by Jonathan Safran Foer
The 120 Marriages of Joseph and Sarah L.
The young couple first married on August 5, 1744, when Joseph was eight and Sarah six, and first ended their marriage six days later when Joseph refused to believe, to Sarah’s frustration, that the stars were silver nails in the sky, pinning up the black nightscape. They remarried four days later, when Joseph left a note under the door of Sarah’s parents’ house: I have considered everything you told me, and I do believe that the stars are silver nails. They ended their marriage again a year later, when Joseph was nine and Sarah seven, over a quarrel about the nature of the bottom of the river bed. A week later, they were remarried, including this time in their vows that they should love each other until death, regardless of the existence of the riverbed, the temperature of the river bed’s bottom (should it exist), and the possible existence of starfish on the possibly existing riverbed. They ended their marriage one hundred and twenty times throughout their lives and each time remarried with a longer list of vows. They were sixty and fifty-eight at their last marriage, only three weeks before Sarah died of heart failure and Joseph drowned himself in the bath. Their marriage contract still hangs over the door of the house they on-and-off shared-nailed to the top post and brushing against the SHALOM welcome mat:
“It is with everlasting devotion that we, Joseph and Sarah L, reunite in the indestructible union of matrimony, promising love until death, with the understanding that the stars are silver nails in the sky, regardless of the existence of the bottom of the river, the temperature of this bottom (should it exist) and the possible existence of starfish on the possibly existing riverbed, overlooking what may or may not have been accidental grape juice spills, agreeing to forget that Joseph played sticks and balls with his friends when he promised he would help Sarah thread the needle for the quilt she was sewing, and that Sarah was supposed to give the quilt to Joseph, not his buddy, ignoring the simple fact that Joseph snores like a pig, and that Sarah is no great treat to sleep with either, letting slide certain tendencies of both parties to look too long at members of the opposite sex, not making a fuss over why Joseph is such a slob, leaving his clothes wherever he feels like taking them off, expecting Sarah to pick them up, clean them, and put them in their proper place as he should have, or why Sarah has to be such a pain about the smallest things, such as which way the toilet paper unrolls, or when dinner is five minutes later than she was planning, because, let’s face it, it’s Joseph who’s putting that paper on the roll and dinner on the table, disregarding whether the beet is a better vegetable that the cabbage, putting aside the problems of being fat-headed and chronically unreasonable, trying to erase the memory of a long since expired rose bush that a certain someone was supposed to remember to water when his wife was visiting family, accepting the compromise of the way we have been, the way we are, and the way we will likely be. May we live together in unwavering love and good health. Amen”