Lighter and Brighter • Kevin Sampsell

People Holding Menorah 3 Comments

She said she hated my new haircut and clothes and why would I do such a thing and that’s not what she meant when she said I had to clean up my act. I didn’t want to do it either–cut my hair, I mean. I loved my hair. The long, straight drop of it, like a curtain I could hide behind.

Like Cher in the ’70s.

Now, I just felt like I was in some kind of disguise.

My friends made fun of me, said I looked like a preppy sellout, like the kind of guy who listens to the jazz station, or worse, NPR. All the older people in my family said I looked “nice” and even my dad cracked a smile and seemed pleasantly confused by the new look. Every response I got was not the response I wanted. Maybe I shouldn’t have went for it so hard. The haircut, the shirt, the belt, the khakis, the leather shoes with the dangly thing on the tongue.

I even bought one of those Jewish candle holders when I was going to meet her parents because she said her ancestors were in the Holocaust. I can’t remember if they were killed or just died later. I was confused by how she said they were “in” the Holocaust but I truly wanted to understand. I wanted her to tell me about her history, her pain, and her faith in whatever. But then she said her family wasn’t even Jewish. I said they could still use it for candles, like in an emergency if the electricity went out. She breathed heavy through her nose and said, “Hold on, I’ll try to find some candles.” But then she was gone for a long time and I noticed a bottle of cheap whisky next to the couch. I picked it up and sat down. I opened the bottle and took a drink and it tasted bad, like kind of dusty and sweet. I put the top back on the bottle because I didn’t want to drink anymore. I just sat there reading the label over and over and wondering where the bottle came from and if she were Scottish instead. I wondered if the Scottish were in the Holocaust. And then I started thinking of the potato famine and I wondered if Jewish people were in the potato famine. It felt like I was sitting there for an hour, contemplating all the previous wars and who killed who and what for. Then I realized that the potato famine happened in Ireland. I tried to think of how Scottish people have suffered through the years. and I remembered a news story about rabbits sometimes going crazy and killing people in Scotland. Maybe triggered somehow by the bagpipes and kilts. I felt bad for the Scottish.

I decided to silently meditate for world peace.

My head was so much lighter now. When I had long hair, it was heavy but soft, like an aura or a halo. The air around my shorn head felt alive with electricity or a humming Zen-like void. It was the feeling of falling out of an airplane in a dream. And then I remembered that the candle holder was called a menorah. I held the menorah in my right hand and the bottle of whiskey in my left and they weighed about the same. I said the word menorah about fifty times until it felt right in my mouth.

It was starting to get dark outside and I felt sleepy and somewhat unwanted. I took more drinks of the whiskey and read the label again. I said the words “Old Smuggler” over and over now until the words became sheep that I counted and promptly began dreaming about.

Many hours later, I awoke to a beautiful glowing menorah, all nine candles warm and alive. It lit up everything around me and the world looked so bright. So damn bright.


Kevin Sampsell is the author of the novel, This Is Between Us, the memoir, A Common Pornography, and the story collections, Beautiful Blemish and Creamy Bullets. He lives in Portland, Oregon.