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Tablet Original Fiction: Sent on a gruesome errand, a young man comes undone

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Sruly undercut the market, charging $2K, $2.5K if he suspected the out of pockets deep enough, and the doctors referred to him because unlike the competing rebbes who only kicked back 10 percent, Sruly kicked back half. The docs didn’t ask any questions, the patients asked the questions. Sruly thought the docs knew, but was sure the patients didn’t know, that the cemeteries never got their fees, because they never got the members. Sruly had never buried. He’d have sooner become a surgeon and sliced himself, sooner become the lawyer he’d have to retain—if he’d be spared—he’d just never had the time.

“That’s what business is—cutting out the middleman.”

The limbs were shrouded in the Post, shoved into trashbags weighted with gravel, dumped to the canal, the bottomless Gowanus.


“A huge guy, an enormous guy, we’re talking,” Surly was talking. “But I didn’t know this then. If I knew then who I wouldn’t have done it. A heartattack, this shtarker.

“Here I am thinking it’s like every other patient—guy can’t breathe, can’t walk or talk or shtup around, goes to the doctor like in the joke, but Levi’s not a laugher.

“So everything’s all set, the forms are signed, there’s cash in hand, but then just a breath before he’s gassed, the guy remembers he’s a frummer. A Chabadnik. But before, or at the same time, Breslov. He’s switched so much, I’d be surprised if even he kept track.

“With him yelling that his flab should be buried by the ritual, Levi leaves in charge the anesthesiologist—Aba he’s called who he’s Bangladesh, Abanindra, Abadindra, abracadabra, it only matters he’s no Arab but like the people who grow good hair—calls me can I help, tells me what I’m telling. Nothing more.

“Says it’s just routine, your average forty pound lipectomy. Not one session. Multiple sessions. Not outpatient. In.

“Says Maimonides, tomorrow. This was yesterday—which means today’s tomorrow.

“So this morning I drive down to Borough Park, don’t even get a word with Levi, no chance either to get the patient’s name, to say nothing of his father’s name, which is what you have to insert when you say a misheberach. I call the number Levi gave and a moment later Aba’s coming out the service door on Tenth with two of the big yellow silky bags that they have on them the biohazard warning, which I have him because of my back put them in the trunk.

“Heavy. Even they smell heavy.

“Aba says, ‘Dr. Levi requests you visit his office for the check anytime next week.’ Though I know, though Aba might not know, he meant come on Levi’s lunchbreak for the cash.

“So I figure if I’m in the neighborhood I’ll make my rounds, take orders—Shimmele’s shingles, Ruchele’s rheumatoid arthritis, parents tearing each other apart because their bocher plays too hyper and can’t study and when finally I get out of Borough Park, it stinks. It’s hot and reeks like only your poetry shikse can describe. I’m not sure if it’s because fat smells worse than any flesh I’ve done or because the large amount. Or because him. Let’s say him.

“But I’m supposed to be by Yudy and Rivkah’s for Shabbos and what’s worse is I realize even without Shabbos I’m not going to make it to when it’s dark enough tonight, let alone through it all to motzei when it’s emptiest out by Centre and Smith past the gravelyard from where I take between the aggregate and readymix to sink it.

“That’s how bad the stench.

“So I drive out to Marine Park that once I did with a crippled toe but it was too exposed and bright before trying out farther by the looparound to Fountain Ave where the sanitation facility’s been stalled but also all this Spanish partying with kites.

“Then I remember and make the call and take Nassau to the Van Wyck to 95, cutting across to the Thruway where I have backroads to take from there. Driving the speedlimit so as not to get caught with my pants down with all that glatt lard in the trunk.

“I do this beautiful maneuver turning from Route 6 to 208 but left at the first split, right at the second to Round Hill Road, where to park and find the creek, where the Hasidim keep their burner. An incinerator, but like a barrel, better not to wonder. To keep away the county, they torch their trash themselves, and bribe to stay approved. The Catskill Mountains, gorgeous, but I’m racing on the clock.

“When Satmars round, it’s always up, $42 to burn both bags, $1/lb., they’re sticklers. But since they didn’t care what burned, I didn’t ask no breaks. Bag goes down the chute, fat flares up, next bag follows, flares up too, just a whiff of sour scent, that’s it or I’m imagining.

“It’s back in the car I say the prayer. Even when it’s the Gowanus with Page 6, I always say a kaddish.

“I’m heading back and gaining time with the radio Rush Limbaugh when the phone rings and it’s a woman but in Yiddish, ‘excuse me but what time is the funeral?’

“I say, ‘excuse me, woman, you must have the wrong number,’ but she says, ‘but you are the rabbi of Dr. Levi?’ which is when, just when she says that, I hit traffic on 95.

“ ‘Such things are done in private,’ I say, though I’m beating myself now I didn’t say I buried him already.

“‘My husband has asked my witness to ensure it is appropriate,’ and what can I say but that I’ll call back with the details.

“My options I’m crawling through the Bronx, until at the toll to the Triborough my phone rings again another strange (718), which I don’t pick up. The voicemail again I’ll interpret, ‘this is Aharon Messer, calling hoping to transact with you directly—with you and not the doctor—for the funeral of my brother.’ ”

And it was then that Sruly sat bolt, close, tensed his face and said, “Aharon Messer, brother of Moshe.”

I stood to avoid his seethe, touched my body to make sure I still had it, said, “tell me, is there a special kaddish you say for weightloss just by exercise and diet?”

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Tablet Original Fiction: Sent on a gruesome errand, a young man comes undone