At my sister’s bat mitzvah, my mother’s interior decorator clamps my arm. “I know about the drugs, young man.” Her makeup cracks along the deep valleys from nose to frown. Her breath stinks like lox-flavored cigarettes. “Don’t play dumb with me. Behind the paint cans in the garage? If you don’t fess up to your parents, young man, I will!” I dance the hora, terrified that my life is over. The interior decorator shadows me all evening, flaring her nostrils every time she catches my eye. I run to the restroom and vomit, bits of kugel floating in the toilet.
“Allen, you look terrible!” my mother kvells, putting her hands on my cheeks. “Richard, stop your schmoozing!” she calls to my father. “Allen’s sick. We’ve got to get him home.” I’m too worried to enjoy my mother’s fawning. I don’t even care how much of a jap my sister is, complaining the whole way home about how Mitzy Oppenheimer had a live band and a magician at her bat mitzvah.
My dad pulls into the garage and belches. The car fills with the aroma of vodka and tuna. Everyone groans and climbs out. I linger in the garage, hoping an argument will erupt and carry them all inside.
But it’s hard for my mother to forget about me, her first born son. “Allen? Allen, what are you doing?”
“Just looking for something.”
“Allen, you’re pale as a matzoh ball. You should be in bed,”
“I’ll come inside in a minute. I promise.”
Reaching behind the paint cans, I'm afraid the drugs will bite. Sweat rolls down my ribs, polyester scratches at my neck. My glasses keep sliding off my nose since my parents didn’t let me wear my strap to the bat mitzvah. My yamaka slips off and falls behind the paint cans. I blindly grab at it and retrieve a plastic bag instead. Is it possible that these are the drugs? A sandwich bag of oregano? I feel around for something more, but find only my yamaka, a puzzling lighter in the shape of a naked woman, and a cigarette made out of metal.
My parents are sitting on opposite ends of the couch, their faces drooping in the flashing light of the television. My father’s shirt is unbuttoned, his gold medallion nestled in his chest hair. His belt is undone, his fly half-way down.
“Allen,” coos my mother. “Why aren’t you in bed?”
“I didn’t do it, I swear!”
“Do what, sweetheart?” she asks.
“I didn’t do any of the drugs that the interior decorator found behind the paint cans in the garage, and I have no idea how they got there, I swear, I’m sorry!”
My mom’s face turns dark when I hold up the bag. My father leaps into action. “Don’t worry about it son. I’ll take care of that.”
He shoves the bag into his pocket and falls back on the couch, concentrating on the TV with a surprising intensity. His forehead resembles a plowed field. I look to my mother for guidance. She turns to my father. “Show the boy what we do when we find drugs, Richard.”
“I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry about it son. You just go right to bed.”
“Show the boy how we flush the drugs down the toilet, Richard.”
My father’s face hardens. My mother scowls. “Yes, Richard. It’s the right thing to do.”
It takes a long time for my father to stand. I follow him down the hallway. “Dad I swear, I never saw that bag before.”
“I told you don’t worry about it.”
“Where did they come from Dad? I mean, the interior decorator thinks that it’s mine and she said she would tell on me if I didn’t fess up, but I didn’t do it, I really didn’t.”
“Allen,” my father says, putting his hand on my shoulder. “I’m tired.”
“Why don’t you just go to bed, and I’ll take care of the drugs. Don’t you worry about a thing. Everyone knows the interior decorator is crazy.”
“But mom said we should flush the drugs down the toilet.”
“Allen, there are some things in life—.”
But I don’t get to hear what those things are because my mother is standing in the doorway. I stand beside her and she runs her fingers through my hair just like she used to do when I was a little kid.
My father opens the bag and puts his nose up to it. “Don’t do it Dad!” But he takes a big whiff anyway. Now he’s going to die. But instead, his eyes close, and a blissful look I’ve only seen when he’s mowing the lawn comes over his face. “What does it smell like Dad?” I ask.
“Heaven,” he mutters.
“Dump it, Richard.”
“But Dad, you told me we don’t believe in heaven!”
“All of it, Richard.”
“Mom, why does it smell like a skunk in here?”
My dad dumps the drugs into the toilet. He stands over the bowl, his head hanging. He seems too have shrunken since when he was dancing with Mrs. Oppenheimer at the bat mitzvah.
“Flush,” says Mom.
He does and turns to her, his lips curling in a frightening way. “Happy?”
“Yes, Richard. Very happy. You showed Allen the right thing to do when we find drugs in the garage.”
My mother smiles at me and kisses my head. I’ve been absolved. I am still a mench after all.