Tainted by Iris N. Schwartz

Harriette wasn’t crazy about being admitted to the psych ward of Gut Gezunt* Hospital.

She’d be found out for the lesser Jew she was.

Fridays, when she couldn’t obtain a Shabbos goy** to turn on or shut off the lights, she did it stealthily herself.

She not only didn’t keep kosher but tore from the bone freshly fried pork, greedily devoured this treif***, and let illicit juices escape down chin and neck — onto a blouse relegated to a corner of the bedroom. When roommates were elsewhere Harriette would throw stained clothing into the incinerator, no questions asked. Except of herself. And maybe one day a rabbi.

But did these acts constitute crazy? Why had she checked herself into a psych ward — and at Gut Gezunt?

In the first-floor apartment she shared with Raizel and Eidel, Harriette: opened windows — post-porkfests — to usher in breezes; sprayed Mango Zephyr air freshener through all rooms; prayed she wouldn’t be found out but half hoped she would.

Male patients eighteen to early twenties devoured Gut Gezunt food. One Dietary worker told Harriette that years ago young male depressives and schizophrenics very often asked for seconds. Now each psych patient plate — even those given to females — was heaped with double-portioned proteins at lunch and dinner.

Harriette felt repulsed by colossal amounts of food, restrained herself from heaving up. She thought Gut Gezunt’s system wasteful if nobly intended. Not once did she see a female patient on this ward eat more than one serving of anything — and Harriette kept watch.

She had decided to call shelters, inform them of extra food. Patients told her not to. Nurses, cleaning staff, too. Or had she imagined the head nurse discussing Harriette with the shower scrubber?

Had Harriette divulged to anyone on psych her guest speaker status at upcoming Dietary seminar “Future of Second Servings?” Hard to tell. Patients and staff turned Harriette’s way when she entered a room. Antidepressants, however, could alter perceptions, especially those newly introduced to one’s regimen.

Staff had stopped raiding her room. They conducted raids on patients who, prior to admittance to Gut Gezunt, had tried or made detailed plans to kill themselves. Early evenings, with patients less likely to be in their rooms, staff would toss dresser drawers, ferret through medicine cabinets, hunt under beds. For mirrors. Scissors. Shoelaces. Razor blades.

Harriette had fantasized cutting herself, pictured beauteous carmine streaming down her forearm. Once — just once — she imagined slowly losing her life by bingeing and purging.

At Gut Gezunt she had told this to a doctor. Harriette’s breath became shallow. She placed her right hand over her mouth, remembered she’d also confessed to Raizel!

For maybe a millisecond, Harriette stopped breathing. Had she told Raizel or Eidel about the pork?

Suddenly they were there: Raizel and Eidel, as if borne to their roommate by the power of her thoughts! Young women whose long skirts swirled about their strong lower limbs. They strode to her, and they were smiling.

Her Gut Gezunt psychiatrist was somehow at her side. There were no more searches of her room because Harriette “was no longer a danger to herself.” She would be signed out in two days to her roommates.

She had one question for them.

Eidel’s gray-blue eyes laughed along with the rest of her. Her mouth opened wide. She touched the arm of Raizel, also clearly enjoying herself.

Eidel, between fits of laughter, said, “Harriette, in your dreams! There’s no way you ever did that! And air fresheners? Please. We would have sniffed out pig ten blocks away. Nothing masks the odor of treif!”

The three rode home in a taxi. As soon as her roommates left, Harriette thought she’d search the back of the freezer for repackaged, relabeled meat.

__________________________

*Gut gezunt: Yiddish for “good health.”

**Shabbos goy: a gentile who performs work on the Sabbath that a Jew can’t do.

***Treif: non-kosher food, that is, food not in accord with Jewish dietary laws.

 

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Iris N. Schwartz

Iris N. Schwartz’s fiction has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies, including Anti-Heroin Chic, Five-2-One Magazine, Jellyfish Review, and Spelk Fiction. Her short-short story collection, My Secret Life with Chris Noth, was published by Poets Wear Prada and nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. Shame is her latest collection.

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