Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2020    poetry    all issues

Fiction Summer 2020 cover


Cover Vecteezy

Robert Maynor
The Intimidator

Jennifer Hanno
The Quickening

Daniel Gorman

Bethany Nuckolls
Hot Days Are For Listening

Audrey Kalman
Unobserved Absences

Benjamin Keyworth
The Ties That Bind

Peter Beynon
The Spirit of Sagaponack

Darius Degher
War Story

K. L. Perry
Like That

Lenore Gusch
The Rotation of Planets

Elizabeth Edelglass
First They Came for the Torahs

Robyn Blocker
The Crowned

Elizabeth Edelglass

First They Came for the Torahs

The Torahs were on the floor. Naked, covers torn, sacred scrolls unrolled, one unspooled and oddly twisted, parchment the color of flesh. Like a child, splayed across the synagogue’s rust-colored carpet hinting of dried blood.

And shards of glass, one stained-glass window smashed. Abby knew those windows, from a lifetime of bored moments when she should’ve been praying. Red candlesticks, yellow flames. Now there was a hole. She could see through to the street—police cars, lights flashing.

The synagogue had been robbed. Had there been sirens in her Sammy’s dreams? He’d awakened twice last night, crying, in his Batman pajamas. Sammy was in kindergarten down the hall, in the Jewish day school that now occupied the classrooms where once Abby had spent Sunday-school mornings failing to connect Adam and Noah to the weekly Torah portions old Rabbi Gotteskind used to chant from these very scrolls now on the floor. She and Doug had wanted something better for their children. Learn to live as Jews, they’d read in the day school brochure, members of the global community. Becka was down the hall, too, in third grade.

“In, and out,” Judy Cohen whispered. They’d made it this far, to the sanctuary door, only because they were school parents. Nothing so flimsy as yellow crime-scene tape could keep mothers from the building where their children were supposed to be safe.

“For the silver,” Judy Cohen said, still whispering, two policemen nearby shifting foot-to-foot, the creak of leather, the clank of metal.

No wonder the Torahs looked naked. Without their silver crowns, meant to exalt, their heavy breastplates, meant to protect. Even the yads were gone, slender silver pointers, each ending in a tiny finger no bigger than Sammy’s on the day he was born—to guide the Torah reader, no human finger allowed to touch the sacred parchment.

“In and out,” Judy Cohen repeated. September sun through the gaping window raised a yeasty smell as she leaned in close, hot breath on Abby’s ear. “I feel,” she whispered, “almost raped.”

Sammy was crazed in the car after school. “Police cars,” he gushed from his safety seat in the back. “Sirens!”

“There weren’t sirens,” Becka said. She, too, sat in back, still protected in her booster until she turned nine, maybe longer if she didn’t put on weight. Don’t rush her, Doug always said, keep her safe a little longer.

“Were too!” Sammy poured out a story about sitting in a police car during recess, sounding the siren. “Whee-ooh-whee-ooh.” He made the high-low sound infamous from black-and-white Gestapo films, as if he knew. Becka covered her ears.

“I’m the one who found it,” Sammy said.

“Found what?” Had Abby been paying attention?

“The policeman said I shouldn’t have touched it.”

Abby slammed on her brakes as the school bus she’d been mindlessly following suddenly cranked out its stop sign and a couple of public-school kids scuttled safely across the street to their waiting mother.

“It was soooo heavy.”

“Found what?”

Abby saw, in the rearview, Becka startle at the sharp report of her voice.

“The flashlight, silly,” Sammy said. Becka let that go, no reprimand for calling Mommy silly. Abby searched Becka’s face, had to force her eyes back to the curve of road where sometimes deer jumped out, the curve she sometimes took a little too fast, so her kids wouldn’t see the occasional dead Bambi on the grassy verge.

At dinner, Doug couldn’t stop talking about it. His patients had brought the news into his office. It always amazed Abby how people could talk with a dentist’s hands in their mouths.

“It’s a ring of thieves,” he said. “We’ll never see that silver again. Probably melted down already.” Abby kicked him under the table. Her parents had occasionally spoken Yiddish at the dinner table; she’d grown up thinking all parents had a secret code, so kids wouldn’t hear anything personal, private, scary. Broken Yiddish, it turned out, not code after all, just a remnant of her grandparents’ former lives.

A robbery, the evening news later confirmed, the kids safely in Becka’s room playing Barbies. “Not a hate crime,” declared the chief of police, his belly filling the TV screen, over a crawl announcing a car crash on the Jersey Turnpike, a car bomb in Iraq.

“Not a hate crime,” Doug snorted. “Well that’s a relief.” In bed that night, he was strong, and maybe rougher than usual, in and out.

Shabbat that week was a makeshift affair, with a Torah borrowed from the shul cross-town and an olivewood yad from some congregant’s trip to Israel. The Torah sat forlorn in the ark, without silver, which the cross-town shul had not loaned. As if the thieves might come back? That horse is already out of the barn, Abby’s mother would’ve scoffed—her mother, who had no firsthand experience with horses, but her mother had talked, about life before America, before the camps, seemingly bucolic life, before.

While Cantor Ken davened Shacharit, Judy Cohen leaned forward, curls tickling Abby’s cheek. “We’re putting in a burglar alarm.”

“We have an alarm,” Abby said. “It didn’t help.” The boarded-up window glowered at her.

“At home,” Judy said. “Who could feel safe anymore?” Her Zachary joined Sammy zipping Matchbox cars at Abby’s feet, the tiny police car and ambulance Sammy’d chosen to bring today. Becka leaned into Abby’s side, absorbed in reading Nancy Drew—the same Nancy who’d been solving cases since Abby was her age.

Rabbi Wolf held her baby while she chanted from the borrowed Torah, his dimpled finger pointing as if to follow the Hebrew words. Parshat Shoftim—Abby found the English translation in the Bible on her lap. A portion about justice, in which crimes must be investigated. As if God knew which words needed to be read this week.

The synagogue settled down, back to normal, new normal.

First came the meetings. Ritual committee reporting to executive board, then full board, then an open meeting where congregants (doctors, teachers, plumbers) attempted to parse Talmudic text, while Rabbi Wolf attempted to maintain order. Psychiatrists Levine and Schwartz sparred over Talmudic requirement (Levine) or mere tradition (Schwartz) to fast after seeing a Torah touch the floor. Anyone who saw the Torahs on the floor (Levine), or who saw the Torahs hit the floor (Schwartz)? Rabbi Wolf said it was up to each individual’s conscience, whether or not to observe a fast day in reverence for the Torahs. Then she laid her baby across her lap, in the obvious position, and psychiatrists Levine and Schwartz sat down.

Next, a Torah scribe was hired from Brooklyn to examine the Torahs, to decide if they were still kosher.

“Like food?” Sammy asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Becka said, also getting back to normal. “Good enough to read, everything perfect, the parchment, the stitching, the letters.” Becka was big on perfect, as hard on herself as on those around her.

“He has a beard,” Sammy said. “Like Santa Claus.”

Not like Santa Claus,” Becka said. She hadn’t eaten lunch that day, in honor of the Torahs. But she was on her second after-school Oreo, possibly not entirely clear on what it meant to fast.

The scribe took one of the Torahs back to Brooklyn for repairs. Probably the one that had been twisted so oddly, maybe not a dead child after all, just a broken arm or leg, nothing that couldn’t be fixed.

Meanwhile, the schoolchildren used the olivewood yad and the borrowed scroll for their Monday and Thursday Torah readings, a tradition meant to ensure that nobody went more than three days without hearing God’s words.

On the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Wolf chanted from the borrowed Torah, Moses’s last speech to the Jews. “You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God . . . even the stranger within your camp . . .”

All of you. In her sermon, Rabbi Wolf listed committees forming to repair, replace, and rededicate. Committees that would need everyone to pitch in, shul and school alike, all devoted to shared use of, and love of, the Torahs.

Even the stranger within your camp. Rabbi Wolf preached loving our neighbors, not living in fear, as Abby stared through the clear glass that now replaced the board that had replaced the smashed stained-glass window. Maybe the fundraising committee could donate a portion of moneys raised for Torah repair to the refugee resettlement program in town, Rabbi Wolf suggested. Should the committee planning the Torah rededication invite the police, who’d increased patrols past the building, the priest and pastor who’d offered prayers?

Global community, Abby remembered from the day school brochure. She joined the Sisterhood committee to needlepoint new Torah covers and the PTO Touch-a-Truck fundraiser committee.

Sisterhood president Shelly Landsdorf painted templates for the Torah covers. Riotous colors. To distract the eye from what was gone, the silver? Abby took home the canvas painted with a golden shofar, the ram’s horn calling all to pray, which seemed fitting after what the synagogue community had gone through. Abby hadn’t needlepointed since she was twelve, when she’d helped her grandmother stitch a frenzy of pillows and antimacassars, those things meant to keep human hands from touching the sofa’s arms, as if the plush American sofa had been as precious to her grandmother as the Torah.

“Doesn’t the shofar remind you of that conch shell in Lord of the Flies?” Doug asked one night, Abby bent over her work—who knew golden thread was so kinky and fragile? “Didn’t they kill one of those boys?” The shofar, a symbol of order and civilization, or the conch shell, a symbol of civilization run amok?

Doug was experimenting with dental tools and a wooden spindle to fashion another replacement yad. “Maybe I could silver this with dental amalgam,” he said, sanding his decent replica of a pointer finger. “Don’t worry, the mercury in amalgam is safe. I handle it every day. We put it in people’s mouths, don’t we?” Mercury? Abby had never thought to worry.

She ended up handing over the Torah cover to a more skilled stitcher. And she arranged with Mort Lieberman to bring his excavators to Touch-a-Truck. But she “forgot” to phone the town about bringing rescue vehicles—hadn’t the kids seen enough police cars?

Before anyone figured out that Touch-a-Truck was only half-planned, the mosque in town burned to the ground. It was the fire chief on TV this time. “Cause yet to be determined,” he said, in full fire-chief regalia, above a crawl about a workplace shooting in Texas. “Maybe an electrical fire.” Maybe not a hate crime?

Abby should’ve known there was a mosque in town. Sammy’s favorite nurse at the pediatrician’s wore a headscarf. There was a man at the gas station with one of those crocheted caps that wasn’t a kippah. They had to pray somewhere. But Abby hadn’t known that somewhere was the abandoned bowling alley, an old building that surely could have faulty wiring.

The synagogue invited the mosque’s daycare center to share space. Sammy’s kindergarten moved in with the first grade, so the daycare toddlers could have the classroom with low shelves and its own tiny toilets.

“I’m in first grade now,” Sammy boasted at dinner.

“Are not,” Becka said.

“Eat your dinner,” Abby said, dishing out something called Tuna-Quinoa-Toss that she’d seen online, unlike anything her mother had ever served. Also mac and cheese for the kids, who were sure to object.

“I don’t see why,” Doug said, helping himself to mac and cheese.

“Because it’s healthy,” Abby said.

“No,” he said, “I mean their daycare in our kindergarten. We’re paying for that kindergarten. An arm and a leg.” So much for citizens of the world.

But when an email went out for congregants to donate cribs and strollers—the daycare had lost everything in the fire—he helped Abby schlep Sammy’s old crib to the shul. The daycare teacher wore skinny jeans and a silky headscarf. The children, some brown, some beige, some blond, cradled dolls and scooted cars, just like the Jewish children who’d inhabited this classroom last week. Some of the girls had their heads covered, some not—subject of their own parents’ committees and debates?

When the bomb threat was phoned into the synagogue, nobody came on TV to say cause unknown, not a hate crime.

The children, Jews and not Jews, were evacuated to the public school, which sent buses, opened its gymnasium.

“Just like on TV,” Sammy said when Abby arrived at the gym. What had Doug been letting them watch on TV—one of his shoot-em-up movies . . . or the news? Abby had gotten this news when her phone had shrilled at the Stop & Shop, the school’s new emergency text chain. She’d abandoned her cart—let the ice cream melt.

“The door opens, and you climb up,” Sammy said. Oh, it was his first bus ride that he wanted to talk about.

“Of course you climb up,” Becka said. But that night, she was the one who couldn’t sleep, hovering at Abby’s bedside every hour to ask about bombs and firemen and shouldn’t she have a rope ladder under her bed, one of those safety tips she must’ve heard from Abby’s mother, until Abby finally gathered her in, lanky soccer-player limbs barely reminiscent of the soft infant body that used to curve against Abby’s breast.

“Maybe we should move them,” Doug whispered across the bed in the morning.

“It’s just Becka,” Abby whispered back. “Time to get up, anyway.”

“I don’t mean out of bed,” Doug said. “I mean out of that school. To public school. Where they’ll be safe.”

“Safe?” There were guns, sometimes, in public schools.


Abby held Becka close, until she woke up enough to shrug Abby off.

“It’s that daycare,” Doug said later, leaning over the morning paper at the kitchen table.

“Huh?” Abby said, cutting carrots for lunchboxes, carrots that probably wouldn’t get eaten, but . . . food groups.

“I knew we shouldn’t have let them in,” Doug said. “Those kids from the daycare. They were the target of the bomb threat.”

“It says that in the paper?”

“They’re calling it a hate crime.”

Finally. But hate against whom?

“There’s a coupon for frozen turkeys at the Stop & Shop,” Doug said. Next week was Thanksgiving. Ha, Thanksgiving. “You should get one today.” He reached a hand to still her knife now in the peanut butter jar. “Take the kids.”

“It’s a school day.”

Then they argued over whether or not to keep the kids home from school—the way parents argue when their children are in the next room, yelling at each other in whispers and code.

“Math test,” Abby said, meaning Becka, today.

“Bomb.” Red blotches bloomed on Doug’s cheeks.

“They could get killed crossing the street,” Abby mouthed. Then she gave a spit against the evil eye that her words might’ve attracted—pooh, pooh, pooh—the way her grandmother would have done. Then, as if to make amends, “How long?”

“Forever.” Challenge, or submission? “Fuck school.” The cords of Doug’s neck bulged as if he were shouting.

“Fuck the news.” Abby grabbed the newspaper out from under him, crumpled it into the trash. Then she hollered for the kids to tie their shoes, get their backpacks. The argument wasn’t settled, just ended.

There was a police car at the end of the shul driveway for the rest of the week, although Judy Cohen said they just parked it there, empty, for show. Then on Saturday there was a policeman at the door, checking pocketbooks and tallis bags. No, not a policeman, Abby realized, as his grizzled head leaned forward to examine her ChapStick, crumpled tissues, Cheerio crumbs. Just a hired guard, an old man with a badge, maybe plastic, like Sammy’s Purim costume. Did he have a gun? A real, not plastic, gun?

Rabbi Wolf chanted the long parshah about Abraham and his sons, Isaac and Ishmael. In her sermon, she considered whether the call to sacrifice Isaac had been God’s punishment for Abraham expelling Ishmael into the desert. But then God sent an angel to bring water to Ishmael and promised to make of him a great nation. And hadn’t God also spared Isaac? Two great nations, Rabbi Wolf reminded, both descended from Abraham.

Then the swastikas appeared.

The secular New Year had passed, the repaired Torah returned from Brooklyn. Neither stained glass nor silver had yet been replaced, but the joyous colors of Shelley Landsdorf’s Torah covers and the loving stitches of every Sisterhood finger deserved a celebration.

Maybe it was on Friday night, after Shabbat candles and chicken and baths, after Abby had helped the kids pick out clothes for the party in shul tomorrow, then loaded them into the car (in parkas, and also hats, they shouldn’t catch their death of cold from wet hair) for one last drive past lingering Christmas lights, all the way to the house famous for coordinated music—tune your radio to 106.9 for a chorus of angels singing “Joy to the World.” Maybe then, Becka and Sammy’s faces against the windows, their breath steaming the glass, Abby humming along to Christmas carols she’d learned in public-school glee club, maybe that’s when the swastikas appeared.

Everyone saw, first thing Saturday morning, every congregant arriving, whether walking, as per ancient law, or driving (another debate from another, easier time).

“What’s that?” Sammy pointed, as Doug pulled into the parking lot, fingers blanching white against the wheel.

Thick scars of paint. Bold black crosses, arms akimbo, as if beckoning, mocking, searing, scorching. On the brick walls. On the heavy metal fire doors meant to protect. On the clear glass that replaced the window smashed by so-called thieves.

And there was Mike, the janitor, with his mop and bucket, as if some kid had just thrown up in the social hall. His mop and bucket, surely useless against this overwhelming plague of black.

“They should never have reported it,” Doug said.

“You knew about this?” Abby used her whispered hiss, as if the children in the backseat couldn’t hear. “And you didn’t warn us?”

Doug was driving past empty parking spaces, almost as if he planned to circle around the building and keep going, out the exit, back home. Did fuck school also mean fuck shul?

“The rededication ceremony,” he said, finally selecting a spot out back, out of sight from the street. “It was in the paper last week. As if we needed the publicity. Better nobody should know.”

Better nobody should know. Since when did Doug sound like Abby’s grandmother? Abby’s grandmother, who’d never talked to Abby about life in the camps. But she’d told Abby’s mother, when she was old enough to be warned.

The grizzled guard was back at the shul door, this time actually poking through Abby’s purse with a rubber-gloved finger. She had breath mints this week, and Tampax.

It was Abby’s mother who’d told Abby, when she was old enough. About what had happened to Abby’s grandmother, how she’d been treated, by guards with swastikas on their uniforms, and even by some people who’d called themselves doctors, with their fingers, and more, in and out.

The sanctuary was crowded for the celebration, with liquor in the hallway for congregants to toast l’chaim, to life. As if nothing had happened? Rabbi Wolf paraded the repaired Torah, in its golden-shofar cover, up and down the aisles, hugging it over her beating heart, the way Abby had always held her babies.

Then she delivered her sermon—the one she must’ve prepared last week, last night, before—about the Torah portion, Vayigash, Joseph and his brothers. I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. The line everyone knew. But the next line: And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves . . . Yourselves, the brothers who had sold him into slavery. “The first recorded moment in history,” Rabbi Wolf said, “in which one human being forgives another.”

“Is it a flower?” Sammy distracted Abby from the rabbi’s message, pointing to slashes of black clearly visible through the not-stained-glass window. Hadn’t Abby just read something about people, somewhere, transforming swastikas into flowers? The kind of story you never used to read, before.

“It’s not a flower,” Becka sneered. Then, “Is it?” Today, she’d brought a book about fairies using magic to solve every problem, even less believable than Nancy Drew.

After the bomb threat, Abby had stumbled on a Facebook link to audio of the actual threatening phone call. A voice calmly proclaiming that soon a lot of children would die. And here was Rabbi Wolf preaching forgiveness, while the sun shone upon the congregation through a swastika.

It wasn’t until later, over Sisterhood salads and tiny plastic cups of schnapps and jelly cookies for the kids, that word began to spread. It started with the teenagers, hovering over their phones, irresistibly drawn to the shimmery screens, never mind Shabbat rules. Then parents, first chastising, then bending over the screens themselves, faces contorted, as if mirroring what they were seeing. Something worse than swastikas. Whispers through the crowd. Gunshots. Another shul. Somewhere else.

Doug had his phone out now, shaking his head in response to Abby’s questioning eyes, nodding at the children, herding them towards the coatroom. How many dead, if Doug wouldn’t speak in front of the children? Was Judy Cohen crying, as she knelt to zip her Zachary into his jacket, fingers struggling, hair falling in ropes over her face? Abby wanted to kneel with her, hug her, help her zip.

But Doug was tugging, and then they were out the door, into a throng of people. Strangers, brandishing sticks, clubs, rifles. Doug’s arms reached out to Abby’s, and they huddled around their children without need to discuss, like some practiced medieval battle formation.

It was only when Doug’s fingers relaxed their grip that Abby realized what these strangers actually held in their hands—spray bottles and scrub brushes and rubber gloves—Mike in their midst, with his mop, pointing and organizing. An army of strong men with rags around their faces against the caustic burn of whatever they were spraying—to scrub away the black.

Then she saw there were men and women. Fluttering headscarves on some, knitted caps on others—at first unnoticed in the sea of face rags. Just as Abby hadn’t really noticed these neighbors before . . . until the mosque burned down.

Beyond the army of scrubbers, the police were back, where just this morning the old man had stood. Although were these policemen? Not in their usual neighborly blue uniforms, sometimes even with short sleeves, like the plaid shirts Abby’s dad used to wear for backyard barbecues. These could’ve been soldiers on the TV news, in some faraway country, fighting one of too many faraway wars. They wore heavy helmets and bulky chest protectors and all sorts of equipment that Abby couldn’t accurately name when Sammy asked, “What’s that?”

“You can ask them,” Doug said. But the policemen were busy, some chattering on their radios, others intent on scanning the street—eyes, hands, bodies at the ready.

“At Touch-a-Truck,” Abby said. “You can ask them at Touch-a-Truck.”

On Monday she would call the town, arrange for police cars to come to Touch-a-Truck. Burly policemen. And an ambulance. And a big red fire truck, with a couple of firemen who wouldn’t be afraid of anything. All the rescue vehicles . . . and the rescuers. Sammy would climb inside, honk horns, sound sirens. With Judy Cohen’s Zachary. And the daycare children—Abby would be sure they got fliers. Maybe Becka was still young enough to join in the fun. As if they were safe. As if their parents could protect them.

Elizabeth Edelglass is a fiction writer and book reviewer living in Connecticut. Her stories have recently appeared in New Haven Review, Tablet, The Sunlight Press, and JewishFiction.Net, as well as in four recent anthologies, including The Bridport Prize Anthology 2018. She has won the Reynolds Price Fiction Prize, the Lilith short story contest, the William Saroyan Centennial Prize, the Lawrence Foundation Prize from Michigan Quarterly Review, and a Connecticut Commission on the Arts fellowship.

Dotted Line