This week’s reads come from Temim Fruchter, whose story “Known Facts About God” appeared in March 2017 in jmww.
Technically, she loved Moshe Ber. At least her eyes went swimmy when she thought of him or when anyone else said his name. He went to the boys’ school in Baltimore. After meeting him at the big Orthodox youth weekend, she wrote him a painstaking note, two whole sides of looseleaf paper, with little o’s on top of the i’s like she saw girls do on television when they were trying to be exceptionally girly. Seventh grade and already she was a deft suitor, strung the words together like a song. She gave her heart fast and full, understood she might well be a consummate lover before she understood geometry or her own body. She gave the note to Shira Ziskind, who lived in Pikesville, and who sometimes talked to boys on the weekends.
She waited. Most days after school she closed the door of her small room and lay on the small bed listening to Ricky Nelson or The Beatles and imagining the feel of the exact edge of someone else’s lips on her own. Sometimes she was so overcome by waiting that her body started shaking. She’d have to crawl under the covers then, which sometimes helped, even though cold wasn’t at all what she was. Sometimes she prayed, but she never opened her mouth to do it.
Here was what she knew about God: God didn’t want women eating messy sandwiches in public, because it was immodest. God also didn’t want you writing out the name God like it was a full name. You wrote God like G-d, which confused her, because who was anything but affirmed by the sight of their own full name? God didn’t want people kissing other people or having any weird kinds of sex. Maybe any kinds of sex at all. And the only kinds of people allowed to have the non-weird sex were men and women who were married to each other. God had a green beard, like the framed painting of the stern-looking hasid in her grandmother’s living room. God wasn’t particularly handsome, nor was he particularly old, but he was square-shaped and you listened. Of course he was a he. Mostly written as He, except if by secular authors, witches, or heretics.
The night Moshe Ber called her she wasn’t expecting it, though she noticed she wasn’t entirely surprised. The phone was for her, her mother called upstairs. She wriggled out from under the covers and picked it up like she hadn’t willed it to ring. I got your number from Shira Ziskind, he said. He told her that he had liked her note, especially the weird story at the end about the invention of the pickle, and had been working on a pictorial response that he would send with Shira the next time he saw her. She held her breath the whole time he was talking. His voice was deeper than she remembered. He told her he was pretty good at comics and was learning electric bass. She noticed that Moshe Ber didn’t ask her any questions, except at the end, when he asked her if she was going to the next Orthodox youth weekend, and would they see each other soon?
She felt the receiver sticky on her cheek. How long had they been talking? Had she spoken at all? What did her legs look like? They chafed under her skirt most of the time and sometimes she forgot them. She remembered them now because she felt them shaking, and couldn’t tell whether this was voluntary. She wanted something big to happen, like a pompadour. Did Moshe Ber have a pompadour? She couldn’t picture him now. Did he know how to dance? What did dancing feel like? She didn’t love the feeling of holding her breath, she had to admit.
I don’t think I’m going to go. The words were rogue, out of her mouth before she could reconsider. Too much homework, as if that was something. She felt like crying suddenly, zero to sixty, hoped his quiet meant they’d somehow gotten disconnected. She closed her eyes and imagined one day touching a curve, someone else’s wishing skin. She pictured God like she did sometimes, except with soft fingers and a mess of curly hair. It made her gasp. She wished the phone back into its cradle so that she could just be still again. So she would wait. She would wait for a pompadour. Maybe she would be the pompadour. She would learn to dance one day. She had gotten pretty excellent at waiting.
Pause pause. But I’m excited to see your note. And oh. That there. Saying excited out loud just then felt like a dare, like remembering her legs, or like God’s entire face blowing open.
Temim Fruchter is an essayist and fiction writer who lives in Washington, DC. She believes in magic and in queer possibility. She is co-founder of the Mount Pleasant Poetry Project, and her first chapbook, I Wanted Just To Be Soft, came out on Anomalous Press in April 2016. Her work has appeared in [PANK], Tupelo Quarterly, The Washington City Paper, New South, The Account, and the Tishman Review, among others. More at temimfruchter.wordpress.com
Hear Temim read this weekend with Melissa Scholes-Young and Paula Bomer at Starts Here!