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The Drunken Rabbit

Blumie chose the Drunken Rabbit because rabbit isn’t kosher, and even though it wouldn’t be served at a whisky bar, this somehow compounded the sin she intended to commit.

Actually, there were rabbits at the bar. Taxidermied rabbits, and also birds and rodents. Her flat shoes stuck and then unstuck themselves to the floor with a ffffsshk that echoed as she walked from the front door to an empty stool between two other empty stools. She vibrated with the mistake of her coming. Or anticipation.

She had not considered taxidermy as a feature when she spent most of a day at work scrolling reviews of bars. She started with a map, choosing only spots on the northeast side, far from the shtetl of Pico-Robertson. Not that anyone in her neighborhood was likely to go to a veltlich bar.

“What can I get you?” The bartender was wearing suspenders over a sports bra, a large ring in her nose, curly hair swept into a hairnet. She pushed a small napkin in front of Blumie.

She’d researched, of course, but she didn’t know if you could order a negroni or a mai tai if it wasn’t on a menu, and she didn’t think those words would roll off her unpracticed tongue. The smell of lemon peels reminded her of baking lekach, and there was a strong scent behind it, like rot.

“Something with lemon?” she blurted, too loud.

“I have a basic Sidecar, or a Corpse Reviver?”

“Corpse Reviver,” Blumie said. It felt like the courageous choice.

Two men sat down at the U-shaped bar, with only a seat separating them from Blumie. A sound system she hadn’t noticed at first was playing bird calls and rushing water. Once the water became the popping of a campfire, she was able to hear the conversation between the men. She could hear it, but she couldn’t believe it. They were talking about Israeli politics. She glanced over. The man farthest from her caught her gaze, and she looked away.

They were, both of them, not so tall, not so short. Brown hair, plastic-framed glasses, stubble, and button-down shirts. They could have been brothers, except they were handsome in such different ways. The one who’d looked at her had a dimple on his left cheek and very thick, short graying hair. His teeth were straight but his smile was crooked. The other had a thick chin, thick eyebrows, bright green eyes.

They had been to Tel Aviv, she heard them, on a trip together in college. So they must be Jewish. Not her kind of Jewish. Probably they drove on Shabbat, ate cheeseburgers. Would they know she was Jewish? Anyone could have orange hair and freckles. Lots of people—though fewer, it seemed, in northeast Los Angeles—had extra chub at the ribs and tummy and thighs. She hadn’t bought new clothes for this, but other people in the world wore skirts that fell past the knees or blouses to the elbow. She looked around. No woman in the bar wore a skirt of any length.

“Corpse Reviver,” the bartender said and set down an intricate goblet swirling with pale yellow drink and white foam. It smelled of medicine.

“Oh-ho,” said the man who’d smiled at her, smiling again. “I’ll have one, too.”

“Instead of the flip?” said the bartender, and he nodded.

“You like absinthe?” he said to Blumie. She’d decided before she left home that honesty would serve her best. Anyway, she was a rotten liar.

“It can’t be you tonight,” she said.

He closed one eye and looked at his friend, then he got up and sat down next to Blumie. She swiveled her stool to face him.

“Not with that attitude,” he said. His smile was extraordinary. He smelled of cologne, but not like the foyer at the wedding hall where all her friends were getting married seven years ago.

He put his finger over the end of the tiny straw in her drink, lifted it up, and aimed it towards her mouth. She opened. The taste was bitter.

“I’m Micah, he’s Dan.” Dan waved. “So do you like absinthe?”

“I’m Blumie,” she said, wincing a little, as always, when she said her name, which sounded like a baby being cooed at. “And it’s too soon to tell.”

She turned forward to face her drink and the choice of whether to use the straw or the lip of the glass. She looked around and found another man now seated to her left. He had blond hair to his shoulders. He was drinking brown liquid, no straw, no ice, no incandescent swirls of foam. She removed her straw and took a large sip, then another.

“Blumie,” Micah said. “Is it Yiddish?”

“It’s all wrong that you know Yiddish,” she said. “I came here to get away from the Jews.”

The bartender, hearing her, shook her head. Micah laughed a little.

“You can’t say that, Blumie.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“What did you mean?” he said.

So she told him. That she was going to have weight-loss surgery, move to Arizona, go work at a little dude ranch with which she’d been corresponding, tell her parents only some of it, say goodbye to her many younger brothers and sisters, her entire way of life. And before all that, she would start with sex because she was almost thirty years old. So she had come here, far from Pico-Robertson, just in case she really liked the guy. She’d close all paths to seeing someone a second time. Or rejection.

“Also,” she said. “I’ll probably change my name.”

Dan let out a whistle and shook his head. “Well,” he said. “We wish you luck.”

“You’ve never?” Micah said.

Blumie shook her head.

“But tonight?” he said, and she nodded.

“I want you to formally reconsider me,” Micah said. “Like, I’m throwing my hat in the ring.”

“Come on,” Dan said. “It’s early. We have plans.”

“I would be good at this,” Micah said. He turned to Blumie. “I could teach you a lot in a night. Or two. Then I promise I won’t bother you again.”

“Sorry,” Blumie said. “I already like you too much. I’d convince myself, all the reasons to keep texting you.”

“A nice Jewish boy,” Dan said.

“I am,” Micah said. “So nice that I’ll respectfully help Blumie with her … experiment.”

“What a mensch,” Dan said.

“It’s not science,” Blumie said.

“Biology,” Micah said.

Blumie finished the drink in two sips.

“I’ll buy you another,” Micah said.

“No,” Blumie said and looked around the bar, but it had filled up. “I’ll just move. Enjoy your plans.”

Micah put his hand on her wrist. He could not have known, however much he understood about people like her, that it was the first time a man had touched her like that, on purpose. She liked the feel of it, even though it was abrupt. The pad of each of his fingers was warm, and they spoke to the same parts of her as porn (which she had used only twice, as research). She wished for him to grab her other wrist; she wished for him to leave.

“One more drink,” he said.

The man to Blumie’s left swung around and knocked twice on the bar. No one said anything until the bartender came around. Blumie’s wrist was still deliciously restrained.

“Another,” the man said. “And whatever she wants.” He pointed at Blumie. “And their tab so they take the note.”

“Hey, buddy,” Micah said, but he let go. Relief flooded Blumie, relief and regret.

“Let’s go,” Dan said and took his coat from the back of the stool.

Micah sighed. “I guess you think it’s going to be you,” he said to the man.

“Doubt it,” the man said. “But I heard her say twice it’s not you.”

Micah took a business card from his pocket and put it on the bar.  It didn’t say what he did, just emails and numbers.

“If you strike out tonight,” Micah said, “call me.”

The man to her left laughed, low and short.

“Anyway,” Micah said, and they left.

“Did you want another?” the bartender said, and Blumie said yes.

“What’s your name going to be?” asked the man to her left.

“Ophira,” Blumie answered, “I think.”

“Is that what I should call you?” he said. Blumie’s heart went swiftly; it felt precarious, him asking to call her a different name. What would it sound like to hear it spoken? Would she find she’d chosen the wrong name?

“Yes,” she said.

“I’m Bryan,” he said. “Just Bryan. Not as interesting as either of your names.”

“I guess you heard all that.”

“It’s hard not to hear something like that.”

“I can go,” she said. “If it’s weird. I have three other bars on my list.”

“Another Corpse Reviver is coming,” he said. “That’s a $20 drink. Don’t drink it because I’m paying, drink it because of how hard Lannie”—he jerked his head toward the bartender, who was shaking two cups together—“is working to make it.”

Blumie liked the look of Bryan. He was also unshaven (maybe men who went to bars didn’t shave?) and dressed in a T-shirt with an open flannel. He was soft in the middle, as she was, but his shoulders and arms were strong. His hair looked dirty, but he smelled like soap. His eyes were bright despite the whisky, but his teeth were stained—just a little—right in the front.

“You must come here a lot,” she said.

“I live around the corner. I come every day.”

“Just to drink? Why don’t you do that at home?”

“I like hearing voices. And stories. And I like Lannie. And reading my magazines with ambient noise.”

She noticed for the first time that he had a New Yorker. Her dad’s mother had received The New Yorker and hidden it in the back bathroom of their apartment, where few people would notice the secular world encroaching. She used to explain the covers to Blumie.

“And sometimes I meet interesting people,” he went on.

Lannie set down the second drink and, all at once, Blumie was thirsty. She drank deeply, facing forward. Bryan leafed through the magazine, and neither spoke—crickets chirped without irony on the bar soundtrack—until she’d finished the drink, as well as the sticky cherry at the bottom of the glass.

“Do you want to come home with me, Ophira?” Bryan said, looking up. “Or would you like to try the next bar on your list?”

“Do you mean it?” Blumie said.

“I’m nothing special,” he said. “Just a Bryan. But that’s probably what you want in a deal like this.”

“It’s not a deal,” she said.

“You should have some questions,” he said. “Men can be dangerous.”

This was the part she couldn’t figure out how to get around. She couldn’t bring someone to her parents’ house. She supposed she could meet someone at a hotel, but that became elaborate and expensive. And she might still get hurt in a hotel. She’d decided, going into it, that she would have to trust her gut. She knew, also, that Bryan mentioning danger should feel dangerous, but her instincts were clear on him.

“What do you do for work?” Blumie said.

“I could tell you anything,” Bryan said.

“Are you trying to scare me or sleep with me?”

“I am a chef.”



“How come you’re here instead of cooking?”

“I cook at a famous brunch spot in Beverly Hills,” he said. “The kind with a line around the block. I’m done by 4:00 p.m. every day.”

“What’s your specialty?”

“The restaurant’s is pineapple French toast.”

“Where did you learn to cook?”

“From my father. He’s an attorney, but he learned to cook from his father.”

“Where do you eat when you’re not cooking?”

“Mostly I drink,” he said. “But also I consume a lot of Taco Bell Crunchwraps.”

“That can’t be true,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

“Have you ever had one?” he said.

Blumie shook her head. “How many people have you slept with?” she asked.

“At least two hundred, I guess. I stopped counting around age twenty-two.”

This took Blumie by surprise. She knew that outside the community, people did this—slept around, how it was called—but he couldn’t have been much older than she was. Thirty-five, maybe thirty-eight. She tried to do a quick calculation, a ratio. How many per year. Per week.

“How many names do you remember?” she said.

Bryan laughed. “You are not asking the right questions. But they are very interesting. I’ve never heard someone so candid. I remember fewer than half their names, much fewer.” He reached over and put his hand very gently on the wrist that Micah had not grabbed. “It will be easy to remember yours.”

Astonishing, having the same reaction to two such different hands from two such different men. Perhaps Blumie was pathetic. She hadn’t suspected it of herself, but perhaps she was so starved that her body lacked all proclivity. The idea went against her self-image: headstrong, burly, pragmatic.

“Is that enough questions?” Blumie said. “Can we go?”

Bryan didn’t answer, just lifted her purse and dropped cash on the bar. Blumie hadn’t carried cash in years, not more than an emergency twenty dollars, and watching him pull bills made her feel as if she were in a book.

“I live close,” he said, “but it’s straight up a hill. You good walking?”

“I’d better be,” Blumie said, and they ffffsshk’d across the floor and set out up the hill. She’d be sweaty when they arrived, but after all, if people were going to trade fluids, what did they care about a little stink?

Actually, she didn’t know.




He lived on the large bottom floor of a house with terraced yards. In the light of their cell phone flashlights, she saw neat rows of lettuce and messes of herbs, along with a small, potted citrus tree with a large pair of scissors stuck in the dirt. It reminded her of how her family stuck forks and spoons in dirt if a dairy utensil errantly touched a meat dish. There were large spiderwebs on the rosemary trellises, gleaming in the light. Fat black widows scuttled away from the beams.

The spiders were friends, Bryan told her, ravenous friends; you just had to be careful where you stuck your hand. His floor had its own entrance and was mostly one large, paneled room with an open kitchen, a little alcove filled with books, and a small, doorless room with a bed, some open shelving, and an attached bathroom.

Inside, it was warm and smelled of the ocean. Even this far from the shore. The carpet was thin, and there were a lot of paintings and collages on the walls. Like her house, there was no TV. He had a turquoise, three-tiered cart near the kitchen filled with bottles of alcohol, and from these he offered to make her a drink.

“Sure,” she said, already tipsy.

“Do you know what you like to drink?” he said. “Or do you want pointers?”

“You can assume pointers for the rest of the night,” she said.

He grinned. “Let’s start with an Old Fashioned. You can get it anywhere, but not all of them will be as good as mine.”

While he was mixing and stirring, she looked at his bookshelf. “When I move,” she said, “I’m going to read so many books. I read them now at the library. And sometimes on a tablet. But we don’t have secular books in my house. So I can’t hold them.” She ran her finger across a shelf of paperbacks.

“So what are you?” he said. “I went to high school with a bunch of Jewish kids, and they kept kosher and everything, but I think they could read whatever they wanted.”

“Haredi,” she told him. “People call us ultra-Orthodox, but we would never say that.”

“I don’t want to be rude,” he said, handing her a glass, “but you don’t look it. Aren’t you supposed to wear a wig or something?”

“Only if you’re married. Which, I haven’t been a popular choice.”

“Or haven’t wanted to be.”

“It’s hard to tell. I’m nearly thirty now, a spinster.”

“Does everyone in your … group talk like you? You sound a little formal.  But also more forthright than most people.”

“I did some secular studies in Israel,” she said. “On one of the trips where I went looking for a husband. And I read. I listen. And I’ll never see you again, so there’s no point in not saying what I mean.”

“I believe you often say what you mean,” he said. She took a big drink and thought about this, about how someone she had only met—met in as exotic a place as existed for a woman like her—could intuit how she was in other settings.

“Maybe that’s why I don’t have a husband,” she said.


“Well, I’m about to ruin myself for it.” She took another sip. He was also drinking an Old Fashioned.

“They have husbands other places, if that’s what you’re after.” After a moment, he continued, “What are you after?”

“I have to know,” she said. “And I have to know before the surgery makes me thin. I have to know that it was my community and not me. That I’m, I believe they say, fuckable.” The word felt strong coming off her palate.

“Everyone is fuckable,” he said quietly. “You especially. I hope there’s more to it than that.”

“Well, I want to,” she said. “It’s the human condition.”

“And how much do you know about how this goes? You’re thirty years old. You read. Do you know?” He stepped closer to her and set his empty glass on the bookshelf.

“I watched some porn. Which I know isn’t accurate. I hope it isn’t. But I thought I should. It was very hard to figure out how to find two people having sex.”

He laughed a little, and she shook her head. Some things she should keep to herself. She carried so much shame over the porn even though it had been investigative; it went against the ethics of her fathers, defied the inherent kadosh of human bodies, bodies made—as they were taught—in the image of the divine. For the first time that evening, her cheeks blazed with humiliation.

“I’m not laughing at you,” he said.

Blumie stuck out her chin. “Do you watch porn?” she said, as if to prove a point. She hadn’t any idea which one.

“Almost everyone does. And you’re right. It’s very hard to find two people just having sex. Did anything surprise you?”

“There’s a lot of spitting,” she said, and he laughed again.

“Let’s not do any of that,” he said and moved up against her. “Do you know, has your research told you, that this is very hot for me? I’m a little disappointed in myself how hot this is. I wanted it to be me the moment I understood what you were telling those guys.” He took her hand, gently, and put it against his pants so she could feel him. Then he let her go. She kept her hand there, but didn’t curl her fingers around him. “Are you on birth control?”

She took a step back, finished her drink. “Do I have to be?” she said, worried. Although she knew women in the community sometimes took birth control for ailments, or in secret to space out their children, the laws between a man and a woman were so prevalent that she had almost a violent reaction to the question. “Won’t you use a condom?”

“I will,” he said. “It’s alright.”

“I have some,” she said. “Condoms. I didn’t know how many to bring.”

“Probably just one,” he said. “Don’t let porn fool you.”

And then he reached behind her head, pulled her in, and kissed her. She’d been so fixated on sex that she hadn’t realized, until his lips were pressed against hers, it would also be her first kiss. She liked it all right until he opened his mouth. She tried to match him, but there was just too much in her mouth. If she hadn’t been drunk, it would have been intolerable.

“Wait,” he said and fiddled with his phone. Music started playing from a speaker, classical. She thought it was probably to put her at ease. She hated it playing, but her mind was becoming muddled. He started kissing her again, awful like that.

“Let’s go to the bedroom,” he said, and she nodded.

He turned off the lights, although there was still ambient light from the main room. He stood her next to the bed and undressed her, all of her. She felt cold and dumb, stomach flopping. He undressed himself. Her eyes were rheumy and he pulled her to him, quickly, and she began to warm up. She could feel him hard against her belly. Then he lay her on the bed and started touching her. It was her first time being kissed, but she’d brought herself to climax in the shower many times and now wondered how long it would take with Bryan. At one moment it felt imminent, the next distant. The kisses were much better on her chest than they had been on her mouth. And although in the porn, women were always doing all sorts of things to the men, she just closed her eyes—her head spun, but not too much—and let him touch her. She wanted him to do it, to be inside her, but everything felt strange and she, who had been so forward all night, did not know how to ask.

He sat up and tapped her shoulder so she would look at him. “You should know,” he said, “how to put on a condom. The right way.”

“Don’t want to,” she said. “You do it.”

“Really, Ophira.”

Hearing the name sent waves from her and he sensed it. She heard him put on the condom, and then he was doing it. It didn’t hurt, not like she was expecting, but she felt so … full. He brushed hair from her face—he was very close to her face—and didn’t say anything more. After a moment, he started moving, and so she started moving, and then she couldn’t stop moving and he was gasping and she definitely climaxed before him, but only just. She closed her eyes and felt him put a blanket over her and her ears rang and her head was blank. She curled her body against itself, burrowing under the weight of her new reality.




It was still dark when he roused her. “Ophira,” he said. “Ophira. Let me cook you something, you drunken rabbit. You haven’t eaten. It will help your head.”

She looked around. “My car,” she said. “I left my car at the bar.”

“It’s alright,” he said. “It’s only midnight. I can help you get it or you can get it in the morning, but I think you should eat.”

She sat up. “Only midnight?”

“We left the bar before nine,” he said.

“Will they tow? I parked at the building next door.”

“Maybe,” he said. “We should probably get it. But first, food. Should we order Crunchwraps?”

Blumie had never eaten nonkosher food. For some reason, it seemed a bigger hurdle than what she’d just done. A greater breach. She knew she wouldn’t be able to keep kosher at the ranch, and even though so many foods would be prohibited after her surgery, she was in no rush to break with the custom of having everything she put in her mouth imprinted with a tiny symbol of authority, of peoplehood. The thought of eating nonkosher turned her stomach.

Or maybe she was hungry, like he said.

“What do chefs fix themselves?” she asked.

“You want me to cook? My pleasure. How about peppers, onions, and sausage?” he said.

“I won’t eat the meat.”

“Right,” he said. “Peppers and onions on toast.” He rubbed her nose at the bridge, then stood up. She gasped.

“What?” he said. “What’s the matter?”

“Just my head,” she said. “I’m fine.”

She had never seen an uncircumcised man before. She didn’t even know what it was at first, when he stood like that. It hung there, like a part belonging to a different species. She couldn’t look away from it. This uncircumcised man felt as foreign as anything could. And … wrong. Yes, wrong. She felt very exposed: timid, like she needed to take cover, and aware of her own body in the open. She pulled the blanket close and tucked it all around her. Then she made herself look away, at his T-shirts folded in a pile on a shelf affixed to the wall.

“Or maybe some sugar,” he said, as if to himself. “I have some nectarine pie left in the fridge.” He slipped off to the kitchen, still naked, but thank God, turned away.

She dressed and went to use his bathroom. She felt defiled somehow. She wanted to be defiled again—and sometime soon—but also, she had to get it off of her.

“Can I take a shower?” she called, and he said, “There’s an extra towel under the sink.” In the bathroom, she examined herself in the mirror. She looked the same as always.

When she came out, the place smelled wonderful. She sat at a small, lovely carved table and ate the peppers and onion he’d piled on buttered toast for her, the piece of nectarine pie he said was filled with frangipane, drank the sugared coffee he’d set down, and the water, too. But she couldn’t look at him, not in the face. She couldn’t look at him without thinking about foreskin. Had it been an extra sin? She did not know the religious answer to this question, and kept reminding herself she wasn’t supposed to care.

“So you did it,” he said.

“Well, you did,” she said.

“I think you’re pretty brave. And now, you can be brave about other stuff. When do you light out for the territories?”

“I have surgery in seven days,” she said. “Actually, this should be my last meal. I have to go on a liquid diet.”

“I should have known that,” he said. “I would have fixed something else.”

“This is perfect,” she said. “I’ll remember it, even if I forget your name is Bryan.”

“And after your surgery?”

“I’ll heal at home for two months. And after that, if I stay brave, I leave.”

“It will be hot there, in summer,” he said.

“I know.”




He held her under the arm as they walked down the hill to her car. She was rarely up past midnight and kept taking big breaths of the night-blooming jasmine on the wind.

She pointed at her car and he stopped in front of it.

“I hate myself for asking,” he said. “But this will never happen to me again. I have to know. Was it okay? Did you … like it?”

He had been so decent to her. So careful and kind. Later Ophira—who never forgot his name, or his face, or the way his frangipane tasted—could not understand why, instead of telling the truth, she’d remained silent as she got into her car and drove into the westward breeze.

Jessica Elisheva Emerson is obsessed with Scotch, pie, and working toward a better world. Her work has been published in numerous journals, and her novel "Olive Days" is forthcoming from Counterpoint Press.

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