Ben Berman Ghan
“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”
― William Shakespeare, Hamlet
You hate the sound of the word, “sir.”
You don’t have a name anymore.
“License and registration, please.”
You hand it over. The picture looks just like you. He asks for your passport. You give him what you have.
“How long will you be staying in the United States, sir?”
Forever, unless someone bothers to move you back across the border.
“Just a few days, a week at most.”
“You here on business?”
You’re here to die.
“Just looking to get away for a while.”
“I should get a new passport photo, I know,” you say. “I’ve shaved since that one.”
You’ve never had a beard. He only shrugs.
“It’s no problem.”
But he’s still holding on to it.
“Any food in the car, sir? Perishables?”
You look at the guard through the rolled down window of the driver’s seat. You focus on the brim of your hat as opposed to features of the outside world. But you can still see him. He looks young.
You can see he likes it when you call him that. His thin chest puffs up so little under the blue collared shirt. He nods, flips to a new page of the little blue book of identity, and stamps it.
He hands you back the fake passport and the fake driver’s license. You stuff the passport back into the glove compartment but put the license in your pocket. You still need it
“Welcome to America, sir.”
“Thank you, officer.”
You drive on past the border. Only when the crossing hut with its gates and pale border patrol office have faded into a spec in your review mirror do you stop squeezing the steering wheel. In the passenger seat, your father sits silently. You can almost feel his hand on your shoulder. He says nothing.
Your knuckles have gone white from the strain.
They ache. You rub them. They ache.
“You sound funny.”
“You’re on the speakerphone, Ma.”
“What am I on the speakerphone for?”
“I don’t have my hands-free, Ma. I’m busy.”
“Busy, busy. God, forbid you give your mother your full attention if you’re so busy.”
“I’m cooking, Ma.”
You are standing over the kitchen sink. The phone is next to you on the counter. The little green LED light flashes on and off, to make sure you don’t forget the call-in-progress. Your sleeves are rolled back to your elbows. Holding the naked chicken breast in both hands, you run it under the steaming water, trying to defrost it faster.
“You remember little Ophelia Goldberg?”
Of course, you do.
Your hands turn pinker and pinker under the near-boiling water as the chicken turns whiter and whiter. Your skin stings where it hits you, but you don’t pull away.
“Of course, you do. Mel and Shir’s girl? You used to do paintings together.”
The meat begins to drop between your fingers as the ice stops holding it together. It looks disappointed to be dead.
“That was the fourth grade, Ma.”
“Oh, so now you do remember. So, I suppose you were lying when you said you didn’t. I suppose you think you can lie to me all the time.”
You withdraw from the hot water slower than you should have. You feel the numb searing of flesh as the now-boiling tap burns your fingers. You drop the chicken, it lands in the sink.
“What was that?”
“Nothing, Ma. Just dropped something.”
“Are you alright?”