Next Saturday, Solly would be leaving his home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and travelling by bus from the Port Authority Terminal to a prep school in upstate New York. He’d visited the campus with his dad who called it farm country. A little upturn of his lip. Solly thought about asking if farm country was a bad thing but the first year tuition had already been paid. His father wanted him to get into a good college. To have the chances in life that he never did. Even though Solly’s scores and grades were at the top.
He thought a lot about farm country. It was time to change his name. He decided a more neutral-sounding name would fit in better. There was a lot of aggression these days toward people with out of the ordinary names. He didn’t want to be the target of anyone’s aggression. He’d always kind of liked his name. Solly for Jolly his grandfather would say. But, things were changing in the world. He wanted his days at prep school to go by smoothly. The names Russell and James appealed to him. They could be shortened to Russ or Jim. Both good solid American names. Not the sort of names that would make anyone smear shit on your front door and paint a star in sheep’s blood on the shingles. Like what happened to the neighbor down the street. When the father came home from work and saw the attack on his house he began yelling, people pouring out of the other row houses, everyone gathering on the sidewalk. The mother, who looked frightened, clung to their two little kids.
Someone phoned the Rabbi. When he got there in his black car he surveyed the damage then announced to the large crowd: This is an act of filth and violence. And, vengeance, another man added. Then the Rabbi put his arms around the father to calm him. It didn’t seem to make any difference. The father went on yelling, saying this had always been a safe neighborhood. And what in God’s name is going on? Solly recognized the rabbi as the one from his bar mitzvah, heavier now and with less hair. Turning away, he walked slowly toward his own house feeling tight in his body.
As Jim or Russ, he could attend church up there in farm country. His eyes were greenish-gray, his hair light-brown. He didn’t look Jewish. As his Zady might say: No one will be the wiser.
There was banging on his bedroom door. “You left your dirty socks on the bathroom floor again.” Rachel, his younger sister, holding them up, always on the lookout.
He motioned her in. She stood pinching her nose with the other hand. “Phew.”
“Quiet, Rachel. I have something to tell you. Get in here.”
He yanked her by her arm.
“You have to swear not to tell Mom or Dad.”
“Did you get caught with drugs?”
“Nah.” He folded his arms across his chest. “The thing is, I’m changing my name.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m going to pick a more American name. Like James or Russell.”
His sister, paying little attention, had gone to the window where his white rat hung out. She lifted it from the cage, its legs pedaling the air. She stroked down its head and back.
“Both are dork names,” she said. “You need a Jewish name like Solly. Solly Solly Solly Solly.”
“You’re an idiot! Hand over Bathsheba to me!”
His sister stuck out her tongue.
“Very uncool, Rachel.”
“You’ll have to change Bathsheba’s name, too.” She giggled. “A name to match yours.” Still giggling, she cradled the rat.
She had a point. How could a guy named Jim or Russ go around with a rat called Bathsheba? It could definitely cause suspicion. Guys in his dorm would yack and he might become a target.
Each week he read all the flyers tacked on the synagogue bulletin board. Racial profiling. All anyone talked about now. During Yom Kippur his mom was certain their synagogue would be bombed. It was still standing. Solly liked to tease her about it.
“Here, take Bathsheba.” Rachel plopped on his bed swinging her chunky legs, picking off the band aid on her knee. “So what will you call her?”
He stared a while at the white rat. “You know that hot babe on TV, that Bethenny?”
“The old one with the long black hair who left the show to have a baby then came back looking different?”
“That one. She’s a cougar.” He extended Bathsheba’s tail which always made the rat squirmy.
“You can’t call a rat Bethenny.”
“I saw her picture on a billboard near the Lincoln Tunnel entrance. The day I went in to buy my bus ticket. That’s what I’ll call Bathsheba.”
Rachel screeched and fell back into the pillows. “It’s ridiculous!”
He thought otherwise. The guys in his dorm, how they’d laugh and find it a cool thing. A cougar babe name. Bethenny was a babe who could teach you things. They’d get to know his Bethenny in her cage, touching her, petting her. Feeding her approved treats. Then away they’d go to their own rooms, and right before jerking off they’d be thinking Bethenny.
It could make him popular. The guy with the white rat Bethenny people would say. Nobody’d mess with him. They’d never figure him as Jewish. It could possibly even make him famous. People lining up outside his door to have a look. Take a picture.
Besides, famous people always change their names.
Susan Tepper is an award winning writer and author of seven published books of fiction and poetry. She has received 18 Pushcart Nominations, a Pulitzer Prize Nomination for a novel, and many other honors. She has a dark sense of humor, and loves to share it with the Oddball gang from time to time.
Bill Wolak has just published his fifteenth book of poetry entitled The Nakedness Defense with Ekstasis Editions. His collages have appeared recently in Naked in New Hope 2018, The 2019 Seattle Erotic Art Festival, Poetic Illusion, The Riverside Gallery, Hackensack, NJ, the 2019 Dirty Show in Detroit, 2018 The Rochester Erotic Arts Festival, and The 2018 Montreal Erotic Art Festival.