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Untouchable

As told to Temima Shain

A match. Maybe a match would do it. I held the lit match over the bed, as close as I could get to the fresh sheet without burning it. Heat ... maybe heat would fix it. I waved the match slowly over the sheet. It burned down. I shook it out and lit another. Intensely, passionately, trying to infuse the flame with the power to burn away the contamination. I didn’t have another clean sheet. I had nowhere else to sleep tonight. My sleeve had touched the bed, and the bed was now contaminated.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My skirt is dry-clean only. I couldn’t wash it. I have to put on it on even though I was wearing it before.

But I can’t.

I just can’t. Not when it’s going to be Shabbos and I was supposed to be clean for Shabbos ...

This.

Is.

Something.

I.

Can’t.

Do.

My mind casts around feverishly for a way out of the problem.

Garbage bags.

I carefully walk into the kitchen, grimacing as I open the cabinet. A new box ... Oh, Hashem, please make there be a new box....

A new box. There.

I pull it out and open it. I wash my hands, and carefully carefully carefully pull out a garbage bag. I tear it open and step in. Carefully, taking one foot at a time out of its shoe, then putting it back in, without touching the floor. I tie the bag around me securely. Now I will be clean.

I look down. My legs. The bag isn’t long enough to reach the top of my clean socks. I’m exposed. My skirt will touch me.

I close my eyes.

Gila’s voice slides through me, honey in my starving mind. Sweetheart, she says, and I hear the compassion in her voice. Gila is my older cousin.. She used to take me out late at night and we used to talk. She’s far away now, busy with her own life, and she’s not coming. She’s not here for me. I am alone.

I am exhausted, but my nerves are taut, tight with anxiety and fear.

Maybe I can do it. Maybe I can allow the skirt to touch my skin, and I can just push my way through it, and I will be okay, and I will be safe. Can I do that? Will it work?

I close my eyes. Help me, help me, help me ... The faces are too far away, they are only blurs. There is no one there to help me.

Wait. If I move the garbage bag down lower ... till it reaches my socks ... My shirt is long ... I can pin the bag to my shirt ... but oh no, oh no, the safety pins; they’ll touch me ...

I’ll sterilize them.

I hold them under the hot water, but it doesn’t feel right. Not clean enough. Not safe.

Steam pours from the faucet. My fingers burn from the hot metal. Careful! I almost touched the counter with my shirt. Oh no, oh no, oh no...

It’s hard to wash my hands with soap, while holding the safety pins, but eventually I get it, and wave my hands till they’re dry, and then I manage to pin the garage bag around to my shirt.

I carefully pick up my skirt and put it on.

Done.

I close my eyes and breathe in relief. I get my stuff together and soon I am out in the street. The garbage bag is showing a little underneath my skirt. But picking it up would be too risky. I just hurry along and hope I don’t meet anyone I know.

 

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