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Chapter 4: Stesye and Gnesye - From Moyshe Kulbak's 1926 novel Montok - 'Monday'.

Updated: Feb 13

The two little old ladies, who Mordechai Markus saw and started at through his window.

Two little old ladies, two cemetery measurers – Stesye and Gnesye ... wrapped in shawls with knots tied at the back, with withered faces from which protrude little old lady potato-noses bearing spectacles with strings tightened up behind their ears.

Two psalm-sayers, Stesye and Gnesye, grey like chickens, who go knocking on doors every Monday.

Two, who sit quietly on the doorsteps and curse and bless with their sunken mouths.

Stesye and Gnesye live in the Ta’are* house at the cemetery. There, every day they look through the little window, watching a bird fly and a blade of grass grow.

And at night they sleep; Stesye – on the oven, Gnesye – on the cot, covered with a small pelt and a rag.

And they whisper in their sleep and they lie, and they lie, like two wax candles.

And in the middle of the night Stesye stirs, she rubs the dry cracks that are her eyes, and she asks:

“Gnesye, Gnesye – are you asleep?”

Gnesye answers:

“No, and you, Stesye?”

“Also no.”

They crawl down from their sleeping places, pour water over their hands three times with blessings, tie and button themselves up, and little by little, take out the dead thread from the casket.

Then they open the low, heavy door of the Ta’are house, and they come out into the cemetary.

Oh, how the stars are shining.

Stesye takes up the end of the thread and walks far ahead. And Gnesye holds the ball behind her, uncoiling it bit by bit, and like this they measure the cemetery.

Like this.

The white thread stretches out in the darkness, it swirls and expands in the wind, which blows, it unrolls itself up longer and longer up in the sky, until it entangles the church spires and tall towers of the city. It catches the stars in its web. And so it spins, and weaves, and envelopes the whole town in a dead thread.

*Ta'are = ritual cleansing of the body before burial

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