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A Place of Desolation

by Mel Waldman

On a dog day afternoon, I stroll east along Kings Highway. The heat is oppressive, almost 90. My mind rushes off to a cool sanctuary, leaving my weary body behind. As I continue to saunter along the avenue, I feel like a man trapped in a nightmare, struggling to escape from his prison, willing himself to run away, but only able to run in place or suddenly paralyzed and helpless. I dream of flying but I feel I’m trudging across a desert. Observers may see only a man going for a stroll.

Soon, I pass an old homeless man sitting on the sidewalk. Sweating heavily, I stop and gaze at him. He looks odd. And the longer I stare at him, the more peculiar he seems. Is he real and human? Or is he an alien or a ghost? Soon, I watch him change. And after his sudden, dark metamorphosis, he — it — seems to beckon me.

His face is gaunt, but he looks like Santa Claus with a long white beard. He has no hair on his head, which glitters beneath a sprawling sun. Partly hidden beneath three torn blankets, he shakes violently. Then suddenly, he is still. Is he dead?

Brooklyn is a G-dless place at times, without a trace of humanity. It’s a wasteland of lost souls unaware of the death inside. But you can’t hide from Hell.

For a long, chilling moment, I study the stranger. And soon I hear his cutting, heavy breaths. He is alive and magically slicing a piece of my soul for lunch. Horrified but curious, I almost talk to him. But on this soulless day, I’m frozen in the heat of despair.

He’s one of G-d’s children, I remind myself. And of course, G-d created him in His image. Yes, Hashem created him and all other creatures in the universe. But peering out at the tattered creature from inside the cage of my existence, I can’t make sense of his being. Certainly, he’s no king. Yet he wears my son’s eyes.

Is it by chance or design that his eyes are the same color as my son’s? I can’t fathom why or how he came to wear my boy’s eyes. Of course, I too wear his eyes.

Instinctively, like a frightened beast, I rush off, obliterating him from the landscape of my psyche. I’m free, I tell myself, until a crazy thought emerges in my private wasteland: Who created G-d? The idea or question is not mine. My son asked me this trick question, a cosmological conundrum, a few days before he died last year.

“Don’t know, son,” I said to my boy. “It’s the mystery of existence: the secret of life and death.”

Peering through the darkness of my psyche, I see my son’s hazel eyes. And I shriek silently the Sphinx’s answer to the divine puzzle: Man.

Copyright © 2012 by Mel Waldman

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