Shevirat Ha-Kelim

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Shevirat Ha-Kelim (1)

Back in her bed, narrow and lopsided in the gray Wisconsin gloom, Ruthie lay catatonic for days, refusing to eat, and when Edie came with a tray of soup and tea and dry toast, setting it down on the nightstand and putting her cool hand on Ruthie’s forehead, she couldn’t even look at her mother, staring unblinkingly upward, forming words out of the cracks in the ceiling .

Rabbi Silverman came to speak to her, trying to glean just what had made her want to run away – and to the Lubavitchers no less. But Ruthie was speechless, watching the Rabbi’s lips move and hearing the sounds spewing forth from his lips made but not able to connect any meaning to them as they formed. His eyes were blue and rheumy and magnified behind bifocals. His breath was sweet and hot. Ruthie’s two days in Brooklyn washed over her like a fever dream, cold sweat, her brain floating in gelatinous haze. She barely registered their whispers, Rabbi Silverman’s calm low voice, her mother’s shrill, her father’s nervous.

On the fourth day, she hadn’t spoken a word, hadn’t eaten a bite, had no explanation to give her worried-sick parents, would not even speak to Sammy, who was trying his best to maintain an air of the everyday, prattling on to her about baseball, his friends, the upcoming school dance and holidays, homework and tests – and not mentioning the stolen money. The stolen money he would file away in the dark recesses of his mind, gathering the mounting injustices for ammunition to use against his family when he reached adulthood.

Paul, barrel-chested, still strong in his mid-50s, fought against the compulsion to let his nervous tics consume him, checking the locks and the knobs on the stove thirty times before leaving the house. He was sick to his stomach as he lifted Ruthie from her bed. No resistance. Ruthie didn’t say a word as her father carried her down the stairs, out the door and lay her across the back seat of the family Buick. Paul closed the door cautiously, sweating, worrying himself over the locks, hoping Sammy would keep things in order while they were away for the afternoon, tugging at his ear lobes. He pulled open the passenger door for his wife, her face worn and drawn, dressed to the nines no less.

When they arrived at Shady Grove, a sprawling Dickensian estate, well-maintained but foreboding, casting a haunting shadow over the grounds, the lawn trimmed and cared for, Ruthie could not lift her head to see it. She stared at her feet and watched as they moved one in front of the other as though they were attached to marionette strings. Ruthie was as hollow and empty as the space between stars. Her mother gripped her shoulder until it hurt. Her father spoke in hushed tones to a man with a commanding voice, drenched in authority even in whisper.

“These nice people will make you well again,” her father said, his voice tremulous with bluff.

“We want our Ruthie back good as new. You listen to the doctors, dear, and be a good girl,” her mother said.

Finally Ruthie was alone. The room was stripped bare. Whitewashed walls and an iron bed, long and narrow with thin sheets that scratched against her skin. The bed springs creaked and groaned under the weight of her slight body.

Not long after, a thin man with a crooked nose and wire-framed glasses entered the room and took her pulse. His voice rose in question and Ruthie nodded or shook her head depending on the way the sounds of his words hit her ear, meanings into which she infused the words.

A nurse handed her a small white pill and told her to swallow. She drank water from a paper cup and slept for the first time in what seemed like years.

* * * * *

In her dream, Ruthie was naked, draped in thick black furs and silken robes, hair shorn scalp wrapped in a bloodred tichel. Unchained song in minor key carried over her in the ether and she was spinning, spinning, and as she spun the robes flew from her body until her naked body shone like stars.

Ruthie awoke in a panic, sweatwet and heart beating wildly, like a caught animal, and through the drugged-haze chaos, she knew she couldn’t stay there. She had to get out.

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Managing Editor of Jewrotica, Emma moonlights as a librarian. She also writes Jewish horoscopes, short stories, essays and a supernatural noir novella.