When Sol Lerneshefsky was liberated he didn’t realize he was actually free. He wandered around in the bitter cold, and had bizarre conversations he would never remember with soldiers in uniforms that weren’t German. In time, the entire day dissolved, like a dream in a sunny bedroom window.
But it wasn’t a dream that happened to Sol Lerneshefsky. Even years later, even on his deathbed, he could never figure out the right thing to call it.
The Lerners knew precisely when the house caught fire. They were having an argument amid the fragrances of Buddha’s Kiss, their favorite restaurant on Bloomfield Avenue, and had just discovered that this was more than an ordinary marital spat. They realized, simultaneously, that their marriage would end, despite their mangled feelings about each other, despite their beloved son, despite even the intense and unspoken fear each had about being alone.
Their house, the lovely gabled Victorian on the best part of Cooper Avenue, renovated extravagantly, fretted over indulgently, and lived in thoroughly, burned to the ground. Their son was safe, off on his own, as safe as he could ever be in his parents’ hearts. But every material thing they owned was turned to dust, taking with it Rob’s lucrative import business, which he ran from a corner office on the second floor, and Amy’s paintings, sculptures, and photos, which she created and displayed in an attic studio. Marco’s bedroom, built so it jutted out on the second floor, had simply disappeared, as Marco himself had, taking his troubled life with him (though not his parents’ guilt). Above his bedroom every inch of Amy’s studio was obliterated, where all her work had been stored, and where she had endured a thousand hours of labor, tears, and mysterious epiphanies. Rob’s entire office was gone, too, where his business had struggled and stumbled but finally become so profitable it embarrassed him, and where he hid a part of their wealth in a stash of hundred-dollar bills under a closet floorboard – how much he didn’t even know – and where irreplaceable records were stashed on countless papers and disks. He had made copies, of course, but kept them on the antique mahogany bookshelf beside the desk. He had thought of robbery, of accidents, of stupid, self-destructive mistakes. He had never thought of fire.
The call to the restaurant came from their neighbor Delia Benedict, who of course had Rob’s cell number. She was her usual flirtatious self, gently telling him what happened, gushing in sympathy and oblivious to the fact that he still had a wife, waiting at a table, who happened to share the house whose loss Delia was quite nearly weeping over. “I don’t want you to be shocked,” she said, “when you drive down Cooper. I know you’ve been out for a while, I saw you leave with her, that’s when they told me it started. It’s just things, Rob, okay?” (Here she laughed, the chuckle rising from her throat.) “You’ll be okay? I’d say stay here – I’m sure you know the layout.” (The chuckle – how well he knew it – began this time deep in her chest, as if to remind him she had a woman’s body; he was glad he’d taken the call back near the pungent kitchen.) “But I don’t think she’d go for it. But Rob, anything, okay? Hear me? Anything. Why are you so quiet? That’s not like you. Rob? Still there?” He staggered back to Amy.
He found her staring at the almond cream custard they had discovered a decade ago, a specialty of Buddha’s Kiss, her eyes dark, sad, a spoon suspended over the bowl, as if she were a portrait, Woman Contemplating the End of Her Marriage she would call it, if she had painted or sculpted or photographed herself, which, it came to him with a thud too brutal to be love but too thrilling to be anything else, she had never felt the slightest urge to do.
He waited for Amy to look up. When she didn’t, when she continued reshaping the mass of custard with her spoon (she sculpted everything she got her hands on), he said, “You are simply not going to believe this.”
At last her eyes rose to meet his. All their life together, she had always expected the worst to happen.
“You are absolutely just not going to believe this! You are absolutely just not going to believe this!”
This is the opening of Verona writer Martin Golan’s newest novel, ‘One Night With Lilith’, which has been called “a fascinating feat of storytelling.” It tells of a marriage seemingly at its end, but at its heart it’s a love story, which takes place in the Verona-Montclair area. Before this book, Golan published a novel, ‘My Wife’s Last Lover’, and a collection of stories, ‘Where Things Are When You Lose Them’. He lives in the Wayland section and serves on both the town’s Environmental and Historic Preservation commissions. One Night With Lilith is available on Amazon (e-book or paperback).
Fire photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Custard photo by Sarah Gualtieri on Unsplash