This is the Life of a Redhead

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Castle, XS

This story is very problematic, but there is an idea that I'm trying to explore that I like very much. Maybe I can have some help finding it? One day, one day.

Castle, XS

            In my days of youth, as a girl so small she could barely climb into bed and maneuver around the safety-bar that lined her 101 Dalmatian bedding, I thought I lived in a castle. My room expanded infinitely, the door miles away from the desk, which in turn was a ferry-ride away from my bed, that of which barely stretched to the window, the very same window that I opened wide and removed the bug-screen, little body crawling out and sitting on the roof top, shingles hot in the summertime, a view so expansive the children playing in the street, those who cried “CAR” at the top of their lungs when they had to scatter, looked like ants.
            My castle: two floors, a basement, and an attic. It was so large that there was a bathroom in the foyer that no one ever used, because we lived like kings and we had rooms that were only for show and decoration. My brother, was way down the hall, my parents far off on the other side, and a balcony—yes, a real balcony!—that overlooked the stair landing, a drop that looked like certain death indeed if I were to slip through the bars.
            The backyard was truly stunning. There was the deck, of course, and the secret underground passageway my father had cleverly constructed. We had tunnels, escape routes for emergencies, a dirty underworld that stained my clothes and got my best friend banned from my home for at least a month. I mean, there could have been raccoons under there. But the real treasure of the backyard wasn’t the deck, but instead the acres of fields it overlooked. First it was mowed, crew-cut grass, and then long high weeds that were perfect imagining a savanna, and finally the eruption of a dense forest, home to the deer that would cautiously wander to our gardens and eat Annabelle’s chives and bolted when the neighbor’s dog came too close.
            Yes, it felt like a castle, in a strange land where the neighbor’s last names were a clash of vowels and consonants. Titles I could not pronounce. It didn’t matter; I listened to their accents and pretended that I, too, could be a sexy Russian spy. My next-door neighbor, deaf and mute, was clearly the town jester. Bright-eyed Michelle Cohen, three doors down, could have been our potions master. He was so funny when he saw fireworks; he couldn’t hear them explode. He’d run around, clapping, pointing at the bright lights in the air, excited for what he must have thought was the end of the world. My mother, deeply involved in her prayer books every Friday night, was easily leading a double life as both Queen and Clergy.
            My castle lasted for years, but then I started to grow. It started to crumble.
            I could make it up the stairs, two at a time, in seconds. The balcony was just a railing, a precaution. My floor, always messy, would run out of surface area and suddenly the door and the desk and the bed were all cramped together, almost touching. The journey out the window felt dangerous. I was too big; I ripped the bug screen, on accident, and as I sat on the roof my legs stretched to the end, toes passing the gutter, rainwater splashing on my heels.
            The dining room and the living room bled together. Our kitchen table made deck access almost impossible. My father had to suck in his belly so that he could squeeze past a chair and slide the glass door open simultaneously.
            I couldn’t explore the underground anymore, not without scratching my gangly arms on the wooden planks above me, or bruising my kneecaps on the rocky terrain I crawled upon.
            My body had outgrown the castle. It was just a tiny townhouse on Shadowbend Dr., a housing complex full of immigrants and new, poor families, my father’s trade school degree unable to earn us something more glamorous. At fourteen, the year we moved away, I saw the house as my parents saw it: squashed, suffocating. But also, I saw it for what I yearned for: cozy. Safe.
            I have never loved a size so much. Extra small. I can identify, of course. Extra Small. It means one thing: comfort.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Failed Submission

I submitted to Longshot Magazine, a magazine that is produced in 48 hours. It's nice because you don't have to wait too long to find out if you got in or not. I knew ahead of time that my style isn't what they go for, but I'm still proud that I submitted. Let's pretend I stood a chance, okay? The theme was Debt. My submission below:

A Deficit of Memories; A Debt.

I imagine my memories as these tiny creatures with rapid flapping wings. They flutter right in front of my eyes, so close that my lashes brush against their spastic bodies. My breathing matches the rate of their beating wings and while I am on the verge of an anxiety attack I reach out and try to grasp a little personified memory, aiming to hold it so close that I crush its wings and its moth-like powder stains my hand. When I try to grab it, my reflexes are too slow and the little beast outsmarts me and vanishes, not a trace left in my brain.
            The realization that I had terrible memory began when I found it difficult to describe movie plots, even those of films I had just seen. The credits would roll and already I would be scrambling to think of a character’s name or the opening sequence, and by the time I exited the theater all I could remember were slivers of scenes, like the strange facial reactions by supporting characters or an especially well designed costume on a glamorous leading lady. If asked about storyline I would automatically rattle off a narrative and wonder how the words mechanically escaped my lips without a visualized companion inside my mind. All information began to feel like pieces of data, unreadable code that would transcribe itself verbally but could not be internally computed.
            I could deal with film being erased, as I could always find a way to watch it again and take notes if I felt so inclined to remember every detail. It was when unrepeatable actions began to fade that I started to worry. There was a brave instance when I tried to explain the experience I had with an emotionally abusive partner, and I found myself getting tongue-tied, trying to restring conversations and picture the way his jaw tightened when he spoke or how his eyes lost contact with mine and focused instead on the cars speeding ahead. We were driving. Or we were in his bedroom. I think, once, we were at dinner, and he played with a straw wrapper as I shared my anxieties about leaving for college. The visuals morphed, but the basic information, the raw data, stayed consistent. If I wanted to use specifics details I would feel like a liar because the memory was incorrect and the images in my head were ragged and dissolving.
            Painful memories, I thought, were the ones that would disappear. I was uncomfortable but able to come to terms with that idea. I could cope with a subconscious defense mechanism that distorted the nuances of bad situations and for some reason decided that most films were not worth being recalled.
            Then it spread to pleasant memories. Of my childhood, before five years old, the only solid memory I have is the Dalmatian print on my bed sheets. My tiny hands jumped from dog to dog, spot to spot, pronouncing the dogs’ names from the Disney movie I had loved. Nothing more. I close my eyes and contract my facial muscles until my brain tingles and there is not a single image that comes to mind apart form the dogs. It was not a painful childhood, nor traumatic or scarring. It is simply my memories flying out my of my head, perhaps leaving through my ear canals or nasal passages, trying to force me to live moment by moment even though I believe that I am designed to think in the past.
            I am young, painfully inexperienced. I wonder what will stick with me when I reach old age. I fear that soon the only images I will have are actually visualizations of anxieties about future. They are large monsters that have nothing but empty words.
So I keep reaching out and clutching my fingers tight, praying that I have caught a memory. I hold my fist steady and pretend that it starts to suffocate and twitch and then begs for mercy, seeking refuge inside my brain.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Scenes on Tenth

The large dog longs for exercise. It whines outside CrossFit, obedient enough not to jump on the glass and flash its genitals at the early birds who train inside. The glass is slightly tinted and the work out remains a mystery. From my post at the bus stop across the street, I see the dog stand on all fours and cry and then sit on its rump and cry louder. It’s a Great Dane, but not really, not quite. It black spots cover its snout and I cannot see its eyes. There’s only the high squeals that beg for attention and capture mine, which is all the way across the four lane two-way street.
            A nice black car with the front windows roll down slows to a stop and the dog is no longer visible. The sounds shift to the radio playing at high volume inside the car, a female pop-star’s top 40 lyrics fleeing into the open air. Inside a large black man with a grey beard and a bald head shifts his body to the music. He looks like he is stuffed in his seat, and I see that he does not have enough room to wiggle, unlike me who can get down and dirty in a car but only when the windows are rolled and a vaguely Baltic-sounding track emits from my iPod. Because of his restriction, he moves his hands to trace the octaves of the singer. They start low and climb up an invisible mountain, lingering in mid-air for split seconds, moving higher and higher until they reach the peak. His hand splays and his whole body rumbles as he cries the words out of tune. This giant man’s pitch matches the dog that is still whining behind him, and as the music drops and the man catches the tonal shift a second too late, the dog and the man sing in harmony.
            The light turns green and the black car cruises down the street. The large dog is now jumps to its feet and dances about excitedly. There’s a man in a dark gray shirt, darker on his chest and under his pits, petting the dog on its black snout, but also sort of slapping it, a mix of affection and discipline. Promptly, the dog sits back down, and he is quiet and attentive. For a moment the man hesitates, goes for the collar and then to the leash, but then abandons his actions all together and goes back inside CrossFit to continue his morning regime.
            I am thinking of crossing the street to play with the dog when I hear the bus breaking. It stops a few feet behind the MARTA sign and makes me long for the dog as I take the five or six steps to reach the open doors. As I swipe my breeze pass and it starts whining again, the sound suffocated by the bus’s motor and the murmuring of a homeless man asking around for change.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Family Musings

A rough draft of a short, personal essay. Currently untitled.

The family is enjoying this Pixar thing too much.
It’s my favorite studio, the home of my dream job: animation coordinator, or production supervisor, or assistant director. Really, the logistics are not as important as the prospect of working at that studio. So far, in my college days, I’ve submitted five internship applications in four years. Every summer of my studies and one spring. There are countless possibilities for Google searches from potential bosses, so I constantly look myself up on the internet, wincing at embarrassing information and urging people to click what is important. Never once have I gotten an interview, not even a halfhearted phone call from a recruiter.
I’ve been convinced that Pixar has ignored me. My existence to them could be no more important than the presence of a mosquito in the bedroom; a nuisance, if anything. Because I had written my life off to the minds of the Pixar creative team, I was shocked when they unveiled the new lead character for their 2012 release, Brave. Princess Merida's head is full of frizzy red curls. It’s my hair circa Birth – 2010.  I’m astonished by the hair choice not because of the likeness—no, her head is too round. She doesn’t have my cheekbones—but because of the difficulties a 3D animator has to go through to animate hair. Fiber effects, dynamics, ray tracing. All this at a level beyond my slightly-above-basic understanding of computer graphics.
            Uncle Randy starts an email sent to all the Reizmans. “OH – MY – GOD. It’s Renee!” He does not accent my name. My father jumps on board. My other uncle does, too. All three Reizman brothers send me different emails, all encouraging me to send headshots to Disney-Pixar. My theatre experience and distinct looks could land me the role of Princess Merida in Disney Land parades. I’m moving to Los Angeles anyways. I shake my head and file away the emails in my “important stuff” folder, which is more intended for amusing exchanges and not pressing conversations. I’m not beautiful in the Disney Princess way. I don’t send any headshots.
            The frenzy continues to phone calls. My father is discussing logistics of my stolen car. We talk about buying a new one. He suggests a PT Cruiser. I say that I only want on in purple. He, my father, suggests blue. I say purple again. We find one in South Carolina, surprisingly affordable, and only two hours away form Atlanta. My dog growls and interrupts my father’s train of thought. He drops the subject and talks about Pixar.
            He tells me to send in my headshots.
            I scoff.
            My mother starts screaming in the background.
            “They stole your likeness!”
            She talks about me applying to Pixar three times. She doesn’t know it was five. She says that they have found me on Google and they stole my appearance to make this character. I try to point out the rounded face, the lack of defined cheekbones. There are thousands—millions?—of redheaded, curly haired women in this world. I’m not the blueprint.
            “Call Steven Spielberg!”
            The obsession with Spielberg started in 2006. In that year, my mother left a greeting card on my desk chair. His phone number was inside. She claims that she found his phone number and address on Google. She hadn’t been taking her medicine. I never called the number. It is now 2011 and she still asks me to call Spielberg and request a job. I don’t think she recovered.
            My father is sitting calmly in his recliner chair with the dog on his lap. He is trying to cover the phone with one hand as he mouths to my mother to shut up. I cannot see this, but this is the scene witnessed from home with my brother in the position that I’m in now. The family is stuck in a recursive loop. I think about the endless fights I try to start with potential and previous significant others and I feel sad. I try not to think about ending up like my parents.
            Spielberg. Lawsuit. They stole your likeness!
            My father wrestles for the phone. The call ends abruptly.
            The dream of working at Pixar, which has floated in my brain since I was 17, is slowly diminishing. It wanes while my phone remains silent after an application is sent. It circulates slowly, dully, after days of eagerly checking my email, searching for a follow up to the automated “thank you for applying to Pixar,” and the blood flow stops when I get the cold feeling in my chest when the equally lifeless rejection appears in my inbox, months later, like clockwork.
My mother’s hysterical voice distorts the fantasy and makes me dread the possibility of working at the studio. I imagine myself coming into work every morning with my mother’s words imprinted in the back of my mind, threatening the artists, urging me to call Spielberg and call for justice. I would not be able to face my coworkers, knowing that my dream job has been associated with my mother’s mental illness. The fantasy becomes tarnished, just as so many other things I have strived for, by my mother’s paranoia and criticism.
So I grimly search for a new direction, half-heartedly, with passion unequaled by that I felt for the dream job at Pixar. I awaken other passions. They come slowly, and I have to nudge them out of my heart, but I raise them with determination and shelter them from the consciousness of my family. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Excerpt - "My Legs Are a Cluster of Birds"

A professor of mine nominated this story for the Norton Writer's Prize. It's creative nonfiction. Here is a short excerpt. Full piece is ~2800 words.

"Sometimes, when I am alone, or near my best friend (and only him), I try to puff up my body like a small finch that has been wronged, or is frightened. I raise my shoulders and suck in my breath and puff out my belly. In my mind I look so birdlike, with my small eyes and fidgety (twitchy) demeanor. I even flatten my lips and move them together, pretending that I have a beak, pecking at my food, my bird-sized portions. Then I look in a mirror and I see my face, which is not birdlike at all. In fact, my lips stretched over my buck teeth look alien and uncomfortable, and my puffed-up body is nothing more than a too-thin young woman trying to look large when in fact stretching her shoulders makes her look more angular, more emaciated, even though she does eat larger-than-bird-sized portions, and often, though many would disagree.
            My mother, for instance. She disagrees."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Salt Magazine

My wonderful, amazingly talented classmate Caitlin made an iPad magazine for her Capstone project. (Basically a huge project seniors in the honors program do.) I was asked to write an article about the One Take Super 8 Event that I participated in a few weeks ago. Sharing this with you. Much more exciting if you have an iPad to view it on :

edit: apparently the magazine isn't fully finished. So wait until May 11 to check out the whole thing!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This long, really?

My last post was really in February? Oh my goodness. I knew this year was going by very quickly, but the fact that I have no sense of time really proves it. I have done so much writing since then! Pages, and pages of it, for real. Here is a flash nonfiction to share with you, non-existent readers!

The Jazz Age

As usual, we are sidetracked. Alicia and I have long stopped looking at the second draft of the script, and now she is talking about her family. She describes some drama between her grandparents and her great-aunt. A love triangle that involved two beautiful black women who were in love with the same Asian man, which led the sister to become a spinster, bitter and abandoned by her old flame, betrayed by her blood relative. Alicia sighs and says, ‘if my grandpa hadn’t gone for my grandma, Adrian and I would have been my great-aunt’s kid.” And I think, no, that’s not true. You wouldn’t have been her kid. You wouldn’t have been anything at all. Her story sounds like a Victorian novel, but it happened in the jazz age, and if flappers weren’t almost entirely depicted as white women with bob haircuts, I would swear that these sisters were the ones depicted in old black and white photographs, straddling bootleggers and mobsters and strapping bottles of gin to their garters. Alicia thinks of what she could have had, but that life is reserved for a body inhabited by a different brain, chemicals, and a second set of genes. In an alternative thread of history, where Alicia’s grandfather and her great-aunt had stayed together, there is another girl with a name that I'm sure would not have been Alicia. She would not be having this conversation because there was no love triangle. But I say nothing and I let her think of her second life, a product of the jazz age.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Free Write - Penguins

I'm taking a creative nonfiction course. I love it. The feedback I got on this essay was exceptionally positive, so I am sharing it with all. It is currently untitled, but I hope that I figure out a better name soon:

The penguin has an organ under its eye that converts salt water into fresh water. That’s how these animals can live so much like fish instead of birds. It is strange to me that a penguin has many features of a fish. They are even hunted by the same predators. Seals love fish and penguins.
I started collecting penguins when I was in middle school. Plush animals, mostly, but I have a few figurines, stickers, pictures, and one lunchbox. I don’t remember why I started to collect penguins. I think it’s because my mother used to buy me plush toys all the time, and two or three times in a row I ended up with a penguin. She knew they were my favorite animal. They still are. Eventually there were about five plush penguins in my possession and I realized that I collected them.
Perched on my bed in my college apartment is a penguin I named Phat. There is very little sentimental value associated with Phat, but somehow he has become my favorite. I think it’s because his texture reminds me of a pillow. Sometimes, when I feel especially lonely, I’ll take Phat and snuggle up with him. However, I do not close my eyes and pretend that he is someone else. I am thankful that he has a pillow-like structure and that he will stay with me at night.
                Some biological traits set the penguin apart from fish. Actually, most biological traits define the penguin as a bird. What impresses me is how they mate and raise their young. All breeds of penguins are a little bit different, but the emperor penguin mates for life. Penguins value loyalty. What’s more intriguing is that even gay penguins mate for life. Some people are shocked to find out that there is such a thing as gay penguins, but I find it less than surprising. Most animals engage in homosexual behavior. It is only humans that think there is something wrong with this.
                My favorite penguin used to be one I named Hip-Hop. I got him right before Phat. There’s wire in his wings that puts them in a default position that reminds me of most rappers. Once I was in a store and I saw a jacket for babies that said “hip-hop” on the back. I used to regret not buying it, but Hip-Hop was a gift from an abusive boyfriend, and when that relationship ended I put Hip-Hop in a box and I never looked at him again. I’m glad I didn’t waste my money on that jacket.
            At one point I stopped receiving penguins as gifts. Occasionally my mom will see a photo of a penguin in her travel magazines. She clips them out and sends them to me. These are not gifts; they are reminders. I often think my mother does it for herself. We connect on so little, and I feel that if she can find one thing to please me, even as something as small as a magazine clipping of a penguin, she can remind me that she is my mother and that she understands me even though she does not.
                I once read an article about two male penguins that wanted a chick so badly that they took a pebble and pretended it was an egg. They took turns sitting on the pebble, keeping it warm, preparing it to hatch. The zoo thought it was adorable. I thought it was sad. I wondered what happened when spring came around, and all the other penguins saw their eggs hatch. This penguin couple would see all the chicks born, and try as they might to raise their pebble with love and care, theirs would never hatch. I imagined one of the penguins waiting for a sign of life; for the shell to crack or the egg to stir or even the smallest bit of warmth to come from that pebble. But there was nothing. The penguins never had a baby and they interpreted their endeavor as a miscarriage. It happens all the time in the animal kingdom, so even if the penguins were capable of feeling depressed, they would have shrugged it off and quacked “c’est la vie.”
            I am now the one responsible for keeping my penguin collection alive. On the day after Christmas I wandered into a toy store. I was feeling very out of it, having had a bad allergy attack and accidentally taking a Benadryl in the morning. I was so drowsy. I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to drive to the mall, but my mother hadn’t noticed the medicine take effect. I wandered the toy store for what must have been an hour. There was a display of animals, all with “Try Me!” buttons and little switches on their bottoms so that they could squawk and roar and stomp around. I picked up one that was a penguin, and I thought how fun it would be to have that penguin walk around my room, wings flapping. I took it home with me and in a medicinal haze I ripped it from its box and set it in front of me. However, batteries were not included. I flipped the “on” switch and the penguin sat in front of me, beak half open, wings outstretched, stiff and lifeless. Its legs were designed poorly and could not support the weight of the machine, and after a few seconds the penguin tipped over and lay dully in front of me. I need a small screwdriver to open the battery compartment, but I do not own one. Now the mechanical penguin sits on my shelf with a hand-blown penguin and a penguin ruler and a small plush penguin keychain. They collect dust and watch over me and wait for another companion.

Friday, February 18, 2011

J'écris en français

I'm learning French. I love the language. I'm terrible at speaking it, but learning it is amazing. I've already started to look for French conversation groups in LA, NYC, and Chicago -- the three cities I'm likely to end up in this summer. I hope I can continue speaking it when I leave SU's campus this fall.

Since I love writing, and I love language, I decided to try to write in French. This is very hard. My vocabulary is limited and my grammar structures only go so far. So I wrote in the present tense. There is nothing original about this piece, but I'm posting it here more so to encourage myself to continue trying to write creatively in French, to play with the language, make it sound beautiful. I think that's the biggest issue. I love to write long, lyrical sentences, and I just can't do that in French. So, instead, here is a short, stubby, cliché poem, written in French, without the help of Google Translate! (Well, I used it at the end to double check my spelling. But the grammar was perfect!)

Sans Titre --

Les arbres sont sympathiques.
Dans le terrasse, les enfants jouent.
Leurs yeux sont petits. Très petits.
Je les regarde. et je pleure
je ris.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Nearly 50 of us stand in a line. We are each assigned a camel. All the camels are tethered together, but mine leads the pack. Sarah’s is behind me, and then the line continues until the very end, with that awkward kid, Mike, and his equally awkward camel pulling up the rear.  I stand next to my camel, and I watch it chew a meal, probably three days old, with a bucktoothed smile and spit dribbling down its snout. Its jaw moves in a circular motion, looks as if it dislocates, but always stays in place and traces imaginary arcs in the air. The Bedouins shout to each other In Hebrew. Our guide, Bena, translates.
            “Don’t get to close to the camels. They will spit and they will bite.”
            My camel keeps grinning with his bucktoothed smile. His teeth are larger than my nose. Each one overlaps, is stained yellow and brown. One tooth in front is chipped. Upper central incisor. Just like me.
            Trying to stare down my camel is a challenge. It looks so excited to chew its food. Its smile isn’t directed to me, but instead is a byproduct of habitual enjoyment. I want the creature to be intimidated because it has long been decided that camels are my mortal enemy in the animal kingdom. The animosity traces back to my youth, when a seven year old version of me in a St. Louis petting zoo fell victim to camel-chewing. My scalp starts to tingle as my hair braces itself in fear. It is not as long as it was back then, but it remembers the tugging and spit and the stares from onlookers, a mother gasping, mostly young boys laughing, at the tiny redheaded girl’s hair trapped in the jaws of a grinning camel.
            Sarah stands next to me and she is terrified of her camel. Her camel isn’t smiling, chewing, or happy to see her. Hers opens its mouth wide and starts groaning. The mouth is expansive. I feel like I could crawl inside and live in the damp confines of the mouth. But then I think about my hair, and the spit, and I decide that I could never live in the body of my enemy no matter how safe and warm and enticing his body appears.
            The sounds from Sarah’s camel ring out among our group. Nearly 49 heads turn to look at the beast. I find it strange that hers is the only one roaring. The other camels continue munching on their cud, smiling at us without actually feeling anything. They look bored.
            “I’m scared to get on this thing,” Sarah says, squeezing my arm.
            The grip on my arm gets tighter as Sarah’s camel keeps roaring. I keep staring down my animal, trying to send it signals with my brain. You’re my enemy, camel. I remember what your brethren did to me in St. Louis. I remember.
            “Just think of it as riding dinosaurs,” I say to Sarah, trying to calm her down, hoping she doesn’t cut off circulation in my arm. “You know Jurassic Park? The movies? They distort camel noises to make the dinosaur roars. Camels, whales, and elephants. So you’re probably imagining a T-Rex, but that’s just a camel. Try not to touch its face. It’s not going to hurt you.”
            Her hand moves back to her side. She looks more confused than relieved. The Bedouins are rushing us to our animals, urging us to sit on their saddles and hold on tight. The camels are lying down, their padded kneecaps resting on the ground. I love the way their knees look. There’s a fluffy protective layer on the joint, and when the knees are bent, it appears as the animal’s legs come to a sudden stop, with a deformed stump half-buried in the sand. Amputated creatures.
            When I climb onto the saddle, I purposely lean over, draping the locks of my hair close to the camel’s mouth. I want to tease it. I dare it to bite my hair. But the camel has no response. It stares straight ahead. Its nostrils don’t even pick up my scent. A Bedouin grabs the reins, hisses something, and with a great effort the camel stands and I am lifted into the air. We plod forward for a few minutes. I graft a tuft of hair on the camel’s hump. It’s coarse and dirty. The animal still takes no notice of me. It looks off to the mountains, unaware of my vendetta towards its breed and of the incident involving hair chewing and a traumatized seven year old girl in an exotic petting zoo in St. Louis. It has become a docile creature, inching towards those distant mountains, always forced to turn away by a hissing Bedouin. It will carry me and a thousand more girls like me, and it will never be aware of the hate or fears felt by those future girls. Instead, it will walk in circles, the same invisible arcs traced by its forever moving jaw.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Man With the Holy Stomach

There he is, arching over me in the aisle. The strings of his tallit dance before my eyes, brushing my shoulder as they sway to the tune of scuffling carry-on bags. His beard reaches down to the collar of his firmly pressed Western white shirt. The beard is dark gray with a few brown strands. They long for the days of youth, of peeking over the partition on Shabbos, trying to catch glimpses of Rachel Friedman's ankles. When she crossed her legs, her shoe would tug at her folded socks. Soft skin would breathe and wink at the young holy man and cause him to forget the words to the mourner's Kaddish. The pilot growls something over the intercom. The machine chips his voice and turns his words into that of an ancient tongue. The holy man sighs heavily and shuts the overhead compartment. He rests for a minute with his hands on the plastic, his body still arched over me. The Western white shirt has freed itself from his waistline. A round belly hangs in front of my face. The hairs are a youthful brown. They sprawl in all directions, moving to the rhythm of his breaths. I sit in my aisle seat on a Boeing 747, a once modest stomach jealous of my youth.