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

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Sruly sneered, “who are you to judge? what can be the wisdom of California’s Greater Bay?”

“It’s a sin,” I said.

His speech became a rustle:

“There are some in the mortuary racket who they sell the same plot twice—without exhumation, with exhumation, you decide what’s worse—some even in the Persian parlors sell the organs of the dead for transplant—to their own, to Bukharans. Now to drown a limb’s illegal by Albany, but not by Jewish law forbidden. Not even by law, by custom, which says only the loss must be submerged. Surrounded. Not to be left exposed. It’s exposure that’s the sin.”

“That might be true, but still it’s fraud—you take advantage.”

But Sruly had gone glassy, windshield cracked, “no one’s ever asked to come along.”

“Most of the patients are too busy recovering, I’d think, and most families aren’t so crazy as to leave their loved one’s bedside to cry through a service in memory of fat.”

He flipped a quarter, forgot to catch, its rim stuck between the floorboards—“but this is Messer we’re talking.”

“Who again?”

“Realestate, the flipper, two years for tax evasion, two years on a scam of Section 8, but consecutive. When Mosh got out he got his legs smashed in a fall, gained back double the weight he’d dropped in prison. The Sigheters who’d opened the window and nudged him no one’s heard from in a while—sound familiar?”

“Should it?”

“It shouldn’t—Mosh doesn’t like drugs but for the shvartzers, which is why you deal with the Mizrahi.”

“So I’m supposed to believe this is my problem too—is that what you expect?”

Sruly struggled to stand, dug in his jacket and handed me, not my doorkey but his carkeys.

“I expect you to find some fat,” he shredded a page from Sara’s book, “I’ll go out and find some cemetery.”

He jotted until the pen gave out and then with a stubby pencil to keep score with.

“We’ll bury his stomach on Shabbos by the goyim.”


So I drove into the city to try all the Manhattan docs who though they’d have more volume would also have more scruples or just demand a higher price—though Sruly could spare only $40, rather I could spare only that once the machine at my deli swallowed his card but allowed me an advance. But none of the docs were in their offices on Fridays and no, no—I wouldn’t like to make an appointment.

So, making sense not geographically but in terms of likelihood, I moved on to the Long Islanders, none of whom would sell.

One, a Dr. Kahn, didn’t buy my college chemistry or biology experiment line, and threatened, if I didn’t leave his waitingroom immediately, to report me as a Nazi.

I’d been considering trying one last plastics clinic just off the Jericho Turnpike, when I checked the time and steered myself against the traffic, into Queens.

The last two docs in Queens—whose info Sruly had scrawled beneath a sonnet about marketing for produce at the Campo dei Fiori—weren’t in their offices and their services weren’t picking up either, or else they did haven’t any services better than what I was to Sruly and anyway their office signs, though appropriately suspect, weren’t as indicative of surgery (reconstructive/cosmetic), as much as of a general incompetence: pandering kooky kabbalistic permutations of MD, DO, DChiro, DipOsteo, DHomeo, DNat.

Nothing left but to turn for home—to Brooklyn.

Bellies hurried past. Stomachs, guts. Gastrointestinal paunchpouch tumms. Men whose nipples to knees had inflated into roundnesses, bigwheels rolling down Lee Street, Flushing, Union, Broadway, sparetires rolling down the middles of streets.

I steered the Nissan between their turnings, up Bedford and away from the rubbernecking grief that always greets late driving on a Friday—the welcoming of Shabbos.


Last Sruly checked in was just before the sun turned to red lights across the boroughs. The connection crapped loud with shrieks and honks, Aramaic static—Yudy and Rivkah’s zoned into a traffic island, tragic site of a ten child pileup.

“I’m shutting down,” he said, “we’ll talk again with stars.”

I burst into my apartment to find taped to my door a crossed out villanelle about a visit to Wannsee, beneath which the Jeffs had written they were giving up the lease.

I had until later than Sunday, but no later than September 1, which date was circled. It was circled twice.

By then they’d be settled just nextdoor. Or in the Adirondacks.

I snuffed some grains from the remains of Sara’s book. The back bio didn’t describe her, the name on the front wasn’t hers. Whitepink streaks across the covers, sepia snapshot of—Warsaw? the desiccated summer square of some bariatric Hungarian ghetto?

I checked my email. Didn’t know Sruly had my addy. He’d sent links to Daily News blurbs re: Messer. NYCHA sounded Slavo-Yiddish, meaning “nothing,” but also the New York City Housing Authority. Racial Tensions Rise, Elevators plummet. Exterminators were poisoning the corridors. Blessed are You, slumlord our God, King of the voting bloc, delivering new condos and district attorneys.

Lately the brothers Messer had been pimping to my demographic, or the demo I’d been bumped from. The hipsterim, the artistn. Those vitreous gymed monstrosities across Metropolitan were theirs. The management was South African, to be persnickety. Aharon had an interest, Moshe had the unions.

Shabbos was melting so I went for a window, searched “fat,” but all I found beyond no carbs and ab regimes was fetish—BBW plumper porn, double entry enteral feeding, ganghog immobilization—and the checkout of this company, Cell-u-tions™, which though they offered to sell me samples of human adipose tissue (“source: subcutaneous, female, storage: -20º C”), were licensed to sell only 10 grams max/customer, guaranteeing delivery in only two weeks to a month (restrictions apply), not that any of this mattered after I searched their reputation and found, no surprise, they’d fleeced a lab or two in Canada.

I went on to “how to make fat,” “synthesizing fat,” realizing—how do I put it? how Jewish it was? that something people wanted to get rid of, was something so difficult to get rid of, but also every bit as difficult for the people who needed it to get.

According to an f/x site, the propfat used in cinema “was predominantly vinyl plastic.” Unlimited wedges were available and though their purveyors were more legitimate, they were also more expensive than anything illegitimate, and not even overnight delivery would help—already it was morning. Onscreen, pixel cells a creepy mucus yellow. It was a famous director’s recommendation. Or the recommendation of a celebrated collaborator. So straightahead, a cinch. These were Jews with brains. I called up a clip of a scene in which they’d used it. The animal variety. Squirming vellum hue. Parchment trapped in sap becoming amber. Crashed.


I went out with Sara’s duffel—unreinforced, casterless, too destyled and yellow for Europe—twitched to where I’d left the car, with the intention of hitting every shop that retailed as unclean (though all were treyf if slaughtering on Shabbos). But every butcher gave the same—“not happening”—some getting nosey, others abusive, even after I explained it was for a special recipe stock that had to be simmering already at a soup kitchen for the troops—“you want forty pounds? you sure it’s pounds?” wiping their mouths—“fat don’t come like that,” “fat don’t cut like that,” then reciting all their discounts.

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