Janusz Courts Dinah

Janusz thrusts his head through the illuminated window, deep into the house, his desperate shadow bedaubed across the wall. We shelter Dinah, a chimera of heads and bodies, protecting her from Janusz, from his love, from his contorted face, as he bawls, in his intellectual accent:

 

“But I want Dinah, let me speak with Dinah!”

 

Dinah’s face alight, attainted red. It has been a long time since she was wooed so forcefully. Janusz, consumed by twilight, bellowing ignominiously in public. It flatters her, evoking stirrings she can recognize. She giggles uncomfortably, a beauty framed in silky skin and pearly teeth.

 

Janusz sits by day on color-peeling, fading benches. His body arched with twanging dignity, his equine face buried in a thickset tome, exaggerated eyes peering through the magnifying lenses of his gold-rimmed glasses. From time to time, he chases a dogged, greasy curl away from his alpestrine forehead.

 

It was this expansive brow that most impressed me as a child. A swathe, pulsating in venous green, a milky desert, crisscrossed with brittle capillaries and strewn with bony rocks. Beneath this tract was Janusz: his wondering eyes, penumbral sockets, and slithering hair.

 

When he summoned Dinah, his face erupted into creases, as wastelands do before the rain. “Go away, crazy one” – my grandma, Dinah’s mother, used to shout at him halfheartedly, as she shuttered the rickety windows. But even Janusz, who I, informed by hindsight, now know to have been really cracked – even he perceived my grandma’s protests as eccentrically veiled summonses.

 

Grinning, he would press his face against the frozen casement, his Hellenic nose made into a bulbous offering, befogged, only his toothy smile remains, then gone.

 

The Seder was often celebrated at my grandparents. Tables colluded under shimmering white clothes, bleached by my grandma in plastic vessels. Matzos and wine bottles served porcelain and crystal bowls with scarlet sparkles. My mother and my father observed, dejected, from the corners of the room, two strangers in an intimate occasion.

 

My parents, unloved, rejected by both progenitors and progeny, clinging together, having survived their families. With eyes downcast, hands sculpting breadcrumbs or folding and unfolding wrinkled napkins, they silently cruised through the night, tight-lipped and stiff.

 

It was an awry evening. My grandpa, drowsed by medication, ensconced in sleepy, torn pajamas, read the Haggadah perfunctorily. We devoured the food doled out by my grandma from steamy, leaden pots. We ate with bated silence, a choir of cutlery and chomp. Immersed in yellow lighting, we cast our shadows at each other. A tiny wooden bird sprang forth, recounting time from a cuckoo clock my father gifted to my grandparents.

 

Still silent, my grandma and my aunts began to clear the table, when Janusz implored Dinah, from the windowpane, to exit and meet him in the dusk. My grandmother didn’t utter a single syllable as she fastened the blinders in his face. Janusz whimpered. The stillness was only interrupted by the clattering plates and the whishing sounds of lacey aprons.

 

Until the door, forced open, let in a tremulous Janusz, his shoulders stooping, his head askance, filling the frame with writhing apprehension and zealous hope. The door – two planks adjoined with sawdust – protested but Janusz didn’t budge. His forehead sketched with rain-drenched hair, his eyes exuding watery anticipation, he stood there, sculpting with his twitchy hands an airy bust of Dinah. The odors of decaying food and festering sweat mingled with the crispness of the drizzle.

 

He tore her name from tortured chest: “DINAH!!!”

 

The women stifled a fearful shriek. The giant Janusz filled the room as he progressed in pilgrimage towards Dinah, his sinewy hands extended, the muscles rippling in his arms. There and then, we in the role of silent witnesses, he courted her, quoting from Kafka and Freud and Tolstoy. That night he called upon the spirits of his library, whose books he romanced on benches under all the lampposts in the township’s parks. He sang her arias and, for a moment, he carried her away from us. His reputation was cemented by this nocturnal recital. We didn’t understand a word he said, his music fell on arid ears.

 

My mother beseeched him softly, shocking us all:

 

“Go away, Janusz, Dinah is tired”.

 

It was the first thing she said that evening. She then stood up, stretching her pygmy frame, pinning on Janusz her kaleidoscopic brown-green gaze. Her hair braked, cropped, atop her shoulders. Janusz, taken aback, studied her as one would an exotic species. His hands, two violent spirals, breached desperately the musty air. My mother stepped up to him and, looking into befuddled eyes, she reiterated her pleading command:

 

“Go away, Janusz” – and, then, soothingly – “Dinah will see you tomorrow”.

 

Janusz’s body crumbled. His shoulders bowed, he took his glasses off, withdrew a patterned flannel shirt from his trousers and polished them meticulously. His lake-blue eyesight fluttered. He placed his eyecups back, forgetting to restore his attire.

 

“I only want to talk to her” – he protested tamely – “I only want to tell her to marry me because I love her”.

 

My mother nodded understandingly:

 

“This is not the time. You must go now. It is Passover, the Seder night, and you are intruding”.

 

He reciprocated miserably and retreated crab-like, sideways, afraid to turn his back on the hostile room.

 

Dinah watched him from the kitchen, numbed. She absentmindedly arranged her hair and tightened the dull apron around her narrow waist. She pulled her blouse to carve her breasts, and, to adjust her stocking, she stretched a bronzed and streamlined leg.

 

Janusz gulped these inadvertent sights, quenching a burgeoning lust.

 

My mother repeated with irrevocable finality:

 

“Goodbye, Janusz!”

 

Awakened and subdued, he headed for the exit.

 

Then Dinah exclaimed:

 

“Janusz, wait, I will come with you!”

 

She hurled the balled apron at us and went and flanked Janusz, provocatively linking arms with him. Janusz stiffened, eyes tensely shut, afraid to shatter this dream of Dinah by his side. My mother fired a glaucous look at her sister, turned her back effusively, and sank into her chair, deflated. Janusz extended one leg towards the exit and Dinah somnambulated after him. Thus, torturously, they vanished into the murky, thunderstruck, outside, leaving the door ajar to the rain sprays and ozone smell of a gathering storm.

 

All the adults commenced and ceased to speak at once. My grandfather snored, his breath deflected by his sprawling chin, fluttering among the white curls on his denuded chest. My grandma concealed him in a tattered afghan and sat beside him, fingering a bracelet helplessly. One of my uncles cleared his throat in bass, regretted this promised speech, and slumped into his chair. They all eyed my father, the oldest and most experienced among them. But he kept mum.

 

They sat there for a while. My father tore apart the shutters and squinted in a futile effort to discern something in the gloom. The streetlamps were few and far between and the tepid lighting of the Seder barely brightened the room’s far corners, let alone the alleyway.

 

The young ones dozed, bowing to soiled plates, their crumpled, stained, cloth bibs bobbing in a sea of matzo crumbs.

 

“Hard-headed” – muttered my grandma and my mother assented absentmindedly. Someone brought my grandma a glass of water. She dipped her lips and crusty tongue and smacked. “Maybe we should call the police” – ventured another uncle of mine, but we knew this was a non-starter.

 

Dinah got divorced in her early twenties, abandoned by her husband. She found refuge in her parents’ home and cared for them and for those of her siblings who still resided there. She scuffed the floor and scrubbed the dishes. In the evenings, she settled down, legs crossed beneath her wearily, gazing at life unfolding from the porch, puffing at a medley of fidgety cigarettes. She had the dead countenance of the introspective. We tiptoed around her and soothingly vilified her former husband to her face.

 

At first, she clung to life. She raised a son and daughter in the squalid quarters of her parents. But when her daughter succumbed to leukemia, she was a broken vessel. She shipped her son to a foster family in a Kibbutz and sought employment in a hospice for the terminally ill. There, among the dead and dying, she spent most of her time, often napping, in between shifts, in a bed still sweating of its former, now deceased, occupant. Or she would sprawl on an operating table, among blood spattered bandages and slabs of sanguinary flesh in overflowing buckets.

 

She rarely returned to her parents now, to assume her tiny chamber, with its monastic bed, and ramshackle dresser. She has not dated, neither has she been with a man since her divorce.

 

And now, this, into the night with the deranged and violent Janusz, who wastes his time on books, on public benches in twilight parks. What could he do to her?

 

“A beautiful woman is only trouble” – someone said and everyone hummed in consent.

 

“Poor Dinah” – sighed another aunt, summing in these three syllables her entire shriveling misery.

 

It was stuffy and men wiped foreheads with blemished handkerchiefs, doffing synthetic shirts imbrued with perspiration. Someone turned on the radio and off again. Others pressed frayed rags against the leaking window frames.

 

“She is not herself since Sima died” – my grandmother intoned in vacant words. No one mentioned Uzi, Dinah’s only son, my cousin, my friend, irrevocably adopted now. I thought to myself: Dinah may be sad on his account as well. No one suggested that she misses him as badly as she does her daughter and her husband, who deserted her, amidst this budding emptiness, without saying why.

 

Mother served a round of roasting, grainy coffee, in tiny demitasses. A symphony of smacking lips and groans of pleasure followed.

 

“What are we to do now?” – my grandma said, her voice monotonous, her fingers curled around the trimmings of her dress – “She eloped with this madman. What’s wrong with her? She has a handsome, clever child, a warm home, a steady job.”

 

My mother stared at her and then away. My uncle, Gabi, said: “There’s more to life than these.”

 

“What more is there to life?” – erupted my grandma, approaching him with scorching eyes – “What do you have in yours? Do you have a wife, a home, or children? Almost thirty years old and still a toddler, unemployed, subsisting on the marrow of this old man here …”

 

My uncle, springing to his feet, circumnavigated the table to face my grandma and then, his mind changed, he exited the house, banging the door behind him wrathfully.

 

“I also must go” – mumbled his younger brother awkwardly – “My friends are waiting. We are going to have us a good time in the square, we …” – and he ran out tearfully.

 

Mother peered at the orphaned coffee cups and sipped from hers. She poured my father some more, avoiding his searching gaze.

 

“Never works, he is killing his old man, destroying his life” – my grandma repeated disparagingly. My mother nodded.

 

My father said:

 

“The aluminum here must be painted, it’s all so rusty. I can do it for you on Saturday.”

 

No one responded. Someone flattened a mosquito between two palms and studied the bloodied outcome.

 

“It’s tough to be alone” – Aliza blurted – “She has no man and Sima dead and Uzi …”

 

“I am alone” – Nitzkhia countered.

 

“I hope she doesn’t do anything stupid” – my father cautioned no one in particular – “This Janusz is a nutcase.”

 

“He loves her” – Aliza said with wistful confidence – “He will not harm her.”

 

“The worst is when you love”- my mother said – “The worst crimes are passionate.”

 

She jumped to her feet and hurried to the kitchen to rid her dress of a budding coffee stain.

 

My father examined the shutters closely, unfurling them and back. “Stop that” – my mother sniped at him and he collapsed into his chair, embarrassed.

 

“It’s late” – Nitzkhia said – “Maybe we should fan out and look for Dinah”.

 

“She’ll be back” – my mother reassured her nervously, fighting a losing battle with the spot – “She has nowhere else to go. He shares the same room with his mother. She watches over him relentlessly. If you ask me, there is something unhealthy going on between these two. No wonder he is like that.”

 

“God” – exhaled my grandma – “I hate to imagine what the neighbors will invent: the two, alone, on the Seder night, in a public park…”

 

“He is a good person, this poor guy, he wouldn’t harm a fly, how could anyone believe that they …together … I am not sure he could do it even if he knew what to do …” – Aliza laughed heartily, exposing equine teeth, and waving back a mane of waning blonde.

 

Everyone brayed and then earnestness reasserted itself. Dinah still hasn’t returned and she was out there, with Janusz.

 

“I have cookies in sugar or in honey” – my grandma chuntered and motioned to the kitchen listlessly. My mother and Aliza rushed to fetch two outsized bowls containing triangular pastry floating in a golden syrupy lake.

 

“I still think that we should go out and look for her” – Nitzkhia insisted dreamily.

 

“Let’s start to clear the table” – my mother instructed me and my sister. We helped her carry greasy plates and cutlery and shapeless napkins to the kitchen and pile them there indiscriminately. Mother rolled up her sleeves, donned a checkered pinafore, and started to scour away the evening with minimal, efficient moves.

 

“Mother” – I said meekly – “we haven’t sung the Passover hymns”.

 

She rinsed the dishes emphatically and used a drab cloth towel to dry them.

 

“Mother” – I persisted – “It is not the same without the signing”. I liked to chime in and yodel the refrains.

 

“Well, I think we will be on our way now” – I heard Aliza from the other room. Nitzkhia had nowhere to go back to, she lived with my grandfather and grandmother.

 

“Mother” – I was panicky now, but I knew not why – “Gabi and Itsik have gone and now Aliza, too! No one is left!”

 

My mother froze and then, bending towards me, she tousled my hair, her hand all wet and soapy.

 

I shut my eyes and opened them repeatedly to repel her rivulets of stinging water. I was crying now and my sobbing swelled in me and I was swept in frazzled tremulousness, wiping my running nose on the back of a sullied hand. My younger sister retreated to the corner, kneeling, and sniveled inaudibly.

 

Mother just stood there, hands airborne, observing us in anxious helplessness. She tried to utter something but it came out a feeble “Don’t you cry now, children”. My father glided from the adjacent room and leaned a naked, bronze, shoulder on the doorframe, his face a sad and distant mask.

 

“Why are they crying?” – he enquired no one in particular.

 

“Because we didn’t sing the Passover hymns” – my mother countered in a stifled voice.

 

Father knelt and cradled me in his arms. He embarked on a monotonous Moroccan tune, until my tears subsided and, enraptured by the distant melody, I fell silent. I joined him in a seamless medley of Passover hymns, my voice lachrymose and screeching. My mother reverted to her chores by the basin and Sima, my sister, absorbed it all in her usual mousy taciturnity.

 

Father held my hand in his spacious, warm palm and led me back to the table, chanting all the way and rhythmically pressing my flesh, spurring me on to join him. We were the only two singing, now in hushed voices, not to wake my grandpa. My sister climbed onto my father’s knee, her scalp safely ensconced in his moustache, head nodding to her chest, eyelids undulating dreams.

 

“We are going” – reiterated Aliza. She arose and straightened an erstwhile festive dress. As she was circling the table, Dinah barged in and hesitated by the threshold, prodded inside by the rain that drenched us all. An invisible hand shut the door behind her.

 

She was soaked, her hair in ropy waterfalls, her clothes an aqueous pulp, her wide feet bare. She gravitated towards a vacant chair and folded, planted in a swelling puddle.

 

My mother, exiting the kitchen, stared at her, alarmed.

 

“Where were you?” – demanded my grandmother bleakly.

 

Dinah shrugged. “We strolled in the public park. We walked a lot. He talked to me. His speech is beautiful, like a gentleman’s. He is wise and erudite. He speaks six languages.”

 

“Then he is definitely not for you” – my grandma interrupted rudely – “We have enough whackos in the family.”

 

Dinah shivered. “He is not a whacko, don’t call him that!”

 

My mother served her scalding coffee and my grandmother kept mumbling crabbily: “He is not for you, Donna. You forget about him this very instant!”

 

Dinah sipped the beverage, her eyes occluding pleasurably. She unwrapped them, green and crystalline, and said: “It all remains to be seen. It all remains to be seen.”

 

My grandma grumbled despondently and gestured dismissively at Dinah’s optimism: “As you have ill-chosen your first one, so shall you cherry-pick your second one, no doubt. Good for nothings. Only trouble and heartbreak await you.”

 

And my mother said:

 

“Come children, let us go home. This is an adult conversation” – as she fired a cautionary glance at the interlocutors.

 

“Let them sleep in my room” – Dinah said – “Sometimes even adults have to talk.”

 

“We all eat what we cook” – my mother sniggered – “Dating someone like that is like laying your bed with sheets of misfortune and blankets of unhappiness. Just don’t come to us complaining that we haven’t forewarned you.”

 

“I never came to you for anything, let alone complaining” – retorted Dinah bitterly – “And not that I had nothing to complain about.”

 

“What now?” – Aliza asked, still on her ostensible way out – “What have you decided?”

 

“What is there to decide after one evening together?” – riposted Dinah.

 

“Will you go on seeing him?” – Nitzkhia challenged her.

 

“I think I will.” – responded Dinah ponderously – “I had a pleasant and interesting time tonight. He is a charming man and I don’t care how he appears to you.”

 

“He is insane” – my grandma groaned – “And you are even nuttier if you consider dating him again. In any case, you are through with us. Take your belongings and let us see the last of you if you intend to follow through with this disgrace.”
 

Dinah trembled, chewing on her upper lip to refrain from crying. “You would have not spoken like that if daddy were awake.” – she spluttered.

 

“You heard me?” – my grandma sniped at her, coughing and massaging her chest, fending off an imminent demise – “From tomorrow, find yourself another place!”

 

A distant mannish voice trilled opera arias. It approached, bathing the room and us, and Janusz knocked on the wooden shutters and called:

 

“Dinah, can I tell you something?”

 

And again:

 

“Dinah, can you come out for a moment?”

 

A tentative knock.

 

Dinah half-arose, supported by the armrests.

 

“Dinah?” – Janusz’s voice, astounded, invaded by its onetime stutter – “Do you hear me? Are you there?”
 

My grandmother fixated Dinah with a tocsin look. Dinah stumbled towards the door, entranced, her hand extended, her mouth agape but speechless. She then sealed both her eyes and mouth and, thus, stood frozen, heaving imperceptibly.

 

“Dinah” – spurted Janusz – “I love you, I have always loved you, don’t be cruel to me, I just want to tell you one little thing, one minute of your life, make it one second” – he paused and then – “I respect you greatly. We can talk through the window curtains. You do not have to come out to me.”

 

Two tearful tributaries, two becks of salty rain, carved up Dinah’s features. She returned to her seat, burying her oval countenance in futile hands.

 

Sighing deeply, my grandma neared the window. She propped herself against the soggy panes and through the fastened blinds she bellowed:

 

“Go away! Away from here, you crazy fool!”

Read the Hebrew Original

Sam Vaknin

Back to Table of Contents

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Poetry of Healing and Abuse

Journal of a Narcissist

Malignant Self Love Narcissism Revisited

After the Rain How the West Lost the East

A World in Conflict and Transition

 

 

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