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.
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.
Jeff 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.