John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

Short story: I, Mort

I, Mort

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle”- Philo of Alexandria

     For as long as he could remember, Morty always had a problem with Jesus. He recalled Rabbi-Parent day down at the temple when his parent, Mary and Jospeh listened to Gafelt the Elder counsel them, in all his wisdom, on the failings their eldest son, Morty.
    “The kid is dreck, a huck, a klutz and a nudnik” Gafelt the Elder said with a wary eye on Morty “Now Jesus,” he added as he visibly sparked up “Jesus, on the other, there’s a boy to be proud of!” he beamed rising an index finger in the air.
     “So tell me something I don’t know” Mary shrugged which caused Morty to peel a suspicious eye toward Jesus and sum him up. While Morty, like his parents, was short, squat and, well, hairy, Jesus was tall, handsome and had that instant likability thing going for him, a trait so desperately disliked by those who lack it.
     “He’s adopted you know” Morty whined in his nasally voice, pointing to Jesus. “Different Father, you said so yourself” he reminded Mary. Embarrassed, Mary shrugged “I don’t where he gets these things” and then mouthed the word “Meshuga” to Gafelt the elder who nodded solemn in agreement.
     And so, over the decades, it came to pass that Morty, son of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth who were of the tribe of David and the tribe of Abraham married Deborah the Large, the daughter of Abbie and Goldie, who ran a previously owned chariot place over in Cana.
     At the wedding Morty planned to make his big announcement. With the help of his in-laws, he had leased a nice commercial space where he would open his deli, his lifelong dream, sometime that fall. He had also forgotten to send Jesus an invitation to the wedding. This was would be, Morty told himself, his moment, the moment of Morty.
     Standing gracefully from his chair at the main table after the ceremony, Morty strolled happily to the podium. All eyes were on him and he loved it.
     “I want to apologize” he told the guests “for running out of wine so early...you people can really pack it away.” he chuckled “Anyway, I have an announcement to make, a big event in my life. I want to announce...”
     At that moment, a guest stuck his head in to the room and shouted “Hey everybody! Jesus just turned water into wine!” The room emptied, of course. Even Deborah the Large bounced off to regale at the endless wonders of her brother-in-law. And that was how it went over the next few years. When Morty’s pain in the Toches Mother-in-Law died, Jesus brought her back to life and then there was the day when Morty’s kids told their father that when they grew up they wanted to be “Just like Uncle Jesus!”
     And so it was that one day, Morty, who was still schlepping as a salesman in his Father-in-Laws lot came upon Jesus preaching by the sea before a crowd of five thousand.
     Luke came to Jesus and said “This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat”
     There was a long silence and Jesus said “In English” and Luke snapped “The crowds getting ugly because their hungry and you haven’t pulled any rabbits out of your hat”
     “I don’t wear a hat,” Jesus snapped again.
     “It’s an expression,” added Mathew
     “You think I don’t know from expression?” Jesus barked and then, regrouping, he added “Sorry dude, it’s the hunger talking” and he then converted five loaves a bread and two fish into enough food to feed the entire crowd.
     Seeing this, Morty’s head spun. When the day was done, he pulled Jesus aside and spoke to him. “Look, you know I’m opening a deli right?” Morty whispered as he leaned in very close to Jesus. “Here’ what I’m thinkin. We move out of this burg and up to Rome.    
     We rent a small place, you know, keep overhead low.” Slinging his hairy stubby arm across Jesus shoulders and gazing dreamily skywards he said, “Morty’s Fish & Loafs” that’s what we’ll call the place. He waved a hand majestically across the sky “I see dozens of them, hundreds of them, all over Rome, each one exactly like the other like a ...” he groped for the word “A...chain....or sorts” and then added as an afterthought “The Romans are big on chains”
     He turned and placed his open palms on Jesus’ chest “We put Ma behind the counter, Pop on the register and you in the quote ‘kitchen’” he said with a sly wink “And I figure, first year, we pull in, what? A half million denarius, easy”
     Jesus didn’t like it. For one thing, he always got top billing. But Mort didn’t care “I guess we’ll need a dishwasher.” He said more to himself than anyone else “No, maybe not. We’ll just throw the dirty ones away” and then dramatically stopping himself he stared at Jesus with wide eyes “ You can dishes appear, right?”
     “Look, Morty..” Jesus started
     “And we’ll need forks. Napkins, Salt.” And then added quickly “Not that your fish and loafs needs salt, I mean don’t get me wrong, you’re a good cook”
     “I cannot do this,” Jesus replied staring off into the clouds” For I must do my father’s work. I must descend into the fire of hell for forty days and then die painfully upon the cross”
     “You know Jesus” Morty said “You only think of yourself”
     “Do not” Jesus said
     “Do to” Morty countered
     “Do not” Jesus said
     “Whacko” Morty hissed
     “Don’t call me that” Jesus warned
     “Whacko” Mort said again, which is when Jesus slapped him and then slapped him again on his other check. Morty grabbed a handful of Jesus’ hair but the Apostils were on him in seconds and kicked his ankles and stepped on his exposed toes until Mary, the Blessed Mother, leaped between and commanded “Morty! Leave your brother alone!”
     They didn’t speak to each other for a few years after that, and Morty opened a small deli, Mort’s Place in a heavily Jewish neighbor Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem just outside the walls of the Old City. The hand chiseled sign outside read “Mort’s Deli. Try our Knish! Bar Mitzvahs a specialty!” Otherwise, Mort’s Place was the usual ancient Israeli deli, tile floors; Formica topped tables and signed pictures from various celebrities who were regulars like Ezekiel, Ruth, Solomon and Pontius Pilate, whose picture was signed simply “To Morty, all the best. Poncho”. Each of these people had a menu item named after them including the John the Baptist Hot Brisket that boasted, “You’ll lose your head over this one!”. There was also the meatloaf platter, which had been renamed from its original Dead Man’s Meatloaf Surprise to the Lazarus special.
     Life was pleasant for Morty and his deli until one evening on the day of Passover, just before closing time, Morty was seated comfortably at his spot in the kitchen, studying the returns from the days camel races; when he heard a commotion out in the dining room and went to investigate. It was Jesus and his boys.
     “Who told you guys you could shove all those tables together?” and sweeping his arm across the empty deli “I got other customers you know”
     “We’ll put them back when we have finished” Jesus replied with a slightly strained smile
     “You bet your ass you will” Mort said wagging his chubby finger under his brother’s nose.
     “I said we would” Jesus replied, his smile becoming slightly more frozen to lips.
     “I’m not gonna schlep around here doing your work” Mort counted placing just a little too much emphases, Jesus thought, on the word work.
     “I said we would put them back” Jesus said slowly “Make sure you do”
     “I think you’re belaboring the point” Jesus said
     “I run a respectable place here,” Morty said “I can’t have you and your little hoodlum friends screw’n it up on me” and in the same breath he added “Why doesn’t that guy have a beard?” he asked pointing at John who was using a handkerchief to clean off his chair.
     “Him?” Jesus whispered “Him, we’re not sure, Morty”
     “Well, wadda have?” Mort asked
     “Give me” Jesus said spying the menu “11 house specials and one diet plate”
     “I can give you a nice deal,” Morty said as he scribbled a few figures together
     “Let’s say...uh...twelve denarius”
     “Twelve denarius!” Jesus yelled “What are you, nuts?! Jesus H. Christ. Get outa here with twelve denarius”
     “Listen, kolboynik, it’s Passover.” Mort yelled back “You’re lucky I’m open at all, for Gods sakes ”
     From the back of the room, in the general direction of Paul the Apostle the word “Gonif” filtered into the air causing Mort to jab at the numbers on his estimate.
     “Gonif! I got 11 Bust Your Borsht Belt Specials with slaw and potato salad on the side with a kosher dell with egg malted, and one diet special for Mister Money Bags here.” He said pointing to Jesus “Right there...you nudnik...is six denarius, toss in your 90% Roman tax, overhead...I’m losing my shirt here. I’m giv’n this away, over here. I’m a yutz!”
     “What’s a shirt?” somebody yelled from the back
     “You should be ashamed!” Peter roared as he pulled out his dagger.
     “And you should go hungry, you shlub!” Mort replied “You don’t like it? Go to the Roman joint down the street...pastrami with mayonnaise!”
     There was a momentary silence.
     “We can live with that!” John shouted and the others mumbled agreement.
     “Yeah” Mort retorted “but on white bread?”
     The apostles mulled it over and Simon-Peter said to Jesus “The yutz has a got a point”
     “Thank you Peter” Jesus said raising two fingers above the disciples head.
     “It’s Simon-Peter” Simon-Peter replied and pointed to regular Peter “He’s Peter. I’m Simon –Peter”
     Jesus sighed dramatically and threw his hands in the air and replied sharply “It would kill you get a new name? With the Peter’s and Simon’s. You can’t go with a just Simon?”
     “We already got a Simon,” Simon said from the back
     “Ouy” Jesus mumbled as he rubbed his temples
     “I’m sorry,” Simon-Peter said sorrowfully.
     Jesus patted Simon-Peter on the back “No, no, Dude. It’s the hunger talking. I’m sorry”
     “Well maybe” Mort said turning his gaze to the ceiling “If a certain somebody had a steady income instead of wandering around the desert all day, this would not be an issue”
     Jesus face flushed red and pointed a finger an inch from Mort’s face “Don’t start with me, Morty”
     “I’m just say’n” Mort shrugged
     “Alright, Shmendrik...”Jesus spat between clenched teeth “Drop the Bust Your Borsht Belt Specials and bring us 12 diet plates”
    “Shmendrik?” Mort replied, tossing his dishrag over his shoulder.
     “But I really I had my heart set on a nice pastrami” John whined with the other nodding in agreement
     “Think of the future, you yutz!” Jesus snapped, “I can’t be holding up a freak’n pastrami on rye with a malted saying ‘take this pastrami and eat it, this is my body!”
     “Why not?” Mort countered deeply offended “You say’n there’s something wrong with my pastrami?”
     “I’m saying” Jesus growled “I don’t want to turn the entire Christian world into” and then he screamed out the last words “A race of diabetics!” and then calming himself with a long, deep breath, Jesus looked at Mort and said “This is all over your ‘Ma loves you more than me thing’ isn’t it?
     “Don’t pull that Freudian crap with me you schnook” Mort hissed “Its twelve denarius, take it or leave it!”
     “Woe to the man” Jesus continued, punctuating each word with a jab of his finger into Mort’s chest. “Who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born!”
     “What? Are you, threatening me? Is that some sort of whacko threat?” Mort said as he stepped into Jesus’ space.
     “Who’s Freud?” somebody asked from the back
     “I’m just say’n,” Jesus said pushing Mort back a few steps “And don’t call me a whacko”
     “Whacko” Mort taunted
     “Stop calling me that” Jesus said
     “Whacko. Whacko whacko whacko”
     “Stop it”
     On the last whacko, Jesus grabbed Mort and put him in a headlock. Mort countered with a leg lock and they both tumbled to the floor, fists flaying. Peter pulled out a knife and started jabbing at Mort’s ears as the Apostles pulled them apart. Judas shouted “I got a thirty pieces of silver on Morty!”
     Separated, out of breath and seated in chairs at either end of the room, Jesus and Morty glared at each other.
    “I was root’n for Jesus” Judas lied
     Panting and touching his nose for signs of blood, Jesus asked “Where’d you get thirty pieces of silver?”
     Before Judas could answer, John took the floor and, pointing dramatically at Jesus and Mort he said “Love thy brother as thy self!” to which Jesus said “Ah shut up and sit down!”
     Jesus and the Apostles huddled together in a corner and watched Jesus count their collective coins. “five...six...what’s this? Jesus said holding up a small ball of lint “Who gave me lint?” causing the apostles to look at their feet and the ceiling fan.
     “Six lousy denarius! That’s all we got between us?” Jesus raised his eyes to the ceiling and then continued, “Remember that little talk we all had about how somebody had to get a regular job. Does anyone recall that?”
     The apostles stared at their sandals. No one answered. Jesus tossed the money to Morty
     “Here! ya Shvantz!” Jesus spat “What can we get for that?
     “Six denarius?” Mort shrugged “Loaf of bread, jug a wine and on that, I’m taking a beating”
     Jesus looked at his watch and snapped, “I don’t have time for this. Just bring the food”
     One evening, a few days later, again just before closing time, while Morty sat at his place in the kitchen reading that day’s camel returns, Jesus, floating on a brilliantly lit white cloud, suddenly appeared to me.
     “Morty” Jesus whispered
     Looking up from his paper, Morty stared at Jesus and then lowered his chin to chest and breath “Ouy”
     Pointing to the cloud and brilliant bright glow that surrounded him, Jesus smiled and “How’s that for entrance?”
     “I thought you died” Morty said flatly
     “I did. I came back to life” Jesus replied in a way obviously meant to impress.
     Morty threw up his arms in disgust “Why I am not surprised?” he sighed, “So wadda want with me?”
     “I didn’t want to leave without getting things straight between you and me,” Jesus said softly as he lifted two fingers in the air.
     Morty rolled his eyes “Okay. Go ahead. But make it snappy. I gotta lock up
     Disgusted, Jesus darted his eyes quickly left and murmured either the word Luck or Smuck, Morty wasn’t sure. And then resuming the smile on his face, Jesus said, “Morty, you’re a kind, generous man with a good heart”
     Morty put the newspaper down and, slightly choked with emotion asked “Really?”
     After a pause, Jesus said, “Well, no, not really but ah...um...but you do have many fine attributes. I have always said that”
     “Really?” Mort asked with a gentle smile “Like what?”
     Jesus shrugged. He groped for something else nice to say about his brother but nothing
     Came to him. There was a very long pause and the smile started to freeze on Morty’s lips.
     “Like what?” he asked again.
     Jesus held up one finger and said “Hold on, I’m thinking about it”
      After another very long pause, Jesus snapped his fingers “I got it! You make good deli food”
     “Really?” Morty asked again
     “Of course some would ask, how would I know?” Jesus shrugged “You wouldn’t give me any! Your own brother...bread and water I get!
     “Don’t start with me Jesus, I swear to God”
     “Your own brother” Jesus moaned “bread and water I get!
     “You’re lucky you got that!” Morty yelled and then grasping at his chest “Look, don’t get me worked up, I blood sugar”
     “Blood sugar!” Jesus mocked
     “Yeah, wise guy, blood sugar!”
     “Blood sugar” Jesus whispered and then cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “I got nailed to a cross!”
     “So, this is my problem?” Morty shrugged “You know those fercockt Romans charged Ma for the cost of the cross. I hope you’re happy. I had to pick up the tab”
     Jesus had no reply and after several uneasy seconds, Morty, realizing he had gone too far, pulled an empty chair to the table. “Why don’t you sit before you run out of rocket fuel” he said softly. And Jesus sat. They did not speak for several minutes, each staring off into their own thoughts until finally Jesus asked sheepishly “You and me okay?”
     Without lifting his eyes from the table, Morty threw one of his hairy, beefy arms around his brother’s neck and said “We always were” and then he added, “So, you’re hungry?”
     “I could eat” Jesus shrugged

     And so it came to pass that evening that Jesus and Morty, sons of Joseph of and Mary of Nazareth who were of the tribe of David and the tribe of Abraham, shared a hot pastrami and a malted and all was well between them