Too Late
Avrom Reisen

The little bit of rye that Antosh had reaped from the small piece of field he owned, he had already, together with his 18-year old Sergei, threshed and ground in the nearby water mill with its two wheels, and had stored it in the garret for bread during winter. But he placed a pud [40-lb] pack of rye in a sack, tied it up with a string, and took it to town to the market. In the market, Jews, one after another, approached his wagon every once in a while, poked the sack, and asked:

― Чого маешь на проданье? What are you selling?

To which Antosh would humbly answer:

― Жито Rye.

And the Jews bargained and bargained, weighed and weighed with their hand scales, and suggested a price of 40 kopeks up to half a ruble. And Antosh used to listen to these prices, scratch his neck, and ask for five zloty until he agreed to four zloty. At four zloty he became stubborn, and more bargaining did not help.

― Четыре злотых Four zloty! he demanded.

But at dusk, when the Jewish vendors took the road and no longer approached him, he was downcast with his little bit of merchandise, and now looked for a merchant to buy for half a ruble.

The only dealer who had remained in the market, Khonen the Short, had already used up the little bit of money he had set aside for the market, so for that reason, with tongue in cheek suggested only three zloty:

― Три злотых, колы хочэш Three zloty, if you want.

And Antosh, who needed the money to buy necessities, without which he couldn't go home, with heartache gave it away for three zloty. Upon hearing that he was willing to give it up, Khonen felt on the right side of his heart a pang of joy, that he is lucky to buy a “bargain” from which he will have a pure ten profit. In the left side of his heart there was a pang of pain: God knows if he'll actually get the bargain, because his capital during the day at the market was completely depleted.

However, Khonen had more hope and certainty in success than actual capital. So he told Antosh to deliver the merchandise to his storehouse. There in the storehouse he made a partnership with a rich dealer; that fellow paid, and Antosh received three silver zloty. He looked them over from every side, and asked several times: “Maybe they're counterfeit?” And as the two partners assured him that it was truly good money, he pushed them deep into his bosom, and set off with his little wagon to the market inn. There he tied the horse to a porch post and went away to take care of needs.

He bought two pots of salt which his wife had asked him, in the name of God, to bring. Also three packages at eight groshen each of makhorke [coarse tobacco], a two pounds of soap at six kopeks each, a bunch of bagels, a гостинець small gift for the little children. As for the rest, he went into the inn and had a drink to wake himself up, and happily began to converse with the other peasants.

― Пуд жита продал I sold a pud of rye, he told one of the peasants with his heart gladdened by wine. ошукали жиди три злотих дали, мало The Jews fooled me and only gave me three zloty; too little!

The other peasant, who was richer than Antosh, threw a despising glance at him, and haughtily responded:

― что — пуд жита? Я десять продал … Понимаешь What? One pud of rye? I sold ten! Do you understand?

Antosh, with envy, looked at the peasant and wanted to reply something. But his weak little head was a bit confused, and he only gave a twist with his lips. He left the inn half happy, half gloomy, sat down on his little wagon, and let himself go to his home in the village five viorst from the town.

* * *

A month passed. Fall advanced, the days grew shorter, and the nights longer. And in Antosh’s house a lamp was already needed by nightfall. The earthen jug which Antosh had bought from a potter three years ago for eight groshn, stood dried up, and it was not worth buying oil for it. Other than that the salt was almost depleted. Of the soap he had bought, only a small piece remained. Of the makhorke there was only enough for a few days. And Antosh scratched the back of his head, spat, and growled:

― Соли нэма, мидла нэма, махорка нэма, ничого нэма, кепськи интерес No salt, no soap, no makhorke. I have nothing. What a shame.

Antosh had nowhere to earn something. The only Jew who lived in the village was himself very poor. And Antosh had only one hope: Before Sukkos to chop up a full wagon of “skhakh”, take it into the village, and sell it there for a few coins. He was doing this every year since he got his little horse, for which he paid six rubles.

― Колы у вас буде кучки? When will Sukkos come? ― Right after Rosh Hashanah he began to ask the Jews who lived in the village.

― Ещё много A long time! ― The Jew would answer him.

― Алэ колы But exactly? Antosh would not let him be.

The Jew, who did not feel Antosh’s need, once told him, not very thoughtfully:

― Ещё тыждень Another week!

In truth there were not more than five days until Sukkos, and Antosh had calculated that two days before Sukkos would be the right time to bring the branches to town: That turned out to be exactly the first day of the holiday …

He got up early that day, bit off a piece of thick black bread dipped in salt he ground himself, and drank from a quart of cold water. He bridled the the half hungry, half drowsy horse. He took his axe and set out for the nearby woods.

He began to chop the protruding branches one after another. He gathered only the the thick and longer ones: Better merchandise sells more quickly! That’s what he thought. The wagon’s load grew and grew. He reckoned that he would earn at least three zloty for his merchandise. And he kept thinking that perhaps it wasn't have enough. So he chopped some more and piled the branches. Eventually the wagon became full. Antosh regarded it from all sides and was satisfied.

― Довольно будэ! This will suffice! ― he exclaimed to himself, and he led his horse by the bridle.

He had but moved a few steps, he stopped and again took a look at the wagon.

― А можэ мало будэ? Will this be enough? ― He was suddenly afraid, and he chopped five more branches. He now proceeded with confidence.

He traveled slowly, step by step. And slowly, step by step, the thoughts entered his mind as if they would not want to go faster than his horse. Antosh had calculated how much salt he would be able to buy, how much soap, how much “gazeh [kerosine]”, and how much makhorke, with the money he would earn from the Jews in town. At last the calculating tired him out, and he decided that when he had the two zloty in hand, it would be easier for him to figure out how to buy everything. And after that decision it was a load off his mind.

* * *

As he passed with his wagon through the outskirts of the town and saw the sukkos already decorated with skhakh, it was as if something tore inside him. It seemed that the sukkos and the houses were spinning and jumping. He buckled up and consoled himself that it is thus every year. Many Jews put on the covering earlier, many later. That’s why later is more valuable.

― Дорожей возьми Ask for a higher price! ― he decided, and a cold sweat came over him.

He drove on further. On the path were two women; one young and one older. They pointed with their fingers and gasped with laughter.

― Чого вы смиетэсь? Why are you laughing? Antosh asked in anger.

― Бо ты так рано уж схах вэзэш You're bringing the skhakh so early ― they told him laughingly.

― Як то рано? What do you mean “Early?” ― Antosh did not understand the laughter.

― Рано … рано … Early … early the women laughed.

― Ptui! ― Antosh spat in fury, and went on further, thinking:

― Як то Just so Berke himself had said за тыждень the whole week . I calculated very closely: two more days. ― A cold sweat covered him as he considered that he hadn't counted right from the time when Berke had told. He was too late! Of course, of course! All the sukkos are already decked out with branches … He would be left without salt, without makhorke, without soap, without “gazeh” …

Sadly he guided his horse, which apparently sensed the great misfortune that befell his master. It barely dragged itself with its hanging, tired head.

Meanwhile the householders began, little by little, to leave the synagogue. They were dressed in holiday finery with their prayer shawls and prayer books in their hands.

Seeing, at first, the peasant with his wagon of branches, they didn't understand what it was all about. They looked in amazement at one another. By their glances it seemed they were worried: Perhaps they had made a mistake and observed Sukkes too early? …

― Чого ти вэзэш? What are you carrying? ― One of them asked him.

― Як чого What do you mean, “What”? ― Antosh looked innocently at them ― Схах везу на “кучки” . Купите, голубчики, купите! I'm bringing skhakh for Sukkes. So buy some, good friends! ― he began to implore them with tears in his voice.

The Jews laughed and laughed.

― Why do we need branches now? You дурень! fool! It's already yom tov ― one of them teased.

But Antosh, as if confused by his great misfortune, called out, scratching himself in his neck and half crying:

― Купите, купите! Соль трэба, мыдло трэба, газа треба Buy! buy! I need salt, I need soap, I need kerosine.

The group of Jews, who laughed at first at this whole scene, was moved. They took a look at the poor, thin peasant, saw his despairing face, and a feeling of compassion awoke in their hearts.

― A poor gentile, a bitter pity! ― one spoke out, wrinkling his face in pain.

― It would be only fair to buy his skhakh ― proposed one of them. ― It’s a khilul-hashem.

― On yom tov, how? A second one interrupted the discussion.

― The wood is worth the money ― another one said, considering the wagon full of branches.

― Worth today, worth tomorrow! Since it is yom tov …

― Соли нэма, газа нэма, мыдла нэма No salt, no soap, no kerosine … The peasant sang his little song, not understanding what the Jews were saying in their language, but feeling that they are thinking something good about him.

― Hush! He doesn’t need money, he needs goods. Goods without money we are allowed to give on yom tov! ― Someone gave birth to a new idea.

The gathering came alive. Within the circle of Jews was a storekeeper who had a store nearby.

Give him, Khayim, a couple of cellars of salt, and the other things he needs. Give him a couple of zloty worth of goods. A pity! We will all bear the loss …

― Nu, nu, of course! ― Khayim understood ― a poor gentile, truly a pity …

― A good deed! A good deed! As I am a Jew! ― Everyone in the group enthused.

Khayim beckoned to the gentile, and the entire group followed him. He opened the store and gave him two cellars of salt, a piece of soap, a flask of kerosine, and two packages of makhorke.

The peasant did not know what to do in his joy, whether to laugh or to cry. He was only able to murmur:

― Дзенькуе, дзенькуе! Thank you, thank you!.

― На тебе ещё Also take some khallah! ― Offered someone when he had already packed up the goods. ― You will bring it home.

― На тебе ещё! Take more! Someone else handed him another piece.

― На ещё! Take more!

― Ещё! More!

― Ещё! More!

And they began to bring Antosh khallah from every side.

In great confusion he could barely utter: Дзенькуе! Thank you!

The group was satisfied. Yankel Leybes, a good-natured Jew, who celebrated Yom Tov with a generous hand, who brought the cantor home as a guest, brought out a little glass of whiskey.

― На пей. И поезжай з богом домой Drink this, and go home with God’s help!

Antosh quickly poured the whiskey into his mouth, took a bite of khallah, and happily sang out:

― Ніколи не забуд I will never forget!

― You know, he is not a bad non-Jew ― someone in the circle spoke up.

― What do you want, that he should assault you? ― another one smiled.

At the word “assault” the group became uneasy. Little by little they scattered.