There was only one of her though and the others looked ready for their life feasts as they channeled God like dam locks: his ebb and flow, his furious rush, his mighty crash, his slow recession. These were the navigator Jews. They had a God compass that pointed them straight. They could sail through Cape Horn with their ship at no angle.
“So throw me a line,” she whispered. God is wet and huge. “I’ll let your words wash over me if you throw me a line.”
Janet was sitting at the back in the foldout chair section. Now, she thought, here is the pornographic bow. It was a bounce and a bend for the white rabbi. The white rabbi was before the Ark.
“All rise,” he said into his microphone.
There was no sound of chairs against floor because the floor was carpet. This was the sound, Janet thought, of bodies meeting God. Like bread rising, they were warm and soft and silent. They grew towards God and He embraced them. God’s whiteness met their own. Janet pictured holy bread clouds.
But here she was on earth watching the calves in front for a sign of when to drop her head and Ark bend. The God Ones went from the hips. This is where the God Ones lowered.
Don’t they know it looks the same? Janet thought. Her head was parallel to the ground. Her neck was bare. It was how she looked to Marion while he held her at the hips with his wedding fingers. Didn’t they know it looked the same? They had their necks out under God’s big face regardless of what they did?
“Please be seated,” said the rabbi. Janet brought her head up and saw the congregation lower, men in dark shine and women like macadam sparkle.
That was the parking lot at Beth El where she used to go. Eucalyptus flipped silver and the sweet air made sense for California God Ones. Nothing was harsh. It was temple not shul, bacon and candles.
“It is cultural for us,” Janet heard her mother say. Her mother sipped loudly on plastic cups that matched the color of her long nails.
“Cultural isn’t enough,” she thought. She sat down. Cultural doesn’t keep you from sucking him off at the JCC.
The rabbi coughed into his microphone.
Give me punishment, thought Janet. Make me feel something greater than myself. Her chest was tight from coffee and heartburn.
“The Days of Awe are upon us,” said the rabbi.
Janet sat straight in her chair. She tried to ignore her body.
“These Days we reflect on acts of the past year.” He paused to look at the congregation, breathed into the microphone. “Are we proud of them or not. Would we bare our souls to God? Have we followed his orders?”
His! Janet sat straighter. Not a gender neutral God! An Old Testament God; full of fury! Do not be forgiving of me!
“We tell our children that, of course we’ll be written into the Book of Life, of course.” The rabbi stepped back from the podium. The congregation leaned forward. “But this isn’t children’s service,” he said. “This isn’t babysitting.”
Talk to me, thought Janet. Teach me my lesson.
“I’m here to tell you that we’re shaped by our sins just as we’re shaped by the good we do,” the rabbi said. “And just because you fast and ask forgiveness doesn’t mean God will forgive you.”
“Yes,” said Janet loudly now. “Talk to me,” she said.
The woman in front of her turned around. Her hair was feathered and golden. She looked like jewelry.
“So we come to shul with our manicures and suits,” said the rabbi, “but are we really ready to take inventory of our lives?”
Inventory! Janet saw beakers and silver cups, pipettes of liquid sin. Stock and measure and record me, oh God. Organize my life.
“I can learn not to trespass,” she said, this time quietly. And then she thought, But I must feel God first. I must feel him gripping me from behind like Marion. Because there was no doubt in the physical. Marion never hit her but he held her so there was no choice. He held her in the JCC diaper room. That was how he held her and now God would hold her also. She wanted him to reach out a hand and make a burning come over her.
Heartburn raced up her throat. Janet’s stomach bloated out in response. She felt her chest open and prepared to become a tunnel of God.
Vivien Drabkin is a teacher living and working in New York. She holds an M.F.A. from Columbia