– Fierce Fiction by Heidi Schwartz – September 8, 2018
I am six years old and I go to Yeshiva and my name is Moshe.
In summer there is an old woman who lives in the radiator in the living room of my apartment. Every day at two o’clock she comes out of the radiator, flies across the room and back, and perches herself in the corner of the ceiling.
The way she sits above the radiator reminds me of evil ghosts. Her clothes are grey and her skirt is below her knees, and her hair is as grey as her face is grey, and she frightens me, but I like to see her anyway, and I wonder if my mother sees her.
Now that I am in school I cannot see her anymore. I like when I am home and not in school. At home I experiment with ants because I like to make them sneeze.
Now if you want to make an ant sneeze it is very simple. All you have to do is put the Mish Mash into a bowl. The mish mash is made of mud, nestles chocolate, flour, water, and salt and pepper. You mix the things in the bowl, put the ant inside, and then you put the salt and pepper in.
The salt and pepper is the most important part of all because without them you cannot make the ant sneeze. Then you listen carefully, and hope that you hear it sneeze. I usually cannot hear him sneezing, but somehow I know that he is because, everyone sneezes.In my backyard there is a murky pond where I play with the Frogs before breakfast, and every Tuesday morning my mother allows me to catch frogs, which I store in my room until Wednesday. When I return from school I play with them as much as possible, because I know I must put them back the next morning. You see, my mother does not like frogs which is why I am only allowed to play with ten frogs at a time. At one time I could play with as many frogs as I wanted, but I could not keep them from escaping my room, so pretty soon there were frogs everywhere. Frogs in the toilet, frogs in the kitchen, and frogs in my mother’s bed. It was like Moses with the Pharoah in Egypt.
This morning I have eggs for breakfast, which I hate, and a bite is taken for every relation I have. My mother asks me what two times two is, what four times four is, and she goes on and on until my head begins to spin and finally she stops. Some day I’m going to play the cello in the Mighty Mouse orchestra.
It’s a lovely Spring day. All my favorite animals and insects are out. The black ants are in their hole and the reds in their’s and the Children on the bus are horrible. They are always throwing things at me like gum and paper, but today one child sprays me with bug poison. The bus driver does not care.
At school the desks are arranged in rows except for the teacher’s desk. The teacher’s desk is in front of the room. There is a blackboard behind the desk where the teacher writes things. Most of the time I do not know what she is writing. There are twenty-five children in the class and all of them hate me. I don’t know why they hate me but I know that they do. Maybe it is because I am ugly, or maybe I am stupid. Or maybe it is because my name is Moshe. I wish that it was something else. Everyone is always pointing at me and laughing.
Today I am wearing danskin pants, and I have never been so embarrassed. I thought it would be all right because Sarah wears them sometimes, and every day they tease me because my pants are too short, but my danskin pants aren’t too short. But when I walk into the classroom all the children laugh and say, “Look at Moshe’s danskin pants.” And Karen says, “I can’t believe you’re wearing danskin pants, you turd.”
I have never seen so much laughter and so much fun and all because of me, and it does not stop, and it seems as if it won’t stop for quite some time.
The teacher is talking. She is often talking when I cannot hear her. Well, I do hear sometimes. Do you want to know when I hear her? I will tell you. When she tells stories I can hear her.
She speaks of Moses and the Pharoah of Egypt in such a way that I see blood and flies all over the place, and I wonder at how one stick can cause all that suffering and so much gore. But besides the stories I hear, I really don’t know why I am in school when I could be home making ants sneeze or talking to the woman in the radiator.
At this very moment, as my teacher is talking, and I am not listening, Sarah and her pals are laughing at me and pointing. It is not fair, I am just sitting here. Maybe it is that my pants are funny, or maybe they know I have to go to the bathroom, but how, you may wonder, do they know that? They know because all children read minds. They know what I am thinking, always, and I know what they are thinking…
They have stopped laughing because they know that at any moment I will burst into tears. Every day they make me cry and the more I cry the more they laugh. I hold my breath to stop the tears. I don’t like crying. It’s kind of like a mistake that you should erase from a paper.
I am afraid of Mrs. Peevy, my teacher, because sometimes she scolds me. She knows how to make me feel stupid, like the time she made an example of me for making mish mash in my notebook. She told us to copy the writing on the board neatly. She told us not to make mish mash, but that she wanted to see beautiful handwriting. “Mish mash, tee hee. Let’s make mish mash.” I wondered how it might look in my notebook and I decided to try it on the page. Afterwards, I finished her assignment and the teacher wanted to see. She saw the mish mash, and showed it to the class, and warned them not to follow my bad example. And an entire class of twenty-five children held their breath.
I am dreaming now…Moshe…Moshe…Moshe…Suddenly I realize she is asking me a question. She repeats the question in Hebrew. I answer in some strange language, maybe it’s my own, I don’t know which, but it is not Hebrew. Mrs. Peevy rolls her eyes, and says nothing afterward. I want to know what her eyes mean, but she says nothing.
Instead, she returns a test we took yesterday. When she comes to my desk I ask her what a test is. She says that they tell her what we know, and I wonder why anyone would want to know such a thing, especially since I don’t know anything. My question is still unanswered because I still do not know what it is. But my mother says they have something to do with report cards, where there are different letters from the alphabet.
It is still morning, and it is time for gym where we sometimes take “Egelety” tests. I do not know what this is, but my teacher tells me I am too slow, and I am glad we do not do that today. Today we play softball. First we choose teams, and as usual I am last to be chosen. I wait, hoping to be picked, until there are two children left, Sue Silverstein and myself. I am always hurt when they choose her first because she is even dorkier than I am. I am always called a dork. I think it must be a clumsy person who never does anything right. The other children tell us we should marry, but I can think of nothing worse than being connected with her in any way. Everyone hates us both so we seem a likely pair, but I think she is worse than I am. I know she is worse than I am.
Sue Silverstein is fat and I am not. She has an ugly voice and a grey tooth. She also says, “Anyone who is nice to me is my friend.” I am nice to her because I do not know how to be mean. Am I her friend? I hope not. She moves so slow and she is so large that they call her Bimbo. At least I am still called Moshe.
I wish every day that the other children were me, and that I were them because they seem so happy when they tease me that I want to have as much fun as they do.
We are ready to play, but first all the children give themselves coody shots against me. I wonder at the pain they suffer because of me. You see, these shots are very painful, and sometimes they take as long as five minutes to receive.
When we return we visit a man. Everyone leaves the room returning fifteen minutes later, and I am the last one. I tell him I want a very special hat. A hat that permits me to see everyone but keeps everyone from seeing me. Why do I want this hat? I don’t know myself, but I know that I do. Maybe, if I had the hat, it would not matter how ugly I was or what I did, because who can laugh at you if they don’t know who you are, and they can’t know who you are if they can’t see you. For some reason the man says, “Come with me,” and after looking at many pictures with black blots I go back to my class two hours later. I hope I see the man again. He is a nice man, and I like him. He cares what I think, and listens more carefully than my mother.
My teacher is talking about God. We learn that God is ubiquitous, whatever that means. It sounds awful, whatever it is, and I hope he doesn’t do it near me. We also learn that God is in our stomachs, in the cars, in the buses, in our clothes, and the toilet when we go to the bathroom. God is everywhere. I hate going to the bathroom. I know that God is there, watching me. I know I am strange because everyone always tells me I am, and what I do in the bathroom can’t be the same as what everyone else does, so I am even more embarrassed than most people. I am hoping that he looks away, sometimes, so that we might have some privacy, at least once in a while. After all, he does seem to be very busy with all the people he must watch, and he could make things easier for himself by not always being in the toilet.
There are so many ways to make God angry. If you lie, for example, God is angry, and if you call someone a bad name God curses you, and he does this in a very special way. For example, if I call Sue a reject or a turd, he removes the turd from her and puts it on me instead. It hardly seems worth cursing anyone at all. Also I am terribly guilty, because I make promises I cannot possibly keep. Like the time I promised God I’d jump off the roof of my house, a thing I never did.
In school we also learn about death and the future, and Mrs. Peevy is talking about that now. I know that someday I will be sixteen, and someday I will be old and die. Sometimes I try to imagine all this, and I can’t believe it will ever happen, but I know that it must. I see myself old and dying in a dark room on a bed. It is my room and I live in an apartment in Astoria, Queens, dying of some disease, cancer maybe or old age. Maybe my wife will have died, and I don’t want to live anymore without her. Or sometimes I imagine that my mother dies suddenly, and I begin to cry. I will have to live with my Aunt Sylvia, and I will be miserable because she is mean. I suddenly realize that she is not dead and I am being silly, but I want to know, do we just die or do we have another life? Maybe we come back as insects, like ants, or cats or dogs. Dogs and cats have nice lives because they don’t have to go to school or think like people do. Sometimes I dream I am a kitten. It is a happy dream, but then I wake up and realize that I am Moshe again.
About the Author – Heidi Schwartz
Heidi Schwartz has been a New York City poet for upwards of 25 years. Her life experience includes theater acting, yoga and all kinds of dance. Her publications include an Anthology, “The Poetry of Yoga.” In addition there are small magazines such as “The Linear,” “Poets Wear Prada,” “The Dana Literary Society,” and others. By the 1990’s she had an MA in Creative Writing from NYU where she studied with Galway Kinnell, Robert Stone, and Carolyn Forche to name a few. She teaches Yoga and writes in New York City. She is affiliated with Boricua College.
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