Noon, the woman, sneezing from the dust, brings down the boxes from the attic, separating out what looks like a crumpled rag, tissue-wrapped small bowls, and large plates of chipped china that came from the old country, and a cache of dog-eared books tied with a blue ribbon.
One o’clock, her child splashes in the soapy water. The woman dries off his hands and then guides him to coloring books within easy sight. As she does yearly, she places two rubber mats lie in the sink. Lifting, washing, rinsing one by one. She dries each bowl and plate with the same care she dries her child’s toes, lining up the china. They seize the sun’s rays, illuminating her son.
Two o’clock, he comes rumbling in with arms full of bags. Celery, chicken, tomatoes. A bag slips to the floor, and both gasp, but it holds the matzah and not the consecrated wine. “Mess,” the child giggles. The couple shares a glass of wine. Hubby dips his finger—their child has his first taste of wine. She kisses each forehead.
Four o’clock, the ironed tablecloth, embroidered by a great-great-grandmother, is wine-stained and frayed in places to reveal the tabletop pad. The couple starts placing the bowls and plates, wine glasses and silverware, and books around the table for the three of them, her younger sister, and two friends. A place is set for Elijah. Seven is the number of completeness.
Six o’clock, the couple work in the kitchen. Many bubbling pots, roasting vegetables, and salted water. She unhooks her mother’s Seder plate from its place of honor over the kitchen window. Dishes are brought out one by one. Winey-apple-pistachio-raisin paste, horseradish, a charred bone, boiled eggs. The procession of smells, cinnamon, sharp root, burnt offerings, and new life forms a prayer.
Seven o’clock, everyone is washed and dressed. The child jumps on the sofa, and tonight, the parents lunge and tickle him. The candlesticks reflect their games, even unlit.
Seven-thirty, the doorbell rings. The two friends arrive. The couple pushes away the offered hands and hugs them. The younger sister arrives. Everyone brings wine—Manischewitz grape for tradition, one Passover special, two Israeli—it doesn’t matter. People scuffle around the table. The sister counts the bowls, the plates, and Haggadahs. Everyone sits.
Eight o’clock, the prayer to celebrate friends coming together is recited. In the candles’ light, everyone is beautiful. Everyone is marked as pure, angelic. The Seder plate, green with golden indentations for the Passover’s ritual items, is nicked and bent. The woman has glued it back together many times.
Ten o’clock, the company reclines. Three glasses of wine drunk, Haggadahs read, matzah eaten, hidden, and found. Stories of plagues and “An only kid,” told. The meal is eaten, and the door is opened for Elijah. A final glass of wine. This house with these people, echoing people throughout the world, shimmers in the closing words, “Next year in Jerusalem.”