Two blueberry, two caramel, two mint. No, make it three mint. That’s it? That’s it. Oh, and sixty on pump four please.
It is the day before Yom Kippur and I am stocking up on food items to break the fast, albeit somewhat earlier than usual and in a somewhat less celebratory fashion. This year, I decided, I will fuel the day with chocolate-coated peanut butter energy bars of various flavors. I have broken many public fasts before, but never Yom Kippur. This is going to be a first. I have just started college and my first exam is scheduled for the day after Yom Kippur. Now I need that extra day of study. And to study I need food.
Yom Kippur morning. I dress in the white kittel and wrap myself in a white tallis. I wrap the textbook in a black plastic shopping bag. Bag in one hand, machzor in the other, pockets laden with slender crackling bars, I stride towards the shul, diverting at the last moment to the woods behind it. I step over the rugged terrain. I feel every pebble. Every dried out twig in the underbrush scrunching under my slippers tells me that this path is not trodden. Here is the grove where Breslovers come to talk to God. Farther along is the clearing where boys come to talk to girls in romances from another time and place. But this is a God-fearing neighborhood and such scandalous trysts are not seen. Boys from a nearby yeshiva come here in the summer to litter the place and to do whatever it is that boys do in the woods. Now the place is deserted. The yeshiva is on furlough and the residents are either in shul or minding the little ones at home.
Birds flutter high near the treetops where the sky is a deep clear blue making room for a hot and sunny day. I glide past thick tree trunks and meander further into the woods. Further in, further, away from sight. I lean against a sturdy trunk and take comfort in the velvet green moss. Here are puddles and mosquitos, hives and bees, squirrels and nuts, and a man with his text. Soon I am engrossed in reading and learning and shockeling and humming. This is a day to catch up on shortcomings. This is not a day to waste.
A pulsating throb goes through my temples like a lunch bell. The time has come. I slide a hand down my pocket and pull one out. It’s a caramel. I look around and around. You can never be too sure. I bring one end close to my mouth and tear the wrapping open with one swift rip. I bite off a mouthful. I cover my face self-consciously with my tallis and munch on. Another bite, and then another. Hurry, be over with it. I’m startled by a rustling sound to my right. Instinctively I turn, and there, a pair of eyes fixed upon me. They gaze attentively and curiously. The eyes are pretty and belong to a squirrel with a keen nose for peanut butter. Go away. Shoo! You fucking scared me. Have you no heart?
Have you no fist to pound your heart with? Who am I and what am I doing here? Even the estranged know their master and the secular know to wear a yarmulke and go to shul and be a good Jew for a day. Yet I wouldn’t know; I wouldn’t reflect. How could I have done it? I have violated the holiest of days. I have become guilty, I have betrayed.
The sun is going down, hanging across the woods. A wide blanket of leaves and branches filters out the coarse rays, allowing only thin and pointed orange rods into the clearing in which I sit. It is warm out here, yet I shroud myself tightly in the tallis for coziness and pull it over my eyes. Tree limbs like gnarly fingers hover over my head and sway slightly in no apparent wind. The blessing of the trees is to let your arms embrace your kind but deep down be rooting for yourself.
A melody wafts in, soft yet demanding. They must have lowered the shul windows for air. They are singing Melech Elyon. A song to the heavenly king and His glorious omnipotence, contrasted against the pitiable earthly king and his fleshly foibles. A certain pathetic fellow now stands in front of the ark opening and closing and opening again. Why is God not supposed to overhear the slandering of the competing mortal? He is a jealous god. He said so himself. He should take delight in being top of class. If I want to be top of class, I will have to exert every effort to go over the material one final time. This is last call, for the day is turning away.
An hour later, I sit slouched on the sofa and on my lap little Zindie wants his dose of attention. “Go play”, his mother says. “Totty has a headache from the fast.” “Don’t mind it,” I say. “A father ought to be forgiving.”
I stick out as it is. I can’t afford to just sit there like a doofus and then do all the wrong things. Let’s go over it. Drive up, get in line, wait for the intercom prompt, order, move to the window, move to the other window, move away. You can only go in one direction, and once you start you must keep moving. What if somebody spots me in line? Say you stopped for a coffee. Better go to a franchise out of the way. Far from any major roads. Check out the place first. See if the drive-through doesn’t lay out bare. Wear a hoodie, maybe.
Look up their menu online so you don’t mispronounce items. If you can’t say it, you probably can’t digest it. Start with familiar foods. You might get an upset stomach just by knowing it’s treif. Should it revolt, its stock will splatter in the bowl and she’ll ask questions. Chicken nuggets are homey, simple, and a safe bet. You go up there and say chicken nuggets. You blurt it out. Chicken nuggets. Excuse me? Do I want what? No fries, only chicken nuggets. Thank you, have a nice day.
Tuck the bag under the seat. Something about the yellow M looks creepy. Turn it inward. It’s on both sides? Just push it in well. What if I get into an accident and the Hatzoloh guy discovers it? Say you got it for an acquaintance, a goy. This just sounds ludicrous. What if it’s contaminated with salmonella or something and they track down the source? Do I tell investigators I must have contracted it someplace else? Can health officials be fooled like that? This bag is really conspicuous. Stop at a service station and get rid of it. Get something for the odor too. Here is a trucking yard. Get behind that big rig at the far end. Open the bag. This thing stinks like a dead bird. Come on, shove it down your throat.
The paper bag rustles as I rumple it into a ball and place it on the passenger seat. The yellow M with its smooth curves now looks almost serpentine like. I shake it off. It’s just a big M that stands for sin. “I’m lovin’ it,” it reads. It is pleasing to the eye.
I pick the device up from beneath the headboard and slip it under my sleeve, then gingerly step out of bed. I lock myself in the bathroom and press “On.” There is nothing in the headlines that interests me. No email except for two spam messages. My Facebook newsfeed yields nothing new. Every week I wonder if I will find a green dot next to a friend’s name, and whether I will dare say hi. I shut off the device and quickly wrap it in a towel to muffle the vibration as it powers off, then slide back into bed for my Shabbos afternoon nap.Printable Version