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Trying to Beat the Rap (2007)

 “Aba, I don’t want to quit playing with my trains. You can’t make me.”

“Why, Ezra? I can sing your prayers to you and turn off the light, and you can’t do a thing about it.”

“As soon as you go, I can turn the lights on again.”

“Would you really want to do that? Do you know what is happening between Ima and me? We can beat this, you and I. I will show her that I am 100% reliable, and you can show her that you listen to me, and she won’t throw me out. We’ll save the family, OK, Ezra? Azor li.”

Segal had long since dropped the pretense of using the language of the Kibbutz of her dreams, and of the legends of her fairy-tales. She noted, correctly as usual, that although Rafi’s English was still heavily accented with Hebrew, his Hebrew had become worse because only Rabbis spoke to him in Hebrew anymore, and their Hebrew hadn’t progressed much past the early days of Statehood.  So she just ridiculed him when he spoke to their child in Hebrew. Of course, this wasn’t always true, but there was also a time when she didn’t stick her nose into the air, let her newly acquired triple-chins breathe, and walk right past Rafi except to criticize something he had or had not done.

That April, with no warning except for the deteriorating atmospherics of their marriage, she returned from an Overeaters Anonymous meeting and declared, “I am declaring that our relationship, as you have known it to be in the past, is over. We will no longer be husband and wife. As such, you will move all your belongings out of my bedroom at once, and any that remain will be taken to the curb as trash. I expect you to comply with my decision.”

Rafi half expected this. Despite everything that he had done to meet her expectations, their marriage had reached the point of hallway sex. That is, they would pass each other and she would say, “Fuck you!” and he might respond in kind, only louder. So he gathered his left brain and vocal apparatus, and responded, “Since when could you just dissolve a marriage, just like that? Are we Muslims, that you could say, “I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee,” and it’s over? What about our promises, our wedding vows? What about this child? Should we tell Ezra’s birth mom that we screwed it up, and now we’re going to fuck up her kid along with each other’s lives?”

“Don’t argue with me, Mister Professional Jew. I have made my decision, and I expect that it will be carried out.”

“God created this marriage, and you can’t sunder it. We have Ezra here, and Ruchama Shachar in Guatemala City, and I’m their father. You can try to take that away over my dead body.”

“Then you will throw your money away on a fruitless quest? I’ll crush you like a grapeseed that got into the final pressing.”

“Now you’re the one getting Biblical. I don’t agree to a divorce, and I live here, just as much as you do.”

“Fine. You will move your things into the spare bedroom, and anything that is not out of my room by Wednesday goes out in the trash.”

Lamah ha holi-rah hazo? Ever since we returned to Philadelphia, I just work my ass off to be the best husband I can be, the best father for Ezra and the best handyman, b’Shem Adomai. I go to work, I paint the house, I do the yard, I weld the pipes, your garab all over and I clean it up always, and you sit up there on your computer or in front of your TV with your Law and Order, and I sit next to you for three hours you don’t talk to me. And it’s my fault this marriage is failing? In the name of our child’s mother, you broke this marriage, you help fix it!”

Segal did not take kindly to this insult, the worst that you can hurl at an adoptive parent.

Az lech l’Azazel ud’fok al atzmecha, mamzer zayin!” No translation needed.

Now Rafi was bargaining with his five year old son to go to bed. “We can beat this together. You show Ima that you will listen to me, and she will know I am a good daddy. You have to listen to me. You have to cooperate. Get changed for bed, and I will come up with a solution that will let you play with your trains.”
“OK Aba,” Ezra replied. “You don’t have to stand here. I’ll do it.”

Five minutes later, Rafi returned to the sound of “click, click, click,” where the mechanical trains were smacking together under the guidance of the 5 year old conductor with rich latte skin with orange hues.
“Ezra, what did you agree to? You want to help Abakeep us together, right?”

“Un-huh.”

Az ma l’cha k’var? Let’s get you into your pajamas and I’ll tell you my plan.”

Ezra began to cooperate, as Rafi produced a red-spectrum penlight that he had been given by his friend Mitch to use in astronomy gatherings on the North Fork when they moved away.

“This light is bright enough that you can read by it, but other people don’t see it because of its color. You go to bed, I read you a story and sing to you, and then I will leave the room. I will be in my bedroom. You go ahead and use the light so you can keep playing with your trains. I will knock on your door when she comes in, and you stop clicking your train cars and pretend to be asleep. Can you do that?”

“If I do, will you stay and be my daddy and not let Imakick you out of the house like she says she’s gonna do?”

“I’ll try, Ezra, but even if I fail, I will never, ever stop being your daddy. Remember the Little Nut Brown Hare?”

“I remember him, and he jumped so high and Big Nut Brown Hare jumped higher and they said how much they loved each other, and … How did it end, Aba?”

“It didn’t end, Ezra, because no one could ever measure the love that Big Nut-Brown Hare had for Little Nut-Brown Hare. And no one could ever measure the love I have for you. I don’t know what Imawill do. But if you help me, maybe she will see that we are better off as a family, together.”

“OK, Aba.” Ezra started pulling off his clothes. A cloud of dread filled Rafi’s brain, and when it lifted, he saw a Jewish man, his wife, and his four-year-old son practicing hiding in trap doors and in the chimney. In the story, which Rafi had read during his course at Gratz College on Holocaust literature, the man was dressed in a drab brown suit that had never been much to look at even before the war, but now, invisibility carried a premium – survival. At this moment, the man was wearing the characteristic striped prison garb of Auschwitz.

Ezra woke Rafi up from his walking nightmare.

Aba?”

Kein, motek? “

“Do you remember when we painted this rainbow racetrack on my wall?”

“Of course I do. I taped it and measured it, and helped you put the paint on.”

“If Ima kicks you out, and you have to have a new house, would I have a bedroom?”

“Yes, Ezra.”

“Can we paint a rainbow oval racetrack, like at the Piston Cup?”

“You can count on it.”

Ezra was asleep before Rafi finished the lullaby version of Bernstein’s Simple Song, which had become Ezra’s bedtime song. Psalm 121, I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help. Me’ayin yavo Ezri.  Ezra kept the red penlight with Rafi’s blessings.


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About Ronald FIschman

I am a public school teacher who had a prior career as a cantor, opera singer, and composer. My greatest notoriety comes from my settings of Dylan Thomas's "Vision and Prayer" and Percy Byssshe Shelley's "Ozymandias" for singers and large instrumental ensemble. My first poetry collection, "Generations," honors the roles of son, husband, and father, and is available at Amazon.com.

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