The Book of Jonah

The Book of Jonah by Joshua Max Feldman

Book: The Book of Jonah by Joshua Max Feldman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joshua Max Feldman
years. But she was hardly the sort of girl who shied away from the extremes of preparation. Once, when she and her parents had gone over to a neighbor’s for Passover, she spent the pre-Seder mingling time sitting on the rug and working on her Latin homework on the coffee table. Observing this, the mother of the hostess—a compact old woman with brilliantly silver hair and the weathered skin of someone who had spent the greater part of her adult life either over a stove or on the beach in Florida—said of her, “She’s like a dog with a bone, that one.” Os, ossis, thought Judith.
    Her labors were not limited to schoolwork, either. There were also the many activities—in theory recreational but, as she got older, intended more and more to enhance what her father called “the old college application.” In elementary school she took piano and private French lessons and pottery. By high school, to these had been added model UN, debate, various honor societies, B’nai B’rith Girls (local and regional), monthly volunteering at the local soup kitchen, and running cross-country.
    This last area was the one in which Judith distinguished herself least. Though she was theoretically built like a distance runner—unusually long-limbed and tall since girlhood—she was not athletic, and the rituals of team sports (the whooping after victories, the sobbing after losses) did not come naturally to her. The dynamics of the sport were intuitive enough, familiar enough, though: Just go. And the greater purpose, as her father only occasionally had to remind her, was to demonstrate that she was a well-rounded young woman.
    By the end of her sophomore year, it was clear Judith would have enough credits to graduate from high school a year early. This situation was deemed worthy of an official family meeting, so Judith and her parents gathered in the living room, sat on the couch underneath the portrait of Judith’s father’s grandfather—ancient, white-bearded, dour in black coat and black skullcap—looking, Judith always thought, as though he’d stepped into the painting directly from some authentic Jewish shtetl past.
    â€œI’ll be honest, I’m selfish,” her father, David, said, in his jokey, half-ironic way. He was a professor of literature, who had at the time recently completed a highly praised translation of The Canterbury Tales . “I don’t want to lose my favorite person in the world a year early.”
    â€œWe don’t need to frame it that way, David,” her mother, Hannah, corrected him. She was a prizewinning poet and novelist and an artist-in-residence-cum-professor at the same college where Judith’s father taught. “Sweetheart,” Judith’s mother said to her, “you can have our advice if you want it, but ultimately this is your decision. And we’ll support you regardless. But,” she added delicately, “I think it’s important to remember, you have your whole life to be an adult.”
    â€œVery true,” her father assented quickly, winkingly.
    â€œYour days as a child are fleeting,” her mother said, and snapped in the air—a flourish typical of her mother.
    The three of them discussed the issue at length—weighed the advantages and disadvantages with regard to college applications; considered the possibility of a gap year and how it might be spent; speculated on the social implications of starting college at seventeen. And, in the end, Judith decided she would not graduate high school early, but would instead spend her senior year compiling AP credits that could be used to graduate from college early. Her logic—for which David and Hannah commended her—was that she could still put herself a year ahead in her education, but without sacrificing her last year of high school with her friends and without having to enter college as the youngest person on her freshman floor.

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