He dies, and I wait until the room realizes

By Abigail Sylvor Greenberg

He dies, and I wait until the room realizes

My Zeyde dies when I ask my screen-lit mom
How he’s doing. She flexes
Her Sunday-night-grease knuckles
Over her keyboard,
Pitches up her “Umm,” and stretches “not great” until it
Snaps on the final consonant. He dies, though he is
Eating skirt steak at the table
In his grey sweatpants, out on Long Island.

He dies and I wait until the room realizes. Not even a day goes by.

And then it is all paisley ceiling, floors,
All dots and circles, photon beads under my wet eyelids, loud-like.
Drinking Long Island water out of a dixie cup. A woman with a turtleneck
Under her dress, explaining the rituals all our ancestors did as easy as
Washing their hands.

Stone By Stone © Taber Andrew Bain (https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewbain/1599749297/)

She thinks we just became Jewish
Because we needed some way to watch him die.
And she invites us through
Euphemic brown lips
To say our goodbyes in an offshooting parlour,
Where someone decided he ought to go down-under in full cowboy attire.
for Willie Nelson CDs my dad didn’t burn in time,
pacing in and out of my room on Sunday night
asking for an apparatus,
a recollection.
wondering if he could do a little more to sing his father off
with the cracker-voice of a fifty-six year old Queens boy.

Cousin David and I hang back like “Nah,” he says,
Or “Naw,” if I am being exact about the region of Long Island
Washed onto his throat.
“I wanna remember Pop eating his steak and yelling
At the dogs. That was his favorite food you know, a whole
Steak. He hated it when we cut it for him.”
He twirls his E-Cig in stump fingers,
Frenetic, but doesn’t hit it.

My Zeyde dies gorged on mythic “favorite foods”:
Pickles, monogut, shlag—ten ton whipped cream—from Peter Luger’s steakhouse. My mom
Blushes and glances at the rabbi during choked orations,
She will be called insincere by a perfumed Aunt Carole.
I will scoff.

We will labor over what, among it, he really liked to eat at all.
I once watched him eat 3-day old
rainbow cake and fluoresce louder than
the hospital light above his head.
he once told me he hadn’t had anything good to eat in ten years,
not since my Bubbe died.
Shall we add rainbow cake to the list too, crying on the bima? How about vodka and ginger ale?

He dies when we unpack plastic-wrapped turkey sausages from fruit baskets
Replete with gold-foil pears,
And wonder which of my father’s siblings we can give them to,
To slice. Ours is not a house of separate sinks and margarine. But we call
It a Kosher home because we know it is.
because my dad is still holding onto paper plates with
bacon, shoved into a childhood fridge, oil-speckled with
the smugness of a workaround.
and he’s still mad about how
his parents pulped a joke into the sacrosanct.

Why is there a photo of Aunt Beth in the montage
That plays below the racks of sympathy-coats at the funeral?
Aunt Beth alone, in a lobster bib and size 2 corduroys,
Wagging her tongue at the camera.

And we all laugh the soggy laughs
Of people trying to reconcile their sadness
Like finger-cars clasped in-out in a parking lot.

Aunt Beth is always the first
To pontificate on family. Like we’ll toss 3pm footballs
over her kitchen island, deft. Subsisting on kinetic dinner
before sunset even lets a holiday begin, the way the good book says it should.

My Zeyde dies
and I wonder when faith became so dichotomous.
when we scraped the binary onto our plates
in sauce residue, redoing biblical calligraphy to assert
that it would be either black hats and sideburn curls, peot, and women
illicitly dipping toes over thresholds while men mumble-prayed, mechitzah
Or nothing.

When we lowballed the price of faith, because ritual seemed like fool’s gold,
Not worth email bickering about in the will
—Not like dribbles of construction money were.
We hoped everything could seem banal, without tearing
Into doleful rag for wearing.

He dies then. Yelling at the dogs and fumbling for his
Flip phone between the couch cushions
While we are pouring Doctor Brown’s Diet Black Cherry
Into cups that buckle like overstretched hands,
Spiking with vodka and cheersing to working hard and not being a hypocrite.

He dies
Midway through blessing the wine. Midway through a
Million-course meal of weddings and bar mitzvahs,
Cutting bread and sipping scotch.

At no particular juncture, he unbuckles
The earth with the dip of a manicured toe.
From last week at the salon with Aunt Beth.

And us, we twirl our thingies, our accoutrements into consequence
Over meals we can remember till we can’t.
My dad winds around Aunt Beth’s
Obscenely tilted table,
Squeezing most anyone’s shoulders as he passes them,
With a guttural non-word like “Mmmmm”
Remember how much your Zeyde loved you? —A lot.
We clench and unclench hands to make muscle
Hoping to someday grip better, more assured, than we can now.

Abigail Sylvor Greenberg is a high school junior from Manhattan, NYC. Her work has been recognized regionally and nationally by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and has been published online in Paradox Mag, The Other Stories, and The Daphne Review. She also serves as the proud Editor-in-Chief of her school’s newspaper (and its sole reader). Outside of writing, she is passionate about public policy and the musica stylings of Brockhampton.

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