Janusz Courts Dinah
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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 invitations.
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 in the room 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 eyes. 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 eyes fluttered. He placed his eyecups back, forgetting to restore his attire.
"I only want to talk to her" - he protested meekly - "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 nodded 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:
And he awoke and, subdued, headed for the exit.
Then Dinah exclaimed:
"Janusz, wait, I will come with you!"