God Only Knows

1.

Bernardo Luini, a talented young painter from Leonardo da Vinci’s school of art, received, in 1925, a commission to paint a fresco of the Madonna in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie de Saronno.

I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it

His model for the fresco was a local innkeeper’s daughter. She fell in love with Luini and prepared for him, as a gesture of her love, a sweet, delicate, almond-flavoured liqueur: the first bottle of Amaretto di Saronno. How it is that this nameless young lady knew that distilling the oil of apricot pits would produce an almond flavoured liqueur is lost to history.

If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me

2.

Shem Hankowitz, after dropping out of yeshiva school, to which he’d gone because his mother wanted him to become a rabbi, and Harvard Law, to which he’d gone because of his father’s frustrated ambitions to become an attorney, packed his bags, moved to London and, under the influence of a bottle of Amaretto di Saronno that was delivered as a gesture of love, began an affair with a beautiful shiksa called Colleen—another in the endless series of heartbreaks he had been born to deliver to his long-suffering mother. The following ten years featured a marriage, two children—both christened Irish Catholic, like their mother—and a divorce.

If you should ever leave me
Well life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me

Now, on what would have been his twelfth wedding anniversary, Shem is stretched out full length along the seats of an otherwise empty piece of London Underground rolling stock, drunk nearly to fainting, and wondering whether his nausea is the result of consuming an entire bottle of Amaretto di Saronno or God’s punishment for eating traife (an all-you-can-eat shimp buffet at an unsanitary-seeming Chinatown hole-in-the-wall.).

God only knows what I’d be without you.

This entry is part of Jack Rusher’s journal, originally published February 27th, 2004, in New York. This piece was written in response to a reader request for “something about amaretto, the oldest subway system in the world, the Beach Boys, and Harvard.”