Fiction: The Engines of Sodom

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December 22, 2009

Hershlag’s mother hit him over the head with a loaf of rye bread when he told her he was going to catch a show at Ildiko’s instead of joining her at synagogue to mark his grandfather’s yahrzeit. “What’s the matter with you? Poppa’s been gone a year today and you’re running downtown to fill your ears with that trash.”

Hershlag raised a delicate middle finger, jumped on his skateboard and wobbled down the driveway.

Connor and McManus were crouched on their boards in front of the club sharing a sodden pizza sub when Hershlag rolled up. They had large black X’s drawn in marker on the backs of their hands and Hershlag was glad that he had had the foresight to fix himself before his mother went crazy.

In Hebrew school he had been called Hershlag the Fag by the spoiled Forest Hill J.A.P.s because he had acne and wore Lee instead of Levis; the next year he was a skinhead hanging with Eamon Sturtze and Little John at the Bulldog, and now he was straight edge, decked out in high-topped sneakers, an oversized Walk Together, Rock Together T-shirt and sanctimonious black X’s scrawled onto his skin.

“Gonna be a great show tonight guys. I read in Maximum Rock and Roll that this band shreds.”

“You haven’t heard them?” McManus sneered.

“Sure I have. Their old stuff.”

McManus rolled his eyes at Connor. “What’s up with your arms Hershlag?”

He hadn’t had the time to throw on long sleeves before his mother chased him out and now his slim, scarred arms were visible for his new friends to see. It looked like a melon baller had scooped out the tender flesh of his forearms leaving the wounds to heal into cruel putty-like scars.

“Got rid of some old tattoos,” Hershlag said. “Dragons and skulls. Kids’ stuff. I’m thinking of getting some new ones though. You know, a little bit straight and a little bit edgy.” He laughed, but his companions did not.

“Hey kids, don’t forget your fake IDs,” he quipped trailing after them.

The club was already smoke-filled and packed, the opening band introduced on stage by old man Ildiko. Hershlag popped in his earplugs and shouted something to McManus who was talking up a dreadlocked Asian girl who lived in Kensington Market.

McManus spun around and poked Hershlag in the chest with a stiff finger. “Go away Hershlag.”

Connor scolded McManus and told him not to be so hard on the kid and disappeared into the rolling wave of bodies.

Amid the clash of distorted buzz saw guitars, Hershlag thought of his Poppa, not long before he died, approaching him in his bedroom blasting music.

“Oy!” Poppa Hershlag shouted. “Like the very engines of Sodom. Turn that racket off Adam. This will put me in the ground.”

Hershlag laughed at how weak his grandfather’s plaintive “Oy,” sounded compared to the militant, testosterone-blasted “Oi, oi, oi’s” chanted on his record.

And then Poppa Hershlag had seen the tattoos and shaken his numbered arm at his only grandson. “Do you think this is a joke? Does this mean nothing to you? You are a lucky boy, Adam to be born in the time you were born. Don’t ever forget that.”

His scars itched and he scratched mindlessly at them as the band cleared the stage.

Despite the swelling crowd pressing around him Hershlag felt a deep loneliness and shame. He missed his grandfather and had done nothing to honor his memory. He deserved more than a candle and a muttered prayer.

Connor stumbled up from the mosh pit sweating through his T-shirt. “I’m going backstage to hang with the band. Wanna come?”

Hershlag nodded yes and followed Connor through the crowd, but he was stopped before he made any progress by a voice calling “Oi! He’s back from the dead.”

“And with the straight edge crew,” a second voice added.

Eamon and Little John stood before Hershlag and Connor in identical oxblood Doc Marten boots, blue jeans and red suspenders snapped tight over their T-shirts. They were a couple years older than Hershlag and towered over him like fully grown men.

Eamon flicked Hershlag in the nose with a battered finger. His head was newly shaved and a droplet of red blood had dried on the side of Eamon’s scalp. “I didn’t think I’d see your sorry ass again. What happened to your tats? I thought we were brothers.” Then he gestured to the swastika tattoo on his forearm, the death’s head, the S.S. lightning bolts.

The next band was doing its sound check and Connor had to shout “You’re a Nazi?”

“No I’m not.”

“He’s a Jew. How can you miss a nose like that?” Eamon countered.

Connor shook his blonde head and burst through the crowd, shouting, “A Nazi.”

“Oops,” Eamon laughed, grabbing Hershlag’s ridiculous skateboard from his hands. “I guess you’re out of friends, mate.”

Hershlag stood a moment, trying to find the right words, but he was afraid that he would cry in front of Eamon and Little John, and nothing, nothing in the world, he was sure, could be worse than that. In an instant he was running down Bloor Street, giant snot bubbles bursting from his nose, in search of the tattoo parlor. He had his grandfather’s blurred blue numbers committed to memory and he was determined to become a living monument to Poppa Hershlag so that he would never forget.

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