Robert Douglas Friedman
A Day of Miracles
I was at Jeremy’s house. We were supposed to be in Hebrew school. Jeremy, the rabbi’s son, was cutting school because his father and mother had just announced their plans to get divorced. I was cutting school because Aaron Weissman was waiting there to beat the crap out of me again. These twice-weekly beatings had led me to seriously question the existence of God.
I may as well say up front that most people thought Jeremy was crazy but I figured his life was crazy, not him. Jeremy’s father, Rabbi Goldman, had been spotted one night gettting to know the president of the Sisterhood in a biblical way on the leather couch of his study. Not surprisingly, the rebbe was now in the midst of a marital meltdown. Also, rumor had it that he was about to be fired.
“Come on,” Jeremy said, wiping his mouth with the back of a small hand and slamming his beer can down on the kitchen counter. A fountain of beer splashed the tiled wall. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
They lived on Mountain View Lane, in a house owned by the synagogue. It had a spiral staircase in the living room and glass skylights everywhere. You could see the lights of the city from the front of the house and nothing but woods from the back.
Those woods were wet from last night’s rain. We marched up the muddy trail, Jeremy sloshing along in his new leather dress shoes.
“Man, it’s great in here,” Jeremy said. “Nobody around, nobody yelling or fighting, none of that shit. Just the trees and the leaves and the brook. Speaking of water, hold on, I’ve got to drain the monster.”
I looked away as Jeremy unzipped and let loose a trickle and then a strong steady stream.
“Hey, what’s that?” he said, zipping up. He pointed at the underbrush.
I looked more closely. It was a turtle, a big one. It’s head and legs were out, but it wasn’t moving.
Jeremy poked it with a stick. “Shit, look at that. I think it’s dead.”
“You probably scared it to death. Probably thought a boa constrictor was coming for it’s ass.”
He laughed. I hadn’t heard him laugh for a while. “Maybe I drowned it.” He picked it up. It still wasn’t moving.
“We should bury it.”
“Yeah. No, wait, we should say kaddish.”
“For a turtle?”
“Well, it’s a prayer for the dead, right? And that sucker is dead, isn’t it?”
I started to answer, but Jeremy was already praying. He was moving back and forth, dovening, while he prayed, and he had the turtle in his hand and this odd intense look on his face. He did it for a long time and then stopped.
“Okay, let’s bury it.”
He put the turtle down. That’s when we both jumped, because the turtle suddenly started moving.
“Holy shit!” Jeremy said. “The fucking thing’s alive!.”
“That’s a safe guess.”
The turtle was moving pretty fast, for a turtle. Probably wondering about the strange creatures who woke it up.
We watched it disappear into the brush and then we continued on the trail.
“It’s a miracle,” Jeremy said quietly, after a few moments passed.
I stopped walking and stared at him. “What is?”
Jeremy stopped walking, too. “I didn’t say kaddish. I asked God to bring the turtle back to life and He did.”
“You can bring me back to life pretty easily after a nap, too.”
“I’m serious. God doesn’t listen to my father anymore, because he’s not going to be a rabbi soon. They’re going to fire him and nobody else will ever hire him again. So maybe God listens to me instead. Maybe He made a miracle because I prayed for one.”
“You’ve got pull, huh? Ask God to help me pass Algebra. That would be a miracle.”
“I’m not kidding.”
“Neither am I.”
He looked at me. “Dickhead.”
“I am not a psycho.”
“Yeah, except you think you resurrected a turtle.”
“Blow me. I didn’t do it myself. God did it through me.”
“You don’t think God is busy with other shit besides turtles? Like weather and earthquakes and the Super Bowl? Don’t you think He has better things to do with His time?”
“All life is sacred.”
“Yeah, well, this life sucks. And you’re crazy.”
“I am not crazy.”
I started running and he started chasing me. “Crazy!” I yelled back at him.
He was small but fast. I hadn’t gone twenty steps before he tackled me. “I’m not crazy!” he shouted. “Don’t ever call me that!”
“Ok, ok, you’re not crazy, you’re eccentric. Get off me.”
I was kidding. He wasn’t. We wrestled on the muddy trail. He took a wild swing and caught me on the side of the head. I spun around angrily, grabbed both his arms, tried to pin him. He was struggling to get free when we both saw the clearing.
“Let go of me!” he shouted. He kicked me in the shin. I loosened my grip and he scrambled to his feet.
“Jesus Christ,” he said. “They ruined everything!”
We were standing on a hill above a new office building. It was partially completed, with high plate glass windows on the first floor. Hundreds of trees had been knocked down all around it, and there was a driveway leading out to the road that bordered the woods.
“I can’t believe it,” Jeremy said. “I was just here a few weeks ago.”
“Jeremy, take it easy,” I said. “It’s only a building.”
“No it’s not! They take away everything! Everything!”
He was crying now, his breath ragged, his nose red.
I didn’t know what to say. “Let’s go back to the house, Jeremy, okay? Come on, we’ll watch television or something.”
“Why? It’s not my home. They’re taking it away from us because of what my father did. I don’t have anywhere to go. My mother hates me. She says we’re all alike, all men are the same, she doesn’t want me living with her. And now this.”
If I’d known what was coming next, I would have stopped him. But like I said, Jeremy was fast. He was running down the hill before I even opened my mouth to answer. There were bricks piled all around the building, and he grabbed one and hurled it wildly at a window. Glass shattered and splintered and echoed everywhere. Suddenly he was shouting and swearing and grabbing bricks and throwing them and a bright silver rain of glass was falling from the remains of each window as he moved on to the next one. I tried to grab him and he swung around with a brick and I backed away as he turned and blasted another window. And then there were guys running towards us from the other side of the building and we took off into the woods together, neither of us looking back and tripping like they always do in the movies. We just ran the hell out of there, low-hanging branches scratching my face and my ankle twisting in the bed of a stream but not badly enough to slow me down as we lost those dudes somewhere far behind us in the dense tangle of greenery.
Jeremy led us along a back trail to his house. We slowed, both of us panting. My heart felt like it was trying to drill through the wall of my chest.
“Come on,” he said, leading us through the back door and up the spiral staircase to his bedroom. “I’ve got an idea.”
“Yeah? What’s your next brilliant plan? Knock over a gas station?”
“We need to change clothes. They’re going to be looking for us. And we need an alibi.”
“An alibi? What are you, a master criminal? Shit, Jeremy, what was that all about?”
“I’m sorry, man, I’m sorry. I just lost it. I’m all right. I’m all right now.”
He rummaged in his closet and tossed me a pair of pants and a shirt.
“Yeah, you’re ok. You really are crazy.”
“Please don’t call me that, Douglas. I’m seeing a shrink, if it makes you feel any better.”
I looked at him, startled. Not that he was seeing one, but that he would admit it to me. Jeremy never talked about himself.
Today was just chock full of surprises.
“Good. Does it help?”
“Well, he says I need to let my feelings out more. I just did.”
We both started laughing.
“I’m not sure this is what he had in mind.”
“Whatever works. I’m a picture of fucking sanity now, don’t you think? Look, put these on. We really do need an alibi.”
“Ok. All right. I believe you. We need an alibi. What are the clothes for?”
“The shul. The synagogue. Hebrew School. Let’s get out of this muddy stuff and get our butts over there.”
We snuck in during recess, Jeremy leading the way. He had a key to the back entrance. We slipped past the dumpster and then through the oak door and down the dark corridor towards the classroom. It smelled like chalk, floor polish, and old paper.
Jeremy’s clothes were tight on me and my heart was still racing. We waited in the shadows until recess began. Then we filtered back into the classroom at the same time everyone else did.
Aaron Weissman tried to trip me on the way to the desks in back, but I saw it coming and sidestepped his big foot. Asshole.
Mr. Liner was sitting at his desk thumbing through a newspaper with one hand and absently scratching his beard with the other. He didn’t look up as the classroom slowly filled.
I slumped down into my seat and tried to take a long, deep breath without making any noise. Jeremy sat next to me.
I never thought I would be relieved to find myself at Hebrew School. The back of Aaron Weissman’s curly head filled half my vision. He was only a few rows away. I knew he would be waiting for me outside after class ended. But even seeing him was better than seeing those guys who were chasing us. They looked pissed.
When the classroom filled, Mr. Liner set aside the newspaper and started to drone on about the wonders of Judaism. He didn’t seem all that struck with wonder himself, but Mr. Liner was never what you would call an excitement machine.
The only time Mr. Liner ever seemed alive was when he blew the shofar on the High Holy Days. He did it every year. And every year you could hear the whispers of admiration in the congregation as he skillfully blew those ancient notes. Mr. Liner was the Miles Davis of the shofar. I could picture the joyous look on his face as he performed. Maybe blowing the shofar woke him up. Or maybe it was how he convinced himself about God.
Jeremy didn’t seem to need convincing. But then Jeremy was probably crazy. I could hear him tapping his foot on the floor next to me, a habit he’d had forever. Jeremy was always in motion. The only time he seemed calm was when praying, which I guess is as good a reason for prayer as any.
I stopped thinking about religion and starting praying myself when the cops showed up at the classroom door.
They knocked on the glass and gestured to Mr. Liner, who set down his notes, opened the door, and carefully closed it behind him.
I couldn’t move. I thought wildly about jumping through a window. I felt Jeremy stiffen next to me, heard his sharp intake of breath. Jail. I was going to jail. I was going to be caged like a monkey. I was going to share a cell with a guy named Zeke from Alabama who loved me even more than he loved his first cousin Thelma.
The classroom door opened. Mr. Liner sat down at his desk. The cops went away.
It was enough to make a believer out of me. Almost.
Mr. Liner continued his lesson without missing a beat. He put down the final page of his notes just as the buzzer sounded.
“Ok, you’re out of here,” he said. “Except,” he added, as everyone rushed out, “for you two.”
Naturally, he pointed at Jeremy and me. It couldn’t be another two – not the way this day was going.
Mr. Liner leaned back in his desk chair and gazed at us for a long moment as the last few stragglers departed. Jeremy fidgeted in place like always. I did a very bad imitation of nonchalance.
Mr. Liner rose, closed the door, and sat down once more.
“Mr. Goldman. Mr. Jacobs,” he began. “Let me share a few thoughts with you. As you know, Judaism is comprised of many laws. Rules. Guidelines for behavior. It provides a roadmap for the way we should live. You do understand that, correct?”
“Sure,” I replied.
“Absolutely,” said Jeremy.
“I was confident that you did. It’s one of the things I try to teach, along with Hebrew.”
“And you do a fine job,” said Jeremy. Jesus.
“Thank you for the positive reviews, Mr. Goldman.”
“You’re welcome,” said Jeremy, ignoring the sarcasm.
“An act of serious vandalism has occurred at a building site. The damage runs into thousands of dollars. In other words, the law was broken. Rules of behavior were not followed. The police were here looking for the two boys responsible. Of course, you know nothing about it. You were in this classroom the whole time, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” we both answered, way too quickly.
“That’s exactly what I said to the police – notwithstanding the footprints leading through the woods towards Mr. Goldman’s home. I explained that Mr. Goldman was here in my class, along with his friend Mr. Jacobs. I also pointed out that his clothing – and yours, Mr. Jacobs – is different from that of the boys described by the construction workers. The police seemed satisfied – at least for the moment.”
“They should be,” Jeremy said. “We didn’t do anything.”
Mr. Liner smiled. “Of course not. You were here the whole time. Speaking hypothetically, though, if you weren’t here and I was aware of it and neglected to inform the police…well, I’d be guilty of multiple crimes, wouldn’t I? Obstruction of justice. Accessory after the fact. And, being an adult, I’d be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. So it’s certainly a good thing I’m only speaking hypothetically.”
“Wow,” said Jeremy. “It sure is.”
“Let’s cut the crap,” said Mr. Liner suddenly. “I have a pretty strong suspicion that you trashed those windows. I don’t know why, and I don’t care. I truly don’t. I know I’m supposed to consider it a warning sign or a cry for help, but I don’t care about that touchy-feely crap, either. I do care about this synagogue and this congregation and our place in the community. It’s been rocked by enough scandal recently. It doesn’t need any more. So keep your mouths shut and your noses clean or one of your classmates may inform me that you two clowns snuck in here during recess. And I may inform the police. Understood? Don’t answer me. Don’t admit to anything. Just nod your heads yes.”
We nodded yes.
“Good. It’s been pleasant chatting with you. Now get your asses out of my classroom.”
I dragged Jeremy away before he could respond. It seemed safer that way.
Safety was definitely on my mind when we hit the parking lot and found Aaron Weisman waiting. I saw his shadow before I saw him. He was fifteen feet tall and weighed 500 pounds, so it wasn’t surprising that his shadow loomed like that of the average redwood.
I may be exaggerating a bit. But not by much.
The guy scared the piss out of me. And he knew it, too, which is probably why he enjoyed torturing me. Show fear in the jungle and the inhabitants eye you up like a McDonald’s happy meal. They just do.
Weissman strutted out from between two parked cars, the chains and buckles of his black leather jacket jangling and swaying. He wore a skull and crossbones earring and a matching ring. It was an appropriate fashion statement. He waved his huge paw in greeting when he spotted us. I’m sure it created a breeze.
“Hey there, Dougie,” he said, coming up alongside me and wrapping his burly arm around my shoulders. I could smell his after shave. He was fifteen years old and he shaved. He was probably divorced, too. He probably owned both of those parked cars.. Maybe he owned a car lot.
“How’s it going today?” he rumbled.
“Fine,” I managed to say. My knees were registering a strong objection to sustaining my weight.
“Glad to hear it. And how’s my little buddy Goldman?”
Jeremy glowered at him.
“I’m not your little buddy, shithead,” he answered.
There was a long silence. Then, amazingly, Aaron Weissman laughed. “You’ve got brass ones, Goldman. I like that.”
“And I’d like it if you left my friend Douglas alone, shithead.”
Apparently, Jeremy really did believe in God and was planning to meet the good Lord today. I was stunned by his nerve, but I was even more stunned by his defending me. Nobody had ever stood up for me like that before.
“Hey, I’m not bothering anyone. Just having a conversation with my boy here.”
“I’m not your boy, asshole,” I said, moving next to Jeremy. I almost looked around to see who was crazy enough to say such a thing. I was glad that Jeremy knew how to recite kaddish, because he’d be saying it for me shortly.
“Shit, look at who’s grown a pair. I’m liking you guys.”
”Yeah, well, it isn’t mutual,” said Jeremy.
Weissman frowned and ran a hand through his bushy hair. “Listen,” he said, “let’s start over. I’m not here to give you a hard time today. The fact is, I want to congratulate you.”
“Yeah?” Jeremy said. “For what?”
“You know what I mean,” Weissman said in a conspiratorial whisper. “All those windows. Getting chased. The cops looking for you. John the custodian told me all about it. I love that shit. I love it to death. You’re all right, Goldman. You, too, Jacobs.”
So that’s what it took to get Weissman off my neck – being a bigger sociopath than him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.
“Me, either,” Jeremy said.
Weissman chuckled. “Sure, you don’t. Listen, the next time you boys feel like doing some damage, give me a call. You got a pen?" I gave him one and he wrote down his cell number on the back of my hand. “We’ll hang out. Later.”
Weissman turned and headed off down the street, pedestrians parting before him like water parting before the prow of a ship.
I looked at Jeremy. He looked back, smiling. “It’s been a day of miracles. The good Lord works in mysterious ways,” he said.
“Yeah,” I replied, “so does Weissman. And I don’t trust either of them.”
Robert Douglas Friedman's short stories have appeared in Story Quarterly, Narrative, Literally Stories, Every Day Fiction, Penny Shorts, and many other publications. He lives and works in New Jersey.