7.01 / January 2012

Two Stories

Letter to My Jewish Son Who Thinks He’s Black and Went to Live in Ghana and Now Regrets It

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A father never disseminates bad advice, not intentionally, although bad advice happens far more frequently than one would like. So what if there’s no electricity? You used to sleep in a tent in the backyard. And cockroaches large enough to scratch their backs on trees? That’s good fiber right there, son. I hope you’re eating well. If you’re going to be miserable, you might as well be full.

I have bad news for you. The cure is relaxation-a state of mind that is virtually impossible for our family. Some men achieve this by chasing a schvitz, others rub mayonnaise on a swordfish-steak and lay it sideways across a grill, some guzzle whiskey. But Jews don’t drink. The one thing a Jew fears, beyond a roundup, is being out of control. Have you never noticed that the towels in the foyer closet are identically folded with the smooth edge facing out, or that the medicine is organized alphabetically? Or that I count the silverware once the family’s left after Passover. Did you think that was normal?

Your room’s waiting for you. So’s your car. I start it twice a week. Your stepmother said she wanted to put your record crates in the basement. I said, “Not if you want a husband.” Say the word and I’ll buy you a ticket home. You’d be doing me a favor because I’m running out of crap to buy. Yesterday I bought this contraption that kills all the germs on my cell phone. I have a phone, you know. Would it kill you to call it?

A father keeps his children alive, and on this score I’ve performed admirably. Still, I wish I’d told you all of this when you were a kid. Working 12-hour days at grandpa’s shoe factory, I didn’t have time to think. Now, too much time. One day, god willing, you’ll have a real job and children and then you’ll see what a clumsy, terrible rush life is.

To my Sister in Chiapas

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Consider how you throw a football. You have a ridiculous object in your hand, something foreign that you want to share. Consider the nothing that was our house in the suburbs and the nothing driveway where, as kids, I threw you a football and you didn’t even raise your hands. It hit your shoulder with a thunk and fell to the asphalt. Then you said, “This is lame; throw it to yourself,” and off you went to listen to The Cure and paint naked Medusas on your bedroom walls who all happened to look like Mom.

The black and white self-portrait you sent me of you standing in the agave fields in scarlet rags holding a black lamb in your arms, his eyes electric blue, yours grey and sharp, has unsettled me to say the least. Whose sheep is that? You don’t even speak Spanish. Are you on drugs in that photo? It kind of looks like you’re on drugs.

Consider the feel of pebble-grain pig’s bladder, how the laces, like the spaces between a woman’s ribs, fit the hand comfortably. The whole point of the game is to throw this thing away from your body and into somebody else’s body, to bury it ideally in their sternum on as sharp a line as possible. In real football you throw to an empty space where a person will arrive in time; but in the backyard, what I was trying to explain is that you didn’t need to run. I’d throw it right to you. You just stand there, receive, and give it right back. All you had to do was hold out your hands. How simple is that?

Have you really not had sex in three years?

Of die-cut panels there are four. Of triangles, two. Like the small panels of sheer lace on the back of your bras that I used to put on your stuffed animals and practice taking them off. Sorry about that. If it’s any consolation, I got really good at it. Your bear, McFreddy, was not harmed in any creepy way. But I remember when, from old age, his hands burst open and you safety-pinned them shut.

What I’m throwing doesn’t matter. It could be that oblong, hollow prolate spheroid, that chocolate-tanned, goose-bumped thing that I always slept with beside my head. It could be something else. The completion is the point. A peppermint-striped lifeguard ring, my own kidney, all my friends-what wouldn’t I throw you? So, to answer you question from 25 years ago, no, I can’t throw it to myself. Doesn’t work that way. I’m here in Tallahassee, you’re there in Chiapas, soon you’ll be somewhere else taking pictures, and I can’t save you.

Spencer Wise is a doctoral candidate at Florida State University in Creative Writing. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, The New Ohio Review, Hobart, The Southeast Review, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among others.
7.01 / January 2012