Volume 25, Number 4

Passing Through

People feel good at the Bible Belt Café. The passing woman hears three women meditating over a laptop, exegesis in the air. They are puzzling over the Old Testament, wondering out loud how someone could be Jewish. They have never met anyone Jewish. What would it mean, to be Jewish? Though she is merely passing, she helps out: It means we don’t believe the Messiah has come.

The passing woman threads her way through the Bible Belt Café and hears no trace of doubt. Again she discovers herself a spy passing easily among the others. She knows the carols on the radio, all the words, though these are not her songs, though she goes silent on every Christ. Holiday coffees hold cold-weather flavors in balmy SoCal. Gingerbread, pumpkin pie spice, eggnog, candy cane mocha. Those aren’t religious, they’re seasonal, says her friend. They are for the North, for snow, and Nick is a saint, she thinks. Wherever she goes, four-pointed stars, and long lines to sit in Santa’s lap. Didn’t you ever sit on Santa’s lap? Yes, but he was only a man.

The passing woman hears two pastors talk about their deacons, their youth groups. One gives thanks: Football brought me closer to Jesus. The thermal sleeve on her cardboard cup offers eternal refills of worldly coffee in the name of the Samaritan woman at the well. Your choice of French or Vienna roast, even espresso bitter as original sin.

The passing woman lowers her voice when she says Jewish. Eyes cast down, she edges past the busy tables. Latte plus tip rents a table for three hours. The passing woman draws from her own well. She bypasses Holy Writ to spin her own thread, fragile as corn silk. She knows she is no prophet. When God has spoken to her, He has not used words. Once He twisted her tongue to keep her secrets. Once He stabbed her stomach, doubled her over, to tell her to stand up and run. Once He smote her flat to show her that leaven was gone from her life. He has never bothered with prayers or praise, only with thunder, and bolts of lightning.

—Karen Greenbaum-Maya