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Thursday

Flash Reprint: Jeff Friedman’s “Judges”

Judges

by Jeff Fried­man

After the guest ate all the pota­toes and the whole brisket, after he ate the tzimmes, the roasted beets and the fruit cock­tail, he called for Eli­jah to enter the door, for Elisha to send a hatchet on the water, for Joshua to blow his trum­pet. He called for Moses to drum up more busi­ness in this poor econ­omy. He touched his Star of David. He touched the mezuzah on the door. Something’s wrong, he said. This house has lost its har­mony. What can we do? we asked. He didn’t answer. Instead he ate the chick­peas, the hum­mus and all the leav­ened and unleav­ened bread. He ate the honey cake and the prune pud­ding. What else could we feed him? Would he fix the piece of Torah nailed to our door­way? Would he bring peace? Would he boil the pots and pans and say a prayer? Would he rock back and forth in his white shawl? Next, he ate the porce­lain bowls, plates and all the sil­ver­ware, then the glasses and table­cloth. He ate the chairs and the din­ner table and then the couch and cof­fee table. He ate our phones so we couldn’t call for help. He ate the dust, the par­ti­cles of debris and shed skin, the shad­ows with their long threats, the voices ris­ing from the floor­boards, the bless­ings that failed to bless. When he fin­ished, when the place was empty, he looked us over, flash­ing his teeth. As we backed away from him, he belched loudly, said a prayer. “That should take care of the prob­lem,” he announced. Now there was noth­ing left to fight over, but noth­ing was more than enough.

 

 

Note: “Judges” ini­tially appeared in Sen­tence: Jour­nal of prose poet­ics, and in my book Pre­tenders, pub­lished by Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­sity Press in 2014.


 

Author’s Note

The title comes from the Jew­ish bible. I’ve always writ­ten midrashic pieces (sto­ries and poems that rein­ter­pret bib­li­cal texts), and this would fall into that cat­e­gory though I was not retelling or rein­ter­pret­ing any par­tic­u­lar Jew­ish story. Dur­ing the course of the story, I alluded to Moses, Elisha, and Eli­jah. I struc­tured the story around the idea of wait­ing for Eli­jah dur­ing the Passover seder, leav­ing a door open for him to enter. The guest invited to din­ner is a rabbi, who rec­og­nizes that there may be some dis­cord in the house­hold. The rabbi is a com­pos­ite char­ac­ter based on at least three dif­fer­ent men from my youth–one a rabbi, one a poet, and one a prophet (Samuel) all of whom were bril­liant, but also push­ing the edge of crazi­ness in their demands on every­one around them. The rabbi in my story first con­sumes all the food set in front of him and then when he fin­ishes that, he begins to eat every­thing else, table and fur­ni­ture included. There is a comic dimen­sion in hav­ing a guest lit­er­ally eat the cou­ple out of house and home. The rabbi may be involved in the task of restor­ing har­mony to the cou­ple or he may actu­ally be a destruc­tive force or he may just be some­one who wor­ships a good meal and is used to being fed for free. The nar­ra­tor in the story isn’t sure him­self. When the whole thing is over, the man and woman are left with each other, reduced to the anger that has become the norm of their rela­tion­ship. At the time I wrote this, I was con­sid­er­ing writ­ing my own book of Judges using char­ac­ters from my past, but instead I’ve become involved with a book of fables, para­bles, mini tales, comic sketches, dream sto­ries and other prose pieces.

 

pubphotofromjfriedman.jpgJeff Fried­man’s sixth col­lec­tion of poetry, Pre­tenders, was pub­lished by Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­sity Press in Feb­ru­ary 2014. His poems, mini sto­ries and trans­la­tions have appeared in many lit­er­ary mag­a­zi­nes, includ­ing Amer­i­can Poetry Review, Poetry, New Eng­land Review, The Anti­och Review, Poetry Inter­na­tional, Hotel Amerika, Vestal Review, Quick Fic­tion, Flash Fic­tion Funny, Smoke­long Quar­terly, Prairie Schooner, 100-Word Story, Plume, Sol­stice, and The New Repub­lic. Dzvinia Orlowsky’s and his trans­la­tion of Memo­ri­als by Pol­ish Poet Mieczs­law Jas­trun was pub­lished by Laven­der Ink/Dialogos in August 2014.


 

FF.Net Edi­tor Com­men­tary (Ran­dall Brown) 

As Fried­man notes above, “Judges” is rich with allusions–to Moses, Elisha, and Eli­jah. Work­ing within a con­fined space can be, well, con­fin­ing. Allu­sion allows the flash writer to bring in other texts and expand the flash beyond its com­pressed bound­aries. Using allu­sions to time­less texts avoids “dat­ing” the flash; e.g., allud­ing to a Sein­feld episode. So allude away, like Keats and Milton–the poet, not the toaster.

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