“It’s cultural. I want to go,” I say as I adjust my necklace, placing a gold Star of David outside of my button-down collar.
It is a hot day in Atlanta and I help Jacob strap the baby into his car seat, as the kids clamor into the minivan.
“So go,” he says.
I fiddle with my Star of David. “You make it sound so simple.”
Jacob wipes sweat from his brow and checks his watch. “It’s just that not every day a scribe finishes the year-long process to copy a Torah on dried parchment exactly as our ancestors have been doing since the times of Moses.”
The kids are making a ruckus in the car and the baby throws his Cheerios at me. “I go to shul. I pay yeshiva tuition. I try to be helpful. But when do I get to go to a literary festival?”
Jacob picks the cereal out of my hair, as the cacophony of squabbling children rises to a deafening crescendo. “Maybe even before Moses. Maybe Father Abraham wrote on parchment with a quill,” he says.
“I am a writer whose best literary friend lives over six thousand miles away,” I say. “I need to network.”
“So network,” Jacob says and starts the car.
“It’s not that simple,” I say. “I have to get to know people, share with them. It’s like a tribal thing.”
“Tribal thing,” Jacob says, ignoring the kids’ chatter as he drives. “You share away — I’ll be dancing with the Torah.”
He drops me off in Decatur. Our twelve-year-old son Izzy wants to come with me and I hesitate, not wanting to take him away from Torah party.I try to hold Izzy’s hand to cross the street, but he shrugs it off. He’s growing up, I think, and we walk together to Decatur square.
I look up at a poster for the exhibit showing in the Town Center. Anne Frank stares down at me from the poster, her dark eyes round like a Seder plate, the sweetness of a rich heritage mixed with marror — the bitter herbs of thousands of years of exile and pain.
A chill runs down my spine. Anne resembles my own daughter, Rachel. Rachel who is dancing now, celebrating the birth of a new Torah.
A friend’s father, Herschel, escaped from Europe to Atlanta on the last kindertransport. Good Atlanta folk fostered him and saved a number of Jewish refugee kids from the Holocaust. Herschel knew Anne Frank back when they played together in Germany. “Your daughter Rachel could be Anne’s twin,” He’d said. Rachel who is probably snacking on crackers and drinking soda at the Torah party, even though I tell her the chemicals aren’t good for her zits.
“Would you like to join our writers’ group?” A fellow calls to me, adjusting his black Burberry sunglasses and hands me a pamphlet. He is tall and beautiful. His hair is light blond, the color of lemonade on a sunny summer’s day. His features are perfect, straight aquiline nose, square jaw, even teeth. He is dressed in a white Abercrombie T- shirt, white chinos I saw advertised from Banana Republic.
“That’s what I came for,” I say. It had been hard to find, but now, finally, a fellow writer. Landsman. A member of my tribe. He hands me a pamphlet and I scan it while feeling the gaze of Anne Frank on my shoulders.
“You can sign up now, thirty five dollars for the whole year,” he smiles. He takes off his glasses and I look into his eyes. They are a beautiful blue, the color of the sky. But they are empty. A chill runs down my spine. His eyes reflect nothing. No warmth, no love—no soul.
I look away. While most people walking by strike me as kind and decent, I find this particular man’s cold stare scary. I feel Anne’s gaze on my back. I am afraid.
“Ma, can’t we keep going?” Izzy interrupts. “You promised me a book on snakes, Ma.”
“Sure,” I say, and take another look at the man with no soul. When he blinks, all I see are plain eyes. “I’ll think about joining, thanks,” I say, and let Izzy tug me to a booth showcasing books about animals. I buy him the snake book and he is happy.
We pass by a booth sponsored by Emory University. “Would you like a poster?” asks a respectable looking woman sporting neat chestnut hair, pressed Oxford, and a sensible Orvis skirt. Izzy is excited. “Sure!” Izzy points to the huge sarcophagus of a golden pharaoh from their museum’s Ancient Egyptian collection.
“Great,” I say, “We could hang the pharaoh poster in our living room. Maybe next to our Haggadas.” As we walk, my eye catches a sign on a booth set up for Romance Writers. Are these my people? I wonder. Will I find my tribesmen here? Finally?
“How are y’all doing?” A chubby woman with curly brown hair wearing a low cut tank top is sitting at a makeshift table under a booth, signing autographs as women stroll by. I watch her pen as she signs the paperbacks quickly, like in an assembly line. Her hair is frizzled from the humidity; sweat drops down her neck like a waterfall to the deep valley between her large bosoms.
One of my people? I wonder. Network? Friend? Landsman? Tribe? “Did you write this?” I ask, pointing to a stack of paperbacks on the table.
“Sure did,” she smiles, flashing a huge set of canines, sharp like fangs.
I blink and look again. Her fangs are gone, leaving only somewhat uneven teeth. “It’s hot,” Izzy whines. “Can we get a drink?”
“I could use one too,” the lady winks. “Yeah, this is my series. I write erotic Halfling romances.”
“Yeah, you know, half man/ half beast.”
Other women are standing behind me, pushing their books toward the author as she signs them.
I slowly adjust my necklace. “How do they look these half men/ half beasts?” Do they have eyes without souls?
“They look like you and me,” she says and smiles at me, her fangs sharp and white in the sunlight.
I rub my neck, feeling the Star of David weigh heavily on its chain. “And these Halflings—they fall in love?”
The author laughs, as the women keep lining up. “It’s that alpha male thing, ya’ know. Only instead of behaving like a wolf—my heroes are wolves. And vampires, and shape shifters.” I am confused. If people engage their animal impulses– where could that lead?
Women behind me laugh. “Very hot,” one woman hoots.
“Sexy,” another whispers in agreement.
I turn around to look at the women. They are all dressed like well-heeled Southern ladies. Their hair coiffed, their dresses, slacks and skirts shiny and pressed. They look respectable.
One woman is smiling, her fangs sharp as she fans herself with a Book Club paper fan. A fellow behind her perusing the authors’ books absently twitches his ears—sharp, pointy and furry on top of his head. I notice another woman has grown feet like a wolf. She knocks some of the author’s books off of the table with her tail. I bend down to pick up the books.
“So, you said you’re a writer?” The author asks, “Would you like to join us?”
I turn to face her. The air is still. I look around and see nobody I recognize. Many of the good people of Decatur are strolling by non-plussed by the presence of werewolves, and my family is back at shul celebrating the birth of a new Torah.
“I’m a writer,” I stutter, “but I don’t recall having told you that.” I suddenly feel very afraid. If cultured Halflings or men without souls attacked my son and I, we’d have no chance of survival. There’d be nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Could I rely on the good people of Atlanta to help?
The hair on my back is raised high like a hunted animal when I feel the predatory circling of Halflings closing in around us. Maybe they aren’t interested in us, or are werewolves of virtue. Maybe not–I don’t want to stick around to find out. “I, uh, have to get my son a drink,” I say, as I grab Izzy’s hand and run.
We run past the other booths, past the gazebo where fat old ladies are spinning yarns as old as time. We scoot through students and children and volunteers and authors and happy couples meandering through a pleasant day. We run past vendors hawking their freshly made lemonade and concessions selling baked pretzels and peanuts and fried green tomatoes. We zoom past nice Southern folk, solid people– as well as Halflings and some men without souls. We run to the square, panting, trying to catch our breath. The square. Perfect location to be herded and eaten or…
I look up at Anne Frank. She is smiling. Her dark eyes round like a Seder plate, the sweetness of a rich heritage mixed with marror—the bitter herbs of thousands of years of exile and pain.
“There’s Daddy,” Izzy says, and points to the minivan, circling right outside the square. Clutching Izzy’s hand, we cross the street to the van. Izzy lets me hold his hand. Through the open car window I hear the kids squabbling and singing. Jewish music is blaring from the CD. Rachel is bopping up and down dancing to the music. “You missed it, Ma! It was so fun! The dancing! The food! Everyone together—it felt so alive!” I swallow hard and adjust my Star of David.
“Had a good time?” Jacob asks as he unlocks the door.
“You bet,” I say, shutting the door behind me. As we drive away I peek through the rear-view mirror and watch the man with no soul distribute pamphlets beside the huge poster of Anne Frank.