Short Stories


She sits by you at dinner.
It is 1991. It is your best friend's bar mitzvah and you are dressed more formally than you have ever been before. That is, you are not wearing anything ratty or with a Marvel character on it. You are in a tan sweater that smells like Woolite. There are plenty of spaces at the hotel banquet table, but no. It’s you she places her blue and white paper plate next to.

She sits by you and you are frozen instantly.

“This is the –
fanciest food –
I've ever seen."

She twists her face.
You consider repeating yourself.
You both stare down at your piece of chicken kiev. There are three good bites left. You look at her plate with extreme curiosity. You want to see what a girl like her eats. You want to see what fuels her.

She’s got a crostini with pâté. Three carrot chips. A big mash of potatoes. She smiles in a vague, unnerving way, the way people smile at you when you have something in your teeth.

You suspect she is smarter than you.

She looks down at her potatoes and starts eating.

As she eats, she makes this almost-indecipherable humming noise. You can barely hear, even when the music fades to something smoother. You picture her as a bunny, lolling through the wild grasses in your back lawn. Soft and hay colored. You want to pet her on her floppy ears. You want to scoop her into a cardboard box and let her live next to your bed. You want to protect her.

She is dressed in a crisp jumper with a small tie around the neck.

She definitely looks smarter than you. Your tie is a clip-on and you keep adjusting it, unconsciously. Your underwear are uncomfortably new, starchy, stubbly. You are extra conscious of them at this precise moment.

She looks soft all over.

The banquet room is one giant sparkle. Blank compact discs hang from the ceiling. Burgundies and blues all over. Sparkling stars of David. The room is uncomfortably large. All of Taylor is here. Even the 6th graders, it appears.

She wants to talk about the ceremony. As she does you catch slight glimpses of her pink tongue.

Bunny rabbit.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” you agree. “But you don’t really believe it do you, I mean, all the chanting and stuff in Hebrew? My mom says it’s more just a custom now. A tradition.”

She looks puzzled or offended.
She might leave at any second to go talk to other boys. You should not have mentioned your mom. You will probably never see her this up-close again. You don’t think she’s Jewish, but you’re really not sure. This is the first time you’ve said more than 6 words to her. She’s just looking down into her plate, fidgeting with her gilded fork.

“I mean, I guess it’s cool, if you believe in that sort of thing,” you say.

She takes a final bite of her potatoes.

“Yeah. Excuse me.”

She wipes her mouth with the blue napkin and retreats towards the lobby of the hotel, walking slow. Like a death march.
You itch.

Your favorite song comes on. It’s time to dance. You join Kevin and Anji on the dance floor. The three of you move your arms, then your legs, then your arms again. You stop for a minute to tie your dress shoes and it occurs to you your friends look mechanically dull while dancing. You dance anyway, getting within feet of a circle of girls from your science class.

Synth bass to violin. The floor clears and everyone stands along the perimeter, fidgeting. Maybe they all have on new underwear that is starchy.

Little by little, couples connect and enter the floor. Not dancing is worse than being picked last for dodgeball. Kevin surprises you all by asking Mindy to join in. You and Anji laugh and walk to the cookie table. You’re cool. You both like cookies a lot.

Bunny rabbit. She is walking towards you.

"Oh Christ," you say out loud, loud.

It's not a vanity. It's an actual prayer.

She keeps walking.

"Oh, Christ. Please, Christ."

She looks older.

“She’s coming to dance with me,” you announce.

“That would take a miracle,” Anji says.

She is walking quickly, like, perfectly in sway with the music.

You hold out a cookie, offering it to her, but she won’t. She grabs your cookie-free hand and leads you to the floor. 36 steps.

She is wearing lipstick. Cherrysauce red, cheesecake cheeks. She turns to face you. She starts to lead. You won’t know she’s leading for 10 more years. Her jumper is soft, finest wale corduroy.

She is soft and you are remarkably, comfortable.

You are saying hilarious old-man things. This is not nonchalant, this is what you know. You are a very old man trapped in a very fragile, highly temperamental body. She trips over her low high heel. You grab her tighter. You are an anchor. You are singularly focused. You are the eye of the tiger. Yes, tiger. That heaving beast that usually eats boys like you for an after school snack.

It is your best friend’s bar mitzvah, and for the first time in your life, you believe in Jesus Christ.

You believe.