Saturday, April 22, 2006

the people of the book

My mother touched the knife blade. The rabbi was in the corner by the crib, muttering. And far away, my father hovered by the TV. There are some things a man can’t watch.

Sam, my mother said. I think it needs more edge.

My Dad tore himself away from the football game and felt the blade. He nodded slowly.

The stone was doubled-wrapped in baggies and paper towels that were held tight by two rubber bands. My father laid out the layers on the counter. He put a drop of oil on the stone and massaged it with his finger.

Hey Irm, he said.

My mother handed him the knife. He laid the edge carefully against the stone and feathered the blade against the silky surface.

My father worked both sides of the blade. Then he flipped the stone over to the finer side. Again the application of oil and the light scraping of steel on stone. Finally he tested the edge. He drew a sheet of paper from the drawer and, with almost no effort, slit it in half.

My mother nodded. The rabbi shrugged.

My father wiped the blade and the stone with an old towel. He then rewrapped the stone in its many layers and stowed it back in the recesses of the closet.

Then they all approached the crib. My little brother was sleeping and making small satisfied noises. He had just been fed and his face was bloated and red. The rabbi took my brother’s lolling head in his hairy hands and pried his jaws open. He started a soft prayer. My brother’s tongue was white with milk and moved forward and back with his uneven breath.

Suddenly, the rabbi ended his dovening. My father turned away. My mother advanced towards the crib, holding the knife high overhead and then brought it down in a gentle chop in the ritual circumcision of the tongue.


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