SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Vanessa Gebbie (Read author interview) June 15, 2004

Like a great gaping mouth full of teeth it is, he said, my Dad. Like great tombstones of teeth sticky out every which way, he said. He was right. Had to pay to go in, though, but that made it special somehow. Like you had to concentrate more to get your money’s worth.

We went to the synagogue too. Had to buy one of those hats, made of paper it was, and he didn’t like that, my Dad, he said bloody hell look, who do they think I am, but I said just put it on, OK. So he did.

It was lovely in there. It was dead peaceful, sort of thing, and I could have sat and watched the dust circling, and felt ever so you know. But Dad, a quick look round and he said he’d had enough. What, I said, even with those kids singing. And they were too. Singing. No-one told them to, they just sang, and it sounded strange coming out of their mouths like that. Old music. Really old. And ups and downs in it that were like another language. I suppose that’s what got to my Dad. He doesn’t speak languages. Thinks everyone ought to speak his, sort of thing. But I said, hang on there Dad, just listen. Its lovely isn’t it? But he’d taken off the paper hat and screwed it up by then so we had to go.

The sound of those boy’s voices sort of came out with us. Like it was in our pockets. Music in our pockets, funny that.

Then we crossed the road to the cemetery. Have we got to go in here, he said, and I said of course we have, Dad you’re supposed to see this when you’re here. And it was beautiful. Those tombstones like giant teeth, all crazy, on soil piled so high it looked like the sea, and waves of bodies trying to swim up to the surface. There’s fifteen layers of bodies there, they said. Fifteen layers.

They closed the cemetery well before Kafka walked round here. Oh yes. he would have seen this. SEEN THIS. And Dad couldn’t care less.

There’s this one stone, Rabbi someone, who was dead important, sorry that sort of came out wrong, but I know, and he probably knows what I mean to say. And you could go right up to the stone, leaning like the Tower of Pisa only smaller. There were people putting pebbles on the top. Little ones, Finding pebbles from the earth and balancing them on top and I wanted to cry. But Dad said what’s the matter with you girl? Like that. So when he’d gone on a bit, and was grouching near the exit, I said I’d dropped something. What? he said. Anything, I said over my shoulder and I ran back, saying excuse me very politely, through the line of people coming round, because it’s all one way. And I found a small pebble. It was fallen off another gravestone, but I didn’t reckon it would matter really. And I went to the Rabbi’s stone, and stood with this old chap. God he was old. he was dead old, but not dead, sort of thing, but he looked as though he could have been. And it was funny, we both leaned forward at exactly the same time, and put our pebbles on top of the grave. And we sort of smiled. He could see I wasn’t Jewish, I think, but he didn’t seem to mind.

He smiled at me, and I could sort of see Dad saying don’t smile at strangers, Mags, but there you are. This man looked sort of sad, and old, and all I did was smile.

Then there was Dad at the exit in such a mood. We’ve got to go up these bloody stairs now, he said. Why the hell can’t we just get out? It was a narrow stairs, one way again, and Dad complaining, and holding on to the banister too long. Where are we going now, he said. But it was dead nice up there. There were all these drawings, like school kid’s things, sort of what I would have done a few years ago. Crayons, and pencils, drawings of people, stick people, schools, flowers, and lots of drawings of people holding hands and smiling. There were words too, big letters in crayon, lots of them faded. I couldn’t make them out, and went to ask Dad what they said. But he’d gone all quiet. And waved me away. So I walked round the room to see if I could fathom it out. Lots of old luggage labels, and a cracked leather suitcase in a glass case. Lots of passport photos. But no grown ups. All kids. Like me. And I thought I’d better ask Dad now. And I went over but he had his head against the wall, and was not speaking.

I read this story by Kafka, last night in the hostel. I don’t understand it, but I’m going to try again, maybe next year. The Trial it was called. Dead good. But this guy he doesn’t know what he’s on trial for exactly. It just happens. And no-one does anything about it.

Sort of like these kids really.

And it was even more dead funny because when we came out, Dad was blowing his nose on a handkerchief, and I was embarrassed because it echoed on the stairs. And all these people looked round. When we got out you could still hear the singing. these boys singing, just sort of floating down the street. And this time, my Dad sat on the kerb, right outside the cafe on the street next to the synagogue, he sat on the kerb, with people walking all round him and making sort of Oh look at that daft man faces, and he looked up at me and said “Listen, Mags. Listen to that. It’s beautiful.”

About the Author

Vanessa Gebbie lives in Sussex in the UK, and has been writing for two years. She is a member of Bootcamp Keegan, an online writing community. She writes articles on education for a provincial magazine, and had a short story short-listed for the Asham prize for new woman writers in 2003. She has had her first submission of a short story accepted by Buzzwords on Line. It will appear later in 2004. She says life began at fifty when she learned to ski. Downhill. On real snow.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This story appeared in Issue Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Four

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