UES65

FICTION

THE CELL PHONES BY KAREN BENDER

T he rabbi told us, as he always did, to turn off our cell phones before he began the service. So I pressed that button on the side of the phone and saw its long face go dark. I was ready to reform, after all. It was, again, Rosh Hashanah. It was the beginning of the New Year, which meant that it was time to contemplate my various failings and imagine how to become a better person. I stood at the cusp of the year, surrounded by other members of Beth-Em Synagogue, everyone clad in their suits and fine dresses and pumps and satin yarmulkes. How elegant we all looked, how shimmery and crisp and presentable. The scents of rose and orange drifted through the air. It seemed that all of us had taken special care dressing this year. We were shoulder to shoulder, we knew each other and we didn’t, and inside, everyone was grimy in a precise, individual way.

her new height. Everyone appeared to be closer to imagining their better selves. I was trying, too, to imagine this, but my mind kept swerving the wrong way. I considered the catalogue of my personal failures. There was the time I snapped at the cashier at the supermarket when she refused to give me a student discount even though I was not a student; there was the fact that I never returned the cashmere sweater

that Mara Stein loaned me because I found it soft and comforting in a way I could not release. There was the moment I swooped in and stole a parking place from Stan Tamkin, whose truck was adorned with the worst bumper stickers, and who was sitting, unfortunately, just a few rows away from me. There was the time I yelled at those who had done nothing really and were just in the way of my anger, and there were the many times I woke up, read the newspaper, and felt like a pancake of defeat. I closed my eyes and tried to see myself as different. I wished I could move through this bruised, shoddy world like a giant, in a way that was grand and brave and perhaps even helpful, but whenever I tried to imagine this version of myself, my mind slammed shut. I was a dwarf of bitterness. And I was not able to access this better self, no, for I was mired in

We all peered into the ark, its tall oak doors now open. The sheer white curtains floated lightly over the Torahs, adorned in their crimson velvet cases; they looked as though they were ready to go to an expensive restaurant or a wedding. The cantor’s voice soared as he sung the deep notes of “Avinu Malkeinu,” all of us bowing slightly before the ark, trying to appear humble, or concerned, assuming the blank

and philosophical expressions particular to the High Holy Days. The other congregants were so focused I envied them. There was the temple secretary, Chaya Weiss, skilled at silence while voices argued over her; her eyes were closed and her eyelid twitched as she, perhaps, viewed her transgressions, whatever they were. There was Max Lowenstein, ten years old and wriggly; he was still for a moment, chin lifted, hands by his sides, as though at a military parade. And there was Gina Gordon, twelve, standing very straight in three-inch heels, glancing, with veiled interest, at everyone from

my own personal grievances. I wanted. I wanted everything I shouldn’t; I wanted a load of cash and a Jacuzzi tub in our bathroom and everyone to stop yelling and I wanted everyone in this nation to shut up and listen to me. Why couldn’t everyone just listen to me? I wanted sometimes to escape to another life and I wanted to freeze time so my children and husband would always be who they were at certain perfect moments and I wanted my family and friends to appreciate the love I wanted to lavish on them, but everyone kind of preferred their Copyright © 2018 by Karen E. Bender, from The New Order . Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint Press.

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