Lazar Wolf hated his wife. The realization came to him not in a rush, but over the long years of their marriage.
It began with her voice. Fruma-Sarah had a shrill voice. She liked to yell his name, over and over again. She liked to demand things, yelling Husband bring me food and husband, get my towel. Then it became a hate for her double chins that wobbled whenever she spoke and the pitched whine she had when she nagged him about chores.
Lazar hated the way she smelled of dust and old clothing and mildew.
He wondered why he married Fruma-Sarah at all. If he thought long and hard enough, he’d remember it was because she hadn’t always been this way. Once, she had been a plump, attractive thing, with large breasts and soft thighs and money. He had slept with her and married her the same night, and oh, how his father had pushed him for the money then.
Lazar didn’t ever think once that Fruma-Sarah the plump pretty would turn into a fat, pale sack of flesh that he despised.
So he lifted his knife, handle worn from use and love, and swung it down to thud wetly in the meat and tried to not think of his wife. The sound of the knife echoed chop chop chop on the block. The flesh parts easily beneath his hands and he lifts the skin and the layer of soft fat.
There was a student of the university in town (Perchik, was that his name) who would call this muscle this and that and other words that were too long and fancy (tendon, peroneus longus, tibialis) but he knows better. Like his father had taught him, the flesh, the meat, is nothing more than meat.
And so Lazar laid out his wares to sell, the butcher and his meat.
In the back of the store, above, he began to hear Fruma-Sarah yell for something.
It’s a long day, slow day.
Fruma-Sarah sent him out to fetch her water for her tea, three times. Constable, the chief of the Czar’s authority, came by to bid him well and to sample some goods.
Tzeitel came in toward the end of the day, when he was washing the blood off of his wooden board. She smiled at him when she walked in. “Good morning, Lazar Wolf.”
“Evening, Tzeitel,” He eyed the swell of her breasts that matched her recent coming of age. She had developed well from the young slip of a thing, flat-chested and knobby knees. “The morn has long passed.”
“Oh, very sorry.” She smiled again at him with those full, red lips on that delicate face. “Mama had sent me to pick up her order for her.”
“Mmpphh.” What it would be like to take those firm breasts and clutch them, to run his hands up between her thighs? He took his eyes away regretfully from the heart shaped face and found the order, wrapped in brown paper, a little damp and discolored from the blood. “How’s your father?”
“Papa?” She creased her eyebrows together in intense thought. It was known that intellect was not one of her strengths. “Mama says that he’ll be fine, but he still goes out in the mornings and talks to the cows.”
“Ahh. Well, I’m sure your father’ll be fine.” Everyone knew of Tzeitel’s father, Tevye. The poor milkman lived on the outskirts of town and claimed that he spoke to God.
Lazar wondered sometimes how a madman like Tevye could produce such a pretty young nymphet.
“You think so?” Tzeitel smiles airily. She curtsied, pulling her dress a little higher, revealing a length of flesh beneath the cloth. Lazar’s blood quickens as he imagines the skirt bunched up beneath his hands, riding up to her hips. “I should get going- Motel wanted to show me something before it got too late.”
He nods appreciably as she leaves, noticing the way her hips moved.
Lazar imagined what it’d be like to run his hands down her body, and he licked his lips. All that soft, young and firm flesh, so inviting.
He grunted and moved out of his daydream back to reality. Ignoring whatever it was that his wife wanted, he returned to hacking away at the slab of meat before him.
The sound of the knife echoing chop chop chop on the block soothes his mind. It makes it easier to think.
“Husband!” There were some more noises that echoed down; the squeak of the bed, and footsteps.
Chop chop chop.
“Husband! You forgot to hang out the sheets to dry properly!”
Lazar didn’t turn around to look at his wife. He focused only on the motion of lifting the knife and the sound that it made as it thudded against the block.
“You’ve been forgetful now and always and look at you, ignoring me while I dither away in sickness. I was never treated like this when I was with my father, and now I see the way you look at all those other young girls like Tevye’s daughter-”
Only because she was the talk of the town. Every man acknowledged it.
“And don’t think I haven’t noticed!”
Sodden, old fat cow. He didn’t care if she noticed or not. He would care for her to shut up, though.
“Now you leave messes everywhere and do not come home on time, and I hear you are out in the bar with knaves and thieves, and what becomes of me then if you die? Have you no thought for my nerves?”
Chop chop chop. It helped him shut out the noise. He thought about how it would be to take Tzeitel in bed, of the moans and her soft thighs clutching against his, those firm breasts like melons.
“Never thinking for anyone, just yourself! I should never have left my father’s house.”
If only Fruma-Sarah wasn’t his wife, then he could have Tzeitel. He could arrange something with Yente, the village matchmaker. He had done so in the past, for his own marriage with Fruma-Sarah. There is nothing that could not be bought from Yente.
He stared at the wooden block, soaked a dark red shade, the slabs of meat lying askew and the knife in his hand, the edge gleaming still.
If only Fruma-Sarah wasn’t his wife.
He looks back at the double chins of Fruma-Sarah as she shrieks at him, and then to the cutting board. An idea took hold in his mind.
Chop chop chop.
The bar was a seedy, run-down sort of place. Dimly lit and seen as the central meeting place in the town, outside of the synagogue. Anyone of place and name and stature could be found here, from Tevye to the Rabbi, on occasion.
Tonight, though, Lazar Wolf sought out a particular person.
“Constable!” He clapped the uniformed man at the table on the back. “How are you?”
“Ah, Lazar Wolf!” The Czar’s appointed head of authority in Anatevka smiled at him. “What may I do for you today?”
“No, today, it is what I may do for you, Constable.” He set down two glasses of dark liquor on the wooden table and sat down opposite the Constable. “Have a drink on me, good sir.”
The constable was a shrewd and clever man. “What are we drinking to, Lazar Wolf?” He raised his glass but didn’t drink from it and instead looked directly at Lazar. “What incidence are we toasting?”
Lazar Wolf leaned forward, nervous in spite of himself. “My new marriage, of course,” He said in hushed tones, barely audible above the rancor of the bar. “To Tevye’s eldest daughter, Tzeitel.”
“Ah, she is a fine, pretty one, is she not?” The constable leaned forward, his right hand resting on his belt where his pistol rest. “But do correct me, Lazar Wolf, you are married, are you not?” His eyes were cold and calculating.
“Why, yes good sir. That,” he reaches down into his pocket and slid an ample pouch across the table. “Is what I come to discuss.”
The constable lifted his hand from his belt and nudged the pouch. There was the soft clink of coins and the man nodded in understanding. “You are taking a new wife soon?”
“In a year.”
The constable slips the pouch away beneath the table. “You do realize,” he said, his voice laden with threat. “That should it ever come to be that questions are raised, I cannot have been associated.”
Lazar Wolf took a sip from his drink and felt alcohol burned down his throat. “Of course, Constable. I understand.” He raised his glass and forced a smile. “Here’s to our prosperity, our good health and happiness and to life.”
The constable clinked his glass against Lazar’s. “Heaven bless you. Na zdrowie.”
He waited till she was asleep, snoring and tossing and mumbling whatever things she would in her sleep. He prodded her in the shoulder, the doughy flesh pasty in the moonlight.
She didn’t stir.
He lifted the pillow with trembling hands. He had thought long and hard about how to go about the deed, and had decided that this was the best way. It risked the least amount of discovery.
He pressed the pillow into her face and forced his body onto it. She woke then and began to struggle and made strange noises into the pillow, almost like mewling. Her nails clawed at his arms and tried to find some foundation of which to free herself.
The struggling was the worst part of it all. It was several minutes till she stopped moving and her arms fell flaccid to the bed.
Cautious, he held the pillow there for several more minutes to make sure she was dead. Lifting the pillow from her face, he stared at those unfocused, glassy eyes and sighed.
The easy part was done.
Lazar Wolf began not with the hooked knife, the skinning knife, but with the cleaver. The rectangle of edged metal that hewed through bone and muscle and flesh.
The blade sank into flesh that was still resistant. Blood oozed up from the found, thick and sluggish. Another two blows, and he encountered bone. Murmuring, he brought the cleaver down harder.
There was a sound like breaking ice, and the bone gave way in a splintering shudder, jagged edges protruding here and there in the moonlight. Fruma-Sarah’s pale skin was covered in the fine rubies of her blood.
The grisly task continued on and on. First, the legs and the arms and head went off. Then, the fingers and hands and thighs, piece by piece. The blood soaked into the thirsty, hungry ground and colored it darkly.
Chop chop chop, the butcher went.
No one mourned the loss of Fruma-Sarah. She was an infantile woman, prone to gossip and considered by many to be a hassle or burden. So when it was found that she had disappeared, there were few who were truly sad.
Even fewer wept.
The constable was responsible for the search for her murderer and investigation of the matter. He questioned several individuals and made a fuss over the matter, but it did not turn up anything of worth. There were whispers in town of how he handled the case with lackluster care, and glances passed.
The body of the late butcher’s wife was never found. Lazar Wolf seemed to be overcome by grief at her passing and wailed for days on end.
After the mourning had passed, he planted a sapling in front of his house to remind him of his late wife.
A year later, it became known that he had shown an interest in the mad milkman’s eldest daughter, Tzeitel. The village matchmaker, Yente, matched them together. The tailor’s son raised protest to this, but was the only outcry. Everyone nodded and said to themselves: look at them, the happy couple now married. Yente has done her job well.
The day of the wedding was marked by a small tragedy- a young boy, a fiddler who liked to play on the roof of the houses, fell and broke his neck. Beyond that, it was a day of celebration in Anatevka. Drinks were raised to life, to marriage, happiness. Na zdrowie.
The tree in the front of the house blossomed and grew quickly. You would have never seen a healthier, stronger looking tree in all of Anatevka.