And So It Begins
The insistent ringing of his cellphone shattered the peaceful stillness of the pre-dawn hour. With a groan, Eli Goodman rolled over, ignoring the noise.
The cacophony continued, possibly with more vigor, which could only mean one thing.
His mother was on the other end of the line and if he didn't answer, the whole of the Indianapolis area would hear her scream of frustration.
Scrabbling for the phone, he moved his hand over the bedside table until his fingers closed over the device then he pressed the green button. "Ma? What's wrong?"
Diane Goodman clicked her tongue and the sound went straight through him, just as it had during his formative years. "Why do you always assume catastrophe is imminent when I call?"
"Because it's five AM on Saturday and I have blessed little to do, so why else would you call?" He sank into the warm nest of his pillows and blankets, keeping his eyes closed in case the call would be short and he could regain sleep.
"Ah, my life is now complete. My only son has decided to mock me at the start of the Festival of Lights. What have I done to deserve this? My only goal on this Earth was to make my children happy, and this is how you repay me."
Oy. My mother the martyr. Being the youngest of five, and the only male to boot, it came as no surprise to listen to the speech his parent had undoubtedly trademarked with the government or at the very least, every synagogue in the tri-state area.
"Sorry, Ma. What do you need that will make your life the pinnacle of success?"
"You, at the community center this morning at nine for rehearsal. I know you've forgotten."
"What?" His eyes flew open as cold dread shot down his spine. He sat, rubbing a hand through his thick curls, one of the many attributes his female relatives said made him worthy of a Hollywood movie. "What are you talking about?"
She blew a breath and he could well imagine the eye roll that probably accompanied it. "I volunteered you to stand in as the Maccabee in the play, of course. I thought it would be a good way for you to reconnect with the family and your community. You don't come to temple anymore." Guilt was heavy in her voice. "You rarely come home for a meal either. If I didn't give birth to you myself, I would swear you weren't my son."
Pregnant silence followed, most likely in the hopes that he would think about what he was inflicting on his poor, harried mother.
Eli switched on the lamp and blinked at the sudden brightness. "Ma, I'm not doing the play. I'm not a ten year old you can push around anymore. Besides, your friends ogle me when I wear that outfit." He shuddered to think of the short tunic that bared his legs and sandals that did nothing to cover the skin.
"So, now you're ashamed of your body or is it my friends?" More tongue clicking. "I labored for twenty-two hours with you, young man. Doesn't that deserve respect?"
As if he were suddenly transported back to pre-puberty days, his stomach hurt from his mother's words. She could guilt a cat into opening its own can of food.
"No, Ma. It's just I'm not sure how I feel about our faith. The whole thing is so ... overbearing." Thinking about the intensive family gathering gave him cold chills and sweats, much like the flu. And the endless questions from countless aunts regarding his single status.
Oh, the humanity.
"You listen to me, Elijah Goodman. I refuse to be embarrassed by not having you, my only son, at the celebration this year. You'll do this and you'll like it. I am telling the family you'll be in the play on the Sixth Night. Do not disappoint me."
He stared sullenly at his bureau, knowing that no matter what he did, he would always disappoint her. "But--"
"But nothing. Stop by the house tonight and you can tell me how everything went. Bring ice and potatoes. Dinner's at six sharp. Don't be late."
The dead air on the other end of the line brooked no arguments and felt as cold as Diane's unblinking stare.
Eli threw the phone down and slumped against the pillows as a headache loomed.
His mother, the bully, pushed every member of the family around until they did what she wanted out of sheer exhaustion. His life was no exception. Heaven only knew how many women he'd gone out with during recent years thanks to her meddling and constant haranguing about his lack of marital success.
And now this. The annual re-telling of the Maccabee story with its prerequisite fight scene. Usually, one of his uncles filled the role, but this year his mother had most likely finagled and reordered the cast so that he, Eli, got the supposed honor of the lead. How long had it been since he'd stepped foot into the community center let alone the synagogue? Too long to own up to. Probably since this time last year.
The family legacy and attachments turned him from the religion as much as the stuffiness and saga of it all, but in the Goodman family, personal preferences didn't matter when Hanukkah came around. You either put up or shut up and listened to countless versions of the same stories the family had told since he was a little boy--only now the participants in the tales were braver, larger and more dangerous.
Eli rubbed a hand along his jaw. The next eight days would last an eternity.