The End Words by Kourtnie Rodney

Naphtali, Nissi, Netzach. Together an incantation, but apart those are the names of our children. When we have them. If we have them.

I fell in love with them as names while I was learning Hebrew. I want the kids to know Hebrew, to know who they really are. Their father carries the seed, but he only knows a little, so I have to make sure I’m there to fill in the gaps. His mother and his grandmother are keepers of that seed and I think that’s why they aren’t fond of me.

It’s odd though. They practice almost nothing in this home and he doesn’t know all the biblical anecdotes like I do. I know them well. They should be able to see what I add, but they don’t. I’m the water, the sun, and the soil.

They avoid my gaze and it says so much. Naphtali, Nissi, Netzach. I whisper the words to myself in hard times and remember everything we’ve built between us. We love each other.

The night before, I had whispered the names in his ear. I knew it would lead to something. Seeds. He told me in the morning that I should meet his family. We put it off as long as we could. We’ve been together for four years and now it’s time.

We sit together eating pierogies with sour cream. It’s less offending to add pepper than salt. Salt, both too pure and too potent to not send a message. Black pepper can be abused silently. I add them both. The food is so different than what I’m used to, so mild. Dumplings like babies. The food of Obatala. Netzach.

I excuse myself to both wide and narrow eyes. I browse through cupboards in their kitchen. I pool out both dill and paprika into my palm. I’m probably doing exactly what they think my people do. I put it in my pocket, before rejoining the table.

The contents of my pocket, red like primitive soil and green like young hay, they bring the outside in and bring me comfort. A manger in miniature. How absurd it would be to throw it onto my plate just then!!! Dashed with the flick of the wrist like a magician. But I leave it where it is, as padding. Netzach. Maybe we could call him Zach for short.

At this lonely and full table, I repeat it again and again. Naphtali, Nissi, Netzach. To myself. To hear words. To have company. Nobody jostles at my murmurs. Is this what my life with them will be like?

I believe God himself has heard my thoughts, my prayer. Just then I see a sickening texture creeping over his grandmother’s neck. Red bumps with white tips. A smite on her skin for disapproving of mine. Her name is Miriam too. Netzach.

The flowers I’ve brought remain in the kitchen, while we dine around an empty vase. His mother reads a prayer off a freshly printed page. In Hebrew. I’m not advanced enough to fully understand, but I’m okay with it because I know that she doesn’t fully understand it herself. My expression matches everyone else’s, confused reverence, honest and true.

I look around the table, everyone’s eyes are closed. His mother, his grandmother, his father, sister, and brother-in-law. My brother-in-law. Soon.

I look to my love to protect me from this insulation. I need him to be a jumping-off point from which conversation and integration can flow. But he doesn’t ever really look up from his plate, doesn’t ever really exchange glances with me, doesn’t ever really claim me, or them. Nissi, Nissi, Nissi.

The food is cleared and we are walked to the door. The only words spoken to me other than “hello,” are “It’s a shame we had to meet you for the first time, so late.” Maybe the keepers can smell what’s budding.

My father was of the Mansion of the 12 Tribes of Israel and I know that’s not the same thing. He used to tell me “You are of the Tribe of Naphtali, because you are born in January,” but I’ve unlearned that in my classes.

“Your faculty is love and that’s the most important one of all, and you are represented by the knees, which is good because the knees are protected, but they also bend.”

The door closes behind us. He takes my hand, never looking at me and we walk to the car. Naphtali, Naphtali, Naphtali.

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