| Catapult Alumni
Fiction Excerpt from ‘Exile in Brooklyn’
This excerpt was written by MJ Kaufman in A. E. Osworth’s 12-Month Novel Generator.
Surrounded by strivers and upwardly mobile peers and co-workers, Jonah Gottlieb feels he is a “rare bird in New York City, a young white transplant on a path to nowhere.” Reeling from the end of his three-year long relationship, he starts to suspect that his ex, Ziva, has turned all the queer and lefty observant Jews in their tight-knit Brooklyn community against him. Now he’s stuck with a roommate, Pez, who hates him, a narcissistic mother whose own father is dying, and a best friend, Dandy, who doesn’t have time for him. When Ziva accuses him of emotional abuse and initiates a community accountability process, Jonah agrees to write out his account of their relationship in the hopes of getting her back.
As Jonah’s biting humor and awareness slowly turn inward, what begins as an exercise in denial and resistance becomes an effecting contemporary epistolary meditation on the meaning of harm, of love, of gender, of forgiveness, of shame, and ultimately, of G-d. Stumbling his way across the margins of NYC’s queer and religious Jewish communities, Jonah discovers it’s far easier than he ever imagined to slip through the cracks.
Exile in Brooklyn is a trans story for the new wave; it’s not about coming out, but about coming apart—and about the people who we become when we think we have nothing left to lose.
Turns out fourth graders have really fucking deep G-d questions. Today my tutoring session with Cynthia turned abruptly theological and of course I thought of you.
Ever since I broke the news of our dying planet, our meetings have been consumed by climate change. We’ve taken a sharp detour from the Turina middle grade vampire trilogy towards Nasa Climate Kids and other relentlessly hopeful websites. It’s good reading practice for her, the vocabulary is much more varied and useful. Fourth graders should know about the biosphere and coral bleaching and thermal expansion. We looked up a map of New York City to see how long until the ground under our feet would sink, if the earth warms by two degrees. I’d wagered not too quickly cuz we’re far from the water but yeah give us two-hundred years and our block’s right on the edge. Then Cynthia wanted to look up her block in Chinatown. We clicked on the map. She toggled all the levers and waited for the little blue bubbles to fill in. Suddenly she burst into tears.
“That’s still two-hundred years away,” I pointed out.
“But I don’t want it to drown,” She said.
I passed her a tissue.
“And that’s only two degrees!” She blurted out. Josh, reading with a third grader at the next table, shot me a murderous glance.
“I know,” I whispered.
We stared at the map in silence, wondering what might happen if we toggled the little scale up to three degrees, or four or five.
“I pray for it to go away every single night.” She sniffled.
“Pray for what to go away?”
“The carbon. I pray for the carbon to go away, don’t bother us.”
She wiped away her tears.
“I know my furry horse is good. When I hold it and pray, protect Grandma, don’t let her airplane crash, it worked. So it protects me.”
She blew her nose and stamped her sneakers on the ground so they would light up. She has those cool magic sneakers that all the kids covet.
“You have to pray too,” she said to me and gripped my arm. “Promise you’ll pray for the carbon to go away.”
Her eyes were wet and shiny. I can’t lie to her. “Sure,” I said, “but my prayer doesn’t work quite like that.”
That’s when I thought of you: your face, scrunched over a book at our kitchen table, parsing Nachmanides on how prayer makes us more like G-d. You tapped the page as you translated for me, morning light making the letters glitter. We drank extra coffee that day, prancing around the neighborhood, stopping in front of every blooming garden, chattering on about the points of character sharpened through prayer, how we make ourselves holy beings that way, high on caffeine and May flowers.
Cynthia jiggled my arm. All around us children decoded picture books.
“I don’t pray for anything in the future,” I said. “I pray myself for right now.”