Eight Nights of Arnold

Submitted into Contest #178 in response to: Write a story that takes place over the eight nights of Hannukah.... view prompt


Funny Holiday

                                     Eight Nights of Arnold

A note: Sari said I had to include the following definitions if I was really going to tell you all about what happened over Hanukkah. So here goes:

Shamas—Hanukkah candle that lights the other candles in the menorah.

Challah—Jewish egg bread. 

Mensch---A real man

Latkes---Potato pancakes

Shikse---A non-Jewish woman


Shtupping---To fill… think ‘sex’.

Shvitz--- Sweat


Oye!---Expression of exasperation.

Patchke---make a fuss

Shlemeil---Bumbling, maybe unkempt.

Hope this helps. Thanks, David.

First Day

   Aunt Sari Rubenstein and my   cousin Arnold arrived by train  from New York. My second floor apartment  in Santa Monica is small, two bedrooms, one bath, a living room about the size of a closet but O.K.,  and  since I got a job teaching elementary school  I’ve made it homey.  I’d told Sari she and Arnold were welcome to stay Hanukkah week.

This was a fib. 

Sort of. I really didn’t  want to accommodate Arnold but what could I do?

Sari, my late mother’s much older sister,  shares an apartment in Brooklyn with Arnold  except when he’s institutionalized.  My uncle Max died when I was little---I only met him once and all I remember is he  smelled like  pickled herring and cigar smoke.  My parents always said Max would still be alive but for all the grief with Arnold.  Arnold, recently released again from an upstate New York mental hospital, was back home. “Is Arnold on his meds?” I asked Sari over the phone before they left New York.  There was a  pause. “I’d rather not discuss it, Davidala.”

  I took this  as a warning.

I picked them up at Union Station.  Sari hugged me and kissed my forehead and pinched my cheeks. They’d taken the train because Sari won’t fly. I’d tried to convince her  a few hours in the air was better than  days on Amtrak but no dice.    “Have you forgotten how your parents died? They died in a plane crash.” Sari reminded me.

“No”, said I, They were driving on an airport access road and a Piper Cub fell on them.”

“ Is a Piper Cub an airplane?”


“And it crashed their car. They died in a plane crash.”

 From his luggage Arnold pulled out an ancient portable electric typewriter which he set up without asking permission  on the tiny table in my galley-sized kitchen and arranged two stacks of typing paper on either side of it. About fifty sheets were filled already. Another hundred were blank. Arnold looked at me and grinned,  revealing the gigantic space between his front teeth. His brillo hair---inherited from Sari-- was piled wildly above a face as round as the moon.  He’s very short and I noticed a curious bald patch at the very top of his head, a sort of miniature landing strip. “Gotta write, cuz. This is a working holiday for me.” He pushed his coke bottle glasses up against his nose. “But first I gotta ask you a question. Promise you’ll answer?”


“You’re good looking. You’re single. You’re a Californian born and bred, right?”


“You’re hetro”.

 I nodded.

 “So I’ll call you an expert. Here’s the question: How many girls out here suck cock?”

“Arnold! Such language!” Sari yelled from the bathroom.

I closed my eyes. “ I have no idea.”

“A percentage will do, cuz. I mean, three of four, four of five?”

I invented. “Fifty percent.”

Arnold gave a whoop. “Kid, if you’re batting five hundred you’re going to the hall of fame!”


Sari made dinner the first night of Hanukkah. She arranged the menorah in the center of the folding table we’d set up in the living room since Arnold refused to yield the kitchen table. Her pudgy hands twisted  the shamus  into the menorah, then the  lone  candle  at the end.   I did the lighting. Sari made a vegetable soup from things she pulled out of my fridge. I’d bought a loaf of challah which she sliced and served with butter. “Tomorrow you drive me to the market and I’ll do the shopping.”  Sari commanded, I obeyed.

Second Day

Sari stocked up at the market in the morning. In the afternoon I took her and Arnold on a tour of L.A. Sari wanted to see the handprints of the stars on Hollywood Boulevard. Mainly she wanted to see the site where Gregory Peck had immortalized himself. “I know he wasn’t Jewish,” Sari said. “But what a mensch.  I remember him in ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’. Maxie and I went to see the movie together but he fell asleep and we left early. I went back a second time on my own.” Sari brought her hand to a   cleavage deeper than  the San Andreas Fault.  “I fell in love with him, Davidala.” When we got to Peck’s square Sari blew kisses downward and teared up.  We lost Arnold for awhile as he’d had wandered off to look for Marilyn Monroe. He said her hands and footprints set in cement were o.k. but her boobs would’ve been  more interesting.

 Aunt Sari cooked up a storm that evening---roast chicken, latkes, a creamed onion salad that was a secret family recipe. “So, you got a girlfriend?” she asked as we cleared the table.    “I do.” “We get to meet her?” “Yes.” I knew what was coming and waited for Sari’s next question the way a defense witness awaits a last query from the prosecutor. “She’s Jewish?” “No.” Sari arched one unplucked eyebrow. “I remember your last girlfriend was also a shikse and so was the one before that. So tell me, Davidala, is there a shortage of Jewish girls on the west coast?”

“I like her very much, Aunt Sari. She’s an exchange teacher I met at school. Her name is Gita. She’s from Norway.”

Arnold stopped typing and started reciting : “ I knew a young woman from Norway/Who hung from her heels in a doorway/She said to her man/ Get off the divan/ I think that I have found one more way!”

“Don’t be naughty, Arnold” scolded Sari. Then she  turned back to me. “Davidala, I’m not going to interfere with your life but you need to think about your future.”

 I dropped the bomb:  “We’re serious. And she’s coming to dinner tomorrow night.”

Third Day

Sari spent hours cleaning my apartment. I thought it was clean. She thought differently. She ran a finger along a window sill and held it up as evidence.  “Shmutz,” she said. Arnold typed all day. I tried to see what he was writing but he guarded the kitchen table the way a goalie guards a net. Gita arrived at 6 P.M., as always punctual. She brought a bottle of wine and a bunch of flowers for Sari. “I have heard much about you,” she said. “David speaks of you often.” Sari, smiled and took inventory: Gita stood a head and a half taller than her.   Long honey-butter colored hair trailed over her shoulders like a blonde waterfall and her wide  sea blue eyes sparkled.  Below ,  a body that could turn a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model green with envy. “I’m so glad to hear that,” Sari said without enthusiasm.

Arnold came out of the bathroom. “Cuz! A goddess!”  He loped toward her and Gita held out a hand. Arnold pumped it up and down and eyeballed Gita. “ I’ve only seen Scandinavians like you in magazines. The kind my Ma found and burned when I was a kid.”

“Arnold, behave,” Sari and.


Sari baked salmon and  garnished it with potatoes and leeks and the wine Gita brought fit perfectly with the meal. For dessert Sari whipped up a sort of mousse, again from another secret family recipe. It was getting late and when Gita made no move toward the door Sari gave a theatrical yawn and stretched. “Well, time for bed,” she said. “Davidala, could you help me with my things? The suitcase is so heavy.” Safe in the spare bedroom  Sari lowered her voice. “Don’t tell me she’s spending the night.”  “Well, yes, she is.” Sari pursed her lips. “If I have to listen to the two of you shtupping  I’m not going to sleep a wink. I mean it.”

 I offered a compromise. “Aunt Sari, it’s late and we’ve drunk a lot of wine and I won’t have her driving home.  So she’ll spend the night… but  I’ll get a blanket and sleep on the couch.”

Sari considered this and squinted at me. “Well, I still won’t sleep much. I got heartburn.”

  Gita and I brushed our teeth and  went to my bedroom so I could grab a blanket and extra pillow. “David, Arnold is very short. Is that why he stares at my breasts so much?” As always,  Gita favored   logic to explain things.   “I don’t think so,” I said.  “You will sleep on the couch?” “Yes,” I said. Gita put her arms around me. “Then I kiss you goodnight.” Her mouth  was soft and warm and tasted  of Pino Grigio and peppermint toothpaste. “I am disappointed, but I understand.” Then she turned and took off her top. And then her bra. Then she  wiggled out of her jeans so that only  bikini underwear  stood between her and Mother Nature.   “I’ll be back,” I choked out and headed to the bathroom medicine cabinet and then knocked on the other bedroom door. “Yes?” Sari said alertly. 

“I have something for you, Aunt Sari.” I said.


 “For heartburn. It’s called Ambien. “

Fourth Day

Sari didn’t like the weather in Santa Monica. Hanukkah in December in southern California is beachy,  made for shorts, flip-flops and ball caps worn backwards. “You got no seasons here,” Sari complained as she fanned herself and opened all the apartment windows the following morning. “In Brooklyn it’s winter.   Here,  I’m shvitzing .”

I invited my good friend Ben Goldman over for dinner.  Over the phone I had briefed him on my family.  Ben is a psychologist who grew up in a fairly religious household and as a result knows a lot of Yiddish and Yiddish songs, a perfect dinner companion for Sari. As the line of candles in the menorah melted and mellowed, Ben and Sari harmonized. Ben has a gift of putting people at ease and  Sari was charmed.   Arnie reoccupied the kitchen and typed away. “Arnold,” Ben called out, “what are you working on?” Arnold came out and plopped down.   “I forgot your name,” he said to Ben.


“Yeah. Gotta forgive me. Where they held me in upstate I got a lot of ECT action. You know what ECT stands for?”

“Of course. Electro Convulsive Therapy,” said Ben.

“Yes and no.” Arnold took a knuckle and rubbed madly at the landing strip atop his head. “Sometimes it stands for ‘Every Cartilage Tingles.’ Ever tried it?”

“No…   “So what are you writing?”

Arnold looked at his mother, at me, at Ben. Then he stared out the living room window, gathering himself. “I’m writing about  peace. I’m writing about the Third World, about cleanliness. I’m writing about what the United Nations can do about it. I’m writing about tighty-whities, shirts, dashikis, hijabs, turbans . I’m writing about photo-voltaic washing machines that use a single gallon of water per wash cycle, no need to separate the light and dark loads.” Arnold knuckled the top of his head again. “And I will be sending my proposal to the I.P.E.S.G---International Progressive-Economic Seminar Group-at the U.N. as soon as we get home. It’s  gonna knock their socks off.”

“Hmmm”, said Ben.   “You’ve been invited to make a submission?”

“Of course not.” Arnold leaned forward and gave a conspiratorial wink. “But I know people who know people if you know what I mean.”

“Ah,” said Ben.

I walked Ben out to his car. “Well, what do you think?”

Ben leaned against the fender. “Sari is very sweet and so easy to like. She does remind me of my own grandmother.”

“And Arnold?”

“Totally meshuga.”

Fifth Day

The fifth night of Hanukkah proved to be both warm and humid. Sari fanned herself  as she assembled the dinner, deciding it was so hot the food needed to be cold: Beet borscht with a dollop of sour cream floating in each  bowl like a small iceberg, herring salad, slices of rye bread slavered with a jelly she’d brought from New York and which of course was from yet  another secret  family recipe.  Gita had  Christmas parties to attend, so we wouldn’t see her until the last night of the holiday. The stack of typed pages on the kitchen table grew; Arnold changed the ribbon and pressed on. Sari went to bed early, totally frazzled by the heat.   Around midnight Arnold stopped typing and joined me on the couch. “Finished, kid. Now comes the hard part, the editing.”

Sixth Day

Arnold slept late so I took Sari  down to the pier where it was cooler. I drove  since Sari just couldn’t walk the few blocks. The pier was crowded with tourists . “Not Coney Island,” Sari observed, then stared as two young ladies in string bikinis crossed our path. She shook her head. “Oye. I got dental floss that covers more than that.”

I drove back to the apartment and as I pulled up almost lost control of the car. Arnold was on the balcony  folding a paper airplane. The lawn below, filled with them, looked  like  a paper  snow storm  had hit Santa Monica. “What the hell!” I yelled. Arnold threw his latest which looped gracefully downward onto the others. “Editing, kid! I told you. This is the hardest part!”

 To give Sari  a break I bought  dinner. Chinese food and Jewish people go together. I don’t know why, but they do. Sari loved the Lemon Duck. Arnold devoured the Chow Mein. We cracked our fortune cookies. Mine said ‘Surprises await you’. Arnold grinned his gap-toothed grin.  “With the Norwegian goddess  I hope.  Think of the possibilities, kid.”

Seventh Day

Arnold sequestered himself in the kitchen with the surviving pages. He asked for a scissors, some glue and white out and proceeded with  a literal ‘cut and paste’. Sari moved around him, rearranged my dishes and cups, chided me for not being more orderly but kissed my forehead and pinched my cheeks to let me know how much she loved me. At Sari’s behest I invited Ben over for the last night of Hanukkah. Gita said she wanted to help with dinner so I told her to drop by around five-ish.

Since it was just the three of us again, Sari said “I won’t patchke  tonight. How does stuffed bake potato sound?” I said it sounded great. “Sour cream, chives---maybe some melted cheese inside,” said Sari.  We lit the menorah at sunset, now full of colored candles save for one final  empty holder. The apartment seemed unnaturally quiet without Arnold’s typewriter hammering and I slept like a baby.

Eighth Day

Gita arrived at exactly five p.m. and Sari put her to work while conducting a culinary interrogation.  “You know what Matzo Ball Soup is?” Gita shook her head.   “How about Gefilta Fish?”  “I’m sorry, I do not know this.” Sari’s eyes slid over to me, then back to Gita. “This is the big meal,  the last night of Hanukkah.”   “Yes, it is a very beautiful holiday,” Gita agreed. Sari pulled the brisket from the refrigerator and covered it lovingly with garlic and paprika with a bed of onions beneath the meat. After it went into the oven she taught Gita about Motzo Ball Soup and forming Gefilta fish. I kept an eye on Arnold  as he packed up and vacated the kitchen. “I need to make a copy pronto,” he said. “Too valuable to have only my master.” So I walked him down to a 24 hour postal service where he ran off a copy and handed it to me. “Cuz,” put it somewhere safe. The fate of the world might depend on it.” “Of course,” I said. I threw it in my bedroom closet. 

Later Ben and Sari sang songs while Gita and I cleared the table.  In the kitchen Gita put her mouth to my ear. “David, your aunt says you are a lovable schlemiel. What is the meaning of this word?”  “Handsome and sexy”, I replied with a straight face.

Ben left around ten. Sari hugged him, then  me and then to my surprise on tip-toes put her pudgy arms around Gita. “You did very well young lady with the soup and the fish. For a beginner. ..Now I’m tired and we’re on the train tomorrow so goodnight.”  Sari glanced at me. “And I’ll sleep well. No heartburn from the dinner.”

I took them to Union Station the next morning and got an extra long hug and kiss  from a misty eyed Aunt Sari. “Davidala, come visit us. I’m not getting any younger.”  “I will,” I said. Arnold pumped my hand. “Kid, it’s been a slice. Tell the Goddess if she ever gets tired of you, I’m available.”

I saw them off , waving as the train pulled out of the station. Then I went home to get ready for school the following Monday.


On Sunday a couple months later as  Gita and I were having coffee on the balcony  my phone rang. It was Ben. “David, you better turn on CNN.”   The  guest on the morning news  was the Secretary General of the United Nations and he was discussing three projects which had been selected for funding by the I.P.E.S.G: One involved mosquito netting, the second inexpensive wheel chairs for the disabled and the third---- photo-voltaic washing machines to bring sanitation to the Third World.

 I went to my closet and dug out Arnold’s proposal  and began to read.


2972 Words.

December 29, 2022 23:29

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Mike Rush
17:12 Feb 24, 2023

Mark, I look for pieces that haven't gotten much attention, so that's why I'm here late. I'm so glad I came across yours. I really liked the quirky characters in this story. I was intrigued at how David handles them all in stride. If you continue working this piece, I suggest letting us know the relationship between Sari and Arnold. I assumed mom and son, but wasn't sure. And knowing Arnold's age would help to visualize him better. This line, "but he guarded the kitchen table the way a goalie guards a net," was a great show. I can just s...


Mark Linsky
19:51 Feb 24, 2023

Mike, thanks for the long and thoughtful post. I'll share some info with you which should clear things up: Yes , Arnold is Sarah's only child, David's cousin. The story lifts the characters from my unpublished and unrepresented novel, Magic Carpet, including the definitions at the beginning which I did to meld myself and add a touch of magical realism. Much of the development you want to see is fleshed out in the book. I've had two agents express interest, but no cigar. I'll send it out again when I get home, out of the USA until a bit late...


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14:57 Jan 03, 2023

Fun story, but I don't think the list of phrases at the start was necessary. A story should be able to survive on its own. If someone doesn't understand a term, they can look it up ^_^


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