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The Souls

I turn on the shower tap and soap myself and watch this little bubble and that little bubble grow and into the bathroom comes my great grandfather.  Holding up his rabbi’s robe, he climbs into the tub with me.  I am not afraid.  This is like a dream. I gently wash him, making sure to clean behind his ears with their sprouting white hairs.

Then his wife shows up, my great grandmother, and lumbers in.  She takes off her wig and I see her snowy hair cascade down her back.  My great grandfather soaps her and soundlessly I proffer a towel. I can’t understand a word they say for they are speaking in Yiddish and Russian.  It strikes me that they are dead souls, that Gogol was right, they are “as juicy as ripe nuts.”

Next, their daughter and her three brothers walk in, my grandmother and my grand uncles.  There’s hardly any room for so many souls in the little bathroom, but they immediately start an argument. Who gets to wear the black wool socks and who gets to deliver the single battered textbook to G-d. They use their fists and kick and scratch and it’s all I can do to stay out of the way, standing on the glistening toilet seat cover.

Finally, my mother and father come in, resplendent in white sailor suits, and ask who forgot the canapes.  They’ve no intention of letting a little thing like mortality impede their great catering business, at which they’re “making money hand over fist.”  My mother passes around vodka glasses and my father gives everyone a generous dollop of pickled herring on a cracker.

The bathroom now is so packed nobody can move but still we are eating and drinking.  They say souls that are disturbed never rest but flit to and fro, making trouble, and I believe it.  My great grandfather talks with his mouth full of herring about the Pogrom of Kishniev while my great grandmother chatters on about how to make Kasha Varnishkes so the noodles are just right.

My grandfather shows up and all hell breaks loose.  “Why are you always late?” my grandmother shouts shrilly, and her brothers join in.  As you can see they don’t like my grandfather one bit.  “Too lazy, too dreamy, writing verse instead of working in the butcher shop,” my grandmother says.  For these things I love my grandfather all the more.  We hung out together when he was alive, and read Milton.

From my perch on the toilet, I try to call them to order.  They are busy enjoying the gefilte fish loaves my father and mother smuggled in past the gatekeeper.  The shower is still on and a fine mist has covered them all.  They link arms, all except my grandfather, and dance in a circle, crushing the vodka glasses underfoot and sloshing water over the floor.  My mother wears the gefilte fish serving tray on her head.  Quietly, I open the bathroom door and slip out.

– Alison Carb Sussman’s poetry has appeared in Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, Willows Wept Review, the Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Eclipse, Slipstream, and elsewhere.  She lives in New York City.

 

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