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Daniel Ross Goodman

Daniel Ross Goodman

Daniel Ross Goodman is a writer, rabbi, and PhD candidate at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) of America in New York, and is studying English & Comparative Literature at Columbia University. His essays and reviews have appeared in many publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Tablet and Harvard Divinity Bulletin. His short stories have appeared in aaduna, The Acentos Review, Bewildering Stories, Calliope (forthcoming) and The Cortland Review.

The Tryst

Tonight I can sing the saddest of songs. I look to the heavens and cannot see even three solitary stars; it is twilight. The morning sun is sinking beneath the Western slopes, and the new moon has already risen in the unclouded sky, floating in the firmament like an unfurled flag—the bright white standard of the night, standing for the total lack of light in my mourning, midnight-black soul.

I sit in an old wooden chair in a cold lightless attic, alone and exhausted, sapped of my strength by sixteen months of inconsolable sorrow. In front of me is a small round table covered by a white tablecloth, and in the center of the table is a glass filled with water that I have not poured. At the other end of the table is an empty antique rocking chair, slowly swaying to and fro, set in motion by a force whose provenance I do not know. Next to the window which I did not open, a gramophone which I did not turn on plays a record of Schubert's eighth symphony. A wintry wind whistling in from the open window whips at my weakened body, as if to prospectively punish me for the foul deed that I am about to do; the ritual I am preparing to engage in is strictly forbidden, I have been taught. The blood freezes in my veins; I am filled with the foreboding of an ineffable fear. 'This is a terrible idea,' I say to myself. 'I should not go through with this.' 'No,' I respond, 'you must continue. You have come too far to go back now. And, after all...this is the only way that you can reach is the only way that you can ever again see her...' 'Yes,' I agree. 'This is the only way...'

I close my dry eyes and let my tight arms fall loosely at my sides. My palms are open and upturned, as if holding hands with other participants in a closed circle. My constricted breath expands, ebbing and flowing as if controlled by that slender slice of faint white light that is our only, lonely moon.

I empty my mind of all content, letting the turbid stream of my thoughts trickle down the distraction-soaked drainpipes of my consciousness and fall into the cluttered gutter of my uncleaned, unvisited memory.

I do not know if I am ready to commit the unmentionable act I have so long desired to do—this perverse, pleasurable deed that the civilized world unanimously condemns as utterly taboo—but I do not know if one can ever truly be ready to turn the fateful screw. So I take one last deep breath, drawing in oxygen as if preparing to dive into the deepest depths of my fathomless soul, and then I begin.

"Sophie...Sophie...Sophie..." I softly say, seeking to summon her from her restless slumber. "Sophie, my dear...Sophie, are you here?...Sophie, my only love, please come to me—Sophie, I pray, please come to me here..."

Suddenly, a lightning-like shiver shoots up my spine, making my entire lifeless body pulse with an indescribable, unnatural electricity. My jittery, prostrate body convulses once more; my knees shake, my limbs shudder, and my frazzled fingers twitch frenziedly like ten uncontrollable creatures. I feel as though I am being pierced by a flaming angel's sword, penetrating me again and again with its otherworldly bolt. The pain is great, but the pleasure is even greater; like a little boy licking a chocolate-cherry lollipop, my inexpressible desire is for this delicious sensation to never stop. When it finally does, my bleary eyes, waterlogged with sweet, acerbic tears from the unimaginable pleasure and the undreamed-of pain, take a moment to adjust to the gloomy, moonlit attic. And then I see her.

She is sitting in the rocking chair, rocking gently back and forth to the rhythm of the record's winds and strings, her soft blue eyes watching me closely, preternaturally prepared for whatever this forbidden meeting brings. She looks as pure and as demure as on the day she left me late last year: her raven-black hair, still as long as Rapunzel's, is wrapped around her pine-thin limbs like vines around a tree—it is a wonder that she never stumbles. Her moist, milky skin, exhibited unostentatiously through the slight veil of her transparent white nightgown, is as white and as bright as sun-soaked snow; her lips are ruby-red, and her countenance is aglow. My doubting eyes, as if abruptly being forced to see in a brightly-lit room that moments ago was as dark as night, slowly accustom themselves to this incredible spectral sight. I tremble with a fearful delight, for I know that what I have done is not good and not right: I have drawn her up from the well of the dead; my mind—but not my heart—tells me that I should have left her there in peace instead. But now that she is here beside me, I cannot undo what has been done; on this bella notte, with my Sophie freshly arisen—and miraculously rechristened—from the forbidden waters of the pozzo della morte, I cannot but continue, for I know that she will depart once again upon the rising of the midnight sun.

We sit in sacramental silence for several moments, and my boundless joy quickly becomes intermingled with bottomless sorrow. The shards of our short, shattered relationship cannot simply be swept away; they still overshadow every aspect of my loveless life to this day.

An owl howls, and the wind groans, giving our godless, guilt-ridden gathering a gothic, ghostly glow. She tilts her cherubic face to me and at last addresses me, speaking with the vanished Valhallan voice of a silent movie star—her words are vaguely visible, but devoid of any recognizable human sound: "Don't you know," she says, "that my place is no longer here? Don't you know, my dove, that I now reside in the next frontier?"

Her words at first hang over my head like floating ice above arctic water; after several moments, my warming comprehension thaws them out and I greedily gulp them down, imbibing them as if they are an embargoed witches' brew.

"But Sophie, my love," I say with great dismay, the pallor of my sallow face growing ghostlier by the second, "don't you remember the kindness of my youth? How I followed you out to the barren wasteland, how I defended the record of your true goodness to every doubter as if I were on the witness stand? Sophie, my dove, Sophie, my love—why have you forsaken me? You sent me out like a lamb amongst wolves—but you can so easily end the sorrows that have lately overtaken me. Sophie, my love, please don't play with me—I ask for just one heavenly kiss right here in this earthly bliss...O Sophie, please stay with me!"

And then my beloved, her celestial spirit streaming through her newborn body like Scandinavian sunlight through a cathedral window's rainbow-colored stained glass, sets her sapphiric eyes upon me and whispers gently in my ear: "I am sorry, my dove; please forgive me, my dear...but don't you know that I was never more than just a dream? You must learn, my love, to live in this world without making things more than what they may seem."

"But it is a good dream," I say, somehow managing to keep my soul-scorching tears at bay. "Please, my love, do not awaken me! Do not deprive me of my sweet memories of yore. I choose to keep dreaming of you forevermore."


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