The Guts

The Guts

“Do they eat dinner in Israel?” Sara asks with a nine-year-old’s earnestness.

My husband laughs. The sound reminds me I have not yet forgotten how to love him. Noah spent the weeks leading up to our departure grave and anxious. Now, grinning, he reaches over the sofa, lifts Sara, envelops her in a bear hug. “Oh yes, they eat,” he says, “and do you know what they eat? Little girls!” He gnaws at her belly. Doubled over, she squeals, joyful.

At the living room table, Ab stares at his phone. Ab is short for Absalom, but Biblical name notwithstanding, he had no interest in coming here, though the trip was planned in part in his honor: to commemorate his bar mitzvah, which we celebrated last month. The timing with Noah’s fellowship was perfect. Or at least it seemed that way, before Ab digressed from his d’var Torah speech to deliver a scathing screed—the word “apartheid” featured prominently—to more than a hundred family members and friends. By the time Rabbi Schoenberg made it to the bimah to intervene, Ab had already lifted Beth Israel’s most prized Torah—rescued, we’re told, from Warsaw—over his head, and, quivering from the sheer weight of scripture, had announced that it was the essence of ungodliness to treasure land and stories over lives. (My translation.) He flung the scrolls to the floor, where they split down one lambskin seam.

I suggested we cancel the trip. Noah refused. He emerged from a series of meetings with Rabbi Schoenberg—part spiritual counseling, part apology tour, part repayment plan negotiation—more determined than ever to make the journey. I relented.

Noah doesn’t know that I came to Ab the day after the disaster, hands knotted near my chest, to say: I saw where he was coming from, but why this time, why this place? Didn’t he realize how he’d humiliated his father? He wouldn’t meet my gaze. “You know,” he said softly, “Dad’s not the problem. You’re the coward.” He sunk into silence for the rest of the month. So far his storminess hasn’t given way to open insurrection.

“A bite sounds good,” I say, stroking Sara’s curls. “Ab? What do you think?”

He sinks his fingers into his shaggy mane—his father hopes the heat here will make him shear it—and sighs. “I could eat.”

“It’s Shabbat,” Noah reminds us. “Places will start closing soon. We can carry out.”

Outside, Noah fiddles with his phone until a cab, digitally hailed, appears at our doorstep. Noah sits up front to practice his Hebrew and direct. The kids and I squeeze in back.

“What’s that?” Sara whispers each time we pass something unknown: a trilingual street sign, a bus stop bench filled with beggars shaking tzedakah boxes. If I know, I tell her. If I don’t, I say so. I’m trying to teach her the virtue in finitude, even in parents or in gods. But when she points to the separation wall, barely visible in the distance, I say I don’t know. I saw the IDF flag trembling on the dashboard when we got in the car. I’m not ready for that conversation.

The Hebrew the men have been speaking up front stops abruptly. The driver taps the rearview mirror. “Miss?”

“Idra,” I say. I’m glad to be able to honestly return an answer in his language; it just happens to be my name. I’ve always known it was Hebrew, but it wasn’t until my twenties that I looked up the meaning. Fig tree. All through my turbulent teenage years I’d repeated to myself a concocted origin—the id and the sun god Ra. I’d read no Freud, knew nothing of ancient pantheons. But I liked to think of myself as a tapestry woven of instinct and flame.

“No,” the driver says. “The little miss.”

“Sara!” she says proudly.

“Sara.” He re-Hebraizes it—Sa-rah—not my little girl, but the matriarch who laughed, who lived past one hundred, who’s buried nearby, if you believe in that sort of thing. “What an inheritance. That is the wall that protects us, you see? And protects them, too. Our neighbors. It keeps the peace.”

My daughter nods as if she understands. I wrap my fingers around her small, delicate wrist and shush her further inquiries. For the rest of the drive, I hold her close and watch out the window as every citizen I see—from the secular unadorned to those draped head-to-toe in black, visages shrouded by beard or by veil—scurries to complete errands, to make it home before sundown. Shabbat in Jerusalem reveals a whole city folding into itself, slowly shuddering to rest.

The Shabbats of my early childhood shared something of this ceremony, before the daily grind blunted care for sacred rites into American apathy. My father would return from work with a loaf of challah slung over his shoulder. He’d grin as he slipped it onto its designated plate and shrouded it with the needlepointed cloth cover, frayed with age. My mother would don lipstick and earrings, bake brisket and kugel, a departure from the daily Hamburger Helper. My father would sing the long Kiddush, his warbling voice quivering on the high notes, and I don’t recall being bored or embarrassed, only a little awed as I closed my eyes and listened. After the prayers, we’d each tear off a chunk of challah, pulling our portion from the main body of the bread, tugging and twisting as if rending a limb. My father said we tore rather than sliced so that we might enter the visceral violence of God’s creation. Decades later, as I reminisced, Noah told me that this theological view had no basis in the long, winding history of Judaic thought. My father had conjured it from nothing.

The driver takes us to the place Noah selected and lets us out. He stops the meter, pulls a worn paperback from his pocket, and insists that we go in, he’ll wait, no charge. “It’s a holy, chosen day,” he says, “for a holy, chosen people.”

On Monday, when Noah starts his research, I’m supposed to embark on my own project: educating my son. Instead, while Sara lounges on kitchen tile, making her way through a stack of chapter books, and Ab holes up in the kids’ room doing God-knows-what, I select a book from the living room shelf. Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. I bring it to the couch, where I throw my body back so my hair fans out behind me. I turn the pages slowly, as if they’re liable to crumble. My gaze drifts over the text. I’m not reading, exactly. I’m searching for something between words, beyond them. The answer to an unarticulated question. A phrase stops me. It gapes from the page: the mystical Nothing. The words drive me away from the book, the room. Out the window: the sun bakes this city of ancient clay, as crowded as a graveyard.

When I look back to the page, I see something scrawled in the margin. In fine blue ink beside it: For Heidegger, Das Nicht nichtet—the nothing nihilates. I grow sick to the point of effervescence with bodies, thoughts, things. I want this nihilation, the singing of the no-thing. I flip through the book; the rest is unmarked. There’s only the one note on the one page. Who is this reader? On the inside cover I find the name of the landlord, the book’s owner, penciled lightly in elegant loops. The styles don’t match. I close the book and press it to my chest.

At first, the fruit flies made themselves known as an almost indefinable presence. A vague unsettlement; a constant, inexplicable feeling of distraction. I shrugged it off—heat sickness or culture shock. But as the insects grew in number, day after day, the source of the unease became clear. Up before sunrise one day, spreading peanut butter on bread for Noah’s lunch at the archives, I spot a few small, dark specks, trapped as if in quicksand. Am I seeing things? I try to blink it away, but the spots linger. I inspect them, discern their shape. I do not remake the sandwich.

Soon we spy their tiny black bodies lurching all over the flat. Ab insists we leave them be. Sara’s amenable. They don’t bother me, either. I, too, say live and let live. Noah has other ideas. “They’re disgusting,” he says one morning as he buttons his shirt. He’s been known to disguise a need for control as a preference for tidiness.

“That’s a little strong,” I say, lying back on my bed. Here we each have our own thin mattress, his set a few inches apart from mine. “It’s for in case we follow the law,” Noah had explained when we first entered the room. “You know, once a month. Separation.”

My eyes dart between the ceiling and my husband’s body, the pale flashes of flesh that break through as he dresses. He smiles, catches himself, turns toward me. “I’m sorry,” he says.

I glance at the Scholem book, which I’ve set on my bedside table—its closeness is a comfort—but have hidden beneath a stack of travel guides and Hebrew primers, to deter questions. “The flies are kaput,” I tell Noah. I wonder if the marginalist would concede so quickly. “No more flies.”

Ab and Sara are still asleep when he leaves. “Time to clean,” I announce, and I unleash a campaign of destruction. I toss fresh, fly-covered fruit into the trash. One banana, too infested to keep in the house, I fling from the sliding glass door into a patch of grass, for the swarms of stray cats to nibble. I stare at the window screens, meant to prevent this. The holes gape—portals, beckoning intruders.

When Sara wakes, I enlist her to scrub dishes. She’s young enough not to grasp the difference between a game and a chore. I love watching her, the tip of her tongue stuck out between her desert-chapped lips, as she hunches her shoulders to press sponge to plate, as she scrubs with abandon. She finds the explosion of life in our new home to be cause for wonder, for celebration. Ever since our ascent to the holy land, she’s been in an unusually biblical mood, so I’m not surprised when I come into the kitchen to find her marveling at a small swarm eddying in the air, and she turns to me and says, “Like the locusts. The ones God brought for Passover. Did that happen here?”

Ab is unmoved by prophecy or propaganda. I can’t get him to do much to contribute when he emerges into the living room. “At least do your part,” I say as he idles, staring out the window, “to keep things clean.”

“I like the flies.” He doesn’t turn to me. “Who are they hurting?”

“I agree,” I say. It’s true. “But it’s your father’s home, too.” Ab presses his palms against his eyes, runs his fingers through his hair. “Please,” I say, “the drama? Dial it down.” He slips silently back into the kids’ room. He doesn’t slam the door, but lets it close gently, with a click as tender as a kiss.

When the fruit is gone, the next step is to eradicate the specimens that have already breached the perimeter. I recruit Sara for the task. We gather in the kitchen. I explain our approach: we lure and we trap. The killing is left to nature. We search the kitchen cabinets for supplies. Sara finds Mason jars and a roll of bright yellow duct tape. I find what I think is apple cider vinegar—the label’s in Hebrew. (Despite Noah’s pestering, I’ve never even learned the alphabet.) We need paper, so I grab a stack of inscrutably scrawled notes piled on the floor beside Noah’s bed. Sara and I settle at the table and get to work. “What’s going to happen to them?” she asks, holding a jar still so I can fill its base with amber-colored liquid.

“They’ll drown,” I say, then add, “surrounded by a smell and taste they love.”

“Like drowning in chocolate,” she says.

I nod. I pick up a sheet of Noah’s notes, fold and tape it into a funnel, and slip it into the jar’s maw. “They’ll come in here,” I say, tracing the perimeter of the wide end with one finger, “and follow the scent.” I slide my finger down the interior. “When they get to the end, they’ll be in the jar. But they won’t be able to find their way back up. They’re not smart enough.”

“So they’ll be stuck,” she says. I can’t read her tone. Amused? Aghast?

I pick up the jar, swirl it, and set it back down so the vinegar whirlpools. “That’s right,” I say. “Stuck.” 

*

“You’ve got to get them out of the house,” Noah insists the next morning as he pulls on his khakis. “They’ll go crazy cooped up with the heat, the flies.” My best efforts have barely depleted the swarms. “And what about Ab? We’re making no progress.” We? He means me. “What’s the use in them being here at all when they’re inside with their noses in their phones all day?”

“Sara doesn’t have a phone yet,” I remind him. “We’re getting acclimated. It’s only been a few days. There’s jet lag.”

“I think today’s the day.”

I nod. He kisses me, clips his kippah to his thinning hair, and again is gone. I take the Scholem book from my bedside table and settle onto the living room couch to read until the children rise. I turn to the page, my page. Because I do not, cannot, will never know the marginalist’s identity, I feel free to imagine. I begin to select qualities. A woman, I decide, and as I do, all other possibilities become impossible. Pale face. Dark eyes. Long fingers crowned with faux nails that click and grasp like talons. She’s better educated than I am, more philosophical. For her the problems of life are puzzles, but solvable. When a crisis comes, she knows what to do.

Ab exits their room, his nose in his phone. I close and clutch the book and follow him into the kitchen. He bends before the open fridge, reaching. I linger in the doorway until he withdraws a jug of milk and turns to see me. He looks startled: lips parted, eyes wide. He fumbles with the milk, drops it. It’s a pleasure, I find, to see him for a moment unstable, uncertain. I fear and envy his usual steadfastness. To see him stumble, even out of simple surprise, gives me hope.

“Mom,” he says. He crouches, picks up the milk.

“We’re going out today,” I say. “In one hour.”

“I don’t—”

I exploit the sudden shift in power. For the first time in months, I feel like a parent. “Wake your sister up, too,” I say. Please, I almost add, but don’t. Noah would be proud. I leave Ab in the kitchen, struggling for the words to rebuff me, and go to rouse his sister.

An hour later, we’re out the door, passing a conference of cats mewling in the street beside the flat. “Where are we going?” Ab demands.

I decide. “The Old City.” I open Google Maps and chart a course. I reach down and lace my fingers through Sara’s. “This way.”

“That does look old,” Sara says as we approach the Damascus Gate. The towering, gray stone edifice, with its ample archway, its pointed turrets, suggests an unknowable ancientness that borders on sublimity. I turn to catch Ab’s expression; it betrays unmistakable awe. For the second time today, he seems at a loss. Perhaps Noah was right not to cancel the trip. “How old is it?” Sara asks.

Before I can open my mouth to tell her that I’m not sure, Ab answers. “Built in 1537,” he says, “by an Ottoman sultan. A sultan’s like a king. But there’s a Roman gate under it that’s more than a thousand years older than that.” It’s my turn to be speechless.

Sara stares up at her brother. “Older than America?”

“Much older. Older than anything we could possibly see at home.”

“Wow,” Sara says.

Ab wipes his brow. “I know.”

Even if given full reign over reality, Noah and I couldn’t have orchestrated a better moment. “Ready to check it out?” I say. I lead them through the swarm of tourists, the buzzing cacophony of tongues. A hunched woman, entirely veiled except for a sliver of flesh around her eyes, gestures toward any secular-seeming foreigners. None acknowledge her. I make the error of turning my head in her direction. Our eyes meet. “Cover up!” she cries, her voice much deeper and coarser than I expect, like my father’s after the occasional indulgence of a cigar. I feel suddenly naked and, worse, lacking any principle to justify my nakedness. Here is a woman so sure of an authority she cannot see that she will weigh down her body under an oppressive sun. Who am I to disobey a person of such conviction?

The woman catches Sara’s attention. Panic flashes briefly over her features, but something else—curiosity? compassion?—wins out. “What did you say?” she calls.

“Cover up,” the woman repeats, now following us as we wind through the crowd. “This is a holy place.”

We’re almost through the gate. I turn on the woman. “Fuck you,” I say, “you—”

“Mom,” says Ab. He ushers us through the gate. We lose the woman in the crowd.

We’re all shaken. I suggest we shop. I lead my children through the tight turns and stone buildings of the Jewish Quarter, moving slowly enough for them to take in the city, but quickly enough to avoid any further disturbance. I can’t help a longing glance at each and every woman we pass. Is the marginalist among them? We make our way to the covered, cave-like corridor I remember from past pilgrimages, where shops, built into the walls like honeycomb cells, peddle variations of the same array of technicolor Judaica: menorahs, candle holders, spice boxes, tallit. Splendid collections of beautiful ritual gear, designed to appear handcrafted but surely mass-produced. None of us are immune to the objects’ charms. I find myself clutching Sara’s hand and standing before a wall of items adorned with images of crimson pomegranates. In some of the illustrations they’re whole. In others, they’re halved, the cut exposing the fleshy innards, the seeds, the bloody juice. Staring at these beautiful things, I want them all.

I buy Sarah a kippah emblazoned with a bright orange goldfish. Proud, parroting me, she proclaims to the cashier, “They’re not just for boys.”

When we meet Ab back on the street, he’s clutching a small brown paper bag. “What’d you get?” I ask.

He shrugs. “Nothing.” Is he bashful? “Can we check out the Western Wall?”

After a quick stop for falafel—I watch Ab’s and Sara’s wide eyes as the vendor stuffs the pitas with french fries gleaming with oil—we do. I prime Sara on the history, on the structure’s singular significance. “It’s really, really, old,” Ab adds, “and really, really sacred.” When we arrive, the hundreds gathered in reverence speak for themselves.

For the first time today, at the sight of the crowds, Sara withdraws into me. She places a palm on my stomach. I clutch it there. “We don’t have to go any closer,” I say. She nods, leans her head against the union of our hands. I’m thankful that her reticence will save me from explaining to her that the wall is partitioned into one side for men and another for women; that the women’s side is paltry; that when young men like her brother are brought here to be bar mitzvahed, their sisters and mothers must stay on their own side and strain to hear. That there is nothing I can do to change this.

“Can I go up?” Ab says. He tears a corner off the bag and takes a pen from his pocket. “I want to put a prayer in the cracks.”

*

At dinner, Noah is thrilled. Sara balances her new kippah on her head as she regales him with descriptions of the fatty scent of shawarma, the bustle of narrow alleyways.

She omits the confrontation at the Damascus Gate.

“Wonderful,” Noah says. He tears a bite from the pita I toasted to go with the salad. “What else did you see?”

“A wall,” Sara says. “The one that used to be with the temple, where in the old days the Jews would take their cows and goats and sheep to give to God.”

Noah’s eyes meet mine. He smiles. This is how things are meant to be. Our family. Our story. Our land. “That’s right,” he says. “Did you get close?”

She hesitates—thinking, I suspect, that here the truth won’t line up with what will please her father. “Sara didn’t want to get close,” Ab says, “but I did.”

Noah looks up. “You did?” He seems impressed but wary.

“I even put in a prayer.”

At this, Noah swells. He sets his silverware down, folds his arms across his chest. “Really?” He glances at me with one eyebrow arched. “Really?”

“He did!” Sara insists, eager to vouch for her big brother.

“With two witnesses,” I say. I push chunks of lettuce around on my plate.

 “That’s wonderful,” Noah says. “That’s why we’re here. To appreciate history. Partake in tradition. Embrace our roots.”

Our roots, yes, however knotty, however gnarled. “It was a great success,” I say. I mean it.

Noah picks up his silverware, ushers a bite of salad into his mouth. “Son,” he says, mid-chew, “what did you pray for?”

“I asked God,” Ab says, “to return Jerusalem to its rightful owners.”

I’m suddenly aware of the Mason jars surrounding us: these strange objects accruing insect corpses. They came; we conquered. But their bodies linger. Noah’s fork pierces a tomato. His hand tightens into a fist around the silver. Juice gushes out around the prongs. “Excuse me?”

“This land isn’t ours,” Ab says. “We stole it. I asked God to return it.”

Noah pushes his chair back and rises. He’s not a tall man, nor a particularly strong one, and his features are soft and gentle, so it’s a struggle for his body to live up to the spirit of the anger that I know he can feel, has felt lately. His arms fall to his sides, but his grip on the fork remains. “Ungrateful child,” he says. “Ignorant.”

“Noah,” I say, “let’s—”

He steps back from the table. “You have no idea.”

Ab jumps up and dashes into the living room, where he grabs the small paper bag with his Old City purchase.

“Ab,” I say. “Noah.” Neither is listening. Again: “Noah. Absalom.” I think the word stand but can’t. Sara places a hand on my shoulder, and I focus on her touch, on entering it, this place where we meet, as if by merely mental means I could make the scene unfolding here something worthy of the word family, of the notion that this nation is a home.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” Noah asks his son. “What could you possibly?”

“I knew this place was fucked up, cursed,” Ab says. “It’s even clearer now, being here.”

“You know nothing,” Noah says. The marginalist’s words: the singing of the no-thing. What would it mean to know nothing, know the nothing? Noah hasn’t dropped the fork. He steps toward his son.

Ab reaches into the bag. Stand, I think. With enormous effort, I do. “Stay back,” Ab says. He lifts the object—something small, red.

I see Noah suddenly see himself as his son is seeing him. He drops the fork, extends his hands, palms up toward the ceiling, the sky. “Son,” he says.

But Ab is beyond being calmed. As he turns and flings the thing in his hand with enough force that it sails straight through the living room’s sliding glass door, I realize: it’s a glass pomegranate. 

*

At first, the door’s yawning glassless void seems like an urgent problem. But after leaving a few messages on the landlord’s voicemail, Noah loses interest. I press him on it. “You’re not concerned?”

“About what?” he demands. “This is a Jewish neighborhood.”

Noah, in his long daily hours at the university, gets to seek comfort in his studies. I turn to my own. I keep the Scholem book beside me and page through it whenever possible, seeking more marks, or the ghosts of creases from once dog-eared pages—anything to bring me closer to the marginalist.

Eventually my scrutiny bears fruit. On one desperate pass on the living room couch, I discover two pages near the front of the book stuck together at the edges. When I pry them apart, I find the book’s dedication, made out to the memory of Walter Benjamin. The friend of a lifetime, it reads, whose genius united the insight of the Metaphysician, the interpretive power of the Critic and the erudition of the Scholar. Below this I find, in the same blue scrawl, another note from the marginalist: To you, my son, all this and more. I close the book and place it on the coffee table, face down.

Ab keeps his distance, speaking as little as possible, meeting no one’s eye but his sister’s. Somehow the fracturing of our bond with our son has brought me closer to my husband. It’s not that I approve of how Noah handled the dispute, or that I take his side politically. It’s the honesty, the truth in souls confronting one another. The face-to-face; the lack of masks. I find myself wanting Noah in earnest again. Tonight, after a silent Shabbat dinner, I wrap my hand around the back of his neck as we enter our room. I stroke the spot he shaves religiously and press him to me.

I can’t say it’s not awkward as we move the beds together to form a surface large enough for both our bodies, as we fumble nervously with one another’s clothes, kissing out of sync as if it’s the first time and our rhythms are foreign to one another. But there’s a thrill in this, and for the first time since our plane touched down, I want to be nowhere but here.

I open my eyes to see an uninvited guest. At first its shape is so vague, so dark against the shadow of night, that it seems as if it might be nothing—the nothing nihilates. As my eyes adjust to the low Sabbath light, and I hear, against the beds’ soft squeaks, a flapping from above, I think: it’s the marginalist—not a woman as I thought, not human at all, something else—come to see me, to slay my husband, to take me for a lover. I blink. It’s a bat, circling near the ceiling.

I scream. Noah, startled, lurches back. I stick a finger in the air to trace the creature’s flight pattern, a figure eight. “Bat,” I whisper.

“What?” Noah says. Rather than follow my hand’s clear imperative, he leans in close and presses his ear against my lips. It feels like our final sex act when, tenderly, I mouth: Bat. Noah rolls onto his back. “Shit.” We dress quickly. I flip on the light in time to see the creature flutter out of the small window above our bedroom door. We left it open for the breeze.

We burst out of our room. In the darkness of the flat, illumined only by the pale glow of streetlights streaming weakly through the sliding glass door, the creature is invisible, though I can hear its soft swooping. “Can you see it?” I ask Noah. I’m not sure what there is to fear. Rabies, but how common could that be, how incurable? Still, my heart beats an incontestable rhythm of fear. I relent to my body’s knowledge.

Noah shushes me. He crouches and flips on his phone’s flashlight to survey the ceiling.

From the entryway between the living room and kitchen, I spot it, wings gathered like a veil and hanging upside down, like a self-aware caricature. “There,” I say, pointing.

Noah directs the beam from side to side, missing his mark again and again. “Where?”

“There!” I grip his wrist, angling the light to catch it. But the second it’s exposed, the bat swoops toward us, and again I scream. It angles back up to soar to the ceiling before its furry body reaches me. Noah seizes the nearest object—the Scholem book, which I left on the coffee table—and sends it sailing toward the animal. I reach for it in vain. “Not that,”” I hiss. It hits the floor, pages splayed.

“What?” he says, turning to me. “Why?”

Sara’s voice: “Mom?”

Ab’s, louder: “What’s going on?”

They’re emerging from their room. Sara rubs her eyes. Ab looks wide awake. “A bat got in,” I say breathlessly. 

“We have to get it out of our home,” Noah says. “Now.”

“Don’t hurt it,” Ab says. He takes out his phone, summons his own beam. “Where is it?”

Noah has switched off his light. He’s fiddling with his phone. “I’m going to call animal control,” he says. “Just give me a second. One second. I can Google it. Damn it.”

“Mom,” Sara says, gripping my wrist, “do they have animal control in Israel?”

“I don’t know, honey,” I say. I don’t.

“Does Dad know?”

“No, I don’t think he does.”

Noah looks at me. In the pale blue light cast by his phone, his visage is ghastly, inhuman. “Of course they do,” he says. “Of course I know.”

“Will they kill it?” Sara says.

“I don’t know,” I say.

“Of course they will,” Ab says. “But we’ll save it.” He moves his light in circles, searching. “Mom,” he says.

I meet his gaze. “Ab?”

“Open the front door so he has a way out. I’ll get him there.”

I nod. I feel it: a purpose. As Ab moves quickly in search of the animal, ignoring his father’s curses and grunts of protest, I take Sara’s hand, march to the front door, and fling it open, admitting the night’s tamed heat.

Outside the doorway, still as a statue, stands a thin gray cat with glinting green eyes. I can’t move. What is it about me that causes beasts to gather? The flies, the bat, now this. Or is this no beast at all? Is it the marginalist, here to cut my husband’s throat because he used our sacred tome as a bludgeon and didn’t know to lift it from the ground to kiss it, as one does with a prayer book dropped during worship?

“Mom,” says Sara, “There are so many cats in Israel.”

“I know,” I say. I do.

“Mom!” my son calls from somewhere. “Move!”

I turn to see the bat, chased by the beam of white light, plummeting toward the door. I pull Sara back into the hallway and cannot think what to say to prevent what happens next. The cat—no longer docile; now alert, fanged—poses and lunges, claws out. She takes the bat down on the first attempt, pins it in the doorway, her claws digging into the flesh of its wings, and sinks her teeth into the squirming meat of its body.

“Goddammit!” Ab shouts. He charges the cat, who looks up at him in what I think might be surprise. Who am I to read the expressions of other beings? I can hardly make sense of my own. The cat licks the bright blood from her cheeks and bolts as my son arrives at her prey. He kneels before the bat, crouches forward as if bobbing in prayer.

“Son,” I hear my husband say. “Step back. Stop. There’s nothing—”

No-thing.

“You,” Ab says softly, raising his head to stare at me. “You could have stopped it.”

“I only did what you said.” I hold tight to my daughter’s hand, though mine is trembling. “I couldn’t have known.”

“Why are we here?” he says. “We shouldn’t be here.” He bends back over the bat and lays his hands upon it, trying, I assume, to work a miracle.

“Idra,” Noah says. It sounds foreign, distant, not like my name. “Get him away from it.”

Instead, I release my daughter’s hand and step forward to kneel beside my son. I see the animal through his eyes: its tensed and feeling body, its almost-hands, its face. It is not nothing. Ab’s fingers dance, working to hold together the hopelessly shredded skin, which can barely hide the depths, the system of things not meant to see light. I reach out my hands and wrap them around his. Though the skin can no longer contain the guts, we try our best to make it.




Nathan Goldman is an editor at  Jewish Currents . His work has appeared in  The Nation ,  Bookforum ,  The Baffler , and other publications

Nathan Goldman is an editor at Jewish Currents. His work has appeared in The Nation, Bookforum, The Baffler, and other publications


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