By Aaron Kreuter
Before we went to the temple for the night, Vicki came over to get ready. We took over the upstairs bathroom with makeup, mousse, discarded outfits. Michael Jackson blared from the black-and-yellow shower radio I bought for camp last summer. We giggled and threw stuff as we danced and got dressed, continued the freewheeling all-directions-at-once conversation we'd been having since we were nine years old. Jeff's friend Gerald knocked on the door and we laughed harder. He grumbled something, and the bathroom shook a little as he went down the stairs.
“I can't believe we're going to this stupid thing,” Vicki said, fixing her hair in the mirror, flashing her mouth of silver braces at different angles. I was sitting on the toilet, flossing.
“Why, didn't we have so much fun last year?” I asked.
“Yeah, but Sandra, we were teenagers last year. We're adults now!”
I laughed. We were fourteen. And even though Vicki had braces and I didn't—I was the only one of our friends blessed with perfect teeth—she felt like she was somebody much older. Most of the time.
“Oh, yeah, right,” I said. “So you're going to act all adult-like around Todd Millman?” I wanted to tease Vicki, because I knew that this was the most attention she would pay me the whole night. Looking at her reaction, though, I wished I hadn't mentioned Todd.
Vicki smiled with innocent mischief, threw a hairbrush at me.
Jeff gave us a lift to the shul, but first we had to pick up our cousin Ronald. Since Gerald was sitting up front with Jeff, after tossing his sleeping bag and duffel into the trunk, Ronnie had to squish into the back with us. While Vicki and I had dressed up like we were going to a bat mitzvah—me in leggings and a purple sweater, her in a black dress, the straps of her red bra showing—Ronnie was wearing sweat pants and a Led Zeppelin shirt that was much too tight. I could smell Cheetos and root beer on his breath. It was totally gross.
“Good evening, fellow Jews and Jewesses,” he said. “Oh, and Gerald. Jeff and Gerald, a friendship attempting to once again forge an alliance between North American Blacks and Jews.” We—and by we, I mean everyone— were used to Ronnie talking this way. Ignoring him was second nature. Still, as Ronnie pushed against me as he tried to force his seatbelt into its clip, I yelled at him a little, trying to impress Vicki.
“Ugh, get off me Ronnie, you're so fat!”
“You're not exactly a picture of health yourself,” he said lightly. Though we'd been insulting each other like that since we learned to talk, his comment on my weight still stung.
Vicki wasn't paying any attention anyways. She leaned over the front seat and rested her head on Jeff's shoulder, her big hoop earrings dangling against the headrest.
“Hey Jeff, do you think we could stop at the LCBO and you could get us some vodka or something? Please? It's going to be so boring there.” She really drew out the please.
I watched Jeff's face as he battled with a number of competing desires. I was ready to be disgusted.
“How old are you again Vicki?” he asked, pushing her head out of his space, playfully but with finality. “I remember when you were an eight-year-old obsessed with Sailor Moon!”
“Sailor Moon? That chick was hot!” Gerald enthused, turning the radio up.
Vicki slumped back into her seat, her face pouty with disappointment. The new Beyoncé came on, Vicki's pout disappeared, and she started dancing and singing. Ronnie was eating a bag of Ringolos which had appeared from somewhere and was reading a worn sci-fi paperback. I shifted between the two, unable to get comfortable.
We weren't the first to arrive at the shul, but we might as well have been. The front doors were locked, so we knocked until Sherman, our adult chaperone for the night, let us in.
“Jeff's not coming?” he asked as he held the door open for us, watching my brother and Gerald drive away.
“Jeff? He's much too old for this,” I said. We were following Sherman down the hall towards the Hebrew school classrooms.
“How can anybody be too old to spend a barely supervised night at their synagogue?” Sherman asked.
Vicki snorted. Sherman said gesundheit.
We dropped our knapsacks and sleeping bags in one of the classrooms left open for us. I scanned what was already there, placing objects with their owners. Ninja Turtle sleeping bag with the Game Boy on top: Billy or Jonah. The plain brown sleeping bags, the small library of history books, and the Canadian Tire survival kits obviously belonged to Betsy, Amanda, Sam, and Danielle. Such weirdos (the type of girls Ronnie would fit in with, if he had any interest in fitting in with anyone). No skateboard, no marijuana leaf sleeping bag, no electric guitar case: Todd wasn't here yet.
As Vicki and I were on our way to the washrooms, somebody screamed behind me. I spun around: it was Kate! I screamed, we ran to each other, jumped, hugged, screamed a little more. Kate was—along with Vicki—my best friend. We went to the same camp and so had that special camp connection that's impossible to describe to anybody who doesn't know, and that I knew Vicki was secretly jealous of (I've had to explain it to my non-Jewish friends countless times: Kate was a camp friend and a shul friend, Vicki was shul and school; the only person who was shul, school, and camp besides Jeff (who was now in high school anyways), was Ronnie. Ew).
“Hey Vicki,” Kate said after we had finished screaming in greeting, “looking good.” A year ago Kate came out, and she loved to tease Vicki about it. She had a serious girlfriend now, Brenda, who went to a fancy arts high school downtown. They had been together for three-and-a-half weeks, but it felt like they had been married for four decades! Naturally, I didn't get to see her as much as I used to. Was I jealous? I was totally jealous.
We were still standing at the washroom doors, chatting and laughing, when Sherman let Todd and his brother Phil into the building. Vicki lit up; I wanted to light up, but instead my bulb, already dim in comparison, blew its fuse.
Sherman checked the brothers' names off on his clipboard.
“Everybody's here,” he said.
We all ate dinner together in the school's gym, basketball nets hanging from the ceiling, a raised stage along one entire wall, the black curtains closed. Dinner was delivery pizza and salad that Sheri, the head of Jewish Education with a head full of tight copper curls, brought in two large clear plastic bowls. Before we ate Rabbi Koffee came out of his office to give a speech. We sat at the tables, bored and hungry, eyeing the stack of white pizza boxes as the Rabbi droned on and on at his usual slow tempo.
“When I first came to Kol B'Seder fifteen years ago,” he said, “I was amazed at the high quality of the youth programming taking place in our little Reform community. You, the young Jewish men and women who are the promise of our movement, were, and continue to be, involved in every aspect of temple life. And I'm happy to say that since then, and thanks in no small part to people like Sheri, like Sherman, the youth programming and youth involvement of our community has only grown. This 'shul-in' is an important part of that programming. Spending the night with your chevra, in the building that is the geographical nexus of our community, growing and making insoluble connections to our Jewish past, present, and future. What better way to spend a Saturday night! And remember, if you were to take away one thing from tonight, let it be the knowledge that this is your building, your temple, your relationship to our dynamic and robust brand of Judaism.”
The Rabbi blessed the food, which I had never heard him do before (there were even rumours that he ate bacon, on Saturdays!), and we ate. Ronnie shoveled slice after slice into his mouth. Vicki ate and flirted with every boy in reach, flashing food-stuck braces in all directions. The younger kids made a mess. I held myself to two slices, spent most of the meal watching Todd. He was so beautiful, so effortlessly cool. Unlike everyone else, his braces and their bright yellow elastics only added to his irresistible cuteness. I was totally, unabashedly in love with him. (Unfortunately, so was everybody. Except Kate, of course.) When the dinner was over and we had all helped clean up, the Rabbi led us in a Havdallah ceremony. We put away the tables, stood in a large circle in the gym, lowered the lights, and, as the Rabbi strummed his guitar and led us in singing the wordless melody, we passed around the three-wicked Havdallah candle, the spicebox. Together we said goodbye to Shabbat, and welcomed the new week. Havdallah always reminded me of camp and I flushed with nostalgia and excitement. This was definitely my most favourite part of being Jewish, of going to shul. Standing in a circle singing a wordless melody over minor chords really got to me. It was such a pretty, comforting song. I watched the braided candle go around the room, lighting up our faces one by one. What would happen tonight? Last year David Krasner chaperoned, and after yelling at us after catching boys and girls in the boys’ washroom, he had made us get into our sleeping bags, and we were all asleep shortly after midnight. This year would be different, I could feel it; everybody loved Sherman, but he was much lighter on rules and regulations than David (who had all the boys call him Mr. Krasner, sir). When the scent box came to Todd, he took a huge loud snort and pretended to be knocked backwards. Le sigh.
The song over, Sheri turned the lights up. We were back in the gym. The Rabbi went to his office. I looked at my watch. It was 8:30. The next twelve hours were totally, totally ours.
Back in our classroom, we unrolled our sleeping bags, made our temporary nests. Vicki was on my right, Kate on my left. I neatly lined up my toiletry bag, my Harry Potter, and my shower radio at the head of my sleeping bag. We entered the boring part of the night. We lay sprawled on our sleeping bags, played cards, chatted quietly. Todd took his electric guitar out, spent twenty minutes tuning it by ear, his hair falling in front of his eyes. Kate and I went for a walk in the hallway.
“How are things Sandra?”
“Pretty good. Excited for camp.”
“I might not be going this year.”
“What?! What do you mean?” I stopped, looked at her. Super thin, her light brown hair in a short bob, she looked sharp, fitted, exact.
“Brenda and I might go to Europe.”
“Oh. Cool.” I was trying to be peppy, but Kate knew me too well.
“Oh Sandra. Don't worry. Just because we don't spend as much time together as we used to, doesn't mean we won't always be best friends.” I looked at Kate. Vicki might have wanted to act like an adult, but Kate actually was an adult.
“I can't believe you aren't coming to camp!” I mock-yelled, shaking her. “What am I going to do?! Who's going to sing to me when I'm constipated on the toilet?!” We collapsed into our famous giggly laughter, a balm sugary-sweet.
Back in our classroom, Vicki, Ronnie, Todd, and Simon were playing cards. I sat down beside them to watch. They were playing Kent: Simon and Vicki were partners, and Todd and Ronnie. Until that moment I had no idea Ronnie had a crush on Vicki, but the way he was looking and talking at her, it was ridiculously obvious. Todd seemed to be getting annoyed with Ronnie, was talking to him like he was a misbehaving child, kept saying “dookie” over and over again. Part of me was happy that they were not getting along. Vicki theatrically swept her hand through her hair.
“Kent,” Simon said triumphantly, Vicki squealing with glee as she lay down her hand: four Queens.
“Shit, Ronnie, pay attention!” Todd yelled, throwing down his cards. Four threes. “Did you forget 'dookie' was our signal?!” Ronnie shrugged. He didn't care. The normal social pressures didn't apply to Ronnie.
Things quieted down for a while. It was quiet enough that we were able to hear Sherman and the Rabbi walk to the front doors, say their goodbyes. The Rabbi was chuckling. “Got to get home before the first pitch,” he said. It was weird to hear him talk about something so normal, so non-Jewish, as baseball. At the click of the door, Todd jumped up, said “I'm bored, let's go exploring.” Vicki and I immediately agreed. I grabbed Kate's hand and was slightly disappointed to see that Ronnie was also tagging along.
Todd led us down the hall, away from the front doors, opened the doorway to the southeast stairwell and motioned for us to go in. As we were heading up the stairs, Vicki turned to me and smiled wickedly; I was scared of going where we weren't supposed to, but the desire to be with Todd, and to keep an eye on Vicki, compelled me onward. When we got to the locked doors at the top of the third floor, Todd looked around, pulled a hairpin out of Vicki's hair, Vicki crying out coyly, and jimmied the lock.
“Where'd you learn to do that?” Ronnie asked, apparently impressed with Todd's ability to so easily unlock supposedly locked doors.
In response, Todd pushed the door open, and vanished into the darkness. We followed. There was another flight of stairs, so narrow that only one of us could go up at a time. There might have been a light switch, but we didn't think to look for it; the staircase was totally dark. We were tunneling into the unknown. I was terrified, wished I was back in our classroom on my sleeping bag with all the other boring people, or alone in the kitchen eating cold leftover pizza. At the top of the stairs was a door, which opened onto the roof. We spilled out into the cool spring night, and I instantly felt better. I had never been up there before: the roof was flat, took up the entire surface of the building, and was carpeted in crunchy gravel. There were some camping chairs near the far edge, and that's where we headed. Todd pulled out a joint, a long skinny thing, and lit it. When it got to me I declined awkwardly, as did Ronnie. Kate placed it between her thumb and pointer finger and took two small, neat sucks, passed it on as if she smoked on roofs every evening, was only missing a glass of wine in her other hand. When it got to Vicki she sucked as hard as she could for twenty, thirty seconds, immediately started coughing and hacking. I watched her eyes go as red as her bra. I was once again terrified, my heart pounding so hard I could barely hear Ronnie going on and on about the Indigenous people, the Anishnabaag, who used to live here and were forcibly removed by the government.
“How do you know all this?” Todd asked dismissively. “Sounds like bullshit to me.” Ronnie just kept talking. I looked out over the parking lot, the park behind the shul, the roofs of the suburban houses, each one of us corresponding to one of those roofs. Was it possible that a whole other world was here before all this? Before us? I'd never thought of it like that before, but it suddenly seemed more than possible, seemed likely, close enough to touch.
“Yeah, jeez Ronnie!” Vicki said. I felt like I should say something, but whether to dig into Ronnie or defend him, I couldn't tell.
When we returned downstairs, the night had shifted. We were full of beans, over-the-top silly, laughing as we ran and stumbled through the brightly lit building. We zoomed! We hollered! We careened! Vicki, Todd, Ronnie, Kate and I were a team, a unit, a pack on a mission, a disconcerting blur! We didn't move according to a plan, according to decision or desire, we just moved. (Even though I hadn't smoked, I imagined this is what it must feel like to be high, the sugary swell of adrenaline, the toppling excitement, the surprising lack of inhibition.) We ran down the hallway, cackling and whooping, Todd literally jumping off the walls in his squeaky skater shoes. We burst into the kitchen, grabbed all the chips and cookies we could carry, kept moving! We hurtled over Billy, Jonah, and Gul, the youngest boys there, playing with their Game Boys in the hallway. We streamed past Betsy and Amanda, who barely had time to look up from their history books and shoot us dirty looks. We were an unstoppable force, smashing boundaries, going where we weren't supposed to, the temple yielding its secrets to us like a Jewish Hogwarts. We ran through the sanctuary, past the somber ark, the bima, the electric light that represented God and was supposed to never go out. We flew up the northeast stairs, through the school library, knocking over a book or two, out the other end, down the southwest stairs. We pushed open the heavy doors of the administrative wing and stopped cold. A woman was crying. Todd motioned for us to be quiet. His hair was in his eyes and his cheeks were red, his cuteness melting a hole in my heart. The crying petered out, and we heard a voice. It was Sheri. “I just don't understand,” she said. “Why hold onto something that is gone, gone forever?” We all looked at each other. Ronnie, that oaf, took a step back and crashed into a desk, knocking everything over, shaking us from our momentary stillness. “Let's go!” Vicki yelled, and we revved up again, ran deeper into the offices, towards the board room. I had an instant to glance into the Rabbi's office as we lunged past, saw Sherman sitting on the desk, his head in his hands, Sheri across the room sitting cross-legged on the same chair I sat in during the lead-up to my bat mitzvah, when I met with Rabbi Koffee to talk about the speech I would give relating my Torah portion to my life. Her copper curls were aflame in the light from the desk lamp. They were both too preoccupied to notice us. We ran into the board room and out the other door, back into the hallway.
Our final stop was the basement. Todd did his trick with the door to the storage room, and we pooled in. Suddenly the urge to keep moving dissipated, vanished. Here we were, in a dark and stuffy windowless room of boxes and furniture in the basement of the synagogue we were willingly locked in for the night, all of us breathing hard, ourselves again after the mad rush. Kate found a light switch, and we explored. The congregation's chupa, bare pine and white cloth, was disassembled in the corner, waiting for the next wedding. Todd opened a box of yardzheit candles, and I opened one of the Kiddish cups they give everyone on their bar or bat mitzvah. Under a box of rolled-up handheld Israeli flags that were for Yom Ha'atzmaut, Ronnie found a bright yellow binder. For some reason, we all crowded around him. The label on the binder read “Reform Rabbis Speak.” “Bo-ring” Todd said. Ronnie opened it anyways, started to read from the random page it had fallen on. “It's from the 'Pittsburgh Platform,' from 1885. Whoa. Listen to this. Number five. 'We recognize, in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect, the approaching of the realization of Israel's great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.'”
“What does that mean?”
“We don't expect a return to Palestine?”
“Wait—Reform Jews didn't always support the state of Israel?”
“I guess not.”
“Did you know that, Ronnie?” Todd asked.
Ronnie slowly closed the binder. “Well, the ultra-orthodox didn't support Zionism either, but for the opposite reasons. They thought it was going against the word of God, to set up a Jewish state before the coming of messiah.” He so obviously hadn't known about the contents of the yellow binder, was just trying to cover.
It came as a shock to me. We spent every Thursday night and Saturday morning learning Israeli Hebrew, talking about the links between Canada and Israel; when we were younger we even watched the Israeli Sesame Street, Rechov Sumsum. Never, not once, did we hear anything about the Reform movement's earlier position. When did it change? Did Rabbi Koffee know? Did Sherman? Did my parents?
What else had they been keeping from us?
Down there in the basement with those artifacts, ritual objects, and buried paragraphs, starting to feel unmoored.
An hour later we were all sitting on the library floor, except for the youngest kids, who were downstairs, dreaming peacefully. Paul Cohen had a flask of whiskey and was passing it around. When the flask came to me, I looked at Vicki, looked at Todd—the both of them so ready and willing to do anything, seemingly fearless—and, as terrified as I have ever been, took a swig. It burned my throat and I tried not to gag. Ugh, yuck. I took another small sip and passed it on. Matt and his friends came down from the roof, stinking of marijuana. They were only twelve years old. Vicki started making out with Paul, Shoshana made out with Mitzi, I was only slightly surprised when Joshua started making out with Phil, Todd's older, less-cute-but-still-Toddish-in-some-undefinable-way brother. Everybody was making out with everybody. Would somebody try to kiss me? I looked around at the shelves of the library, trying to distract myself from the panic earthquaking up and down my spine. Think of anything else, Sandra. As usual, my mind moved towards Harry Potter. Hermione was always able to go into the library, find the right books, discover hidden truths. How many books here had secrets like what we had unearthed in the basement? How much counter to what we knew was hiding in plain sight?
I happened to be looking when Ronnie leaned in towards Vicki and she inched away. I knew she was trying not to hurt his feelings, which for some reason made me angry. I had never felt anything but cousinly embarrassment for Ronnie, but now, suddenly, I felt cousinly solidarity. We were both on the edge of the social, of the desirable: Ronnie with his block head, greasy hair, lack of hygiene, and nonstop talk of history and politics (though Ronnie didn't come across as political in any way, it was all just stories, nerdgasms, knowledge), me with my chubbiness, my self-conscious shyness, second fiddle to the Vickis and Kates of the world. I caught Kate's eyes from across the room and she made eyes at me and we fell into giggles. When I stopped laughing I realized Todd was beside me. He was leaning in, his mouth puckered. It's happening, Sandra. I moved my face through the terrifying air and we were kissing, we were making out! His hair on my face felt like sharp straw, his hand on my knee was burning hot, his tongue was like an iron poker in my mouth. Not knowing what I was doing, I pushed him off. He looked at me. “What's wrong?” he said, smirking. “I, I have to pee,” I said, jumping up. I was sure everyone was staring, but as I slipped behind the shelves it looked like nobody had paid the slightest attention. My own head was flaming, and not in a good way.
I peed, washed my face, looked at my teeth. That was ... not what I was expecting. It was like there were two different Todds. I went back to the group, sat down. They were going on like nothing had happened. Todd was back where he was before. I watched him brush his hair out of his eyes, say something that made Vicki laugh. I reached for the flask lying on the hard carpet and took a long, bitter drink.
Two a.m. Matt and Paul pull out all of the office chairs from the board room, start racing each other down the curved hallway, the rest of us cheering them on. Matt's chair slams into the wall, one of the wheels popping off, we yell and whoop deliriously. Sherman and Sheri find us, make us roll the chairs back into the board room, though they don't yell (we laugh later imagining what would have happened if David Krasner had found us in similar circumstances). We help Kate sneak Brenda in through an open window; they go off to find an empty classroom. I know I won't see them for the rest of the night, and I tell myself I'm alright with that. We're sitting on our sleeping bags, Todd playing Green Day songs on his electric, singing along. I'm fighting sleep with all my might, but it's no use: I fall asleep for a hard split second, have a dream that Todd's head is lying in my lap and everyone's standing around us, the classroom a smear of sleeping bags and windows and doors, and I'm flossing Todd's teeth, carefully, lovingly, expertly, the floss an extension of myself—I shudder awake, all excited, heart racing, awash once again with love. A rumour goes around that Joshua (Sherman's only son) and some of the other older kids have eaten magic mushrooms. Ronnie: If they're on mushrooms, we should be able to feel it, the psychedelic particles loose in the building. Todd: I feel it, I feel it! Pretending to seizure. Vicki, her face concentrating hard, even prettier all scrunched up: I think I do feel something. Everybody goes to the roof to smoke another joint. Me: I'm going to stay down here, do some reading. I'm walking back from the bathroom, where I've changed into my PJs, when I see Sheri leaving the building. She sees me too. Sheri: Enjoy the rest of your night, Sandra. Hold on to these, these, opportunities of being young. Is she crying? Back on my sleeping bag, I can't stay focused on Harry Potter—his problems, his world, however grand, seem far away, distant. It's not until everybody's back downstairs and we're standing in the kitchen trying to find food and they're all talking about Joshua and Tamara and Paul up on the roof, their eyes all pupils, speaking in tongues, that I notice that Simon has attached himself onto our group, follows closely behind Vicki, laughs at everything she says. Well well. Another contender.
Three a.m. Bored and tired, trapped in this building, the promise of our earlier pack heat a dashed dream, my feelings a splintery jumble. We wander onto the stage at the back of the gym. It's dark back there, we have to wait for our eyes to adjust. Vicki and I sit down at the piano and start to play. It's the oldest piano I've ever played on, says “Gerhard Heintzman, Toronto” in gold letters. We both took lessons from the same Korean woman since grade two, she taught us everything from Beethoven to the Beatles to chordal improvisation (Vicki quit the lessons six months ago, and I soon followed; we haven't played together since). As always, I play chords for Vicki to solo on top of. It comes back to us so naturally, I don't even notice that everybody is standing around watching. I bring the chords to a crashing crescendo, Vicki up in the pentatonic heights, and we end together on a series of fading A minor chords ringing from all ends of the keyboard. Everybody's clapping. Todd: That was, like, really awesome! I didn't know you girls could rip like that! Ronnie: Music is the language of the soul, after all. I fill with promise, with hope, again. Todd opens the curtains to the empty gym, flooding the backstage with light, and we start going through all of the costumes. The Purim show was two weeks ago and all of the masks are still out. Vicki and I dress up as Esther and Mordechai. Todd finds a Nazi costume from The Diary of Anne Frank the kids at Isaac Babel Elementary had staged last year, puts it on. We chase each other across the stage, screaming and playing. I try to flash my mouth of perfect white teeth at Todd whatever chance I get, lure him back. How could Vicki's braceface compete? Ronnie finds a mask for Haman: brown skin, turban, beard. He puts it on. Vicki: You totally look like a terrorist, Ronnie! Ronnie, his voice muffled behind the mask: Actually, in Israel, Purim often leads to Jewish violence against the Palestinians, ya know. Todd: Shut up man, we're just having fun. I'm taken aback. Believe it or not, I had never heard the phrase “Jewish violence” before. Ronnie keeps talking, and even though I'm still pretending to play, dodging Todd's Nazi as he chases us with zombie arms, I'm listening intently. Ronnie starts talking about 1948, the expulsions, the four hundred destroyed villages. Does he know how fully he has my attention? It's the first time I hear the word Nakba. Nakba. I say it to myself in my head. Nakba. I say it aloud. Nakba. I take off the costume, jump off the stage into the gym, where, six hours ago, three lifetimes ago, we had stood in a circle singing Havdallah, start running around, calling it out, Nakba Nakba Nakba. I stop. Turn around. Everybody's standing on the stage, watching. Ronnie's smirking, the Haman mask in his hand.
I feel like I'm crashing and taking off all at once.
Four a.m. The synagogue full of shadows, of secrets we have yet to penetrate. We wander into the sanctuary. Todd opens the doors of the ark, and we are face to face with the Torahs. As Rabbi Koffee constantly reminds us, one of these Torahs survived the Holocaust. We stare at the ancient scrolls in their fancy wrappings for a long minute, the complicated parts we're supposed to know the names of, before shutting the ark. They're the only objects in the whole building none of us makes to touch, to open, to spill. In the small coatroom beside the sanctuary there's a photo of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock golden on the Temple Mount. Ronnie: Back in the temple days, our whole lives would have revolved around that exact spot. Simon, in a hushed voice: What do you think it was like for the high priest, entering the holy of holies? Todd: It must have been like taking a thousand hits of acid all at once. Ronnie: Ya know, there's a secret group working around the clock to build the third temple. I don't know about the others, but I feel the night change once again.
“What about the Dome of the Rock or whatever it's called?”
“Way. And if they succeed, we're all in a lot of trouble. Just like the first two temples, the third temple is going to have crazy omnipotent powers.”
“Yeah, like what?” Todd asked. His tone when talking to Ronnie had transformed since the beginning of the night—he seemed genuinely interested in what Ronnie had to say.
“Oh, you know, the gamut of sci-fi terror. Nuclear capabilities, fusion energy, mind-control, the ability to bend space-time to its will. The terror and retribution of God manifest in Jerusalem stone and mortar.” Ronnie sensed that we were listening intently, that he had, for once, a captive audience. It empowered him. “It gets worse. The third temple will have the power to find anyone, anywhere throughout history—past, present and future—who wasn't actively involved in rebuilding it, or who tried to stop it, and punish them. Total, unfiltered malice. What do you choose, then? Will you commit yourself to the third temple, the all-seeing eye, to the coming messianic age of submission and terror, that will rule over all without exception? Or will you tempt the wrath of an all-powerful being?”
“Stop it, Ronnie!” To my surprise (and ashamed delight) Vicki was crying. Todd looked terrified, like he had eaten mushrooms and had stumbled into a bad trip, or was standing unprepared in that most sacred chamber in the days of Solomon. Simon was staring at the picture of the Temple Mount, his eyes wide. We were all pretty spooked, I guess. Todd put his arm around Vicki and she melted into him.
“Why wouldn't the third temple be empathetic, understanding, forgiving?” I asked, the question coming out of me before I knew it was there.
Ronnie shrugged suggestively. “Don't ask me, that's just how it is. How it is written.” I stared at Ronnie. I'd never thought of him as someone with power, but listening to him spin his tales—because, as late as it was, as under his spell as we all were, as taken in by the moment, a part of me still knew that's all they were, tales—I was seeing him in a whole new light.
“I gotta get out of this fucking closet,” Simon said, opening the door, breaking the spell. We all tromped out after him.
Two hours later and I was walking the halls alone, drunk on tiredness, drama, emotion, new ideas, perhaps even whiskey. We had all gone back to our classroom to lie down, but unlike earlier, sleep wouldn't come—I couldn't keep still, my mind was a building on fire. Was this what it felt like to be drunk? I was walking hallways I'd walked five hundred million times before, but everything was different, strange, both new and old. Matt was passed out near the front doors in black sweat pants and a black sweat shirt, his arms and legs splayed. He was covered in ash and green flecks of marijuana; asleep, he had the face of an innocent child. Two or more people were having sex inside the accessible washroom, grunting softly. I stood for a minute, listening, wondering who it was, before I moved on. Sherman was in the board room, sitting at the end of the table, snoring. He was a good-looking man with a sad story; no wonder everybody was in love with him. I stayed standing in the doorway. It was in this exact room where, five years ago, playing during Saturday services under the large mahogany table, Kate told me about her sleepover camp, and I decided then and there to go next summer no matter what. By far the biggest decision of my entire life. Outside the floor-to-ceiling boardroom windows, the world was dark blue. I could just make out the outlines of the spruce trees. Missing Kate, I went back to our classroom. Betsy, Amanda, Sam, and Danielle were sleeping in a pile. Danielle was hugging a thick book called Inside The Third Reich. Simon was passed out on a plastic chair. Where was Vicki? I thought with a sinking feeling, noticing Todd's empty sleeping bag. When I had left she had been fast asleep. I went to look for her. I had a dark premonition as I walked past the southeast stairwell. Someone had turned off the lights in there. I put my face against the glass. Two people were sitting halfway up the stairs, embracing. As my eyes adjusted, I saw that it was Vicki and Todd, making out hard. The straps of Vicki's dress were off her shoulders, and it looked like her hand was down Todd's pants. I continued to watch as Vicki swung her body onto Todd's before I yanked myself away. All the anger, confusion, loss that I had been keeping at bay throughout the night broke their barriers—I knew it was coming, but it still hit me like a barely controlled demolition. Not knowing what I was doing, not in control of my feet or hands, I walked down the hall to the northeast stairs, up all three flights, shoved through the propped-open security door, and climbed the narrow stairway onto the roof.
I pushed open the final door and emerged into the furnace of a new morning. The world was vibrant, messy, dripping with colour, mild yellows and furious oranges. The holy of holies, Ronnie would have called it. I walked to the edge, looked down at the parking lot, at the trees and playground behind the building, everything glowing with its own vital light. Two hawks were circling high in the sky. I don't think anybody has ever seen the morning like I was seeing it then. The world was totally pulsing with life, bursting with possibility. Awash in it, I saw clearly that, no matter what we tell ourselves, it would always be people like Todd, like Vicki, that the world gravitated towards: made for action, hungry for everything, built with a magnet and a furnace in the hearts of their architecture. People like me, like Ronnie, were forever watching, waiting, trembling.
Or were we?
Ronnie had his mind, his stories, sources of his own secret power. And, apparently, so did I. I saw Ronnie's story of the third temple differently now. It wasn't the temple itself that had such powers—it never was and it never would be—it was what the temple housed, what people believed it housed. I thought of Ronnie's large head, his greasy hair, his fatness, his total lack of desire to be cool, fit in, have friends. The world oozing and breathing all around me, I made a decision. In all that voluptuous heaving it seemed right and true, crazy and beautiful.
I took in the morning one more time—so this was the benefit of not going to sleep!—and climbed back into the building.
I had to find Ronnie.
He was in the board room, sitting at one of the chairs, reading a thick paperback, drinking a coke. Sherman was gone. The room was flushed and flushing with bright clear light.
I sat down beside him.
“Hiya,” he said, not looking up. I read the title of his book: A People's History of the United States.
“Todd and Vicki are making out in the stairwell,” I said.
“Oh yeah?” He still didn't look up, but I saw his response move across his face like a rolling blackout.
“I've been thinking,” I said, the words careful and precise, language conforming precisely to my will, “If the third temple will be so vindictive, so spoiled, so, like, totally childish, why should I do anything for it, for its coming-into-being? Out of fear, out of self-preservation? Gross! I'm not going to let it speak for me. I'll work against it, with all my might.”
Now I had Ronnie's attention. He looked at me. I knew he felt it too. “And how will you mount this attack?” he asked in a hoarse whisper.
I flashed my perfect teeth at him one last time before leaning in, kissing him. His open mouth tasted like Cheetos and soft drink and morning, but we didn't care.
We made out until Sherman found us. “Taking 'insoluble connections' a little too seriously, are we?” he asked. He wasn't angry or disgusted or upset, but whimsical, sweet, a little sad. Outside the windows morning had fully arrived; it was time for breakfast. We followed Sherman to the gym, joined the others. No one spoke as we ate warm muffins and drank cold orange juice, the last twelve hours shadowed on our faces. Sleeping bags rolled up, belongings packed away, the temple was now just another building, a regular daytime building full of regular daytime things. We all gathered in the front hall and Sherman ceremoniously unlocked the doors and out we ventured into the world. The colours and splendour of an hour ago were gone, tucked into some hidden pocket for those of us lucky enough to know where the zipper was.
Brenda was waiting in her VW Bug for Kate. Ronnie's mom picked him up. I don't know what happened to Todd. Vicki and I started to walk home together. She didn't say anything about Todd, and I didn't say anything about Ronnie. In a friendship like ours, words were not always necessary. Our hands found each other.
I didn't think I would ever sleep again.
Aaron Kreuter is the author of the poetry collection Arguments for Lawn Chairs and the short story collection You and Me, Belonging, which won the Miramichi Reader's 2019 "The Very Best!" Short Fiction Award and was shortlisted for a Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature. Aaron is currently writing a novel that takes place at Jewish sleepover camp. He lives in Toronto.