Janice Eidus is an essayist, blogger, short story writer, mentor, fiction editor, and guest speaker. She earned her Master’s Degree in Fiction Writing from The John Hopkins University, and lives in Brooklyn, New York and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Her notable awards include the O’Henry Prize for her short stories, the Pushcart Prize, Redbook Prize, and the Acker Award for Fiction. She has been published by the New York Times and The Purple Clover. Her books include The Last Jewish Virgin, The War of Rosens, Urban Bliss, The Celibacy Club, Vito Loves Geraldine, Faithful Rebecca, and It’s only Rock and Roll. Her book The War of the Rosens was nominated for the Sophie Brody Medal.
From “The Celibacy Club”
The First Meeting of the Celibacy Club
I wore a modest grey suit and a white man-tailored shirt, and I decided to take the express bus. I couldn’t afford a taxi, and the express bus sounded a lot safer than the subway. The midtown bus stop was on Madison Avenue, in front of florist shop with grinning plastic elves in the window. It was five o’clock, rush hour, and about twenty people were already lined up at the bus stop when I got there. The bus was packed when it arrived, and so all twenty of us had to stand. While the bus made its slow, bumpy way up Madison, through Harlem, and into the Bronx, it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t the only person riding uptown to the Celibacy Club. The woman standing next to me, whose elbow kept poking me in the ribs, was reading a romance novel, one of those bodice-rippers they sell on supermarket checkout lines, and the man next to her had a Walkman on, with salsa music blasting from it. They both struck me as possible candidates.
But when the bus came to my stop, I got off alone. The bus stop was right in front of the entrance to the Bronx Zoo, an institution I’d always meant to pay a visit to, but working on Wall Street and all, I’d never had much time. I was tempted to go in right then, for a quick peek at the penguins and the gorillas, if nothing else, but I didn’t want to be late for my first meeting of the Celibacy Club, so I resisted.
From War of the Rosens
Hannah leans her skinny, bent frame against the elevator wall, sighing and fanning herself, revealing callouses the on her knuckles the size of grapes. “Oy, unbearable heat,” she mutters again.
A broken record, Leo thinks. What is wrong with her? Menopause? Or, does she walk around, every single moment of every single day, with a burning oven inside her flesh, an oven like those in which her friends and family perished? The elevator stops at her floor, and she sighs one more time, a sound emanating from deep inside her ghostly bones. Get out, Leo thinks, go away.
She waves goodbye to Emma. “Write about me in your diary, sweetheart.” Her harsh accent turns her w into a v.
Relieved that she’s gone, unwelcome tears suddenly stinging, Leo reminds himself that he fought in the war, in Japan, where he could have died, too, and he has nothing to be ashamed of, no reason to feel like less of a man. No coward is he, no self-hating Jew, no meshugane who doesn’t know who he is or what he believes. He’d hated the war, its unrelenting grimness, the fact that he’d lost good friends and almost died himself on a ship hit by the enemy — and he can still remember the feeling as the boat began to sink into what he was sure was a bottomless ocean of murky darkness from which he would never emerge. But he and his brethren were miraculously rescued, and they all lived to remember their fear that day. Abruptly, he blinks away his last unwanted tear, hating, most of all, the fact that throughout history, in the name of one man’s God versus another’s, so many innocent lives have been lost.