Tuesday 29 May 2012

Radiance 16 - A simple man does not know

    Shabbat morning services had not been improved by his fight with a dybbuk, which was perhaps not a surprise to anyone but Virgo who had insisted he attend. The Centre Synagogue of Manhattan was pretty quiet but still Virgo had insisted on sitting at the other end of the room, facing the east wall - even though the synagogue had been egalitarian for decades, Virgo didn’t like sitting next to Asher in services. Something about ‘getting distracted’. Today he hadn’t objected - he would rather be far away from her right now.
  Ostar and Mercury were missing. While Asher had been lost inside his head, someone took them. Li and Rahko were out searching but even after exorcising the nameless one Asher had been unconscious for most of the week. Rahko last saw them in Netanya but the scribe’s shop they had been watching was abandoned by the time he got back there. By now they were probably dead.
    And here he was sitting in synagogue, listening to the choir sing a twirly rendition of Ein Kamocha as the cantor took the scroll out of the ark. It was incredibly frustrating. He should be out there, scouring the country for Samael and Ashmedai so he could smash their heads and rip out their throats. What was the point of having this new power if he couldn’t do anything?
    The world had changed since Columbus Circle. No, that wasn’t true, but his perception of it had. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of strange spirits, shadows in bright sunshine, an unexplained blur on the horizon. Virgo said that the world had always been like this but that Asher’s eyes were newly opened, and out of habit he had taken her at her word.
    But she had lied to him about his father. Well, not lied exactly since Virgo had never mentioned him to Asher, but they had known each other; she was the last person to speak to him when he was still alive. How could she not have mentioned it?
    The pain struck him like a punch to the chest, a dark hole in his stomach, burning in his eyes. It was almost a year since Dad died, nearly a full year - but Asher had stared into his eyes and ripped his heart to shreds, felt the muscle tear beneath his hand, while Samael stood by and laughed. And to think he had been ready to forgive the nameless one for his crimes! He hoped that the dybbuk’s spirit was rotting in hell, screaming out his name and begging for mercy.
    The rabbi and cantor were processing around the synagogue now, following the scroll around the room, singing the praise of God. As the congregation turned to face the torah, bowing as it went, Asher caught Virgo’s eye for a brief moment, before dropping his gaze.
    It made no sense. He had met demons and dybbuks, seen spirits and angels, but where was God? How could God have let this happen?

    Virgo had insisted that it didn’t matter whether Asher really believed in God or not but that just sounded like a another calculated lie to get him on board. She had manipulated him into joining the Seven, keeping kosher, observing shabbat, studying aramaic, of all things.
    A little girl in a pink skirt came up to undress to torah scroll while the rabbi went on about this week’s reading. Asher watched three flies buzzing around the chandelier high above his head. At least the synagogue had air-conditioning.
    This was stupid. It was like being back in Hebrew school, with desiccated women telling him to move to Israel and feel guilty about the Holocaust. Asher had learnt more but it all meant nothing - surface vibrations and noise.
    They kept these stupid rules, endless pages and books, whole libraries of rules to constrain their lives but for what? So they could sit helplessly while the demons feasted on the flesh of humanity.
    Asher had stared into his father’s eyes, wide with pain, watched as he died.
    There was no truth, no substance behind any of it - there was no Judge and no justice.
    While one of the old men struggled to chant the words of the torah while balancing a pair of glasses on the end of his nose, Asher stood up, dropped the siddur on the floor, and left the synagogue. Virgo was too wrapped in her own thoughts to notice.

    It was bright and hot on the streets of Manhattan, and no one seemed to have noticed that it was shabbes. A dozen workmen were drilling a hole in the street, cabs honked and wove their way past hotdog stands and kebabs. The shops were open and busy. A young couple walked past Asher holding hands, sipping iced coffees and smiling.
    Asher took the kippah off his head and began to walk.
    He had to money, no phone or wallet. Virgo had always insisted that he didn’t carry that stuff on shabbes and now he wished that at least this once he hadn’t listened. He wanted to buy a cheeseburger, topped with bacon, wash the whole lot down with a milkshake - strawberry or maybe chocolate. It didn’t really matter but Asher was sick and tired of these stupid regulations that made no damn sense.
    Instead he simply walked, feeling the sun against his face, a breath of wind brushing the hairs on his arms, the hard concrete beneath his shoes. His own apartment was too far away, and the rooms Virgo had rented would be the first place she would look for him. No, he was just going to walk north, walk until it all went away.
    He noticed shadows that didn’t belong but paid them no mind - a dark haze followed an older man as he shuffled slowly down fifth avenue, trailing his tattered shoes across the scorching pavement; a woman searching through garbage, a sad face watching her from the shade of a tree; a young woman pushing a carriage, while the baby inside played peek-a-boo with an unearthly silhouette. He ignored them all.
    Asher walked for over an hour and barely noticed where he was going until his feet pulled up in front of a familiar doorway. He smiled to himself - his feet had taken him to Dan Black.
    Without really thinking, he rang the bell and waited.
    “Who is it?” said the muffled electronic voice.
    “Who is that?”
    “Dan, it’s Asher. Can I come in?”
    The lock clicked, and Asher pushed it open.

    “Hey Ash,” Dan said, hurriedly clearing a pile of large wooden blocks off the armchair and gesturing to Asher to take a seat, “long time no see. What’s it been, like five years?”
    “Yeah, I suppose so. How’ve you been?”
    “Good, good, y’know? Can’t complain. Hey, can I get you some ice tea or coffee?”
    “I could murder a beer,” Asher said.
    “Sorry, Ash, the wife doesn’t approve, not with the kid around.”
    “I’ll just have water then.”
    “Great, great, just a second.” Dan scurried off towards the kitchen and started to wash a glass.
    Since moving out from their shared room, Dan had managed to get this amazing two bedroom place, thanks to a generous deal with a law firm, but as big as it was, it looked cramped with the sheer volume of baby toys, nappies, bottles, buggies, clothes and more.
    When Dan brought Asher a glass of water, Asher had to pile up some inflatable books to make room for it on the coffee table.
    “So Ash, to what do I owe this pleasure?” Dan said a little too quickly.
    “I was,” Asher paused, “in the neighbourhood. How are you doing? How old is he these days?”
    “Nearly two now,” Dan smiled, “and growing fast. Soon I think he’ll know more vocabulary than I do.”
    “And Mary?”
    “Maria,” Dan corrected automatically, “she’s fine. Taking Jonny for a walk in central park - I think they’re getting ice-cream.”
    “That’s great,” Asher said, sipping his water.
    “Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but what are you doing here? It’s been five years, y’know? I stopped expecting you to drop by.”
    “I’m sorry, Dan, things ran away with me. I should have called ahead but I didn’t have my phone on me.”
    “I heard you’d gone frum - is that true?”
    “Kind of, it’s a little hard to explain.”
    “I’m not going anywhere.” Dan said, scooping up a large plush elephant from the other chair and slumping into it.
    Asher thought for a moment, taking a gulp of water and crunching one of the ice cubes. I guess this is why I’m here, he thought.
    “I met someone,” he said.
    “A girl?”
    “Yes but not in that way,” Asher said.
    “There is only one way, y’know? But don’t let me interrupt.”
    “She was exciting, wonderful - she opened my eyes to a whole new world.”
    “Uh-huh,” nodded Dan.
    “She’s really religious but I didn’t think it mattered. I began to learn Hebrew again, study Bible and Talmud - all that stuff.”
    “Really? You must have been really into her.”
    “No, very much not, no.”
    “Whatever you say, Ash. What happened?”
    “I was in shul this morning and just felt so lost. I don’t think I really believe in God, or any of the crap in these books, so what the hell was I doing?”
    “Have you spoken to anyone else? Your parents?”
    “Well, you know how my mother is, and my dad… He’s gone, Dan. Died nearly a year ago.”
    “I’m sorry, Asher, he was a good guy.”
    “Not really but I can’t help feeling maybe he would have understood, had something useful to say. It was just when he died that this whole thing started.”
    Dan raised an eyebrow. “Really? D’you think it’s coincidence?”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Ash, I’m no expert but losing your father’s got to affect you, y’know? Shake you up, leave you vulnerable. I know you haven’t been in touch with the old gang but you should have let us know, you still have friends here.”
    “Thanks, Dan. I’m sorry.”
    “Don’t be sorry, just sort it out. You said you’re feeling lost - sounds to me like you went too far, too fast. You need to slow down a bit, catch your breath. Evaluate. What do you want?”
    I want to find Mercury and Ostar, I want to kill Samael and make him suffer, I want to play the guitar and go to a rave, get wasted on beer and make love all night.
    “I don’t know,” he said quietly.
    “You sure?” Dan asked. “Look, you can’t live your life just for someone else, doing what they want, trying to please them - doesn’t matter if she’s the Queen of Sheba herself. You have to do something for yourself as well, you have to find the right balance.”
    “I think you could be right. I’m sorry, I should have been in touch sooner.”
    “Hey, don’t worry. You’re here now, right? Just don’t wait another five years.”
    “I won’t. You’ve been really helpful but I think I need to go.”
    “Sure but where’re you going?”
    “To face my demons,” Asher said, finished the water and smiled.

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