Friday, December 16, 2005

Center of it All XIII

I waited two days to hear from Nechama. While I waited, I walked through Manhattan, and watched. There was a life force that took Manhattan’s busy one way streets, an energy that I had never encountered in any other city on earth. I both envied and pitied the people who lived and worked in a city that never slept, never slowed down, and would mercilessly roll right over you if you happened to slow down.

On Wednesday night I stuffed myself with hot wings and burgers at Lippy’s, the new trendy kosher bar that everyone I talked to recommended. When I came back to the hotel, she was sitting in the lobby. I recognized her instantly. Looking at Nechama was like looking at the female version of Yoni. Yoni had always been the best-looking guy at every Yeshiva we attended, and he passed down every bit of his good looks to his daughter.

I walked over to where she was sitting, and introduced myself.

“I’m Tuli,” I said. “You must be Nechama.”

“How do you know,” she asked.

“You look exactly like your dad,” I answered.

She looked uncomfortable at the mention of her father, and I reminded myself that even though I had once known Yoni Winters better than anyone in the world, the girl sitting in front of me had never seen him, met him, and had probably never met anyone who knew him.

“Have you eaten,” I asked. “We could go have dinner, or find somewhere quiet for coffee.”

She had already eaten, so we decided to go out for coffee instead. She knew a place in the area, and fifteen minutes later, we were sitting inside a poorly lit room drinking. Frappachino for Nechama. Black coffee for me.

“So you knew my dad,” she said, after the server walked away from our table. It was a statement, not a question, and I nodded yes.

“When I was a little girl, I always dreamed that my dad would come and pick me up and take me to the park or the zoo or something. And then one day, I just stopped caring about him. If he didn’t want us, I mean, why should I give two shits about him, ya know.”

As she talked about growing up without a father, I thought about my girls. Were they destined to have a similar conversation when they grew up?

There time would come for my attention. Tonight, I was focusing on Nechama.

“Did you know him well,” she asked.

“A long time ago I did, back when we were your age. Your dad was my best friend growing up.”

“We did everything together. We were roommates in Yeshiva, spent vacations together, hung out in the same crowd. Hell, I even married an ex-girlfriend of his.”

“So what happened,” she asked.

“He left. He walked out on my life and I never saw him again. That was 17 years ago. Until the past few months, I never realized how much I missed your dad.”

“What happened over the past few months?”

“I got a call from a hospital telling me he had died. He had no family, no friends, he just died alone. So I flew to Phoenix where he had been living, and that’s when I discovered he had a daughter. I did some investigating, and found you.”

I tried to read Nechama’s face as I talked about her dad. It was probably the first time she had ever heard anything more than basic details about his life. I wondered what she was feeling, but did not feel like I had the right to ask.

I finished my coffee, and called the waiter over to refill my cup.

After he walked away, I continued.

“The first time I ever heard a word about you was when I read this letter. I don’t know when he wrote it, and I can’t answer every question you have about him. I hadn’t seen him since right after I got married.”

I reached into my pocket, and pulled out the folded letter Yoni had left for me on his computer. I held it out to her, and she reached out and took it.

“This is a scary letter,” I said to her as she unfolded it. “I don’t know if he was crazy or using drugs or what when he wrote it.”

I drank my coffee and waited as she read the letter.

“What does this all mean,” she asked me. “All the screaming and voices. Do you know what the fuck he’s talking about? And the money, is he serious? Or is this whole thing some bullshit?”

“The money is real, Nechama. I have paperwork we can get to tomorrow. But if you have the time, I want to tell you a story about your dad. I don’t think he ever recovered from what happened. And your mom had the bad luck to walk into his life right in the middle of it all.”

“You see, a long time ago, Yoni and I found this abandoned house,” I began. I told her about the things we had found there, and how each summer we would always go back.

Throughout fifteen years of marriage, I had never told Fran this story. Of all the stories in my life, this was the one that mattered, but I could never quite force this story out. I wondered if I would have the strength to tell the whole story to Nechama.

I thought back to that day 19 years earlier, and suddenly, I was there again.

“What do you wanna do tomorrow,” Yoni asked.

“Let’s go to the Smithson house for one last time,” I answered. “We haven’t been there all summer, and I don’t think I am coming back to the mountains next year, so this is like, my last shot to go there.”

“OK,” Yoni said. “But first we’re stopping for some pizza in Liberty. If I eat any more of this camp food I’ll fuckin die.”

The next morning we davened, and jumped in Yoni’s car, heading for Pizza. We grabbed a few slices, saw some girls that we knew, and then headed out to the Smithson house.

The conversation was light and the music was loud. Yoni told me he had broken up with Fran, and he didn’t even know they were dating. “You fool around with someone for a couple of vacations, all of the sudden they think they’re your girlfriend,” he said to me.

Yoni had his eye on a different girl, and he was supposed to hook up with her that night. Pizza, bowling, dance club. Who knew? Menachem had told him that this girl puts out a little, and Yoni was hoping to get a little action before the night was over. As for me, I was hoping to see Fran, but I wasn’t ready to tell him that.

It was about 12:30 by the time we got to the Smithson house. Three hours, we had promised ourselves. Then, we needed to get back, shit, shower, shave, and get ready for our off night.

We each had our favorite areas of the house. Yoni loved going through the basement, I liked exploring the master bedroom.

We noticed someone had been to the house since the last time we were there. Probably some camp kids who stumbled on it just like we did, Yoni laughed. Neither of us thought anything of the footprints leading into the house. We walked into the house, and each went our separate ways. Yoni, downstairs. Me upstairs.

I walked into the master bedroom, and started to laugh. There were sheets hanging off the bed, like someone had been sleeping there. I walked over to the closet, and opened it, expecting to see the vintage clothes hanging there. As I opened the closet door, a hand reached out from behind and grabbed me.

“Make a noise, and you die, bitch,” the stranger said to me. The stranger had a knife in one hand, and I could see what I thought was a gun sticking up above his waist.

He was strong, and the knife waving in front of my face was all the convincing I needed to listen. He pointed me over to a chair, and took out some rope from his bag.

He never took his eyes off me as I walked over to the wooden chair that was on the other side of the room.

“That’s right, piss head, nice and slow. Stop.”

I stopped. I was terrified.

“Take off your clothes before you sit down.”

I unbuttoned my shirt and he saw my tzitith.

“A Jew,’” he said, “I’m gonna whup me up some Jew Stew tonight.”

He saw me hesitating. “Take it off, take it all off so I can see your tiny little jew prick.” The knife in his hand told me he was serious.

I did what I was told, and sat down on the chair. I straddled it, so that I was facing the back. and my captor tied me securely to the chair.

“I’m gonna enjoy killing you, jew, and then I’m gonna cook you.”

Before that moment, I had never known fear. The real fear. Not fear of a test, or a teacher, or of failure. Fear of dying, and no one finding out what happened to you.

I wondered if anyone else was in the house with this monster, and then I remembered Yoni. Yoni was in the basement, looking through the Smithson’s storage area. Every time he had gone down their, he came up with someone incredible; I wondered how the day was going to end for him.

I was completely immobilized. My feet were tied together in front of the chair, and my hands were geld down with a rope that looped under the chair. I was tightly gagged, and could barely make a sound. There was no way to call for help, or to warn Yoni.

I watched the man as he took out a flask, and took a swig. He had been quiet since he tied me up, but he started talking to me again.

“I ain’t never ate a man before,” he said. “Girl’s, women, yeah. But you’re the first man.” He pulled a tray out of the closet, and brought it over. “This is my collection.” Mounted on the board were bones. “Everyone I eat, I keep something to remember them by.”

Until that moment, it had never occurred to me that he was actually going to kill and eat me.

“You ever think what its like to watch someone cut you up and eat you, cuz today you’re gonna get your chance,” he whispered in my ear. “You’re gonna get to watch.”

“I always like to start with some toe soup. Maybe I’ll cut your dick off and toss it in for flavor. Toe dick soup. Don’t that sound fine.”

“I’ve been doing this a long time, so don’t you worry. Ain’t no part of you gonna be wasted. I don’t know how long I’ll keep you around for. This wuz this one bitch, I kept her alive until all she was was a stump with a head. And I fucked her good, that legless stump bitch. He pointed to a bone on the souvenir tray.

“That was her.”

He took another swig from his flask, and walked to the corner of the room. He had a burner in the corner, and gallons of water stacked against the wall. He took out a pot from the closet, and filled it halfway with water. Then he put it on the burner, and started to boil the water.

“Yer toes goin in there.” He laughed a loud, devilish laugh, and walked around the room.

“I’ve been doing this for since I was a kid, younger then you, I’ll bet. I even got a special knife for carving.” He put the knife he had been carrying down on the bed, and reached into his bag. He pulled out a shiny knife. “Jewboy, meet Carver. He’s gonna be the last thing you feel, when this is all over. I’m gonna shove him straight up yer ass, and cut up yer back. That’s when you’re gonna die.”

He reached into his bag again, and pulled out a rubber cord. “This here, now, this is yer friend. This is gonna keep you alive.” He carried the rubber cord over to me, and tied it tightly around my leg.

The water on the burner was starting to boil. “One order of toe soup coming up.” He held my foot firmly in his hand, and cut through my foot as easily as if was butter. Intense pain shot through from my leg straight through my body, and I tried to scream, but the gag on my mouth kept any noise from coming out. He made three more slices, each one more painful than the last, and then he showed me four bloody toes in his hand. He walked over to the pot, and tossed them into the boiling the water. Then he took out an onion and some carrots from his closet, and sliced them up with the knife, before tossing them into the pot.

I don’t know when he got there, but I saw Yoni standing just outside the door. Our eyes met for a second, and then I looked away.

“Not too much meat on yer bones, boy, but you can’t complain when a meal walks into your room.” He stirred the soup, and walked back over to me. He was standing right in front of me, looking intently at me. He reached for his flask, and took two more swigs. His back was to the door of the room; he had not seen Yoni standing there.

“I ain’t never had toe dick soup, but if I cut yer dick off, how am I gonna keep you from bleeding out. Fuck it. I don’t need you to be alive.”

“I’m gonna cut it all off. Dick nuts and all.”

He took my penis in his hand, and ran his knife along my leg, slicing it open.

He moved his knife away from my leg, about to cut off my penis. He never heard Yoni coming, and didn’t know there was another soul in the room until he felt his own hunting knife under his back, and twist.

The knife in my captor’s hand fell harmlessly to the ground. He never saw Yoni. He was dead before he hit the floor.

I looked at Nechama. “Your dad saved my life, but he was never the same after that. Neither of us were.”

“Yoni carried me to the car. Then he went back to the house. He took out his cigarette lighter, and lit some furniture and papers on fire. Then, he took me to the hospital, where they stitched up my leg and closed the wounds on my feet. We told them I had a lawnmower accident.”

“I’ll always owe your dad, for the rest of my life. I have never told that story to anyone. Not my ex-wife, friends, anyone. Yoni and I never talked about it either. I think we thought that if we pretended it didn’t happen, the memories would disappear. But they never have.”

“I think the reason he left your mom was he didn’t think someone who killed, no matter what the reason, could be around kids. Just a gut feeling I have.”

I had been talking for over an hour, and it was late.

Nechama hadn’t said anything since I began telling her the story, and I looked at her, wondering if I had burdened the wrong person with my story.

“That is the most horrible story I ever heard,” she said, as we waited outside for a cab.” We took the taxi back to her mother’s house, to drop her off.

We both got out of the cab when we reached her building. I paid the taxi driver, and walked Nechama to the building entrance.

“I need the air,” I told her. I’m gonna walk the thirty blocks to my hotel.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Thanks for telling me about my dad. I’m glad he was there for you.”

She turned, and walked into the building. I headed back uptown to my hotel.

The preceeding work is fiction. You can find the beginning of this story earlier on this blog.

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    Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

    ~~~~~~~~ I might need some air, too. (thank you. you didn't disappoint, now on the epilogue)

    10:34 AM  
    Blogger swiftthinker said...

    whoa!! that's too much. Are you really frum?

    11:41 AM  
    Blogger Krunk said...

    woweeee damn thats freaky....Air,you are seriously an amzing yet morbid writer...and I love it.

    1:38 PM  
    Blogger Just Shu said...

    walking 30 blocks on a foot missing four toes is impressive

    11:10 PM  
    Blogger Veev said...

    This was something, Dear.

    8:59 PM  
    Blogger Just Passing Through said...

    You are one twisted man. I love it.

    10:15 AM  
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