Robbie’s Roadside Drive-in Movie Theater

Marvin Blitzstein accepted the probate decision with a sense of equanimity.

Millie, his wife of twenty-two years, clutching a copy of Dickens’ Bleak House, saw this as just one more infuriating example of his intolerable passivity. His lassitude. His complete and consummate complaisance.

“Marvin,” she said as they had left earshot of the lawyers suite, “your brother, Melvin, who you don’t like and who you haven’t even talked to for the last eleven years, and who has unfailingly and unflinchingly screwed you out of everything you ever wanted in life, the long list of which I need not remind you of, walks away from yet another chance to make things right by you and he leaves you holding the bag of do-do once again, and you say what?” Continue reading Robbie’s Roadside Drive-in Movie Theater

The Golem on the X38 Bus

Simon Appelfeld was a good boy. He went to school each day. He obeyed the Sabbath. He did his homework. He brushed his teeth. He loved his parents and they loved him. He did not know how unusual he was.

One day on his way to school he saw that someone had left a book on the empty seat beside him on the bus. Continue reading The Golem on the X38 Bus

Most Mornings

Most mornings, but not all, after I heat the kettle to make coffee with the French press we picked up in Marshall’s for half the cost of a bodum in a store like Macy’s, where I’d sometimes shop but haven’t been in one in many years and I still have the wool duffel coat with a hood I bought there about thirty years ago and it’s still is in great condition except for the thin leather loops that hold the toggles in place and which I fix with a needle and thread from time to time, I steep the coffee for exactly four minutes and pour a cup for myself and one for my wife and we sit in bed for a while, maybe ten or fifteen minutes tops, before she has to get ready for work at the college, and I take the morning pills I need for blood pressure and cholesterol, and my prostate and then I shave, except in the winter when I let my beard grow but even then I shave around the edges so that it all looks neat, and it saves on the cost of new razors though now there are those cheaper plastic ones that work okay and last for maybe a month or so before they get a little rough on my skin and I need to take out a new one and feel bad because never really know if I should put the old one in the trash or in the recycling bin which I usually do but then I wonder if the people (if there are actual people) who go through the bottles and cans and clamshell boxes that the day-old doughnuts and blueberries they call bleuets come in, might cut their fingers on if they pick them off the conveyor belt the wrong way and that’s why I don’t put the tops of the baked bean or dogfood cans in the recycling anymore but I think a lot of people still do, which of course reminds me that there are lot’s of folks who don’t recycle anything and they just throw paper plates and cans and light bulbs and batteries, some of which you can recycle and some not (and I never can remember which) and leftover or moldy food in the same plastic bags and have them carted away or dropped off at the transfer station and I think that maybe they might not care about recycling so much or maybe they don’t know what should be recycled anyway or maybe they just think that recycling is a waste of time because it’s really the huge pig farms and cars and trucks on the highways and the deforestation of the Amazon and whatever goes on in China that we don’t know about that causes all of the air pollution with fossil fuels and greenhouse gases and so I can’t really blame them for the way they feel but then you see Greta Thunberg on TV and you know that you should really be doing more about the environment like turning down the thermostat in the winter same as I do but then it gets so cold in the house and it costs so much to have the old windows replaced and I keep telling the Pella window people who call me twice a year and ask me if I want to have them come out and give me an estimate on new windows and I tell them each time that I really can’t afford how much it costs for new windows and if I had all the windows in the house replaced it would cost as much as a used hybrid car, which I need more anyway, and if you don’t replace all of the windows at the same time the cold air just comes in through the ones you didn’t replace and if you try to put that plastic they sell in boxes in the hardware store which you tape up around the windows and then use a hairdryer to make the plastic sheets shrink up really tight and which works pretty good unless the window frame was not clean enough and the tape peels away and the cold air finds its way through anyway and makes the plastic flutter or the cats start to climb up the plastic and rip it down anyway only an hour after you had cut it to the right size and fit it just right around the window and used all that electricity with the blow dryer to get them up, which I just read in the Reader’s Digest, still sucks up electricity even when it’s turned off but you still keep it plugged in the outlet like the phone charger and the TV even when you don’t have a phone attached to the wire, costing you more money that you never considered before and that no one tells you about unless you happen to come across the article in the magazine which will probably go out of business when people my age die off and everyone is using their devices for everything like getting the news, most of which you can’t tell is real or made up by someone or even a by computer, and you can even use to see who is at your front door and tell them to get the hell away from your house or you’ll call the cops, or even turn on your lights and TV before you get home so it will be on when you get there or record the program for you if you get stuck in traffic and get home late and maybe even defrost the chicken ala king for you, so then I rinse the coffee cups and take a shower and I look for a job on the SimplyHired website which someone who also got let go back in 2008, told me about at a job fair, and says people like me need to work but nobody wants to hire a man as old as me to do things I know how to do pretty good but no one needs done anymore anyway, even for fifteen dollars an hour, which I would probably do in a New York minute, unless it requires heavy lifting or two years of experience with the use of excel spreadsheets which they didn’t have back at my old job.

Malachi and His Mother Deconstruct Good and Evil

“Malachi, you’re not eating. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Ma.”

“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.”

“What look?”

“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.” Continue reading Malachi and His Mother Deconstruct Good and Evil

The Death of a Friend

“The death of a friend,” thought Sedge, in the days after Adelaide had died, “was like a tenacious, frightful, early morning dream. One that holds you so tightly that you feel your lungs cry and you strain to pull yourself away and at the very same moment you feel so hopeless you want to give up and die.” Continue reading The Death of a Friend

After Adelaide

Sedgwick sits alone on the soft sand. The tide is receding. The sun stretches long shadows down the beach from behind the condos along A1A. The low-rise two-bedroom models suited to the needs and savings of the less-than-wealthy and less-well-connected winter people who couldn’t afford the tall, balconied, places fronting the intra-coastal. Single people mostly, women mostly, who come south when it gets too cold and too quiet up north. People he knows. Women he knows.

Adelaide was one of those women. Continue reading After Adelaide

Morty Silberman and the Quantum Uncertainty of Entangled Spirituality

Morty Silberman looked like shit. I told him so. Pale as a piece of pickled herring. Lines and probes around him like a trussed-up kosher chicken.

“I feel like shit,” he tells me.

Everybody in here must feel like shit,” I say.

“Did I tell you,” he says, “when the nurse was prepping me for surgery, she said to me, ‘You know, you’re pretty lucky. You got that crease in your earlobe.’ So I say to her, ‘And…?’ And she says to me, ‘And… most people with an earlobe crease like that show up a little too late downstairs with tag on their toe.’ No joke.” Continue reading Morty Silberman and the Quantum Uncertainty of Entangled Spirituality

Chava Shapiro: The Fresh Air Interview

Welcome back. I’m Terry Gross and you are listening to Fresh Air. If you’re just joining us, we have been talking with the remarkable Chava Shapiro. She was recently featured in a series of short stories published on an online journal website. She is here to talk with us about those stories, writing, and being a lesser-known female author working on the edges of the publishing industry.

 For those of you unfamiliar with her most recent story, it is called The Good Life of Avrum and Chava.

Ms. Shapiro, let me ask you, in the story, the central character, Chava, is seen as sort of a ‘Good Wife.’ Why did you pick that kind of a character to write about and how close is it to your own life? And why do you call it the ‘good life?’ Continue reading Chava Shapiro: The Fresh Air Interview

My Dearest Malachi, This Is Me, Your Mother

My Dearest Malachi, This is me, your mother. This is a joke. Right? Your brother Myron has told me about your new, and you should pardon the expression, ferkakte, adventure. Why are you doing this to me? You think I don’t have enough to worry about? Why didn’t you tell us? Your father is a wreck. Me? Not so much. He is going to plotz. He’s sitting on the living room floor this very minute watching CNN for news about you and pulling his hair out. But you shouldn’t let that bother you. Continue reading My Dearest Malachi, This Is Me, Your Mother

Thinking Now of Other Things

Your dog is old. You look at her. Her clouded brown eyes. Fourteen. Fourteen is old for a dog. This dog. This whiskered Scotty, mixed with West Highland terrier and who knows what else. This dog. Your dog, with her black hair knitted with untidy strands of grey. Her hair now looking like the color yours was when you took her in. Continue reading Thinking Now of Other Things

Adelaide On the Beach

When Sedgwick saw the body on the beach, in the evening, he didn’t believe it was Adelaide, the woman he had been seeing for a few months, earlier, until they had wordlessly drifted away from one another, having never, he thought, made any sort of commitment to one another, save for the general assumption that they’d spend an evening or two together, sometimes during the week, when she was in town, Continue reading Adelaide On the Beach

The Double

Yakov awakes in a hospital bed. He does not remember being brought here. He does not recall a fall or feeling ill in any way. He has simply found himself in a hospital bed, wearing a cotton gown tied loosely behind him and an ID band secured around his wrist. On it is his birth date and his name: Goldman, Yakov P. What on earth? he wonders. What has happened to me?

His bed is in a double room. His glasses are on the tray table. His own folded newspaper. His cell phone. A card to him from his co-workers at the firm. ‘Get well soon.’ A menu with his choices for lunch and dinner circled. Continue reading The Double

Two Rooms With A View

Max lived at home. He was a junior at a small liberal arts school in the city on 68th Street, near Central Park. It had no dorms. Students commuted to school. Every single one of them. Walking down Madison or Park from high rises on the East Side or taking taxis or cross-town buses or subway trains from different parts of the city.

A few, like Max, lived outside the city, in slow moving suburbs with driveways, no sidewalks, lots of grass and azalea bushes, and golden retrievers that wandered along streets with names like Oak Lane or Spruce Street, until it was time for dinner.

He lived in a house with his parents.

A house they bought in the mid-fifties. A house built on what he thought must have once been a farm since all the houses were new and looked alike and the land was flat and the only trees that grew in the neighborhood were small maples the builder planted along the roads and which one day were expected to grow to be thick-trunked and tall with branches full of leaves arching over and shading the streets like in a Doris Day movie.

But when Max looked out of the window from his bedroom on the second floor with the windows facing the street, the trees look puny. Like tiny fake trees in a diorama or in a scene you’d make around a model train set which looked real only if you lay your head down on the green-painted plywood table so that you could watch the locomotive coming toward you around the curve with the faint puffs of smoke coming out of the smoke stack and the piston rods driving wheels with a clicking sound on the track joints like real trains and the smell of the electric engine inside it as it passed by your face.

His father had built the bedroom for him in the unfinished attic. He worked at night after dinner and on the weekends, framing the room with fresh-cut two-by-fours, and nailing the sheetrock against them along the walls and up on the ceiling joists and then laying tiles on the subfloor. He did the wiring and the outlets. He plastered and sanded and painted.

Max hated the room. The color of the walls. The door that didn’t lock. The built-in drawers that stuck. The lone light in the center of the ceiling. No chair to sit on. The empty feeling he had sitting on the bed, flipping the pages of Introduction to General Biology, the floor strewn with clothes he had worn and dropped where he taken them off, the dust in the corners.

He hated living in the house with his parents. The isolation he felt. The scrutiny. The questioning. They way they had of making every conversation seem like an inquest of some sort. ‘Where were you?’ and ‘Where are you going?’

The way words were twisted like the frayed prickly wire wound around the little hooks on the back of a thick picture frame. He hated himself for hating it all.

He looked once for another place to live. One closer to the school. In the city. A place of his own where he could read and study. Come and go when he wanted to. A place where he had his own key and the door would lock and where he could keep his things.

The place he found was on Nagle Avenue up near Dykman Street and the number 2 train. It was advertised in the counseling center. A rooming house. He took the paper down.

The woman who owned the place showed him the room. She walked up the stairs ahead of him. Her large wide hips swayed. Her legs struck each step hard. She smelled of cigarette smoke, sweat, and unwashed feet. She said he could share the kitchen on the first floor with the others. He needed to bring his own dishes and towels. Clean up after himself.

She tried the door to the bathroom down the hall from his room and someone said, “I’m in here.”

In the room, there was a bed by the window facing the side alley. A chair and a table with a lamp with a pull chain. A wooden dresser. A waste basket.

He told her he would take it.

She left him to get the paperwork. She said it was one hundred a month. She needed one month up front in cash today. No checks. No trouble.

He sat on the bed, put his book bag on the floor and looked around the room. The screen in the window. The brick wall across the alley. City noises.

Before she came back, before she saw him, he picked up his bag, walked into the hall and closed the door. He walked down the stairs and out onto the street.

In his pocket was a token for the subway and the only three dollars he owned. He had no bank account. No job. He had an exam in the morning.

He walked up Nagle Avenue past the rows of two-story brick buildings. Past trashcans at the sidewalk edge. Past parked cars with the brown dust of time and the city on them.

He took a seat on the uptown number 2 and then transferred to the bus up through the Bronx and past Mount Vernon.

To the room on the second floor that his father built with his own hands, with the grey-blue walls, and the door that did not lock, and the bathroom down the hall with little pink tiles on the floor that he hated but did not have to share with anyone.

Molly Jacobs and Sarah Phipps (aka Sally Jacobs)

Molly and Sarah, two girls who in their youth

“may have given their end of town a swinging

reputation,” Garland says, “but if they hastened its

decline, they at least broke the cheerlessness of it.” (p.63)

Grown up, grown old, they would while away

their time, playing cards. “Sarah would get mad

at Molly, and say: ‘I shan’t tell you where I hid

the kerds. I hid them behind the old chest,

but I shan’t tell you.’” (Mann, p.55)

 

Grown up, grown old, having played

the hand they were dealt—they lay together

(Molly and Sally Jacobs) in tattered rags

pulled up over their chins—they lay together

 

in their bed through the cold winter

days and nights—the snow fallen and

falling through what was once a roof—

lying there in each others’ arms—

 

barely moving, only slightly disturbing

the smooth white blanket

that covered them.

— James R. Scrimgeour

From Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising Out of a Ghost Town Landscape, Loom Press, 2019

 

 

What We Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Race

Frank Littleton looked at the men around the table. Six of them, all wearing shirts they’d once worn in jobs in the city or for going to funerals or fundraisers. Collars spread open. Sleeves rolled to the elbows. Men he’d known and liked for years, some since they were boys sucking on summer peach pits and laying pennies on railroad tracks.

He felt care-worn. Knew they could read it on his face. As he looked up at each of them, quick as cats, they looked away. Their furtive eyes on one another but none on him. Continue reading What We Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Race

Watching Nadal on TV

Paul, a slim man, in his fifties, not much of a talker, is sitting in a chair beside a hospital bed in a cramped bedroom in a mid-priced condo on the east coast of Florida. The room seems dark to him. The chair is utilitarian and uncomfortable. Cold-chromed steel tubing with a flat fake-wood seat and a straight back. No place for a person’s arms to come to rest. Not a chair meant for sitting in for long.

His shoulders are slumped forward. He is looking at the bone-frail woman in the bed. Continue reading Watching Nadal on TV

The Man in the Mirror

There were some men that Bertrand could not stomach. Tommy Bahama was one of them. Bertrand could see him down in the back yard, in his lemon yellow Polo shirt, collar up, maroon sweater, draped over his fey, weak-looking shoulders, and loosely knotted in front. The sight of the man was enough to raise his gorge.

Bertrand carefully drew the bathroom curtain closed and stepped back from the window. The movement caused barely a ruffle, just enough to coax a breath of Cape Cod Fog from the air freshener on the sill. He was sure he had gone unnoticed. Continue reading The Man in the Mirror

The Bright and Shining Cities on the Hill

Thomas Hobbes paid good money for the boat. One hundred euros. He bought it, an outrigger, from a young man, a native of the island. A man named Paolu. The boat was serviceable and could be easily repaired. Paolu had thrown in the few simple tools he might need. For free.

He bought a sail too, and two weighted twine nets from another man. An older man. A fisher. A muscled and bent man with a strong, black back. Continue reading The Bright and Shining Cities on the Hill

Dialogue On the Way to Grandma’s House

Dialogue On the Way to Grandma’s House

My daughter is in the back seat of the Volvo. I can see her eating a peanut butter sandwich. She is her car seat. Her face is in the rearview mirror.

“Why are we going to grandma’s house?”

“Because it is Mother’s Day.”

“But she is not my mother.”

“No, but she is my mother.”

“When is Grandmother’s Day?”

“I don’t know.”

“Could it be tomorrow?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why?”

“Because you have to go to school.”

“Why do I have to go to school?”

“Because you like school.”

“What if I didn’t like it?”

“But you do.”

“What if I didn’t?”

“You would still have to go.”

“What if you die when I am in school?”

“That is not going t happen.”

“But what if?”

“Honey, it is not going to happen.”

“What if I die when I go to school?”

“You are not going to die when you go to school?”

“How do you know?”

“I just know. You are a little girl.”

“But what if?”

“It is not going to happen.”

“Would you be sad?”

“I would be so sad that I would cry forever.”

“What is forever?”

“A long, long time.”

“How long?”

“The longest, longest, time in the whole world.”

“In the universe?”

“Yes. In the universe?”

“When will the universe die?”

“Never.”

“How do you know?”

“Einstein told me.”

“How does he know?”

“He worked it out in school.”

“Oh.”

Myra and Mose

Myra is sitting on the other side of the bed. The side closest to the window. The blinds are open. The thin morning light falls across her cotton nightdress in bands like an inmate’s prison garb. A few of Mose’s books are on the floor. Scattered, lying in disarray.

Her books are neatly stacked on her table, with her glasses, beside the reading lamp. The books, both of theirs, are overdue at the library. He had been reading The Confessions of Nat Turner. She hasn’t read any of hers in a while. She can’t remember when. The thought has ceased to cross her mind. Continue reading Myra and Mose

Is God Dead? No He’s Just Busy

God was late. He missed dinner.

“Marvin, where have you been, young man?” said his mother. “Dinner is cold, and your father couldn’t wait. He ate and He’s in his room working on The Book.”

Marvin has been auditing a class in Practical Applications of Advanced Theoretical Physics at Cal Tech. Three days a week with an afternoon lab on Saturdays. Continue reading Is God Dead? No He’s Just Busy

The Coffee Lover

Porter sits on the back porch steps. At Maureen’s. He is waiting for her. For her to come out. For her to bring the coffee she is making.

The air is cool, and a blanket of mist covers the tops of the white pines, blocking his view of the water, which lies down the steep sandy slope behind her house.

He brought pastries from home. It is Sunday morning. He has not read the Times yet. It lays folded on the stair next to him. They will read it together later. Maybe walk to the beach. Continue reading The Coffee Lover

The Death of A Good Man, All In All

The funeral service for the late Herman Kaminski was not well-attended. The Riverside Chapel in Mount Vernon was near enough to the Cross County Parkway for a quick on and off for mourners up from Manhattan or down from lower Westchester. It also offered an ample parking lot as well as a compassionate understanding of the religious traditions in a Jewish memorial service. For no extra charge, they provided the services of a Rabbi, one Arthur I. Shankman, who spoke with the bereaved family before the service. His fingers interlaced in front of him, he asked Kaminski’s two sons for any remembrances they wanted him to mention. They declined. Continue reading The Death of A Good Man, All In All