Chaykele and Hershele
Once upon a time, a little girl named Chaykele and a little boy named Hershele lived in a small cottage at the edge of the woods. Their father had died when they were young, and their mother had recently married a new man.
“This is your new father, children,” she said to Chaykele and Hershele. “His name is Unnamable Father.”
Unnamable Father had a knotted, greasy beard and he wore a creased black coat that was stained with ketchup. He smelled like boiled turnips and dirty diapers.
Chaykele and Hershele tried to be polite.
“Hello!” they said.
“Grrrrrrr…” their new father grumbled with a mean frown.
Soon, Chaykele and Hershele’s mother went off on a long journey.
“Be good to Unnamable Father!” she said. “And if you ever walk in the woods, make sure you stay on the path! There are dangerous wolves hiding in the trees!”
“We’ll stay on the path!” Chaykele and Hershele promised as they waved goodbye.
“It’s time to wash the floors!” Unnamable Father told them.
“But we want to play!”
“Wash the floors or you’re going to burn in hell forever!” Unnamable Father threatened, waving a stick in the air.
Chaykele and Hershele became very frightened. They dropped their toys and ran for the mop. Quickly they washed the floors.
“Now dust the chairs!” Unnamable Father commanded. Chaykele and Hershele were going to say they were tired, but Unnamable Father waved the stick in the air, and so they scurried off to dust the chairs.
After they dusted the chairs, Unnamable Father made them wash the dishes and weed the garden and clean the fireplace and scrub the tub and change the light bulbs and bleach the toilet and organize the closet and file his taxes and darn his socks and wash his clothes.
“Please, Unnamable Father,” Chaykele whispered. “We’re very tired. We’ve been working for days and our fingers are bleeding and our knees are raw and we’d like to go to sleep, it’s way past our bedtime.”
“ROOOOOAAAAAAAR!” Unnamable Father roared at the children. “No! Now it’s time to go for a walk on the path. But don’t you dare go off the path – there are wolves in the woods!”
Chaykele and Hershele followed Unnamable Father on the path that led through the woods. They were so tired, every part of their body ached. Even though they were exhausted, Chaykele and Hershele were very careful to walk in middle of the path, avoiding the grass on either side. They didn’t dare look between the dark trees around them.
“Hurry up, you slowpokes!” Unnamable Father snarled as he strode along.
“You know what,” Chaykele whispered to Hershele. “I’m kinda sick of this bullshit. I’m going to go off this path and run away from Unnamable Father.”
“But what about the wolves?” Hershele gasped.
“I’ve never seen any wolves,” Chaykele shrugged. “I’m going. Are you coming?”
Hershele shook his head fearfully. Chaykele gave him a hug goodbye, and then she ran off the path.
Chaykele stumbled through the dark woods until she came across a large, dog-like animal smoking a fat smelly cigarette and snorting sugar up his nose.
“Yes?” the animal demanded.
“Are–are you a wolf?” Chaykele asked.
“What the fuck you think?” the animal replied. “Shit. You sure are one stupid bitch.”
Chaykele decided that meant he was a wolf, so, a little bit frightened, she backed away and kept on going through the woods.
She walked and walked and walked, enjoying her freedom, napping in the grass when she got tired, picking berries for lunch and whistling to the bluebirds that chirped on the branches.
Soon she came across another large, dog-like animal. This one was reading a book while humming Vivaldi and eating an avocado sandwich on whole wheat toast.
“Ehm, excuse me sir?”
The animal looked up from his book.
“Are you a wolf?” Chaykele asked.
“Why, yes, I am,” the animal answered. “What are you?”
“I’m a girl,” Chaykele told him. “I wandered off the path and I’m exploring the woods.”
“How lovely,” the animal said. “Would you like me to show you around?”
“Yes, please,” Chaykele said. So arm in arm they strolled through the woods, and the wolf showed her all the best burrito joints and how to fill out a college admissions form and bought her a copy of “Our Bodies, Our Selves”.
“Where are you from?” animals would sometimes ask Chaykele.
For a while, she’d say, “I wandered off the path,” but then she realized how fucking provincial that was. There were a million paths in the forest, and a billion trees and fields and lakes around them. She wasn’t off the path. She was in the woods.
“I’m from the woods,” she began telling people. “I live in the woods.”
And Chaykele enjoyed her life in the woods, and the company of her new wolf-friends and the freedom of her new life. Once she caught a nasty cold and sometimes she missed Hershele and then, her wolf-friend, whom she had begun sleeping with, dumped her for a blond chick from Greenpoint, but still, in the woods there was always a new adventure to be had, a new animal to meet, a new opportunity to create her own happiness.
Meanwhile, in the small cottage at the edge of the woods, Hershele lived with Unnamable Father, doing as Unnamable Father demanded. As time passed, Hershele came to respect Unnamable Father. Hershele admired the fierceness of Unnamable Father’s personality. Hershele appreciated how much he had learned about the art of darning socks, and the details of Personal Tax Law and the field of chemical compositions in dishwashing detergent and bleach and ammonia, over the course of doing his chores.
As Hershele grew older, he established himself as an expert on household cleansers, with a specialty in the cleaning of impossible situations involving nonexistent creatures. He won the Flying Spaghetti Monster Award for his multi-volume scholarly treatise entitled “Effective Removal of Unicorn Shit Stains from Invisibility Cloaks, Should Unicorns, Invisibility Cloaks, and a Chemical Solvent Called Ridiculosum Exist.” His life was full, between his academic pursuits and his never-ending daily household chores. Hershele almost completely forgot about his sister Chaykele.
One bright summer afternoon, while conducting online research for a new paper tentatively titled “How One Might Wash the Cutlery of a Wolf King, if Said Wolf King Produced Green Glittered Permanent Staining Saliva,” Hershele, contemplating wolf species, was suddenly struck with a sharp memory of his sister’s smile. He thought with sadness about her assumed death in a wolf’s jaws. A single crystal tear welled up in Hershele’s left eye. It rolled down his cheek, heading straight for his laptop, as if with a mind of it’s own. Touching the keyboard, the drop splattered into a shallow puddle of sadness.
I wonder how I might clean the keyboard, if my tear was the tear of a wizard, a wizard whose tears had the properties of Elmer’s glue, and if all of the cleaning supplies in the world were suddenly unavailable, except for half a toothpick and a spoonful of Tide? Hershele wondered.
Before he could formulate a hypothesis, his train of thought was interrupted by Unnamable Father’s bellowing from the other room. Hershele left his thoughts to hurry off and prepare Unnamable Father’s breakfast of licorice baked beans, fried strawberry kishka, and Marmite.
~ ~ ~
One bright spring day, Chaykele and her new wolf-friend named Derek had brunch with a big group of their wolf, pig and goat friends at the new little Italian bistro that had opened down by the creek. They laughed and chatted and ate mini-french toasts, while debating Nigerian politics and planning an upcoming fundraiser for victims of domestic violence. After brunch, Chaykele and Derek took a long walk through the woods, arm-in-arm, breathing in the cool forest air and enjoying the sunshine.
Suddenly, Chaykele and Derek came upon a familiar small cottage.
Unnamable Father was sitting on a rocking chair on the porch, cramming potatoes into his mouth with his fingers. The ground around Unnamable Father’s feet was scattered with cigar butts and broken chicken bones.
“Oh, how quaint,” Derek exclaimed. “Let’s go speak to the charming old man.”
“No, no!” Chaykele hissed, pulling on Derek’s jean jacket, “let’s run away as fast as we can.”
But Derek just patted Chaykele on the arm, and approached the cottage.
Unnamable Father looked up at the two of them. He didn’t say anything to Chaykele but he smiled at Derek.
“Welcome,” Unnamable Father said to Derek. “We are all one family. Come inside, and have some mustard apricot kugel.”
“Don’t go!” Chaykele whispered to Derek. “He’s a bad man!”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Derek said to Chaykele. “Don’t you see? He’s perfectly delightful.”
Derek followed Unnamable Father into the cottage, with Chaykele trailing behind.
Inside the cottage, Hershele was frantically trying to defrost the freezer, while balancing all of its contents in his arms, shoulders and lap.
“I—I’m sorry it’s taking so long, It will be all clean soon, I promise,” he stammered with fear when he saw Unnamable Father.
Unnamable Father curled his lip in disgust and clenched his fist. Hershele bowed deeply, almost losing a frozen Cheerios casserole that was balanced on his elbow, which he recovered with a frantic shaky grab.
“Dude, that’s so frickin’ neat!” Derek said to Unnamable Father. “He actually, like, bows to you!”
Unnamable Father turned to Derek and winked.
“Kinda cool, huh?” Unnamable Father said.
Derek leaned over to Chaykele and whispered, “Man, I love this guy. He’s, like, totally awesome.”
Chaykele thought she was going to hurl.
Then Hershele noticed Chaykele. Hershele blinked, first once, then twice, then three times. He wasn’t sure what to say. He looked at Unnamable Father.
“Grrrr…..” Unnamable Father snarled at him. Then Unnamable Father winked at Derek again.
“We’re all about love and acceptance,” Unnamable Father said to Derek.
“That’s so beautiful, man,” Derek said.
“Our crime rate is zero,” Hershele whispered as he wiped down the insides of the freezer.
Unnamable Father picked a turkey knuckle out of his beard and looked pleased.
“And we are so content,” Hershele continued with sadness in his eyes. “Everybody in this home is always happy and cheerful.” A tear welled up in his eye and Chaykele watched it drop to the floor.
“And we help one another,” Hershele continued as Chaykele slowly backed out the front door. “And the whole world admires us. And those who don’t are simply envious of our beautiful lives.”
“And anyone who leaves us,” added Unnamable Father, “is bitter and sad and angry and miserable.”
Through the small windows of the cottage Chaykele saw Unnamable Father laugh heartily. And she saw Derek slap Unnamable Father good-naturedly on the back before picking up a bottle of dishwashing detergent and heading to the mountain of dishes in the sink.Printable Version