Excerpt from an as-yet-untitled work by Elizabeth Graver

An excerpt from an as-yet-untitled work by Elizabeth Graver

She met him in Spain, married him because her parents told her to. There were hardly any Jews in Barcelona at the time, and she — Rebecca née Cohen soon to be Baruch but not yet Levy — was already twenty-three, pink and pretty, overripe. She knew him by sight from his visits to the nameless little temple on Calle de Provença where her father served as caretaker, the Russian wolf hounds chained inside the shed by day, the glass shards glittering on the fence, and Moshe one of only half a dozen single men filing behind their parents through the unmarked door to take a tallit from the rack.

He was short and broad, not unhandsome, a butter peddler, a laborer. At home in Istanbul, he’d have sold them butter and gone on his way. Blue-eyed, mal ojo (better to be brown-eyed like Rebecca; the blue drew compliments and tempted fate). His name, Baruch, meant blessed. No one told her that he’d fought in the Great War and was sickly and weak-brained from the aftereffects of mustard gas. No one told her that he would make her groan with blind pleasure, spill his seed, then leave — to Turkey, Greece, Morocco — returning long enough to drop some useless foreign coins on the table and bed her again.

One son, two sons, sixteen months apart. It didn’t take much; she got pregnant just from the smell. Born to silks and servants, she sewed now while her babies, David (brown-eyed) and Albert (blue) stayed with her parents in the garden apartment adjoining the temple. Men’s undergarments, ladies’ dresses, alterations, whatever you want, and because she was skilled and hardworking and had learned the art of fine embroidery in her youth, the orders kept coming, until she bought three sewing machines and hired some girls — Jewish, Spanish, Catalan, purple, so long as they could sew — to help.