The Blue Angels

 

 

The Blue Angels

By Alan Kaufman

 

ROSA AND NORMAN

 
Right off, Norman would know: is Rosa happy or not.  Pointblank, he’d tell you:
"She never is.” Right in front of her would speak.  Reach for his own sleeve (because in company she wouldn’t permit him to touch hers) and dramatically pushing back the cuff, actually unbuttoning it to hike it all the way up to his elbow’s crook, show you his doughy white forearm and rasp: “Right there she’s got the numbers they put on her in Auschwitz.” Then point with a stubby forefinger at the alleged spot while Rosa joined you in peering down at it too, as at a screen on which showed not only the faded blue numbers on her own arm but, one dreaded to think -- glancing slyly at her ofttimes inscrutable face— maybe also scenes from her time there. 
The moment would make you wince. His was a ridiculously unnecessary demonstration. Who, by now, with all the films, books and articles about the Holocaust does not know where such numbers appear?  But that is the sort of man Norman was.  Had a very rude, gravelly voice.  Was in no way handsome, no, not to the same degree that Rosa, his peer in age –  both were pushing seventy five—had kept her looks. 
A very seductive woman, this Rosa.  Still a natural blond, with a certain darkly gay look in her large blue eyes – Norman called them “my blue angels” (again, right in front of you) – and she was that type of woman in whom an unrestrained sensuality wars with a painfully overwrought sense of decorum. This produced in her an aura of constant, shifting tension, sudden shadows or light passing over her tormented countenance – an effect as lovely and surprising as the summer storm preceding a tornado. 
            She was also so unabashedly vulnerable,  possessed such coquettish fragility, that you felt a somewhat searing impulse to offer her your full and immediate assistance, try to resolve whatever happened to ail her, even if at great personal sacrifice and expense to yourself.   One could tell:  her neediness compelled Norman, drawn to this concealable hole in her. 
            He teased her with hints of imminent rescue on a scale more spectacular than anything that you or I could ever imagine.  After all, he was a millionaire.
            Yet, Rosa would – again, right in front of you – dismiss outright any suggestions of help, though one felt, achingly, that she didn’t quite mean it, longed to yield.  Whereupon Norman, still not yet actually offering anything concrete, would spout in grandiose vagaries on the scale of available resources at his command (one might as well say here and now that Norman was not just average-rich, but a retired dentist who had served the Hollywood film elite and quit the field with millions in disposable income, in addition to God knows how much in investments, including venture capital and a sizable foundation) to which Rosa inevitably warmed, though with a sense of anxiety. Yes, she signaled, ever-so-subtly, her surrender. She yielded (and, indeed, how could she not?), though without actually vocalizing the decision. One could just tell that she wanted him to rescue her. Which was often the point at which it was high time to split from this odd pair and in doing so one might yet believe that in the ensuing time  before one saw her again  Norman would already have gallantly placed his untold millions at the complete disposal of this perfectly delicious woman.  Only to learn upon next seeing her  that of course no such thing had occurred. 
            To your express surprise, when asked if Norman had made good on his promises, Rosa’s face would screw up into a painfully embittered smile, become almost ugly. 
            “Oh, that Norman” she’d hiss in an Eastern European accent (it was Czechoslovakian). “I don’t believe anything he says. Norman and his offers! I never take him seriously.”
But of course, you knew that she had, saw it with your own two eyes, and it made your heart so heavy, blue. You worried as after a five course meal rich in fats and oils.  Yes, it  gave you a feeling of being greasy and  privy to something more then a mere matter of ugly carrot and stick—something  lurid with a hint of black lace garters, bedposts, handcuffs, blindfolds and whips; an emotional S&M stripteased behind unbreachable barbed wire and at which point you’d have to excuse yourself with a sickened smile and hurry off once more, unsure if the madness was hers or, after all, your own, to keep company with such people.  One often felt that around them.
            He had prostate cancer and lived alone in a large condominium apartment in the tallest high-rise in San Francisco, at the very summit of posh Nob Hill, an immense white window-dotted phallus capped with revolving red lights to warn off low-flying aircraft. One could almost imagine Norman on his balcony praying for something bewinged to crash into it. It was certainly the highest spot in the entire city, in an area built on solid bedrock and immune to earthquake or any other natural disaster.  Nothing short of an atom bomb could dislodge it. 
            It was a curious building, tall, modern, slender, something like a rocket actually, aimed at the star-rich blue-black sky.  Even the dense fog that often rolled over that part of San Francisco could not obscure it.  He had floor-to-ceiling windows which leered upon a panoramic vista of both the city and the sparkling green-blue bay and from which he could see the Golden Gate Bridge strung like a gorgeous necklace on the bosom-like hills of the Marina headlands. He smirked. The medications that he regularly took for his condition, augmented by several self-prescribed painkillers, made him sick, nauseated, discomforted far beyond what the symptoms of his actual illness might produce at this intermediate stage of its progress (he’d already undergone chemo twice). Day in, day out, he spent  long, groggy, sweat-soaked afternoons in a reclining chair before this view, cell phone dangling from his hand, alternately dozing, and upon waking, examining, depressed, the eerie softness of his manicured fingernails – a sign of imminent death, he thought -- and in his panic calling either Rosa or his less preferred second option, a person whose aimlessness and indecision both disgusted and amused him: his daughter Karen, a forty-three year old divorcee with two girls, Diane, 15 and Pam, 12. 
Most often, he got Rosa. He was almost always certain to find her at home.  She hardly ever went anywhere.
            “It’s me.”
            “You sound like you just woke up.”
            “ A minute ago.  Less.  I just opened my eyes.”
            “You don’t feel so good.  I can tell.”
            “Of course I don’t feel good.  There’s nothing to tell.  Why do you think I called you?”
            “You don’t have to be mean with me.  I haven’t done anything to you.”
            “ Who said I’m being mean?  These medications make me sick. My fingernails are like Vaseline.”
            Whereupon at the sound of the word Vaseline, she put a glass of vodka to her lips—rim mauve with lipstick, the glass bearing this imprint of her mouth in several spots—and took a long sip.  He seemed to know this.  Waited.  A cup of just-brewed, unsampled peach tea—her hoped-for reprieve from the booze-- now grew cold on the kitchen counter top against which she leaned, standing ever less steadily, as the vodka in her glass dissapeared.
            “Ricky called” she said.  This was her son, wheelchair bound, born with two useless legs, and yet, something of a success: a college teacher happily married and living with his wife Nan – also a teacher – and son Shy (Hebrew for ‘gift’) in neighboring Palo Alto.
            “So. I thought he was coming up to see you.”
            “He is.  But not yet.  The little boy...” – so she called her grandson...in fact, no one, including Norman, had ever heard her call him by his proper name – “is so adorable.  Do you know what he names me?”  
             Norman shook his head, George Burns-like, to the audience in his mind.  “Do me a favor.  Don’t tell me that story again.” Stuporous though he felt, slightly slurring his words, dry-tongued, spittle caking the ridge of his lips and corners of his mouth (but too weak, tired or simply apathetic to rise and get himself a thirst-quenching Diet Coke from the refrigerator) yet he drew himself upright a bit against the muttering leather of his chairback, and with sincere indignation said: “It’s horrifying.  It’s the most horrifying thing I ever heard.”
            This pricked her nicely in the heart.  But she kept her brave, world-weary smile.  She wore it whenever she spoke to him; would regard its loss as a concession, even a defeat.  Nonetheless, his words echoed in her mind, causing her voice to rise a notch just short of shrill: “Oh, he’s just a little boy.  He’s so cute when he says it: ‘Old Lady’, he calls me.  I laugh.  I’m his grandmother, Norman.  He’s ten years old.”
            “These days, that’s old enough to shoot a gun...”  But that’s all she really heard, the remainder of his sentence, that ‘he should treat you with respect!’ entered a deaf vacuum where unheeded, disregarded, rejected or denied sensory impressions went in her, accumulated there over decades, her focus instantly on the fluttering yellow cotton curtains in the open, breeze-rattling window, from which with a quick duck, telephone crushed to her ear so hard the lobe flushed bright red, she backed away, not to be in the path of the random bullets that often exploded from the revolvers of passing, apple-cheeked and bright-eyed boys of the Hitler Youth (in their Tyrolean shorts and high knee socks, spit-polish shoes, smart pressed brown shirts offset by a red, black and white Swastika armband) as they strolled in pairs through the ghetto and whereupon any neighbors or just a pedestrian happening past, wheezed, huffed, crawled or even flew into the nearest doorways and alleys of her street, which lay in the Brush factory district of Warsaw, otherwise known as the Richmond, accessible by streetcar, horse and buggy, Black Mercedes SS command car or 2001 Lexus, and exactly eighteen blocks from the Pacific Ocean, which she could see once outside her door. Pale, blue, glittering, it lay past a vista of green square lawns and pastel-colored two story houses flanking an innocuous Appian way of cruciform-shaped telephone poles that reminded her very much of the execution scaffolds known as “Spanish Goats” that she had seen at Birkenau; hanging poles from which a prisoner was either garroted by the neck or hoisted by their arms from behind and left there screaming for hours, or days, even long after their shoulder sockets had popped. Oh, you never heard such screams. Survivors of this often lost their minds. Once an eight year old boy they found hiding, they strung him up for three days. Even went mad a few who listened to his screams.
            All this in a flash--the quick bullet-ducking dance--talk  picked up where she’d left off—without a trace of broken stride in her conversation with Norman:
“You don’t understand little boys because you yourself are a little boy” she chuckled. This pleased him. He liked to think it so, that his actions, regardless of how painful to himself or others, sprang from an absolving innocence.
“Wait a minute” he abruptly said “I got something.” He laid down the telephone, let his head fall back and lay there opening and closing his fist. A tall, gaunt Bengali internist at Stanford had advised him to perform the exercise when beset by sudden pain.  He was to focus on his breath, counting one to ten and back again—or the method would not work—but he hadn’t the patience.  So he suffered the pain unabated. Squeezing his fist didn’t really help,  was something to do until the blunted agony passed. During this time he rolled his head from left to right, closed eyes filtering gray light from the bay’s overcast skies. He had watched the swift-moving clouds gather in barely minutes, it seemed.
“I’m back” he told Rosa gloomily.
“I can tell you’re having pain.”
“I’m a mess” he said, the vast bay reduced in his drugged eyes to a shapeless and glittering blue, in yet one more symptom of his suffering, along with nausea, incontinence, pain, appetite loss and soiled briefs. “And I’m all alone here.”
At this familiar and by now routine exchange her heart always quickened and it did so now.  She reproached her own flesh and mysterious (though at times predictable) wellsprings of emotion.  Why should she hope to believe that his usual complaint of loneliness – really, a willful, self-imposed isolation occasionally assuaged, she suspected, by disreputable, possibly even immoral, means (she had lived, seen more then most, she knew; her full though slightly cracked mauve lips covered by a pale and graying blond fuzz curled up at the corners in a kind of withered and contemptuous sneer at the thought of all she knew)—disguised a wish to marry her?
Always at this point she barely heard what else he said. 
Argued with herself: you cannot possibly love this ridiculous man.  Norman does not love anyone but himself.  He thinks you are after his money.  You are!  He’s an ugly little man, like a conceited frog he looks when he takes off those glasses.  Or a little boy who badly needs to be held.  He won’t let you touch him.  You won’t let him touch you.  Never.
But her flesh told her that she lied.  She sometimes wondered if, for relief, he bought himself an escort whore like she saw on TV,  in their bathing suits, lolling on beds strewn with candy-colored pillows.  What would a man worth millions want with a tortured ‘old lady’ with numbers on her arm?
She tried to imagine them in bed and could.  Saw their paunched abdomens and fallen breasts, their necks with turkey flaps of loose skin, his reddish no doubt barely responsive loins, and at this she heaved a silent, nervous chuckle distilled from long-buried sighs—and imagined her sodden and collapsed old derrière proffered for his mounting.  With excited disgust stood up from the dinette chair, moved a step to the right and with his voice yet groaning in her ear, inched to the left, an eye kept on the window for passing Hitler Youth, and peered from a distance at a full-length mirror in the living room.  Distance flattered her figure, the red rose of her mouth, her black-penciled eyebrows.  People yet remarked on her peerlessly beautiful eyes.  But the pride and marvel of her figure were her legs.  Turning to her profile she raised herself on toes to give her calves the sculpting lift of high heels. They still looked great. The rest of me may cave, she thought with grim resolve, but I will die a dancer. And if your talking talking talking—if your whining complaint could somehow respool its thousand miles of tangled thread, left strewn across so many landscapes not just of feelings and topography but of memory too, then these legs would open fast and wide to draw you in, back and forth from cavern to cavity, lead your sweet accumulations home to love’s mouth—and in her flesh the promise of this hope still held true.
 
 
 ***
           
 SHIRLEY
 
 
           The Blue Angels were coming to town. Every year, for Fleet Week, the Air Force fighter jets screamed overhead. Ninety one year old Shirley Siegelman held the trembling newspaper in her hands, absorbing the news with a troubled frown. When she laid the paper down, it stopped trembling, waited to deliver the rest of its bad news: another synagogue burned down in Sacramento, the third in two weeks. The little boy shot in a Southern California Jewish community center by an American-born Hitlerite who belonged to covert antisemitic white supremacist organizations—several, in fact, according to CNN—this innocent seven year old yingele, named Ernie Liebman, what didn’t know from pogroms, Auschwitz, Doctors Trials; knew only Barney the Dinosaur, Harry Potter (if the parents are the literate type what would think to buy a boy such things, and to her it seemed that they were, the child enrolled in a Jewish day care center, this sweet post-gas chamber/oven/mass grave/racial laws/Krystallnacht bubella of Osh Begosh overalls and Gap for kids) lay now in a coma with an unremoveable bullet still lodged in his brain. 
            Lost in thought about the child, she fingered the table’s edge uncertainly with the jagged rim of a badly clipped nail painted a bright pink by the woman who came twice a week to clean up around, and do a few nice things like help fix her bluish cotton candy hair from which the raw pink scalp showed like a mortified blush.  She was surprised at the degree to which the hate attack unnerved  and silenced her, particularly at shul or at her son’s house, or at the JCC Senior Center on California Street to which she traveled weekly by herself on public transportation for the meal plus Mr. Friend’s arts and crafts, or sometimes a little cards – (Hearts only, innocent pleasures, no cash involved, not like had been once upon a time with  pearl-backed playing cards flecked with gold and high stakes pots on the table but just a little social life that a person’s gotta have or else you go nuts!).
            Normally, when conversation among her friends turned to Antisemitism, past or present, and especially to the Holocaust she’d have pronounced, with unconcealed contempt for the naivete of the deniers: “Of course!, it could happen here!  Don’t be a shmo!  You get fooled by the Red White and Blue? Blue-Shmoo! Here could be a Hitler like is a Buchanan.  Who knows?  Maybe he’s already come and we don’t know it yet.  But here it can be.  Not just can: it will!  Mark my words! “   Few did, except Rosa, who always confided, privately, beyond earshot of anyone other then Shirley, that she agreed, it could happen, even it will happen.  Even, it’s already the case!
            Then, in quick succession: three synagogues burned.  Jews were shot in Chicago.  And now, the capper: Jewish children gunned down by a Nazi in a Jewish day school It had happened nearly two months ago and in that time Shirley sat transfixed, speechless before her television, watching CNN in  a  hypnotized state, Jewish newspapers spread open in her lap,  all turned to  coverage of the event.  Yet soon the coverage ended.  The stories became old news.  CNN she continued to watch for maybe a fragmentary update.  Every-so-often a progress report appeared on the prosecution of the neo-Nazi, or his background in the supremacist-militia underground network.  An antisemite. A die hard. A gun nut. Lived right across the street from a firing range.  She learned more and more about the man.  Former husband of the ex-wife of a notorious supremacist fugitive slain in a shoot-out with the FBI.  Pictures shown of him in a sky-blue Nazi uniform with a crazy updated swastika symbol armband.  History of mental illness.  Had confessed  to therapists an urge to kill and was pronounced violent,  capable of harm, his rabid racism officially noted, yet, despite these red flags was allowed to walk free.  She even learned about his job, what his neighbors thought of him, the school he attended, his hobbies and interests.  This still weeks after the shooting.  But to this she was not especially listening.  Nor for the progress of his prosecution. She in fact, received the news of his almost certain conviction with an unsurprised grunt and no more.  To one who had worked over forty-one years as a court stenographer, she understood how ironclad his sentencing was—but instead wondered anxiously about the yingele, the child, this boy, Ernie Liebman: had he come out of his coma yet?  Not a word.  She called several news stations with terrible difficulty, her still-sharp mind tended to lapse into moments of amnesia from which she awoke  relocated to another, different and unrelated thought and place. She might struggle in mid-stride of an information query to the operator about such and such a radio station, to recall her purpose for making the call in the first place.  At such a moment her confused mind fell back, relied upon her heart which burned with grief, shame, shock and a sense of desperate concern for the near-murdered little boy, for among things she understood that to be seven and shot for being Jewish did not keep you long in the news unless you were actually slain.  A Jewish child in a coma counted for little in a world measured against 9-11 and Darfur.  She might even have immersed herself  in the mass sangfroid yet for reasons yet unclear to her, with each passing day could not shake the thought of his age, condition and the circumstances of his injury and could not yet get out of her mind the certainty expressed by one of the parents on the scene--a young father in yarmulke whose little girl had only narrowly escaped with a bullet-grazed leg-- that whoever did this had not targeted them as Jews. Of this he felt sure! His statement pierced her more deeply with every passing hour.  She searched the articles, the papers and magazines, listened to the news report for updates on the child's condition: nothing.  Asked friends: no one knew.  She asked Mr. Friend at the JCC who sadly shook his bald head, shrugged.  She called the Jewish Federation, was switched to so many lines she grew confused and hung up.  She tried calling the Day Care Center itself, was given the manager who explained with great sympathy that for security reasons such information could not be divulged.  Many had called expressing concern, he said, wanting to know the child’s condition, very nice people, who asked to know in what hospital he convalesced. Perhaps, said the man, the majority are well-intentioned good citizens, but he felt sure a few bore ill-will and some even had an intent to commit yet further harm against the child, to which she gasped: “You mean, they want to finish the little boy off?   Those bums!“  Fire consumed her heart now, dread and rage—“They want to finish what they didn’t get right the first time.  Murder this little boy?!” And to her horror, the man had said one word she dreaded to hear: “Yes.” 
            Now she dreamed of the little boy, though she found it hard to imagine him. Because of the security problem no photos had been shown. Even public knowledge of his name was not the result of a calculated and consensual risk taken by the authorities with the cooperation of the aggrieved parents but of a television reporter’s ambitious nosing around. He had unearthed and broadcast it despite, no doubt, full-knowledge of the possibly lethal consequences: in America a child’s life was  certainly considered worth the price of a good news story. 
            Her obsession with the story was something that fed upon itself, for she herself was an admitted news addict, not only reading all the print matter her fading sight could bare to absorb, but spending hours before the television, watching CNN as some might whale-watch along the coast of Mendocino: immersed in a lurid urgency of late-breaking crises—Serbian war crimes, Tamil abductions, Russian invasions of Chechnya;  poised, worldy-wise anchors in rumpled rain coats and with British accents reporting live from locations in treacherous Afghan mountain passes amid charred corpses of assaulted refugees or mortar-shattered tractors, or the burning shack slums of Sierra Leone; wry microphone-bearing Virgils with blow-dried hair speaking above the roar of tank engines, rotor blades, guns, frightened cries or the infernal shriek of psychotic hurricanes.
            She dreamed of the little boy sitting on a rock in green stenciled hospital pajamas amid a tangled ganglia of torn-out and disconnected intravenous tubes and life-sign monitoring cables, his face anxious, pale, sweating, yet grinning crazily at some private joke (he actually seemed in attitude years older, a little man) and speaking to her quickly, as if himself on the ill-prescribed medications she took or the way she had once seen back in New York City on subways rides down to Greenwich Village parties, in decades past,  when hipsters hopped on bennies grinned at her with putty-like faces, their red-rimmed slightly crazed eyes embedded in caverns of anxious worry and jabbering, gesticulating, nodding, incomprehensible.  So spoke the little Ingelbert in her dreams as she stood over him, middle-aged again, dressed in the tan camel hair coat she had worn many years ago, with diamonds in her ears and hair done as she had used to like to wear it, a way they wore it back then, and she was stern, reproachful, demanding: “How could you allow them to do this to you,  beautiful child?” to which the boy sneered, mocked, grinned, with that private joke of his, and said: “But you’ve done it, not me.  You, you’ve done it, not me” laughing and then he said: “Oh, look at this” as nurses rushed in, pushing her out of the way, his raised hand sopped in blood and on his face a look of shocked bewilderment. He howled something about a promise broken as they strapped him to a bed for urgent surgery, as she stood accused of something she was supposed to have done but failed to.  She cried out: “So, tell me!  Tell me what? WHAT?!” But they wheeled him out of her dream and she, bereft, weeping, looked down at her good legs in flesh tone hose and noted that all around her feet, writhing, lay a pile of brown-stained and rotting surgical bandages.
            From such dreams she awoke with blankets flung aside and pillows fallen off the bed,  her blue rinsed cotton candy hair matted with sweat and had to get up, unable to breathe, sit in the living room in her husband Louie’s arm chair, may he rest in peace, and calm herself. 
            There was some promise she had failed to deliver, alleged the boy; a hope failed that for years she had cherished in her role as an instrument of the machinery of law, when seated dutifully through trial after trial at the strange stenographic machine, perched on an austere and backless stool (the recorder’s shape a strange minimalist hybrid of typewriter and adding machine), her nimble fingers flying over the keys as her impassively attentive face absorbed the telegraphic opera of warring and ritualized legalistic voices embroiled in the controversies and oft-times shattering dramas of daily life in a modern democracy—defendants and witnesses arisen from the mundane sweltering anonymity of city life into the mahogany-paneled theater-stage of a criminal court, and over them in black robes, raised on a pulpit-like bench, the hunched  judge, whose countenance at the start of trial was usually set in an expression of candid almost childlike curiosity about the proceeding set to unfold, and though fully briefed and in remarkable possession of all the facts of the case yet listening also with an absence of judgment prior to presentation of all the evidence at hand: in theory, a living embodiment of the principle of impartiality, and so of justice. And despite the horror stories she’d been privy to  over decades about the truth behind some of them, she had found them, all told, to be impartial, just as she herself was the sole scribe and actual writing hand of all those present who served the function of memory, her transcripts the record of the complex and irreducible procedures of living justice.
             At critical junctures in the trials she was asked to withdraw along with the judges and the attorneys to the private  chambers behind the bench, and picked up the lightweight stool and easily portable steno machine and entered the law book-lined study with its desk and telephone and deep leather armchairs where all could momentarily relax, divested of their theatrical and ritualistic personae and most especially he or she – the judge---who represented a justice blindfolded, black-bewinged and scale-bearing like some supernatural emissary angel—freed for a moment to become the concerned neighbor or friend or possibly compassionate bystander; one  here to arbitrate a feud among loved ones;  or the tribal chief and family head who wants to impartially guide, assist, his  beloved charges and fellows through a mutually-yearned for communal catharsis of majestic expurgation and resolution.
            Somehow, the boy had been betrayed by all this, or by some aspects of it, but which part? She had failed to note, record, some hidden shred of evidence or testimony capable of influencing, shaping the moral tone of the very world that had put the bullet in the little boy’s head; a hidden system of law that ruled the coma in which he now lay, the hidden play of image and dream life of the buried courtroom of the American unconscious mind, redacted to the code of its sensation-sated and death-blighted spirit.
            She continued into the foyer,  dark, crowded with two studded leather armchairs, a tall brass lamp with a shade like a Lewis Carroll duchess and an old fashion black telephone with the number displayed in the yellowing dial bearing the alphabetized prefix—in this case, RI, followed by five numbers.  There were sweaters, skirts, coats and other articles of clothing strewn about and a partially opened closet door out of which spilled, like the eviscerated entrails of a slaughtered beast, an avalanche of entangled clothes.  Yet, the room was spotless, every visible furniture surface gleamed with lemon-wax polish and the ledgers were all dusted.  Underfoot, the thick shag carpet showed brisk darkish swathes, signs of recent vacuuming.  She called Mr. Lowenthal, the only one at soul who was her senior in  age. 
            She had to shout: “Max!  MAX! It’s Shirley Siegelman! Can you hear?”
            “I hear” said ninety three year old Max Lowenthal. He sat hunched over in a hard straight back chair, dressed in a dark blue pinstripe suit with a navy blue and gray-striped tie against a shirt not so much white as utterly devoid of any other color whatsoever, so that it seemed made from the kind of light that emboldens the eyes in a portrait by Vermeer, the pearl hue that ornaments the stately collars of the merchants in a Rembrandt.  Beside him on a lamp-table, in a silver frame, a portrait of his wife, Clara, deceased.  His voice quavering, dim, yet tinged with brusqueness, possessing the authority of a completely self-made man content with the fruits of his toil.  He had once owned a men’s clothing retail outlet, one of the best in town, specializing in the finest suits.  Still dapper, his black shoes spit-polished to a high gloss, laces tied neatly to the last eye hole.  He wore silver cuff links, a tie clip.  An old Rolex clasped his fleshless wrist.  The skin of his face, neck and hands was almost transparent, an impressionistic blush of pale pinks and blues mottled by outbreaks of liver-colored spots and rashes of orange brown freckles through which ghostly veins tributaried into nearby yellow-white regions of mapless and besieged flesh.  He refused hospitalization, chose to die at home, as a result of which they had predicted six more months of life for him.  It was now three years.
            “If you hear the big noises don’t be afraid. Do you hear this Max?  What I’m saying?”
            “I hear” he said.  His German accent very thick.
            “It’s the Blue Angels.  It’s that time.  They’re coming. Did you see in today’s paper?  It’s in the Chronicle.  Did you see?”
            “I didn’t see” he said uncertainly.  What was it he should see?  A moment ago he had seemed to know.  Now he had forgotten.
            Sensing this, she said: “Max! The Blue Angels!  The jet planes!  The air show.  Fleet Week. Do you understand?”
            He said that he did.
            “So don’t get afraid like last year (and the years before that).  It’s just an air show.  It’s not the war. “
            “OK” he said and hung up.
 
 
 ***
 
   MAX
 
 
            He sat gaping with a look of incomprehension at the picture of his wife, in the opulent but austere decorum of the living room's massive mahogany planes, his solitary and enfeebled figure slightly rumpled yet still rigidly held by the well-pressed lines of the hand-tailored suit, his eyes framed by steel spectacles of the kind once favored by Swiss bankers and optical lens manufacturers themselves but since exchanged for preferred gold aviator frames.  His glaucous mucal blue eyes, vision-poor though nowhere near blindness, were bleared and smudged ovals behind thick, opaque coca cola bottle green lenses, held by frames that once bore the imprint of the manufacturers name and location.  His glasses,, severely scratched and bent, now bore only the impression-mold of his permanent and indomitable grief for Dora, died these many years:  six to be exact.  He was not crying any more over this.  But he missed her.  A shadow cut his mind in two, and inched across the floor for several hours, that was really seconds as a cloud moved and a flooding columnar burst of  light through the window washed over him, drained all color from his skin, face, his very hands, blinding his eyes. He was visited by the memory of Dora stretched in full dress on the bed in her private study, napping with the cat Schiller beside her, and which he had put down—the old cat was barely alive-- when she passed away,  unable to bear the sight of its  gray-whiskered and grief-enfeebled form bereft of all litheness or hope, the poor thing nearly as lost without her as himself, and sat now before the rude light, blissfully entranced in an uncertain daydream in which she lived as surely breathing as he now did, even if heaving with a rattled but quite sufficient rhythm. Then, stung back to the actual, angrily he slammed down his open hand on the chair’s armrest and sat upright with his eyes chased shut and lower lip trembling indignantly, as if yet the butt of an SS man’s occasional and somewhat imbecilic wit, though this still preferable to the blows.  The SS man stood over Dora’s bed with a long, black baton, suspended from his wrist by a braided brown leather handle.  He tapped the baton slowly against his knees, pink face turned to Mr. Lowenthal with a red lipped doltish grin and one questioning eyebrow arched,  awaiting  answer.  Should I or should I not, asked the SS man’s smiling eyes.  For minutes Mr. Lowenthal sat in the blinding light, refusing to answer the ridiculous question, or to seriously consider the man’s existence at all. But the convincing apparition  refused to leave,  remained by Dora’s bed, until Mr. Lowenthal’s trembling lips parted and he said aloud in the echoing empty room, eyes opening upon tears which blurred his last remaining sight: “Please. No. Please, no.”
 
 
***
 
SEN-LOO
 
                                                           
            Sen-Loo found him motionless, asleep in his chair.  Lightly touched his arm.  “Mr. Lowenthal.”
            He looked up, unsurprised.  “Hello” he said to Sen-Loo.
            “I am making you breakfast, Mr. Lowenthal, but first we must change you!”
            “No” he said. Waved her off with a feeble gesture.  “I’m fine” he said with a trace of sarcasm. 
            She was a young woman of Chinese descent who supported by this employment not only herself but her mother and a younger brother.  She took the employment with the Rosenthals dead seriously.  At his refusal, became instantly furious.  “No! No! No, Mr. Lowenthal!  You are not doing this...you are not doing this.  Remember what Doctor Lipton said about the dangers of infection.  I can smell, Mr. Lowenthal:  you made dirty. You need to be changed.  I am sorry.  I know you don’t like it but so it must be or else you will get very ill and I will lose my job.  So, come on, let’s get up...up with you, Mr. Lowenthal.  You must be changed... if you don’t like me to do it then you can do it yourself but we have to change you.  Do you understand!” The veins stood out in her neck.  Her tone grew increasingly ugly until, by the end, it was savage.
            To her fury Mr. Lowenthal turned a patronizing face of steeled refusal.  He had known – and at times had inwardly resisted – far worse bullying than this.  Far worse.  He did not like to sit in his own filth but on the other hand he did not want this Chinese handling him like some wayward infant.  He was in no one’s safekeeping but that of his own memories and whatever mysterious and as yet unannounced medical or circumstantial misfortune vied for the privilege of killing him.  Not even Ellen, his daughter, already late middle-aged and yet still happily married and with two grown children out of college--both launched in their own careers--could claim his obedience.   It was fair to say that ever since that day in 1945 when he lifted what was left of his face to listen, for the first time in five years, to the actual sound of flies, large and black and noisily buzzing around his head, warm sunlight molding his listless eyelids into portals of pink fatigue, and noting  the sudden absence in his surroundings of any German soldiers among the  doorless huts from which bodies, some sleeping, some dead, spilled, and bunkers, guard towers, parade grounds, gas chambers, crematoria, all perfectly still, and  noticed too the sudden emboldened presence of not just the flies around his head but flies in the hundreds of thousands descended upon the deserted camp in which in a time seemingly without pause, a  ceaseless purgation of comfort and will, hope and faith, not even a fly had known a moment’s rest or found opportunity to be itself, safely feed upon corpses, obey its own biological imperatives (just as a human his to eat, sleep, love and procreate and nurture offspring); to consume the putrefactions of deceased flesh; since whomever perished in Birkenau – nearly half a million men, women and children – rarely remained in evidence in his or her natural state for very long, if at all, but was dragged off with large tongs across the floor, loaded onto a trolley and fed into the furnace mouth or else had tumbled bullet in neck into a burning pit doused in gasoline and burned or else dusted with quicklime and covered over with deracinated soil so devoid of any sort of mineral content that forty nine years later all that remained of it was a gray silt embedded with fragments of bone that stuck in the crenelations of your mud impacted shoes.  First, black flies he noticed, then soldiers not in German or Ukrainian uniforms, hurrying forward at a crouch, shouldered weapon aimed in the  manner of commandos, cheek crushed to stock, muzzle swiveling left to right and back again, and he knew despite every effort to condition his mind to accept death as not only inevitable but imminent (pursuant to the will and whim of the SS) that he would not die.  Undramatically, he had accepted in an instant that he would live, though in time he would question and then to some degree anguish about why he had been spared while others had been gleefully devoured.  Still, from that moment on, his life became a challenge to those who would claim him, a terse, at times bitter cat and mouse between his iron discipline and the lunatic social clusters and hive-mind of the planetary inhabitants whom he did not trust whatever: that teeming world of faces and voices beyond his own face and voice who would command him to their will.
            Nonetheless, she won.  Laid hands upon him, muttering threats to call not Ellen – he could bear that – but Harold, her husband, the water department engineer, a tall, rangy man with a broad, reasonable face (that was in this anxiety-besotted age a breath of fresh air) and who regarded his father-in-law with a humor that broached no deviation from doing one’s absolute best. One’s self-willed emergencies, self-imposed crises, steamed away before his high estimation of one’s capacity for judicious calm.  Mr. Lowenthal could not bear an encounter with this Cary Cooper-like son-in-law, the one malodorous and shit-bespattered, in dark-stained suit trousers soaked in piss, the other fresh-faced and serenely expansive in that way that some tall men have of enlarging the space around them into timeless silences – a broadening sky canvas against which another’s energies can hurl itself without peril or pain. 
            He yielded his age-crippled full height to the pressure of her hands, unstuck his elbows from his besieged rib cage to allow her a firmer hold of his armpits and shuffled before her with implacable dignity, unmarred by the constant and involuntary jabbering motion of his lower jaw or male-peevish thrust of his turkey neck that swam in its shirt collar and on the grayish time-worn tiles of the bathroom, in a room white-colored, sterile and not in some respects (though vastly different in scale) unlike where he first stripped off his civilian clothes in the camp---garments which a hairless stick man in tattered striped pajamas had trundled off-- he now disrobed, article by article which he handed to Sen-Loo, who had donned rubber gloves and now thrust them into a hamper as preparation for their weekly trip to the dry cleaner for chemical cleansing and fumigation, though once down to t-shirt and silk shorts, his calves clasped in gaiters, the tissue-thin black socks embroidered with tiny crimson machine-stitched fleurs de lys risen from black shoes gleaming like ebony porcelain, she turned away while he peeled off the final layers of his hidden disgrace and folded them in such a way as to hide the stains, and these she thrust into a plastic laundry bag and made tight close with a drawstring.
     Now she faced his nudity, her face unfazed by the sight, his privates obscured by a clean towel which he held before him as he backed into the shower stall and allowed the hot stinging needles to wash away not just dirt but the need for thought, the concealing towel dropped to the floor and her rubberized hands moving up and down his body, privates too, lathering, briskly but gentle and he gave himself over to her ministrations, holding with both hands to aluminum bars affixed to the wall, steadying his feet but otherwise lost in a tender, caressing fog. 
 
           
 ***
 
 ROSA AND OLGA
 
 
            She stood in profile before the dresser mirror, shoulders squared, dressed in a beige suit with a modestly short skirt that nicely set off her legs, though not too much, for after all Mr. Hunt was a religious man, a Presbyterian Pastor, or was it Lutheran?  She couldn’t recall.  She looked nice.  Smoothed finely manicured red gloss-capped fingertips over the nubby, slightly coarse suit fabric – a thick kind of wool woven with nylon; frankly, not the most comfortable material-- it chafed around the collar.  Reached behind to tug away the somewhat stiffish cloth from her slightly rounded shoulders. Straighten out those shoulders!  She did, as if on command.  And for a moment saw her Poppa, dimly, in his forest green wool and leather coat and high black boots, the riding crop in hand, his round bald head and van dyke; people thought he looked a bit like Lenin, but he was no Lenin, no Mr. Hunt, he was a very religious man, not unlike yourself, but of course....chuckling politely with that forced smile of self-deprecating social graces acquired at a hundred diplomatic cocktail parties she had attended in Australia with her husband Richard, the foreign office official stationed in Sydney where she met him after the war—an orthodox Jew my father was, Mr. Hunt. Very strict. Again the smile, smoothing her hands over her thighs: he would not approve a skirt so short on me, her red lips spread with demure modest amusement in which lurked, the Reverend thought, just a hint of lewdness, but then reminded himself of the numbers on her arm and his thoughts retreated from such a suggestion: poor woman, a kind of modern saint.  Shame they didn’t in some way canonize these people after all they’d been through.  Rosa imagining all these thoughts surging through Reverend Hunt’s mind upon seeing her, such a handsome, gentle man.  She picked up a black and white framed portrait of her deceased husband Richard in full diplomatic dress and herself in a cocktail outfit that had been handmade for her, on Richard’s orders, by a Sydney branch of the Parisian hauteurs Bradeux&Loire and for a sum so enormous she could not bring herself to speak it aloud in company for fear that no one would believe it: after all, his salary as an official could not sustain such an expenditure.  She didn’t want anyone to think him extravagant or suspect him of some impropriety; it had never occurred to her that all anyone might think about it was that Richard was a man who truly loved his wife.  He had, too, in his own way: even with his temper.  He was strict.  Fiercely so.  Like my father, Reverend Hunt, he did not spare the rod, as you Christians say.  I don’t mean hitting, no, only strictness, severity, rules, exactness, bad temper, O, Pastor, very bad temper, and he was not Jewish you know.  No. Oh, I didn’t... did I tell you this? She studied her own blue eyes in the mirror, slightly pink from the glass of vodka she had tipped but a quarter hour ago after stepping from her bath, refreshed, and anointing herself with powder and perfume, so subtly placed, and stepping into the suit—he was American, of course, as you know.  And here she blushed, leaned forward, said: but in his background, not American-born.  On the Father’s side the mother was from Hungarian blood, but on the father’s side...she blushed again: Austrian and German.  Pastor Hunt would not look surprised, she felt sure.  She would be surprised for him, as she had been surprised on behalf of Olga, her dead sister, these past fifty years.  Explaining to Olga who was  dead but forever a child, Rosa's twin sister, identical, in her smock from Dr. Mengele’s Medical Experimentation Unit, in which Olga had died but Rosa survived, Olga seated on the medical unit cot with the number fastened to her smock by a safety pin, and her cold blue bony slender fingers gripping the iron bed frame tight, her already unhealthily white knuckles blanching: ‘But why, Rosa?’ ‘He's a minister’. And Olga: ‘ Have you lost your mind? A Goy!’  Pastor Hunt, I think maybe in a little way, it’s possible I did talk with my dead sister. Would you like a little more coffee?  Yes, he said.  She tipped the spout over his cup and poured out the rich black steaming beverage.  Have you lost your mind?, said Olga. Have another one of these cookies, please, Pastor.  I baked them for you.  He declined, a tall slender man in a blue suit.  Have you lost your mind?  His fine crown of neatly barbered white hair and long sensitive face made her feel safe. She smiled politely at the mirror: you have such a slim waist, Pastor Hunt, you make me jealous. She placed her fingers on her own waist which bulged slightly yet in a way quite sensuous to a man with a discerning eye, and her breasts, given her age and with the help of a lifting bra, looked, she thought, terrific.  She lifted the vodka glass, sipped, put it down.  It went down warm.  She felt a little dizzy.  She smiled through red lipstick stained teeth.  Plucked a Kleenex from a box at hand and carefully daubed at the pink stains.  The phone rang.  An aqua-colored princess telephone on a table near the bed.
            Demurely: Hello? 
            Hello Rosa, it's me, James. 
            Oh, hello Pastor Hunt. 
            Please call me James. 
            Alright: James. 
            Rosa, I’m afraid I’ve got disappointing news.  I’m not able to come this evening. 
            Oh, but why, cried Rosa from her own medical unit cot and stood to her feet, screaming: Whyyyyy? An SS orderly in a combat uniform ludicrously covered in a white lab coat entered and wrestled her to the bed and pressed a forearm into her throat until she quieted.  He tied her hands to the frame using...oh, said Rosa.  How sorry I am to hear this.  You know, I made lovely breaded veal cutlets for us...
            His voice sorrowful, the regret genuine: I’m sure it’s wonderful, Rosa.  But there’s a member of my congregation who has taken very ill...there’s a chance it may be the end for this poor man and I’m obliged…
            I understand, she said simply, voice shivering like a naked figure on a moonlit parade ground:  our Rabbi Frankel is the same when one of ours passes away.  We have many elderly people, like your church, I’m sure. 
            Don’t you understand, snapped Poppa, that no matter how nice to you they pretend to be, they don’t like Jews, these Goyim, and what does my daughter have to do with a German husband and now this pastor, this Goy? But Poppa, Rosa said, they killed you. And you know, Pastor Hunt, he rode a horse, my father, a big horse, actually; no, it was not white. She smiled: White was the horse which Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz, rode.  I saw it only once.  When we arrived.  They took off Poppa and Momma. My poppa’s horse was a bay.  A big bay, if you could imagine such a thing. A beautiful horse.  Well, Pastor, perhaps we can do this another time, no? 
            Of course, Rosa.  And please do call me James. 
            She blushed.  I want to have you at my house, James. 
            And I will have you again at my church, if you like. 
            I like, she smiled.  I am a Jew of course. But it felt very peaceful to be in your church.  And you were so nice that day I came in...her voice dropped in register, from high and even slightly hysterical to a coquettishly brittle confidential whisper: I felt so sick.  My heart, you know.  Thank God your doors were open.  You were very nice. 
            You must come.
             I owe you a dinner. 
            Can we talk about it tomorrow, Rosa?  I must go.
             Stung, she smiled bitterly across the room at the mirror, as if to say to herself: see?  Isn’t it just as Poppa said, but replied in a voice of crushed pride: Of course, Pastor Hunt.  I’m sorry I took your time.  No, I don’t mean to say...Please, don’t explain (a little angrily): Call me tomorrow, if you want.  But why??????  her heart cried.
            She scraped the receiver back into its base.  looked at herself in the mirror.  “Old lady” she said aloud in a mocking voice, “OLD LADY!”  She left the bedroom, shutting the door loudly behind her as if to make a point to someone she had left behind.
 
 
        ***           
 
DORA
 
 
            There was no much she could not do.  Still, she must try.  By afternoon, though, her adult diaper was soaked.  The pee soaked right through to the raspberry-colored fabric of the chiffon dress, an old dress such as they no longer made and she did not think, as she struggled the garment up for her inspection, that the stains would come out. 
Have you ever seen a rock garden at the bottom of a turtle bowl:  that is what the house looks like at noon.  At noon there is no one home. At noon there is nothing to do; no appetite at noon and too bored to eat; the brown and gray shapes of the dim furniture at noon.  She patted her apron pockets;  so there are those glasses!  She had looked all over.  She chortled, red-painted lips cracked in a tattered smile.  The phone rang.  Nate, the son.  You worry about your mother?  Good boy! Don’t worry!  I take good care of myself.  This chick is still a hot number. 
            I know Mom, he blushed. 
            In the tenor of his voice she heard embarrassment.  What’s the matter, she chuckled, you’re ashamed your mother was once a hot young babe?  But I was! 
            I know, he said.
             So? How is Phyllis? 
            Phyllis is having her teeth cleaned as we speak. 
            And where is my sheyne meydl, Dana? 
            In school, where else? 
Her voice grew cool: And Louise, you hear from her? 
            A painful pause, to find the right words to convey indelicate facts.  He sighed, defeated. 
            Nu?  She already sensed the worst without possessing a single detail. 
            Not doing so great, he said.
            This I already know.  But, what’s happened? 
            She...she’s in a .... he sighed heavily. 
            A nut house, snapped Dora. 
            After a pause: Temporarily, yes, he conceded. 
            Then he waited. 
            She too. Then: Did I tell you The Blue Angels are here, they are in town? 
            No, he said, surprised by the shift, irritated by it, no, but, of course, it’s that time of year. 
            Every year they come to scare the living daylights out of me.  You should hear what my heart does when they are overhead.  Right over the rooves they go, in formation.  I see their shadows on the windows.  I wrote once the Air Force a complaint.  Did they answer?  Who should live so? They scream all day. So, tell me what’s happened to Louise. 
A pause. 
            Breakdown, he said, a breakdown.  They’ve got her on some drug.  Thorazine.  That’s what they put them all on.
 I’m surprised you, her father, don’t know.  Is this how I raised you?  Don’t you bother to ask? 
            Mom!
            What, she snapped. 
            Mom, that’s not why I called. 
            I know why you called and the answer is still no!  And then she heard in the background the voices of Phyllis, her daughter-in-law, and Dana, her favorite grandchild, hushed, clandestine, urgent.  Phyllis sounded annoyed with Nate; Dana, may she live to be a hundred and twenty, sounded worried about her grandma. 
            So she’s not having teeth cleaned and Dana is not at school, Dora shrilled angrily; so you lie to your mother as though I’m an idiot who wouldn’t wonder why a mother with a child in the loony bin would be off getting her teeth cleaned.  But, I HEAR YOU PHYLLIS!  I HEAR YOU DANA!AND THE ANSWER STILL IS N0---O----!
            But Mom, he said. 
            Give me that, give me that you weakling, she heard Phyllis hiss, struggling with Nate for possession of the receiver.  In the background, Dana cried.  Then Phyllis came on, panting, distraught, furious:  Dora! You have no right to make Nate worry about your well-being when he can hardly find the strength to cope with a daughter in the full throes of mental illness.  Do you have any idea what this has taken out of your son's emotions? You’ve got to do this, Ma!  It’s the responsible thing.  You reach a certain age, it’s time to let others take care of you.  You can’t live alone!
             Don’t call me ‘Ma’.  I’m not your ‘Ma’.  I’m Nate’s ‘Ma’.  I’m even in a little way, I’m Dana and Louise’s ‘Ma’, by blood related, but your ‘Ma’ I’m not!  Not if I don’t want to be.  And, I don’t want!  No decent daughter puts the mother in a room and throws away the key.  You don’t want to worry about me anymore?  Don’t call!  Now put on my Dana.  Nate, come back on.
            You fell, Ma.  You hurt yourself.  Remember?  The hip!
Of course I remember, she said, tremorous hand reflexively going to the old wound. 
            It took months off our time to care for you. What if, God forbid, you fall now, two years later, older, weaker?
            But not dead, she said. 
            Who said anything about death, he shouted. 
            She’s crazy, howled Phyllis. 
            No, your daughter is the nut, shouted Dora. 
            Grandma, cried Dana.
            Oh, shut up, shouted Dora and slammed down the phone.
            It toppled from its base and clattered to the ground where amid dust balls and old unmopped milk stains it lay with an absurd perforated Bass-like mouth broadcasting quick pulse signals of disconnected panic; and off she went shuffling in the gloom exclaiming in a terse, loud voice:  That’s right!  Shut up!  Shut up!  yes!  Oblivious to the loud insistent phone signal.  By the hall mirror undusted and splotched with green rust spots and peeling at the corners of its reflective surface,  her eyes ran wounded into another time, decades magnificent and horrifying, long lost, passed and gone, ever remembering as gone, as if I forgot in the act of remembering the very life I was in the thick of living, a kind of amnesic theft of life’s very experience and these people, Nate, my Dana, and the nut, are the dismayed and ambulatory byproducts of what in living and enduring I alone have lost and forgotten, and they now want to put me, the source of them, of their own memory, away among other frail-boned helpless baby chickadees of death, to eat bland tomato soup under a constant racket of Porgy Pig cartoons and ill-mannered orderlies uniformed like beauticians. 
            Not with difficulty she lifted the  dust-coated venetian blind, gaped at the bright, translucent view of dirt-mottled street and smirked: they would take all this from me. Not on your life! She looked down at the old hardwood floors, once truly her pride and joy. Now?  Scuffed with a thousand uncleaned heel marks, half-moons of hardened old wax cratered with tamped dirt.  If the floor could yield the sounds of all the pounding shoes that had ever crossed their surfaces, that might alleviate the dull aching stillness that had become my daily constant fare; their touch, sight, familiar, veneered with thousands of passages that I feel yet somehow retain the vestiges of in memory, emotion, my very cells.  They would even take from me my loneliness. No, not even that can you have.  Not even that.
 
 
         ***           
 
MIRIAM
 
 
There is no world as we know it. You realize this?  In a moment it could all be erased.  Don’t lie on your bed  dreaming:  you’ll get a rude shock.  Some people should just be quiet.  I know that you don't want me to, but, I will speak up!  My voice is no jamboree but I have what to say.  To tear down.  You!  You and you and you – your loathsome “you-ness.”  As if you have invented this world.  You don’t know anything.  Why don’t you dress as I do?  Then maybe you’d feel some self-respect.  See?  Simple! A blue coat, a grey sweater over a white blouse –- very smart— a three quarter length black skirt. Black shoes with flat heels.
There is urgency here.  Do you feel it? Here from out of the room of my voice, like the prison cell-barred shadow on the wall, I imprison and judge your selfishness, for you are blind!  Wake up, Sleeper, from your insensitive “you-ness” which is your greatest foe, your blight, for if you could see as I do, for one instant, the smirking game of shuffled cards dealt into play on a bed of incindered bones...then…then…  you may indeed wonder about just what makes you think that, say, a boardwalk or a park bench is merely that, and not potential fodder for the great and imminent pyre on which they shall lay you some day, and from which you shall cry out with such anguished betrayal-- an agony unmatched by anything encountered, endured,  in your previous experience…I don’t know how to explain this to you… because in your eyes, I can see: you don’t understand. You are naive.
Look. Look at my eyes.   Right here, around my eyes and knotting my throat and in my chest: an anxious dynamo of intense certainty. I am working to prevent this thing that I am trying to explain, that I know. And right here it is too, near my jaw, do you see, like a line along the back of my neck, bristling by my calf, in the small of my back?   It is so close already, so imminent, that at times I find it hard to breathe.  I see it in the faces of the Goyim: they are preparing. As if they are being readied by Pagan Nature herself! How the so-called enlightened and Progressives and New Agers condemn the Old Testament God; the academic assaults on the so-called Patriarchal systems of belief and society. How they speak of Zionism as though it were National Socialism. What do you think they are talking about? Judaism!  What do you think all this hatred of Jewishness  itself, and of our right to a defended Jewish freedom portends? What do you think, Sleepers! Bewildered  ones!  Also, in my head, my skull, at the base of each eye: neurologically arthritic premonitions, possibly cancerous.
You have seen nothing and pretend that you know all.
Wake up, Sleepers! Amid this soul-confiscating impending chaos, begin to organize yourself for struggle. For back then, in the war, so many perished in meaningless ways, though there was philosophical and social order and intent of an insane kind in the minds of  the murderers.  The killers grasped their own purpose. To them, I could – perhaps—best speak.  To them, the killers,  I could say, who may still wish  to kill me: I understand you better than most, no?  You who tried to gas me.  Shoot me.  Burn me. Brand me.  You, I understand. Let us sit together, talk, my gun facing to your gun.  Because, even if your politics have not changed, you have not changed, we are old and I can ask: would you not agree with my analysis of the current situation? 
I imagine that such a one would smile and say ‘Yes, yes, Frau Miriam, yes, I think...heh...heh.. permit me to say (with tendentious gravity) that I absolutely concur in your assessment of the ferocious enmity that now rises against your people. I know it because I too like them believed your race inferior, of a piece with the rodent and the ape—yet, beneath that lay something more: I too, like your present foes, wished the world completely rid of your kind.  A new world order. A vision. I was sick and tired of your Jewish humanness with its sickening lack of decorum and its seething elbowing sense of clamoring life. Is there nothing else, I wondered? What about a sexual political Aryan union of extreme pleasure and equally extreme pain?  Of iron and fire? Of health and conquest?   Of war and domination?  Of power beyond imagining.  An empire of hard virility under the black, sun-stripped sky, won by iron discipline.’
Sleeper, compared to what is coming, such a type as this articulate filth will seem almost quaint.
Here then, Sleeper, I  say: take a flyer.  Dr. Avigdor Katz of Media Truth will speak of the  conspiracy to silence the facts about the coming holocaust. Look at me.  Do I seem crazy?  I have carried this knowledge inside me and seen it manifest in the social arithmetic of every nation on earth: Goyim hate us.  Period.  And many Jews hate themselves.  They live lives of perpetual apology.  They even glorify their groveling subservience and self-loathing.  To them it is  spiritual to adopt a path to certain self-destruction –they call it martyrdom--if that will somehow, somewhere, preserve abstract ideas like liberal democracy and intellectual freedom.  But decapitations such as the Insurgents perform on their captives: where is the intellectual freedom in that?  A head floating in a specimen jar is what it is. And this is what what awaits if you do not prepare. 
What should we do, you wonder?  Don’t make me laugh.  Take this flyer. Come listen to Dr. Katz.  You’ve never heard such an intellect.  Not since my husband, Robert, died  have I heard a voice of such powerful insight.  Katz is one of those who can see clear through the hypocrisies and lies.  He is one who knows: to stand still makes nothing happen. Dr.Katz's talk will be here in my home, Tuesday evening, 7PM. I expect, with you, about five other attendees. So, please, come. It will be nice to have you. Since I don’t go out anymore. Because it’s not safe.
 You have not seen infants die of hunger in a public street. You have not seen women disrobe, walk to the edge of a burning pit and wait as a rifle barrel placed at the base of their skulls is fired. You have not seen men, fathers, brothers, sons, lovers carted off in trucks to forests to be massacred. You have not seen the long lines melting through the gas chamber doors. You have not seen the young woman, smuggled past the British into our Land, soon to be the Jewish State, with a number on her arm, carried ashore by a young soldier of the Jewish underground. This woman had been used  as a death camp whore in an SS  brothel, in the same place where her entire family, father, mother, two sisters, a brother, were gassed and burned. She wept as he carried her: ‘Soldier, leave me here, in the sea. I do not deserve to enter this holy land. Let me drown. You do not know what I have been. They used me as a whore.' And the  young Jewish soldier, a Sabra, a free Jew born with a gun in his hand, who feared no one, who was pure, who never knew what Antisemitism is, do you know what this boy did?
He kissed my forehead and said ‘My sister. Welcome home.’
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Copyright © Alan Kaufman 2010
 
 
 
 
Alan Kaufman's novel Matches was published by Little, Brown and Company. David Mamet has called Matches "an extraordinary war novel," and Dave Eggers has written that "there is more passion here then you see in twenty other books combined." Kaufman's critically-acclaimed memoir, Jew Boy (Fromm/Farrar, Strauss, Giroux), has appeared in three editions, hardcover and paperback, in the United States and Great Britain. He is the award-winning editor of several anthologies, the most recent of which, The Outlaw Bible of American Literature, was recently reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. There are two more volumes in Kaufman's Outlaw anthology series: The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry and The Outlaw Bible of American Essays. His work has appeared in Salon, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Partisan Review, Huffington Post and The San Francisco Examiner. Kaufman has been widely anthologized, most recently in Nothing Makes You Free: Writings From Descendents of Holocaust Survivors (W.W. Norton). Kaufman is a member of PEN American Center. Kaufman's papers and manuscripts are on deposit in the Special Collections Library of the University of Delaware and he is profiled in the Europa Biographical Reference Series.


 

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