Illus­tra­tion by Lau­ra Junger (cropped)

Who can know what chil­dren will remember?

Who can know what folk­lore, what curiosi­ties, what grue­some, fan­tas­tic sto­ries will lodge in their heads? The sponge of a child’s brain some­times absorbs more than it should — things adults might dis­miss as insignif­i­cant or too com­pli­cat­ed, or tales they might assume will lose their sharp edges as the gray world of labor set­tles in. It’s good for chil­dren to grow up in worlds rich with mys­tery. Par­ents should make sure their chil­dren hear plen­ty of tall tales — as many as pos­si­ble — and hope at least a few of them stick.

Hin­da remem­bered many things from her ear­ly years, but a few most intense­ly. She remem­bered, each time with a shud­der, a sto­ry her uncle once told: One night, he’d found him­self alone in the woods, hunt­ed by a wolf. He pulled up his trouser leg to show her how the beast had mauled him before he killed it with only a pock­etknife. She remem­bered the knot­ted white scar on his man­gled leg. She remem­bered most of the sto­ries and songs that the wan­der­ing schol­ars would teach when they passed through her vil­lage. And she remem­bered being eight years old, sit­ting on the floor as her grand­moth­er peeled leaves off a head of cab­bage, inspect­ed each one close­ly for bugs, and talked about how souls float in water.

That’s why, Hin­da, you mustn’t drink from an uncov­ered glass of water on the Sab­bath. On that one day, the spir­its of dead sin­ners are spared the flames and tor­tures of Gehen­na. The angels per­mit them to return to this world and cool them­selves in stand­ing water for twen­ty-five hours, between can­dle light­ing and the emer­gence of three stars in the sky the next evening. So don’t be care­less, Hin­da. It would be very bad if, God for­bid, you were to acci­den­tal­ly swal­low anoth­er person’s soul. Can you imag­ine what might hap­pen then?”

Hin­da could. She imag­ined thou­sands of souls ris­ing from the ground on the Sab­bath, fly­ing through the air with skin blis­tered and hair scorched from the hell­fire, then one or two div­ing into a glass of water care­less­ly left out. She imag­ined drink­ing the water, and the souls flail­ing their way down her throat. And then what? Would the angels of destruc­tion come at sun­down to chase the souls back beneath the earth? In the con­fu­sion, would the angels get all mixed up and sweep her own soul off to Gehen­na, leav­ing her body in the care of a stranger, a dybbuk?

Illus­tra­tion by Lau­ra Junger

Hin­da slept in her grandmother’s bed that night. Her tongue felt dry and sandy in her mouth.


Hinda’s best friend in the world was Basya, the fruit seller’s daugh­ter. Ever since she’d been lit­tle, Hin­da had fol­lowed Basya around the mar­ket while her own moth­er sold mush­rooms. Basya was two years old­er, and as soon as Hin­da was old enough to be inter­est­ing to play with, the pair were insep­a­ra­ble, spend­ing almost every day togeth­er. They always did what Basya want­ed, because she had the best ideas. Basya was best at climb­ing trees, catch­ing tiny riv­er crabs, and build­ing hous­es made of rocks and thatched with pine nee­dles. She was best at braid­ing Hinda’s hair, which, even though it was bushy and unlucky red in col­or, looked good when Basya was the one tam­ing it — and only then. But what real­ly impressed Hin­da was that Basya knew absolute­ly every­thing. Because Basya was often over­looked as the youngest of her sev­en sis­ters, she heard a great deal, and turned every scrap of gos­sip into a deli­cious sto­ry for Hin­da. One day, eager to share a sto­ry of her own, Hin­da told Basya about how souls bask in water on the Sabbath.

Basya knit her sharp eye­brows. That can’t be true. I’ve nev­er seen a soul in water. Do you even know what they look like?”

No,” said Hinda.

My moth­er says she saw her father’s soul when he breathed it out and died,” Basya said. She says his soul was lit­tle, and made of gold­en light. It wig­gled right out of his mouth and up through an open win­dow, like a moth. Or a fish. Or a lit­tle snake!” She hissed and tick­led Hin­da, who screamed with laughter.

My moth­er believes in all kinds of super­sti­tions and old wives’ tales. She’ll fall for any­thing. Me, I’ll believe it when I see it,” added Basya, tilt­ing her chin in the air.

Hin­da was delight­ed to know some­thing Basya didn’t. She for­mu­lat­ed a plan.


Just before the Sab­bath, Hin­da stole an emp­ty med­i­cine bot­tle from her grandmother’s bed­side, uncorked it, and filled it with water. She stood it up under her bed, and lay on the mat­tress stone-still, lis­ten­ing to every creak and groan of the house, afraid to fall asleep and miss the arrival of a vis­it­ing soul. But then, what if the soul saw her wait­ing and didn’t come? What if she hadn’t put out enough water? What if none of it was true, after all? She drift­ed off after mid­night but woke before dawn, stirred by a weak glim­mer ema­nat­ing from under the bed. Clutch­ing the cork in her fist, she peered down over the edge of the bed— and saw some­thing soft and beau­ti­ful drift­ing in the water, like the after­im­age of a can­dle flame. She seized the bot­tle and slammed in the cork, slosh­ing the water inside. Fright­ened by her own bold­ness, she care­ful­ly put the bot­tle back down, and retreat­ed to the mid­dle of her bed. She wait­ed there, sleep­less, until her moth­er called her for break­fast, and she went about her Sab­bath day too afraid to look at the soul. The light was long in the after­noon when she built up the courage to kneel down and peek under the bed again.

Clutch­ing the cork in her fist, she peered down over the edge of the bed— and saw some­thing soft and beau­ti­ful drift­ing in the water, like the after­im­age of a can­dle flame.

The soul seemed to be about two inch­es long, although where it real­ly end­ed and began wasn’t clear. It moved like fire, flick­er­ing with warm light. It dart­ed around, mak­ing rip­ples in the water, and when it bumped or brushed against the walls of its glass prison, it made a melod­ic clink­ing sound, like a ring dropped into an emp­ty wine­glass. She looked more close­ly, near­ly press­ing her nose to the bot­tle, and in the soul’s waver­ing form she dis­cerned human fea­tures, warped and quick­ly shift­ing — there was a wiz­ened mouth, and there, two cloud­ed eyes.

Hel­lo?” she whis­pered. Can you speak?”

She held the bot­tle up to her ear and listened.

Who are you?” said a voice, thin as a fray­ing thread.

I’m Hin­da. What’s your name?”

Please, don’t make me remem­ber,” said the soul. I don’t think I can. Near­ly ten months, I’ve been burn­ing in Gehenna.”

Then your sen­tence there must almost be over,” said Hin­da, recall­ing sto­ries her grand­moth­er had told. No one spends more than a year in Gehen­na. Not even the most wicked of sin­ners. You must have done some­thing real­ly awful to be tor­tured for ten months.”

Please.” The soul made a choked, sob­bing sound. I can’t stand anoth­er day in Gehen­na. You saved me. Don’t send me back.”

I don’t under­stand,” said Hin­da. Isn’t it bet­ter to serve the rest of your term quick­ly, so you can enter the World to Come?”

You don’t under­stand. Each day in Gehen­na is like a life­time of suf­fer­ing on Earth. For every wrong you inflict­ed on the world, you feel that pain sev­en­fold. Every day I feel the gnaw­ing hunger and tooth rot of every beg­gar I turned away, the pain and fear of the chil­dren I’ve beat­en, the heart­break of the woman I wronged. Every good deed a per­son was sup­posed to do, and didn’t, becomes a lead weight on their back. Peo­ple in Gehen­na walk stooped over, with their beards sweep­ing the ground. The pain puri­fies one’s soul in prepa­ra­tion for the World to Come, but it’s too much for a weak sin­ner like me. Keep me with you. Leave the cork in place. Oth­er­wise, when the Gates of Day shut tonight I’ll be lift­ed from the water, pulled back to the world of pun­ish­ment by the force of the clos­ing gates. You must keep the cork in, and wipe a daub of your spit­tle around the rim to dis­guise me and pro­tect me from those winds. If you do that, after the Sab­bath ends, I won’t be drawn back to Gehenna.”

All right,” Hin­da stam­mered. I’m going to take you now to meet my friend.”

Please be care­ful. It makes me dizzy when you move the bot­tle too fast.”

Cradling the bot­tle as best she could, Hin­da ran to Basya’s house. It was at the edge of town, by the apple orchard. The squat, white­washed cot­tage was qui­et in the Tam­muz heat, every­thing slow and lan­guid, and Basya’s sis­ters bare­ly looked up when Hin­da tapped on the bed­room win­dow, three times hard and four times soft.

A few moments lat­er, Basya came out­side. Her eyes widened when she saw the bot­tle held tight­ly in Hinda’s fist. What’s that?”

Hin­da grabbed Basya’s hand and pulled her around the cor­ner of the house, orange in the light of the set­ting sun. Some inar­tic­u­late sense of shame, mixed with the thrill of hav­ing a secret for Basya alone, kept her from reveal­ing the bottle’s con­tents until they were under the apple trees, well out of sight of any pry­ing sisters.

Look inside,” said Hin­da. I found a soul for you. Can you see it? You don’t have to be shy,” she said to the soul, which was cow­er­ing at the bot­tom of the med­i­cine bot­tle, as if try­ing to get as far away from Basya as possible.

Hin­da del­i­cate­ly hand­ed the bot­tle to Basya, who held it to her eye. The faint shim­mer of the soul could have been mis­tak­en for light caught in a spiderweb.

It’s a demon,” said Basya. If it is what you say, it’s bad.”

Say hel­lo to my friend,” Hin­da urged the soul.

The soul slow­ly began to move. Hel­lo,” it whis­pered, in a crack­ling voice.

Basya shrieked. Before Hin­da could snatch the bot­tle, Basya threw it against the trunk of an apple tree, as hard as she could. It shat­tered just as the sun dis­ap­peared and the three stars mark­ing the Sabbath’s end pecked their way into the sky. The soul hung in the air for a moment, its light reflect­ed in splin­ters of glass and droplets of water — then, with a sigh­ing sound, it whirled away into the air, pulled back through the Gates of Day and over the world’s edge, where the fires of Gehen­na burn white-hot under a black sun.


Hin­da and Basya didn’t speak for a long time after that night. Basya told Hin­da she saw her as an evil influ­ence. Hin­da felt she had done some­thing very wrong, and became sick with guilt. For many Sab­baths, she didn’t sleep, fear­ful that the spir­it would find its way back to her, and curse her for break­ing her word to keep it safe. But after the year passed, and the spirit’s sen­tence in Gehen­na had sure­ly been served out, Hin­da tried hard to put the whole affair out of her mind. She and Basya resumed speak­ing after a while, although a dis­tance remained between them. Basya had already become bet­ter friends with oth­er, old­er girls. For the most part, Hin­da grew into a lone­ly ado­les­cence, which she didn’t mind — at least not until the day she watched Basya marry.

Basya stood under the wed­ding canopy at eigh­teen, her black braids cas­cad­ing over her white gown, cheeks blush­ing under down­cast, play-bash­ful eye­lash­es. She was mar­ry­ing Elkhone, a man of thir­ty-five who had been mar­ried once before; he had lost both his first wife and his child in a dif­fi­cult birth. His unde­sir­able sta­tus as a wid­ow­er was tem­pered by the fact that he was the wealth­i­est man in town, with shares in a steam loco­mo­tive com­pa­ny. With his offer of finan­cial sup­port to expand Basya’s mother’s fruit stand into a dry goods store, it was gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered to be a good match. Elkhone and Basya got along well, too. There had been talk about them long before the engage­ment — peo­ple pursed their lips to see him stop by the fruit seller’s almost every day, beard trimmed and mous­tache waxed in the mod­ern fash­ion; and at how Basya would toss her hair and laugh at his teas­ing, offer­ing him the firmest sweet plums and cher­ries. Some of the vil­lagers had accused Basya of chas­ing his mon­ey and whis­pered about the tricks she’d used to turn his head. But even they now cooed to see her under the wed­ding canopy, the pic­ture of a per­fect bride.

Hin­da didn’t like Elkhone. She didn’t like the airs he put on, how he sneered at beg­gars as he blus­tered through the town, how he leered at all the daugh­ters, includ­ing her, a lanky six­teen-year-old. Watch­ing from the far end of the women’s side, Hin­da squint­ed, try­ing to see Basya’s eyes through her veil, shame­ful­ly search­ing for some shad­ow of unhap­pi­ness, or even res­ig­na­tion. But when Elkhone lift­ed the veil, Basya’s eyes brimmed with what could only be tears of joy. Hinda’s heart ached with bit­ter­ness as she heard the wine­glass shat­ter under Elkhone’s boot.

The vise on Hinda’s chest tight­ened as the danc­ing began and she watched Basya twirl and laugh with her friends — her new friends, most already mar­ried them­selves. Her face felt hot and she won­dered if she was pos­sessed. She couldn’t keep from being pulled into the cir­cle with the oth­er daugh­ters who jos­tled to dance with the bride — a good luck dance in the hope that they, too, would soon stand under the canopy. The reedy wail of the wed­ding band flood­ed Hinda’s ears, and she tripped through the dance steps until she stum­bled into the inner cir­cle of the bride. She felt stiff as a corpse. Basya was glow­ing, grace­ful. Hin­da stared at the pur­ple flush of wine on her lips. After a moment, Basya extend­ed her hand to Hin­da. Slow­ly, as if through water, Hin­da reached out. But when she touched Basya’s hand, a pow­er­ful, ter­ri­fy­ing burst of heat shud­dered through her. Hin­da jerked her hand away. Basya looked con­fused and a lit­tle hurt, and Hin­da won­dered if she, too, had felt it. The trill of the clar­inet was pierc­ing, painful in her head, and now every­one was star­ing at her. Hin­da pushed her way out of the cir­cle and ran from the court­yard, gasp­ing for breath and fight­ing tears. From the cor­ner of her eye, she saw Zal­man, a yeshi­va stu­dent her age, turn away from the dance in the men’s sec­tion to stare at her. The lanterns behind him flick­ered like burn­ing souls.


It wasn’t too long after the wed­ding that Zal­man and Hinda’s fam­i­lies made arrange­ments of their own, and the pair were engaged and then mar­ried with­in the year. Zalman’s rep­u­ta­tion as a good stu­dent pro­tect­ed Hin­da from the dis­grace she had incurred through her behav­ior at Basya’s wed­ding, which even­tu­al­ly fad­ed from the reper­toire of even the most enthu­si­as­tic gos­sips. Zal­man was a ratio­nal­ist with a good head for the law, and none too demand­ing of his wife. They still had­n’t con­ceived, but as Zalman’s moth­er kept remind­ing Hin­da, It will hap­pen, there’s plen­ty of time yet.” Hin­da con­tin­ued to work with her moth­er gath­er­ing mush­rooms, and wan­dered the for­est when time per­mit­ted. She was gen­er­al­ly regard­ed as non­threat­en­ing, if odd. The community’s opin­ion of Basya and Elkhone, how­ev­er, quick­ly turned. Elkhone took his wife around to all the big cities, and every time they returned, she had more fox fur around her shoul­ders, more rings on her fin­gers, more silk dress­es, cos­met­ics, and fine leather boots. Basya, it seemed, grew bored of her friends, bored of her ene­mies, and bored of her fam­i­ly, and she let every­body know it with cru­el pre­ci­sion. She soon became preg­nant, and although the women of the vil­lage fawned on her, they cursed her through their teeth for her haugh­ti­ness, her insults, her demands, and her out­bursts. All the while, Elkhone hired the men of the vil­lage away from their wives, promis­ing good wages to blast through the coun­try­side and lay rail­road track. They returned weeks, some­times months lat­er, miss­ing fin­gers and hands, their wages not even enough to pay for doc­tors to treat their injuries. Some­times they didn’t come back at all. Elkhone and Basya had no prob­lem spend­ing their ill-got­ten prof­it, but when wid­ows came knock­ing for a pen­sion, Basya chased them off, shout­ing, There’s no mon­ey to spare!”

And then, one night, Basya went miss­ing. The next morn­ing, two fish­er­men found her by the river­bank, her black hair unbound and tan­gled in marsh grass. When the news came that she was dead, all the ran­cor in people’s hearts of the past four years was washed away by tears, and overnight Basya was as beloved as she had been on her wed­ding day. Every­one wept for her lit­tle daugh­ter, and wept to learn there had been anoth­er child on the way.

They wept, too, when proud Elkhone fell to the ground and wailed by the river­side. But Hinda’s eyes remained dry. She had been in the for­est when they found Basya, and bare­ly made it back to town that evening in time for the bur­ial. She want­ed to cry but felt raw and parched. That night she didn’t sleep, and she brushed off Zalman’s attempts to com­fort her. What, she won­dered, had led Basya to the riv­er? Maybe she’d been sleep­walk­ing, or run­ning from a thief, or per­haps she’d mis­stepped on a slip­pery rock. Or maybe she’d been chased by a wolf, like the one Hinda’s uncle had killed, and had cho­sen a watery death over disembowelment.

For the next week, Hin­da went around in a daze. She cat­a­logued every ten­der­ness she and Basya had shared as chil­dren, and imag­ined shar­ing that same ten­der­ness with each oth­er as grown women. Basya, hoist­ing her into an apple tree, then pulling her own skirt taut to catch the apples Hin­da tossed down. Basya at mid­night, answer­ing Hinda’s knock at her win­dow, three times hard and four times soft, the two of them climb­ing up the ivy lat­tice, crawl­ing onto the roof of Basya’s home, talk­ing for hours as the moon rose above them, turn­ing their skin to sil­ver. See­ing Basya watch her sis­ters get mar­ried one by one, the dowry mon­ey slow­ly dry­ing up. Basya’s fin­gers card­ing through Hinda’s hair. On Tam­muz nights when fire­flies out­num­bered stars, Basya’s green eyes flash­ing their light back to them.


As the weeks wore on, Hin­da began to wor­ry about the length of Basya’s sen­tence in Gehen­na. In her last years, Basya had cheat­ed work­ers, she had been pride­ful, she had left peo­ple who came for their wages freez­ing on her doorstep. Hin­da inven­to­ried these sins and tried to imag­ine a numer­i­cal val­ue for each one. How many days would Basya suf­fer in Gehen­na for every kopek she and her hus­band hadn’t earned hon­est­ly? Would she feel hunger and cold sev­en­fold, her body aching from toil she’d nev­er known on earth?

Hin­da came to lucid­i­ty on a Fri­day after­noon, star­ing at an emp­ty glass bot­tle. She had been clean­ing out the effects of her grand­moth­er, now gone almost sev­en years. It was one of her med­i­cine bot­tles, its thick glass frost­ed with age. Hin­da held it up to catch the gen­tle orange light of the sun­set that her­ald­ed the Sabbath’s arrival. The sun­light danced in the bot­tle. She sur­prised her­self when she reached for the water jug to fill the bot­tle, and set it under the bed. A smile crept to her lips. She turned back toward her hus­band that night, but in the ear­ly hours of the morn­ing, she woke up know­ing that some­thing was there. She looked under the bed, and saw a thread of light swirling in the bot­tle. She picked it up and went out into the night to talk privately.

The spir­it in the bot­tle wasn’t Basya; it was the soul of a thief from far away. When Hin­da gave him Basya’s name and descrip­tion, he said he had nev­er heard of her. Don’t give up,” said the spir­it. If she lived in this town on earth, she prob­a­bly vis­its often. Leave a lot of water out and you’ll catch her eventually.”

No,” Hin­da real­ized. She hat­ed it here. She won’t come back — unless, maybe, if she knows I’m seek­ing her. Please, when you go back, tell her — tell any­one, so they might tell her — Hin­da is look­ing for Basya.”

I will,” said the spir­it, But in return, keep me sealed in this bot­tle a lit­tle longer, until tomor­row night, and spare me from anoth­er day of torture.”

Hin­da corked the bot­tle, then licked her thumb and brushed it around the bottle’s rim, as the soul had taught her to do all those years ago.

Thank you,” said the spir­it, and I’ll repay your kind­ness fur­ther with a warn­ing. The charm you work dis­guis­es the soul, and frees it from the force that pulls it back to Gehen­na, but only for a time. The pun­ish­ing angels can­not be out­smart­ed or defied for­ev­er. They assem­ble and count the sin­ners on the next Fri­day before the Sab­bath begins, and if they find one miss­ing, they will scour the earth like blood­hounds, track it down, and dri­ve it back to Gehen­na with fiery whips. If you do find your Basya, remem­ber this, and let her go when you must, for I do not know what pun­ish­ment the angels might ordain for a liv­ing accomplice.”

Hin­da spent the rest of the Sab­bath in con­tem­pla­tion, and went about her chores on Sun­day with qui­et sat­is­fac­tion, the bot­tled spir­it a pleas­ant weight in her pocket.


Before the next Sab­bath, Hin­da brought home thir­ty emp­ty med­i­cine bot­tles from the trash heap in the woods. When Zal­man left for evening prayers, she cleaned them, filled them with water, and lined them up beneath the bed. In the mid­dle of the night, she awoke. It was pitch black out­side, and at first she didn’t under­stand why the room was washed in light; she thought her Sab­bath can­dles might still be burn­ing. She looked down and real­ized the bed was illu­mi­nat­ed from below, cast­ing her and Zal­man in sharp relief atop it — and she heard a gen­tle, glassy sound, like wind­chimes. A laugh of joy bub­bled up from her, which she quick­ly muf­fled for fear of wak­ing her hus­band. She lay down on the floor beside the bed, watch­ing the yel­low light of the souls pool on her hands and night­dress. She care­ful­ly corked the bot­tles and brought them to the cel­lar, where their glow would be unnoticed.

She inter­viewed each soul and learned that none of them had seen Basya. Again, she cut a deal to keep them, this time a few days fur­ther into the week, in return for spread­ing the word among the sin­ners of Gehen­na. On Sun­day, Hin­da bor­rowed some mon­ey from a cousin, and enclosed it with a let­ter to an apothe­cary whole­saler in the near­est city, say­ing she planned to go into the busi­ness and would need two hun­dred med­i­cine bot­tles to start. They were deliv­ered by a bemused wag­on dri­ver on Thurs­day morn­ing, and Hin­da didn’t mind her neigh­bors’ stares as she heaved crates of bot­tles into the cel­lar, and then ran to and from the pump with her biggest pail to fill them. She stayed in the cel­lar that night instead of going to bed with her hus­band, and the shelves swam with light and sang with hun­dreds of chim­ing voic­es. Again, none were Basya, although one said he had seen a sin­ner like Hin­da described, with black hair and red cheeks, in the place where exploiters were pun­ished. He wasn’t sure if he could find her again. By the time Hin­da had fin­ished talk­ing to each of the souls, it was almost Sabbath’s end, and she had spent all day in the cellar.

So sev­er­al Sab­baths passed.

I don’t know what to do, Hin­da,” Zal­man said after about two months. I don’t know what to tell peo­ple anymore.”

They were stand­ing in front of the emp­ty hearth, and when he spoke, Hin­da didn’t look up. By now, her bot­tle col­lec­tion had dou­bled, and most of her time was con­sumed with prepar­ing bot­tles for the Sab­bath influx of souls. She liked to think of her­self as an innkeep­er for the sin­ful dead in need of rest. She’d even been get­ting to know her reg­u­lars. Per the advice of the thief’s soul, she made sure all the bot­tles were uncorked by Fri­day morn­ing, with no hang­ers-on, despite the spir­its’ wheedling and beg­ging. With every pass­ing week, she felt her chance of find­ing Basya slip­ping away. Any day could be the end of Basya’s sen­tence in Gehen­na; before long, she’d van­ish into the World to Come, and Hin­da would die with­out ever see­ing her again.

 — don’t you remem­ber what your uncle said, about the wolf?” Zal­man was saying.

Yes, of course,” Hin­da said, dis­tract­ed­ly. It had become clear to her some weeks ago, after he had barged into the cel­lar unan­nounced, that Zal­man, the ratio­nal­ist, couldn’t per­ceive the souls at all.

Your uncle didn’t kill a wolf.” Zal­man wait­ed until Hin­da met his eyes. You nev­er stopped to think about it, did you? That scar was from an axe blade that flew off its han­dle and into his leg. Just think about the shape of it. But no one ever told you to stop believ­ing, because they all thought you’d fig­ure it out on your own, like a nor­mal child. You’ve always lived in sto­ries.” He took her by the hand. This has to stop, Hin­da. It’s humil­i­at­ing. You need to make this stop, or I will. Wake up to the world you live in.”

A world where axes bury them­selves in legs, and rail­road lords work men to death, and young moth­ers drown and you nev­er get to know why? A sto­ry can make an axe bite like a wolf. The right sto­ry can bring back the dead, give speech to souls, burn you up on the inside.

Then she said, I’ve been hav­ing preg­nan­cy dreams.”

Zalman’s eye­brows shot up, and she could tell even the most empir­i­cal parts of his brain were reel­ing, because schol­ars as well as women know a dream like that is a sign some­thing is hap­pen­ing in the dreamer’s body. Tell me everything.”

Hin­da smiled, pleased that now he was real­ly lis­ten­ing to her. In my dream, I watch the hori­zon. As the light turns, my body fills with warmth and I feel anoth­er sweet lit­tle soul shar­ing my body. It’s a strange sen­sa­tion, but good.”

Zal­man, too over­come to speak, took her hands. He’d been pray­ing for a son, who would say the mourner’s prayer for him after he left this world. Hin­da kissed his fore­head and instruct­ed him to go to the study house and learn Tal­mud in her name, recite psalms with the oth­er men, and pray that the omen in her dream would be ful­filled. That is how she got rid of him.


It hap­pened five months after Basya drowned. Hin­da had just lit her Sab­bath can­dles and gone down to the cel­lar when she felt the pres­ence behind her, hot, almost like a liv­ing breath. She knew with­out turn­ing around, but she turned any­way. Basya’s soul flick­ered in a bot­tle by the stairs. Hin­da,” she whis­pered. You’ve been search­ing for me.”

Hin­da felt just as she had at Basya’s wed­ding, tongue-tied and dumb, pulled into a dance she didn’t know, while Basya whirled and glowed before her. She stum­bled for­ward, knock­ing over a few bot­tles. She knelt down in front of Basya, plac­ing one hand on the med­i­cine bot­tle and feel­ing it pulse with gen­tle warmth. In the yel­low light, Hin­da could make out her proud fea­tures, just the way they had looked in life.

I knew you want­ed to find me,” said Basya, but I was afraid. I was afraid to come back to this town and hear what they say about me now. It would have hurt too much to see my daugh­ter. And you — I thought you might be angry with me. Are you angry with me?”

Hinda’s throat felt thick. Her mouth start­ed to form the word No,” but it felt wrong. Basya was the only per­son who had ever known her, who had seen her for who she was. And then she’d pulled away and kept her out, as she kept every­one out. Yes, there was anger smelt­ed in with all the shock and relief and and love that lead­ened her tongue. She had always felt small­er than Basya, more frag­ile, less real.

Her knuck­les were white around the bot­tle. How easy it would be to smash it — as Basya had done, years ago — and cast her soul to the mer­cy of the winds.

Sweet Hin­da,” Basya said. It’s all right to be angry.”

You left me,” said Hin­da, final­ly, real­ly cry­ing now. You left!”

I nev­er want­ed to hurt you,” said Basya. I am so sor­ry. Look at me, Hin­da. This life was nev­er enough for me. It made me bit­ter and mean, and there were parts of me that delight­ed in being resent­ed. I always felt so angry, so lone­ly, even when I was sur­round­ed by peo­ple. But you were always at peace just to be alone. You were the only part of my life that didn’t spoil, Hin­da. Oh, I wish I could hold you now!”

I don’t want to be alone any­more,” whis­pered Hin­da. Bot­tles around them were fill­ing up with spir­its, cast­ing light through­out the room. None shone brighter than Basya. And I don’t want to leave you again,” said Basya. I’m here now. Stop­per the bot­tle and take me out­side, won’t you? I haven’t seen the stars in a very long time.”

That week, Hin­da took Basya into the for­est every day, and the late sum­mer nights were sweet enough for her to spend out­side, although she hat­ed every minute that sleep stole her from Basya. When Hin­da was awake, the pair talked until her voice rasped. Basya wouldn’t dis­cuss her suf­fer­ing in Gehen­na — it was hers to bear, she said, and she wouldn’t bur­den Hin­da with it — she want­ed the time they spent togeth­er to be spared all the suf­fer­ing of their time apart. She asked about her daugh­ter, and Hin­da told her how the girl was grow­ing up with all her mother’s clev­er­ness. Hin­da described the spring and ear­ly sum­mer, how the cher­ry trees had blos­somed and moss had crept across the for­est floor. Basya told her about the bit­ter­ness that had brought her to the river’s edge, how all her years of striv­ing for the life she thought she want­ed had laid her low. Hin­da talked about the wed­ding, too, that ter­ri­fy­ing heat that had filled her body, which she couldn’t explain, even now.

With every pass­ing hour, she felt Fri­day clos­ing in. When the wind came from the west, she could almost smell the brim­stone of the pun­ish­ing angels, scour­ing the earth for Basya.

But with every pass­ing hour, she felt Fri­day clos­ing in. When the wind came from the west, she could almost smell the brim­stone of the pun­ish­ing angels, scour­ing the earth for Basya. On Thurs­day evening, as she watched the sun­set give way to dark­ness, she could hard­ly breathe. She felt Basya’s fear, the slight edge to her laugh­ter, the des­per­a­tion in the ques­tions with which she pep­pered Hin­da. Hin­da cursed the fact that Basya had no body to press against for com­fort. As stars began to purl the sky, Basya whis­pered, Please don’t let them take me.”

I won’t,” said Hinda.

She couldn’t hold back sleep then, and curled up on the mossy ground, the bot­tle pressed to her chest, Basya flut­ter­ing inside like a sec­ond heartbeat.


A light stream­ing through the trees in the predawn silence was so bright that when Hin­da hazi­ly awoke, her first thought was that she’d missed sun­rise. Her sec­ond thought was that it was com­ing not from the east, but from her house. Fire. She sprang up and sprint­ed, jostling Basya in the bot­tle, real­iz­ing halfway home that she wasn’t wear­ing any shoes. She burst through the trees and won­dered why she didn’t smell smoke — until she saw that the light was com­ing from hun­dreds of souls fly­ing from her cel­lar, streak­ing into the sky. She crept toward the cel­lar door and looked inside. She saw Zal­man, gen­tle Zal­man, fren­zied, attack­ing the last of the soul bot­tles, sweep­ing them off their shelves and smash­ing them under his boot heels. As the final soul sighed out of the cel­lar and into the sky, Zal­man looked up and saw her. His eyes were rimmed with red. Before he could speak, Hin­da turned and ran back toward the woods. She ran, not car­ing where her feet were tak­ing her, until Basya cried, Stop.”

Hin­da had come to the riv­er. She stead­ied her­self on the rocks. Her hand was sweaty around the bot­tle. She turned to look behind her. The sun was up, but from the west, a faint red glow.

The angels,” Hin­da murmured.

We can’t out­run them,” said Basya.

Break my bot­tle on the rocks and run. I’ll find you in the World to Come.”

No.” Hin­da felt the force in her voice, from some part of her that had nev­er spo­ken before. I want to be with you, now.”

She brushed her thumb around the bottle’s lip, and felt that stir­ring of heat and pow­er, and what she now rec­og­nized as the insis­tent pull of fate.

Basya,” she said, would you like to share my body? Come into me and hide your­self, and stay with me as long as I remain alive?”

Yes. Yes!” said Basya. Share your­self with me, let me see through your eyes, touch with your hands, laugh with your voice. Quick­ly now!”

The hori­zon was a line of fire. Hin­da unstop­pered the bot­tle and pressed it to her lips. She tilt­ed her head back and swal­lowed Basya’s soul. A warmth coursed through her, which turned to a burn­ing heat — but it didn’t hurt, and she wasn’t afraid; it was cleans­ing, trans­form­ing. She real­ized she was laugh­ing — both of them were laugh­ing, two voic­es weav­ing together …

The angels blazed a red path through the sky, and paid no mind to the crea­ture by the river’s edge, a dou­ble-souled crea­ture. One soul so per­fect­ly merged with the oth­er that any watch­er from out­side their body wouldn’t be able to tell they had once been two. The crea­ture rose, a lit­tle unsteadi­ly, and looked around. Sat­is­fied that they were not pur­sued, they walked away from the set­ting sun, into the qui­et Sab­bath night.

Weaver is a play­wright and trans­la­tor, and the Rona Moscow Senior Fel­low at the Yid­dish Book Center.