Short story: Slice into me

She cleans up the brutal aftermath so that by the time they get here there will be no evidence of our slaughter.

Rosh Hashana Food (370) (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Rosh Hashana Food (370)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
I am a guest at this table, and not long for this world. I don’t mind.
I’ve been dead before. And I can probably do better than a piece of fruit next time around.
Understandably I keep thinking about the knife. It’s right next to me.
It doesn’t speak. I feel like I ought to be trying to make conversation, maybe elicit some sympathy. It’s like getting into an elevator with your hangman.
The woman in the purple head scarf has already massacred several of my colleagues from the fridge. On a plate about a foot away from me, carrots, cabbage and beets lie in shreds beside the severed, skinned chunks of what was once a Gala apple. There is a beheaded fish, though technically it was that way when I met it. There are ground-up bits of another fish, which I never did meet, on a separate plate.
I’m thinking about the knife again.
What will it feel like, going in? Will I register pain? I am drily aware of the truism that if I scream, no one will hear me.
The woman is waiting for a man to come back. He’s going to bring friends. She cleans up the brutal aftermath in the kitchen so that by the time they get here there will be no evidence of our slaughter.
Unfortunately my memory isn’t what it used to be. I have no recollection of how I died the last time, or who I was when I wasn’t fruit.
Probably a vegetarian.
More importantly, I can’t remember why I came back. I don’t mind dying, not really. But I’m beginning to worry that unless I remember what I’m doing here, my deaths – the last one and this one, and maybe more of them – will be not only senseless, but meaningless.
The woman is wiping down the last of the juice from the counter. I can’t look away.
* * *
The singing, at least, is nice. If I have to go, at least I get a lively funeral march. The man the woman was waiting for sings a little off-key, but he sings with gusto, and it reverberates pleasantly off my rind. She doesn’t sing at all. The knife rings without expression next to me.
When he came in the door with the two young men, I wondered if he knew what went on in the kitchen in his absence. I wondered what his response would be.
Pleasure, it turned out. He was full of praise for the dissected things in the center of the table, and for the woman who put them there. He examined me with a long-fingered but calloused hand, and I felt an uncertain joy in being appreciated.
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Click for more JPost High Holy Day features
It was only after he put me down that I noticed the young woman who had come in with the second of the two men. She, too, had a head scarf, a burgundy one, and I found myself comparing it to my own recently rubbed skin and getting a sense that there was something missing in her.
I’m tense now, but expectant. The singing has stopped, and they’ve all vanished into the kitchen, leaving an abrupt, suspenseful void. Based on the hood it’s wearing, I think the bread will be the first to go, and it turns out I’m right. A different knife cuts it away in slices, raisins hanging in each slice like little black eyes, and the five silent omnivores around the table rend the crusts with their teeth. Honey drizzles onto the tablecloth from the edges of the bread and pools there.
Now the older man takes the apple’s remains and passes them out, also dripping uncontainable honey, and – “Yehi ratzon milfanecha... shetehadesh aleinu shana tova umetuka” – that, too, disappears, crushed, between their words and teeth. The purple woman looks flustered and rushes out to the kitchen again, and when she comes back, she is holding the starfruit.
I had hoped it would be spared. I’m sorry to see it cut down in its prime.
Shedding its paper-towel shroud, it lies stoically beneath the knife – the one that has kept me and my thoughts company all evening – as the man cuts off star after star after star with sharp, wet squeaks. It is divvied up – “sheheheyanu v’kiyemanu vehigianu lazman hazeh” – and seems to make them all happy.
They pull chunks out of the fish’s head, which stares out of pitted sockets and makes one of the men queasy.
I feel somewhat vindicated. They speak again – “shenihiyeh lerosh v’lo lezanav” – and eat gingerly, feeling inside their mouths for bones.
I don’t understand any of their words. I wish I did. I don’t even know what language it is. I’m afraid that when they speak it to me, like they’ve spoken it to the others, there will be some important instruction, something I’ll need to do, that I won’t do because I won’t realize it’s what they want. I couldn’t even stage a passable resistance – how would I know I wasn’t doing exactly what I was told? As they pass out the pureed fish reconstituted in bite-size balls, I catch a nervousness in the burgundy woman. She swallows before eating and closes her eyes as they recite, “shenifreh v’nirbeh k’dagim.” The man beside her looks pained and puts a hand on her arm.
I sense that I’m next. I’m cradled again in that long-fingered hand, and as the starfruit-stained knife approaches, my brief life flashes before me – light through leaves, a sheer drop, hands, crates, shuddering movement, harsh fluorescent bulbs, more hands, a dark drawer punctuated with company, anticipation.
Somewhere between the cracks, I think, I can just make out shadows of my previous life, but not enough to put together into memories.
The blade does hurt, but the hands are what rip me open and spill my seeds out redly on the gold-rimmed plate. Suddenly I have eyes everywhere.
The world becomes multifaceted.
I can see hands, fingernails, threads, knife blade, tablecloth, man and man and man and woman and woman, black and purple and burgundy and orange and blue and white and silver, the mottled cream of floor tiles. I can see them all at once.
“Yehi ratzon milfanecha” – their words no longer reverberate; they hold handfuls of me in paper napkins to keep from staining their hands – the burgundy woman has closed her eyes again; she has her other hand on her abdomen. She raises me to her mouth, and I realize I finally understand.
As the teeth puncture my translucent membranes, I know what she’s missing, and I’m ready.
“...shenirbeh zechuyot k’rimon,” they finish, and I am a legion of crunchy, fertile orbs, pouring into cupped potential, bursting with purpose.