Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Book of Creation: A Novel (continued)

 

XIII

It was a bus.

Nostrand Avenue.

The B44 if you must know.

Everybody said she had the light.

Everybody said she looked both ways.

She always did.

My beautiful Bubbe got crushed.

Along with the halvah she bought for me.

Chocolate halvah.

*  *  *

February 18.

14 Adar I.

That’s what it said on the board near the front of the room.

Above the candle burning in a tall jar.

The day she died.

We are an efficient people.

Get ‘em in the ground.

As fast as we can.

You are disgusting.

It has nothing to do with the smell.

At least not these days.

Life is for the living.

She was dead.

We weren’t.

A time to mourn.

A time to dance.

Today we were mourning.

And tomorrow?

*  *  *

I had never been to Riverside Chapel.

Let’s face it.  I hadn’t been in the City that often.

We didn’t know anybody who lived there.

And I hadn’t been to a funeral home that often.

Or ever.

Not too many five year olds hang around funeral homes.

Smoke and makeup.

And formaldehyde.

It was crowded.  I choked. They were crying.

It didn’t stop them from shmearing me with lipstick.

Including Mrs. Goldberg and Mrs. Schwartz.

Uncle Irving was telling jokes.

Mrs. Schwartz covered my ears with her hands.

I had a book.

A Child’s Garden of Verses.

I wriggled away and went to sit in the back.

To read.

Until it started.

She made me sit in the front with her.

I knew better than to resist.

The rabbi walked in quickly from the side.

Bubbe didn’t have a rabbi.

He wiped some sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief.

Without unfolding it.

Placed the handkerchief back in his jacket pocket.

And started talking.

“Family and friends.”

None of us had ever seen him before, at least as far as I knew.

Before yesterday.

Which I don’t think made him family.

Or friends.

*  *  *

“We do it for the living,” I heard him intone orotund from my bedroom the night before.

The living evidently wanted none of it.

“She didn’t have much money.”

“If it were up to me I’d burn her.  That’s what she would have wanted.”

“I know how hard it is for the bereaved to make such decisions.  A mere five hundred dollars more and you’ll have given her all of the dignity that befits a distinguished Jewess in accordance with the laws of our great tradition.”

“She had plenty of dignity without five hundred more.”

“And do not refer to my mother as a ‘Jewess.’”

“Ever.”

Sometimes she made me smile.

“Let’s just do it,” he said.

“It’s worth it to get him out of here.”

.  .  .  .

“Fine.”

Somehow the rabbi was still talking as I fell asleep.

*  *  *

He droned.

“I never had the pleasure of knowing Sonia Stern but I have learned from her family what a loving and wonderful wife and mother she was and how devoted a grandmother she was to little David.  I have learned that she liked cards and mah jong and was known among her family and friends as the Queen of the Beach Club, that her cabana was her palace. I have learned that she was a generous and devoted friend and an excellent cook.  I have learned that she sustained her family single-handedly after arriving in the City from Poland in 1928.”

I perked up.

The City?

Bubbe lived in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn was Brooklyn.

The City was the City.

Now I started paying attention.

This guy didn’t know anything.

He wasn’t even wearing a yarmulke.

How were you supposed to know he was a real rabbi?

“And I have learned from her friends and her loving family that she will be sorely missed.”

What this rabbi hadn’t learned was when to shut his mouth.

Maybe it was the smell.

I started to gag.

He leaned across her and gave me the look.

I sat straight.

Gagging stopped.

The putative rabbi’s voice grew louder.

He lifted his hands toward the heavens.

His eyes followed.

He slipped his cuff and checked his watch.

The hands came down.

He talked faster.

I opened my book.

Straight to Happy Thought.

She read me that one all the time when I was little.

It was bullshit.

She was in a box.

Don’t be creepy.

Of course it was closed.

Who wants to see a dead bubbe?

Stretched beneath the rabbi.

Bubbe would have been furious.

Or she might have just laughed.

The rabbi was babbling about how he wasn’t going to fear neevil.

Holding his hands aloft again he walked around the side of the podium and stood before the box.

Uncle Irving, Uncle Sol, Uncle Jack, Uncle Phil, and a couple of other guys I didn’t know picked up the box.

Irving’s side started to drop.

“Shit!”

Everybody laughed.

Even Irving.

Too loudly.

It took an embarrassingly long time to stop.

Nobody cared.

The rabbi led them out.

Still babbling.

Hands still aloft.

And lit a cigarette as soon as he got outside.

In front of Bubbe’s box.

I was quite sure that by now she would have smacked him.

*  *  *

I sat next to her in the back of a long black car.  A torn black ribbon pinned to her dress.

He got in the seat in front of us.

“Damn rabbi wanted to ride with us. I told him to get into Goldberg’s car.”

He started to direct the driver who I’m pretty sure knew where he was going.           What did I care?

It made him feel better.

What control did he have anyway?

Not even over himself.

It was a long drive.  Queens already was too expensive and, besides, out on the Island was where the Sterns had been buried ever since we came to this country.

It was like a family reunion.

In the house of forever.

I ran around putting pebbles on grave stones.

I had watched her do it.

I stashed a few in my pocket.

Just in case.

On the ride back.

We sat quietly.

I asked her.

“Why did this have to happen to Bubbe?”

“Who else should it have happened to?”

“Why does it happen?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did Bubbe do something bad to be punished?”

“I don’t know.  I mean, no.”

“So why?”

She slapped me.

“Don’t ask.”

It was ok.

It had been a long day for all of us.

*  *  *

I crawled out of my room and slithered along the hallway past theirs.

Their bed was piled high with coats.

I stood against the wall.

There had never been so many people in our apartment.

Onions

I could feel cold blasts from the windows.

Through the steamy human heat.

Uncle Phil winked at me as he passed by my hideout.

I smiled back.

Turned and dashed to my room.

Sitting on the bed.

Stevenson on my lap.

Uncle Jack filled the frame.

Gently knocked on it.

Handed me a plate.

Bagel, lox, potato salad, rugelach.

A piece of chocolate halvah.

I nodded my head in silent thanks.

Devoured the food.

Went to the bathroom.

The noise in the apartment drowned out the flushing of chocolate halvah.

The Book of Creation: A Novel (continued)

IV

The world was created out of void and waste.

Tell me something I don’t know.

In those days, void and waste was what you did and what you saw.

It was scary.

How would you feel when a fetid pile is pulled from your tush and dropped in a pail?

What is it?

You learn not to ask.

And that was at home.

The playground. This was a different pile of waste entirely.

She put me on the ground with the other miserable kids and went by a bench to talk with her friends.

In Prospect Park.

You think this is neglect?

Who are you kidding?

Who then knew from neglect?

Rolling around in the grass with other kids was a blessing.

It was where I learned the world up close.

Void and waste?

You bet.

Nobody that had a dog had a thought of picking it up.  And the cigarette butts littering the ground with lipstick so red you thought a murder had happened.

And bottles.

Mostly empty.

And then one day.

Shards of glass.

This was interesting.  I had seen glasses.  And I had seen bottles.  But never before had I seen anything quite like this. They lay across the ground, glittering in the sun, sometimes catching its brilliant light, and sometimes just lying clear intensifying the green of the grass.

What were they?

How did they get here?

I put my hand out to grab the light .

And howled.

Howls I heard back, and running feet, and everybody got snatched up except for me.

Who got hit.

And then snatched.

Seriously?   I’m the one who hurt myself.

I’m the one who’s bleeding, and you think it’s a good idea to hurt me more so I know I shouldn’t hurt myself?

I cried.

So would you.

And as she finally picked me up, tears dropped from my eyes into the light and the glass.

Who can remember more?

Don’t ask.

**********

VII

The first one arrived alone.

A lump of clay is all, maybe more like a golem than a man.

Or a woman.

In either case it didn’t do much.

Just lay there.

Like void and waste.

Voided waste.

The angels, whose propensity for gossip and slander already was well-known in the neighborhood, naturally talked about him.

And it wasn’t nice.

Gossip never is.

What was it doing anyway, just lying there?  With all of the trees and the grass, the blue skies and foamy water, the clouds and the creeping things and crawling things and especially the swimming things which were ultra-cool because they looked so graceful and moved so fast, why would anybody with any sense, and especially Him, make such a depressing pile of random mud that looked like a washed over sand castle except it was browner and muckier?  It was nasty, they said.  Get rid of it, they said. And how freakin’ lazy could a creation be?  We’ve been working day and night for what, six days without any rest, and he gets to lie around watching Oprah or something?

Obviously the angels didn’t have enough to do with themselves that they had to sit and complain about somebody who was probably having a tough enough time of it in the first place.  I mean, think of how you would feel.  You so obviously didn’t fit in, and there was nothing you could do about it anyway because you were you and that’s the way you were made and there are some things you can’t change even if you want to, so maybe you were instead a big shot and so much prettier and had wings and stuff that you should appreciate that you were maybe lucky to have and didn’t really deserve at least any more than anybody else who didn’t have them and so maybe you could just be a little bit gracious to someone less fortunate than you for a change?

But who cares about the angels?  It wasn’t nice what they said about the lump, but you should hear what they said about each other.

Behind their backs of course.

Anyway, so this poor shmuck is lying on the ground with nothing to do while things are happening all over the place.  Birds, bees, trees.  Sweet fruit, beautiful flowers, fresh air.  Clear skies, a cool breeze.

It was kind of like paradise.

Except for the lump of shit.

Or whatever.

It wasn’t having any of it.

I felt sorry for it.

What do you mean, how did I feel sorry for it?  What do you mean, I wasn’t there because how could I be there if it hadn’t even got up from the dirt yet? Of course I was there.  If you think about it, you were there too.  All of us were there. Even Bob Dylan was there.  Who was known in those days as Bobby Zimmerman. He changed his name.  

Like that made a difference.

All right, maybe I wasn’t there in the way you’re thinking.  Your stunted imagination is not after all my problem.  But you’re right, I wasn’t there like a lump of shit, or even a miserable three year old lying puking in my bed because the milk was bad because who could remember to buy milk for a week when you had to remember to buy more Scotch and listening to them bitch about the fact that now they couldn’t go to the city because Bubbe was in the mountains with Aunt Rose and Uncle Jack and who could find somebody else to babysit at the last minute when all the teenage girls these days had pocket money from their rich parents and dates on Saturday nights and nobody wanted to take care of a puking kid anyway?

Forget who actually gave me the rotten milk in the first place.

Anyway, I was there.  Not me like me, but like me in light, a shard of light, the same light you were in.  He just hadn’t made the light bulbs yet so we could each maybe have our own space.  And maybe he wasn’t going to make them if he listened to the angels bitching, may all they have to drink be rotten milk.

The angels were nothing if not persistent.  All day long He had to listen to them, one after the other and sometimes in groups. Cliques really. They’d go up and talk to him like so many mean girls complaining to the principal that the sight of the dirt was spoiling their view and the stench – well – how could a person enjoy the smell of the flowers and the fresh air with such a smell like that all the time and couldn’t it go maybe to another school or at least be put in another class?

He’s very patient, you know.  Gracious, merciful, slow to anger, all that.

Or so he says.

Anyway, even He could only take so much.

Sunset was approaching.  Orange yellow red purple.  And you could really enjoy it because you knew it wasn’t caused by pollution.  It was that quiet peaceful time, the time you are contemplating a pre-prandial cocktail, relaxing music, maybe conversation with a friend.

Peaceful except for the shrillness of angels.

Shut up! he thundered. 

            I cannot stand all your bitching and all the noise.
I cannot think.

            And if I cannot think NONE OF YOU EXIST.

Well, as you can imagine, even with your limited imagination, this scared the bejeezus out of the angels.  They got quiet pretty fast.  Actually total silence. But you know what they say about calms before storms. No sooner than it had quieted down than He grabbed off the top of a mountain with one of his hands.  A mountain in his hand?  You bet. His hands were like the size of New Jersey, or at least one of the Kabbalists in the building said so.  You could probably pick up at least a mountain if your hands were the size of New Jersey. And, like I told you, I was there to watch it. So were you, and you would have seen it too.

If you’d been paying attention and had a little imagination.

Anyway, he took the mountain and just smashed it down, just hurled it down near where all the angels were sitting and trembling and waiting for what would come next and thinking that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all to say bad things about another person and complain about him all the time.  The little pussies were so scared that they didn’t even notice that where they were sitting happened to be just by him.

By the lump.

The thing about angels is that they may be pussies but they have moves.

He didn’t.

A lump of clay doesn’t bounce and weave like Mohammed Ali.

So the angels blasted out of the way except that creepy Todd whom I always hated because he acted like you weren’t there and he was kind of prissy and had a voice like a nose so I thought it was funny when he couldn’t skip away fast enough and got clipped by like a 20 ton boulder which took off one his wings which don’t by the way grow back.

The problem is he saw me laugh.

I didn’t think it was such a big sin.

I always seem to get in trouble that way.

Even if I’m not actually talking

People can tell.

That’s for later.

But the lump.

That poor lump.

Spattered to the four winds.

Really, by the time the maelstrom was over there wasn’t a drop of his mud anywhere to be seen.

None of this was a total shock.

We had all seen Him get pissed off before and it wasn’t ever pretty.

But what happened next?

He cried.

He did.

I mean, He really sobbed.

That I had never seen.

Rolling gathering rumbles of sound rose through the valleys and up the mountains.  The birds had figured out they’d better make themselves scarce. The trees trembled.  The ultra-cool swimming things dove deep. It got dark and I mean total black because even the moon and the stars were afraid to come out. So that was one day of creation down the drain.  Rain crashed down on everything.

The angels were of course nowhere to be seen.

It seemed like hours, but who knew from time back then?

In any event, it happened when the crying stopped.

He spoke.

He doesn’t speak much so when he actually says something you listen.

What are you asking me for?  I don’t know what he said.  What am I that he should speak to me?  Me, I’m just a shard of light by now He doesn’t even notice and even if he did I’m not the kind of person He’d be likely to talk to.

But I had eyes.

I saw what He made.

And boy, what He made.

It changed my entire life.

Yours, too.

 

The Book of Creation: A Novel

So, I have decided to post excerpts of my novel, The Book of Creation, while I am awaiting responses from agents.  I will try to post consecutively if not completely.

There’s a lot going on here.  If you get impatient with a post or two, please hang in there.  I think it will reward your efforts.

Here goes:  The Book of Creation:  A Novel by Ezra Wasserman Mitchell

In the beginning I was in the cradle.

Where else should an infant be?

It was a warm night.  I was born in the summer.  The plaster walls were light blue and the cradle was up against a wall opposite the window, which was open.  The cradle was brown. This I may not be remembering from then because that cradle stayed in our family from generation to generation down to this day and I’ve seen at least a dozen babies in it after me so who knows?

But the walls, the window?

It’s been decades since we left that place.

We don’t talk about it.

Trust me.

So it was warm.  The window was open, like I said, but Brooklyn in September sometimes doesn’t know from a breeze.  This was one of those times. The air smelled.  Actually it stank.  Tobacco smoke. It burned my eyes, too, but that’s what you got in those days.  And anyway, what should I have done about it, an infant not two months in the cradle?

I couldn’t sleep.

Not then, not now.

That’s why I write.

What else should I be doing when West End Avenue goes dark, or at least what passes for dark in Manhattan?  The pills help and yes they are from a prescription, but every time I take them I hear his voice in my head telling me that I should only take pills when I’m sick and what kind of a person is so weak that they have to take pills for anxiety and maybe if I got more exercise or ate healthier food or drank less I would sleep better all of which coming from him was an absurd joke.

I take the pills.

And some others to help assuage the guilt.

I couldn’t sleep even as a baby.

That night was no different from any other night.

But I was tired.

I had talked all day.

Talked, you say?  An infant of a month in the cradle doesn’t talk.  What do you know?  So maybe I didn’t talk, if what you mean by that is using words a person could understand.  So if that’s what you mean, of course I didn’t talk.  Whoever saw an infant reciting Shakespeare?  But I had talked.  All day.  Sounds coming out of my mouth, simple and complex, a noise here, a series of noises there.  It’s not my problem if they didn’t understand me. I knew what I was saying.  And as for what you call talking, I know I talked before I even sat on the toilet.

She’s been complaining about it since the day I was born.

So there I was.

On my back.

In a cradle.

Pajamas you ask?  How should I know?  It’s enough to remember the important things.  Probably it was just a diaper in the damp hot Brooklyn night.

Unless Bubbe was there.

She was always cold so she wrapped me in a blanket.

Every time she did she held me.

For a long, long time.

Bubbe knew how to hold me.

So I lay there on my back in the steamy Brooklyn night with tobacco smoke making spider webs in the air.

Turning slowly above my head, but not so slowly that you didn’t get dizzy, was a mobile. They put it there to make me sleep, but who could sleep with the kind of noisy gears they made in the second Eisenhower administration? Who knew from fancy electronics anyway?  The best we had was a new transistor radio from Taiwan over which he went berserk because it let you listen to the Dodgers wherever you might be although he was almost always splayed out in his chair with the Wall Street Journal spread out slipping down across his lap along his extended legs toward the floor and his radio in one hand and his Scotch in the other so why did it matter anyway but he always played the radio loud and the Taiwan transistor had come with a white rubber wire with an earpiece that he could plug into a small hole in the radio and put the earpiece in his ear so that only he could hear it and she made him use it at least at night no matter how much he complained that it was uncomfortable and was going to make him deaf but what was really going to make him deaf as she pointed out was that even with the earpiece on he still kept the radio so loud that you could hear the sound almost perfectly and whenever she left the room he took it out until she came back and made him put it in again until the day he claimed to have lost it which he almost certainly did if you mean by lost that it got thrown down the incinerator.

Followed by the Taiwan transistor when the Dodgers left Brooklyn at the end of the season.

Every ten minutes or so the mobile would stop and one of them would eventually come into the room in a cloud of smoke to rewind the thing so I shouldn’t wake up.

Could you sleep with such a racket?

Who had a choice?

So I lay there on my back and stared at the mobile.

First came a red train, and then a cowboy on a horse, then a red train, and a cowboy on a horse, and a red train and a cowboy on horse and a red cowboy horse on train and train on cowboy red horse and again and again and again and again until it wound down and by the time it did my eyes had closed and I was breathing deeply.

And then the door opened and smoke-woven light shot through to my crib and I blinked hard and maybe I cried as she came in to rewind the mobile.  Already by then I had abandoned all hope that she might pick me up and hold me or even heaven forefend kiss me but she had demonstrated on at least several occasions that she did know how to slap me so as soon as I became aware of the fact that I was pointlessly and maybe even dangerously crying I forced myself to turn it off.

And asked her not to rewind the stupid mobile.

It wasn’t my problem if she didn’t understand.

She told me to shut up.

And rewound.

And walked out quietly pulling almost closed the door.

Slowly they spun.

I stared.

They spun.

I stared.

A train.  A horse.  A train.  A cowboy.

A corse.

I forgot the heat.

I forgot the smoke.

I stared.

.  .  .  .

Because there was nothing.

Not trains.  Not cowboys.  Not horses.  Not blue walls nor brown cradles nor spiderwebs of smoke.

Just white.

Pure white.

It transpired just as the trains and the cowboys and the horses began to blur again.   As the blur receded it spread behind it a sheet of gray.  The gray slowly brightened, the way a cloud cover opens to diffuse the light after rain, backlit by the sun as it dissipates, growing ever brighter until I was staring at a brilliant white canopy stretched across the heavens.

Or a Brooklyn ceiling.

It stayed that way for a very long time.

Who could sleep with all that light?

My eyelids descended.

Closed.

And quickly opened.

And closed.

And opened.

Two incandescent cloudy lines began to descend.  As they did, the ends slowly drew together at an acute angle.  Another line behind them formed a triangle.  Two more attached as legs. Gently falling.  All emerging from the white sheet above, floating on wet Brooklyn air.

Lazily tumbling end over end.

My eyes transfixed.

I did what babies do.

I reached to grab it.

My chubby hand swatted pure air.

Like a feather, it completed its descent.

Posing firm upon my belly.

I recognized the shape as something I had noticed once before, the time she pulled the newspaper from my mouth.

“A.”

It must have been special because I still feel the sting of the slap she gave me as she babbled loud noises at me.

Why not put it in my mouth?

It tasted like honey.

And now here it was, staring at me.

Dominating me.

Frightening me.

Defeating me.

I reached for it again, tried to grab it, to feel it, to taste it.

Nothing.

Air.

No feel, no taste, no sound.

I had to have it.

.  .  .  .

Another shape initiated its descent.

A loop.

And then another.

They joined in midair like a flying trapeze.

One side began to straighten.

It gently settled to the right of the A.

“B.”

Shapes floating down conjoining, as wet snowflakes do when they gently drift toward earth and meld, creating new shapes from the old.

It went on for a long time.

The white canopy began to drape outside the window.

Twenty five of these shapes had aligned across my belly.

The white outside the window began to streak with yellow.

So sleepy.

I startled up.

Three more lines descending, floating, joining, turning, tumbling ever so softly.

Landing on my chest.

Last to land it took its place before the others.

Vanguard of what had been.

And what was to be.

The “Y” stared deeply into my eyes.

Yellow flared outside my window.

II

Take a close look at the letter “C.”

What do you see?

Right.

Closed on the bottom, on the top, and at the back.

It almost encircles you.

It keeps you safe.

There is only one direction you can go.

One direction you’re exposed.

But one direction you can control.

One way out.

Forward.

.  .  .  .

The word “creation” begins with C.

And “create.”

.  .  .  .

Now take a look at the Hebrew letter “ב.” Yes, I know you don’t know it.  Work with me.

What do you see?

Right.

Closed on the bottom, on the top, and at the back.

It almost encircles you.

It keeps you safe.

There is only one direction you can go.

One direction you’re exposed.

But one direction you can control.

One way out.

Forward.

Don’t argue.  Hebrew is written from right to left.  By Hebrew it’s just as forward as C is in English.

The word “creation” in Hebrew  – ״בר׳אה״ — begins with ב.

And “create” –בורה.

Obviously.

Put a C opposite a ב.

Put them together.  Cב.

Right.

A circle.

The world.

You can only go around.

No escape.

.  .  .  .

There is one difference between the letters.  The Hebrew ב has a dot in the middle.

We call it a point.

We put it there to make it sound like B and not like V, which of course it would without the point.

And there you are.