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Forest Dark
Author:Nicole Krauss

“Mother of God, what did I tell you?”

But Epstein really was exhausted now. The driving, the sun, and the long day of being with people had taken it out of him. What he wanted was to shower away the dust and to lie alone under the air conditioning, thinking about the forest that would one day cover the slope of the mountain, rustling and alive under the moon. Moti couldn’t understand. Neither would Schloss. Nor Lianne, who had never understood him, who in the end had not really wished to look, though he had tried and tried to reveal himself to her. He no longer needed to be understood. The night outside was thickening. He lowered the window all the way so that the wind drowned out the sound of his cousin’s voice, and inhaled the fragrant smell of the desert.

He did not attend the reunion, but that night, exhausted as he was, he could not sleep, and stayed up reading from the weathered book on his bedside table. Walking one afternoon down Allenby, he had seen it in a display case full of sun-faded books in English, all the colors moving toward blue. He had gone down the narrow alley and into the crowded, dusty bookshop to inquire about it. The owner was playing jazz over the stereo and tallying his accounts at a cluttered desk. The contents of the display case had not enticed anyone for ages, and it took a long time for the key to be found. But at last the case was pried open, releasing the musty smell of trapped weather and disintegrating paper. The owner reached in and removed The Book of Psalms, and Epstein tucked it under his arm, and went back out again into the crowded street and made his way toward the sea.

Was there a more complicated hero in the Bible than David? David who manipulated the love of Saul, of Jonathan, of Michal, of Bathsheba, of everyone who ever came close to him. A warrior, a murderer, hungry for power, willing to do whatever it took to become king. Betrayal was nothing to him. Killing was nothing. Nothing was left to stand in the way of his desires. He took what he wanted. And then, to let him rest from what he had been, the authors of David ascribed to him the most plaintive poetry ever written. Had him, at the end of his days, stumble into the discovery of what was most radical in himself. Into grace.

In the morning Epstein slept late, and was woken by the ring of the hotel phone. It was reception calling. Someone was waiting for him downstairs.

“Who?” he asked, still in the fog of sleep. He was not expecting anyone: he had no money left to give.

“Yael,” the receptionist reported.

Epstein roused himself and squinted at the clock. It was only just past eight. “Yael who?” he asked. He did not know any Yael, except for his mother’s cousin, who was buried in Haifa. There was a muffled pause, and then a woman’s voice came on the line.



“It’s Yael.” She paused, as if waiting for his memory to be jogged. Had it gotten that bad? Epstein wondered, rubbing his eyes with a dry knuckle.

“I have something for you. My father asked me to make sure that you got it.”

Still dazed, Epstein recalled how, at the first sign of light on Sunday morning, unable to stand another minute in the hard little Gilgul bed, he’d splashed his face with cold water and gone in search of a cup of tea to soothe his still uneasy stomach. On his way, he nearly smacked into Peretz Chaim, who was coming out of his room. Peretz had rolled up his sleeve, and was tightening the black band of his phylacteries around his bicep the way an addict ties a tourniquet. But it was Epstein who’d felt the longing: the hunger for the vein that goes straight to the heart. He touched his fingers to his chest, over the beating muscle that could not handle his thick blood.

“You want me to just leave it here at the desk?” she asked. “I’m kind of in a hurry.”

“No! Don’t,” Epstein said in a rush, already standing and reaching for his pants. “Wait. I’m on my way down.”

With trembling fingers, he pushed the buttons through the holes of his shirt, brushed his teeth, splashed water on his face, and paused in front of his dripping image in the glass, surprised to find that his hair had grown so long.

He saw her in the lobby before she saw him, bent over her phone, her pale, high forehead wrinkled in a frown. She was wearing jeans and a leather jacket, and now that she was fully dressed he saw that his Bathsheba’s nose was pierced with a tiny diamond. But as he approached, he was struck by something familiar in her profile, some likeness that he had not noticed that night two weeks earlier. When he said her name, she raised her head, and their eyes met for the second time. But if she remembered, she didn’t let on.

She was working on a script about the life of David, and had attended her father’s reunion in Jerusalem with the film’s director. At the end of the night, as she was getting ready to drive back to Tel Aviv, the rabbi had asked her to bring this to him—and from her bag she produced a golden folder. It was imprinted with the words DAVIDIC DYNASTY, above which was a shield with the lion of the Kingdom of Judea and the Magen David. She held it out for him, but Epstein remained unmoving.

“You’re making a film?” he asked in wonder. “About David?”

“Why the surprise? When I tell people, it’s always the same reaction. But there’s never been a good film about David, unlike Moses, even though he’s the most complex, fully wrought, and fascinating character in the whole Bible.”

“It isn’t that. It’s just that I happen to be—” But he stopped himself from telling her that for many nights now he had been reading the Psalms. That something in him, strong and flawed, might go all the way back to an ancient story. “I’m interested in David.”

“You should have been there last night, then.”

“Should I have?”

With an amused smile, she described how the guests had entered under the fake stone arch, guarded by two messengers decked out in royal garb, who announced each one, followed by a trill on their bugles. A harpist in trailing velvet had plucked golden strings in the foyer. You couldn’t have cast it better had you tried, she said.

Glancing again at her phone, she told him that she really had to leave; she was late to meet someone.

“Where do you need to go?” Epstein asked.


“I’m going that way, too. Can I give you a lift in the taxi? I want to hear more about the film.” He stopped himself from saying that he wanted to know why the rabbi’s daughter, who looked upon her father’s pet project with irony and appeared to have gotten as far from religion as she could, would want to make a film about David.

She put on her sunglasses and smiled faintly at something over his shoulder as she lifted her heavy bag off the floor.

“But we already know each other, don’t we?”

Something to Carry