“Do you miss him?” she asks me.
“What do you mean do I miss him? Of course I miss him. How could I not miss him?”
“Do you think about him?”
“How could I miss him without thinking about him?”
We sit in silence for a moment. We are going into the city for a laughter yoga class. It was Yosephina’s idea. I do not understand. We are alter kockers. We are old, we have no money, we have no son. What will we laugh about?
“Do you miss him?” I ask.
“Of course I miss him. You are not the only one who misses him.”
“I did not say I was the only one who misses him.”
She turns away from me, pulls her coat tight around her neck. Her hands are thin, long and wilted. They curl around her collar slowly, like leaves falling to the ground. The train is mostly empty. Everyone else is leaving the city at this hour. Two Jewish men sit huddled in the corner speaking Yiddish. Men who have worn a kippah so long you no longer see it.
“Do you know which stop we are?” I ask.
“Yes, I know which stop we are.”
“Well, which stop are we?”
“I will tell you when we are getting off.”
I do not know why we are doing this. I do not know why we fight. Our son died fourteen years ago. I miss him, we both miss him, but he is not the reason we fight. He is not what is between us. I do not know what is between us. We came to America when we were children. Our parents sent us before the war started. They knew. Few parents knew back then. Few parents wanted to know. We stayed together because we were alone together. We did not know what else to do.
“Are you cold?” I ask.
“You are shivering.”
“I am not cold.”
The train lurches to a stop and a group of teenagers step on. I know Yosephina does not like them. She thinks they are loud and noisy. Mossik, she thinks, schmekel, mamzer. But it is a different world. Elias was the same when he was a boy. The youth fill the void the old leave behind. They take what they’re given and make a world of their own. They do not expect us to understand. It is a different world.
The conductor comes and collects the teenagers’ fares. He is a round man with a bushy brown mustache and rosy cheeks. He tells them to settle down and purses his lips. He nods at us as he walks by as if he has done us a favor.
“Why are we doing this?” I ask.
“Why are we doing what?”
“No—yes, the class too.”
“It is what we do.”
She raises her eyebrows and shrugs. “Ver vaist?” Who knows?
Outside it is getting darker. Streetlights streak by, illuminating graffiti and abandoned railroad tracks. Dull, orange, too bright and too dim at once. They tell us it is not safe there, we will not go there. At night, from our bedroom, I watch the light seep under the window shades and keep me awake. Here, it spotlights scattered litter and broken glass.
“Did you know,” I tell her, “that when Elias was a boy, I only ever told him one bedtime story?”
“All those years?”
“He always asked for the same one.”
“What was it?”
“The one about the moon and the sun.”
“What one about the moon and the sun?”
“I never told you the story about the moon and the sun?”
“No, you never told me about the moon and the sun.”
So I tell her. “The moon and the sun were once in love. They were so in love they burned with it, lit up the whole solar system. They spun tight around each other, tight as could be, like two strands of yarn. Many thought that they would collide, that their love would snap and break open, spill all that fire and lose it to the coldness. But it never happened. They spun closer and closer until they were almost touching. The heat built up between them, around them, inside them. It was almost unbearable, the heat. But still they wanted more.
“Their love was so great, the whole solar system revolved around it. Even cold little Pluto could not deny it. And isn’t that what love is? That is why we are attracted to everything, even the things we hate. That is why it is so hard to leave someone you love.
“But one day, the sun decided not to love the moon back. The moon did not understand. ‘Why?’ it asked the sun. But the sun did not answer. It did not have to answer. The moon poured all its love into the sun, hoping their love would reignite, but the sun had already stopped spinning.
“The moon realized it was alone now, that it was spinning in circles, but love was all it knew, and what do you do if love is all you know and the one you loved has stopped spinning? The moon tried to stop, but it couldn’t. It kept spinning and spinning and pouring its love into the sun. The sun swelled with the love, ballooned and burned into a fire so bright it hurt to look at it, but the moon just shrunk and shriveled into itself. Eventually, when the moon had given the sun all the love it had, the sun pushed it away once and for all.”
I clasp my hands in my lap and bow my head.
“That is it?” she asks.
“That is it.”
“That is a very sad story. Why did Elias want to hear such a sad story?”
“He never finished it. He was always asleep before the sun stopped spinning.”
She pauses and looks around the train. The teenagers have gotten off and the car is quiet again.
“Why does the moon spin around us now?”
“It does not want to. The sun tied the moon to us so that it could not return. Even today the moon is still spinning, trying to get back to the sun. That is why the wolves howl at night. They are crying for the moon.”
“And when they sent those men to the moon?”
“They were trying to talk to the moon, to cheer it up. They even tried playing golf with it. But the moon was so alone it wanted to be left alone. It was sad and cold and still spinning.”
“Why does the moon still love the sun? Why does the sun not love the moon?”
“You have to know. It is a story.”
“I do not know.”
She looks at me with her eyebrows raised and then turns away. The breaks squeal and the railcars clank and clatter against one another.
“We are the moon,” she says, “and Elias is the sun.”
I nod my head faintly and look out the window and over the city. The city is full of the winking of lights going on and off. Down below, on the streets, I can see the fog of orange rise from the street lamps. There is crime there, it is not safe there. It is sad seeing a city of that much orange. But there is orange everywhere. In every city, in every town. It is like the shine of the sun on the moon, too bright to forget and too dull to keep warm. But up above the skyscrapers scream in defiance. They refuse to stay grounded, to be muffled. They hurtle upwards, higher and higher until they can barely see the orange. And still they claw higher, against the gravity.
“Why are we doing this?” I ask.
Her face is cracked but firm. “Because it is good to laugh.”
“Do we not laugh?”
“No,” she says, “we do not laugh.”
The doors open up and a mother and daughter climb aboard. They are discussing what they will have for dinner tonight. The little girl is a black of the deepest black. Her hair is pulled back into pigtails and she is wearing jean corduroys with a too-big purple sweater that collects around her wrists and waist. She can’t be more than five years old. I smile at her and her eyes wink back like the lights of so many skyscrapers.
“Do you remember,” I say, “when I hurt my shoulder and could no longer hold you while we slept?”
“You said you would hold me, it was very sweet of you, but then your hip began to hurt you. And so we went to the doctor and said ‘Doctor, you have to help us, we cannot hold each other.’ And the doctor told us that there was nothing he could do. ‘It is old age,’ he said. ‘It will happen to everyone.’ And we said ‘There must be something you can do.’ And he thought about it a moment and said, ‘Well, why don’t you just switch sides of the bed?’ And we said, ‘You do not understand.’ ”
“He was a bad doctor,” she says.
“No,” I say, “he was a young man.” I pause and glance down the railcar. It is more full now. We must be close. “Do you want to go to this class?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says, “I want to go to this class. Do you want to go to this class?”
“Yes,” I say, “I want to go to this class.”
“Good. We are here.”