We buried you on a Friday. It was the summer solstice. Your mom rubbed circles on my back as they lowered your simple wooden box into the ground. Your dad spoke to no one, his clothing ripped on the right side. Everyone grabbed a handful of dirt and dropped it on your coffin. Tears ran down my cheeks and splashed onto my hands, but not because you were dead — you weren’t — I cried because of the thumbtacks I’d slipped into the straps of my cork wedges. Every step pushed the pin into a new inch of flesh. How else could I grieve for you, Tavi? You weren’t dead. You promised.
Hundreds of people turned out for your burial. At the end, your family friends from Temple formed two lines, facing each other, and recited, “Hamakom y’nachem etchem b’toch sh’ar availai tziyon ee yerushalayim,” as your parents made their way to their car.
Your mom told me later, while she sat Shiva, that it was a traditional condolence. “Those are words for the living.”
When Leib jumped into her lap and pushed his head against her hand, I almost let slip that he’d been our best experiment. Leib was one life down from nine, but we’d brought him back, and now he’d never die. We’d breathed life into his body three days after suffocating him in the basement.
“Thank you for including me today, Mrs. Vardi.”
She picked up the sleek cat and placed him back on the floor with a scratch behind the ears. “Tavi was very fond of you.” She said no more.
On Sunday, when you didn’t rise from the dead like another infamous Jew, I raced to the Temple. The pews shone as if recently oiled. Seth took care of everything inside the Temple. He had to be more than seventy, but he had found a kindred spirit in you. Seth served on the Chevra Kadisha. He had taken care of you in death. He washed and wrapped you in the simple white shroud. The symbol that you were no different than any other Jewish man in death. But you were different, you were seventeen and so vibrant in the days before you died. When they weren’t looking, he’d slipped a piece of parchment into your mouth between your teeth and cheek. On it I’d written Ein Sof, endless.
“Where’s Tavi?” This time, the tears were real.
Seth placed a rag on the bench. “He’s not here. Did you check the cemetery?”
“Of course,” I said, daring him to drill me. “Did you forget something?”
“I forget nothing,” he answered with a huff. Counting off on his fingers he continued, “First, wash the body in water steeped in rosemary, rue, and amaranth. Second, conceal the petals of the Rose of Jericho in and around his body. Third, place the parchment in his mouth. Fourth, make sure his box isn’t sealed.”
Everything had gone according to plan. After you had been buried, I snuck into the cemetery and sprinkled crushed acorns and the bones of your great uncle Ephraim over the rise in the dirt your body made below. The powder had been made with a silver mortar and pestle. I’d slept the whole night with my check pressed against that dirt, willing you to rise, as I did the night after.
“Maybe it’s different with humans,” Seth said. “Continue spreading your concoction over the earth until his parents are done sitting Shiva.”
I did and still you haven’t returned to me.
We’d decided the week before that you would die first. It would be easier because of your religious beliefs. No autopsy. No embalming. A burial in a weak pine box held together with pegs instead of nails. We’d tested our theory on neighborhood pets and one unfortunate canary that didn’t make it before we’d discovered the scroll of text that had an extra step to gain everlasting life. Your Hebrew was rusty, mine non-existent, so we’d gone to Seth for help.
Then we’d resurrected Leib and everything changed. Your blue eyes suffused with more light. Your kisses were deeper, and we tried things in the dark of the basement we’d never done before. Touching. Tasting. Thrilling. Together.
“I love you,” you whispered against my mouth. Your hair stuck out at strange angles making me laugh against your collarbone. You pressed your lips against my forehead.
“Always,” I said. Then we fell into quick breaths and thrusts in the dark. And you were mine forever.
Three months later, I have nothing. I trace my finger along your name in stone. It’s cold at night. The powdered bones of your uncle have faded beneath a patch of grass. Our senior year is empty without you. Tavi, I am empty without you. This hole inside me grows with every day you remain here.
One question remains, what have I done, my love? What have I done?
After clawing to the surface, I remained in the cemetery long enough to catch my first sunrise and sunset since I’d died. I didn’t know how long I’d been beneath the ground. I was buried on the summer solstice in record high temperatures. The chill in the air sparked memories of autumn. The way you wore leggings paired with long leather boots, your hair the color of aspen leaves spilling down your back and billowing in the wind. The finely tailored black coat my mother insisted you borrow hanging off your slender build as you spun with your arms outstretched. The way your mouth tasted of salty caramel and coffee, and your lips smirking before they laughed the sound of my name. How the low light of sunset bounced off your dark brown eyes, showing me in silhouette. Our fingers laced together with promises of forever.
I ran from the stillness of headstones and mausoleums, leaving dust and clots of earth in my wake. The streets were dusky as the lights flickered to life one by one. The shape of the cars should have tipped me off. The absence of gasoline or oil slicked across the asphalt glared at me. Obvious. Most of the cars whooshed past in near silence, but all I wanted was to see you. Insist you begin preparations for your own time in the earth.
A stranger answered your door. He stayed behind the screen door, eyeing the filth in my hair and the tattered shroud that covered my nakedness. It wasn’t cold enough to be Halloween. He must have thought me mad, shoeless and smiling like an idiot.
“Is Bianca home?” Your name on my lips felt like a secret.
The man’s brow creased with concern. For me? For you?
“Where is she?”
“Son,” he said, knuckles gripped the wooden door he ached to shut, “there’s no one here named Bianca. Do you need some help?”
He asked, but the way he’d stepped back to close the door said all it needed to say.
“What day is it?”
He cocked his head as if it were the last question he expected. “It’s Monday.”
“The ninth of September.”
I made some simple calculations in my head. Nearly three months since I’d “died”. Okay, so a few things had changed, namely your address. Or was this some home-invading murderer that I needed to take care of and come to your rescue?
“Did the Holland’s move?” My empty stomach clenched. Even if you had moved, I’d find you.
“I’ve lived here for twenty years,” he said. The encroaching darkness threatened to swallow me. I reached out a hand to lean against the house’s siding to keep me from falling and hitting my head. “The family before me was the Washingtons. You sure you have the right house?”
“What year is it?” I asked twice, the first time being inaudible. “What year is it?”
It’s been thirty years since they lowered my pine box into the earth. I didn’t know it would be this long, Bianca, you must believe me. The world has changed; you have changed; yet I have remained frozen in time. I’m seventeen. Eternally seventeen. And I yearn for you with the same crushing emotion of thirty years ago. How was I to know that the translation we used for immortality would be so damn wrong? We had an eternity to worry about filling, not the thousands of nights spent apart.
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Audrey. Check out Julie’s answer to this prompt next Monday.