McMuckle Makes a Minyan

by Rob Hunter
some background »

McMuckle Makes a Minyan

“There is a problem with God. The fish?”

Maven Lipchutz was banging at the piano while a fish—an overlarge golden carp—sang. The fish wore a shimmering gold evening gown that draped suggestively from one shoulder. Lipchutz’ guest, a fixer, winced as he pointedly fumbled in his pockets for his earplugs. “Ah-hah...” The earplugs were inserted. The planet whereupon they stood—circling a middling G3 sun in an intergalactic bubble called DEM L 299—was Hyperion II, renamed Dreidl by its latest arrivals.

“Heidi, take five. Go daven or something,” said Lipchutz. Heidi gave a dorsal shrug, adjusted the lamé drape of her shimmy, and flopped off the piano. She belly-rolled over to the Maven’s studio wall where she began to rhythmically bob her head. “Fish have feelings, too, McMuckle. I mean the earplugs. Heidi is capable of surprising flights of creativity. We have brought the gift of song to Hyperion II.”

“One piano and a fish on a barren planet in the Large Magellanic.”

“Barren is as barren does; it will not want for music. We have now a culture.”

“So do bacteria. Bacteria don’t vote. Yet.” The fixer removed an earplug, studied it, then explored his auditory channel with the tip of a little finger. “Itch,” he explained. The plug was replaced.

“Bacteria don’t sing,” said Lipchutz.

“Ah, a plus point. By ‘sing’—you refer to this caterwauling which requires a piano.” The fixer waved an accusatory finger. “No, bacteria do not ‘sing.’ They are therefore the superior species. Tush, tush, Lipchutz. It’s just that I do not believe we have a identifiable chartbuster here,” said Ivor McMuckle. McMuckle was a fixer much respected throughout the Large Magellanic Cloud. “What is ‘daven,’ by-the-bye?”

“Daven means to pray,” said Lipchutz as he gazed after the departing Heidi with the look of a love-struck teenager. “Comes from the Latin—same as the English “divine.” Emphasizes the One to whom prayer is directed.”

“A prayer, I dunno. A cry of angst, now—that would be good. Angst is big: something to paralyze the soul or set the toes a-tapping, whatever. I do not hear angst here; I do not hear the thrumming of happy feet. Besides your fish is fat and sings in the cracks.”

“You’ve got to get past exteriors, McMuckle,” said Maven Lipchutz. “This is not about Heidi, it’s about her music. Thrill My Gills is... Ouch!” Lipchutz held up a thumb from which he extracted a thumbtack. He had been leaning over his keyboard to remove the tacks from deep in the piano’s mechanism. “Thrill My Gills is guaranteed to get those happy feet in motion. Plus Heidi has the cutest caudal peduncle in the LMC. Slim and trim.”

“I am a fixer,” said McMuckle. “I extort triumph out of tragedy to earn my humble bread. My general credo is there’s no hustle too small, but for you I will make an exception. And I keep your retainer.” McMuckle nodded to the bobbing Heidi. “Nice tail for a fish, but calendar art she’s not,” said McMuckle, patting his vest for a smoke. Sucking at his punctured thumb, Lipchutz passed him a cigarette box—genuine wood, teak—a pre-diaspora object and priceless.

As McMuckle lit up, Heidi stopped davening and began to cough. “‘Nice tail for a fish,’ is it? And you are staring; what am I, an eclipse?” said Heidi between bouts of phlegm brought on by the perpetual Dreidl fogs. “I... we , were giving you...” Hack. “...the first refusal.” Hack. Hack.

“Thank you. I refuse,” said McMuckle to the fish. “Sorry about that, kids: bottom thousand, no bullet. This baby is a non-starter. No offence intended, but Thrill My Gills doesn’t have a prayer,” said McMuckle.

“No offence taken, but...” Lipchutz paled and did his best to appear pious. “No sentient being doubts the efficacy of prayer.”

“Come now, Lipchutz; you are a man of the world. Has anyone ever seen this ineffable, unnamable Supreme Being of yours? I mean, lately...” McMuckle swung his hands, making a circular motion to indicate centuries elapsing.

“Shhhh...” Lipchutz rolled his eyes apprehensively. “These are things... People know .”

“But this praying claptrap is properly Old Earth stuff. Why should it work in the LMC? And are you seriously suggesting that we pray for a hit?”

“‘When two or more are gathered together in My name...’ If their faith is sincere?” Lipchutz looked nervously over his shoulder.

“More than two. That’s three.”

“Jews need ten. A minyan.”

“Ten. Not two or more? Alcoholics Anonymous and the Nazarenes make it work with just a deuce. You Jews need a minivan?”

“Minyan. Nope. Prayer won’t work without the full lineup on the bench. To make sure it’s not a hustle. God watching and all...”

“Whatever works,” said McMuckle.

*  *  *

The ineffable, unnamable God of Hosts stood with a burly, bearded man who held a bar towel draped over one arm, a symbol of his trade. God had created Shlomo Bim from the native bedrock; He was rehearsing his golem. “Ah, Bim, Bim, Bim, our colloquium is the chit-chat of everyday life which makes one feel connected, for, without a connection, what are we? I ask you this in My name.”

“‘When a fish sings...’ It is written, Lord.”

“No, it’s not. And if it is, I don’t remember writing it. And just what shall we be when said fish vocalizes? Shall we all sprout spontoons from our heads?”

“We are running low on schnapps at the Svartze Shikse, Lord,” said Bim, who had yet to be schooled in the fine points of spontoons.

God sighed. “My people should quake at My unutterable Name, not fall on their tukhes,” said God. “And besides you are changing the subject. This Lipchutz is a peculiar person. He couldn’t find a nice Jewish girl? I know I have a tendency to micromanage but I do not wish My people to forget. A normal girl is one thing; a fish is another, Bim. Do you follow my reasoning? He—this piano thumper—the fish thing? Seafood aside, it is time for today’s lesson. My people need to be reminded.”

The golem nervously toyed with an ear. The ear came off.

“And it is here to Hyperion II that I have brought my people for a Last Diaspora...” prompted the God of Hosts.

“Everybody knows that.” The golem fumbled with a sheaf of notes. “A last... a last..?”

“Di-AS-por-a, a dispersal. And how would My people have heard of My Commandments?” God raised an eyebrow.

“Well... at the Svartze Shikse, the geezers carrying on like they do... and one thing leading to another...”

God sighed, “They get you drunk and you blab, a good and faithful servant. But you lose at cribbage. What about My Commandments?”

“You neglected to mention games of chance, Lord.” The golem held his detached ear at arm’s length like an explorer with a freshly unearthed artifact.

“Bim... this is not about you; try to stay on topic.”

Bim grinned sheepishly and stuck the ear back on in the middle of his forehead.

“I have created you,” said God, “to keep an eye on current affairs. This is My commandment: exercise your fabled peasant cunning. Stir things up a bit.”

“Di-AS-por-a.” Shlomo Bim looked pleased with himself.

“Get a move on,” said God. “I have vespers with the Catholics and an evening Bible study with the Nazarenes.”

*  *  *

“Thrill my Gills...” McMuckle was speaking, “only divine intervention can save this turkey. Delicatessen aside, why the tacks on the piano felts?”

“The Honky-Tonk sound.” Lipchutz patted his battered piano, a concert model pianoforte in tiger stripe maple with a mahogany box and cabriole legs. “It’s a Bösendorfer. Well, a copy. Our lounge act was a hit in the boonies,” said Maven Lipchutz. “Heidi and I trouped the Magellanic until she picked up that dose of blue fin on Harrigan III. Her solfeggio went all to hell and she packed on the pork.”

McMuckle stubbed his cigarette out and rose to leave. Heidi snuffled and looked grateful.

“Wait. Have another.” Putting himself between McMuckle and the door, Lipchutz held up the priceless teak cigarette box. “See this? Art. Came across duty-free. Likewise the piano. The tacks would have cost a year’s income per dozen. I smuggled them in, one at a time, stuck in my heel.”

McMuckle waited. What he expected was an offer, at least a try at negotiating down his percentage. It had been a long run between triumphs for Ivor McMuckle. Lipchutz looked desperate, a man with nowhere left to turn. But there was no offer forthcoming.

Heidi prayed, muttering in Hebrew and bobbing her head, as the two men each waited for the other to make a move. McMuckle broke the ice. “This Protojudiasm of yours. The religion with the minivans?”

“Minyans.”

“We need eight more to pray for a hit, right? I’ll get them. Is there some temple, tabernacle, whatever, where I can hustle us up a quickie minyan?”

Lipchutz appeared embarrassed. “Well...”

“Surely your coreligionists have erected a place of worship and contemplative study.”

“There’s Shlomo Bim’s—the saloon.” Lipchutz looked discomfited.

“A barroom. No problem. And...”

“And?”

“Sixty-forty,” said Ivor McMuckle. “And win or lose, you double the retainer.”

*  *  *

At the Svartze Shikse, a Gentleman’s Bar, a coal stove glowed as the Dreidl fog pressed tightly in against the windows. Aged, bearded men dozed over backgammon and cribbage. One was arguing with a bartender. McMuckle singled him out as a potential ally and extended a hand. “Ivor McMuckle, how do you do? Maven Lipchutz tells me you’re the man to see about a minyan.” McMuckle squinted; the sole source of light was a hanging kerosene lantern that followed any motion of the fetid air.

“Schmulka Weisbrod and it all depends.” McMuckle’s extended hand was ignored. Weisbrod held a thick glass tumbler of schnapps in the glow of the lantern’s minimal lighting. “Bim, I said two fingers only; I got digestives.” Shlomo Bim, golem and proprietor, obligingly poured most of Weisbrod’s schnapps back into the bottle.

An elderly gent at a corner table stood to refill his lungs. Shadows scrambled as he doubled over with a coughing fit. “Jimmy, I told you—you got to breathe do it away from the stove,” said Weisbrod. “Otherwise don’t breathe. Life is about choices.” Weisbrod raised one gnarled blue hand. “Bim, how’s about you poke the stove? We’re cold here.” The heat and humidity were already unbearable. A ceiling fan rotated grudgingly. “Listen, mister, that Maven Lipchutz is one schmendrick.”

McMuckle stripped off his overcoat and followed as the septuagenarian hobbled to a huge silver samovar to top off his glass with scalding dark tea. “Schmendrick, by which you mean...”

“Clueless—a loser. A song and dance man with a pretty fish. Unnatural.” McMuckle was not inclined to argue, friendship or no.

“Fish are for pickling, not for a girlfriend,” recited Weisbrod. “Not hardly human at all, though that isn’t necessarily a shortcoming. If you catch my drift.” Weisbrod pointed toward to the barman. Towel over an arm, Shlomo Bim shuffled over. He carried a tray with a bottle and one glass. “Bim, Bim. My friend, ahh... Sorry, name again?”

“McMuckle.”

“McMuckle here, he’s not drinking?”

The barman looked unconvincingly apologetic. “That’s the last clean glass.”

McMuckle figured this as an interaction honed by many repetitions. “Listen, I only need you and your guys for two hours. I’ll pay off all your bar tabs.”

“Take Shlomo here,” Schmulka Weisbrod continued as he struggled creakily to his feet. “He’s not human, but who’s to tell?” Weisbrod brightened as he hammered the bartender over the head with his cane. Shlomo Bim placidly wiped up a spill with his bar towel as Weisbrod waled away. “God made him,” said Weisbrod.

“As He did all of us,” said McMuckle with uncertain piety.

“All our tabs? Retroactive?” said Weisbrod as he caught up with the conversation.

“I said  I’ll pay.”

“I’ll wash a glass,” said Shlomo Bim. The golem shuffled back to the bar.

“You need eight, right? I’ll have to check it out with the boys.” With an airy wave Weisbrod indicated the habitués of the Svartze Shikse. There were seven, counting Weisbrod. It didn’t look as though many would make it back alive after a session of intense prayer.

“Not to worry,” said Weisbrod, anticipating McMuckle’s reservations. “Sound as horses, all of us.”

“Then it’s a deal.”

“Not so fast. There’s a problem with God. The fish. This fish thing with Lipchutz is unnatural; you’ll have to square it with Him.”

“And how do I do that?”

“Go ask.”

McMuckle got the feeling he was being sucked into a one-liner and he was the pratfall. “You want me to ask you how I find God.”

Weisbrod waved to attract the bartender’s attention. “No problem. He’s in a tent down by the river. Upstream. Downstream you’ll run into the camps of the Nazarenes. Poverty is big these days, ecclesiastically speaking; everybody’s out-of-doors.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“This is the umpteenth diaspora, sonny boy, and even the trappings of heaven get threadbare after a few generations. We never got up the cash for a proper temple. God’s broke, even the Pentecostals are living in trailers.”

“By the river, you said.” McMuckle fastened his galoshes for a slog back into the sloppy Dreidl weather.

“He’ll be there. Where else? And...”

“And?”

“Sixty-forty,” said Schmulka Weisbrod. “Off the gross.”

Dust-festooned cobwebs hung from the blades of the ceiling fan, casting eerie shadows on the walls. McMuckle sat down suddenly, one galosh dangling from his fingertips.

“Nice,” said Weisbrod as a dangling web brushed his face. A dusting sometime, Bim?”

“In the fullness of time,” said Bim.

An irritated voice complained from somewhere in the miasma of dust and humidity, “You could hold things down to a roar, please. People are trying to sleep here.” A substantially tattered raven flopped out from behind the stove, bedraggled and black and the size of a cocker spaniel. It looked more like a drying-out drunk on a rehab day-pass than a bird.

“A buzzard,” said McMuckle. “How’d it get in here?”

“The window, schmuck,” squawked the bird. “It was open, now it’s not. What are you, ignorant? And I am a raven. That’s for identification only, not to suggest any affiliation.” The Messenger grumped and probed its wings for lice. “The appointed time, Schmulka.”

“He’s out of some story, a reminder for me to kick the bucket.” said Weisbrod, “A messenger of God, blessed be His name. Ignore him; I do.”

“They all ignore me,” said the bird. It flapped dispiritedly back behind the stove where it had been warming itself. “Ten minutes, Schmulka.”

Weisbrod spoke in a hoarse whisper. “Gotta talk fast. God’s people need a synagogue. You will build it.” Bim arrived with two fresh glasses and a new bottle. Weisbrod held out his tumbler. “Four fingers only, Shlomo, I got digestives.”

“I, I, I am going to what?”

“Found the New Jerusalem, dummy,” said Weisbrod, “That’s what. One choice: yes or no.” Weisbrod clutched at McMuckle’s sleeve and pulled him close. “Ooh.” His eyes fluttered shut as a short burst of agony stiffened his body. “It’s early. Damned bird.” He quickly downed his drink. Weisbrod’s eyes were open and staring, the pupils wide and black.

“Shmulka? Mr. Weisbrod?” McMuckle caught the old man under the arms as he slid to the sawdust and peanut shells that covered the floor.

“This is it, the Big One,” said Weisbrod between gasps. “The Maven wants a top ten hit; you got to give some quid pro quo. There’s a slim chance but first you got to square things with God. It’s that fish. Lipchutz has snapped his wrapper. Get your ass off the table and get to work. You’re gonna be one short on your minyan, McMuckle. Sorry about that. And take a spotted hare. God loves bunnies.” He gave out a mighty exhalation and slumped lifeless in McMuckle’s arms.

“Yitgaddal v’yitqaddash sh’meh rabba,” said the Messenger from behind the stove.

“Exalted and sanctified is God’s great name,” said Shlomo Bim.

“Whatever,” said McMuckle. “You got a defibrillator in this place?”

The Messenger ambled over, looking pleased with itself. “I told him. They never listen.” He gave Schmulka Weisbrod a poke with his beak. “Kaput.” The scraggly bird went grubbing under a wing with its long shiny beak. “Not that it hasn’t been a pleasure, and believe me it hasn’t, present company included,” said the bird as it excised a louse, cracked its shell and swallowed it. “But my work here is done.” The bird flapped, trying for a takeoff, rose a few feet from the floor and crashed into a window. Shlomo Bim picked it up and threw it into the street.

McMuckle knelt by expired septuagenarian and looked up to the bartender. With might have been tears in his gravelly eyes the bartender took the newly-dead corpse from McMuckle and laid it on the pool table where he covered the face with a bar towel. “Mourners’ Kaddish tomorrow afternoon at three,” said Bim. “He has gone home to God. You know where that is, right?”

“I’ve got the directions,” said Ivor McMuckle.

*  *  *

As Shlomo Bim threw back the tent flap an icy wind scattered glowing coals from a brazier, the only source of heat in the tent of the Almighty. Bim cleared his throat with a sound of pebbles rattling deep in his viscera. “A visitor. A special pleader, Lord.”

“Close the door; that would be nice,” said God, rising to stamp out a smoldering spot on the rug. “A visitor... well.”

“Emissary of Lipchutz. The fish guy? He’s a fixer, a song plugger.” Shlomo Bim thrust a finger down his throat and made a gagging noise. “He would like a resurrection thingy.”

“He has an offering?”

“A spotted hare, Lord.”

“Show him in.” The ineffable, unnamable Supreme Being snuggled up to the brazier and arranged His robe so as to have the patched area at the rear. Ivor McMuckle strode into the tent. He wiped his feet on the rug. God grimaced. Schmulka Weisbrod stood just behind the Throne of the Almighty, where he averted his eyes. He had been prepared to be embarrassed.

“Weisbrod,” said McMuckle. “You are up and walking around. I thought...”

“You thought I was dead. I am dead—so sue me. You want to hold a mirror under my nose to see if it steams up? Watch this...” Weisbrod vaulted up onto the brazier of the Almighty and wriggled his rear end over the glowing coals. “Dead is not all that bad. I haven’t felt this spry in years. You try it, McMuckle: you’d fricassé your tukhes for sure.”

“Schmulka, Schmulka,” said the Almighty. “You are showing off.”

“Sorry Lord.” Weisbrod jumped down from the brazier, scattering coals on the rug. McMuckle stepped on a small breakout as the smell of burning wool filled the tent.

“Thanks for the gesture but the rug is ruined. That rug was the gift of Jehonadab the Rechabite. A good, solid man—a teetotaler.” The Almighty glanced meaningfully at Schmulka Weisbrod. “You would appear to be known to My servant Weisbrod. Name?” asked God.

“McMuckle. Ivor. I thought you were all-knowing.”

“I was observing the niceties. You, too—a bissel more respect, please. And in the future take your shoes off at the door. Thanks for the spotted hare, though. Thoughtfulness, I appreciate that. You Jewish? McMuckle, that doesn’t sound Jewish to me. Whatever, I keep the spotted hare.”

“Consider it yours. I’m not Jewish, but my partner is if that helps out. We need a favor.”

“Then you need a minyan. This is My law. McMuckle ...”

“No, not a Jewish name. Scots. Old Earth. Presbyterian. “Uh, your worship...”

“You may call me Lord God of Hosts, fixer.”

“I need Schmulka back among the living for a minyan—to glorify Your Name.” McMuckle pulled a handkerchief from an inside pocket and, spitting into it, began fluffing up the rug’s nap to hide one badly charred place.

“You want something; they all want something. Enough,” said the Almighty, shifting uncomfortably in His seat. “A comb-over the rug doesn’t need. You may have him until Kaddish starts. Shake a leg, McMuckle.” The Lord God of Hosts turned to Weisbrod. “Sorry, Schmulka, I realize you were getting settled in.”

“Whatever is Your will,” said Weisbrod. “I can take the arthritis for another day. Lord...?”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes. The drinks will be on the house. Now get out of here and take the shaygitz with you. But you’ll still need a minyan, McMuckle.” God stroked the spotted hare. “Ten percent.”

“Come again?”

“My portion—the Lord’s tenth. Dismissed.” Shlomo Bim ushered Weisbrod and McMuckle out into the slush and rain.

“Bim.”

“Lord?”

“I want to be alone.”

*  *  *

In the hours past early midnight, God—ineffable, unnamable—watched as the skies cleared, familiar stars in strange arrangements. There was the Harper, the Cat, the Whale. Time was of a piece: all time in glorious simultaneity. Geological ages flashed by on God’s whim. When the ice was in the yard, blue and green dazzled the eye from the miles-high cliffs of frozen torrent stretching away to the mountains. Time to think.

When the morning star brushed the crescent moon in the first watch before false dawn and an orange and violet curtain descended, God lay on His back under the sky, its solitary beholder.

“Lipchutz and the fish.” God breathed in the oxygen-rich air from a wandering polar massif and delighted in a concert by the aurora borealis. “A little interspecies hanky-panky, what of it? There are worse things.” The spotted hare hopped up to have its ears scratched. The hare was shivering and wet. He’d have to do something about the weather if McMuckle made a minyan.

*  *  *

From inside the Svartze Shikse came a high, fine baritone voice. It sounded like Weisbrod. There followed a repetitive murmur of group response accompanied by the occasional punctuation of a breaking glass. Weisbrod’s voice rose above the group at regular intervals. The voice was rusty from lack of use; it had been a trained voice.

The front door of the Svartze Shikse had warped shut in the constant downpour. McMuckle kneed it open and entered. He slipped quietly inside and sat to remove his galoshes. The prayers stopped and Weisbrod’s congregation made a determined run on the bar with much flourishing of canes and walkers. “OK guys, take five,” Weisbrod announced belatedly. “McMuckle. Don’t be shy.” Weisbrod greeted him with a cheery wave. “You brought Lipchutz and the fish?”

“They’re outside. In the rain. You look very, uh... lifelike if you don’t mind my saying.”

“I’m a loaner, remember? And I got a kink from twelve hours stiff on the pool table. Tell the fish to wait. The Rain shouldn’t bother her considering. Listen, we only got nine; I counted Shlomo.”

“So?”

“He’s not a human being. We’re still one short of a minyan.”

McMuckle slumped into his upturned collar. “So this is it? It’s all over?”

“Not till the fat lady sings. You circumcised?”

“Uh, well... yes.”

“Presbyterians. Go figure. Join the congregation, McMuckle.

“I don’t speak Hebrew.”

“Have a schnapps. We’ll have you talking in tongues better than those Nazarenes camped downriver. Shlomo!”

The bartender arrived looking apologetic. “Schmulka, this is the last case of schnapps.”

“Well then, Bim, we’ll just have to cut another deal with the Almighty.” Weisbrod tipped his glass and coughed. “Mmm, smooth. Just remember this, McMuckle: you don’t ever, ever, pray for something. You pray to glorify God. You may pray to be worthy of a desirable outcome. Just in case.”

*  *  *

Lipchutz, Heidi and McMuckle were gathered round Lipchutz’ piano, the Bösendorfer concert model copy with cabriole legs. “Every star system that boasts sentient beings,” said Ivor McMuckle. “Top ten everywhere. We are comfortable if not wildly wealthy.”

“Considering that you bargained away 120 percent of something we didn’t even have at the time,” said Heidi. She dipped a carrot stick into her yogurt. She had taken Weisbrod’s fat lady remark to heart.

“Plus the ten percent tithe. Even playing it honest which, considering our partners it would be difficult not to do, the postclassical trio Zirconium Blond have a tera-platinum monster with Thrill My Gills. As their managers, we are fat and happy. Present company excepted,” said McMuckle to the fish. “Time to break out the champagne and caviar,” he chortled.

“Abortionist,” said Heidi.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the planet Hyperion II, known as Dreidl, from outside the tent of the Almighty came the prefatory clearing of a throat.

“Bim?”

“We have a problem, Lord. A situation.”

“We? We have a problem, do we? Don’t tell Me: the singing fish and her friends again.” God examined a speck on His robe.

“A twitchy sort, fishies. Great flippy-floppy things all full of themselves,” said Bim, trying for a diversion.

“The fish is irrelevant; she now has her own problems, having to work for a living and all. Let her be an allegory of My wrath. And as horrendous as Lipchutz, McMuckle and company are, they, even they , would not aspire to become singer-songwriters. Level with Me, Bim.”

“I am watering the schnapps, God,” whimpered the golem.

“Adulterating the bar stock! How you do elevate My dudgeon,” said the God of Hosts. “Damn!”

At the word “Damn,” there was a mild earthquake. Bim scuttled into a corner. “A little foresight, Shlomo Bim. Think ahead before you run out. How many times must I tell you this? Let My people fear the singing fish. I shall send more schnapps.”

copyright 2007, 2015 Rob Hunter

McMuckle Makes a Minyan was first published in the December 2007 Ranfurly Review, Colin Galbraith, editor.

Home | Sitemap | MP3s | Print | Audio Version

All content on this website, unless otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons license