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

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He was trying to salvage his meatlocker.

The navel bit itself, squinted, “I told you twice I don’t need no generator.”

I flickered toward the door.

“Or are you wanting to buy some tongue?”

He jiggled near.

“Or how about some steaks if you’re interested?”

There was just a flame between us.

“Nothing’s close to spoiling—just tell me how large your family and how large your freezer/fridge.”

Whatever I responded was lost in the blast—all of life fluoresced, the airconditioner rattled, spewed, the store flashed, gleamed with grime, the Health Department placard slipped from its tape to become the doormat behind me, the wick was ashy, snuffed.

The innie grinned to outtie, “I almost gave away the store.”

He turned, took a boiled soft and soiled apron off a hook, didn’t tie it on, only checked the pouch, came out with a lotto scratcher, scratched, “we all should have such luck.”

I laid the candle on the counter, said I’d come for fat.

He shrugged.

I said all the fat he had.

But the navel picked a hair from his smile, “you didn’t have a Jewish education.”

I clapped my yarmulke, as if to nail myself to the floor.

“Tell me—maybe you weren’t raised by Jews? maybe you weren’t even born?”

My only reply was a gloss on what I’d once told Sara, “you can’t confuse my soul—I’m just trying to show respect.”

But the navel yawned, “I should care so much about a yarmulke?”

That bid had failed before.

Once, after Sara’s parents had treated us to a Broadway play, they’d asked, if Sara and I would marry, if we’d raise our children Jewish. Sara had snapped, I’d tried to smooth, “we’d impart the values, certainly, and as for us doing the holidays together, it’d be a pleasure”—but their feud lasted most of the stroll to the garage and even when Sara and I were left alone, the rage continued, redoubled.

“Wrong answer,” she yelled—she could never love a man who lacked “spiritual integrity.”

Only Europe could’ve ended that fight. She had the last word in her poems.


Sunday I put on my commencement suit, tugged yarmulke like a foreskin out of yesterday’s jeans, ground and snorted a couple of the Hunan ups on my sill—the trestle was gone, the futon about to follow.

I wended around it, two movers schmoozing Creole at the landing. I went to the Nissan, to where I was sure I’d left the Nissan—next block, rather around the block, wandering as if following a scent to where I’d been ticketed for screening a driveway despite the weekend (the weekend the only reason I hadn’t been towed).

The odor came off the car its color, or finish, a neverwashed rusty greengray sporeishness under peeling scales of guano, scuffed bumpersticker: “CLERGY.”

I held nose, closed mouth, downed the windows, dialed for air—Sunday was a scorcher.

A wet soapy rot foamed up from the back, the yellow duff with that fat Arab nug inside, beating, breathing.

I had the impulse to curb the bag, but didn’t, in the event the butcher didn’t provide an appropriate, or even any, receptacle.

But the butcher’s was closed.

Loadingonlying out front—leaving the door splayed, change oil flickering, the tank hungrier than I’d ever be again—I stomped the shadeless sidewalk trying to keep clear of the strollers.

They were larger than the car—strolls ten, even a dozen spastic brats across, being nudged ahead by women frizzywigged in the humidity, their skirts like patched prolapses draggling behind them, lame tails dusting at the crosswalks. Whenever they’d get tired of pushing, or their babies of being pushed, they’d switch.

I stationed myself just outside the shop, slammed.

I tried to call the number decaled on the door, its last two digits grated, obscured.

6985 was nothing, 6986 a language like Scandinavian.

My slamming called a man across the street, his waist the size of the street. I was hoping he was the alternate, a butcher substitute but tardy, though the store he’d squeezed out of was hardware and he was carrying what appeared to be a molten glowing surgical clamp—a bicycle pump, a car jack.

The Hasid shimmied toward me sideways like an obese and gouty crustacean. Pimplepocked and horned.

He didn’t even bother with the Yiddish, or with anything, just waved the jack above the wailing babies.

“Hold up,” I said, and he huffed on slower, gasped.

“That’s it,” I said, “let’s talk this out,” but the slowing was only ailing, heaving, and the women gave him berth, and the jack was blessingwise upraised.

I was back in the car and flubbing keys when he careened into the trunk, collapsing the trunk with that screwy fist, holding the jack by its crank and gashing repeatedly.

I could’ve backedover to dent his tasseled loafers. (I could’ve waited to give that butcher my $38.)

I snipped the corner, blew the light, turned again and spotted the alley.

A fence prevented access, its links furred in ersatz wilting green.

I reversed toward the driveway, sticking out, ajar. I went up to the fence, pressed my face against the chains. The same limply arboreal polyester pelage on the other side would screen. Beyond it, the hardware Hasid slurped and groped a knee, patrolled his pulse.

I went back to the car, got the duff, hurled it over the fence, clambered up behind it. Snared my cuffs, tore them. Jumped atop a dumpster, down. I tugged it open, hollow. Twisted lids off to a camouflage of flies. Tilted at the cans.

I went at them like a grafty pro, like I’d reassemble and animate their offal—the organs, glands, muscles, tendons, all the junk I couldn’t have recognized healthy and intact, sinews twining it together. Festered heads of I couldn’t say which poultry. Two hooves, or only one but cloven, the cleavage clogged with maggots.

It was both too much and not enough—the trash must’ve just been taken in or taken out. Or more was in the other dumpster, padlocked against strays, the looting cardboard box crowd.

The lower floors of the cans—the lowest layers, lymphy clotted strata—wouldn’t give. Slop was charsealed to the sides.

I used my hands and loosened. Vomited and scooped that too—donated my own vitals to the cause.

I hurled the duff, but it snagged on a prong, slit pitiful. I turned. The Hasid was gone. A siren scurried past.

I climbed behind the duff, jimmied it free, dropped it down and jumped away. Ripped a button, two. Wiped my hands on the rearview, streaked it with gore before wiping it clean. Wiped my hands on the “upholstery.” Wiped the “upholstery.”

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