His children have to be coaxed to eat. They whine; Judy indulges. She buys “Lunchables,” the worst kind of crap. Conglomerates are making millions, billions, on this junk. He’s sure of that. Billions for sealing a few salty crackers, a couple of squares of tasteless processed cheese, some sugary artificial goo they call “pudding” in plastic for America’s spoiled kids, for kids who refuse to eat fruit, vegetables, anything green, anything that touched anything green, for God’s sake. What can you do? That’s Judy’s domain. The pediatrician says let them make their own choices. Barry doesn’t agree, but stays out of it.
Thinking about this makes him even more eager to get to Miriam’s, to talk to her. What was steely-haired, seventy-eight-year-old Miriam like as a girl? Not a girl, really, a beautiful, intelligent, nineteen-year-old woman. How did she react when someone brought her a shred of meat, a scrap of moldy bread, some margarine? Did her mouth water at the news of a bag of potato peelings? Did she fight with the others in line?
Not young any more, that’s how Barry thinks of himself. For years he thought he’d always be a kid, playing ball with the guys. Then one day, your hair is falling out. And you have two kids of your own. Not always easy. You’d be arrested today if you used the techniques on them his father used on him. The strap didn’t hurt that much, though. Probably helped instill what it takes to succeed, business-wise. Doing well in air conditioning and heating parts, thank God. Landau is the sign on the door. Barry Landau Enterprises. Nice ring to it.
“Get off on at Route 206, it’ll lead to 17,” Judy instructs, squinting at the map. They’re on our way to Miriam’s from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Fastball, outside, three and two, John Sterling intones. The Yankees are beating the Orioles 7–2. The boys, eight and five, seat-belted in the back, are giddy about their new Ken Griffey Jr. autographed baseballs. Good. Not bored yet and looking for something else to do.
Miriam is Barry’s father’s sister. Is or was? Do you say ‘is’ when your father is dead? A brain tumor. His first yahrzeit will be the 16th of Tishrei. How can you say ‘was’ if Miriam is still alive? She has a heart condition but, thank God, still spends every summer in the bungalow. Pop and Miriam were the only two of seven children who survived.
Curveball. Struck him out swinging.
Barry can almost see Miriam’s story written now, typed on his new word processor. He’s never done anything like this before, anything creative. Well, I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, he thinks, I’m a good businessman and that takes creativity, doesn’t it? And I’ve even got a patent for inventing a welding device for air conditioning systems. Barry Landau, patentee.
Two away and here’s Strawberry. Martínez is on second. Rhodes deals. Outside, slider. It’ll be an oh-one to Daryl. Fastball. Line drive hard up the middle for a base hit! Martínez scores!
Base hit, who gives a damn? All the Yankees used to be Mets. The worst kind of scum, too. He clicks off the radio. The boys aren’t listening anyway. If they want it back they’ll say something.
His father’s story he know well. Pop showed those fuckers by surviving. Surviving the Lódz ghetto and Auschwitz.
“You were lucky, Pop.” He was a kid himself when heI said that.
“Anybody who lived was lucky, Barele.”
Miriam’s story is even more unfathonable. They say she left Lódz just after the Germans invaded. She walked from Poland to Russia. By herself, or with some kind of Zionist youth group, he’s not sure. Who knows the truth about those days any more? The baby of the family. She tried to convince her parents and brothers and sisters to go with her. They stayed. And perished. All but Miriam and one brother, Izzy Landau, Barry’s father.
He wants to hear her story straight from the horse’s mouth, as they say. He wants it saved, with all the facts correct, for himself and his boys. Just so they should know. Growing up in America among plenty, among too much of everything, they need to know what it was like, then. So they shouldn’t take life for granted.
Miriam is a hard one to pin down. She lives in Florida most of the time. When she’s up North she’s visiting her own children and grandchildren in Maryland and New Jersey. He will see her in under an hour! Route 206 is empty. Now he can go seventy, seventy-five, and not upset Judy. He drives a Caddy Seville. He only buys American. Nothing worse than a Jew with a BMW or Mercedes. A shonda.
So what was it like? What was it really like in there? The picture in his mind is fuzzy, but he’s thought about it so much it’s taken on a reality of its own. He’ll do his best: The room was big. It must have been. A parlor. They were prosperous business people. Textiles. Before the War, the Jewish population of Lódz was the second-largest in Europe. It’s been well documented. This was no Isaac Bashevis Singer shtetl. This was a great city of half a million people, like Berlin or Paris or Prague. There were wide boulevards, grand public buildings, architecture, parks. The Landaus must have lived in a fine apartment house on a tree-lined street. The women were fashionable, the sisters, the mother — my grandmother! — in their print dresses with little collars, buttons down the front, padded shoulders, short sleeves, small waists, just-above-the-knee skirts. Seamed stockings. Dark lipstick. Short, dark hair, parted on the side, pinned back with combs. He’s seen photographs in books, the few remaining family photographs, too. They were vivacious, elegant, talented. Even working in the leather factory, making munitions holders for the Nazis out of Jewish briefcases, they dressed like that. The men wore well-cut suits, soft white shirts. They were observant, but not Chasidim or anything. They studied Torah and Talmud, went to shul, had faith in the Master of the Universe, the Supreme King, compassionate and gracious, who had saved their people from calamity many times and would do so again.
The family must have gathered in the parlor after a Shabbos dinner of fish, chicken, kasha varnishkes. Honey cake for dessert. Grandmother wore a brown silk dress, a white lace apron, a hair net with pearls. She brought in a tray with little glasses of schnapps. Everyone toasted, “Gut Shabbos!” The walls were covered with brownish flowered wallpaper. Everything was brown, tan, beige, like one of those tinted photographs. There were doilies on the arms of the velvet sofa and chairs. The family sat around the room, expectantly.
Miriam had an announcement!
She coughed. “I want to leave.”
“Leave? What are you talking about?”
“I want to leave Lódz.”
“The yingereh, leave? You’re joking, no?”
“I’m not joking.”
“You belong here with us.”
“Absolutely not. Nein,” said the mother.
Only her father — his zayde, may he rest in peace — took her seriously. “Where will you go, Mirele?”
“I’m going to Russia, Papa.”
The room was quiet. What would Papa say next? He tamped his pipe. “And how will you get there?”
Howls of laughter.
“Or take the train.”
Papa regarded her quietly.
“The Young Zionists are going to Russia.” Miriam was prepared. She held her ground. “I’m going with them. We’re going together.”
Izzy sat on the sofa, quietly reading a book half-hidden in his lap. Barry imagines that he didn’t take sides yet, was thinking and contemplating and deciding.
“They’re fools,” said Yaakov, finally, the oldest brother, who recently married and had a child of his own, a baby boy, the first of the new generation. The baby, Schmuel, is on his wife, Sarah’s, shoulder. The bris was just a month before. How they rejoiced!
“You’re a meshugana,” said Leah, the oldest sister. “Zionist Youth, my eye.” A diamond ring sparkled on her finger. She’d recently became engaged to a professor of mathematics at the gymnasium, the girls’ school.
“Meshuga aufen kopf. Crazy in the head,” said Hyman, a middle brother.
“I want all of you to go with me, with us,” begged Miriam. “Come with me.”
In Torah, Miriam danced and sang when her brother Moses led his people safely out of Mitzrayim, out of Egypt. Barry knows this parsha well. His bar mitzvah, in 1963! After the sea swallowed Pharoah’s soldiers and the Hebrews were on the other side, Miriam the prophetess played a timbrel, a tambourine, and chanted, Sing to Adonai, for He has triumphed, yes, triumphed, the horse and its charioteer He flung into the sea.
Was Tante Miriam in her own way a prophetess, whom no one heeded? Yes, that must have been her story! She could see the doom coming and wanted to lead her people out. They would not listen. Fools! They were the meshuga ones.
“Why, Miriam? Why?” everyone asked. “How can you do this to us?”
“Things are going to be bad,” was Miriam’s answer.
“How do you know?” asked Bluma, the middle sister.
“You know nothing!” said Yaakov.
“Stop this narishkeit, this foolishness, and go back to your piano,” Mama ordered.
“The Germans came in World War I and they treated us better than the Poles!” said Yaakov.
“Whatever bad that happens to us here, it couldn’t be worse than going to Russia,” said Leah. “The Young Zionists. What do they know! Feh!”
“She’s sick. Put her to bed, Mama, with some tea and medicine.”
Miriam has been a strong woman all her life. Like a rock. When Barry’s own mother, may she also rest in peace, was in the hospital, Aunt Miriam came and took care of him, her children’s teenage Cousin Barry. He had a little flu, too, and still remembers her homemade frozen ice pops, with pineapple juice and orange juice, how they soothed his throat. And how she brought them to him, in bed, and tucked a towel around his chest so the juice wouldn’t stain his pajamas or the sheets.
From the back seat, Jeremy sings out, “When are we gonna get there?”
“I’m thirsty,” howls Ben. “Will Tante Miriam have sodas for us?”
“Sure she will,” Judy reassures. “We’re almost there.”
He considered bringing a tape recorder, but decided against it. It would upset Miriam too much. She couldn’t relax and talk easily with a machine staring her in the face. Even a tiny one. Taking notes might even be too much. He’s got to rely on his memory. I have a good kopf, he keeps reminding himself. He is prepared, too.
He knows that the year was 1939. “The Initial Terror.” The German presence had manifested itself: Jews were seized to dig roads and ditches, and beaten and robbed. The German mark was introduced alongside the Polish zloty. Swastika flags flew from buildings. German cars appeared, a lot of soldiers. “However,” according to a recent best-seller, “people were gradually getting used to the new conditions and were returning to their jobs.” Ah. The beginnings of denial. Being seized and beaten and robbed was not enough. They believed the false promise that if the Jewish Community Council provided seven hundred Jews for labor, the Germans would stop grabbing people on the street. When he reads that an evil-tasting stream of bile comes up his throat.
What was different about Miriam that enabled her to see that the only way to stay alive (and that was still no guarantee) was to get out? Was there a boy in her life? Was this a young girl’s romantic fantasy, running away with her boyfriend (after all, the Young Zionists must not have cared too much about conventional morality, virgin brides under the canopy and all that). Or maybe she and Max were already secretly married. An aunt and uncle on my mother’s side had been married secretly for years before anyone knew about it.
He’s consulted an atlas and measured from thumb to index finger, it looks like it’s four hundred miles from Lódz to the Russian border. And then she, or they, got caught! The cousins said she spent the war in a labor camp in Siberia, chopping up stones! What a way to stay alive! It’s another two thousand miles from the border to the westernmost part of Siberia. When he thinks about that, a hundred wide-angle train scenes from war movies play in his head. The oily tracks. The black smoke. The confusion. The noise. The pushing on the platform. No, she didn’t experience the starvation and the disease and the degradation of the ghetto, where the rest of them were shoved to live like animals — or die — before deportation to the camps, but it must have been pretty fucking bad. And cold. He can almost feel the frostbitten fingers and toes and noses. What kind of a place did they sleep in? What did they eat? If the Jews sealed in the ghettos in Poland were fighting over potato peelings, could it have been much different in a Siberian labor camp?
“Here we are!”
“Hi, Tante Miriam.”
Miriam looks wonderful. She has on pressed white slacks, a flowered blouse. bright lipstick, pearl earrings. Her shoulders are a little stooped, but she looks strong, healthy.
“We’re thirsty!” say the boys.
“Jeremy! Ben! Don’t be rude,” Judy says. I shouldn’t be so hard on her, Barry thinks. She can be tough when she needs to, too.
“It’s okay. It’s fine. Come inside.”
Miriam’s bungalow is not as dolled up as he remembered it. She used to plant flowers everywhere. Now a few droopy petunias brighten the front door. But the air here feels clean, un-muggy.
“Have some nice lemonade,” says Miriam.
The boys were about to protest, ask for Cokes, but Judy gives them the look they know means business.
“Thank you,” they say, sipping lemonade from green plastic glasses.
“It feels good to be here, Miriam,” he tells her.
“There’s a playground and pool for the kinderlach. They can swim and play until supper.”
“Guys, look at the jungle gym. I’ll get your suits,” Judy says, Barry is happy to see that her face has relaxed. This is going to work out for her, too. “We’ll talk later,” she says to Miriam.
“Enjoy,” says Miriam, waving them away.
“This is cool,” says Jeremy, running on the grass. “Ben, wait up.”
Finally, Miriam and Barry sit down on the sofa.
“The mountains are good for you,” she says, getting up, the plastic cover on the sofa quietly creaking. She goes to the stove, turns on the kettle, opens a cabinet, takes out two mugs, to tea bags.
All the old people call the Catskills ‘the mountains,’ he remembers.
“You take sugar in your tea?” she asks.
“No, no sugar.”
“I thought you liked sugar. Milk?”
“No, no milk.”
“You take it plain? I remember you liking your tea with milk.”
“Plain is fine. Miriam, relax, sit down.”
Silverware clangs as she puts spoons and mugs on a metal tray.
“You were in New Jersey with Shelley and the kids?” he asks. “How’s the baby?”
“A shaina boychik. Such a big boy. And such a fresser.” I stayed by Shelleys for two weeks.” Would you like a bagel?”
“No, Miriam, thank you. Sit. We had lunch in Cooperstown.”
“I just got them fresh this morning.”
“I’m sure they’re delicious.”
“I made some nice whitefish salad. The kind with the onions and the celery, that you like.”
“Listen, Miriam, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”
“Is there a problem? Are you having a problem with Judy or the boys, God forbid?” She sits down and slaps her hand on her chest.
“No, no problem. Everything’s fine. Really. I want to talk about you.”
“Me, what’s to talk about? Did I do anything?”
“No, of course not. It’s about your past.”
“My past? You didn’t like coming to my house in New Jersey?” She pronounces it Joy-zee. “Was there a problem you didn’t tell me about then?
“No, I loved it. Those were the best times. Visiting you guys. Playing with Shelley and Les, practically growing up with them. I’m talking about way before that, when you went to Siberia.”
“Siberia! Oh, that. Forget about that!” She turns her face away.
“I don’t want to forget about it. I want to know about it.”
“What’s to know? I went to Siberia.”
“Everybody does that, right?”
She shrugs. “Would you like a bagel, Barrele?”
“No, Miriam, as I told you, we just ate.”
“They’re everything bagels. From Mr. Zimmerman’s. He makes them by hand.“
“Sure, Miriam. A bagel would be fine.”
“Toasted or untoasted?”
“Toasted.” He wipes his forehead with a paper napkin.
“This toaster I’ve had since you were a baby. I brought it from Jersey. I had two toasters, so one I took to Florida and one I brought here.”
“You walked to the Russian border from Lódz, right?”
“Did you go by yourself?” He takes a gulp of tea. Ouch. Too hot. Hide it. Don’t get in an argument about how hot the tea is. You’ll never get anywhere.
“No, we were a group.”
“How many people?”
“Many, schmany, I don’t remember. What difference does it make? Your bagel is ready.”
“Thank you.” His hand gripping the mug of hot tea is shaking.
“What would you like on it?” She goes to the refrigerator and pulls out jars and plastic containers. “I have butter, margarine, jelly, apricot butter that my friend Irene made. You remember Irene? She just had a hernia operation. Nothing serious. The doctor says she’ll be fine. Here’s some tuna. And the whitefish salad.” She opens a container, puts her finger in, takes it out, licks it. “I remember how you used to like my whitefish. Whitefish on toasted bagel with lettuce. And maybe some of the nice new sprouts I got at the farmers’ market. Full of vitamins and minerals.”
“That sounds delicious. Not too much whitefish.”
“You watching your weight?”
“Yeah. I guess.” He pats his belly.
“Me, too.” She splits a bagel. Spreads on the whitefish salad, goes to the sink, washes some lettuce leaves, adds the lettuce and a handful of sprouts. She closes the bagel and puts it on a paper plate, folds a paper napkin, refills his mug with hot water from the kettle. “You take milk and sugar in your tea?”
“No, Miriam, plain. I take it plain.”
“I think I’ll have tuna. The doctor says to eat more protein. I’m only buying unsalted now. These charts on the cans, you can see how much salt they put in the food. No wonder I have a heart condition. For years I was getting 38 percent of my sodium with every bite of everything. You should watch your salt, too.”
“I do. This is great. Listen, Miriam, when you walked to Russia, I mean, what kind of shoes did you wear? They didn’t have, you know, L.L.Bean hiking boots then. I know it sounds a little strange but I’ve been wondering…”
“Shoes. We wore shoes. I got there.” There is a finality in her answer that tells him to forget about satisfying his curiosity about the shoes. Asking specific questions might not bring any more success than general ones.
“Were you cold all the time?”
“Not any colder than a lot of places.” She sips her tea, wipes her lips.
“What did you do there?” She’s settled down, he thinks. Maybe now we can get somewhere. He’s read somewhere that old people, even those losing their short-term memory, remember everything from 50 years ago as if it were yesterday. Why isn’t she telling him? Please!
“We lived in barracks.”
“What were they like?”
“Barracks. You know what barracks are! Why do I have to tell you what barracks are like? Go to an army base and look at the barracks.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Miriam.”
“Why are you asking me all these questions? I don’t remember what you want to know. We’re inside on such a nice day. You didn’t come here to sit inside all day. Your wife and the kinder are outside and we’re in here. That isn’t right.”
“No, I guess not.”
“You were always such a smart boy. You don’t sound very smart today, I’m sorry to say.”
“What happened is that I lost my parents, my family, except for your father, may he rest in peace.”
“May he rest in peace.”
“Your boys, your Jeremy and your Ben, they need you. Go to them. Go swimming.”
“You’re right, Miriam. I will.”
Barry puts his arm around Miriam’s shoulder and they walk across the grass toward the pool.
That week Barry doesn’t think much about Miriam. There are a thousand crises at the office: a problem with the bank, a machine that broke down, an employee who walked out, an angry customer. Who has time to ponder World War Two when sometimes your life feels like a war every day?
Thursday morning, he wakes up at about three in the morning after the kind of dream that’s so vivid you think it’s real.
He is teaching in some kind of college. He can’t tell exactly where he is, but there are hallways, classrooms. “Your class is about to start,” someone says. He isn’t prepared. He knows he is supposed to be prepared, but he has no lesson plan, no materials. Then the place starts to look like the South Bronx: burnt-out shells of buildings, tenements, garbage strewn around. He runs around looking for papers, lecture notes. Nothing. The students sit on their desks, waiting, getting restless. The panic climbs and gushes and overcomes him. A man in a uniform, helmet, and heavy boots marches toward him…
He wakes up, thirsty, sweating. He gropes his way to the bathroom, looks for a Valium. Can’t afford not to get back to sleep. Was that supposed to be the Lódz ghetto? Maybe.
Barry starts coaching boys’ soccer on Sundays. He surprises himself. The kids like him. The team wins often enough for the kids to feel good; the losses keep them on their toes. He has them practice strategies, plays. Not to make them crazy to win, just to show them what they can accomplish if they try. He takes the team out for pizza after the games. It’s terrific, leading a pack of boys, crunching through piles of fall leaves on the way to the pizza place.
Brilliant October days lead into a one of the warmest winters in history. It looks like El Niño will be good for the air conditioning business. And February brings great news! Judy is pregnant! Maybe they’ll have a little girl! There’s so much to do, Barry hardly ever thinks about Miriam and her story any more. Why obsess about something like that, anyway? It’s just that if they don’t end up with three sons, which wouldn’t be so terrible, either, they would like to name the baby after Miriam. So she would grow up to be brave and strong, or a least have a better chance at it. That’s superstitious, but it can’t hurt, right? But it’s against Jewish law, of course, you can only name after a dead person. That’s superstitious, too, but something you don’t fool around with. He hears that Miriam is still going strong back in Florida, knock on wood. So how about the name Michelle? Is that too close? Or Mimi?
In August there’s a wedding in the family. An outdoor affair at a country club in Milburn. The bride is a cousin’s daughter on Barry’s side, Lainie, a beauty, just graduated from college. The groom, a serious dark young man, a medical student. The bride’s strapless gown gleams in the moonlight, its full skirt opening like a flower as she twirls to a ’70s disco medley. Her wavy black hair cascades almost to her waist in back. In front, a few tendrils have come loose from their sequined combs, frizzing around her ecstatic, exhausted face. The groom has stripped to his undershirt, beads of sweat glistening on his forehead and chest. They’re surrounded on the dance floor by teenagers and college students, everyone gyrating and grunting to “Hot Stuff, Hot Stuff.”
Judy sits at a table two rows back, fanning herself, her feet up on a chair, sipping a ginger ale. Her chiffon maternity dress sticks to her big round belly. It looks like she’s tired, or she might have indulged herself too much, all that champagne, all those meatballs, kebabs. Duck for the main course. Pastries and cake. Everything was just delicious! And she’s been so hungry, ravenous, lately. This baby is a kicker, a jumper, a tumbler, she says. Sometimes she puts Barry’s hand on her belly to feel. That must be wild, crazy, having a little person kicking inside you like that. The boys are off somewhere, playing Game Boy with a bunch of cousins. Barry’s up at the bar, talking shop.
Miriam comes over and gestures at an empty chair.
“Miriam, hi. Please sit down,” Judy says.
“The new kindt is due soon, nu?” Miriam is wearing a silver dress, a knit she must have made herself, maybe years back, a gardenia corsage on her shoulder. The edges of the leathery white petals are turning brown.
“Another six weeks.”
“It’s hard, waiting, for you?”
“No, actually, it’s a special time. I’m enjoying it. My boys take good care of me.”
“They’re sweet. Bringing me things. ‘Mommy, you need a glass of water? Your vitamins. Your milk.’ We’re all working together to fix up a room.”
“You hope it’s a girl, right?”
“Right. I could have had the test. Maybe it was a mistake not to. But I guess I like surprises. Makes all that labor worthwhile. Jeremy and Ben helped me pick out wallpaper, little red and blue squares on white, that’ll be nice for either a boy or a girl. But of course we’re all hoping for a girl. We’ll name her Molly. If it’s a boy, Michael. We would name a girl Miriam if we could.”
“Gay veck. Go away.”
“Some people are all hung up on ‘halachakly correct.’”
“Naming is a way to honor the dead.”
Judy, embarrassed, pats her on the shoulder. These things have deep meaning to some people, she thinks, I shouldn’t make light of them. “You’re strong as an ox.”
“Such an ox. An ox that had a heart attack and a stroke.”
“You’ll live to hold lots of great-grandchildren.”
“God willing.” Miriam knocks on her thigh three times.
“I heard you were named after a woman doctor in Lódz, Malka, also a brave woman, a trailblazer.”
“Until they took her away.”
“We all hope for better luck for our little ones. Barry worries that here they’re born into too much.”
“Better than not enough, let me tell you! And just because it’s here or they sell it at Toys R Us doesn’t mean you have to buy it for them, that they have to have it, right?”
“We made our own toys. We were smart and, what do you think, they had shopping malls in Poland? Even at our house in Jersey we made the kids’ toys from boxes… cans, string.” She pauses, smiling. It looks like remembering some things is hard, others easy. “Shelley used to play with the flowers in bloom like dolls. The fuchsias were ballerinas, and Shelley made them dance all over the back yard.”
“We sewed and crocheted for our dolls, like our mothers and aunts did when a real baby was on the way. For months they made blankets, sweaters, hats, booties. Such fine work Beautiful. We used to get wonderful yarns from Switzerland and Austria. After 1936, ’37, no more. So they started ripping out old sweaters. The babies wore heavy gray and brown, itchy things. What could you do?”
“You did the best you could.” Judy puts her hands on her belly. “What a kick! Can a girl kick like that? This could be another boy.”
“You’ll know soon enough.” Then, out of nowhere: “Les was born in a labor camp in Siberia.”
“He was? We didn’t know that.”
“What did you think?”
“We didn’t know.”
“His father, Max, and I came married together, from Lódz. No one knew. Until I was as big as you. On the TV they’re saying some girls try to hide it. Having babies in the school washroom. Crazy talk.”
“Was there a hospital nearby, when Les was born?”
“A hospital! I was lucky that one of the other workers had been helping a midwife in Warsaw. She knew what to do. She held my hand. I pushed. Oy, it was hot. Not like this, but it can get hot even in Siberia in August. Luckily I was strong. Other women died. There was a little ice for me to suck on. She wiped my face with a dirty towel. ‘No screaming,’ she said. ‘No noise. You’ll call too much attention.’ She put an apple in my mouth to keep me from yelling.”
“That’s amazing.” Judy doesn’t know exactly what to say, but she knows she wants Miriam to keep talking. Too bad Barry is still over there schmoozing. He’d want to hear this. But he looks relaxed, smiling, his elbows on the bar. He’s seemed a lot less angry lately. That strange anger, where it came from, Judy isn’t sure. “These things ebb and flow,” her own mother had advised her on her wedding day. “You have to ride them out.”
“Not a bad idea, the apple,” Miriam says. “You get juice, vitamins, strength from an apple. Then out came Les, all screwed up and red, yelling, “Food!” What a hungry one. A fresser, like Shelley’s new one. You’ve seen him yet? So big. Already walking. I can still hear the word for food: in Polish, in Russian, in Yiddish. I got to lie in, as they used to say, in the barracks for about two weeks… thirteen days, exactly. Then I wrapped him in my shawl and went back to breaking up rocks to make a road. It was a supply road for the tanks and the trucks. That’s why he’s so, how do you say, industrious, today. An engineer. He was born working, always on the job.”
“You’re funny. That’s funny.”
“No, puppick, he really didn’t work. What do you think? I worked. He rode on my belly or my back.
“But he got the idea?”
“He got the idea,” she laughs.
“If our daughter turns out just a little like you, we’ll be happy.”
“Ah, go away.” But Judy can tell she is flattered. “Nice party, nu?”
“You need some more cold soda?”
“I’m fine, really.”
In the car, on the way home, Judy waits until the boys are asleep. It doesn’t take long. They look almost angelic, mouths open, chocolate ice cream dribbled on their shirts, little suit jackets rumpled beside them on the back seat. She squeezes Barry’s hand.
“Miriam came over and talked to me for a while.”
“I saw. What did she tell you?”
“Her story is amazing.”
And as the lights from the oil refineries lining the New Jersey Turnpike flash by, Judy tells Barry everything Miriam told her.