Sunday, March 27, 2011


What You Are I Was
(Part 3 of 9)

By Miriam Rosenberg Rocek

I began settling in to my job in what my Predecessor told me was called the Temple of the Childless. The name was written, not above the door or in the window, but on an unobtrusive bronze plaque set into the back wall of the single ground floor room, the sort of historical markers you usually see on buildings where famous people lived or famous documents were signed, but this plaque didn’t have any of the usual dry information, just the name; The Temple of the Childless. The Temple grounds were a semi-derelict Hyde Park storefront wedged between a hairdresser’s and a pawn shop that seemed to deal mostly in dubiously obtained electronics, with a patch dirty concrete in the back housing a few trash cans and two recycling bins. The cellar was lit by a few bare, low-wattage bulbs that I eventually learned immediately acquired a layer of dust whenever a new set was screwed in, giving the dim light an old, muted quality, like sepia tint.

Besides the machine, the cellar held a few tools, cans of oil, and the furnace, which squatted in the far corner, perpetually turned down as low as possible, so as not to damage the paper scrolls of the prayers. The air in the cellar was dry and cool, but I sometimes felt as though it grew warmer the closer I got to the machine, as if it, and not the tepid furnace were the true source of heat in the building. The floor of the cellar was fringed with piles of white powder at the bottom of a few sections of crumbling plaster. I swept them up occasionally, to keep the dust from gumming up the machine, but I never bothered to re-plaster the walls, instead letting the old, forgotten layer of masonry emerge. Lisa stopped by a few times while I was there, but I never brought her down to the basement. My Predecessor had never precisely said that no one else should see the machine, but I wasn’t sure what the point would be in showing it to her, I was afraid she would think the whole job was ridiculous, and I suppose it would have felt wrong, allowing an uninitiated person to view the inner workings of the Temple. I have to admit that I lied to her about what the place was; I told her I was caretaking while the owner of the storefront sought new tenants. I didn’t want to try to explain a job I didn’t understand myself.

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I am a graduate of Northwestern University with a BA in creative writing. Since college I have worked as a nanny, and as a tall ship sailor, helping to sail old-fashioned, traditionally rigged sailing ships from the Caribbean to Nova Scotia. I was born in New Mexico, raised in Delaware, and currently live in New York City.


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