‘The Touchstone’ by Jacob Frommer

In the town of Bloomfield everyone does this with their arms. Can you see it? It’s quite a funny series of motions that make many swooping angles and shapes. If you were to shop the supermarket or walk Maple Street or glance through a window at a small old woman in a wicker backed chair, you would see arms flailing this way and that.
       One day, recently married Wyatt and Za moved a few hours north to Hillsdale, a small town at the base of a mountain wreathed in stick pines. The local market was the size of a classroom. The people were kind and the houses were old and reliable. Wyatt found work as a claims adjuster and Za became an aid at the middle school. Though Wyatt and Za took immediately to Hillsdale’s slow sunsets and remote charm, Bloomfield’s rhythm was still theirs so they flailed their arms in this new place, too. This was America and everyone was respectful of their pinwheeling arms, mostly because they were not dangerous or intimidating.
       But soon, in their new home or on a pensive hike, Za began to mention how she felt strange moving her arms without anyone else moving them, too. “It is,” she said, while pouring tea, “an empty gesture without the community, don’t you feel?” It had been Wyatt’s idea to move to Hillsdale so he said “No, not empty. Just different. We moved here to make our lives a little different.” Inside, though, Wyatt knew he felt similar to Za.
       Eventually Za stopped moving her arms at work then at home. Wyatt didn’t say anything about her decision or how he felt stuck between the promise of Hillsdale and the comfort of Bloomfield. A few times people asked politely why he moved his arms like an upturned bug and after these interactions, when he arrived home, he would say, “See, Za, that’s why I move my arms, so people know that Bloomfield exists.” Za thought this a bad reason to move one’s arms but she didn’t say anything. Over the next year they made close friends even with Wyatt’s arms, which he no longer knew if he liked moving or kept up because he was too afraid to stop.

Jacob Frommer is an MFA student at the University of New Hampshire. He writes about being an orthodox Jew in a modern world. His work has been published in The Forward and on JewishFiction.net

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