אדם יסודו מעפר וסופו לעפר
In the first world, the chosen people had crafted them of mud, and flame, and Word. Cracked clay limbs had softened to flesh, and the Messiah—both elder and child—had awoken to song: Odem yesoydoy meyofor vesoyfo leyofor. Man begins in dust, and ends in dust.
Tsayt played beside the park’s path, rheumatic fingers trembling on the violin. Several worlds ago, his granddaughter—it felt best, that word—had carved those words into the gleaming maple. Ages of polish had blackened the letters, but the violin remembered the Yiddish, as did the luthier playing it. Tsayt watched them all in the pre-dawn light: the early runners and late lovers, the sleepers curled in the grass like boulders. He played softly, warming, preparing—
“Better shoes next time, grandpapa.” She scowled at the tap shoes beside her on the bench: The peeling leather, the metal separating at the heels. “See what I have to work with?”
He played on, eyes closed. “A poor painter blames their brush, Ketzie.”
“Are not our oceans? Are not our skies?”
“Those were your idea.” Grimacing, Ketzie kicked off her chucks and shoved on the first shoe. “No wonder this world turned out shit. Stupid, outdated—”
He cleared his throat. She shot him a glare, but yanked the laces tight. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“A moment.” The wood warmed beneath his touch, the strings awakening in the twilit chill. How many violins had he made, across their lifetimes? But this had been his first, and he couldn’t bear to part with it. Its song was gentle, sweet as silver—
Something slammed into him, knocked him off the path. Tsayt stumbled. “Peace to y—”
“Peace to this, you fucking kike.” The spit struck his spectacles, dripped to his cheek. The bald man snickered, sauntered away.
Grimacing, Tsayt wiped his cheek with a handkerchief, removing his glasses. The moment he did, the unfiltered world’s aurascape blazed: Currents of light coursed through the stones, the sleeping figures, a burrito wrapper pecked clean by glowing rats. He glanced at Ketzie. Without the lenses, he saw her as she was: The bones with marrow of molten clay, the letters truth engraved upon her brow. He bore it too, the Word their people had used to awaken them. Ketzie wrinkled her nose. “Put ‘em back on. It’s creepy when you See me.”
“You prefer I see the world through spit?”
“I prefer that skinhead took his meals through a straw.” She bit her lip. “It’s happenin’ again. Worse than before.”
“…we waited too long, this time.”
“You wanted to wait beyond the war. Well, we did. And surprise, surprise: New era, same shit. They’ve made camps, grandpapa! And shootings, and bans…” Ketzie glared down the path. “We get rid of ‘uns like him, next time.”
“We can try,” he said simply. “Now get to it.”
She jerked the laces tight on the second shoe. Beneath her skin, veins of darkness flowed to her heart, which pumped light back into radiant arteries. “Still creepy,” she reminded him. She glanced to the horizon. “Time’s up.”
He followed her gaze: Dawn had come. He smiled. They had both agreed not to change the sky: That, they had gotten right. He savored the sight a moment longer—it was beautiful, wasn’t it?—then tucked his spectacles into his pocket. His fingers traced the words carved into the violin. “Ready.”
Ketzie scowled down at her shoes. “Yahweh’s ass, it’s like the sky ate liver and squatted over my feet.” She stood, feet parting in first position, graceful arms lifting. Beneath her stance, the shoes began to smoke. “You good?”
He raised the violin. “Yes.”
The concrete around her began to bubble. She glanced back at him: One eye blazed white, the other pulsed with darkness. “Better shoes, next time?”
“Next time,” he promised.
Ketzie turned away. The air around her began to ripple. “Let’s do this.”
Bow raised, heel lifted. They played.
The world hummed. The song from the smoking strings split into several octaves, dozens, hundreds, a vast spectrum shaking the earth with its own resonant frequency. Ketzie’s delicate steps slammed down, shattering the mantle.
Expectations of the Messiah differed with each world—this one prophesized a judge, of all things—but it had never occurred to anyone that the Messiah was already here: That this world, tragically, was the world to come—and with a scratched violin and tattered tap shoes, the Messiah tried to save their people.
Failing each time.
The song grew into a roar. The earth’s flesh cracked beneath them, fissures forming gaping maws that belched ancient gases into the atmosphere. The irony was bitter. But their makers’ words had been clear: Man begins in dust and ends in dust.
True, Tsayt thought. But what difference was there between dust and ash?
His thumb ran across the words scratched into the wood. No, he couldn’t part with this violin. The wood had too many memories: Every song and laugh and scream across hundreds of lifetimes had settled into the maple, warping it, changing its voice. It remembered…and so did they. A gash mangled Tsayt’s left ear: The first world had tagged them, like cattle. Another had marked numbers on their arms with ink, another with acid. Tsayt’s back held a pale strip of skin when they’d painted him with a yellow stripe, and Ketzie’s inner thumb had a twisted X from the world that had branded Jewish children to separate them in schools. A golem’s flesh forgot nothing.
One-twothree One-twothree. The air itself caught fire.
Yes, they would start again. And again. And again. Ketzie and he would build this world anew over and over until they found one—just one—that permitted them to exist.
The planet’s core ceased spinning. The ozone dissolved, scorching the Earth, boiling the oceans.
Odem yesoydoy meyofor vesoyfo leyofor.
Tsayt closed his eyes and played, listening to the beauty of tap shoes on broken concrete.