If you’re Jewish, you probably look at the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur – with about as much as excitement as you having to go to the colorectal specialist. That’s an appropriate metaphor as your ass is on the line on this day because on this day G-d finishes writing you into the book of life and seals it at days end. Whether you’ll live another year. Who shall live and who shall die? I tell y’all, I don’t need a strong cup of coffee for that to snap my attention you know.
Now, for G-d that means a lot of writing. A lot of names – the entire world in fact in 10 days, starting with Rosh Hashanah. And if you’re me, who has terrible handwriting…. Right? You wonder, does G-d ever have a moment like I do, where he looks back and says “what the heck does that say?”
When I say writing, is it really writing, or is it like the old ten commandments thing where he just burned things into rock? That seems rather tedious. Either way, it would make sense to me that instead of giving food away to the homeless during this time of year, we should send a lot of coffee to God. No time for sleep sir.
Has he moved into the high-tech arena – typing? Computers? Does he have a stenographer or assistant? Because we already know communication links between boss and assistant often get muddled.
There’s a lot to be concerned about just in accuracy alone.
Now this past Yom Kippur I faced a conundrum, one many of you may have faced in your household but not in the same way. I have a seven and five-year-old. And these lovely creatures called me alarmingly after we returned home.
“Dad, Dad!! DAD???”
My wife yells “Honey??!!”
And you know that isn’t good. It’s the way the eeeeee sound in the word honey lingers. Something bad is up. I come hurrying out of the bedroom, and there they all stood, surrounding the whatever it was like it was a gladiator in the colosseum.
“There’s a spider.”
And yes, that’s what it was: eight legs, brownish black, couldn’t see any pattern. I know enough about spiders to know this wasn’t a black widow. Black widows have a fat belly and can be dangerous to kids. So that could warrant a quick removal from the earth. I don’t know about much more except there is such a thing as a brown recluse – this was brown but come on.
Then I flashed back to the last time I killed a spider. We were on my Uncle’s boat this summer. And when we opened the back latch to release the ladder down into the water, there, near the hinge, was a rather large brown spider. And we were on a lake with nowhere to go.
Oh, the panic.
You thought snakes on a plane was bad? You’ve never seen the follow-up, “Spider on a Boat Filled with Jews!”
It was a long brown one and my aunt and I didn’t know if it could be a brown recluse, and it had an interesting pattern on its belly and we were scared.
Somehow, we were able to flick it up and out into the water, where it wiggled itself on to its back and began to float!!! That’s right. Originally it was like he’ll drown quickly and be done. And I felt so bad! He was lying in a wide-open lake on his back in the hot sun hoping he’d float to shore or come upon something he could grab onto. And we just left the thing there. Now I felt so guilty. He’s going to bake in the sun and soak up water and slowly lose the battle because of us. Murderers we were.
I was about to explain that there are some benefits to spiders, like they kill just about all the other insects that you don’t want in your house: ants, crickets, mosquitoes, but all that came out was,
“So?” I said rather naively. “
“Why don’t you just step on it?” Then I see my wife’s glare and notice she has no shoes on.
Now wait a second. Why do I have to kill it? They could just as easily do it and then it dawned on me… they don’t want to get their hands dirty. They want to sully my reputation on Yom Kippur. Clever bastards.
“Why do I have to kill it?”
They looked at me all innocently.
“Just do it.”
This is bullying in its most egregious. And I immediately did what any good Jewish father would do at such an important moment of deliberation for his family. I tried to remember all ten commandments.
Look there are some very direct instructions in there about what and what is not allowed. Thou shalt not kill! Very specific. And here I am about to do just that, and on Yom Kippur. Does it mean we shouldn’t kill anything? What if it’s self-defense?
The spider still hadn’t moved, frozen, probably looking at use with each of its what, 100 eyes?
Thou shalt not steal…. The spider is clearly guilty of breaking and entering, but did he take anything…. or more to the point anything we wanted?
That’s when my wife pulled a low blow.
“Honey, be a man!”
Oh, now wait, no she didn’t. She played the man card. My manhood is at stake in my marriage, but if I commit this murder for them, my life might be at stake. They clearly aren’t seeing this for what it is. This is a living creature. How do I know this is his time? Don’t they know G-d is writing for crying out loud? One false step and instead of Jon, J-O-N he slips an H in there to J-O-H-N and my time is up.
The kids look up at me with that begging, pleading look, like life can’t go on with a spider on the rug.
My wife is questioning my toughness, of which I already have little, but this could end the mystery.
Then it dawned on me, what if the spider wasn’t written into last year’s book. What if G-d had already assigned me to be here at this moment in time to end it? If I don’t end it, I’ve now disobeyed G-d on the one day I should willfully do his bidding!! I can’t be the one to deny an act of G-d, on YOM KIPPUR!
It was decision time, I ran and grabbed a piece of paper and a plastic cup, covered the spider with the cup and slid the paper underneath. And I flipped it upside down. Voila… one spider in a cup.
They fall in line behind me as I take it downstairs to let it outside, as the Spider is the Torah and I’m marching him around. And I keep hearing thou shall not kill; thou shall not kill.
Down the stairs and out the front, which my wife hurriedly unlocked and opened for me, something she doesn’t do even when I’m carrying a heavy piece of luggage. And once outside, they start asking to see it – “let me see it… are you sure you have it? Let me see it Dad.”
They grabbed at the cup.
“Guys!” I said trying to protect my arms as they hung from them.
“I have to see it. What if you didn’t get it? How will we sleep at night?”
And as they grabbed, and pulled, that little spider who had received a stay of execution crawled onto my eldest son’s arm.
All hell broke loose. Screaming. Panic. Manic body movements the likes of which could easily be confused with a seizure if we didn’t know better. Both boys, suddenly erupted like Mount St. Helens.
That sucker died.
And all was calm. And we prayed.
And we wait until next year. Who shall live and who shall die?
Apparently, the spider’s time was up.
Jonathan Phillips have published several short stories. His first, SPECK, won the Silver Pen Association’s 2016 Write Well Award and his follow-up story, BLANK CANVAS, was selected to be in the Fifth Anniversary anthology from Fabula Argentea. Besides fiction, he has co-authored six film projects and two television pilots, as well as written four stage plays on his own, two of which were staged. He has also freelanced doing fantasy sport analysis and journalism. He is the proud married father of two boys.