- The Angel in the House
My wife is becoming an angel, or some kind of spiritual being, I'm not sure exactly what. The other day I moved to touch her and my hand went right through her—right where her shoulder used to be—and scooped out a light-speckled cloud of her into the air that took a moment to reform. She smiled a kind of tired smile and looked at me, but I could tell she wasn't really looking at me. She was seeing something else.
"I'm sorry," she said. My Malkah, and I could only just hear her.
"Come back to me," I said. It felt phony, like a tv thing to say, but I meant it.
"I can't," she said, "I don't know how." And her eyes, because they didn't see me, said I don't want to.
When this began I went to my rabbi, a gray-bearded sage not yet in his forties but full in knowledge. He promised to search the literature—set a methodical pace through the heavy tomes of tractates I'd perused only in Yeshiva. Days passed and my wife grew lighter, more diffuse. He called me on a hot Wednesday night. I was sweating so much my beard left wet heat stains on the phone.
"What have you found?" I asked.
"Nothing," he said. "Angels to men there's some discussion about. Nephilim, they were called. A prehistoric mixing of beings. It didn't end well," he said. "Men or women to angels, though, nothing."
"Why her?" I asked. "Why us?"
"This we can't know," he said. "Why Abraham? Why David? The seventh son of a farmer? A shepherd? God chooses," he said. "He chooses. We don't know why."
But he was a good rabbi, a mentor, a confidant from my high school days. He told me that in surrounding subjects he was able to find various indices on the laws pertaining to issues of bodily integrity. "Responsa from rabbis during the crusades discuss issues of dismemberment and mutilation [End Page 116] at length," he said. "Questions of marital obligations, Halachic status, but no requests for a, eh, reversal of it," he said. "Mostly just requests for divorce."
My wife sat across the couch from me at the time, reading some book on the lives of Hasidic masters. She was pale and cool in a thick sweater. Her iced tea had gone untouched in a pool of condensation. Divorce.
"No," I said. G-d forbid.
"Then perhaps you have to accept it," he said. "Elijah the Prophet went straight up to G-d without losing his life. He didn't, eh, dissipate, but he didn't die in a traditional sense. To have a wife turn into an angel or something like it isn't such a bad thing," he said. "To turn like this, it must mean something." He paused—rifled through laden holy words and their English translations: "A wonder."
A rabbi can say such things and mean it. I could hear him stroke his gray beard through the phone, chew thoughtfully on its bleached edges. I could feel something of his wonder, though it wasn't mine.
"Accept it," I said.
My wife had accepted it with quiet grace. She hadn't been upset about anything since this began. When she was solid, things mattered. She'd come home and talk for hours about some patient's asinine family, some overeager nursing student who'd hung the wrong medication. Her cheeks would go red, her hands would move with purpose toward some hunk of beef that was dinner, cutting and complaining. The meat would grease her fingers, stain her skirt brown where she wiped them. But as an angel she looked at our replica Monet painting for hours, asked me if I could see things that weren't there—variations of color, multifoliate hues.
Her work couldn't accept it. An angel doesn't make a good nurse, they said. Patients died too often around her. The other nurses were talking behind her back about her back, the way they could sometimes see through it...