A TEMPORARY SOLUTION
Benjamin's mother screwed her face into a grimace. "You're
twelve years old, Benny. The holocaust happened fifty years ago,
halfway across the world." She pushed a box of Wheaties across
the table. "You're not even Jewish. Now eat some cereal."
Benjamin sipped his grapefruit juice.
He wiped his chin with a napkin. "You can't fool me, Mother."
"I'm not trying to." She
crossed her arms over her chest. "Take a piece of toast."
Benjamin leaned forward and whispered,
"I remember what I remember."
"You can't remember what never
happened to you, Benny." She began to clear the breakfast dishes.
"You need a psychiatrist."
"I don't need a psychiatrist,
Mother. I need the truth." He pounded his small fist on the
table. "When did you adopt me?"
Rinsing spoons in the sink, she shook
her head. "After you kicked around in my womb for nearly ten
months. You want a Pop Tart?"
He shook his head. "I want to
know if I was cryogenically frozen after the War."
"At least drink the rest of your
Benjamin hurled his half-empty glass
at the refrigerator. The tumbler shattered and sent a sputter of
pink juice dripping down the refrigerator, trailing a rainbow of
rivulets through Bnjamin's sister's watercolor portrait of the family.
"Don't lie, Mom. They froze me
after they found me in Dachau at the age of four. They didn't know
what to do with me so they froze me until they could find parents.
I remember it! I remember the bunkbeds and the rats and the gas
chambers and the Nazis and the -- "
With a soft grunt, Benjamin's mother
pitched the porcelain cookie jar at the refrigerator door. The jar
didn't shatter, but broke into three big shards that fell with a
clank. Two dozen chocolate chip cookies rolled around the linoleum
like so many fat coins spinning into stillness.
Benjamin's mother placed a fist on
her hip. The other hand pointed a finger down the hallway. "Get
to your room, Benjamin, before I show you a real gas chamber. If
you're still a holocaust survivor in one hour, well, then we'll
go straight to the goddamn mental health clinic and check you in.
You got that, mister?"
Benjamin nodded. He sulked down the
long hall to his bedroom, hanging his head and sucking in his gut
in an effort to look gaunt and oppressed. He closed the bedroom
door behind him. He gingerly rubbed the little serial number drawn
in ball point pen on his forearm.
2. THE HEAD OF OUR DIVISION
Yesterday Chad, the head of our division, played a prank. He switched
Paul Cropp's lunch with a sack of moldy dog shit. Paul came into
the break room and pulled the sack out of the fridge. Carol started
to giggle so hard her tits vibrated. Paul reached into the sack
for his sandwich. Carol laughed so hard I thought she'd piss herself.
Paul's face went red, then white. He pulled out his hand. It was
all brown and gray and gooey. He threw up right there on the lunch
room table. Chad patted Paul on the back and told him his real lunch
was in the cabinet under the sink. Paul didn't eat it, though. He
took half a sick day and went home.
So this morning I'm at my desk reading
the sports page when Paul gets off the elevator in a matched set
of maroon silk pajamas. I assume he's up to some kind of revenge
prank. The real kicker is the slippers, though. He walks in with
a big, fuzzy head of a German Shepherd on each foot. Carol's eyes
balloon. She gets going right away with her stupid giggles. Chad
scratches his cheek and cocks his eyebrows.
"Hey," he says, "what's
up with the pajamas, dog-shit boy?"
Paul says, "Good morning, Chad."
"Ah well," Chad says, "why
the hell not? I mean, you pretty much sleep all day anyway. Right,
Paul sets his briefcase on his desk.
With this bizarre, almost mystical, summer day smile on his face,
Paul reaches into the briefcase and pulls out a pistol.
Chad waves his hands and says, "Oh.
Hold on there, Paul. I was. Just. Kidding. Paul? You're making.
A big. A big. A big. Mistake."
Paul walks right up to Chad and points
the barrel of the gun at Chad's temple.
"Whoa," Chad says, louder
now, "Paul, don't. Please. I. My. Wife."
Paul says, "Goodbye, Chad."
Chad's head splatters all over Carol's
desk. His body slumps to the floor. The phone beeps, but no one
moves to answer it.
Paul turns to Carol. Her giggles get
all crazy and pathetic, like maybe if she giggles hard enough Paul
will just go away. I try to tell her with my eyes to just shut up,
but she doesn't look at me.
"Paul?" she says.
"Yes, Carol?" he says.
She clutches at her neck. Her giggles
stop. She holds up the tiny gold cross on her necklace as if Paul
is a vampire. He presses the gun to her forehead. She whimpers.
"Goodbye, Carol" he says.
Her head splashes all over the TEAMWORK
poster tacked on the wall. Her body collapses onto the orange sofa
where job applicants used to wait a long time for Chad to get off
Paul walks toward me. His fuzzy German
Shepherds flop ahead like they want to nibble on my shins or something.
Paul is still smirking. His eyes sparkle. I get down on my knees
and I beg.
Thank God he settles for a blow job.
I sure wish the cops were quicker to respond, though.
3. THE ABORTED DOCUMENTARY
A static-filled screen flashes to a head shot of the filmmaker's
mother seated on a maroon and gold ottoman. She is medium-plump
with short, graying, brown curls and slightly oversized bifocals.
She wears a pink sweatshirt under a blue and white checked apron.
Her face sports the prominent lower lip and cocked eyebrow of the
matron coerced by her progeny, without explanation, into sitting
before a video camera.
The filmmaker's voice -- resolute
and quasi-formal -- addresses her from behind the camera. "Ready?"
he asks. She shrugs her shoulders. "Here's the deal, Mom. Talk
about me as if I died last week. You've got two minutes."
Her eyebrows rumple down on the bridge
of her nose. She draws a quick breath, audible over the thrum of
the refrigerator in the kitchen and the murmur of the television
in another room.
"Go ahead," her son says.
She glances into the lens, then at
her lap. "What do you mean?" she asks.
"I mean, I died last week. Just
run with it, Mom. There's a, you know, a film crew interviewing
you about me."
"You and that damn camcorder,"
"So talk about me, not
"Jesus Christ," she mutters.
"He was a good boy."
"What more do you want?"
"Something a bit more interesting."
"Interesting?" She takes
a cigarette from her apron pocket and lights it. "I'll give
you interesting. He thought he got away with things."
"Oh, you don't want to know."
"Sure we do."
She raises her chin. "No you
"Mom, my film will be better
if you just tell the truth. So, what sorts of things did he think
he got away with?"
"This," she says, and waves
her cupped hand in the universal gesture for masturbation. "That
boy kept naked magazines under his mattress and played with himself
three, four, five times a day up until the day he died."
"Mother -- "
"No, really, he would do it in
his bedroom or the bathroom or even in the TV room when he thought
no one knew he was watching the sexy movies."
"O.K., O.K. Stop. Enough."
After a long pause in which his mother's face spreads into a ruthless
smile, the filmmaker asks, "Did he do anything you'll remember
"Oh, come on, Mom."
She shrugs again. "Well, he tried
acting, music, even writing for the local paper, but he wasn't very
good. Not really. Not in a way that anyone would take notice."
She gives the camera a wink. "He was mainly just a kid who
never appreciated his mother and shot his wad into bath towels which
she then had to drag from his bedroom and pile into the washer."
The camera darts toward the floor
where, for a split second, it captures a blurry view of the filmmaker's
mother's worn, white sneakers and the frayed cuffs of her pant-legs.
The screen zips into a white blip at the center and fades into a
flurry of black and white snow.