Yom Kippur in Amsterdam
"Why can't you accept me for what I am?" Erin asked him on the phone a few days later.
"I do love you, Erin, but I just can't marry you. We are a small people. The mother of my children has to be Jewish, no matter how you slice it," Jake choked on his words. "No pun intended," he added after a pause.
Four or five days later, on a Saturday morning, a lanky UPS lady delivered a box for a twenty-inch television set. Inside the box Jake found all two years' worth of his presents to Erin returned in what looked like their original gift wrappings. It's some sort of a joke, he thought for an instant, unwrapping the half-full vial of the French perfume from Thanksgiving, unfolding the dark green wool wrap he had bought for her in London. His hands finally reached a thick pile at the bottom of the box. All his letters and even printed out e-mails, the faxes he liked to send her from work or sometimes from aboard the plane, and at least twenty postcards, mailed from the destinations of his regular trips-Singapore, Naples, Moscow, and São Paolo. Each mailing accurately torn in two. The whole thick pile tied with a blue silk ribbon. And a note on top: "Jake, I loved you more than anything, but not more than Jesus. One day you'll understand. Please don't try to contact me. I've changed my phone number. Bye, Er." On the floor, he sat amid presents now twice opened, gaping at the ceiling the way an insomniac gapes at his blowsy wakefulness.
Fortunately for Jake, his dearest Moscow friend, Mulya Borisov, even though a father of two girls and a paterfamilias, was still as adventurous as he was when he and Jake (still Yasha Glazman then) had their youth and studenthood in common. Mulya and his wife, Nadya-also an old friend from their high school Moscow gang-had quickly found cheap tickets and an inexpensive hotel in Nice, left their kids with dacha-owning grandparents, and met Yasha for a week-long reunion on the Riviera. Jake was able to switch the return date of the vacation he had planned with Erin to five days earlier, which ended up putting him in Amsterdam on the eve of Yom Kippur.
Jake must have switched planes at Schiphol a couple dozen times but had never stayed in Amsterdam before. Here in Amsterdam, outside the central station littered with raggedy British and Australian youths, the air was dense with fog. All colors were dimmed. There were more bicycles than pedestrians in the streets. Seagulls circled around garbage bins. And yet there was something about this city that