by Susan Lago
Ingredients: Mud Imminent danger to Jews Writing implement Secret name of G-dDirections: 1. With hands, mold human-sized form out of mud, preferably in the dead of night, preferably on a riverbank. 2. To activate, write the Hebrew word for truth, emet, on the form’s “forehead.” 3. When finished, simply erase the aleph to form met, the word for death. 4. Store dried remnants, or “dust,” in locked, sealed container and store in an attic, preferably in a synagogue.Note: Pregnant women should avoid proximity to container, dust, and golem storage facilities.
Pearl boards the 7 at Grand Central. There’s only one empty seat and it’s next to a large, dark man wearing a Mets cap. She’s been teaching for four hours straight and her feet have headaches in her worn-down flats. She side-eyes Mets Cap and can’t help but notice the dirt and mud that drip onto the subway floor. In fact, he’s surrounded by brown sludge and smells faintly of fish and largely of decay. She registers all of this, but who is she to judge? She’s sure she’s not too fresh-smelling herself after pacing the classroom in an attempt to engage the first-year college students who are trying to disappear into their desks, or at the very least, reach the phones stowed beneath a thigh or inside of a sleeve.
The train stops in the tunnel.
The passengers let out a collective sigh, but don’t look up from their phones. On her right, Mets Cap seems to have twigs, leaves, and bits of plastic poking out of his arms and legs, his broad chest, the fists that rest on his massive thighs. No part of her touches him, but still, she feels his coldness, that the matter of him is cold. At the other end of the stalled car, a man wearing a garbage bag like a poncho is humming and his dog is whimpering and at that moment, the door on the opposite end bangs open and three men roll into the car. No one looks up, but just the same, everyone’s attention locks onto the men strolling through the car, as, almost imperceptibly, one-by-one, they all move out of the way of these men, these laughing, talking men insisting upon attention. Pearl’s fingers tangle themselves in the fine, gold chain around her neck.
“What’s that?” They’re in front of her. She sees all six of their feet in their enormous, puffy sneakers. Their bodies smell sour, of beer and boredom.
“I’m talking to you, lady,” the middle one says. A finger, the color of the underbelly of a fish, points to the small pendant she’s been sliding back and forth along the chain.
“It’s a chai,” she whispers, bending her head to hide behind the waves of wheat-colored hair that have come free of her ponytail.
“A WHAT?” All three of them laugh and she looks up. Their faces are damp and red and they’re all wearing caps on their shorn heads. He leans down so that his nose is a wingbeat away from hers. “Are you a fucking Jew?” he screams into her face.
Before the five-sided, clapboard building was taken over by the Church of the Benevolent King, it had been a Presbyterian house of worship and for a short time before that, a hotel. Far back in its history, it had been a shul. In its days as a house of prayer for Jews, a minyan would meet there from sundown on the Sabbath until three stars appeared in the sky a day later, to pray, each black clad man bobbing to his own godbeat. Unbeknown to Reverend Thaddeus, the Congregation, the landlord, or the City Archives, deep beneath the structure lay a complex web of catacombs. Ancient. Older than old.
Tink retches and then vomits again.
And so he had created the third Golem. He calls him Joseph.
She lifts her daughter up onto her hip and runs.
And he tells them the story of the Golem.
He looks at the time on his phone. “We have twenty-two hours,” he says and hands Pearl a pen.
This work made possible by a grant from PSC-CUNY.