After I got back to my own home and closed the portal I just sat on the bed for a little bit petting Doug and thinking about what I just learned. There’s a difference between my universe and the one that the Crows exist in. Obviously there is. Mine is “real” from the perspective of my own world, and theirs is a fictional world when contemplated from here. But in their world, they are perfectly real and solid. They exist. But maybe they only exist in our imagination. Maybe the reason that we and they are different is because they are made up of the thoughtforms from our world and we are the imagination of some other ‘verse.
I thought about how every so often there are a rash of new articles in the news about how physicists think that we are in a simulation of some kind. Whenever that story goes around, it makes me wonder what kind of a simulation we could be. Are we in someone else’s computer simulation? Are we just stories built from the minds of some other culture? Is the nature of reality just that we are all stories in the mind of God?
While I sat contemplating the nature of reality, Mr T sat in his little clear plastic box on the bookshelf watching me patiently. Eventually I snapped out of it and realized that I had to get ready for shabbat dinner with the family.
“Hey, Mr T, I need to get ready for dinner. What can I get for you so that you’ll be comfortable for the next day until we can get you set up with a better cage and stuff?”
“I’m fine for now, but I’m going to need some water and food before the night is out.”
“Yes! Of course!” I picked up the bag of stuff that Lily had given me and looked through it. I pulled out the food bowl, the water bottle, and the little hook to keep the water bottle in place inside the cage. “Let me take care of that,” I said as I held the items aloft.
I took the bottle to the bathroom and filled it with water. I returned to my bedroom and set the water bottle up on one of the walls of the small cage. Then I took the food bowl to the kitchen and foraged around for rat-friendly snacks. I came back with some lettuce, carrots, and a few nuts in the food bowl and put it in the cage with Mr T.
“Thanks,” The young rat said as he took one of the nuts and started munching. “I love these!”
I changed my clothes and grabbed my small siddur off the bookshelf. Doug followed me out the door and we walked across the backyard to my son’s house. We walked in the back door and arrived in the kitchen just as the eldest two kids were setting the table for the rest of us. Doug headed straight for the living room where he greeted the other kids with kisses and tail wags and then curled up in front of the couch.
“Hi Sabba!” Isaac called out cheerfully as I took off my shoes and put them on the rack by the door.
“Hey, Izzy, how’s it going?”
“Good. Raven and I went out to play Pokemon today. She caught a Goomy!”
I had no idea what a Goomy was, but he sounded very excited about that. “Congratulations, Raven!”
Raven looked up from placing silverware at her dad’s place to say, “Thanks!” and then continued with her task.
I walked over to the stove where my daughter in law was stirring something in a pot. “Need any help?”
“No. We’re just about ready. Could you call the kids in?”
I poked my head into the living room and said, “Hey small people, time to wash your hands and get to the table.”
I noticed that Shoshi wasn’t in the living room, so I ran up the stairs and knocked on her bedroom door.
“Yeah?” Came a voice from inside.
“Time for dinner!”
Shoshi burst out of the bedroom and ran past me down the stairs. When I got back to the kitchen she was already sitting at the table. I squinted at her, lifted my hands, and turned them back and forth. She jumped back up out of her seat and got in line to wash her hands.
My son came up from the basement with a bottle of wine. He opened it and placed it on the table.
I got in line behind Shoshi for hand washing. As each child finished washing their hands, the person before them would hand off the towel before heading to their seat at the table. When Shoshi finished drying her hands, she waited for me to finish washing and then handed me the towel.
After drying my hands I tossed the towel into the laundry basket and headed to the table with the kids. We waited for the parental units to join us. The kids squirmed and poked at each other, so I started singing a wordless tune to remind them that we were sitting at the Shabbat table. The kids joined in with singing, and their squirming became a little more like dance than sibling pesterance. When my son and daughter in law sat at the table I started the blessing over washing our hands and everyone joined in.
“Baruch ata Adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam asher kiddishanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al netilat yada’im”
Then my daughter in law picked up the lighter that was set in front of the two shabbat candles and lit them. Everyone except the littlest waved their hands three times, bringing the light of the candles in towards their face and covered their eyes. This time my daughter in law led the blessing with her beautiful singing voice.
“Baruch ata Adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu lehadlik ner shel shabbat.”
Everyone else chimed in with a sung, “Amen,” and like every week since he passed away, I could hear my dad in my head adding harmony to that Amen like he used to do when he was here.
I put my hands on the heads of the two kids closest to me and started the blessing for children. We do it a little bit differently in our house, squishing the blessing for boys and the blessing for girls into one single blessing with a two-part beginning. I also include the two usually unnamed mothers of our people, because fuck everyone that decided that concubines don’t count. I turned to Connor on my left and said, “Yismecha elohim c’Efraim u’c’Menashe,” then I turned to Olivia at my right and said, “Yismecha elohim c’Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, Leah, Bilha, v’Zilpah” then looking around the whole table, making sure that my eyes met with every single one for just a moment I said, “Yivarechcha Adonai v’yishmarecha, ya’er Adonai panav elecha vichunecha, yisa Adonai panav elecha, v’y’asim lecha shalom!”
My son filled the wine glasses for the adults while my daughter in law poured grape juice into each of the kids’ cups. The kids passed the grape juice cups down. José handed his wife, Molly, her wine glass and then passed me mine across the table.
I turned to the page in my siddur with the kiddush, held my glass up and began the prayer for the wine. Everyone joined in at, “Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam borei pri hagafen,” and again at “Ki vanu vaharta...” to the end of the song. Again, the family sang, “Amen” and I could hear my dad like an echo in my head harmonizing with us. I put the prayer book back down on the table.
Molly pulled the cover off the challah and tilted the board it was on so that everyone could see it in our family’s traditional “challah reveal”. Everyone made appreciative noises, “Oo!” and “Ah!” and one very cute little, “Pwwetty!” before we all held hands and sang the motzi together.
“Hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz, We give thanks to God for bread. Our voices joined in happy chorus, as our prayer is humbly said: Baruch ata Adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam haaaaaaa-,” we always stretch that syllable out, “motzi lechem min ha’aretz. Aaaaamen!”
Molly ripped into the larger of the two loaves of braided bread and shook salt over it. Then she ripped that into two pieces and sent one down each side of the table. Remembering that she’d forgotten to grab a bite for herself, she ripped another small piece off the challah, salted it, and popped it into her mouth before getting up to start dishing food into bowls. As she walked past the door to the living room, she tossed the dog a bite sized bit of challah, which he snatched out of the air before returning to his spot in front of the couch.
As the food was distributed to every member of the family I could feel Morrison standing behind me. I felt him squeeze my shoulder, and I heard him say, “Your family’s beautiful.” I turned to look, but no one was there. When I turned back to the table, his presence still felt solid as if he were really there.
**Thank you** I responded in my head.
**I’m sorry that I can’t be physically there with you right now, but I am here.**
I leaned my head and pressed it against his ghost hand for a moment, then lifted my head back up.
We ate dinner and talked about the week’s goings on. We discussed things the kids had been up to the last few days and an assortment of other mundane topics. As we were finishing dinner, José asked, “Sabba, what is this week’s parasha?”
“This week’s Torah portion is Sh’lach. This is the portion where Moshe sends the spies into the Land that God has promised to the people to see what it’s like. One representative of each tribe is sent out. Ten of the twelve come back with terrifying news. They say that the land is full of giants! They say, if we try to go there, we’ll surely all get killed! But two representatives come back and tell the people what an amazing land they’ve just seen. It’s full of milk and honey!
“Now, we’re told that because of the fear of the people and the lack of faith in God to do what was promised, our people had to travel in the wilderness for forty years, until a whole generation of people had died out. Only the two spies who came back with the good report were allowed to enter the promised land in the end.
“There are lots of lessons that we can take from this, but today, the lesson that I’m taking away is that sometimes there is a battle that we need to face that seems impossible to fight. The enemy appears to be bigger and stronger, better organized, better funded, but we still have to have the faith to keep on fighting for what is right. Tonight, I see the Land full of milk and honey as a metaphor for a world where civil and human rights are a given and everyone is able to live a dignified life in their own way. It may feel like there are giants arrayed against us in the struggle for that world, but we must remain optimistic and faithful in our work to bring that world into being.”
6 year old Shoshi piped in, “A land of milk and honey would be muddy and sticky. Why would you want that?”
Molly, José and I all laughed, but Shoshi was very serious.
Molly answered her, “It’s not that milk and honey was literally on the ground. The saying that the Land was full of milk and honey means that there was plenty of food and good things. There was plenty of grass for the cattle and sheep. There were plenty of flowers for the bees to make sweet honey. It was a place where people would be able to farm and gather what they need for their food and their homes.”
“Oh. Why didn’t they say that, then?” Shoshi asked.
“Well, sometimes we just have short ways to say much bigger things. As long as everyone around you understands what you mean, that’s good enough. In the place and time when these people lived, everyone knew what it meant if you said that a place was full of milk and honey. That’s all.”
Shoshi seemed satisfied with that answer.
Isaac leaned forward so that he could see his dad around his sister and said, “Can I be excused?”
“Are you all done?”
José looked around the table and determined that Olivia was the only one left with food on her plate. She’s an extremely slow eater. “Let’s wait a couple more minutes so that Olivia isn’t all by herself, okay?”
Isaac nodded and the conversations around the table picked back up.
A few minutes later Olivia was still pushing the same pieces of food around her bowl. José asked her, “Are you going to eat any more of that?” Olivia just shook her head. “Okay, Isaac, if you’d like to be excused, go ahead. Put your dish in the dishwasher, please.”
“Thank you for the Land and for the Food.” Isaac said the shortened grace after meals quickly as he got up from the table.
I pulled up my prayer book again and turned to the page with the birkat ha’mazon, the grace after meals. As I started singing the grace, other kids got permission to leave the table, said the quick, “Thank you for the Land and for the Food,” and headed off to play or read a book. Somewhere along the line, Sarah climbed down from her seat and came over to me. She climbed up onto my lap as I continued to sing the blessing. By the time I was finished with the full grace, the only ones left at the table with me were José, Molly, Connor, and Sarah.
Molly leaned over to move Connor’s chair away from the table and said, “Hey, Connor, you’re free! You can go play if you want.” He apparently didn’t want, because he just stayed in his chair. He was doing something with his hands that looked interesting and making little stimmy noises. He seemed happy, so Molly and José just left him there for the time being.
I gave Sarah a kiss on the top of her tiny head and put her back down on the floor, then got up and took my own dishes to the dishwasher. I finished cleaning up the table and started the dishwasher. I put leftovers into containers and marked them with the date before putting them into the refrigerator. I wiped down the counters and put the large pot into the sink with soap and water to soak for a bit.
I went into the living room and sat down in the big green stuffed armchair. Sarah toddled over to the bookshelf, picked a book out and brought it to me. By the time she was seated comfortably on my lap, Olivia had climbed onto the other side of my lap and Shoshi was perched on the arm of the chair. Raven pulled the ottoman from its usual spot in front of the couch and sat on it in front of me. Connor came and sat on the couch next to us. I opened the book and read it, showing the pictures on each page to all the children present.
By the time I was done reading it was time for showers to start. I stayed in the green chair while the kids went off one by one to shower and get ready for bed. Each one came back to me once they were in their PJs for a hug and kiss goodnight. Only Sarah stayed with me the whole time. She’d had a bath sometime earlier in the day when she’d covered herself in applesauce. Sarah liked to sit on my left leg snuggled in sideways so that she could sink her little arm between me and the chair and put her head down on my chest when she got tired. By the time the last of her siblings came to say goodnight, Sarah was sound asleep. José took her off my lap and put her in her own bed upstairs.
Once all the kids were in bed, Molly and José came in and sat on the couch. We all pulled out our phones and scanned social media and the news sites. When one of us would see something funny or interesting, we’d share it with the others. We’d kind of avoided the one big news story at dinner, but as we sat there with no kids around, sharing memes, the news seeped into our peaceful Friday night nonetheless.
“This is really bad,” José said at last.
“Yeah. Yeah, it is,” I agreed.
The conversation turned dark. Some Republicans were already talking about making a federal law against abortion. They didn’t have enough power in congress to pass a law like that right now, but in a few months they might get it in the midterm elections. Would they go after trans rights at a national level next? Would white supremacy make more gains in the public sphere as Republican controlled state legislatures passed laws restricting voting rights and gerrymandering districts to ensure more Republican wins? We worried and fretted, and eventually the conversation turned to what we would do if it wasn’t safe to stay here any more.
Doug recognized the tension in the room and did his best to help by demanding pets from each of us in a cycle. First he put his head on Molly’s knee and waited for her to pet his head. Then he moved to José and did the same. When he arrived in front of me, he jumped up and put his two front paws on my shoulders. I hugged him and then told him to sit. He still demanded more pets, but after a little bit he moved back to Molly.
We were replaying a conversation that Jewish families have had over and over again across the centuries, not just in the years before the Holocaust but also before the many pogroms and expulsions of Jews from entire countries over the past 2000 years. There were moments when I wondered if the generational trauma was possibly causing us to fear unnecessarily, but when I thought about the many state laws that had changed in the last couple of years – not in Washington where we live, but in other states – I felt that this worry was well grounded. Perhaps we would be safe here in this state, even if this area is more Republican than the other side of the Cascade mountains. Knowing how many racist incidents my son has experienced around here because of his darker complexion did not make me feel confident, however.
Of course, our conversation didn’t solve any great problems and it didn’t make any of us feel any better. At least we’d discussed the situation. At least we all knew that we were in this together and would figure out what we had to do to protect our family.
Around 10 o’clock I said good night and headed back to my little in-law unit in the back. As soon as I walked out the back door of the house, Morrison said, **Does your dad always show up for Shabbat dinner?**
**What?** I was surprised by the question.
**Your dad spent the whole dinner standing in the far corner between Shoshi and Raven. He even joined in the prayers. It was so sweet.**
**You could see him?**
**Of course I could. I can see whatever you see.**
**Um… I don’t see my dad’s ghost at the dinner table.**
**You must, or else how would I see him? I’m literally looking at your world through your eyes.**
**I mean, I do have a vague shadowy feeling that he’s there. I hear him in my head like a distant echo. It’s not like really seeing him, though. It’s not like I can actually hear him. It’s just imagination.** I paused and added, **Necromancy is assur, you know.**
Morrison chuckled and said, **Yes, necromancy is forbidden, but there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that some part of your dead father still keeps an eye on you and the rest of his descendants. And when I saw him there, I saw him quite clearly. It was obvious that he wasn’t a physical body in the room, but his spirit was clear and sharp. I could also see that he’s really proud of you all. The fact that your grandchildren carry on the traditions he taught you is important to him.**
As I entered my little home, my heart felt warm with the thought of my dad joining us for Friday night dinners and with the feeling of Morrison’s presence. Both were somehow simultaneously imagined and real inside me. Doug ran ahead of me into the bedroom and jumped up onto my bed. Mr T was curled up asleep in his tiny cage on the shelf.
I switched to speaking out loud now that I was alone with just the animals and my imaginary boyfriend. “I’m a little confused about why Mr T couldn’t go back through the portal but the cage could. I would think that if the cage could go through the portal that it wouldn’t have physical solidity here, but clearly it is solid. How do you think that works?”
In my mind's eye I saw Morrison walking up to the rat’s cage and inspecting it. He turned back to me and said, “Let’s see… if we assume that there is a difference between living things and non-living things, we might hypothesize that living tissue can only cross one direction, but that non-living things can have an existence in both worlds.”
“Yeah, but I don’t buy the idea that there’s such a thing as non-living things that are inherently different from living things. We’re all made up of the same molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, whatever.”
“I have to admit that I agree with you there. I’ve experienced the consciousness of a star, so I can’t really accept that plastic is completely dead. It’s all made up of god-stuff.”
“Right. Gustav Fechner. ‘Consciousness is the experience of matter from the inside.’” I nodded.
“Exactly. So, what other difference is there? One breathes and the other does not. Miri thought that taking a breath in your world was enough to integrate the denser matter from your world into one’s cells. The plastic cage doesn’t breathe.”
“So, would it be able to go back and forth permanently? Or is there some point at which it would also become stuck in this world?” I wondered.
“Good question. What items have you moved between the worlds before?” He asked.
“Nothing, really. Everything that I have acquired there I have left there. Everything that I have brought over there has been just a mental projection of a thing that exists here. Like my clothes, for example. Today was the only time I ever went over to your world wearing the clothes that I actually had on in my own world. The clothes didn’t come with me, though. My physical body here in this world was still wearing the original clothes. It’s just that I dressed my mental projection in the same clothes I had on here.” I paused for a moment, thinking, and then said, “Now that I think about it, I can’t really bring any physical items from this world to your world because the mental projection of myself can’t lift physical objects in this world.”
“Oh! We’re on to something, maybe. Your mental projection was able to hold the cage, even after it had arrived here.”
“True. And the cage is also physically solid here. Or, at least it seems to be.” I walked up to the cage and gently touched it with the soft flesh of my finger so as to not wake Mr T. It was solid.
“I wonder if it would be able to go through the portal again after being here for a day.”
“I’ll have to try it.”
“You know what else you should try?”
“You should try wearing the special boots Sandy gave you back into your own world.”
“But, what if I can’t bring the real boots back to your world? Will the mental projection of the boots have the same magical properties as the real ones?”
“I know it’s a risk, but I think it’s worthwhile. Having the boots in your world will allow us to experiment with how magic from my world works in your world. And if the boots can’t make it back across the portal, we’ll also be able to see how well your mental projections match the properties of original items. I have a suspicion based on literally nothing at all, just a gut feeling, that if you can’t bring the actual boots back over, your mental projection will be indistinguishable from the original.”
I wandered into the bathroom and started to get ready for bed. I puffed on my inhaler, rinsed with mouthwash, and brushed my teeth. I sat on the toilet and then washed my hands. I shrugged off my clothes and tossed most of them into the hamper. I hung my binder on a plastic hanger that was hooked onto a metal shelf in the bathroom, since I planned to wear it again tomorrow. I returned to my bedroom naked and headed for the chest of drawers to get a t-shirt to sleep in, but before I reached the drawers, I heard Morrison.
“Mm-mmm… nice!” He said before wrapping his arms around my body and kissing my neck. It felt almost real, but not quite. The feeling of him was nice, but knowing that he was seeing me as I am in my own world was uncomfortable.
“Gah! Nooooo… I’m all lumpy!” I complained as I leaned into the ghostly feel of his body.
“You’re soft and warm and delicious!” He responded as his hands caressed my hips and moved towards my back.
I felt awkward. I could feel Morrison’s hands slide down around the curve of my butt and him pulling me in towards himself, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sink into him or pull away. He noticed.
His hands released their grip on my naked butt and he leaned in to kiss my face. Then he stepped back and said, “If you looked like this in my world, I would still love you. I would still want you.” He kissed one cheek and then the other and then planted a kiss on my lips. “Sure, the mental projection you create over there is quite nice, but so is this one.” The back of his right hand brushed down my round, stretch marked tummy.
I smiled at his words but wasn’t fully convinced, “This one’s real.”
“Oh? Is it? Does anything exist at all that isn’t in the mind of God?”
I couldn’t tell if he was teasing me or being serious, or if it was a mix of the two. I made a face of suspicious consternation and then leaned in towards the ghost of him to kiss his lips as if I could see and feel him as solid as reality. I felt his hands on the two sides of my head holding me, strong but gentle.
“Do you know what the greatest magic of them all is?” His tone was mischievous, and I knew he was up to something.
I grinned in anticipation of whatever delicious thing he was about to say, “What?”
“The unification of the separated parts of the Divine Whole,” he answered as I stumbled backwards onto my bed and felt him join me there.
It’s hard to know after that what it was that he was doing and what I was doing. Did he move the covers aside so that we could climb under them? Or did I? How could a man that was only in my head make love to me? But he did. How could I taste the skin of a ghost? But I did. It was ecstatic. It was as physical as if he’d been there for real, and it was as spiritual as if neither of us had physical form. I think that we popped back and forth between our two realities, as sometimes it seemed as though I was in his bed and other times we were definitely in mine.
And then, as I felt myself reaching climax something amazing happened. He was not inside me. Our arms were not wrapped around each other’s bodies. Our mouths were not locked in a passionate kiss. We were not bodies at all. We were not two people. We were one with two minds that communicated seamlessly every thought, every sensation. For those moments we contained universes, held galaxies in our belly. We could feel something so much bigger than ourself, holding us inside of itself. There was a flash of deep comprehension of what the word “ineffable” holds. And then, another shift as we returned to ourselves. We floated in a place that had no light and yet we could see each other clearly. I think it might have been the space between universes. I could feel his body pressed against my own again, but I could also see him floating a few feet away. I felt completely happy, except for the sensation of separation that ached after those moments of total unity. Finally, I was back in my bed, with just a ghostly experience of Morrison.
He pulled away and sat up, and now I was aware that the view I was seeing in my mind’s eye was him in his own bedroom as he reached for a glass of water on his bedside table.
I sat up, too and looked in the direction of that mental image of him. “Wow. That kind of experience can really give you a hangover.”
It seemed to me that I could see Morrison more clearly now, even though he was frustratingly still only in my mind. He had a deeply contented look on his face, and he reached toward me with his free hand and squeezed my leg. “Yeah, it can,” he said. “I guess that means we should chase away the hangover with some regular sex.” His contented look changed to a cheshire grin.
That grin was contagious. I decided it didn’t matter what was real and what was imaginary. Not in regards to him. He was as real as he needed to be – as real as I needed him to be. In that moment the ghostly sensation of him slipped into full throttled presence. I was with him and he was with me. I accepted that we could be both here and there at the same time, just by being together. I stopped worrying that embracing this supposed fiction would disconnect me from reality. As long as he could affect my reality, he was real.
I got up from my bed to turn off the lights, and then climbed back into bed next to Morrison. His naked body warmed mine. Our arms wrapped around each other, and I breathed him in.
“Hey, hun?” He said as he nuzzled my neck.
“I don’t actually want you to get up, but you should go get a glass of water to drink. I don’t want you to wake up with a headache. That’ll be much worse than the hangover of separation after experiencing mystical unity.” He nibbled and then poked me in the ribs.
I squealed in surprise as his poke hit the nerve just so. I started to get up, but paused to lean over and blow a raspberry on his stomach. He laughed and shoved me off. I padded into the kitchen. I poured myself a large glass of water, drank it, and then filled the glass again to bring back to bed with me. I put the glass on a coaster on the desk next to my bed, and climbed back in next to Morrison.
“Welcome back,.” he said before climbing under the covers and situating his face between my legs.
We enjoyed a couple rounds of “regular sex” before snuggling up together and falling asleep in each other’s arms.