The Guest

 

 

The Guest

By Remy Masiel

 

Nina dropped her fork back onto her plate. “Are we done yet?”
 
“It's time to fill Elijah’s cup,” Mom said.
 
“I’ll do it,” Raina volunteered.
 
“She can't!” said Nina. “She’ll spill.”
 
“You're supposed to spill, dummy,” I said.
 
Mom pushed back her chair and set Elijah’s cup down in front of Raina. She opened the Manischewitz and let Raina wrap both hands around the square bottle. “Try and keep it from getting on the tablecloth, but it's okay if it overflows into the saucer. It's supposed to. It represents how our lives are overflowing with joy.”
 
I snorted. Raina poured the wine, the bottle trembling slightly in her hands.
 
“Okay, stop,” said Mom, helping her tilt the bottle upright again. The saucer was brimming, but although the wine shimmered ominously, its surface tension held it back from spilling over and bruising the tablecloth.
 
“Now what?” asked Nina.
 
“Now we open the door and sing to welcome Elijah the Prophet to our home,” Mom said. “But you'd better lock the cats in the mudroom first.”
 
We heard some yowling and crashing from the mudroom, but Nina returned with no obvious injuries, so we opened the front door. Mom’s eyes were closed. I let mine close too, and then Mom, Nina, and I started to sing:
 
Eliyahu Hanavi
Eliyahu Hatishbi
Eliyahu, Eliyahu
Eliyahu Hagiladi
 
I liked this melody a lot. Maybe the most of all the Passover songs. I especially liked it better than the one about the goat. Which is why, when Raina hissed “Mom!” and I could feel her elbow grazing me as she tugged on her dress, I stepped on her foot and sang louder.
 
“Mom!” Raina was shouting now. We opened our eyes.
 
What, Raina?” Mom said.
 
“Look,” said Raina, and she pointed at the front porch.
 
A man with a craggy face and incongruous bare feet stood in the pool of light shining through the kitchen window. We stared. His hands remained politely clasped in front of him.
 
“Well, don't stop singing,” the man said. “It's a nice melody. Definitely better than the song about the goat.”
 
We continued to stare.
 
“You seem surprised to see me,” the man said. An odd smell was wafting from him. He smelled of charoset, and matzah, and… was that weed?
 
Mom and I glanced at each other.  I flared my nostrils, and her eyes widened slightly. She started to speak, and I suddenly knew what she was going to ask and that the answer was no, Rabbi Greenberg did not send us a guest without a seder to go to and forget to mention it.
 
“This is the Gold family, right?”
 
“I am – was – Mrs. Gold,” Mom said.
 
The man made a sweeping gesture with his hands and then rubbed his upper arms. “Awfully chilly for late April,” he said pointedly.
 
“Oh, I’m – would you like to – I'm sorry, who are you?”
 
“Okay, so you need it spelled out. What can you do? I believe I was invited. My name is Elijah.”
 
 
 
Elijah the Prophet was making himself right at home, and Mom was encouraging him. “Eat some more charoset,” she said stereotypically, spooning a huge lump of it out of the glass bowl.
 
“Please, no more charoset,” Elijah said. “They've given it to me at six houses already tonight. It's like, dayenu!
 
“Some brisket, then?”
 
“Is that all there is?”
 
“It’s not polite to say no when someone offers you food in their house,” Raina said.
 
“It’s not polite to criticize your elders, either,” Elijah said. “Okay, I’ll have some brisket.” He held out his plate and Mom put three slices on it and covered them in sauce. Elijah continued to hold out his plate. Mom looked embarrassed and then piled on three more slices.
 
“Mom, do you need some help in the kitchen? With the dessert?”
 
“Great, dessert!” Elijah piped up.
 
“Good idea, Dani,” Mom said. She followed me into the kitchen, where I turned on the faucet and opened the refrigerator so it would buzz. “I thought I fixed that,” Mom said, frowning at the fridge.
 
“Are you more worried about the fridge buzzing, or about the fact that Elijah the Prophet is in our house, and he’s stoned?”
 
“We don’t know that he’s stoned,” Mom said.
 
“Right. He just happened to arrive reeking of weed and hungry enough to eat a whole brisket.”
 
“How do you know what weed smells like?”
 
“Are you more worried about me knowing what weed smells like, or about the fact that Elijah the Prophet is in our house, and he’s stoned?”
 
“Good point.”
 
“What are we going to do? We can’t leave him out there with Nina and Raina.”
 
“Well, we can’t turn him away, either. ‘Let all who are hungry come and eat.’ And we did invite him. And you know the stories.”
 
“People who piss him off tend to get eaten by wolves,” I finished for her. “Right.” Beneath the rush of the sink water and the buzzing of the fridge, I could hear the cats frantically scratching the mudroom door. I opened it. They were an orange blur, and then they were gone. “So… what do we do?” I asked.
 
“We feed Elijah,” Mom said. “Then we finish the seder.”
 
“And then Elijah leaves?”
 
“And then Elijah leaves,” Mom said. “Hopefully.”
 
 
 
He didn’t.
 
After Nina found the afikoman and ransomed it back to Mom for a bag of Hershey’s kisses, we all looked at each other awkwardly until finally Elijah said something.
 
“Where am I going to sleep?” is what he said.
 
“This isn’t going to help me with the custody battle, you know, Dani,” Mom said, as she rummaged through the linen closet and tossed pillows and sheets into my arms.
 
“It’s not like this is your fault,” I said.
 
We made up the sofa bed in the living room while Elijah watched expectantly.
 
“Elijah,” Mom asked when the bed was nearly made, “can I get you anything else?”
 
I stared at her incredulously.
 
“A toothbrush wouldn’t go amiss,” he said. “And you can call me Eli. All this ‘Elijah the Prophet’ business is so formal. I’m in your house, for Adonai’s sake.”
 
 
 
Breakfast on the first day of Passover was traditionally Crispy-O’s and matzah with cream cheese in the Gold house, but this was before Eli came to stay.
 
“I’d like some matzah brei,” he said, sticking his head up over the back of the couch when Mom asked Nina what she would like to eat.
 
I furtively Googled how to make matzah brei for Mom.
 
“Would you like to take a shower?” I asked Eli pointedly when I brought him a plate of what looked like a disgusting omelette.
 
“No, thanks,” he said. “This doesn’t look too good.”
 
“Do you think he’ll leave when we go to Dad’s house for the second night seder tonight?” I whispered to Mom in the kitchen while I washed his plate. Despite his complaint, he’d eaten it all.
 
“I guess we’ll see,” she said. “Raina! Nina! Get ready for your father!”
 
To Eli, she said, “Maybe it would be best if you weren’t in the living room when he comes to pick them up,” and he only shrugged noncommittally. But Dad just honked from the driveway when he arrived like usual.
 
 
 
Eli was still there when we got back from Dad’s house. Dad didn’t have a proper seder plate or Elijah’s cup, so maybe that’s why Eli didn’t follow us to his house, Raina reasoned, and it was hard to argue with her.
 
We had all for once agreed to keep Eli’s stoned presence at Mom’s house a secret, and nobody really messed up, except that Nina had looked quite scared when Dad ordered her to go open the door for Elijah the Prophet towards the end of the seder. But nobody was there when she did. We all kept our eyes wide open while we sang, though. We didn’t even blink.
 
Back at Mom’s house, Eli and Mom were having bowls of  matzah ball soup. Raina immediately wanted one, too, although we’d had lunch at Dad’s house that he’d ordered in from the kosher deli.
 
“Hi,” I said, looking back and forth between Eli and Mom and trying to figure out what we’d missed overnight. “How’s it going?”
 
“The soup is a little salty,” Eli answered, “but otherwise okay.”
 
Mom took the criticism in her stride. “I can add a little water,” she offered.
 
“Then it would be too watery,” Eli said.
 
“Maybe you girls can go put your things away,” Mom suggested. “Then you can tell me about your seder with Dad.”
 
“Well, Elijah the Prophet didn’t come,” Nina said immediately.
 
“Of course not,” Eli scoffed. “I’m right here.”
 
 
 
“Eli, could you bring me your linens?” Mom finally asked on the fifth day of Passover. He still hadn’t showered and he still smelled vaguely weedy, though he never appeared to smoke. “I’ll wash them for you.”
 
“There’s no point,” he said cryptically.
 
He was eating Crispy-O’s now, and had eaten all the chocolate ones, to my dismay. This was the only good thing about Passover: being allowed to eat sugary cereal.
 
“Mom, I really think we need to do something and find out how long he’s going to stay,” I said, looking at the empty boxes. ShopRite doesn’t re-stock Passover foods this late into the holiday.
 
“Now that it’s not a yom tov, I could call Rabbi Greenberg,” Mom mused.
 
“Yes, call him,” I said.
 
Mom searched for the wireless handheld for a few minutes and we took it upstairs. For some reason, Eli hadn’t ventured up the stairs so far, so we figured it was safe. He hadn’t used any of the electronics, either. He did help himself to Mom’s extensive library, lounging on the sofa bed and reading whenever he wasn’t in the kitchen, eating his way through my Crispy-O’s and criticizing Mom’s cooking.
 
Mom dialed the number for the synagogue and waited.
 
“Hello? Yes, I need to speak to the rabbi. Yes, it’s urgent. Yes, I’m a member. No, I don’t have my membership number on me at the moment. Could you just look up my surname? G-O-L-D. Yes, I know there are a lot of Golds at the synagogue. Look, could you just tell the rabbi I have Elijah the Prophet in my house and have since the first night seder? Yes, he can call me back.”
 
Mom and I stared at each other as she held the phone, waiting for it to ring. “Could you check on him?” she whispered.
 
I crept onto the landing and down a few stairs. I could see that the door to the downstairs bathroom was closed and the light was on.
 
“He’s stillin the bathroom,” I told her.
 
Finally the phone rang.
 
“Hi, Rabbi, I’m here with my daughter Dani,” Mom said. She held the handset so I could put my ear to it but didn’t put it on speaker so Eli wouldn’t be able to hear from downstairs.
 
“Did I hear you have Elijah the Prophet in your house?” Rabbi Greenberg asked.
 
“Yes, yes I do,” Mom said, already sounding relieved at the sound of Rabbi Greenberg’s reassuring voice.
 
“And how are you all doing?” the rabbi asked.
 
“Fine,” said Mom a little impatiently, “but we’re starting to get a little concerned about when Eli will leave.”
 
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
 
“But you’re all feeling well?” Rabbi Greenberg asked. “And you have carbon monoxide detectors installed and you’ve tested them recently?”
 
“What? Yes!” I said into the phone. “He’s really here!”
 
“Hello, Dani,” he said a little louder. “Okay, so you have Elijah the Prophet in your house. How did it happen, may I ask?”
 
Mom hands me the receiver.
 
“We were singing ‘Eliyahu Hanavi’ and he just turned up,” I said. “But now he won’t leave.”
 
Rabbi Greenberg gasped at the other end of the line. “A miracle!” he said, and now I can tell he’s definitely crying.
 
“Well…” I said. “He’s not been what we expected, exactly.”
 
“In what way?”
 
“He’s very critical of Mom’s food and he spends a lot of time in the bathroom.”
 
Rabbi Greenberg made a dismissive sound. “Dani, these things pale in comparison to the fact that he is Elijah the Prophet, no?”
 
I hesitated. “I guess.”
 
Mom took the receiver back. “What should we do?”
 
“He was sent to you for a reason,” the rabbi said. “Just do as he asks.”
 
Mom looked at me in dismay. “Okay. Thanks.” She hung up.
 
“What possible reason could he have been sent to us?” I asked her.
 
“God only knows,” she said, and I didn’t know if she was being ironic.
 
 
 
“Okay, that’s enough!” Raina said, coming into my bedroom on the seventh day of Passover with Nina trailing behind her. “I want him to leave!”
 
“Why, what has he done now?” I asked.
 
“Nothing, but Mom said I can’t have any friends over until he goes, and break is almost over.” 
 
“You can play with each other,” I told her and Nina.
 
“I’m tired of playing with Nina,” she said. “I’m tired of spending all this time together.”
 
I knew what she meant. Since Dad left, normally on Passover we did one seder with Mom, one with Dad, and then spent the rest of our break hanging out with friends. But now that Eli was here, we were spending all of our time together, albeit with Eli thrown in there, like a raisin in the trail mix. And it was a lot more time together than we’d had in a couple of years.
 
“Is Eli Mom’s boyfriend, like Katie is Dad’s girlfriend?” Nina asked suddenly.
 
“No!” Raina and I shouted.
 
“You remember,” I told her, “from school. He’s a prophet from Tishbe. He defeated the Canaanite god Baal.”
 
“No,” Nina said.
 
“To be fair, I don’t remember that, either,” Raina said.
 
“Even the cats don’t like him,” Nina said, apropos of nothing.
 
 
 
By the eighth day of Passover, we were mostly out of food. Mom went to the supermarket to see what she could scrounge up, leaving us home alone with Eli, but only after she made us all swear on the cats that we would never, ever tell Dad or the lawyers about it.
 
“I won’t tell, either,” Eli said, though we hadn’t thought to ask him.
 
Mom was looking over her shoulder at the house as she drove into the street, so she was lucky she didn’t have an accident.
 
We sat around the table with Eli as he polished off the last of the egg matzah and cream cheese.
 
“So is this what you do?” I finally asked him, my heart racing for some reason. “Just stay with people and eat all their food, like a house-sitter?”
 
Eli glanced at me over the top of his matzah. “Is that what you think I’m doing?”
 
I looked down at my own plate. “Maybe.”
 
Eli didn’t say anything else.
 
“Can I put the TV on?” Nina asked.
 
“I’d rather you didn’t,” Eli said. “Instead tell me what Passover used to be like before I got here.”
 
“Well,” Raina said, “it used to be awesome! But that was before Mom and Dad got divorced. Mom used to make these amazing tents in the living room, where you sleep, and we’d put pillows on the floor and sit down and recline like you’re supposed to, and all the family would come, and the seder would go on for hours like it’s supposed to…” she trailed off.
 
“It was pretty great,” I agreed.
 
“I don’t really remember,” Nina said.
 
“Why not do it now?” Eli asked. “Put up a tent. Throw down some pillows.”
 
We all looked at each other.
 
“Well, it’s not the first night anymore,” I said.
 
“So what?” Eli said. “There are last day seders, too.”
 
That was a fair point. “How much is left in the linen closet?” I asked Raina.
 
“Plenty,” she said.
 
“Come on,” I told them.
 
We ran over to the linen closet. We tossed out pillows, sheets, and duvets with abandon. I pulled a ladder from the utility closet in the mudroom and started tying sheets to the fan in the center of the ceiling in the living room to create the massive tent like Mom used to. Raina and Nina started throwing down duvets and pillows.
 
Eventually, we heard the sound of Mom’s car pulling back into the driveway, so we surveyed our handiwork. The waning light coming through the different colored sheets was making a nice effect. Mom’s key was in the lock now, so we stood in a little row in front of the entrance to our tent, waiting proudly for her to see it. She walked through the front door into the foyer, dropped the shopping bags full of matzah and Crispy-O’s, and stared at us.
 
“What’s this?” she asked.
 
“It’s our Passover tent,” Raina said.
 
“Like we used to have,” Nina added, although she didn’t even remember.
 
Mom looked like she might be about to cry, but she didn’t. “Where’s Elijah?” she asked. That was a good question because he hadn’t helped us make our tent and we hadn’t heard a peep from him for a while.
 
We all went to the kitchen first, because that’s where he’d usually be, but he wasn’t there. Then we checked the bathroom. We’d pushed the sofa bed back into a sofa and against the wall in the process of making a tent, so he wasn’t there either.
 
It was sundown.
 
He was gone.
 
 
 
Mom lit candles in the tent on a baking tray, because of the fire last Hanukkah. The tent glowed, and different shadows were cast on each panel as we moved in it.
 

“Who wants chocolate Crispy-O’s and who wants plain?” Mom asked.

 

Copyright © Remy Maisel 2020 

Remy Maisel is a Jewish writer from New York currently living in London. Her bylines have appeared in Kveller, Politico, and The Huffington Post, and she is the co-author of Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics. She has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from City, University of London.



 

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