i.

On the last wedding anniversary my parents ever celebrated, my mother and father slept in a room that once housed King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. It was everything my mother had both expected and could not imagine: a bedchamber sequestered in a dark-stoned turret, up a spiral staircase and behind a thick wooden door. The room featured a four-poster bed with a gold-fringed canopy, a lion-clawed tub, and a window for every cardinal direction. In Mom’s estimation, these were the things that were due to kings, queens, and their lovers.

My parents had left me and my younger sisters in the care of cousins while she and my father, along with my aunt and uncle, found refuge in this weekend getaway in Gloucestershire. It was a celebration, after all. But despite the verdant trappings of a walled garden, rows of observant suits of armor that kept post in the buttressed halls, and personalized room service for any given occasion, there was the unsettled memory of my mother’s recent miscarriage that kept her enjoyment at bay. On the actual night of her anniversary, she drank more than she usually did — my mother is a moderate drinker — while she, my father, my aunt, and my uncle laughed at the resemblance the waiter bore to the ever-abashed Manuel from the BBC show Fawlty Towers. I know nothing!, my aunt or uncle probably blared, quoting the show. She drank so much that when it was time to order dessert, she, the sole American, could not ask for her favorite dish: bread pudding with raisins, or, as it is commonly called in England, spotted dick. Spotted dick! my father or uncle or aunt most likely tried to say, choking on laughter and the flaming aftermath of digestifs. This was helping my mother, pushing away the interloping sadness. They all drank so much that someone spilled a glass of water, and another waiter had to ask them to quiet down. …


My Jewish great-grandfather tried to join the Ku Klux Klan

i.

This is the folklore that we tell in my family. I suppose you should imagine it in a Yiddish accent.

Great-Grandfather Shlomo leaves a shtetl — one that no one quite recalls, an Ostropol, or a Chelm, one of those places you only find in a memory — and when he arrives in America, in the movement of a sentence, he is suddenly Solomon. And now, with a new name and the false, scoured sense of erased history, he takes a train and joins his cousin in Georgia, where an untangled root of his family strain found soil before. He finds himself in Savannah (or possibly Marietta, or Bainbridge, where he will one day be forgotten in the amalgam of the family burial plot, a plot he will buy himself), and begins his tenure at his cousin’s Laundromat. …


We’re thinking how these things weren’t supposed to happen to people like us.

We’ve brought board games, video devices, audio devices, mnemonic devices, salted cashews, libations and more libations, all to keep us duly amused. It’s a good thing we did, too, because Uncle Jerry didn’t factor in certain scheduling errors and delays, namely Aunt Mimi taking too long to pack, scrutinize, and re-pack. Now, we won’t reach the resort near Kittery until tomorrow morning. Tonight, we will not fall asleep to the low tide lapping against the shores of Anchorage-by-the-Sea, nor comment upon the inflection of seagulls, nor wonder at the amalgamation of stars, how in the city they wash into the smog, evading us. Instead, we will manage. It’s a good thing we pre-cautiously over-packed, because without these modes of entertainment, we would stifle ourselves with our incompatible dynamics. …


Mitosis taught her an important lesson: to become whole, you must first be broken

i.

My mother hadn’t known she’d been pregnant for very long. She had bought the test on a whim. It was normal for her to miss a period, but two was a bit excessive. Two was a shotgun blast. Mom watched the slim white stick play with fate as my father drove home from another day spent at the University of Warwick. My sisters and I played in the backyard the size of a postage stamp. There was a rosebush, and a twain of ivy that dabbled in pale blossoms up the side of the flat. Melissa pricked her thumbs picking Daddy a bouquet. …


A short story


Reconciling my Jewish roots

A few months ago, my mother called and told me that she had found a Nazi war medal in our basement. She had been cleaning out her house preparation for a move to the suburbs of Pittsburgh, away from the city where I had been raised.

“How is that possible?” I asked her from my apartment in Brooklyn. I thought of past residents of our house, of closet-case white supremacists. But the owners before us had been a family of Orthodox Jews.

“I’m pretty sure I’m right,” she replied, “I think it’s an Iron Cross. …


On coming out for the rest of your life

In the school library. My father is away at a conference for a distant summer in Germany. He will be the hardest to tell, I reason, for the missed linguistic cues, the generational gap as precarious as a lion’s hinging jaw, or, rather, because he just doesn’t get it. It’s a safe bet. I write him a 10-page email, glancing at the other computer carrels. Due to competing time zones, I receive his response the next morning: “Surprised, but not shocked. Love, Dad.”

In a vestibular instant messenger window, to the girl who will become my first girlfriend.We will break up eight months later, over a girl from Connecticut whom she meets in an online forum. …


On finding home

i.

By nature, my family is migratory. For generations each of us has uprooted from whence we came. A log of our travels reads like biblical genealogy, our names curling around mountains and fanning out over oceans, hefting the places that we are coming from and going to. We leave places and people for jobs or new vistas, or we don the forms of escape artists, as in the case of my father’s parents, both Holocaust survivors, to evade genocides and plagues. …


Of girls and golems

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Photo: . Entrer dans le rêve

i.

So many of my stories begin near water. This story involves a college girlfriend; a girl, it would turn out, who had never loved me at all. We were at one of those New England beaches with fragile sand dunes, brittle scrubs of topiary, and cheap parking. My friend D had driven us there, on the loping interstates of Massachusetts, past the abandoned pizza joints, spider-like multiplexes, and heartsore strip clubs. Much later, D and this college girlfriend would be in an on-again, off-again relationship, long after I had moved onto other girls, other climes. But for now, I was sure I was in love. It was still early summer; too early, really, to swim in the Atlantic, the waters frigid and ambitionless. …


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A panel of photographs in an unadorned, oblong frame hung on the wall of the landing in my childhood home. I used to lean against a thick banister and stare at these scalloped-edged pictures. I was maybe six, seven, eight. They were tinctured, with faint wrinkles running along their middles — marks that they had once been folded, carried in pocketbooks or wallets, that these photographs had once been particularly loved. I didn’t know the origin stories of these portrait subjects or their totemic smiles. So at odd, solitary moments — when my younger sisters were put down for nap-time, or during dull strings of Sunday afternoons — I observed them with a sense of finality. They were here now, these pictures, and it didn’t matter where they had been. …

About

J.E. Reich

Reporter at @jezebel, seen @thetoast, @jdforward, @nerve, etc #PushcartPrize nom, novel-in-progress. The Demon Room w/ @TC_Books

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