stop by to visit them again soon and explain that even though he had not come before today, he was no stranger to them. Whom else, really, did he know so well?
Since he could no longer see the white house, the woman, or her children, Joseph opened the gold-titled hardcover book that was resting on his lap and turned to the day’s daf. First he read about the laws restricting commerce on the various pagan sun holidays—Kalenda, Saturnalia, and Kratesis. Then, remarkably, a story about Adam on the first day of creation: When Adam saw the setting of the sun he said, “Alas, it is because I have sinned that the world around me is becoming dark”; he sat up all night fasting and weeping and Eve wept beside him. Joseph’s thoughts flitted back to the woman on the porch. She had seemed baffled and scared by his sudden appearance. When dawn broke, however, Adam said: “This is the way of the world!” He then arose and offered a lamb, as it is said, “My thanksgiving shall please the Lord.” Of course, Joseph would have to explain himself to the woman. He would come back to the house and apologize for catching her unawares. And he would tell her of his joy and gratitude that after so many days away they had returned. As he looked back at the words of the Talmud, and as the Express Bus hummed and sped down the hill toward Riverdale Avenue, Joseph saw that very first human sunrise illuminated before his wide-open eyes: Adam and Eve, relieved and dumbstruck in the garden, blood orange light spilling all over the velvet dark of the plants, flowers, and trees.
<by Wendy Zierler