Loud disc jockeys—hyped up on more than coffee and muffled by my drool-stained pillow—spit through a mint green radio. They’re on the verge of eating their microphones. They woof their throaty words. They enter my horizontal head. It’s time to rise for high school.
Random notes play from a dialed phone number, and, between interludes of the ringing phone, a man named Barsky shushes the other guys. When a woman says hello, Barsky’s the manager of a jewelry store. Did her fiancée bring her engagement ring to be resized? Barsky’s really, really sorry.
Oh no, she tightens. What is it?
Ma’am, so so sorry, but the ring’s in the bowels of the store dog.
What? the woman screams. The store dog?
Snickers in the studio.
Yes, it’s true. But if she wants to sift through the poo whenever it comes out, she’s more than welcome.
Crack ups, cackles, hoots and howls. Stand-up comedy meets football touchdown.
Barskeee, whines the lone female voice in the studio. She’s known as the lame one because she can never just play along. She’s the one that says, “Oh, stop that,” and no one listens.
Just kidding, just kidding. Ma’am, this is Barsky in the Morning! Philly’s favorite DJ.
Barskeee! says the woman, like a schoolgirl who knows Barsky and knows how he can be, and Barsky laughs and says the bride-to-be’s a good sport and here, just for that, he’ll send her front-row tickets to the Bon Jovi concert.
She squeals. Thank you thank you.
Who doesn’t love Bon Jovi! It’s 1985, and it’s forty minutes before the yellow bus will screech its breaks at the corner of my street and snap its doors open and let me add to the slop of mud and melting snow on its rubber-ridged steps. I hit the snooze button, roll back into my pillow, daze into the unknown blankness of down and warm sheets, slip into a lost world of nothing until nine minutes later, we’re back to a radio of men. An off-key choir sings, its deep racket of male voices met by my mental picture of ten guys swaying, mugs of beer in their hands:
My ding-a-ling, my ding-a-ling, won't you play with my ding-a-ling.
Every ling is shouted louder than every ding. Barsky is back after that short commercial break, and I get up for school, where every boy now has a two-balled bell that I’m a little wary of.
My husband is listening to how ashes from a burned cow can be mixed with water to make a person clean, especially if done on the third and seventh day after said person touches a dead body. If you refuse to do these things, you will no longer belong to the people of Israel.
I let out one laugh, pah, like a clap of hands.
He snickers, but then his brow furrows again. It’s Saturday in graduate school, and he needs to learn Leviticus. He’s crouched over the living room carpet, listening to the Bible on tape, folding a brown bag over a new textbook. He’s serious about preserving books. The tight folds of grocery-bag paper over a hardbound cover remind me of grade school, of backpacks, of those screeching buses.
When you are unclean, anything you touch will become unclean. Anyone you touch will become unclean, reads the man on tape, who then adds, until evening.
Until evening? It’s that precise, huh? I’m tickled by the specifics.
The morning’s mug of black tea is too hot against my lip. Bored, I set it down. My husband’s book is nearly covered in brown paper, and I tell myself he’ll be freed from school for the day. But when he’s finished, he’ll have to read it. As he hunches over, taping and folding, the back edge of his cream wool sweater lifts up to his belt, and I think of the skin just below his waistline. If I were to swoop my index finger across his abdomen, it would quiver and go taut.
The following things, says the Lord, make you unclean: eating hare, camel, pig. Touching hare, camel, pig. Touching the garment that touched hare, camel, pig.
The cars outside rush beneath our bay windows, but my morning is slow-going. In my head, out of nowhere, my ding-a-ling, my ding-a-ling. The radio isn’t on—Barsky is twenty years gone—and yet I hear it. Won't you play with my ding-a-ling. I hear boy-grins behind manly voices, competition in the lings and dings, and the lone, protesting, female cry above the deep hardy-hars.
The garment must be immersed in water, says the man, must remain unclean till evening, when it will be clean.
The Barsky voices die down. I imagine tea-stained white linen soaking in a metal tub, women’s sandals hesitating beside it, their thin fingers stretching downward, longing to grab from the milky water and scrub. But they can’t. Not yet.
Earlier, in bed, my husband’s breath hissed and quieted, hissed and quieted, and I curled my cold toes against his calf. We were too tired for love-making.
Now, I see those bible-women’s eyes gaze upward, scanning the sky. Measuring the location of the sun. Waiting for the moon to show. Waiting till evening.