This scene was originally published as part of the #ValentinesRewind blog hop, and takes place between the end of Chapter Seven and the Epilogue of Craving Flight. I hope you enjoy this extra glimpse into Elan and Tzipporah’s life together.
Mirroring the sweltering July heat outside, I’m feeling warm and glowy in the aftermath of Shabbos with the Kleins. They’ve been friendlier and I think Shira and I are on our way to a genuine friendship, but on most Saturdays, I still leave their home after havdalah feeling more keyed up than one should after a day of rest.
The ritual is supposed to mark the return to the everyday from the Sabbath. While I suppose I should be sad to see the end of the holy time, more often I’m relieved to return to the space I feel most comfortable in: the home I’ve made with my husband, where it’s just the two of us and we have a quiet understanding of each other that covers a deep well of passion and love.
Apparently though, pregnancy is a game changer. Climbing our stairs, I still hear the choruses of “beshaah tovah!” ringing in my ears. We waited until I was about four months along to say anything out of caution—pretty much until anyone would know if they cared to look at my waistline.
Telling Elan’s family was in some ways easier than my own. I’ve always preferred the more restrained wish—that all proceed in good time—to the exuberant congratulations and mazel tovs of my parents and siblings. And now I get to hold on to the sound of the entire Klein clan bestowing those good wishes upon us and our unborn child.
Elan’s mother especially has never shone a spotlight of delighted approval on me like that. It had been unnerving. Though I escaped mucking things up before we’d wished everyone a good week and taken our leave, I still wonder…how soon will it be until I do something to flip the switch and end up in the dark again?
What’s more unnerving has been Elan’s silence on the walk home. I’m usually comfortable in his stillness. I used to think of my husband as a bear, and sometimes in the bedroom I still do. More often though I’ve come to think of him as a tree: steady, sturdy, a welcoming shelter. When the winds of the outside world of the university and our families blow hard and I feel as though I could be carried away on gusts of emotions, I have only to seek him out; lean against the trunk of his body and feel the branches of his arms wrap around me and then everything seems so much simpler. He doesn’t have to say a word for that to be true.
Most of the time, he simply feels as though he doesn’t have anything to say. Which has meant I’ve become an expert at reading his unspoken language: the drawing together of his brows, the tone of a grunt, the clench of his bearded jaw. I’ve come to speak Elan fluently over the past ten months, and it’s that secret language that’s telling me something’s off.
Even in his deepest quietude, I can feel his awareness of me. Sometimes lightly, like when he’s doing his learning or we’re in public. Other times—my favorite times—his attention is so heavy it’s like a physical weight; bearing down on me, restraining me, holding and keeping me.
Tonight his typical solemn expression is verging on broody. I itch to touch him but I won’t until we’re inside our apartment. As soon as we’re standing in the hallway and have divested ourselves of shoes, we head straight to the bedroom as usual and I wait on the threshold for instructions. A private Saturday night ritual after sharing the Sabbath with others.
As soon as I step over that slim piece of wood, I belong to him. The surrender is usually soothing but tonight the fluttering in my chest is more from confusion and wariness than from anticipation. What’s on his mind?
I’d usually watch as he makes his way around the room getting the tools of his trade together, fantasize about what he might be planning for me, focus on what is now instead of what has been and what will be. Tonight I can’t escape the past, and I replay the day in my mind—where did things go wrong?
It can’t be the shop because he’s had nothing to do with it since Friday afternoon. And if he were fretting about that, he would’ve told me.
Maybe an argument with one of his brothers? But I hadn’t heard more raised voices than usual from where Moyshe, Dovid, Elan, and the other men were discussing this morning’s services.
No, he’d been perfectly fine until we’d told his family that I’m pregnant. Although that’s not quite right…he’d puffed up like a proud papa bear, a rare public smile on his face, seemingly basking in the baby-glow just like me, and then—
“Come here, Tzipporah.”
His voice startles me and I try to analyze his tone but he doesn’t leave me much time, pointing to the floor in front of him.
I kneel at his feet, cast my gaze down and wait. His fingers come to my tichels and he unfastens the brooch I’d used to hold the scarves in place—bright yellows and greens to mirror my joy. He unwinds them carefully, methodically, and I soak in his attention. He’s not so distracted anymore. And when his thick fingers weave through the freed tresses, I practically purr. It’s one of my favorite sensations in the whole world.
I look at him then, wanting to see his face, the way he looks at me with such devotion. But instead of that token that I take such comfort in, he looks sad; the skin around his eyes tight and his full mouth slightly pursed. They read like a reluctant SOS, a silent cry for solace.
“Master…if I…may I…”
“What is it?”
A vague question about whether he’s okay will only result in an affirmation and him trying to cover up whatever hints he thinks he might be dropping. I need to be specific. And though it makes my heart ache, because I’ll be devastated if what I fear is true, I am.
“Are you…” I roll my lips between my teeth and bite. “Are you sorry about the baby?”
His features contort into ridges of something close to outrage, softened by concern. “No. Not at all. I couldn’t be happier that we’re going to have a family. Why would you say such a thing, little bird?”
His hand slips from where it’s been caressing my hair down to glide the pad of his thumb over my cheek and my lips. I kiss and nip at the pad, darting my tongue out to take a tiny lick. He tastes like comfort. And when he takes his thumb away and looks at me with those dark imploring eyes, I have to brave the words.
“You seem preoccupied. Have since we’ve been at Moyshe’s. And I thought…”
It surprises me when Elan sinks to his own knees and cradles my face in both his hands.
“You pay too much attention sometimes.”
We have a smile for each other, and I feel my cheeks heat under his touch. Sometimes is accurate. I’m just as flighty as I’ve ever been, though I’ve come up with some new tricks in the kitchen and have been better in my observances. But yes, there are things I analyze until the words stop meaning anything.
He leans forward to kiss my forehead, his beard rubbing against the skin, making me wish for the touch of the bristly softness elsewhere. All in time.
When he pulls away again, he glides his hands down my neck, over my shoulders, all the way to my hands, which he takes in his own.
“I’m so happy that we’re having a baby, Tzipporah. That Hashem has seen fit to bless us with a child. Full stop, no qualifications. Do you believe me?”
Elan doesn’t have an ounce of artifice anywhere in that enormous body of his, so, “Yes, I do.”
He studies me and then tips his head, his eyebrows drawing together in a question before it even comes out of his mouth. “But?”
“But there’s something.” I know there is.
Looking away, the gears in his mind seem to turn slowly. I hope he can trust me enough to share whatever’s bothering him. Let me have enough patience to wait him out, to prove my fortitude, that I can be what he needs.
After a few minutes during which the thoughts in my brain are swirling and drifting like the insides of a down pillow destroyed, he looks me in the eyes again. “I don’t want to upset you.”
“You not talking to me upsets me the most.”
“Ah, yes. My little scholar, always needing answers.”
If we were in a different room in the house, I’d stick my tongue out at him. But in here it doesn’t seem quite right. Instead, I say please.
It looks as though it pains him, but eventually he gives in. “Come, then.”
He helps me to my feet and I trail him over to the bed where he climbs up, leans against the headboard, and pats his thigh. Once I’m settled on his lap, my head resting against his shoulder and my fingertips grazing his chest over his hard-beating heart, he takes a deep breath.
Rivka? What does his first wife have to do with this? He must feel me go rigid in his arms because he begins to backpedal.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned her.”
I sit up so he can see the earnestness shaping my face. “You can. I was just surprised. You don’t talk about her often.” Hardly ever, in fact.
“I’m not supposed to.”
Elan chooses his words with such care that I can hardly believe he said that, like maybe the muttered words escaped before he could think better of it.
“Rabbi Horowitz. He… Well, he…”
“Told you not to talk about her?”
“He said I shouldn’t make you feel bad. That you might worry you weren’t enough for me. Especially in the early days. I shouldn’t compare you because I’d make you upset.” His voice is gruff with reluctance and a note of defensiveness and his face is pinched in a frown. To be fair, it’s not as though I chat about Brooks and our failed marriage over breakfast. It was almost a silent pact between Elan and me, that we’d leave our first spouses out of this marriage so there would be only two of us instead of four.
“It would make me feel badly if you talked about her constantly, but you wouldn’t do that. I know you loved her and you must miss her. Things probably remind you of her all the time.” We still live in the apartment they shared, after all, though I do think of it as ours now. “She was a big part of your life for a long time and you shouldn’t feel as though you have to erase her.”
He grunts, a small conceding noise.
“Tell me, please.”
“It was difficult tonight.” He holds onto a breath for too long, as if he’s trying to determine if he has enough air to last through this confession. “Listening to my family. They’re so happy for us. And Rivka…never got to hear those words. She stood by while Shira and Mazal bore child after child. It hurt her. And tonight…no one said it directly, but I could feel it in the air. Finally. Finally Elan has a wife who will make him a father. And I hurt for Rivka.”
I think sometimes because he’s unobtrusive and subdued that people think my husband has no feelings. That he’s as impermeable to emotion as the boulder he appears to be. But in truth, he’s excruciatingly sensitive. Perhaps that’s one reason he’s so good at these bedroom games we play: he reacts to the smallest change in the atmosphere.
Suddenly I ache for them both, and I hold tight to Elan, grip his jacket between my fingers and crane my neck to kiss his cheek at the border of his beard.
“Oh, Elan.” I don’t think he wants an apology—he’s not angry, just sad. I’ll give him space to miss her while trying to make it clear that I’m very much here, very much alive, and very much devoted to him.
We sit in silence for minutes, him lost in thought and me hoping that listening has made him feel better.
“You know you can ask me about her too.”
His statement is laced with uncertainty like he’s handing me a gift he put a lot of thought and care into but isn’t totally sure I’ll want. But I do. I’ve never wanted to intrude on their relationship, try to take over the part of his life that doesn’t belong to me, but I’ll admit, I’ve been curious about my husband’s other wife.
One thing in particular. It seems terribly gauche to ask about it right now, but it’s the one thing I’ve always wanted to know. And if he’s giving me the opportunity to ask…
“Was it…was it with her you learned about the things we do in here?”
Air floods out of his lungs in a forceful not-quite-laugh. “Yes. I mean, of course. Where else did you imagine—”
“No.” I don’t want him to be offended. He shouldn’t be. “I know you were faithful to her, that you’d never…”
Be with someone else. Break the rules he so diligently adheres to. Never would he touch another woman, never mind… The thought is so absurd it’s almost insane. My face gets hot anyway, because this is prying into their life together, spying in a place I have no right to.
“We learned together. We didn’t know what we were doing and at the beginning, we didn’t even know it was a thing, as such. It was just what pleased us. And when we wanted more… Well, as you might imagine, it’s not easy to find information that’s halachically acceptable. There used to be a website that had…supplies, without the pictures, but…”
He shrugs, awkwardness contorting his body.
I have to snort a giggle at that, because I imagine Elan doing an awful lot of atoning for seeing things he shouldn’t in the service of pleasing his wife. How he must have studied the art of domination with as much devotion and concentration as anything else he puts his mind to. There are few things that could make me love my husband more, but this is one of them.
“I knew…” I try to shake the smile from my face, but I can’t manage it. The ardor I have for him can’t be contained in my body; it spills over into my expression. “You don’t have to tell me any more. I knew. I just wanted to hear you say it.”
That’s when he rolls me onto my back and presses my wrists into the mattress by the sides of my head, his hips coming to rest between my legs, and yes, his erection pressing into my core through the fabric of my skirt and his pants. Has he been hard for me since we came home?
“You’re sure we can be done with the talking for now?”
He raises a teasing brow at me and my lips purse in response. “You’re asking me, master?”
“Excellent point. Stay.”
He lets me go and then systematically strips me, the picture of lustful efficiency. It’s early yet so I can still lie on my back comfortably, and I do while he takes his own clothes off and puts them away. I could be insulted that he’s not so consumed by me that he throws them on the floor but I’ve become fond of his orderliness. It’s a way that he cares for everything and everyone around him.
Besides, since pregnancy equals no periods, I haven’t been niddah at all for the past four months—we’ve been able to be together whenever we please. The perpetual closeness is a blessing, but it’s taken the desperate edge off. Our lovemaking is definitely less fraught, although I wouldn’t say any less intense. More of a slow, cherished smolder than fireworks.
The white button down goes in the laundry basket, his suit hung up in the closet, his black kippah and his tzitzit put in their places.
Then he picks up his rope, already laid out on the bureau. Deep rich purple and dusty lilac bundles are in his hands as he comes back to the bed. He ties thick cuffs around my wrists and ankles with the dark violet lengths, more intent than usual on keeping some play between the fibers and my skin. They still hold me, though, contain me. Make me feel safe and loved. When my wrists and ankles are surrounded to his satisfaction, he helps me to my feet and has me plant my palms on the bed.
And while I wait patiently, he takes the lavender cord and uses it to tie a web of knots around me. The ties are more decorative than anything else—I revel in the feel of the rope sliding against my skin, the careful and precise way he places and secures the knots, how his fingers brush against me to do it, and his quiet skill. It’s not the instantly-arousing bite of pain, which he’s been extremely cautious with since I’ve become pregnant, but the bonds are sensually erotic and build a slow, languid heat inside, making me pliant and yes, wet for him.
When I’ve been decorated to his satisfaction, my torso covered by a lilac net, he climbs onto the bed and settles his back against the headboard before gesturing for me to join him.
I crawl up and between his spread legs, stroking his hardness a few times before he groans.
“Enough. I want to be inside you. Feel what’s mine.”
I rise up on my knees to straddle him, stroking once more before I guide his length inside of me, letting “yes, master,” escape in breathy satisfaction as I sink onto him, allow him to fill me. The hard points of my nipples brush against the wiry hair on his chest, and the contact is electrifying. I moan into his shoulder because it’s so much.
He takes the opportunity to grip my hips in his big hands, uses his hold to guide my motions, rocking me against him as he pleases. It’s overwhelming. The closeness, the feel of him between my thighs and deep inside of me, the heat and the clean smell of him. My fingers dig into his biceps as we rock against each other, until the press of flesh against flesh and the friction from the thick hair I find so enticingly masculine make me cry out as I find my release. He follows not far behind, thrusting hard into me for his last uncontrollable strokes as his climax overtakes him.
More gentle than before, but no less powerful, this is how my husband loves me. His arms come around me, pressing his ropes further into my skin, hard enough I hope they’ll leave marks for a few minutes at least for us to survey and enjoy.
“My beautiful wife,” he says as he strokes my hair, “My little bird.”
I sigh, happiness and dreamy satisfaction overtaking me while he holds and keeps me. I’ve found my place in this world; it’s here with my Elan.