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The Old Challah Radio

by

Adam Shechter

 

 
     
   

 

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I AM HUNCHING OVER AN OLD NINETEEN THIRTIES RADIO MADE FROM CHALLAH BREAD–IT IS SHAPED LIKE A HUMAN BABY AND EMITS THE SOUND OF AN INFANT CRYING. I listen closely for a newscast. I have heard that others have learned family secrets this way. I just hear a baby crying. Long hard wails that make me want to pull away. But I don’t. I remain and after some time of this extremely painful noise, a strange static begins to overtake the crying. Then, I hear the screaming of a woman—bitter terrified complaints in a language that I don’t quite understand: French, Polish, Greek? I don’t know. I have never heard the language before. Now I hear the yelling of a man, his speech is different, it almost indicates the Asiatic—Middle Eastern, Chinese—what do I know from language? He is laughing loudly. I can hear the horrible echo of his glee. It sounds like the couple must be in a small chamber. There are some crashing noises, maybe the legs of a table scraping. The jarring bang of a hard object falling over. The thud of flesh. A smack. The sound of ripping cloth. The woman, she is now hollering at deafening pitches. It is hard to listen. My attention fades and refocuses on the smell of the challah. It is sweet. There must be a lot of egg and sugar in this one. I touch one of its braids, the one that comprises the baby’s left arm. It is warm with electrical current. I hold its hand and feel a little bit of sadness swell in my heart. I can hear the man. He is hoarsely grunting in little rhythmic eruptions. The woman is silent. 
            The radio too, is silent—the fine bready weave of the speaker impervious to my staring—the man’s breathing reduced to that of falling snow. Though I cannot see the light of this infantile world, I sense that it is early morning, very early and everyone sleeps. The faint smell of challah rises like a gentle steam from the hind of the soft box. The speaker is a mouth that does not talk. For a moment I have the urge to meanly grab, tear the bread, crush its charred brown skin to dust in my fingers. But all I do is enviously inhale and listen to a new static just beginning to foam in the obsequious grating of its mouth. In this new inside, it is cold outside, and though I can’t see it, I feel the snow falling, very keenly. This internal space is not like one I have encountered before. I put my hands on the small bulbous knees of the baby and allow its muffled claustrophobia to vibrate up into my palms. I close my eyes and see that snowflake after snowflake touches a ground already quite high with thick white snow. In the distance, a small dark cottage leaks wisps of smoke from its chimney.
            It is important, I understand, to be gentle with history, to carefully cup its curves in your hands—to pet the dialectic infinity lest it suddenly light up its cruel chronology in your life and move its little legs and arms like a mechanical demon. I open my eyes but so does the bread. The corneas are clear, large, blue. They move slowly, sharply from side to side.  I scramble for the plug—to yank the fire from its dough, but I am too late. The radio has already begun gathering the needed books and paper to its flesh. She archives passports, treaties, aerial photographs, the great imperial swirl of countless lives from my muscles. No longer bound in my neck, the merciless collective pressure of thousands of years and the human attempt to make order by words plays its angry static in my ears. Louder and louder, I remain still, my skin gooey in her clutches, articulation desperate to break through. I breathe hard and stare at the radio’s mouth, heated. No words come. There, presses a long tongue, adrenalin soaked and coated black. The tongue curls at the grid like an imprisoned amphibian. I go close and bring my lips to hers. The tongue whips across my upper lip and then vanishes. In the microscopic bits of saliva that she has deposited on my gums, I taste only darkness. This darkness is too dark I tell myself. This is deprivation pickled—disrespect politely preserved. These theories are heartless, useless….
            But then from the old challah radio, a whining noise—its fingers pained and reaching into the air—its little hips, then feet. A whining noise as if to admonish the slightest distraction of attention. The braids of its muscles crackle with agitation, then the whine breaks—clogs with a familiar man’s voice. He is barking something in his Arabesque Chinese and she moans in her Hebraic French. He barks. She moans. The baby cries. And I listen with my hands—read the heat of the electric bread like braille. My lips move as if I need to say something because I see the little dark house on the white field. And what I see is moving forward like a drunken lens—I am nauseous with excitement—my steps heavy but fast—blur. Then behind me, I look. There is a thin red line, jagged, originating from me? My stomach is deeply cut—I see—the cloth of my shirt saturated with blood and other dark substance, mixing with my innards. I cannot look, so I go forward, dizzy and blind with inside whirling. I cannot accept the vision, so I open my eyes. The elegant bread is cold in my hands. It is just bread. Cold, because I cannot open my eyes. Cold, because my eyes are open and what is there? Just a white snowy field, a distant tree line. I look up. The snowflakes fall falsely calm and I am thirsty—very—my feet buried wet and numb.
            The radio, if there is one, is coming apart, like a cracked honeycomb, the bees are hysterically weeping and the sweet good drips from the sky—freezing. The scholars, I can hear them studying, even now—why? I was just with them—swimming in their moans—that was in another crowded space. Though my sight is irrational with their facts, I touch her dusty flesh—the irritated bread threatens total dust. "Please don’t blow away." She grunts a mild complaint, whispers. “What time is it anyway?” A recognizably female voice—soft. Maternity is cruel this way, when it arrives on the shore of absolute abandonment, its big yeasty nose poking. More snow falls, now very light and I pull my chin into hers. “Are you really there?” But she is gone through the twisting yellow corridors of her flour. And I was just with the scholars—was I really, why? I am remembering: I was born in Brooklyn. Right, that’s my problem—I was broken by the educated working class—something to do with Russia, intelligent with poverty—why? Quickly remember. I squeeze the challah hard. It shrieks!
            “Yes, I am here!” she loudly exhorts—the shape of the challah dumb with inanimate gesture.
            “Sorry,” I say and see that I have damaged her foot, skin has been broken—the yellow flowery gunk glows within. My soaked shoes icy on the skin of my feet—the snow has stopped falling. And now I feel the big white sky above—rising. The challah’s eyes suddenly cut halfway open with dream and body function—smiling.
            “You hurt me,” she says. I race to answer but am rebuffed by a mechanical tinkling, so ordered and pretty—again my heart swells—the sky and time—my stomach grumbles with hunger. I want to eat…  I listen to her song—the recent tinkle of all those years. I understand that plain ditty—how this historical regression regrets the American fairytale. How my hands dream of a knife, cutting with contemporary intention, my fingers strained by atavistic monogamy. The pseudo-majesty of the challah, a mountain range of time, condensed with an aristocratic high blood pressure. Like the study hall I was just in—I have never been there. But still, the one erected to create a generation that is not meant to live. There is so much to tell….
            “I know you’re hungry, so go ahead, cut yourself a slice,” she lovingly implores. I detect the scholars at the back of her tongue, their quiet yelling at the end of the tunnel, the endless desperate thoughts curling—scoliosis of the monarchy.
            I open my eyes. The bread is before me—stale and featureless. A door closes behind, and now I see her. In this small room, where everything is truly dark, she is as clear as her blue eyes. I have a thought about myself—who I am. And then it falls there, in her eye—ripples at the transparency of the surface—then all the way down the well. Don’t look at me says the eye. But I have things that I want to do with my life—so many things that could bring so much joy? No response.
            I shout something, but what have I said? It erupts from my teeth heavy and rotten, comes back to my ears tingling. Like what—it’s that man’s language—its linguistic essence scratches: You killed me, you bitch!
            An emotionally wounded mess by the last of burning embers, contracted under a blanket of fur, her eyes squint and then her mouth explodes in that woman’s language. That first terrified woman. I don’t understand her communication, again—never. But around my face, like the wings of a hysterical bird, its meaning beats: Don’t worry you monster, you will live through me.
            And in all my anxiety, I see, half-see—my eyes dance between different lights. The artificial life of challah lays out before me—what have I done? I deeply inhale the noxious fumes—the scent of starch, plastic, metal, skin—of all their anxious breath. I breathe for the elements. Exhale the fantasy of their repentance. What streams through my hands like charred blood? Its dark golden limbs, broken and littered about. Wire and overcooked dough jut from a little yearning hand. Then, the poor baby’s decapitated head with a beard of bread meat gushing from its base—the eyes nervous with infinite distraction—the lips perturbed and vile. I begin digging my hands into its tiny thorax searching for the heart. Searching its arteries, cold and aching. And there at its center, my fingertips are pleased to confirm the expected results of this excavation. The deepest development of history, anonymous—for how many years did it sit boarded up? Like this, the interior of the inner language, and then a little more inside and we have the dejected jowls of some slouched granite female eye, or eyes, a blue and accusing mosaic. The walls of the heart have no plaster, only a dry bloodied brick, and the floors are just pine, rotting. Again, I smell the internal workings of her body—the aromatic residue of her regressive struggle. She is trying to recuperate from her circular argument. But she never will.
            I open my eyes—were they ever closed? The whirlwind of sizable snowflakes has resumed, the snow on the ground now at least one foot high. The cottage door unseals with an obstinate quiet. I regard the storm with the last of my fear and with no choice but to plow forward. I do so. Each step is as ineffectual as the last. Next and there is time. Time. It’s not moving and neither am I. I am lying in the snow, soft and even-keeled, my heart further slowed down, my heat and blood curiously wandering into the ice. I stare luminescent white—everywhere and cannot see the sky. I cannot see—only the falling snow.

 

 

     

Adam Shechter

Adam Shechter is a writer and spoken word artist who was born, raised and continues to reside in Brooklyn, New York. Adam co-authored a chapbook with Daniel Y. Harris called Paul Celan and the Messiah's Broken Levered Tongue (Cervena Barva Press, 2009). He received his BA in literature from Hunter College and has studied extensively at the Mid-Manhattan Institute for Psychoanalysis. He is the editor of the online poetry journal, The Blue Jew Yorker. His poetry has been published in The Minnesota Review, Psychoanalytic Perspectives, Home Planet News and The Subway Chronicles, among other publications. Adam has performed his work in numerous venues around New York City including The Knitting Factory and The Museum of Jewish Heritage.

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