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Al Andalus: Tales of an Imaginary Spain

"The most important thing in this portion is seldom noticed," Rabbi Solomon ibn Uzair said, as he lay on a pile of cushions beside his lover Joseph. A small scroll of the Torah lay open in front of them, rolled to the beginning of the book of Shemot. Beyond the rabbi’s study, in the square below, they could hear the sounds of the market, heavy wooden wheels of carts, and the horses that pulled them, sounding on the hard dry earth of summer. The cacophony of shoppers’ voices, the cry of vendors calling out their wares, all mixed together and rose up into the room, bringing the heat of day into that chamber, lit only by the shafts of light that poured through the open lattice-work shutters. "And what is that?" Joseph the younger man asked his lover, running a slim dark hand over the rabbi’s forearm, running against the grain of coarse hair, his own hand then stopping over the page, like a golden yad above the text, pointing. The rabbi smiled and let his own hand caress his partner’s shoulder. "Joseph, you aren’t paying attention to what I told you last week, when we were finishing Bereshit." "How can I pay attention, when the day is so hot and dusty?" Solomon leaned over the young man to grab a pitcher off the small round copper table that sat beside the divan. Tall and thin, the pitcher of green glass was filled with water, which he poured into the two empty cups on the table. "You mean the water?" Joseph asked. "There’s water in Bereshit and now there’s water here, the river." The rabbi smiled. "You’ve got the right idea. But go back to the text and read for me." Stumbling over the Hebrew words, Joseph read the first passage. The room was still. He could feel his lover’s impatience with him, in the controlled rasp of his breathing. These were moments when he hated Solomon, only five years older, but acting as if he were the wisest man in all of Jewry. He glared at him for a moment. The older man’s hand extended over the open scroll, about to point out what he had missed. "Don’t! Let me find it," Joseph snapped. Solomon pulled back his hand. He hated it when his temper rose, especially when it rose up against Joseph, so sweet, so good to him. Without waiting, Joseph dived back into the text. He read slowly, with an edge of hostility in his voice. And then he came to the beginning of the story about Moses, to the fifteenth word, and the sixteen. "Ki Tov!" "That’s it, isn’t it? That’s what you wanted me to see. That Bereshit begins with God saying Ki Tov about creation, and now, at the very beginning of Shemot, Moses’s mother says that about her baby son!" Solomon reached out a broad hand and rumpled Joseph’s hair. Usually when he did that Joseph hated it. "I’m not your horse," he’d snap, "so get your fingers out of my mane." But this time, the heat, the words of Torah, and the tender warmth of his lover’s dark hand, telling him that he’d learned the lesson of the day, made him smile, grab that hand, pull it to his mouth and sink his teeth into the web between Solomon’s thumb and index finger. "Ouch!" the rabbi shouted, pulling his hand away. But Joseph grabbed it back and licked where his teeth marks remained. "Ki Tov," he whispered, then licked it again, as Solomon, with his other hand, rolled up the scroll of the law and placed it on the table.


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