A Plate for Elijah
River Adams got shell shocked by a collapsing civilization, learned itinerancy by falling out of an airplane, and was adopted by a language on the wrong side of the world. She is a writer, a teacher, a theologian, and runs the website OnMountHoreb.com (Mount Horeb, Third Door on the Right). Her fiction has appeared in publications like descant, The Long Story, Workers Write!, Phoebe (Oneonta), Quiddity Literary Journal, The Evansville Review, The MacGuffin, Out of Line, RiverSedge, Crosstimbers, and more.
“Mommy, I’m sorry! I broke Elijah’s plate…”
My four-year-old’s face is quivering and ready to explode with a hot fountain of tears and a siren, so I hurry into the dining room, kiss the crinkled nose, and rumple his still-baby-blond hair. “It’s okay, Mattie. I’ll get the pieces. You go get another plate. Run!” He dashes for the cupboard, not a trace of despair that flooded his world five seconds ago, all worry erased with one touch of my hand. I envy his short memory. Gathering shattered china off the carpet, I remember all too well why it is there. The year I turned 15 and the Passover that shattered my life. I remember Elijah’s face. Thank you for my son, Elijah. “Mommy, why do we put a plate for Elijah? He never comes to eat.” He is back, standing over me with another dish already. How does he know what I am thinking? “Remember, sweetie, I told you about the prophet Elijah? He was very brave and very just, he even stood up to a king. But he was kind to good people. Eloheinu Himself listened to his prayers and then took him up to Heaven. In a fiery chariot—” My voice falters. I stand up and busy myself, just for a moment, wrapping up the shards of the broken plate and throwing them into the trash. Matthew is already in his seat at the dining room table. He’s had a long day. “Mommy, tell me the rest.” “Elijah comes back to help us when we are in danger, you see?” I sit next to Matt at the table and pull his unruly head to my side. “And someday he will be back for good, before the Messiah comes, and then all the bad things will be over, and everything will be joy, forever. But we don’t know
when it’ll happen, so we wait for him, and we set a place for him at dinner just in case he comes tonight. Okay?” “Okay!” That’s not Mattie. “As long as hungry men get to have some dinner too!” My husband Jon has finally emerged from his after-work shower and is now lifting the lids from every dish on the table one by one, sniffing loudly and rolling up his eyes to demonstrate just how close to a hungry fainting spell he is. “Hands off!” I slap him on the wrist. “We’ve just been waiting for you.” I open the pots and dish out potatoes, chicken meatballs, and stewed cabbage, pour plum juice into glasses. Jon has turned Matthew upside down and is tickling him, roaring something about hidden treasures in little boys’ belly buttons. Piercing squeals are shaking the house. Thank you for my husband, Elijah. Every day there are four plates on my family’s dinner table. Four glasses. Four chairs. It’s not a Jewish tradition—the tradition demands that we leave a chair and a cup of wine for Elijah, nothing more, and only once a year, during a Passover Seder. After the wine is poured for the fourth time, children run to the door and open it to see if Elijah has stopped by. I found it funny when I was a child. Then I found it ridiculous. Then I learned what it’s like to wait for someone’s return—and not to know when he would return. Or if he ever would. My son is still too young to realize that something is unusual about his family dinners, though he will soon, and then I’ll have to explain it to him one way or another. My husband knows and bears with me. It’s my tradition. My life. Thank you for my life, Elijah. “Settle down, men. Jon, you’ll give him a headache. Okay, sit down. Ready?” I close my eyes and speak the words that open our every evening meal. “Baruch ata Adonai. Blessed art Thou, our Lord. We thank you for the good day that has passed and for the day to come. We thank you for the food we are about to share. Elijah, Angel of the Covenant, herald of salvation, calmer of Lord’s fury, restorer of families. Your place is prepared for you, the door is open for you. Come share our bread with us. Amen.” I walk to the door as my two most beloved people dig into the food I have prepared. Their forks are clinking against ceramic edges. I open the door and look outside. He is not there. He couldn’t possibly be there, but for a second I linger near the open door, waiting. Waiting for Elijah to return. ***
had just turned 15 that year, right before Passover. On Passover eve I was dragging my feet home from school and pouting. Not only did the 15th of Nissan railroad my birthday into near oblivion, but I was missing the basketball game of the year. All my friends—and the dreamy Steven Forman— would spend that evening on the court, sweating and screaming, slapping hands and bumping shoulders. And the victory party after… And I was on my way to scraping down the fridge with a Q-tip, so heaven forbid some