lb_lee: A pencil sketch of me drawing/writing in my sketchpad. (art)
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This is an old orphaned prompt from [ profile] silvercat17, rescued from the lost bin by cloudiah!  It's a stand-alone, but Lydean requested golems, and I was partially inspired by some of the creepier insinuations of this blog post.

Mrs. Cohen's Aide

Abbe Cohen had lived in her fourth-floor apartment for fifty years.  Her husband had carried her over the threshold there, kissed her there, died there.  Every room was filled to the brim with memories—the ghost of Benjamin’s after-shave, framed pictures of them young and laughing at Cape Canaveral, boxes of those dreadful crackers that Abbe had never liked but couldn’t bring herself to stop buying because Ben had loved them so.

Abbe loved her apartment and had all intent of passing there, just like her husband.  But she was having trouble.  Three flights of stairs had been good exercise once, but now it was an awful strain.  She was having trouble standing up to wash the dishes, and sometimes, if she got down to pick something up off the floor, she couldn’t get up again.

She had no family to help her—for she and Benjamin had never been able to have children—and all her friends were older and frailer than she was.  It was no good; she’d have to hire somebody.

Abbe didn’t relish the thought.  She had her habits, her rules, her ways.  Adding anyone meant disruption of her order.  But after spending a panicky day where she had no food and no strength to buy more, she swallowed her pride.  It wasn’t as though New York suffered a deficit of Jewish women; surely she could find someone.

And she did.  After a seemingly everlasting parade of women and interviews—do you cook kosher? what cleaning supplies do you use—she found Jael.

Oddly, what first got Abbe’s attention was the odd way Jael had contacted her—through an intermediary at the synagogue.  It seemed that Jael was mute, but Abbe didn’t see that as a problem, so after a few exchanges of letters, Jael got the job.

She turned out to be a redoubtable woman—tall, broad, solid as cement, but she had gentle eyes and a sweet face, and Abbe liked her immediately.  Jael seemed to make every move intentionally, took all of Abbe’s quirks seriously, and despite her initial discomfort of sharing her space with someone, Abbe found herself happy.  Happier, even.  She had grown so used to solitude that she’d forgotten the joys of companionship.  It had been just her and Benjamin for so long…

But Jael was calm, dependable, and a good listener.  There was only one strange thing—she always seemed to be available, except on the Sabbath, of course.  But otherwise, she never took a holiday, never called in sick.  She never seemed to have other engagements; if anything, she seemed almost eager to work for Abbe.

One night, Abbe woke up terribly ill.  Her thermometer read a hundred and five, and with the landlord out of town, Abbe had no choice but to call Jael.

Jael never picked up the phone herself, of course.  But perhaps she had Caller ID, because this time, she did.

“Jael?  Jael, is that you?”

There was a gentle ‘tap tap’ on the receiver.

“Oh thank goodness.  I’m so sorry to bother you, but…”

Jael was there in less than half an hour, carrying medicine, a first aid kit, and looking as though there was nothing unusual about being called across town at one in the morning during a snowstorm.  She helped clean Abbe up, changed clothes and bedding, and tucked her in again with a bowl of chicken soup and some pills.

Jael held up a piece of paper.  On it read: do you need a doctor?

Abbe winced.  She didn’t relish the prospect of being carried down three flights of stairs and through a blizzard, even if Jael looked strong enough for it.  The ER would be a madhouse. “No, let me stay here, we’ll see how I am in the morning…”

Jael nodded, put the paper away, and sat vigil at Abbe’s bedside.  With her solid presence, Abbe felt reassured and drifted off into fitful, feverish sleep.  Every time she surfaced, Jael would still be there, unmoving and apparently untroubled by the lack of sleep.

In the morning, Abbe felt much better.  She thanked Jael, adding, “You should rest.”

But Jael demurred and got up to cook breakfast.  She didn’t seem tired at all, and Abbe chuckled nervously and said, “I could swear you’re not human!”

Jael’s back was to her, but Abbe saw her tense.

Abbe paused.  In the back of her mind, a few things came together. “You aren’t human.  Are you, Jael?”

Again the tension.  Then a shaking head: no.

Abbe thought about that, all through breakfast, coming up with questions only to discard them.  How was Jael’s species any of Abbe’s business?  She was a good person, helpful and kind.  That was enough.

“Well, you made my night much easier,” Abbe said finally. “Thank you.”

And Jael smiled at her.

Neither of them brought it up again, and they spent Purim together.

One evening, Abbe was watching Golden Girls when the doorbell rang.  With some effort, she got up from her armchair and went to the door buzzer.

“Hello?  Who is it?”

Silence.  Then, tap tap.

Alarmed, Abbe buzzed Jael in, and found her carrying a large duffel bag.  Her expression was desolate, fearful, and she asked a question with her eyes.

“Of course,” Abbe said. “Of course you can stay here.” And she hugged the great woman in her frail arms.

Jael didn’t say what had happened, and Abbe didn’t ask.  Whatever it was, it had obviously scared Jael stiff, and Abbe suspected she’d find out sooner or later.

Less than a week later, the door buzzed.

Abbe got up from where she and Jael were watching Wheel of Fortune. “Hello?”

Over the intercom, a voice boomed, “Give her back.”

In her chair, Jael froze.  Her fists clenched.  She began to shake.

Abbe shut the intercom off and went back to the television.  She took the phone in her lap and put a hand on Jael’s arm.

“You’re safe here,” she said.

But five minutes later, there was a pounding at the apartment door.  The voice roared, “Give her back.”

Abbe looked through her peephole.  On the other side was a rather ordinary-looking man, aside from his incensed expression.  He obviously wasn’t leaving, so Abbe opened the door, the cordless phone in her hand.

“Quit shouting,” she said. “I’m not deaf.”

“Then stop pretending you are and return my property.”

Abbe’s eyes narrowed. “If you mean Jael, she’s her own woman.  Now get out before I call the police.”

The man snorted. “Is that what you think she is?  Give her back, you crusty old bitch.  You’ll have to make your own.”

Abbe began to dial 911.  The man left.

Abbe locked the door firmly and called the landlord.  Enrique was a good man; he’d spread the word about the man and make sure he was not let in again.  Once that was done, she hung up and went to Jael.

Jael hadn’t moved from her chair.  She was staring into the television, trembling all over.

Abbe held her tight. “It’s all right,” she said, over and over. “He’s gone.  You’re safe here.  You’re safe.”

Jael’s strong body folded inward.  She held her face in her callused hands.  She began to silently sob in Abbe’s arms.

“It’s all right now.  It’s all right.  You’re safe.  I won’t let anything happen to you,” Abbe said.

And she never did.
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