"You've got to be kidding with that crap," Chris said.
Cathy's face reddened. "Please don't call it crap." She sat stiffly and correctly at the table with her hands clasped not in prayer but in the left hand's attempt to prevent the right hand from throwing her rosary beads at her brother.
"Did Mom and Dad forget to tell you we're Jewish?"
"No, they did not forget to tell me."
"So what's the problem?"
"There is no problem."
"The problem is that you're a Jew saying a Christian prayer."
"I have Jesus in my heart," Cathy said, believing for an instant that a simple declaration of truth would be understandable to her brother, or anyone.
"For all I care," he said, "you can have Jesus up your"
"Chris, if I'm a Jew, that means you're a Jew too, right?"
"Yeah. You, me, Dad, Mom. It runs in the family."
"And how do you practice your Judaism?"
"Practice it? I don't practice it. That's the beauty of Judaism in this family and families like ours all across America. We're not the kind of Jews where you do anything. We're the kind where you just are it. Judaism isn't just a religion. It's a whole, like, thing."
When did this twit get so good at arguing? "Religion is stupid, anyway," Chris said. "It's the crack cocaine of the masses."
Cathy made a gesture at her brother that was definitely not a sign of the cross.
Bernie Schwartz entered the kitchen and looked at his children as if he were bewildered to find them in his house. [ He sat at the kitchen table in front of a cup of coffee and tapped the right side of his face idly with the back of his spoon, unaware that light brown droplets of coffee were clinging to his cheek.
In the quiet kitchen, the tapping of the spoon against wet flesh made a liquid plop like big drops of water falling from a great height onto a pile of wet towels. "Dad, get a grip," Chris said.
Cathy gently took the spoon from her father and clasped his hand in her two. She wanted to communicate the compassion she felt for him in her heart through the look in her eyes. She tried to be careful in her actions. She focused on each gesture she made because she wanted Jesus to love her. She said, "What's wrong, Father?"
"Father'?" Chris said. "His name is Father' now? Dad, what's wrong with you?"
"The right side of my face is numb."
"What do you mean, numb? You mean like it's not there?"
"Oh it's there, I just can't feel it."
"Yeah well don't tap it with a spoon, you're creeping me out, man."
Cathy removed her hands from her father's and wiped the coffee from his cheek with her napkin. The tremor in her hands wasn't the outward sign of some kind of saintly passion, it was the outward sign of the fear of a 16-year-old girl whose father was falling apart.
Bernie said, "I think my Prozac dosage may be off."
"You should call Dr. Moreau," Cathy said.
Bernie dutifully went to the phone on the wall by the dishwasher and punched in the number of his psychiatrist, Dr. Jacques Moreau. "Hello, this is Dr. Moreau speaking on a tape..." said the faintly French-accented recorded message of Dr. Moreau.
When it was Bernie's turn to speak, he said, "First, I wonder what idiot doesn't know you're speaking on a tape. Second, the Prozac you're prescribing is making my face numb. Third, the Prozac is also giving me homicidal ideations that I'm unaware of, so unbeknownst to both of us I'm on my way over to your office to kill you. Listen, just call me back soon."
Chris said, "Look Sister, Father's got his sense of humor back."
Chris Schwartz met Frank Dial in the road. "Frank Dial" had become Chris's shorthand for joy itself; tough joyFrank was acerbic and dark and quick. He had a word for everything, and often not a nice one; justly so, Chris thought, for the world was often not a nice place. But it was nice for Chris to have a good friend who was accurate in speech. Chris himself was not accurate or even truthful a lot of the time. He kidded a lot in a haphazard waykidding without meaning itand he lied a bit as well. He had a stern principle about accuracy and honesty in speech that he said he took pride in not living up to. Anyway he didn't have to live up to it because Frank Dial lived up to it for him.
From The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe - pages 3 to 16 and 22-30. Copyright Matthew Sharpe 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Soft Skull Press.
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No Man's Land
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