The Pass

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On the bed lay a small man, stark naked, with a little black beard and gray in the middle. His high sunburned forehead was pink and peeling. A beak-like nose, marked by a pince-nez, projected from between two round bird-like eyes. His false teeth rested on the night table beside a book bearing the title Spirit and Reality. Professor Javitz scratched his hairy chest and from time to time glanced absently at his forearm. “God, so much hair,” he thought aloud, then, “Darwin was certainly right.” The beads of perspiration forming on the professor’s forehead clung to the dead skin. The air conditioning in his Miami hotel room was not functioning though he had put in a complaint to room service several hours before. There was nothing further he could do. Meanwhile the thermometer registered a sweltering 98 degrees, and the professor shifted uncomfortably in the wet bedclothes.

“I’ve certainly committed a folly. What nonsense to have come to Miami in the summer. As if it weren’t hot enough in New York. How could I have been taken in by foolish advertisements? Well, it’s done. I’ll have to bear it for another five days. I’ll imagine that I’m in a hospital or a prison. Suppose I were in Russia, accused of left-wing or right-wing deviation. God in heaven! How close I came to being there. They’d already stamped the visa on my passport.” Professor Javitz smiled. With the palm of his hand he mopped the wet turf of hair that remained in the middle of his head. “Yes, one makes mistakes. The last thing which a man does in his life is probably a mistake. “The Logic of Mistakes” – have I seen a book like that or is it my own idea? Suppose that to the geometry of Lobachevsky and Riemann one added a geometry built on false conclusions. The trouble is that the number of false geometries would be infinite. They may well try that too. ‘A’ is not ‘A.’ My own life might be called false mathematics: false axioms, false definitions, false conclusions. What was my coming here in the middle of August if not an erroneous calculation?

“And how about Esther? What would happen if I phoned her now? After two and a half years of silence, suddenly, ‘Hello, it’s me, David.’ Assuming that she still lives there, that she hasn’t married, that she’s at home now and that she’d be willing to talk to me – what would I say to her? Well, I’m not going to do it anyhow. Inertia can increase no less than momentum. A new Newtonian formula: the longer a spirit is at rest, the greater the force necessary to set it in motion. The question is, why did I ever stop calling her? What if I had to explain it to somebody? Say, in a courtroom. We had everything – love, sex, friendship. Suddenly I stopped calling her. Why, why? Could I formulate it? Yes. I became a hypochondriac and had the illusion that she wanted to destroy me, spiritually, with thoughts, words, a modern kind of incantation. I actually fled from murder by magic like someone who believes in Voodoo. I was afraid of the evil eye or some such superstition. She spoke too much about death. Even in bed. She’d fallen into necromancy. Would a writer be able to do justice to such a situation? No, it wouldn’t sound real. The result would be farfetched, a melodramatic piece of literature. But that kind of melodrama has actually stopped an old love and has left me a lonesome man. Would anybody believe that I, a rationalist, could have succumbed to mysticism? And why didn’t she ever call? Is it possible that she divined what I was running away from? Perhaps her brain worked in quite a different way. Would a Dostoevsky or a Proust be able to describe such a state of affairs? No, no writer can set down the real truth. It’s too irrational, too fantastic, too insane. The truth, like a nightmare, can never be told.”

Professor Javits turned his face to the wall. “I’m tired. Perhaps I’ll be able to sleep.” He shoved the wet pillow off the bed. For a while his mind was at rest. Then he began to think about his savings. In thirty years he had saved barely eight thousand dollars. What if he should lose his job? Assuming that death would not overtake him for twenty more years, what would he do? Yes, social security. He would seek out the cheapest island on the globe and settle there. He would read, eat, sleep. Boring? It couldn’t be more boring than New York. He would depend on fishing to supply him with food. When one fished for sustenance, it was perhaps more interesting. What would he read? Not philosophy or literature, to be sure. He’d study mathematics, physics, chemistry. Perhaps he would keep an island woman, as Gauguin had done. The main thing would be, naturally, not to come down with cancer or a heart attack before then.

Suddenly the tedious Miami vacation was over and Professor Javitz was back in New York. He was no longer hot but he was still naked. He found himself not in his own apartment, but in a strange flat, large and bare, opening on a long corridor. On a table rested a telephone. He tried to call Esther, but in vain. The telephone dial behaved in a strange way, turning round and round. Perhaps a screw was loose or something. He tried to call the operator. No answer. Not even a dial tone. “Maybe the wire isn’t connected. Maybe there’s no electricity here at all. Why didn’t I make sure before I signed the lease? And why is the fire escape on the inside? How would one get out in case of a fire? Unless everything is made of asbestos. I must see the superintendent.” He wanted to dress but his clothes were nowhere in sight. He opened the wardrobe. A skirt was hanging from a hook. “What’s a skirt doing here? I’m not a woman. Or perhaps they took me for a Scot?” He had to call somebody – a neighbor, a janitor, anybody. He opened the outside door but instead of the hall he faced a long drop. He looked down into an unknown depth, an abyss. The house seemed to have been sliced with a huge knife or an atomic bomb. The foundations of the building were not to be seen. He clutched the doorknob and tried to plant his feet firmly on the threshold. Professor Javitz was confused. “Let’s assume that the house was split, but why is there no light? Or has the H-bomb divided the earth into halves, with one of the halves turning away from the sun?” He was looking into those very depths which geologists never hoped to see. The core of the earth lay bare. “It most probably consists of gold. But in a cosmic catastrophe like this, what value does gold have? And how could it be mined? The ladder would have to be four thousand miles long. Where could I get so much rope, wire, and wood? Unless I could borrow Jacob’s ladder. . .”

Professor Javitz laughed. He wanted to retreat but, turning back, he found that his apartment had begun to sink. It hinged on a beam or a log. He was standing between two abysses. He still clutched the knob for dear life. The door itself seemed to hang on nothing. “How does gravitation work here?” Professor Javitz wondered. “Some point of support must exist.” He became panicked. What should he do? How long could he exist that way? He wanted to cry for help but who was there to help him? The stairs below had disappeared. He was hovering over an unfathomable darkness. He wasn’t even sure if the physical laws were still valid here. He might already be in a different sphere, in a fourth dimension. Perhaps the laws of nature here were based on Einstein and Cantor. This was the limit of all limits. There wasn’t even any air here. He began to choke.

He felt a pressure on his heart, a heaviness, as if a bulldozer were crushing him, a mortifying pressure. There was a crisp brittle sound. Something snapped, broke. It was the end, the end.

The earthly heaviness was lifted, leaving a gap and complete darkness. He was suspended in space. A thread connected him to some substance. At once Esther was near him. He didn’t see her but he felt her presence.

“How did you manage to get here?”

“I just managed.”

“Why didn’t you ever call?”

“How? I couldn’t.”

“Did you get married or something?”

“Of course not.”

“What have you done?”

“I waited for you.”

“Did you guess why I stopped calling?”
“Yes, yes my dear.”

They embraced and kissed. He was kissing her slowly and wondering why he wasn’t breathless. He spoke without a voice, without words.

“How long does this last?” he asked.

“It’s one long orgasm.”

For a long while he was listening and silent, with a kind of silence which he’d never experienced before. Presently he understood.

“Why did you do it? When?” he asked.

“About a year ago.”

“How? Why?”

“Oh, it was all so easy. You left and you stopped calling. I was literally bored to death.”

“Why didn’t you call?”

“You know me.”

“Tell me the truth. You wanted me to die that time.”

“Yes, darling.”

“Why? Why?”

“Because I wanted to have all of you.”

“So I wasn’t mistaken.”

“No, my love. There are no mistakes.”

“I’m still connected by some thread. Or what is it?”

“Yes, it’s the last connection with your body.”

“Where is it? Do you see it? I’m completely blind.”

“You only imagine so. You’ll get accustomed. You’re like a newly hatched chick.”

For a long while both were silent. They neither stood nor lay but soared diagonally up, lightly and rhythmically, like a pair of birds. The darkness dissolved but it was not replaced by light. In the dusk he saw two mountains, their summits lost in a cloud. They had reached a boundary. They circled above it like airplanes which cannot land.

“Where will we stay?”

“There where we are.”

“What will we do?”

She laughed and he laughed with her, both voiceless. There were no more questions, no more riddles. All inhibitions, all doubts, were gone. Time and space vanished and with them the categories of reason. Here was everything: pure love, perfect sex, infinite unity.

“Do you see your body already?”

“Not yet.”

“Somebody’s taking your wallet. What’s that? Oh, your travelers checks.”

Both laughed again. How quickly it had all happened! He no longer needed a telephone to call Esther. She was with him to stay. And he’d planned on twenty years more of that misery! At that very moment they crossed the pass between the mountains: the gateway to eternity.


Translated from the Yiddish by Martha Glicklich.

Martha Glicklich co-translated many stories with Isaac Bashevis Singer, who grew up with her father in Bilgoraj, and boarded with the Glicklich family at 106 Clymer Street soon after his arrival in America in 1935. For years, Singer was their guest on the first night of Rosh Hashanah and at Passover seders.