“Malachi, you’re not eating. What’s wrong?”
“Don’t say ‘nothing,’ I know you. I know it’s something. You haven’t touched the tsimis and you love my tsimis. And you have that look on your face.”
“That ‘Ma, something is wrong but I’m afraid to tell you because you’ll be upset and maybe have a heart attack look on your face.’ That’s what look.”
“It’s Miriam! What happened to Miriam?”
“No, it’s not Miriam.”
“It is. I can tell. Oh, my god you’re getting a divorce. I knew it, she…”
“No, Ma, stop. I’m not getting a divorce. It’s just a stupid little thing. It’s nothing.”
“So tell me what this nothing thing is. I promise I won’t have a heart attack. But I will if you don’t tell me because I will of course think you are hiding it from me and you want I should die not knowing. Is that what you want?”
“It’s my writing. It’s not going well. Like I’m dry. I feel like a fake. Nothing comes. I sit and nothing comes. I work all week on a story and it’s just crap and I have to throw it in he garbage.”
“That’s it? That’s all? Wait. I’m sorry. What I meant was, ‘Oh, Malachi, I’m so sorry. I understand. That’s terrible’. ….”
“It’s not terrible, Ma. It’s just that I’m stuck. I’m writing a story about good and evil, I mean the characters are talking about good and evil, and so I’ve been reading what Neitzsche said and…
“Neitzsche? That ante-simit? Why are you reading him?”
“Ma. Who told you he was anti-Semitic?”
“And so you believe Frieda? She thinks all Germans are genetically anti-Semitic. Neitzsche hated anti-Semitism. He hated it. With a passion. It’s just that he didn’t like religion but he didn’t hate the Jews or the Christians. Just religion.”
“Oh, so it’s just religion he didn’t like? That’s why you’re reading him. It wasn’t bad enough that you told Rabbi Millstein’s cousin Bernadette you were an atheist? You couldn’t have just said you were an agnostic like your sister did? You know she told everyone that. Everyone. They all give me looks in schul like I gave birth to Rosemary’s Baby for God sake. And what are you wasting your time writing about good and evil for anyway. You don’t think we see enough of it? And you should stop watching Rachel. She’s smart and I love her, but I’m telling you she’ll drive you crazy.”
She gets up from the table and comes back with a thick, well-bound book. She drops it on the table in front him.
“Here,” she says. “You want to know about good and evil? I’ll show you good and evil. Here. Right here in shvarts un vayslekh (black and white).”
“Yes, open the book where the Whole Foods receipt is. Right there.”
He reads: ‘You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image…’
“No, no. Not that part, read what’s in pencil, what I wrote there in the margin.”
He reads: “’You shouldn’t kill, you should always tell the truth, you shouldn’t lie or take anything that doesn’t belong to you without asking first, you shouldn’t hit your sister, you should remember to say please and thank you, if you make a mess you should clean it up, and you should use only what you need and remember to compost.’ That’s it?”
“Yes. That’s it. It’s all right there.
“Ma, that’s not about good and evil. That’s about right and wrong. There’s a difference.”
“Difference shmiference,” she says. “You’re wasting your time looking for something that’s not there. Farshpitsn! (listen!) What’s right is good, and what’s wrong is bad, and what’s really, really, really, wrong… that’s horrible. That’s it. Listen to me. What God says is that you live and you die. You make the best of it in between. And the evil thing? Feh! It means nothing. It’s a made-up thing. It’s an excuse, that’s all. To say that Eichmann was evil just lets him off the hook like ‘don’t blame him, the devil made him do it’. Bullshit, you should pardon my expression. He did what he did and that was wrong. Horrible. He knew what he was doing. Listen, God made people. Some people do really bad things. The evil thing is just politics. Listen to what God says. Did he ever say anything about evil? No. God knows.”
“Yes, God knows. And besides, I don’t care if God said it or if Shlomo Glickstein, the plumber, said it. It’s all you need. Listen to me. You don’t need a Mr. Neitzsche or Buber or Chaim Pupick, or anyone else. So, please, Malachi, take a taste of the tsimis while it’s hot. Your writing will be okay, believe me.
He tastes the tsimis. The warm sweet potatoes, the soft carrots, the sugary plums, and cinnamon and orange spice.
“Good?” she says.
“Yes, that’s good.”