A Fear of Tall Women PT. 2
The swastikas were coming fast and loose that summer. Three in as many months, spray-painted in red on the smoked windows of the temple. They also wrote: “JEWS SUK,” “WHITE GUYS > KIKES,” and “OPEN THE OVEN.”
The town had a plan, I guess. I wasn’t terribly worried, but my mom and my aunt volunteered in the Synagogue’s kitchen. And there was a panic in the kitchen, amongst the women. A big fear that something soon might hurt one or all of them.
When he came over to help my mother with her planters or something, my cousin, Louis, offered that when leaving the grocery store, he’d begun walking back to his car in a very non-Jewish manor. Jumping off the steel blocks that held the light poles or jumping off the shopping cart banks. He even scissor-kicked over the bike racks, which stood well above his hips. “To seem physical,” he said, “jockish.” All the jumping, Louis then said, was hurting his feet. But he said he feared the alternative much more than a twisted ankle. “It’s simply not a good time to be Jewish,” he said, my mother’s hands shaking as Louis gently stroked her knuckles, her veins, her uncleaned jewelry. “Not in America––not in middle America. We have to be careful.”
Now I was stressing: biting my nails and pacing around my apartment. Even though she kept texting me she was in pain, I just couldn’t take my girlfriend’s ovarian cyst as seriously as she wanted. She didn’t know pain, I felt; I knew pain, I felt, having spent that entire winter yoyoing off Suboxone and going to meetings 3X a week. But she was a nice girl; new to my town, which I liked. I was excited to have finally found this nice girl to mess around with and I was so ready to just chill out a little and enjoy the beautifully green parts of my town that I’d lost track of. And now, everything just seemed like it was going to shit. My mom was making me meet her after work and walk her from the front of her office to her car. It was sixty feet. It was fine, it was just a lot. And I was stressing. Stressed out. But then, finally, something went right. That mayor came through for me. Yes, Mayor Bieter sent the Crime Stoppers down and they mounted cameras on the overhang (where the starlets ((black birds)) dropped down from) off the Office Depot across the street; they also installed motion activated lights above the double-doors of the synagogue.
So: the temple was being surveilled, and things were feeling safer, and I was finally enjoying my Friday night on the 7th floor of the Hofstetter Building. I’d been promoted to loan officer, so I’d taken my girl to Asiago’s where they did a flight of regional olive oils that came out with your bread even before you ordered anything. And it was a very beautiful dinner we were having––where, beyond how good the bread was looking, and my girl was also looking––I could see through the decorative wine barrels and out the great big windows that faced the university. “How pretty is that?” I said, trying to be all grateful for my life and health and being clean––everything, all that stuff. “Crazy is what it is.” My girl came and sat on my side of the table, a move she reserved for when I really needed it, or she really needed it. The sun was setting in that good way off the pond (you know what I’m talking about), and the American lights of the baseball stadium were going off bright. I started squinting. Way out there beyond the pond I could see that cement, boat shaped monument I’d visited once with my grandparents when they flew in from Flagstaff. The monument wasn’t about Jews but about the fact we lived in a town where people thought there were witches; a town where people used to think witches were hiding in the women. And, so, we (the town) burned all the witches totally and buried them near the mountains at the edge of town just for being witches. The plaque on the cement monument has all the witches names and also a little X next to their name if they were pregnant when they were burned at the stake. Which is why (I told my girl as I spun my glass of wine like I knew about wine) that the trees in our town were always sick and marked with yellow ribbon. “We’re cursed,” I said. I told her that’s why all the birds flew too low above the roadways. And it’s also why I couldn’t find a pack of cigarettes for under ten dollars in our town, even at Smokers Paradise, where the Indian statue by the front door has a telephone number scratched into his forehead that me, or her, or anybody could call if they we’re looking for a good time. Then I told her for all the things that were cursed, there were a lot of things that were different and not cursed in our town now. “We’ve changed since then,” I said, smiling like I was funny.
I said: now we have an AutoZone and an oxygen bar downtown where you can try flavored air that tastes like blue Gatorade. I said: now we collect our leaves and come fall we drive them out of the town, to a farm, where they tell us that the pigs love the leaves, and that they (the pigs) eat them all up! up! up!
It must’ve been three in the morning when my mom hit me with a text: a video from Channel 7. A kid in a hoodie that looked like a hoodie I’d owned way back in the day. He was spraying “JEW RATS” on the door of the synagogue, looking over both shoulders, his face white and green on the thermal video recording. Then he ran off. Exit stage left. Off camera and into the very black night. My girl was up by then, so I leaned the phone over her face and pressed play. I watched the green and white light pass across her face, her cheeks, her lips. She pulled her arm out from beneath the duvet and touched her mouth with her fingertips like she didn’t want to say the wrong thing.
Then she finally said something…“Awful.”
Then I said, “That’s how it is when you burn all the witches.” I leaned over and kissed the crook of her neck. Her skin tasted like magazines. Like soap. Like something chemical and not so unlike the way my dope tasted near the end. What part of her could I cut up easiest? I wondered. Could her hands or eyes by snorted? Her tongue smoked? Would this girl I love fuck me up at all? “Now,” I said softly, kissing her neck once more. “Now we live in a town of witchless losers.”
Sam Berman is a short story writer living in Chicago. He would like to dedicate this story about Jews and witches to his twin sister, who shares this story's publication date of May 10th. Love you Dotty.