One day Millie felt just too angry. She felt angry with God. It was no one else’s fault. Health and life were God’s gift, and His ways were mysterious indeed, but that was no excuse. And so Millie decided to punish Him. It was about time He learned that He couldn’t keep Pushing People Around.
She took out the butter knife. No, it was too full of butter. She couldn’t go all the way. She scraped the knife along the side of the butter-dish until there remained only the faintest smear of yellow on the blade. There. She once again checked the door was closed, as she had done several times already in the last few minutes, and then returned to the steak. She was cooking steak for Joe just as he liked it. Millie’s steak was famous throughout the community. Once even the Rabbi had referred to its distinctive sauce during one of his sermons. Millie had blushed. That was back when Millie was not so angry.
She lifted the knife up to eye-level. A small rounded flat blade held by a faded cream-coloured enamel handle. A butter knife. Millie grasped it as a murderer would hold his blade. She held the butter-knife above the steak. Breathed deep. Closed her eyes. And drove the knife deep into the meat. For a second she let it stand there, a soft butter knife in the animal flesh, like a matador’s dart, and then she pulled it out again. Fascinated, she peered at the leftovers of steak juice on the knife, runnels of brown oil dripping down the blade onto the handle. That was enough. She rushed to the milk sink to wash the knife thoroughly.
Then she placed the steak into the oven, closed the door, and folded her arms in grim contentment. There. That’ll show Him.
That night Joe was in a fine mood, especially since Millie had cooked him his favourite, even though it was a week day.
“Millie, you’re a star. A treat. You really are.”
Millie smiled nervously, for some reason her lips curving at one side only. She hoped Joe wouldn’t notice. But that was the least of her worries. Her smile really began to shake as they sat down to eat the steak. She piled on the roast potatoes, and smothered the meat in her famous Rabbinate-blessed sauce (“Steady, Millie!”), and sat back to see whether God or Joe would cotton on. Nothing. Not a whisper. Joe chomped away happily, smiling and grunting and winking at her. And the sky was blue and clear of thunderbolts. There. Big shot. That shows You, thought Millie.
And that was the beginning. From then on there was no stopping Millie. Sometimes revenge is so sweet it is addictive. Like chocolate. Or more to the point, like milk chocolate disguised as dark chocolate served after a meat meal. Once she had crossed the Rubicon of a butter knife in the steak, Millie was able to smother any feelings of remorse with lashings of anger. Sin led to guilt led to compensatory anger which led to more sin. And Joe just kept on eating.
But it was not as if she went over the top. She would still buy her meat from Hyman’s Kosher Butcher’s, and she would still carefully maintain cleaning her meat dishes in the meat sink, and her milk dishes in the milk sink. It was just that every now and then she’d get so angry she’d have to lash out. Once she cooked an entire cream of mushroom soup with Oxo cubes. And when Joe commented on the “almost beefy” taste, she credited Marmite. On Shavuot she fed the whole family with her famous cheesecake, to the praise of all, without letting anyone know that the biscuit base had been made up of McVities Digestives, which everyone knows are made with animal fat.
So busy was Millie in her cold war against God, that it took her many weeks to realise there were other innocent bystanders getting caught in the crossfire. One Saturday Joe came home from synagogue with a frown.
Joe would go to synagogue every Saturday without fail. It was almost religious. Every Saturday he would walk to shul, sit with his friends, and talk about football. Somehow they were able to do this at the same time as correcting the Rabbi if he made a wrong note, at the same time as intoning “Amen” a split-second before the rest of the community and maintaining the note a split-second longer, at the same time as shushing other less senior members of the community who happened to be talking when they weren’t.
In between football debates, Joe and his friends would apply themselves in the unacknowledged race to Finish the Amidah First. They would emerge from this torrent of mumbling with a look of fixed satisfaction and propriety. Gone were the days when as young lads they would excitedly compare notes as to how far they had reached before the Reader’s Repetition kicked in. Like the apocryphal Rabbi scoring the hole-in-one on Yom Kippur, they had now reached the grail of finishing the Amidah several minutes before the Repetition, but were unable to celebrate the fact openly. It wasn’t done. This was, after all, a prayer. Sometimes after finishing the Amidah in a slurry of speed-reading Joe would feel he ought to check with God—“Did you get all that?” He feared reading aloud at that speed might render the entirety incomprehensible. But then even read slowly the Amidah was incomprehensible to Joe and all his friends. They were able to read Hebrew faster than English, but couldn’t understand a word of it.
Saturday morning shul was part of Joe’s regular weekend rhythm. A chance to socialise with the mates without the wives, and still feel virtuous. Joe sometimes pitied the yoks with their churches. How they all had to sit together, husband and wife. That was why they loved their pubs, the yoks. It was only there they might spend leisure time with their mates without their wives. But a night at the pub with the lads required that you return home sheepish and somewhat guilty. By contrast, Saturday morning with the lads at shul was not only approved of by the wives, but it could even get you into heaven. Sometimes Joe loved being Jewish.
But on his way home from shul this particular Saturday Joe was pensive. He knew he had to talk to Millie. Chatting with Millie was fine, even quite pleasant. But real talking was something they embarked upon rarely and with great trepidation. The frown on Joe’s face as he entered the house said it all. They were going to Talk…
Subscribe to read more.