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 JWL
FALL/WINTER 1979-80
international
Introducing Solomon Ary  Tl
jY/U international  Editor-in- Chief
PETER CROWELL
Managing Editor
LEONARD TURTON
Fiction Editor
ZEPORAH HORODEZKY
Poetry Editor
SANDY McILWAIN
Drama Editor
JILL MANDRAKE
Translation Editor
SHARON CHIAFERI
Publicity Director
ROBERTJ. RANKIN
A dvisory Editor
george McWhirter
Copy Editor
SHARON CHIAFERI
Art Director
MARTYDOLAN
Editorial Board
GLEN DOWNIE
JILL MANDRAKE
GORDON RODGERS
JOHN SIMMONS
FRANCOIS BONNEVILLE
JOE MARTIN
BILL GASTON
ROGER MITTON
BILL BENNET
DAVID CORCORAN
RASUNAH PAUL
TONY MONTAGUE
ROBERTJ. RANKIN
HAL GRAY
JWL
international
A JOURNAL OF
CONTEMPORARY WRITING CONTENTS
VOLUME EIGHTEEN
NUMBER TWO    WINTER 1979-80
NOTES
6
Leon Rooke
Lady Godiva's Horse
7
(two stories)
Addressing the Assassins
22
Itzik Manger
Old-Fashioned Ballad
26
(four prose ballads
The Ballad of the Three White Doves
27
translated from the Yiddish
The Ballad of the Bridal Veil
27
by Sacvan Bercovitch
The Ballad of Hershel Ostropolier
and the Moon
28
James Purdy
Adeline
29
(two one-act plays)
Wonderful Happy Days
36
Jane Urquhart
Grandmother Crosses the
(four poems)
Suspension Bridge
43
Grandmother Keeps Score
44
The Train to South Dakota
45
The Limit of Suspension
47
INTRODUCING SOLOMON ARY
with an introduction and interview
by Peter Crowell
49
Solomon Ary
The Pact
50
(four tales)
Grandma Slova
53
"Moshevay"
56
Business
59
Peter Crowell
An Interview with Solomon Ary
65
Ian A. Spence
Certified Desirable
78
(story)
Patrick Worth Gray
Lines For My Father
93
(poem)
Daniel P. Stokes
Tis Said He Comes From Elam
94
(one-act verse play)
Ron Charach
Craters in the Snow
113
(four poems from
Beginning the Thaw
114
More Bones for the Red Man)
Come up to the Crib
115
Looking for Extra Hands
116
Tony Cosier
Ensemble
117
(story)
Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Teething
121
(two poems)
Landscape
122
Mir Tamim Ansary
Crimes of Passion
123
(story) Snezhina Slavova
(three poems translated
from the Bulgarian by
Yuri Vidov Karageorge)
Frances Hall
(story)
Cover by Marty Dolan.
Cover photo provided by Solomon Ary.
Strandja Mountain
Plovdiv
Milk
Double-Arched Prosceniums
Bibliographies on Contributors
Notes on Contributors
129
130
132
133
140
144
Prism international, a journal of contemporary writing, is published twice-yearly in the
Spring and Fall, at the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British
Columbia, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, V6T 1W5. Microfilm editions are available from
Xerox University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and reprints (Vols. 1-5) from the
Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N.Y.
One year individual subscriptions $7.00, two-year subscriptions $13.00, three-year
subscriptions $18.00. To libraries and institutions: one year subscriptions $10.00, two-
year subscriptions $15.00, three-year subscriptions $20.00. The price of single issues is
$4.00.
All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. We must remind
contributors that all manuscripts must be accompanied by a self-addressed stamped
envelope or international reply coupons. Manuscripts that arrive with insufficient return
postage will be held for six months and then discarded.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council and the University of British Columbia for their
continued support.
Special thanks to the Koerner Foundation for financial assistance with this issue.
Contents copyright © Prism international 1979. NOTES
The Winter 1979-1980 issue of PRISM International has a number of
unique offerings.
James Purdy is a New York writer with nine published novels to his
credit, yet he is read surprisingly little in this country. We hope his two
one-act plays will introduce more of our readers to his work. The third
play in this issue is a one-act verse play by Daniel P. Stokes from
Northern Ireland. Few contemporary writers attempt the verse play and
this one is particularly interesting in what it has to say about Northern
Ireland today. With these three plays we renew our commitment to
include drama in the magazine.
Leon Rooke's two stories which open the issue are from a new
collection entitled Cry Evil, to be published by Oberon in the spring. It
is only in the past year or two that Mr. Rooke's writing has been
properly recognized in Canada. Susan Fromberg Schaeffer is another
established writer whose work appeared in PRISM before her writing was
widely received. We are pleased to have both of these writers in the
magazine again.
And of course we continue to offer space to new talented writers. Jane
Urquhart, Tamim Ansary, Ron Charach, Tony Cosier and Ian Spence
are all new writers. Our special section and cover are devoted to a new
writer from Montreal, Solomon Ary. His stories which appear here, are
his first publication in English.
— The Editors Leon Rooke
Lady Godiva's Horse
From the beginning I did not believe, could not make myself believe,
Charles wanted me. "There must be some mistake here," Fd say to him,
"or am I dreaming?"
"We are hitting it off beautifully," he'd reply, "don't create trouble
where none exists."
The women I work with took my position, they said, "Honey, you're
heading for another nosedive, prepare yourself."
Charles was livid, he straight-armed me back against the plywood
wall on Hastings Street where demolition work is going on, and said,
"Rebecca, if these people make such remarks they are being thoughtless
and unkind, the truth is they are not good enough for you, no doubt
they are jealous of our happiness. Do yourself a favour and pay
absolutely no attention to them."
This exchange took place on our lunch hour and when I got back to
Vancouver Brake and Wheel the women in the office stared, they said,
"Look at Rebecca June Carlyle, she must have got the bad news
already."
They brought me chewing gum and a small package of Scotties for
me to blow my nose on and I could tell they didn't believe me when I
said, "No, I didn't get the kiss-off yet, it's just that I have a headache
and my stomach is upset and I know I'm going to get the kiss-off soon."
"I've got some Uppers I can give you," my friend Lydia offered, "for
when matters go from bad to worse, aren't men dogs?"
Charles' own friends are wonderfully supportive of him, they go out of
their way to let him know that whatever happens he's their man, they
want only the very best for him.
When he came over that night I said as much, I threw his flowers on
the floor and turned off Hourglass which is what they call the Channel 2
evening news out here, which I don't watch anyway, and I said,
"Charles, it's perfectly clear to me that your friends think the world of
you, time and time again Eve heard them remark that nothing is too
good for Charles. So tell the truth, I really would like to know: don't
they wonder why you're wasting your time chasing fluff like me? Don't bother answering, I'm sure they do, but I don't blame them because the
fact is I'm just not in your league."
Charles went all fence-posty, we could have heard a tack drop.
"I know exactly what they must be telling you," I went on. " 'Drop
her, Charles, she's bad news, that Rebecca June Carlyle is a worn-out
mop and not good enough to wipe your feet on.' "
He picked up the flowers and unwrapped them from their green
paper and began arranging them in the silver vase he'd given me on
Groundhog Day. "Don't be dopey," he said, "my friends admire you,
they see you as the answer to my prayers."
This was so absurd I laughed out loud.
I laughed about it all through dinner and in bed that night I still
laughed each time I thought about it.
Oh it hurts, but I can laugh easy as the next person.
About two in the morning he got up and put on his clothes. "If you're
going to keep playing that tune," he said, "I'm going home."
This is it, I thought, the kiss-off, Ell never see this beautiful man
again.
"This is not the kiss-off," he told me, "it is simply that I can't take any
more of it tonight and I'm going home before I get angry."
I pleaded with him to stay, I begged and begged, I bave no pride. But
he reminded me we both had to go to work in the morning and needed
our beauty sleep.
"Especially me," I said. Then I lost my temper and threw his shoes at
him, I told him it was rotten of him to leave me when I was so upset, but
that I wasn't surprised, not the least little bit, no I had always expected
it.
He told me to calm down, that I was waking people, that we'd have
the law on our tails.
I told him he could take his law and stuff it, I called him a lot of loud
bad names and said that even if I wasn't in his league he could at least
show me a little human decency and I cried and apologized and begged
him to come back to my bed.
"Get up," he said, "I can't stand to see a woman weeping at my feet,"
and he helped me up and brushed my hair back and dried my eyes and
led me back to bed and got in with me.
It was lovely after that, I truly believe it was the most exquisite night I
ever had.
I didn't see him the next night. He said he had to take the ferry over
to Victoria to see a man about a business he was thinking of investing in.
The girls at the office said, "Yeah, I'll bet," and mentioned any of a
dozen things he was more likely doing, although that day they didn't
have much time for me since another girl was having a breakdown,
something about her despot husband, I forget the details.
At midnight Charles called me from what he said was The Olde
8 English Inn. He said he always stayed at the O.E.I, when in The
Friendly City because he loved it and because a replica of Anne
Hathaway's cottage was right on the site and he wanted to build a house
just like it for me sometimes.
"Who're you with?" I asked.
"I'm with my lonesome," he said, "and missing you."
I told him I was sure he had a woman with him, but I could
understand it, I certainly didn't expect faithfulness to a non-person like
me.
"Don't start that again," he said.
I told him about the girl in the office, Lydia is her name, who was
having a breakdown brought on by her jerk husband.
He said he was sorry.
Finally I let him hang up, it must have been about one.
I couldn't sleep and tried doping myself up with a late movie. I knew he
was with someone. A man like Charles can't go ten minutes without
some pretty little trick pulling on his arm. The fact is, as I told Walter
Pigeon, Charles is Vancouver's most eligible bachelor. He can have any
woman in town. Before I came into the picture he had women dropping
in on him from as far away as the Yukon. Right there on the cover of
Miss Chatelaine I've seen a woman who chased him for three years. One
time at his place while he was taking a shower I had a sneak look around
his bedroom and found in his closet six shoe boxes stuffed full of love
letters from scores of women who promised him eternal love and
anything else he wanted. He can have beautiful women and smart
women and women so rich I guess their feet never touch ground.
"You can see," I'd say to him, "how that makes me feel."
"Aw dry up," he'd say. "Even if all that is true, and I doubt it, you're
the girl forme."
Walter Pigeon went to war and got shot down and June Allyson was
left with his baby and with Van Johnson who had been her boy-friend
before Walter moved him out.
One of the office girls said she'd stayed up to see it too and had almost
puked, but most of us wondered why they didn't make movies like that
anymore.
Charles showed up at lunch time right on the button and took, me to a
restaurant nearby, Murphy's Chinese.
He asked me why I was so grouchy, had I been losing sleep?
"You know I can't sleep by myself anymore," I said.
"So what's the problem?" he asked.
"Us," I said. "We are the problem. We are mismatched."
"How so?"
"You have everything and I have nothing. Charm, brains, good looks,
all that was passed out when I was off somewhere hiding. I have nothing
to offer a man of your qualities." Charles ate his noodles in silence. He gave me a brochure of Anne
Hathaway's cottage to take my mind off matters.
"Let's set the date," he said.
"I can't do it, Charles," I said. "If you marry me they'll laugh you out
of town."
He ordered me a second glass of wine since I wasn't eating. But he was
reluctant, however, because Charles hates to see me get high. He's right,
too, because when I get high I get arch and argumentative and take
offense at any harmless remark passed.
I truly am an impossible person.
"That's not true," he said. "You are more apt to get vague and
dreamy and happy all around. Drink it down."
I asked him why he was stringing me along. "What's in it for you?" I
asked.
"I was hoping you could get me a cut price at Vancouver Brake and
Wheel," he said.
Our lunch hour was over but I just sat there vague and dreamy and
not the least bit happy. "Duty calls," Charles said, and came behind me
to lift my chair. I refused to leave. I told him I wasn't going back to
work, not ever. Vancouver Brake and Wheel could take their chintzy
mindless job and shove it, nobody there liked me, I was paid dog wages
and taken advantage of in every conceivable way, and I was quitting, I
had just quit, I meant to spend the rest of my life at this table in
Murphy's Chinese looking at a plate of wiped-up noodles.
Charles whispered I was making a scene and if I didn't get up that
very minute he was going to leave without me.
"I know," I said, "you're only looking for an excuse to kiss me off."
He sat down and bent over the table to talk to me in reasonable tones
about personal responsibility and our debts to humanity at large and
how Murphy needed our table because other people were waiting.
So I got up, that's just the kind of inconsistent, led-by-the-nose person
I am.
"I know I'm a wipe-out," I told Charles out on the street, "you best
walk on now and forget all about me."
We stopped to look through a peep-hole in the wall where the
demolition work is going on on Hastings Street. Their big crane was up
with this huge steel ball suspended on a chain and they were slamming
this ball against a building that had been perfectly satisfactory for 65
years and now they were knocking it all down.
Charles gave me a kiss and hurried off because he had a bunch of very
important people waiting to hear what he thought about some big
project of theirs.
Soon after I got back to work Lydia's husband came in looking for
Lydia who hadn't showed up that day and when none of us could help
him he picked up her old adding machine off her desk and threw it
10 against the wall, and then he tore apart her desk apparently looking for
secrets he believed she kept in there, and he kept shouting these awful
insults about Lydia and her secret life and how he would punch her in
the snoot if he ever found her and how she was crazy if she thought she
could walk out on him. "You robots," he shouted at us, "what do any of
you know about life, you're just living and working here in your little
garden world at Vancouver Brake and Wheel and you know nothing,
you might as well all be dead!"
I tried calming him down but he told me I was shriveled up and
stupid and ought to go live my life in a cage.
Then he left before the police could come.
"Mark my words," one of the women said, "a few days from now when
Lydia gets over her embarrassment and her black eyes heal she'll come
in and explain that Simon was drinking or wouldn't have behaved that
way, that she feels sorry for him, that they've worked all their problems
out now and their marriage is a bed of roses."
Most of us disagreed, we figured this was the final straw.
The manager made a cute speech saying how regrettable this incident
was, he was sorry it had upset us, the man was an animal and ought to
be beheaded, but it was over now and he hoped the company could
expect a good day's work out of us.
At five o'clock every afternoon I feel this insane love for Vancouver
Brake and Wheel, it takes about three seconds for everyone to clear out,
one would think we were running from a hurricane.
I went home and had a slow hot bath, it turned out I had tiny slivers
of glass imbedded in the skin all along my arms and shoulders from
when Simon threw Lydia's glass desk top against the filing cabinets.
Charles came hurrying over, he had the idea I was bleeding to death
and should be rushed immediately to the Emergency.
He used his own key to get in and when he saw me in the bath with
bloody water up to my neck he almost fainted.
I hadn't planned he'd take it so seriously and had to show him the
empty bottle of red food dye I'd used before he would calm down.
Then we got under the sheets and that was exquisite.
"Are you hungry?" he asked later, and I said I was ravished, I wished
aloud I could just once cook him something better than bacon and eggs
but in that category too I'm a washout, I was always too lazy to learn.
"Never mind," he said, "I'll cook up something nice," so he leapt out
of bed and went to it.
The TV had been wheeled up to my bedside to keep me company and
I threw a shoe at it and it came on. The Hourglass people were
announcing that hikers earlier in the day had come across the nude
body of a young girl murdered in Stanley Park, and naturally I thought
of my daughter Charise and shrieked for Charles. But then they said
she'd been there for months under a bed of moss so I knew it couldn't be
11 Charise who was safe with her father, but even so Charles had to hold
me until I stopped shaking.
"God," I moaned, "there are times when I think the world is coming
to an end."
"Don't dwell on bad news," Charles told me, "people fell in love
today, had birthdays, brought each other flowers, life goes on."
The mysterious firebomber had struck again, this time at First
Federal Savings and Loan, and I let out another shriek because First
Federal is only two doors down from Vancouver Brake and Wheel.
"No, it was another branch," Charles explained, but he turned off
the TV and passed me a book to read, The Lifetime Adventures of
Mary Worth, which he'd given me as a joke but which I have come to
dearly love, it has become such a comfort to me, at every crisis I find
myself asking, "What would Mary do, How would Mary cope with this?"
A few minutes later Charles brought in our dinner, bacon and eggs,
all he could find in my refrigerator, and we ate off the hand-sewn
patch-work quilt I've carried with me all these years.
I asked him what he thought about Lydia's situation. "Do you think
she really has a secret life?"
He turned traitor, he asked me about mine. "How was it," he asked,
"with you and Jake?"
I went mopish and quiet. I was married for eight horrible years to a
man who refused on principle to reveal any emotions about anything
that happened anywhere in the world or at home, to him, to me, to our
child, or our friends.
"Ask Jake," I told Charles.
"I have. Jake's like you, he dries up, won't say a word."
I didn't believe this and said so. Jake's the most horrible person
imaginable, next to me, and he wouldn't pass up any opportunity to
dish out the dirt on me.
Just my luck that he was Charles' best friend.
Charles had to go out that evening, "to put out a fire," he said.
I didn't ask for explanations, I was too tired and knew I could do
nothing to hold him anyway. Before going to bed I sat a long time at my
dressing table, contemplating my face with the intense hatred of
Medea: my complexion is too sallow, my left eyelid is droopy, my face is
blotchy, my eyes are blah, my skin is oily, my nose is too short, my jaw is
too square, and I've got a neck like a lamppost.
A moustache like Hitler, I'm ugly as a rat.
No bosom to speak of.
Charles is so handsome, he's everyone's dream, when I walk into a
room with him everyone goes silent, they feast on him. Often the Art
Museum will hire him just to come in and walk around.
I walked in my pigeon-toed fashion to the bed and slid between the
sheets with all the grace of an orange crate.
12 I really ought to give up.
The phone rang. It was my daughter Charise, wanting to know if she
could spend the weekend with me.
"Why," I asked, "isJake having a party?"
"No," she said, "it's only that I thought it was time I saw you."
"I'm still dangerous you know," I said, "I might slice off your
thumbs."
She told me to stop talking that way. She said I sounded distant. She
said if I wasn't in the mood or had plans we could make it another time.
"How's your father?" I asked.
She said he was fine, that he had been crawling around on the floor
with her on his back.
I told her she should be asleep, that tomorrow was a school day and
that it was outrageous of him to allow her to stay up so late. I heard her
turn away from the phone and tell her father what I had said. I couldn't
hear his reply.
"Can I come?" she asked me.
I told her it was sweet of her to want to and that certainly she could.
"How's Charles?" she asked.
I said fine.
"Is he there now?"
"No, he's out."
"Are you going to marry him?" she asked. "Daddy says you ought to
but that you won't because all men bore you."
I told her to hang up now and go to bed.
She did.
Charles didn't wake me when he came in. But he put his arm around
my waist and I must have been dreaming because I thought it was Jake's
arm and I bolted up screaming and hitting at him.
He apologized, and both of us immediately fell asleep.
In the morning Charles rolled over, asking "What is it now?"
I was at my dressing table, weeping. My skin had broken out in a
rash. I turned my back to him so he couldn't see it. My stomach was
upset too. I couldn't do anything with my hair.
Charles went into the shower.
I quickly went through his suit coat pockets and the trousers he'd
neatly draped over a chair, but found nothing revelatory.
He's been extremely careful lately.
Even his shoe-boxes have disappeared.
I wrote out a phone number and folded it to the size of a postage
stamp and hid it inside his wallet. Later on I intended to "find" it and
accuse him and see how he attempted to excuse or defend himself.
A bag of groceries was on the kitchen counter and he had filled the
refrigerator. I made instant coffee and toast and had them on the
table waiting for him.
13 He said, "Oh Christ!" and dumped out the cups and began making
what he considers a proper breakfast.
"Would you like pancakes?" he asked.
I said yes.
"Or an omelet."
I said an omelet would be fine.
He asked if I wanted grapefruit.
I said yes. I told him Charise was coming over for the weekend.
"That's good," he said, and stopped in his kitchen duties to kiss me
because he thinks I like feeling like a mother. "I'll stay at my place."
"That's not necessary," I said. "She knows we are sleeping together."
He grinned. He said she might know we sleep together but she didn't
know it was exquisite.
"That's not funny," I said.
He insisted it was. "You always say it's exquisite whether it is or isn't,"
he observed.
It's true. I don't mean to deceive or pretend, it's just that I was born a
hypocrite and have always been one.
"But I can always tell when it is," he said, "because your toes turn
green."
I didn't respond to this. I was thinking about being with Jake and how
that had been exquisite too, much of the time. Jake was a good lover, in
bed he was another person, all warm and delicious, and he would cry
when at last he had to get up and put his pants on.
Charles put the first pancake down in front of me, buttery and thin
and very like a crepe, and asked should he cut it for me, should he douse
it with true Maple syrup and say grace if I was so inclined.
I let him.
I adore being looked after, that's what finally did it with Jake, he
simply got fed up with pampering me.
From the stove Charles said: "Charise is the kind of girl who will very
much enjoy having two fathers."
"Why is that?"
"Jake is wonderful," he said, "and I am wonderful, and together we
make up for all your alleged shortcomings."
"Then you should marry Jake."
He said no he shouldn't.
He poured my coffee, and brought it over, along with milk and sugar.
"Shall I stir it for you?"
I admitted I was capable.
Charles makes delicious pancakes, I could eat them for a week and
put on thirty pounds and then I would look more nearly the way I feel
inside.
Charles was getting edgy, he showed me his watch and said time was
moving on and we'd best shake a leg or both of us would be late to work.
14 "The world will not end," I told him.
Charles is one of those odd people who regards punctuality as a
virtue.
"I'll have to clean the apartment," I moaned. "Charise is like her
father, it's white gloves every time."
"Hire someone," Charles suggested.
I said I hated doing that, people were not made to clean up after me.
Charles sighed. He put aside the pancake batter and went to get the
vacuum.
He's faster and more thorough at cleaning up than Jake ever was. He's
more organized. Jake liked best cleaning up those places that people
never saw, like closet interiors or door moldings.
I put my dishes in the sink. I could do that much. I was feeling very
depressed. It was on account of Charise, whenever she is about to visit
me I go into a nosedive. She arrives and her eyes never leave me, she
measures everything I say and do and then she goes back to Jake and
tells him what a cripple I am, how shabby I look, she says "Boy, were
you ever wise to get rid of that loser."
It was on account of Charise and because I hate my apartment, it's
the most depressing, lonely place in the world, I loathe it with every
breath I take, it is exactly like me, it has no personality and it oozes
laziness and stupidity and insufferable bad taste, although it isn't the
fixtures or the furniture or the decorating that explains this since the
place is exactly as it was when I moved in, I haven't done a solitary thing
to it, not hung a single picture or slapped on a single dab of paint, just
my presence in the place makes it drab and horrible and it has been that
way every place I ever lived.
"You're in a mood today," Charles said.
I said No, I wasn't.
"Yes, you are," he said. He was standing beside my plastic fern,
staring at it, holding the vacuum cleaner hose in his hands, looking like
a beat-up dog.
"Anything I've done?" he asked.
I told him I wished he would shut up, there was nothing worse than
being told you were in a mood when you knew perfectly well that you
were not.
He shrugged, and started vacuuming.
I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. The cap had been left off
the toothpaste tube and although I remembered leaving it that way
myself I shouted at Charles, accusing him. The paste wouldn't come out
and finally I had to stomp on it. It shot out like a thin white lasso half
the length of the floor and it shocked me so that I screamed, and
Charles came running.
"What is it?" he asked, and I said, "Snake, "and laughed at his face, and
passed him a tissue and he dropped to his knees and wiped it up.
15 Jake would never put up with madness like this, he'd glare at me or
take a swing and then he'd storm out of the house and I wouldn't see
him for a week.
"There, that's got it," Charles said, standing, and he moved to kiss
me but I wouldn't let him. "God," he said, "you are being disagreeable,
what has put you in this mood?"
"I don't know, Charles."
"You can tell me."
"All right," I said, "if you really want to know. The truth is that I've
been thinking this morning that I'm tired of sex and think we ought to
lay off it for a while, say six months or so until I'm in the mood again,
I'm sorry, that's just how I feel."
He said Okay, no problem with him.
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
He said he thought we ought to talk about it.
"We have talked about it," I said, "and that's my decision, like or
leave it."
He looked uncertain and deeply hurt and I could feel it coming, the
kiss-off, I knew this time I had gone too far.
"I mean it," I said.
He said he knew it, and tried out a smile. He said it would be a great
personal loss to him to go without sex with me for six months but that he
would be willing to go five years without it if that's what it took to give
me peace of mind.
"You'll go elsewhere for it," I told him.
He said No, no, he wouldn't. Then he came up behind me and put
his arms around me, watching my face in the mirror. "Even so," he
murmured, "I see no reason to change our plans. Let's set the date."
I finished brushing my teeth and spat out the lather and didn't
answer him.
Jake had never said "Let's set the date" or anything else to me in the
area of romance, I had pursued him through a dozen cities and finally
had worn him down until he was forced to say, "Yes, yes, I'll marry you
if that is what it takes to get you off my back."
Of course I was carrying Charise then and he had a vague interest in
sticking around to see whether she would resemble him.
No, that's wrong, Charise came a full two years later, I've got to stop
making up these stories just to dramatize myself and retain the interest
of men like Charles. Why bother, since the kiss-off is coming in any
case.
Charles came back in to tell me someone was hammering on my door.
"Can't you answer it," I said, "are your hands tied, can't you do
anything around here?" My tone was blistering, I was in a mood to kill
anyone who got in my path.
Jake would have knocked me down.
16 He was right, the door was shaking and Lydia was calling my name.
I opened the door and she rushed in. She looked terrible.
"Whatever it is," I told her, "I can't be bothered."
"I've got to hide," she cried. "Simon is after me, he's trying to kill mel"
Then she saw Charles and instantly perked up, she went from
brutalized, trampled-upon womanhood to sexy female all in one
amazing second. "Hi!" she said, and batted her eyes.
Lydia is what is known as vivacious or fun-loving. She is just over five
feet tall, she's sway-backed to the extreme although she uses that to her
advantage, and she has jet black hair cut even with her ear lobes and
whenever she's in the vicinity of a man her body is a constant wiggle, she
becomes part vixen and part pixie and she flirts outrageously and her
whole performance makes me sick.
I was like that myself when I first took up with Jake, but he cured me
of it by locking me in a closet whenever anyone visited.
Lydia never addresses her remarks to a woman if there is a man
around. She was telling Charles she hadn't been home all night. "I spent
the night in a train station," she said, "I know I must look awful, I can
almost feel the vermin crawling over me. A thousand men must have
come on to me, it's disgraceful that in a public place people can make
such lewd proposals."
Charles pretended to be interested, he's much too civil for his own
good.
"I thought you had given her the kiss-off," Lydia said, hooking a
thumb over her shoulder at me.
"No," Charles told her, "I'm up to my neck, but I'm in it for good."
Lydia squealed, she seemed to think that very funny.
She turned to me. "You've got to hide me out for the day," she said,
"Simon woud stick an ice pick in me if he found me. Don't breathe
a word of my whereabouts to anyone because he has his spies
everywhere."
I told her I was willing but that I didn't like it, what if Simon got it in
his head to kill me too?
"He won't. Simon likes you, he says you're a very steady and
dependable person, sometimes I even think he has a crush on you.
Anyway he's too chicken to kill anyone except me."
Charles put his arms around me. He informed Lydia he was going to
build an Anne Hathaway cottage for me, and protect me, and keep me
smiling for the rest of my life.
I broke into tears and fled into the bedroom, unable to help myself. It
seemed to me Charles was patronizing me in front of one of my friends,
he knew Lydia gossiped like a pirate and now everyone would know how
much I was being played the fool, because whether Charles meant it or
not and whether I wanted it or not Charles would come to his senses
soon and give me the kiss-off good and fast just the way Jake did, and I
17 would never know true happiness, I would never know a normal life, I
would be bound to go from man to man and be their plaything, give
them the one thing I could give, give it until they tired of me and
dumped me and went out to find a decent woman.
Lydia rushed in to comfort me, "Don't go to pieces," she said, "I
think he means it," and somehow that made me cry all the more, I'm
such a sap, I fall into these weeping frenzies now and then, weeping is
all I can do and sometimes it will go on for weeks.
The phone rang. "Excuse me, I can't answer as it might be Simon,"
Lydia said, "and Charles is finishing up the vacuuming."
It was Vancouver Brake and Wheel wanting to know whether my
stomach was upset again, did I mean to come in today.
I told them Yes, I had been fighting a small fire at my place but it was
under control now and I would be in shortly.
I dried my eyes and told Lydia to make herself at home. I promised I
wouldn't let on to Simon where she was. Then I went out to meet
Charles, all smiles again because I know he expects it of his women.
Charles' car was parked on the street and someone had left a leaflet
under the wiper informing him he could get his house kinetexed at a
surprisingly low cost, NEVER PAINT AGAIN and MAKE BACK
YOUR KINETEX COSTS BY WHAT YOU SAVE ON FUEL FROM A
PROPERLY INSULATED AND KINETEXED HOME OR BUSINESS
ESTABLISHMENT.
"Anne wouldn't like it," Charles said.
We didn't talk much on the way into town. I guess Charles thought I
was too upset to speak but really I was thinking about what the women
at Vancouver Brake and Wheel would say when I told them where
Lydia was, and I wondered whether they'd agree with me that we should
telephone Simon right away and put the bee in his ear.
He pulled in at the curb and grabbed at my hand as I was getting out.
"Lunch?" he asked.
I said I'd have to see.
"I'd like to shake you," he said, "why are you doing this to me?"
I told him I didn't know what he was talking about, that I had to go.
He banged his fist on the wheel and spun his tires getting away, and I
knew I had had it then, the kiss-off but good.
The women were in a fever, listening to me tell of Lydia's adventures,
and they began exchanging stories of what had happened to them when
they had been caught for the night in a train station.
Simon said he'd roar right over to my place, this time he'd teach her a
lesson she wouldn't forget.
Charles didn't show up for lunch and didn't call and when I called his
office his secretary told me he'd been sent spur-of-the-moment to
Calgary for an important business meeting having to do with Imperial
Oil's attempted takeover of the Bay, a lie if ever I heard one.
18 But that evening I returned from work to find 16 boxed Canadian
Beauty roses outside my door, together with a hastily scribbled letter
from him.
Lydia and Simon had had it out in my bedroom, I could tell by how
tidy everything was.
Charles' letter said I should keep the home fires burning.
I am so tired of eggs and bacon, I think the Egg Marketing Board
ought to be hung, but that's what I had for dinner. I missed Charles and
I wept for him, I was lonely and went through the apartment talking
aloud to myself, but it also seemed Charles had never been there, that I
hadn't spent all my time with him these past weeks, I felt the way one
must feel when she finds everything she has ever known and loved didn't
really exist and the future of her own existence is better left to those who
insist that we all turn to dust anyhow.
I called Charise and when she answered I couldn't speak, I gripped
the phone and stared at the black mouthpiece but didn't know how.
"Is it you, " Charise finally said, "or is this a wrong number?"
I caught at the straw and agreed it was a wrong number.
"No, it isn't," she said, "it's you. Hi, Mom."
God, that my own daughter can speak to me as if I'm a normal
person, after knowing me all these years.
"Are you coming?" I asked.
She said sure. "Jake isn't here,' she said, "did you want to talk to
him?"
I said no. I couldn't bear to hang up and face my apartment alone, so
I told her about Lydia's troubles with Simon and asked if I had done the
right thing in telling him where she was hiding.
She didn't pause to think about it. She said in her opinion a person
ought to be loyal to one's friends, but that I knew the people involved
better than she did so she wasn't prepared to say.
I told her she was being cloyingly diplomatic, why didn't she say
straight out that I was a devious and conniving bitch who couldn't be
trusted any farther than I could be seen.
"We'll talk about it tomorrow," she said.
"What would you like to do tomorrow?" I asked.
"Oh, Mom," she said, exasperated,"don't take me to another movie."
The last time she had visited I had taken her to see Grease and she
had thought it stupid except for the Sandra Dee number.
She said a few sweet things to me and then hung up.
Charles' letter said he adored me.
I got exhausted walking around the apartment and wringing my
hands and when I climbed in bed there was another Walter Pigeon
movie on the tube, this time he had Greer Garson with him and all their
nine children were so cute in their raccoon coats I turned it off and tried
to sleep.
19 Charles' letter said his star was attached to mine and that he loved me
to the moon and back, what about a June wedding in Stanley Park.
Yours Forever, he signed it, and this made me weep, I got it out from
under my pillow and put it in the shoe box along with the others so it
wouldn't wrinkle and so that when I was an old woman scuffing about in
my slippers at the Rest Home I could get it out again and use it to prove
to the world that I had been used and misled and humiliated and
deceived at every turn by men who know only one line and that one the
biggest lie on God's green earth.
Charise came early on Saturday morning. I had got up early myself to
unlock the door and tape a note to it saying CHARISE, I HAD TO
STEP OUT A MINUTE, BE RIGHT BACK, YOU COME RIGHT IN.
But she marched straight into the bedroom where I was hiding and
told me that Jake who had brought her was not going to leave until I
came out and at least said hello to him.
I wept, said I couldn't bear to, I said if she loved me she could do this
much for me, she could go out there and tell him to quit my premises
immediately, that I was in no shape to see him and that if I did anything
might happen.
She went out and told him.
She came back and said he still wasn't leaving.
I was seated on the edge of the bed, quivering, and she sat down
beside me and took my hands.
"You've got to figure this out for yourselves," she said, "and stop
putting me in the middle. I'm only an adolescent and the strain is too
hard on me."
She said a lot more, we both did, and inside a few seconds each of us
was weeping.
"Go out and speak to him," she said, "he won't bite."
I told her I knew what he wanted, that he wanted to tell me that the
divorce was final, maybe even that he had the papers to serve on me.
"Husbands don't serve the papers," she said, "a representative from
the court does that."
"Then what does he want."
"He only wants to see you. He wants to see for himself how you're
doing."
I told her I was dying, any idiot could see that.
She couldn't do anything with me and went out to tell him I guess
that I was very upset.
He came in and sat down by me in her very spot.
He didn't say anything and I couldn't. I was crying and couldn't
catch my breath and after a while he put one arm around me and
patted my back.
He always used to do that, it drove me crazy.
Then he began crying too.
20 Charise stood in the doorway watching us. She had on a red coat and
looked like Little Red Riding Hood. She said we were both sensible
people and bad as this place was it wouldn't kill us.
I begged her to come over and sit with us and Jake asked her too, but
she refused to come.
"This happens every time you see each other," she said.
I said I'd get up and get her some ice cream.
Jake didn't leave, he spent the afternoon and the evening and then it
was too late for him to bother returning to his place so he spent the
night, and that was exquisite.
Charles came in on Sunday. He came in smiling and shouting my
name and then he saw it was Old Home Week and sat down in a chair to
hang his head and to moan over and over, "So this is it, I've had it,
you're giving me the kiss-off."
The three of us tried cheering him up, we told him there were lots of
fish in the pond, but nothing we could say worked and he shouted that
he would kill us, all three of us, but in the end he went away quietly,
although he told us it would never work, that we were too pig-headed and
self-indulgent, too opinionated and stupid and ridiculous ever to find
true happiness with each other.
21 Leon Rooke
Addressing the Assassins
Look at your watch. What time is it? Well, it's too late, much too late, I
can't be bothered to go into the matter now. Come back later. Forget it.
Go on with what you were doing.
All right, I have six minutes, no more, this will have to be fast. I'll
stick to the subject, tell you all I know, all anyone knows. But keep this
in mind: I'm getting this off your chest, not mine, it serves your
interests, I'm not concerned one way or another, the affair has nothing to
do with me. It happened I was in the vicinity, that's all.
Fine, you say, okay, good, why are we talking about it?
Look, I've got my worries too. I'm coming up in the world, I'm going
down, no one can keep pace with me. Up, down, up, down, try it
sometime. This is what I've learned, this: even if I get nothing, so long
as I've got it I'm happy, try it sometime. You don't think I mean it? Try
looking me in the eye, you'll see! I'm alert, there are people who have
looked and never been the same. It doesn't matter to me that I lose, I
always lose, I've become accustomed to that, listen, I like losing, I
recommend it.
So what is my information worth, how much would you give?
To put it another way, how much money do you have?
Good, I'll take it all, I'm tired of being poor boy off the farm, I'm fed
up with holding up this zoo, I'm after blood now.
How's the family, you ask. Wait, stop the trolley, I'm getting off here.
Don't pry. Are we here to talk turkey or are we just killing the breeze?
My family is fine, how's yours?
So it's only conversation you want, well, naturally, I expected as
much. Try looking at it from my point of view, have a heart, I'm not the
same person I was then.
Yes, yes, I'm familiar with your situation, I know it as well as my own.
You hesitate, so do I, you're at sea, so am I, when was this not ever so?
22 Did you think word wouldn't get around? Don't try kidding me, there
are no balloons tied to this nose.
Look, the kid wanted a dog and finally got one, that's all there is to it,
the dog died, run over by a car while the kid was in a shop buying bread
to go with dinner, end of story.
The kid stood out in the street, ruined, the dog in his arms, stopping
traffic, stopping pedestrians who were properly horrified: "Little boy,
don't you know? . . . Little boy, you . . . Little boy, you'll get run over
yourself, blood all over your clothes, oh little boy" but why go on, you
know the type.
In the meantime, well, it's always in the meantime, every minute you
breathe —in the meantime the dog's guts have spilled over the boy's
arms, blood flows down his jeans, and the boy —stricken! —what could
he do except cry NO NO NO NO NO you can't take him, this dog is
mine! Sure. Finally someone shows some sense, we are not total morons
after all, someone says, "This boy is in a state, can't you see he is, this
boy needs looking after!" Others have roughly the same idea, they say,
"Little boy, what's your name, where do you live, we must get in touch
with your parents!" and so on but of course the boy is dim with grief,
he's perplexed, though he still intends to fulfill his purpose here, he's
holding the loaf of bread tight, it's mixing with dog to the extent that
who can say which is which, musn't disappoint Mom. Well, I was there,
I know. Although the dog is dead it takes three people to pry the animal
from his arms and three more to hold the boy as he fights to get the dead
burden back, so what can be done, that's the question going around and
ours is not a total idiocy, we have feelings, finally it occurs to someone to
let him have the dead beast back.
You should have heard the kid screaming MY DOG MY DOG MY
DOG MY DOG MY DOG MY DOG!
Jesus!
All right, don't get sore, no need to beat your head against the wall,
this was a long time ago. Finally the boy's mother is telephoned, she
comes running, finds no one, nothing going on, everything quiet, only
this puddle of blood on the stones, she goes running back to her own
house. She comes running through the door, sees a bunch of people
she's never seen before, and hears one of them saying, "Dead, he's
dead." He's dead, and naturally she believes it's her own son they are
talking about and promptly loses whatever part of her mind she had not
lost long before. Rushes forward screaming, beating her breast, shoving
everyone aside —and calms down in an instant when she catches sight of
the boy in a wing chair with the dead dog dripping in his arms.
Okay, stop the clock, one two three, count to twenty-five, when you're
23 ready I'll go on. I'm not in this business to tug your heartstrings. I've told
you frankly and will again: this has nothing to do with me.
She rushes to the boy, shakes him, slaps him, all the time yelling, "/
told you I told you I told you didn't I tell you didn't I mark my words you
will never have another dog again I knew this would happen knew it!" She
tears the dog free, she kicks it over the carpet, shoves the boy into the
bathroom, rips off his clothes, slaps wet towels all over him.
Okay, to hell with it, you get the idea.
Afterwards, the next day, that very night perhaps, the boy is out in
the backyard burying his dog, out there with a flashlight and refusing
all help, swinging his shovel at anyone who comes near, going at the
earth with grunts, throwing up the dark soil, deep, going down deep,
throwing it up hard. 'MY DOG! MY DOG! MY DOG! MY DOG! MY
DOG!"
Et cetera.
Listen, I'm not concerned, I'm only telling you. Meanwhile, she's at
the back door screaming, "/ told you what would happen, told you not
to get a dog, warned you, no you had to have a dog, don't blame me!"
All right, sure thing, that's all there is to it, I'm almost finished,
you're not paying me enough to keep me around here, keep your shirt
on.
He buries the dog, let another kid try to walk over the grave and he'll get
a stick across his head.
So, look, he's a grown man now, you've seen him around. You won't
find him owning a dog or any other animal. Hasn't married either.
Hates kids. Sure, he loves his mother, no grudges held, what else is new,
did I say he didn't? That changes nothing, I look at it this way: he's still
guarding holy ground, fending off enemies, rebuilding from that single
old violation. Does it make sense, does he know what he's doing? Don't
ask me.
Listen, hold my hand, show a little warmth, life goes on.
Listen to me. An attempt has been made on my life. You can dance
around it any way you like, but that's the fact of the matter: an attempt
has been made on my life. More than once.
Who would want to kill me, you ask. Who indeed? You, them,
everyone, I can't be any more specific than that. Proof, I have proof, I
24 have all the proof I need, I was there, it happened to me. What would
you have me do, stay at home, lock myself in the cellar, never come out
again? Sounds easy, but I'm not so simple-minded as that, I'm like you,
I have needs. I take my chances. I don't expect much.
Oh I have suspects, quite a few, I have names, I'm checking the
matter out. It's an emergency, the situation is grave, but it isn't
irreconcilable, it isn't irreversible, not by a long shot. I can still
negotiate. I know where /stand.
And I might get them first, there's always that.
Anyway why worry about it, where's the bad news, I can't say I'm
much concerned.
Even so, I'm watching you. Don't think you can put anything over on
me. One false move and I'll be at your throat before you can blink, this
is My life My life My life My life!
25 Itzik Manger / Four Prose Ballads
OLD-FASHIONED BALLAD
A musician had two daughters, both lovely as the sun, gentle as the
willows that tremble by the cool river.
There was just one problem — they craved the impossible.
The older one, for example: she wanted nothing less than the lord of
the silver castle. As for the younger one, she yearned for the king of the
land of Bohemia.
Now, could a poor musician afford that! (It's no joke, let me tell you,
when a Jewish girl goes crazy.)
Well, the years flew by, the musician grew old and died, but his two
daughters kept yearning, dreaming, craving the impossible.
Day after day they sat on their veranda, as the willows trembled by
the cool river. Their eyes were fixed upon the winding road.
"What do you see there, Mindl?"
"A cloud."
"No, no that's a flock of sheep!"
"Wrong! I see two riders approaching."
"Two riders?. . .Why of course! I see them. They're coming closer.
One's waving his kerchief. Who do you suppose they are?"
"I can see his face, Malka. It's the lord of the silver castle, dressed like
a hunter, in an outfit green as grass."
"I see him now! Yes, it's the king of the land of Bohemia. His royal
seal-ring sparkles on his hand. A net of fine gold thread stretches from
them to us. . .You look, Mindl. I can't see anything now except my own
tears."
"A bridge of precious gems stretches from them to us. . . You look,
Malka. I can't see anything now except my own tears."
So they sat, bent with age, rocking in the shadows on their veranda,
while a gypsy strummed his fiddle nearby, and the willows trembled by
the cool river.
26 THE BALLAD OF THE THREE WHITE DOVES
The girl chants an incantation to the mirror: "One and one makes
two."
From far away, three snow-white doves come flying.
The girl's eyes close once and open wide again: "Go, white doves, and
bring me quick the golden ring of joy."
The first dove flies toward the night; the night traps her in his lair,
and hangs her like a cross behind black doors.
The second dove flies toward the morning; she's strangled by a blood-
red ray of dawn.
The third dove flies toward the forest; circling and searching, she
loses her way forever in a web of wandering lights.
The pale girl sits before the blue mirror between two yellow candles.
Three shadows tremble in the mirror —three doves, white as snow.
THE BALLAD OF THE BRIDAL VEIL
Midnight tolls, twelve black strokes.
The young bride weeps: "My thread has run out. Who will weave my
bridal veil?"
Slowly the door opens. Seven old women limp into the house, their
eyes soft as evening shadows.
"Dry your tears, child. We will weave your bridal veil."
All night long they weave with gnarled fingers, using their own white
hair for thread. Their cold dark eyes sparkle like fire.
A shadow cast by a far-off wanderer crosses the windowpane.
The seven old women spin and weave, until the yellow lamplight
flickers and a quiver of wings announces the dawn.
"Farewell, child, we must leave now."
The veil shimmers white as snow upon the table.
By the light of the morning-star, the bride stands before the mirror.
Blueness streaks the window-pane, and as the blueness sprouts fire, the
veil flutters coolly, with dead white wings.
And the young bride's face grows whiter and whiter, like the veil.
27 THE BALLAD OF HERSHEL OSTROPOLIER
AND THE MOON
The way is dark, the lantern's extinguished by the wind.
Night stands at the cross-roads and begs a penny for the poor and
sick, for homeless children, for all who wander the roads against their
will.
"What are you looking for, Hershel?"
"A silver dollar."
"Have you gone crazy? Where will you find such a thing, you fool, in
your tattered coat?"
"Just listen a moment, Rabbi! One July night I went down to the river
and noticed a silver tear there, hanging from a crooked willow. Looking
closer, I saw a silver dollar, real money; and since Sabbath was around
the corner, and my old woman was already grumbling, I ran back home
with it.
" 'Hey, old woman!' I called. 'Children, wake up! Look what your old
man earned today. A silver dollar, round as a wheel. Let's have a dance,
Yente Leahl' "
" 'What!' she said, 'a silver tear? —tell me, Hershel, are you crazy, or
just out of your mind?' " And she threw me out into the cold.
"So you see, Rabbi, I still have the silver dollar with me."
With a grin Hershel shows the Rabbi the silver light.
The Night laughs aloud at the clown, and all the roads smile cheerful
and white.
— Translated from the Yiddish
by Sacvan Bercovitch
28 James Purdy / One-Act Play
Adeline
Cast:
VICTOR
MARCUS
Note: Adeline was first performed by The HB Playwrights' Foundation
Inc., at their theatre in New York. The play opened on September 19
and ran through September 29, 1979. The roles of victor and marcus
were played by Victor Bender and Ron Levine respectively.
Both Adeline and Wonderful Happy Days, the two plays in this issue of
Prism, were part of a program of four one-act plays by James Purdy,
entitled OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY. The other two plays on the
program were entitled What is Zach? and Now. All four plays were
directed by Frank Geraci.
Adeline, Copyright ©James Purdy 1978.
marcus: She can't see you tonight. . .
vie:  I was due here at eight o'clock.  .  . {looks at his watch) She's
never broken an appointment before.
marcus: She's not feeling so good tonight,
vie:  {worried) It's nothing serious is it?
marcus:  {unpleasantly, almost sneering) I wouldn't say so.
vie:  But what's the matter with her then she can't see me.
marcus: About once a month you know, Vic. . . You know,
vie:  I don't. . . {uneasy, ashamed)
marcus: You are completely in the dark about women, aren't you. One
would wonder if he ever had a mother. . . She's got the curse,
vie: The. . . ?
marcus: The curse {talking as one to a child). She's wearing the rag!
Flowing! Menstruating! Her cycle. . . ! The Moon and all that,
vie: You make it sound so. . . dirty. . .
marcus: Nature ain't fastidious, Vic. Not like you.
29 vie:  I never thought of her like that.
marcus: That's because you don't see her as a woman. . . You see her
{thinking, but unsure how to form his words). . . You see her. . .
vie:  {angered) Yes, how do I see her!
marcus: As somebody not human!
vie: Well, what's so wrong about that huh? If I idealize her a little.
marcus: And when I tell you she's sick menstruating, it turns your
stomach. . . Well, it don't turn mine. . . I love her all the better for
it because there's an occasional river of blood between her legs. . .
I don't even mind the smell to tell the truth!
vie: {turns away, makes a gagging sound)
marcus:  Turns your stomach, huh!
vie:  You make things sound so. . . nauseating.
marcus: Do I now!
vie: The rag,  the curse,  a river of blood.   .   . Why she's beautiful!
And pure.
marcus:  Did I say she wasn't?
vie:  {to himself) She's pure. . . There's nobody like her! In the entire
wide world.
marcus:  I agree. See, I'm agreeing with you. . . But she's a woman.
She's not from down on high. . . You're too young, or immature or
something. . .
vie: {stung) I can love her like I want to, my own way, without you
telling me or teaching me how.
marcus:  You've got to accept her as she is, though, flesh and blood,
not some faultless angel from on high. . . That's why it's good for
you to know she flows once a month!
vie: There you go again, enough to make a man throw up.
marcus:  You're not a man. . . quite yet, Vic. . . Or you wouldn't take
on so about her. . .
vie:  {rises) I'd best be going, I reckon. . . {waits a while) Maybe you
could take a message in to her now. . . Unless she's feeling too bad
of course. . . What does she take for her. . . condition. . .
marcus:  Oh some headache medicine. . . You know, a painkiller of
some kind. And she puts an ice bag on her head for the throbbing
in her temples,
vie: I bet if I was to rub her head it would make her feel better.
Couldn't you give her a message from me. . . That I came at the
appointed time, and am sorry she's not feeling well.
marcus: She told me not to disturb her, but I'll go in and tell her you're
here. . .
vie:  I'd be much obliged to you if you did, Marcus.
(marcus goes out.)
I'd give anything to see her. . . Marcus disgusts me. . . He said all
that to make me not like her anymore.  .  . I'll always care for
30 Adeline,  no matter what her condition is once a month.  Ugh.
{makes a grimace of distaste) Why did he have to tell me! I can't
stand it! I can't stand it. . . He's spoiled something. . .
marcus:  {re-enters) Vic. . . {sees the state he is in and stops) I gave her
your message. . . She wanted to come out to see you, but I told her
she better not. . .
vie:  I hope she can see me next week. . . At the same time.
marcus:  She will be well next time, she also asked me to tell you. {A
pause between the two young men.)
vie: And  she  has  to  go  through  this.   .   .   punishment.   .   .   every
month.
marcus: That's nature for you, or the Moon, or the tides, or whatever.
Once a month. . . Unless of course, she has been with somebody
and conceived,
vie:  What are you looking at me like that for, Marc?
marcus:  I wasn't aware I was looking at you like that. . . I don't think I
was.
vie:  You gave me a terrible look. . . Don't ever look at me like that
again.
marcus:  Well, the expression on your face ain't been too wonderful, for
your information,
vie: I wish there was something I could do so she wouldn't have to
be. . . uncomfortable. . . every month.
marcus:  Not all women do suffer so terribly, the Doc told me once
when my sister was having her monthly,
vie:  I'd give anything to see her, Marc. . . You sure she won't let me
just say ten words to her. . .
marcus:  I already give her your message. . . Now do you want me to go
in there and disturb her rest all over again. . .
vie:   I am selfish I suppose. . .
marcus:  {marvelling) Vic, you've got it bad. . .
vie:  {as if coming out of a drowse, and startled) What?
marcus:   What! You're crazy in love with her. . .
vie:  I. . . don't. . . know.
marcus:  Well, I know. . . When I see it. . .
vie:  It's true. . . I guess I think only about her. . .
marcus:  If you want me to, I'll go in again and ask her if she'll see you
for a moment,
vie: And disturb her all over again. . . No, better not.
marcus:  Vic, my God, you got it bad. . . I'll go speak to her if you say
the word. . .
vie: All right, Marc. . . And I'll do you a favour someday. . .
(marcus leaves the room again.)
I wonder if he's telling the truth. . . Is thinking about somebody all
the time. . . love. . . I wonder. . . I sure do think of nothing else. . .
31 but she's so far beyond me! And four years older too. . . And now
that he's told me about how she. . . The curse. {He quotes this) I
don't know. . . I don't know. . .
marcus:  {re-entering) She wants to see you, Vic.
vie: Oh thank you, Marc {presses his hand). As I said, I'll repay you
for this. . . {exits)
marcus: So once a week he came over here and she helps him with his
bookkeeping 'cause he's too damned dumb to do the lessons
himself. . . That's the pretext. . . Like the pretext I give him
tonight about what's wrong with her. . . Hm. . . Maybe I should
tell him that too. . . He's such a calf. Sick in love with her, but the
way a sick calf is in love with a woman. . . He could never mean
anything to her. . . Especially not now that this has happened. . .
Never in a million years. But when they're together. . . Those bookkeeping lessons! Christ! {He puts his head in his hands, in deep
dejection.) What if she died! . . . That doctor I don't think was
any damned good we went to!
(vie re-enters the room. He is badly shaken. He stands as if in
shock, mute, too upset to even shake.)
{not looking at him) Feel better now?
vie:  Oh, Marc. . . Marc.
marcus: Well, did she talk to you.
vie: {beginning to come to) What's wrong with Adeline? Look,
what's really wrong with her. . . Marc! Marc.
marcus: I knew this would happen if you went in there. . . Well, you
both wanted it, didn't you.
vie: She's sick, isn't she. . .
marcus: She's getting over being sick. . . She's getting over an abortion.
vie: What?
marcus: Don't raise your voice like that. Sit down. You heard me. . .
An abortion. Adeline was pregnant. . . She didn't want to have the
baby. . . (frightened by the look of rage and terror on we's face)
She didn't want to miss any of the bookkeeping lessons with you, I
guess.
vie: Oh, she didn't, did she? {He is going through extreme anguish,
which gives marcus pause.) Adeline. . . Adeline. . . She could do
this!
marcus: What are you talking about. . . Vic. . . Can I get you
something. . . A glass of water or something. . . Vic!
vie:  Is that what I need? A glass of water.
marcus: You need a shot of whiskey. . . {goes to the back and gets a
bottle, opens it, takes a swig himself, pours out a shot, and brings it
back to vie) Here, kid, swallow this right down.
vie: {swallows indifferently, absentmindedly) Adeline, {turning) Is
it true?
32 marcus:  What?
vie: That she's just. . . common. . . I thought. . . I . . .
marcus:  What are you talking about. . . Do you know?
vie:  She looked terible in there! I hardly recognized her at first.  .  .
And the smell. Oh God. The smell. . .
marcus:  Shall I get you another whiskey? Vic! Listen to me. . . What's
come over you.
vie: I knew when I looked at her, she didn't have the curse as you call
it. . .
marcus:  Yeah, well, don't think I ain't worried either. . .
vie:  I knew it wasn't the Moon or tides or flowing, or nature. . . She
also said a terrible thing to me.
marcus:  {frightened) Yeah?
vie: Yes.
marcus:  {after a wait) Well, what was it she said. . .
vie:  I suppose she must have said it to you. . . She kept saying it over
and over again. . . In fact I don't think she knew who I was. . .
marcus:  Well, what did she say.
vie:  "I  didn't  want   to  give  away  my  baby,"  she  kept  saying.   "I
wanted to keep him, but they wouldn't let me."
marcus: That isn't true. She didn't want him. She's the one who didn't
want him! I wanted him. Understand,
vie:  You?
marcus: Yes, me. . . I'm the father. . . I mean I was. . .
vie: {bitter) You know all about everything,  don't you,  Marc,  the
tides  and  the  flow  and the phases of the  Moon.   Understand
everything, don't you? {gets up) I won't ever be coming here again,
I don't suppose. . .
marcus:  Vic, you better stay the night,
vie:  I'd rather die!
marcus: {stung) You'd rather. . . What do you mean,
vie: She's like dead to me.   .   .  You're (stares at him almost with
horror). . . almost worse. . . I'll never come back here.
marcus:  (savagely) Who'll get you through bookkeping. . .
vie:  I'll fail, so what. . . I'll welcome. . . failing. . .
marcus:  Will you tell me (in passionate anger) what's so wrong with
what we did! Huh! You act as if she and I were.  .  . lepers.  .  .
rotten to the touch. . . When it's you. . .
vie:  It isn't that. . . {He begins to cough violently, then gets sick. . .
He goes over to the sink and vomits.)
marcus: {disgusted) . . . Good Jesus Christ God. . . I think I'm going to
throw up too. {He spits something into a hastily drawn out handkerchief )
(vie comes back into the room, wiping his lips with the back of
his hand.)
33 (coming over to him) Will you tell me something,
vie: Just let me catch my breath, then I'll be going. . . I don't want
to cause you any trouble or pain. . . I don't want to cause you the
pain you have caused me.
marcus: What pain have Adeline or I caused you.
vie:  I don't know.   .   .  Only I know you have.   .   .  You have killed
something in me. . . I looked up to her. . . Even to you I did. . .
You were rough, and as they say in town common, but good. . . I
thought anyhow you were. . . But it's all gone now. . . I just want to
vomit!
marcus: You don't know anything about life. . . About women,
vie: About the monthly flow of blood and the tides.
marcus:  You are an ignoramus. (He says this as if it were the most
atrocious obscenity.) I hate you. (He strikes him.)
vie: Hit me again. . . As if you meant it!
(marcus strikes him, he falls to his knees.)
Again! Harder!
(marcus hits him again. He is covered with blood.)
marcus:  Oh, you disgust me. . . I'm disgusted with myself. (He looks at
his fists.) To hit a boy who is not all there!
vie: What did you say. . . (He rises.)
marcus:  You heard me. . . Or shall I beat the words into your skull too
... Be quiet. . . I think she called just then. Did you hear her.
vie: You said I was not all there. . .
marcus:  That was Adeline calling. (He leaves the room.)
vie: Not all there. . . {He stands waiting.)
marcus: (re-enters after awhile) She was worried I guess about our
quarrel,
vie: You call what happened a quarrel.
marcus: She sent this word to you. . . She loves you dearly. . . she says.
(It is hard for him to get these words out.) Very dearly,
vie: How dearly can you love somebody not all there. . .
marcus:  Consider that I spoke in anger. . . (goes to the sink and brings
a face cloth and a small basin) Vic, let me bathe your face. . . Will
you. . .
vie:  Bathe away if you like. . . Bathe away. . . See if I care.
marcus: {washes his face) Vic, are you going to be all right?
vie: Who cares. I think you knocked one of my front teeth loose though
. . .Who cares. . . It's as though she didn't exist anymore for me. . .
First there was the curse, the tides, the Moon, the river of blood
between her beautiful white legs. . . Then what do I have to hear,
but that you have given her a baby, which she has lost, or has
killed, or has given away, or whatever, that you are the one who
had all her love. . .
marcus:  I don't think she ever loved me, Vic. . . I know it.
34 vie: And I suppose you expect me to believe she. . .
marcus: Yes, it was you she was really wrapped up in. . . in her
sickness, she calls out the name. . .
vie:   Of the boy that isn't all there, you mean.
marcus: I'd rather be you, let me tell you! If she could love me as she
loves you. . . I'd. . .
vie:  (strikes him) It was pity. . . It wasn't love. . . It was pity.
marcus: (hardly aware he has been struck) That's because you don't
understand women, Vic. . . You see. . . She always loved you the
most.
vie: For being slow-witted.
marcus:  For being young. . . and godly!
vie: Godly!
marcus:  That's how she saw you. . .
vie: {screams) {sits down on a little stool and begins to cry)
You've taken everything away from me I ever had. . . You took her,
when I worshipped her, you've taken me away from myself. . . I
don't have her or even me. . . anymore. . . Nothing! I'm left with
nothing! . . . (in passion) I should kill you! I should tear you to
pieces with my bare hands! But it's too good for you. (rises) It's too
good for you, killing. . . {He rushes out of the room.)
marcus: {waits a little while) I hear you Adeline. . . I'll be in in just a
little while now. . . I'm coming. . . Don't fret. . . I'll be in shortly.
Just a few seconds now. . .
35 James Purdy / One-Act Play
Wonderful Happy Days
Cast:
HANSEN
mama
FRANKIE
Note: Wonderful Happy Days was first performed by the HB Playwright's Foundation Inc., at their theatre in New York. The play
opened on September 19 and ran through September 29, 1979. The
roles of Hansen, mama and frankie were played by Byron Thomas,
Margaret Thomson and Todd Waring respectively. Directed by Frank
Geraci.
Wonderful Happy Days, Copyright ©James Purdy 1978.
mama:  I'm desperate tonight, Hansen.
Hansen:  Mama's always desperate. You know that.
mama:  If they foreclose on this place, I don't know what I'll do.
Hansen: You're young, you're very young for a woman who's accomplished as much as you have.
mama: I think I could stand my own troubles a little more easily if
Frankie would settle down. . . I can't believe a son of mine would
take up gambling the way everyone says he does. . . Of course he
denies it.
{Hansen turns away from his mother.)
I've always admired the way you never told on your brother,
Hansen. A lot of boys would have tattled. You are such a manly
boy. I've always admired you, Hansen.
Hansen:  {turning about) And I've always loved you the most.
mama: {takes his hand) Where will it all end. . . if he goes on the way
he's going. He's in debt over twenty thousand dollars! And he's
barely over twenty-one. What will he be at forty!
Hansen:  (shudders) Who ever wants to live so long!
mama: (laughs) Well, goodbye then, Hansen, I've overstayed my visit!
36 Hansen:   Oh, you have no age, Mama. You know that. . . When you're
a hundred you won't look forty.
mama: Wouldn't that be a strange to-do. . . If nobody ever looked their
age. The world would go backwards, (then, with fierce earnestness)
Why don't you talk to him, Hansen. He'll listen to you, I know he
will. . .
Hansen:  He always treats me as if I was the younger. . . And in a way I
am, Mama. . . He always ran around more. . . He knows more. . .
mama:  More of the things he shouldn't know, maybe!
Hansen:  Anyhow, Mama. . . He knows everything.
mama:  Then he's put it all to bad use! When he comes in, I'll have it
out with him! I'll know the reason why! He's ruined me! I could
have stayed here forever. . . Now, who knows? I'm going to lose
the only home I ever had. All because of Frankie's going to the race
track.
Hansen:  And all the rest of the places where he goes!
mama:  {softly) Thank God I don't know about them.
{Footsteps sound, the turning of the doorknob, a slight wait, then
frankie enters. He is about twenty-three,  blue-eyes, curly blond
hair, and a slightly shifty look.)
frankie:  (obviously having had too much to drink) Well, my whole
family is waiting up for me! Good evening, Mama! (He kisses her.)
Good evening, Hansen too. (He kisses him also.)
Hansen:  (pleased  but ashamed)  Oh,  Frankie,  watch out now.   (He
touches his mouth where Frankie has kissed him.)
frankie:  Don't you like me to kiss you anymore?
Hansen:  We're no longer boys, Frankie.
frankie:  If I feel like kissing somebody I'm going to kiss them. (He goes
over to Hansen and kisses him again.) After all, who is closer to me
than you, Hansen. Except of course (looking over at mama) Mama
herself.
mama:  Frankie, you could make Jesus and the angels sign a blank check
for you! I declare. . . Frankie, we've had awful bad news today.
(frankie sits down.)
But before I tell you about it, Hansen go over there in the back and
bring Frankie a cup of that hot coffee I just made.
frankie:  I don't want any coffee.
mama:  Frankie, you've been drinking. . . I want you to take some coffee
before we have our talk.
frankie:  I hate coffee, especially when I'm feeling good.
mama: Hansen.
{He obeys her and goes over to the stove, brings back a cup of
coffee, hands it to his brother.)
frankie:  I'll tell you. I'll drink a cup of coffee if Hansen will drink a
cup too. . . Or drink out of the same cup with me.
37 Hansen:  (embarrassed but pleased) Oh get out! (sits down)
(hansen and frankie begin to drink from the same cup.)
mama: When I see you two boys together, so friendly and happy,
nothing else matters. It's my idea of heaven, sitting here with you
two boys. That must be what heaven is.
frankie:  You weren't. . . in earnest just now were you Mama?
(He drinks the coffee, then gives his cup to hansen, who obediently
sips a little.)
hansen:  Mama's always in earnest.
mama: There's something I haven't told either of you two boys. . . I
didn't want to spoil everything.
hansen:  What do you mean by that, Mama.
frankie:  (sobering up) Yes, Mama. . .
hansen: You look so strange, Mama. . . And so young. . . You seem to
be getting younger as you talk. . . {turning to frankie) Mama has
lost the mortgage to her house. . . I'm afraid we'll have to move.
frankie:  That's where Mama's wrong. . .
mama:  (worried) What do you mean by that now, Frankie?
frankie: (strangely, ominously) Because. . . I've come into a windfall.
Because, Mama, (turns also to hansen) because I've outdone
myself this time. . . Mama, I've won a fortune. . . And I've been to
the bank and bought up your mortgage. {He takes out some
papers and throws them on the table.)
mama: (picking them up, reading them) Why Frankie. (unbelieving,
beside herself) You mean, all our worries are over. . .
frankie: You think I've been gambling, I know. . . But I haven't. . .
Really. . . I've gone with Mr. Cassini and his organization. . . And,
Mama, they like me. . . I'm doing fine. (His voice lowers however.)
mama:   Mr. Cassini! ... I see.
hansen:   I thought. . . he had gone back. . . to Italy.
frankie:  He's returned. . . And I've. . . gone right to the top with him.
hansen: Mama, you look very tired. . . Don't you think. . . maybe you
should lie down.
mama:  (suspicious) What do you mean?
hansen:  Nothing at all.
mama: Frankie, it's all too strange and wonderful. . . This has been a
strange evening. . . You two boys acting so close again. . . The
bought-up deed to our house. . . Hansen, I believe I will go back
and lie down a little. . . No, no, Frankie, I'll be right out again. . .
Just a few minutes on the horizontal, and I'll be good as new.
Hansen:  {looks after her apprehensively) Can't I help you, Mama.
mama: No. {said almost coldly, angrily, then stops) I was going to tell
you boys a little something. . .
hansen: Yes, Mama.
38 mama:  Hansen, what do you mean?
hansen:  What do I mean, Mama. . . Why, nothing. . . You said you
were going to tell us something. . . But I agree, you ought to rest. .
mama:  Why do you think I should rest. . .
hansen:  (desperately moved) Only if you want to, dear. . .
mama:  (turning away) He's too loving tonight even for a boy as loving
as Hansen. . . Couldn't he. . . know? No, not a chance. . .
frankie:  (puzzled) You said you were going to tell us something.
mama:  But after your good news,  our getting back the house,  the
other, to tell the truth! I've forgotten what it was.
hansen:  (passionately) Mama!
mama:  What is it now? Your brother is acting so strange tonight.
frankie: Do you have something to tell us tonight. . .
mama:  Of course not! I told you I had forgotten already what it was I
was going to say. . . I think some little problem about the house. . .
Some repairs. {She suddenly acts sick.)
hansen:  Mama! (He goes up to her.) Let me help you on in. (frankie
watches them as hansen helps mama into the next room.)
(hansen returns.) Frankie. {sits down) More coffee?
frankie:  If you want more, Hansen. . .
hansen:  I think I do. . . Shall I bring two cups this time.
frankie:  I liked it from just the one cup, Hansen. . . You know that.
hansen:  {moved) One is good enough for me too then.
frankie: You're a. . . prize. . . Hansen. . . You and Mama. . . That's
why I did it. . .
hansen:  (getting the coffee, bringing it back) Did what, Frankie?
frankie: (almost insanely) What I did.
hansen:  I don't understand, Frankie.
frankie:  Don't try. . . I couldn't let Mama be thrown into the street. . .
So I did it.
hansen:  (frightened) Did what?
frankie:   Never mind, (drinks) Drink after me, Hansen. . . Go on. I'm
so close to you. . . Are you as close to me?
hansen: You know it.
frankie: Then that's all that matters. . . (throws himself into hansen'5
arms and begins to weep)
hansen:  Frankie! What is it?
frankie:  I couldn't let them throw her out. . . So I had to do it.
hansen:  Did you do something wrong, Frankie?
frankie: {evasive) Of course not.
hansen:  Then why do you keep saying, or you said. . .
frankie:  Let's forget it. . . {drinks and gives the cup to him) I'm cold
sober, Hansen. . . What's wrong with Mama?
hansen:  (defensively) What?
39 frankie:  You're good at keeping secrets too, aren't you.
hansen:  As Mama said this is a time for celebration. We've got back
her house.
frankie:  Hansen, don't. . . hide things. . . Don't hide anything.  . .
Hansen, you are, you are!
(hansen turns away, but frankie pulls him toward him.)
Tell me, Hanse, tell me. . . Go on. . . I always think of you as the
younger somehow.
hansen:  It's the worst thing I can tell anybody. . . I don't think I can
form the words. . .
frankie:  For Christ's sake. . . It can't be that bad.
hansen:  I don't know anything. . . more bad, and I don't believe you
will either. . . Mama got no more than two or three weeks.  .  .
{stops)
frankie:   . . . To live you mean? {calm)
hansen:  You're composed, Frankie. . . That relieves me. . . Because
you were the baby always. . . She can't get well, Frankie. . . She
may. . . die any minute, hour, day. . . But it's only days now. . .
The doctor told me a month ago. She don't know I know. . .
frankie:  Then I done it all for nothing!
hansen: What?
frankie:  {rising) Never mind!
hansen:  (frightened, knowing) You didn't do anything you'll be sorry
for, did you.
frankie:  Oh, you kid. {goes over and embraces him) You beat the
Dutch. . . I'm afraid I may have to leave now.
hansen:  Leave. What do you mean, leave.
frankie:   I can't explain.
hansen:  You can't leave now,  when it's so little time that's left. . .
Frankie, don't leave me alone with her. Don't you understand, I
can't face it alone with her. . . dying. . . You got to be here with me
frankie:  Don't you think I'd stay here forever if I could. . . But if I
stay, Hansen. (He throws himself into Hansen's arms.) if I stay
they'll separate me from you in any case. . .
hansen: Then you did do something wrong.
frankie:  {passionately) My whole life, Hanse, it's been wrong. . . I'm
up to my eyes. . . in wrong. . . Understand. . . You're looking at a. .
hansen:  (presses him against him) Don't say it, don't let it be heard. . .
frankie: Do you love me, Hanse?
hansen:  {desperately) More than anything in the world.
frankie:  More than Mama?
hansen:  Oh don't say that, Frankie.
frankie: Tell me you love me more than Mama, Hanse. . . Please. . .
Even if it ain't true, just tell me.
40 Hansen:  Can you doubt it. . .
frankie:  Then say it. . .
hansen:  Oh, Frankie. . . Yes, I love you more than anybody else in the
wide wide world.
frankie:  That's what she always told me, Hanse.
hansen:  She did? (sad, but resigned) She loved you best, I guess.
frankie:  Oh now, Hanse, she didn't. . . She loved you. You were the
one. You were the one she trusted.
hansen:  Frankie, you haven't. . . killed anybody, have you?
frankie:  (pauses a long time)Just myself, Hanse. . . Just myself, (begins
to go)
hansen:  Aren't you going to say goodbye. . . to Mama.
frankie:  If I went in there, Hanse. . . I would. . . die. . .
hansen:  But just say goodbye, can't you. . .
frankie:  I'm not strong like you, Hanse. Not strong and true, and solid
... If I go in there, I will die. . . And they'll come for me in any
case. . . They're looking for me, don't you understand. I've got no
more time!
hansen:  Oh, Jesus Christ. . . Go then.
frankie:  (picks up the coffee cup and sips) Goodbye then, Hanse. . .
I'll. . . try to write you. . .
hansen:  But where can I reach you. . . Your address. . . or something.
frankie:  (puts his hand on his mouth) I can't stay another second.
(exits)
hansen:  Frankie! Oh, God. (sits down, picks up the coffee cup, brings it
slowly to his lips)
(mama enters.)
mama:  I slept a little, boys, and feel greatly refreshed and better. . .
Why, where's Frankie.
Hansen:   (looking up, trying to get control of himself) He went out for a
bit of fresh air. (at the look of anguish on her face, raises his voice
encouragingly) He'll be back though in a very short time he said to
tell you.
mama:   I can't believe our good fortune! To think our house is saved.
(She says this though with sorrow and resignation.) It will be such a
wonderful thing for you boys to share together.
hansen:  (bitterly) With you, Mama.
mama:  Where did Frankie go. . . Do you hear me, Hansen. Do you
hear.
hansen:  He went {hypnotically) for a breath of fresh air.
mama:  {with passion) Don't lie to me, Hansen, my dearest. Don't lie to
an old dying woman!
hansen:  Mama! Don't, don't. . . Don't ask me. . . Please don't.
mama: You must be brave. . .
hansen:  I can be brave for myself, Mama. . . But I can't be brave for
41 you and Frankie. . . I can't be brave for the ones I love.
mama:  He did something terrible, didn't he. . . He's wanted isn't he.
Go ahead tell me.
(hansen buries his face in his hands.)
You know. . . I'm going to die, Hansen. . . You can't fool me. . .
So tell Mama. . . Go on. . . You are the brave one.
hansen:  I don't have. . . any bravery.
mama:  They're after him, aren't they?
hansen:  Yes. Yes! Yes! Yes!
mama: (going to the stove,  brings back the coffee cup full) And I
won't ever see him again, I don't suppose. {She drinks.)
hansen:  (takes the cup from her and drinks too) Mama, we had some
wonderful happy moments and even days though, didn't we. . .
Mama! Didn't we?
(She takes the cup and drinks it, and then hands it back to him.)
42 Jane Urquhart / Four Poems
GRANDMOTHER CROSSES THE
SUSPENSION BRIDGE
Grandmother crosses
the suspension
bridge
she is seven years old
and in the process
of eliminating
errands
she watches amazed
as the loaf of bread
she has carried
from the American side
slips from her hands
and somersaults gently
to the rapids below
it appears
as light
as an angel's gold
brick
later
the streetcars passing
on mainstreet
would bring to her mind
the bump
of rubber wheels
on wooden planks
as she rides her
tricycle
thinking of home
43 GRANDMOTHER KEEPS SCORE
The sunroom
in the afternoon
escalates beyond light
to become a perfect timepiece
as she sits
down
to keep score        to cultivate
a careful record of that
which the river
had to offer
during the summer of 1928
the pen beside the inkwell
on the walnut desk
lifts
in grandmother's fingers
emptying
words of shoes tattoos and labels
of hair and teeth and weight
the contents of a pocket
or the value of a tiepin
and now
as dust motes sail
across her vision        she pens
the answer to a question
the essence
of a definition
as beside the number 116
she writes
body that
of a small man
44 THE TRAIN TO SOUTH DAKOTA
The train
to south dakota
and she sits
on red plush seats
beside her oldest son
at home
he spends his time
silent in the stables
his face against
the slippery
necks of horses
there
and here
he cannot talk
he cannot speak the landscape
passing by the windows
or the nights
when view is merely a reflection
of other people's faces
in the glass
mingled with his own
45 he cannot say
the moon is in the water
of the ditch beside the tracks
and so throughout the journey
grandmother listens
sometimes
to the abandon of the whistle
but mostly
to the wheels
beneath the train
which say to her
someone there will fix him
someone there will fix him
46 THE LIMIT OF SUSPENSION
On three
small scraps of paper
grandmother writes
of how the suspension bridge
fell down
(The cotton wool
crash
which pulled her from
starched sheets to the
lung stopping
chill of the January night
the small protest
of each
more than frozen
footstep)
and looking at
the suspension bridge
which lay
broken backed against the ice
like an injured dragon
grandmother
would wonder about
each of her magic crossings
but writes here
only
the suspension bridge
fell down
and it did make a noise
47  Introducing Solomon Ary
After twenty years PRISM International has become accustomed
to introducing new writing talent to its readers. Yet when
Solomon Ary's tales arrived in the mail last spring, they held a
special appeal. Though we publish many new writers, it is seldom
we have the opportunity to introduce a writer who began his work
at age sixty-five.
We were sufficiently impressed with this material to believe it
deserves the special attention of our readers. So we have set aside
this portion of the magazine for the writer and his work.
Here are four tales by Mr. Ary; one of the letters that he wrote
to the magazine; and a short interview.
The four stories were translated from the Yiddish by R.
Malmquist and Sacvan Bercovitch.
PETER CROWELL
49 Solomon Ary / Four Tales
The Pact
Bailka was a fiery beauty, with dark auburn hair and blue-green eyes.
Her mouth was dainty, her nose delicate, her breasts perfect. Her
manner was always happy, lighthearted. When she was only thirteen,
the boys in the neighbourhood already took notice. They could see she
was in a class by herself.
Bailka's parents had no money. Her father, Red Zalmon, owned a
cab, and earned barely enough to make ends meet. He was tall and
well-built, with red hair and dark eyes, but he had the look of a
desperate man. Something always seemed to be troubling him. Still, he
and his wife had one great joy in life —their daughter, Bailka. When she
walked to the village with her friends, Red Zalmon would sit in the cab,
staring after her, his mouth half-open in a smile of pure pleasure. For
her sake, he scrimped on everything, wouldn't even take a shot of
whiskey. All this so that his Bailka should want for nothing.
When she turned fifteen, she met a young fellow of the same age, and
right off they went everywhere together. He was tall and handsome, and
he wore fine clothes. His pockets always jingled with money. His family
was well set up with a shop in a prosperous part of town. Of course, the
idea of having a cabbie in the family was not to their liking, and they
tried to discourage the romance. But their son wouldn't listen. He said
that he and Bailka were meant for each other.
In the evenings he would come to take her out for a stroll, and all the
village mothers would come and sit in front of their houses to watch.
"May no evil befall them," they'd sigh, beaming at the young couple.
"What a lovely pair they are!" "It should only happen to our children. ..."
So it went, for over a year. Then suddenly the young fellow stopped
coming around. Bailka's mother never left the house, and the girl
herself was not to be seen. Red Zalmon sat in his cab, drunk, and
sometimes he was seen weeping bitterly.
No one wondered what happened. No one had to ask. At that time,
in Poland, there was a strict moral code for women. All it took was a few
50 guys to spread the word about having sex with a girl, and the cops would
start a "black book" on her. She'd be known as a prostitute. Every
month she would have to report to a doctor to check for venereal
disease.
The game that was most popular with some of the guys went this way.
A fellow would go out with a girl, and convince her that he really loved
her and that they would marry someday. But in the meantime, he'd
want to have sex with her. And the girl, being in love, would believe him
and do as he asked. So her fate would be in his hands. Later, he might
decide that he was through with her. Then there would be an
outcry —but so what? It would all be forgotten soon enough.
Sometimes the game was played with a different angle. A guy might
want to show his friends that he wasn't just anybody —that he knew how
to win a girl and then drop her. So he'd get in cahoots with another
fellow. This other fellow would come to a certain place at a time agreed
upon, and there he would "surprise" the couple while they were having
sex. The friend would then threaten the girl with public disgrace before
her family and friends unless she'd put out for him too —at least that
once. If the frightened girl gave in to his demands, she'd be caught in a
net from which there was no escape. By the time another "friend" had
asked for "just one time," there would be quite a few guys who knew
about her. They'd make threats to expose her to the cops, and talk of
the "black book," warning that she'd be no better than a common
whore. Gradually she would become known to all the guys, and after
that to the street thugs. Then, finally, she'd be forced into having sex
with a whole gang at a time. On those occasions, two guys would walk
out in front, with the dejected girl between them, and the others would
follow about twenty feet behind, all of them joking loudly, as though
they were on their way to a carnival. One thug who was almost always
there in the gang was Shmuelkeh Baraban, a short, broad-shouldered
guy with a pock-marked face. He was the favorite "hit man" for the
younger set of gangsters in town, because he took such pleasure in
beating up people.
When a bunch of guys planned an operation like that, it was called "a
pact."
Bailka became the victim of one of those pacts. No matter how she
twisted and turned she could see no way out of the trap. She was
terrified of telling her parents, and of course her handsome sweetheart
had vanished. She was abandoned to the streets. Once, Shmuelkeh
Baraban tried to force her to take his penis in her mouth. In her fury,
she bit off a piece of it. The cops took him to the hospital and that's how
Red Zalmon got the news. He went wild with rage, and beat his
daughter so that no one could recognize her. Bailka's smiling face was
seen no more.
51 The young fellows didn't take much notice of the loss, or of the
drunken Red Zalmon. But they did take the time to make up a little
song, which they laughingly hummed around town:
A knife will stain the foreskin red,
Let Bailka bite it off instead!
Ay, diddle diddle dum. . . .
52 Solomon Ary
Grandma Slova
Beyond the broad paved square where the market ended, between the
stone wall and the village booths, their open shutters hung with colored
kerchiefs and strings of beads, peasant women sat selling freshly-picked
berries. They sat on cushions or on the ground, with white cloths spread
out in front of them, and on the cloths mountains of fresh berries, red
and black. There every morning my grandma Slova would buy
breakfast for all her grandchildren. For me she always bought
strawberries, because I loved them best.
Grandma Slova did not wear a wig, as pious women were supposed to
do. She kept her light brown hair covered with a kerchief. Her family,
you see, were Slonimer Chassidim, a religious sect that protested, in a
quiet but stubborn way, against some of the more rigorous orthodox
practices of the time. Slova followed the Slonimer traditions. She spoke
little, never cursed or quarreled, and I can't remember ever having
heard her laugh. Even at weddings, she offered no more than a gentle
smile. She never pestered us about religion, and never uttered a word
against God.
My grandfather, Slova's husband, died young, and she was left poor,
with five children and plenty of worries. When she was sixty, the factory
she worked at as a seamstress moved out of Byalistok into a small town
nearby. Slova walked the eight kilometers every Monday morning, and
slept over all week on sacks of cloth in the factory warehouse. Finally,
she found that was too hard for her, especially during the winters. So
she stayed home, helped with the housework, and took care of us
grandchildren.
She had five children, as I said, three sons and two daughters. Of her
two daughters, my mother Malka was most like her, small and fair-
skinned, and gentle by nature. My aunt Fayge was more like
grandfather. She had dark skin and large dark eyes, and was very
pretty. Fayge married a young man named Velvel, from the Caucasus,
who had a talent for card-playing. He was good at nothing else, so he
grew an elegant little beard, just like Czar Nikolai's, and travelled
around on the trains, making a living at cards.
Slova's eldest son, Avram, saw no future for himself in Russia, and
53 decided to seek his fortune in America. We all went to see him off at the
train, and it was the last we saw or heard of him. He vanished without a
trace.
The second son, Moishe, became a locksmith. He also became a
revolutionary, and got involved in a plot to assassinate one of the Czar's
ministers. This was the plan. Four comrades were to stand in wait,
each at a different street, where the minister was sure to pass; if for some
reason the first man couldn't throw his bomb at the minister, it would
be up to the second man, and so forth. As soon as a bomb exploded, the
others would make a getaway.
Well, the first bomb went off on target. My uncle, who was the fourth
man, ran down to the river, leaped into a boat, rowed out a while, and
then threw the bomb overboard. It was all done according to plan, only
the peasant who owned the boat caught sight of him and called the
police. Moishe was arrested. The Judge sentenced him to death.
Grandma Slova was never one for weeping. She pawned everything
she owned, and collected what she could from relatives. Then, through
a lawyer, she wrote a letter to Czar Nikolai himself. She begged the Czar
to have pity, pleading that her son was barely eighteen, a mere boy who
didn't have the sense to understand what he had tried to do. And the
Czar showed mercy! The sentence was commuted to life in Siberia.
But grandma wouldn't rest. She had the lawyer write again to the
Czar, the father of all the nations under the protection of the Russian
Crown, thanking him a thousand times for his great benevolence, but
pointing out that, under the terms of life-imprisonment, she could
never see her son again. In the name of her dead husband and all that
was holy, she begged him to take pity on her plight, the plight of a poor
widowed seamstress, and to help her once more. And once more the
sentence was lightened, this time to a twenty-year term in Siberia. But
there was to be an end to her letters now —no more pleas accepted.
Well, Moishe served a few years in Siberia, and then the Revolution
broke out. Soon after we received a photo of him with his arm around a
blonde Russian woman. They were both smiling, standing in front of
the building where Lenin had called the National Assembly. In the
letter he wrote: "This is my wife. We love each other. Now things will be
different. Kerensky is out and Lenin is in charge. They will heal my
lungs, give me new teeth. All will be well. My worries are over. Long live
the Revolution!" But as it turned out the Assembly was divided on the
question of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and Moishe happened to
vote against any sort of dictatorship, so he was sent back to Siberia. This
time there was no one to appeal to. My uncle was never seen again.
Grandma Slova had now lost two sons. She was afraid, even before
the Bolsheviks came to our town, that her youngest, Itzke, would be
taken by one army or the other, and God forbid, killed in the war. She
filled a sack with straw, took some blankets, and carried everything up
54 to the "attic," a narrow space just under the roof. She told Itzke, "This
is where you must stay until the armies have left."
He took some books, his prayer book and shawl, and settled himself in
the attic. There he ate, slept, and hardly stirred for over a month.
When he finally crawled out, he felt terrible pains in his legs.
Compresses were laid, doctors called, but nothing helped. His legs
turned bright red, and hot to the touch. He would never bend them
again.
So they had to carry Itzke to bed, and grandma cared for him. When
he felt good, he sang, read, or told stories. He was wonderful to listen
to. And how he could play the violin! He'd prop himself up, legs
outstretched, with the fiddle under his chin, and pour out melodies.
When he felt bad, though, he'd yell at grandma, cursing her bitterly for
all his miseries. She bore this burden without complaint. In her eyes it
was a punishment from God.
I last saw grandma Slova in the train coach which was to carry me to
Warsaw en route to Canada. Everywhere emigrants were saying their
goodbyes, people were crying. My own family was bustling all around
me, shouting advice, kissing me, wishing me well. I was confused, and
somehow unaware of what was really happening. Then my mother said,
"Son, you must say goodbye to grandma." Suddenly I realized, with a
rush of emotion, that I'd probably never see them again. Of course, I
had no inkling then of what would happen —no premonition that one
day the Nazis would march my grandmother, along with my parents
and my uncle Itzke and other Byalistok Jews, into the local synagogue,
and set it on fire —but somehow I had the sense that this was our last
time together. Grandma Slova was standing at my side, looking at me
quietly with her gentle, tired, light brown eyes. No sobs, no tears. She
took my hand in hers and stroked my wet cheeks. "God willing," she
said, "I'll live to see you again." Then she kissed me lightly, walked to
the exit door, remained standing there a few moments, and stepped off
the train.
55 Solomon Ary
'Moshevay"
I couldn't hitch a ride all day. I'd been tramping the road from
Montreal, and by late afternoon I was dead tired, and thinking about
sleeping overnight in the fields. Just then I saw a horse and wagon
coming. "Ho, tabarnac!" the driver called out, and the horse came to a
stop beside me. It was a French farmer, in blue overalls and a crumpled
cap —a tall, thin man, with light brown hair, a long neck, a little
narrow nose, and wispy moustache.
"Where you go?" he said.
"I go Toronto."
"Ah, oui? You go Toronto?"
"I go for work."
"You like work? Bon," he said, "me too. You like beer?"
"Sure," I said.
"Bon. Sit down here!" And he pulled a bottle of beer from under his
seat and gave it to me, hiccupped, pulled out another beer for himself,
took a swig, belched loudly, and sighed.
"You like work," he said. "OK, me work too. You work my farm,
tabernad OK?"
We sat side by side on the wagon, and the horses walked along at a
leisurely pace. When he finished his beer the farmer took out another
bottle. He was starting to get drunk. "You work my farm," he said.
"You eat, tabarnacl You drink beer, you money, OK?"
"OK," I said. "I work." The smell of alcohol was strong now. I turned
sideways on the seat, and looked over at the river; its waves washed up
against the stones at the roadside.
The farmer nudged me with his elbow. "Good water, good fish,
'tabarnacl We catch fish?"
"My father fish," I said. He nodded, approving.
It was getting dark. Suddenly, he stopped the horse, stood up on the
seat, and bellowed in the direction of a house that stood at the river's
edge. He yelled so loud his voice kept breaking every few moments.
Then he began to sway from side to side, and I grabbed hold of
him — all I needed was for him to fall off that wagon! The horse stood
56 munching grass by the roadside. I held the farmer fast under both arms,
while he struggled to get away, bellowing all the time toward the house,
cursing away in French and shaking his fist. No one appeared, no one
answered, except a dog, barking from somewhere in the distance. Then
the barking got louder, closer, and suddenly there was a large black dog
across the roadside ditch, his lips curled back, sharp white teeth
showing. So the farmer turned to yell at him. My God, I thought; what
if the dog jumps across the ditch? (I'd always been scared of dogs.) And
so I began to plead, "OK, OK now. Please, go," and I put another
bottle of beer into his hand. At that, he quieted down, settled back on
the seat, grumbling, and snapped his whip at the horse.
By the time we turned into the open gate, it was pitch dark. The
farmer got down from the wagon, bottle in hand, and started bellowing
again, louder than before, cursing at the top of his lungs until his wife
came out of the house. She was short, with dark blonde hair, not a bad
looking woman. Silently she began to unharness the horse, and I helped
along. She looked at me from time to time, in silence. Unharnessed, the
horse shook himself as though in relief from a long, hard day. Then he
walked toward the river, drank his fill, and went off into the woods
behind the house. I looked around. A wide river, reflecting lights from
far off; a forest on one side, on the other a small house and garden. It
was a lovely sight, a real country place. I could eat and drink here, and
even earn a few dollars. What more could I ask?
The farmer, my boss, was good and drunk by now. Inside the house,
he sat with his cap on, his back to the window, and argued with himself.
His wife brought in some cheese and beer and a few loaves of stale
bread —all the food she'd unloaded from the wagon. The boss himself
did not eat. But his wife and I chewed on the stale bread and cheese and
drank tea. Afterwards, she sat in a rocking chair, and rocked back and
forth, endlessly. Her husband kept talking to himself, or to the wall.
And I sat on a sofa in the corner and looked at both of them.
Eventually, the boss seemed to tire. He leaned back against the
window, staring with half-closed eyes at the unfinished bottle of beer in
front of him. I could hear only the rushing of water outside and the
monotonous creaking of the rocking chair. Then the creaking stopped.
The woman got up, made a bed for me on the sofa, and went into the
next room. Her husband sat down on one end of the sofa and was soon
snoring. So I covered myself with the blanket and fell asleep too.
Early next morning we had the same menu for breakfast: stale bread
and cheese and tea. Obviously that was all there was to eat. When I
went out into the yard, I found the boss sitting on a log, with a bottle of
beer in hand. He got up, walked with me behind the house, and told
me, pointing to the forest: "You go, you look the horse! You no see? You
yell Moshevay! Moshevay!" Now, forty-five years later, I know what he
meant —mow cheval, "go and find my horse!" But then I had no idea. I
57 just went off into the woods, yelling "Moshevay! Moshevay!" I yelled
until my head spun. The horse had vanished.
Deep in the woods I came across a farm house, with two farmers
standing in the doorway, talking. Softly, respectfully, I walked up to
them and asked, "Moshevay? Horse?" They looked at me in surprise and
said nothing. What should I do? I continued on my way, yelling
"Moshevay!" And then, suddenly, there he was, standing in a clearing
and munching grass. "Moshevay!" But as I approached he backed off.
So I stood still and waited, just watching, so as not to lose sight of him.
For his part, the horse kept grazing without taking notice of me. Except
that if I'd take a step or two toward him, he'd back off two or three
steps. I suppose we could have gone on like that forever, but as luck
would have it a young farmer passed by. I ran up to him and, gesturing
with my hands, begged him to help —"Moshevay!" He seemed to
understand my trouble because he walked right up to the horse, spoke
quietly to him, and then brought him over to me. After I thanked the
man, I took off my belt and tied it to the bridle. Then I led the horse
back home.
My boss was waiting where I left him, drinking his beer. He took the
horse and hitched him to the wagon, which was not loaded with wood.
Then he stretched his arm toward the river, pointing to a place, far off,
where I saw a lamp reflecting in the water. "You go boat," he said.
"You bring." As I understood it, I was to take the rowboat and bring
back whatever he had there. So I got into the boat, while he drove off in
the wagon.
It was a while before I maneuvered free of the shore and into
midstream, and then I discovered I couldn't control the boat because I
had only one oar. The wind blew harder, the waves billowed around
me, forming hills and valleys. The boat rose and plunged. I held on
with both hands for dear life. Then the oar slipped overboard. What
was I to do? I couldn't swim. I sat there, terrified. By luck the wind
drove the boat against a huge rock near the shore —who knows how far
from my boss and his Moshevay. I jumped out of the boat in my shoes,
without bothering even to roll up my trousers. Stumbling through the
water, I hurried to shore, and ran for the road that led back to
Montreal.
58 Solomon Ary
Business
I arrived in Canada in 1930, just in time for the depression. In Poland
I'd learned the furrier trade, so I went looking for that sort of work in
some of the large Toronto factories.
I walked the long streets —Spadina, Bloor, Dundas. No help needed.
But then, cutting through a side street, I noticed a small furrier's shop.
The only person inside was the boss himself. He looked me up and
down.
"What can you do?" he asked, staring hard at me through his thick
glasses.
"I can stretch furs, and I can sew on a machine."
"Good! An operator I can use. Take this pack of furs and sew."
Now, until then I'd never even heard of electric machines. I laid the
fur between the wheels and pressed my foot to the pedal. The machine
took off with such a roar that I jumped. Instantly he was at me.
"Out!" he yelled. "This minute! OUT!"
I tried to explain but he wouldn't even listen. "Out!" he yelled again.
In his rage, his glasses slid down his nose. He pushed them back, yelling
all the while, "Out this minute! This minute!"
So I went out. "My luck!" I thought. "I finally land a job, so it's with a
maniac."
When I got home I told my cousin the whole story. He was "resting"
in bed, and looking calmly at me with his big black eyes. Such things
did not worry him. He got up and carefully combed his oily black hair.
"Don't worry, boy," he said. "Come on. It's gonna be alright, boy."
We went off to Oxford Street, to see some friends of his. One of them
took a special interest in us. He was a young fellow, short, with a thick
neck and large grey eyes. He listened sympatheticaly, rubbing the tip of
his long nose with two fingers. When I finished my tale of woes, he spoke
up.
"You want to make a living? Okay. I'll tell you what to do. You boys
ought to go into business."
"Business?" I said. "What's that?"
"It means that you won't be workers and you won't be bosses. You
won't be workers because you won't work for anyone. You won't be
59 bosses because no one will work for you. And you'll be making a living."
"A living—how?"
"This is how. You'll go into business. I also was in this business. Now
I'm in another line, but I don't want to give up all my old customers,
since it could happen that I'll want to get back into this business."
I had no idea of what he wanted, but I said, "I'm ready. Let it be
business as long as we make a living. But to tell the truth, I still don't
know what we're supposed to do."
"Never mind that," he said. "The main thing is, that you know what
business is. Now listen. I'm going to make you a proposition. I'll rent
you my horse and wagon. For this, you pay me a dollar a day. It'll be
your only expense, and that's a good offer. You'll keep the horse back
there in my yard. He's a fine horse, but he's sensitive. He's got
problems."
"What do you mean, sensitive? Is he crazy!"
"God forbid! Sensitive just means that he's okay, a fine horse. Only he
hates anything new. Getting new owners will be a problem for him. And
if he had to move to a new place it could bring on all kinds of problems
for him."
"Listen," I said, "We've been talking and talking and I still don't
know what we're supposed to do. Let's get to the point. How do we get
into business?"
"You've got to drive to the market, and buy different kinds of
vegetables. Then sell them to my customers in the sidestreets around
Spadina and Dundas. That's all! You'll be okay!"
Well, my father had had a horse in Poland, so I knew how to handle
horses. As for my cousin, he was familiar with the Toronto streets; he'd
arrived three months before I did. So the deal was set. We all shook
hands, and my cousin and I were in business.
Next morning, bright and early, we went to the marketplace. We
bought tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and pears, and then drove off to the
sidestreets along Spadina and Dundas. My cousin cried our wares in
English, I in Yiddish: "Potatoes, tomatoes! Buy them! Eat them!"
The fastest moving items were tomatoes and pears. That was because
my cousin loved to eat tomatoes, and I loved pears. The rest of it didn't
go so well. Could be we paid too much. . . but never mind, we'd learn.
The main thing was, we were in business.
Our real problem, as it turned out, was the horse. Outwardly, he was
a quiet sort, dignified, all white, with a long shaggy mane and a long
tail. He might once have belonged to an English officer. But these days
he was being driven by two Jewish greenhorns and lived in a yard
without a roof over his head. Now, on a moonlit night, under a starry
sky, that sort of life could be beautiful, but if it rained. . . well, then I
suppose he realized that he'd fallen among greenhorns. Still, what could
he do about it? Hang his head, and heave a sigh from time to time.
60 But that's beside the point. What I wanted to say was that when we
drove him through the Toronto streets he was impossible to manage.
When the street lights turned red he strained to go forward. As soon as
the light turned green he stayed rooted to the spot. I'd kick him, hit him
with the whip, but I couldn't make him move. That is, not until the
light turned red.
I began to think that his mind worked in a sort of "delayed action
process." For example, when I hollered, "Come on, damn you!" it took
him awhile to decipher the message. By the time he got it the light had
turned red. Then I'd yell, "Stop! May all your wounds split open, stop!"
But he'd tear so hard at the braces that my cousin would have to jump
down and grab the bridle.
Otherwise, at all other times, he'd walk slowly, step by step. He was a
very old horse, you see. So we named him Messiah's Horse.
One day my cousin decided to discuss our problems with an English
fellow, a Toronto native, and a businessman just like ourselves. His
father, he bragged, was a horse expert. We asked him why it was that
whenever the fire engines came by and traffic was at a standstill, our
horse wanted to start galloping. And why, whenever some fancy funeral
passed, with a cop standing there on the street corner to stop traffic, our
horse had to stamp his hoof and toss his head, until we'd have to get
down and apologize to the cop.
The English fellow promised to talk all this over with his father. He
came back the next day, studied Messiah Horse's teeth, looked under his
tail, examined him from head to toe. Then he said, "Your horse is old.
And I remember what my grandfather, just before he died, said to my
father, 'Son, you can't teach an old horse new tricks.' That's what your
trouble is."
I said to my cousin, "What, just like that? He must have had a smart
grandfather! Well, let's go on back to the market, to buy more produce."
This time we got a bargain. Four sacks of huge potatoes. The seller
told us that he got potatoes like those only once a year. It seems they
came all the way from Italy. I was sure we could ask a higher price for
them, and as they say, if you make profit from nothing you can't go
broke. But when people heard our price, they asked "Why so cheap?"
and bought nothing. So we changed our mind and started shouting,
"Potatoes! Cheap!"
A woman shouted back from her door-way, "How much?"
We gave her a lower price, and she came up to the wagon, handed me
a knife, and told me to cut open a potato. I wanted to know why. "Just
because," she said. So I cut one open, and my heart sank. There was an
empty black hole inside the potato. I turned to my cousin. "My God!
What'll we do!"
"We'll have to cut the price, and get rid of these potatoes. Otherwise,
we're bankrupt!"
61 We drove on yelling our lungs out. "Potatoes, cheap!"
A fat woman came over, wheezing, and asked, "How much for the
four sacks?"
Hearing that, we made the price even lower than we'd paid.
"Wait a minute," she wheezed, "I'll get my kitchen knife."
When she got back, she cut open a potato —and it was perfect! White
as snow! She told me to carry the four sacks into her house, and then she
paid us. We made off as fast as we could go.
Happy and content, my cousin and I sat on the wagon, he eating his
tomato and I my pear. Messiah's Horse was pulling us along step by
step. Then the light turned green, and he stopped dead in his tracks.
"Messiah's Horse!" I yelled. "The devil take you! GO!" He wouldn't
budge, so I started in with the whip. He had it coming to him. Just then
a lady in a black dress came up —huge bosom, an immense round
behind.
"Why are you beating that horse?", she demanded in English.
"Because he won't go," my cousin told her.
"But why are you beating him?"
Thinking she was a bit deaf, my cousin shouted, "Because he won't
go!"
By then a small crowd of passers-by had gathered. The lady spoke to
them, and they looked over at Messiah's Horse. Someone went and
patted him. The lady said, "Come with me."
Well, we thought she meant to buy something, so we drove along
slowly behind her. A young man walked alongside the lady, talking, and
trying to draw her aside. He looked to me like a swindler. He kept
fidgeting, stroking his thin hair. But the lady walked on, determined.
Suddenly, he called out to me in Yiddish, "Don't go with her! She's
taking you to jail! Here it's against the law to beat a horse. Run for it!"
I turned to my cousin. "Did you hear? That's all we need!"
I waited till we came to the top of a hill above the street. Then I laid
into that horse, so that he ran like never before.
When we got to the yard where he was boarded, I undid his
trappings. I scratched his forehead, patted his fine neck, and said,
"Messiah's Horse, old boy, today you really came through for us. For
once you ran when you were supposed to run. But I'm sorry, brother, we
have to part." Then I led him to the wagon. "See, that's all that's left of
our business. I leave it to you, Messiah's Horse. We've got to give the
whole thing up."
He looked at me, and I'm sure I saw him smile.
— These four stories were translated from the Yiddish
by R. Malmquist & Sacvan Bercovitch.
62 •
r \
")
An original manuscript page from "Grandma Slova".
63 Mr. Peter M. Crowell,
Prism International,
Department of Creative Writing
University of British Columbia,
2075 Wesbrook Mall,
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1W5
Dear Mr. Crowell,
I thank you for your letter to me. My biographical outline is as
follows.
I was born in 1911, in the city of Bialystok, at that time, Russia. It
was a fairly large city with a large Jewish ghetto. During the nineteen
years that I lived there, I saw the Polish district only once, at night. This
was at the time of a great fire. Only on that occasion, was no one afraid
to go there. Although I never suffered physically from anti-semitic acts,
still I always retained a hidden fear of my surroundings.
I emigrated to Canada in 1930. For a year, I lived in Toronto, and
then settled in Montreal. I became a house painter, and worked at this
trade for thirty years. After that I opened a paint store. I enjoyed my
work because it brought me in contact with people of different
nationalities, and all sorts of different situations. I am now sixty-eight
years old, and still work seventy hours a week. I hope to continue
working like this until my death.
I began writing two years ago, on the advice of my brother-in-law,
Sacvan Bercovitch. Through my writing I became aware of many things
about myself. I am a product of two very different families. My father's
family were fish merchants. They were hard workers, they quarrelled,
and fought. They had a saying, "A word passes, but a slap leaves a
mark". My mother's family came from Chassidim, who spoke softly, and
sang well. They quoted the same saying differently "A blow passes, but
a word lasts".
In Montreal, I married. I have a wife, four children, and six
grandchildren.
One of my stories was published in "The Forward", in New York.
Several other stories appeared in J IAS News.
Sacvan Bercovitch told me only, "You will be asked for an interview,
don't be surprised". Still, when I received your letter, I was surprised.
It's no small thing, Ary from a small street near the fishmarket in
Bialystock, will be interviewed by Prism International. It's a story in
itselfl I am ready for the interview.
I shall send you some photographs next week.
Most sincerely,
S. Ary
64 AN INTERVIEW WITH SOLOMON ARY
This interview with Solomon Ary was conducted in September of 1979,
largely in the form of written questions which he answered on tape. His
voice is smooth textured, almost bass, with a heavy, rhythmic accent.
We have tried to capture some of those speech patterns through the
punctuation in the interview.
The main questions were answered one evening from about eight
p.m. to one a.m. At five a.m. the following morning he returned to the
tape recorder with an additional offering. Mr. Ary also writes Yiddish
folk songs, and he sang three of those, as well as several traditional
Yiddish ballads. It is unfortunate that the singing cannot be
transcribed. He sings very well indeed.
Peter Crowell
PRISM; It's relatively unusual for a writer to begin his work at age
sixty-five. Could you tell us what prompted you to start writing?
ARY: The truth is that I never, never dreamt that I should write
stories. I was even shy to write a letter. I said, I can't, I can't write. So
whenever I-had to write a letter, I used to ask my wife —"You write,
please, do me a favour, you."
It happened that many years ago I met Isaac Bashevis Singer. I have a
story about that. A very interesting story about our meeting and how we
became friends. He lived with us here in the Laurentians near
Montreal. It is quite interesting. When I finsih the story, I will send it to
you, or whatever. So, when he met me in New York I told him, I am
from Montreal, I am going away. He said —"All right, go home, and I
will write you a letter. And you write something." And a couple of weeks
later when I arrived in Montreal, I got a letter from Isaac Bashevis. I
started answering —I struggled —I couldn't, I couldn't in Yiddish —in
Jewish. I just couldn't. And I wrote to him a card, a few words. It was no
good. It was like a kid would write. But I couldn't do any better. So
that's it. I sent it to him.
In a couple months later I visited New York and I came to his house
and was sitting and talking for awhile, so I say to him, "Habe Bashevis,
Friend Bashevis, I wrote you a card. It was like a childish card, I know. I
couldn't make myself write to you. I don't know why. So he says —"Don't
worry about it. I'll write you another card when you go home, and you'll
have a chance to correct it and send me another card."
I said —"Okay. If you insist, I will do it."
And a few days later I came to Montreal and I got another card from
him. So again, I started to sweat over it. How should I? And I couldn't
make it. And again it became a lousy card, a few words which didn't
make much sense. And that's it. And I gave it up. And I said —"No. I
will never write again."
65 A couple of years ago I came to New York to my brother-in-law for a
visit, to Mr. Sacvan Bercovitch. And his wife and my wife went out
shopping, which I hate to go and hate to observe. So I said, okay go,
and I'll stay here. And Bercovitch said —"Listen, I didn't have any
breakfast, let's make something." So we sat down and while we were
sitting and having breakfast, you know, I remind myself of a story.
Because I tell stories. I tell things, but writing—I couldn't. So I said —"I
will tell you a story." Anyway, he says —"Okay, tell me."
So I start to tell him a story. And while I was telling him the story he
became very much interested. And he has a habit of rubbing the palm
of his hand, with one hand rubbing the palm, when he gets excited or
when he gets interested in something. So I told him the story, and when
I finished, he laughed, and he says —"It's a wonderful story. It's
wonderful."
I said —"Okay. If you like it, I'll tell you another story."
He says —"No. No. Don't tell me no more stories. I don't want-
not — no — not one word.''    {LA UGHS)
I say—"Okay. Why?"
He says —"I want you to write it."
I say—"Writing? Sacvan —you're a writer. I can't write. I just can't do
it."
He says —"Never mind. Just write the story the way you told it. And
that's all. And it will be very good. Try—do it."
So I said to my wife when she came bac k — Listen, your brother wants
me to write."
She says —"So? Write—what have you got? What do you lose? Try.
Write."
PRISM: So was it at that point that you first began to write?
ARY: Yes. When I came back to Montreal I bought myself paper and
pencils. I got the kind of pencils and paper and erasers under the
instruction of Sacvan. And I started to write. And after I'd finsihed a
few stories I became so interested and so involved that I sat practically
day and night around. I kept writing steady, steady, steady. Because I
am extreme in my doings and I —
So I wrote 280 pages —steady. And my finger started to hurt me. I
couldn't hold anymore, the pencil. And my back. I got a pain in my
finger and a pain in my back. So I started to complain. So my wife and
children said —"This is writers' cramps. You should be proud of it."
I said —"Hell, I am proud, but it hurts me. And now I can't write
anymore." So I stopped.
PRISM: How did that first attempt at writing turn out? Were you
pleased with the writing?
66 ARY: When   I   showed   my  wife   my  writings   in   English,   so   she
says —"Throw it in the garbage."
I say—"What do you mean? You said they were nice stories."
She says —"It's nice stories. But it's in English. Your language is not
English. You can't write in English. Don't write in English. Throw it in
the garbage. Listen to me. And start to write in Jewish. Only in Yiddish.
This is your language. You don't know English. Write in Jewish —then it
will be okay."
PRISM: So that was when you began writing in Yiddish?
ARY: That's what I did. I started all over again. I was disappointed
that I had to throw the whole damn thing in the garbage without her
reading it. And, I started to write. And that's it. So I wrote. And in fact,
every time I finished a story my children, my wife said —"It's wonderful.
They're good stories. Pa—you're a writer."
I say —"Listen, barely, I'm a writer."
PRISM: What did you do with the stories at that point? Did you send
them to Mr. Bercovitch?
ARY: Well, my family, they say they are good stories. BUT —the BUT
came after I sent them to Sacvan Bercovitch. And Sacvan said —"They
are nice stories but they are not well-written. So you have to rewrite
them."
So, I was a little disappointed, but I rewrote them. So I rewrote a
couple of stories, then sent them. And he said —"They are better. They
are much better. But I think you should still work on it." Anyway, I was
working little by little. And I rewrote those stories, four times— five
times —six times —seven times. No end. My god, my god.
My stories were first translated by my daughter in California and
corrected in better English by Mr. Bercovitch. But I didn't know—when
is it good? I had no idea of it. So when I appealed to Sacvan to tell me I
said —"Listen, I don't mind you cutting out whole pages and throwing it
in the garbage. I don't mind that, because after all. I don't know —and
you know. But I want to know why you throw it out. This way I'll learn.
So he told me, it has to be tied together, not wander off to some other
things what happened in the middle. Just keep the thing united —the
unison. And then it will be better. So I tried it. And it comes out much
better. I am very far from a writer yet, I suppose. {LAUGHS) How can
you just become a writer by writing a few stories?
PRISM: You say that you work a seventy hour week. When do you find
the time to write?
ARY:  I work seventy hours a week, sixty hours, sometimes more than
67 seventy hours. I work. I like to work, as I wrote you. When do I find
time to write? Whenever it hits me. I have no hours —that at this time I
write. Sometimes I feel that I should write. I have a room upstairs. I put
up a high table, because if I sit at a low table my back will start to hurt.
So most of the time I stay and write. That's the way I do it. I keep doing
until I feel I am too tired to stay and too tired to write. But as I started
to say, when I just feel that I have to write and I go upstairs and I stare
and I try and I try. So it becomes a waste of time. Because it doesn't
come out good. Nothing comes out of it. I write a few pages and then
when I read it a half an hour later I'm disappointed. Sometimes I don't
believe that I wrote it, it's so bad. So that's the way I write.
PRISM: The selections of your work that are in this issue of PRISM are
tales about your early life in Canada during the 1930s and your earlier
life in Bialystok. Are you writing these tales in chronological order? And
what other stories are you writing?
ARY: I write stories about my early life, about later life, and I plan to
write quite a few stories more. And I don't write it in any chronological
order. I tell you the truth, for a long time I forgot everything.
Everything. Everything I didn't want to think about because of the
Holocaust. Because I lost all my family there. So I'm angry. I'm
practically the only one here now. All my closest family were
annihilated by Hitler. I didn't want to think about it. I even had a hard
time to remember my father's face, my mother's, my brother's. Even
now—I have to think how they looked —even about their names. So I
don't write it in any chronological order because I wouldn't remember
things in that way. I wouldn't remember when this happened or when
the other thing happened. I write when I think of something. While I'm
writing I think of something else. And I write the story. That's all.
PRISM: You emigrated to Canada in 1930, at the age of 19. Would
you like to talk about that? Did you know anyone in Canada at that
time? And what was it that prompted you to come here in the first
place?
ARY: Yes, I came to Canada when I was 19. And in Canada I didn't
know anybody except a cousin of mine that came three or four months
before me. What prompted me? In the beginning nothing prompted
me. I didn't want to come here. I went out with a girl which was in my
parents' and family's opinion of a very low standing. If you understand
what I mean. They thought that it's a shame to have such girl in the
family. Not because she —She was very good looking and very beautiful
and very nice. But the family —a big deal.
Her father didn't behave right. Her father had two wives and —oh —
what did I give a damn about all those things. I cared for the girl. And
68 as I told you, I am extreme, and I said nothing will stop me from this
girl.
So they worked out a plan through my uncle in the United States.
That they told about the things that await me in America, in Canada.
And once I came there, this is the land of opportunity, the land where
everybody makes a lot of money in a few months, they told me. It was
naive. In a few months they told me I will have a lot of money and then
I'll be able to take the girl across to Canada. So I went. I figured, well,
what am I going to see at home? What can I accomplish home? Here's a
land where you make a lot of money, and things are easy, and the Jews
are so free, and it's a wonderful land. Everyone was talking—America,
America, the golden land.
So I went. I came. Then when I came here, well, you will see. Later I
have a lot of stories of how I came and —
PRISM: What was Canada like at that time? What were your first
impressions of this country?
ARY: It was terrible. It was so disappointing. I came in 1930. There
was no work. I had no language. I didn't know English. I didn't know
anybody except my cousin. He was himself in trouble. He didn't work. I
didn't work. And we used to get a couple dollars from the States in order
to stay alive. So — (LAUGHS) this is my coming. I came to Canada. I
had seven cents when I stepped down the train. I had seven cents. Now I
have a store. I talk about thousands and tens of thousands of dollars.
PRISM: You spent your first year in Canada in Toronto. What was
Toronto like in 1930? And what were your experiences like in that city?
ARY: Toronto made a terrible impression. Cold. People didn't bother
with you. You had nobody. You walked the streets alone. Me and my
cousin, or alone, looking for work. No work. No nothing. The
shows — everything closed early. Sunday it was dead. It was a dead, dead
city at that time. Of no interest — nowhere to go. And you were lonely.
God, oh, it was so, so lonely. And at that time I used to lie at night, I
don't remember if I cried, if I didn't cry. Why, the hell, did I come
here? And how will I get the money to go back? And what's gonna go
with the girl? I had a terrible time. A terrible time.
PRISM: After your first year in Toronto you moved to Montreal. And
you've lived there ever since. What was it that made you decide to go to
that city?
ARY: Why did I come to Montreal? What made me decide? I believe
that a person doesn't decide anything. It's decided for him. He doesn't
decide. It's circumstances are made in such way. I don't know —by God?
69 By nature? I don't know by whom. It becomes like that and he decides.
He decides to go to Montreal. Why? I didn't know that Montreal was
better or Toronto is better. I was tired of Toronto, that's sure. But I
really don't know if Montreal was any better, I should go to Montreal.
But while I was in Toronto one of my uncles came from Chicago, having
a son in Toronto. He looked at me and —
I was hanging around at that time with some people from the
underworld, you know. I didn't steal anything or do anything bad at
this time. But I always liked —even in the old country I also liked the
underworld people. Because basically, they are good people. They are
generous people. And I like generous people. So I hung around in
Toronto also around a certain place. It was named Schwartz Bakery.
Mr. Schwartz's Bakery. People that were in Toronto in those days knew
the place. They stayed away. So when my uncle came from Chicago I
was in the front of the bakery, leaning with the boys and talking.
Listening, telling stories or jokes or whatever. So this car pulled over to
the sidewalk. And the man in the car, my uncle whom I never saw
before, called me, called with his finger to come over. So it didn't occur
to me he meant me. But the boys said —"Litvac, he wants you."
I say — "Me? I don't know the guy."
They say—"Go. He wants you."
So when I came over he shook hands with me and he said to me —"I
am your uncle. Get in the car."
I said —"Get in the car? Well — well — "
He says — " Get in the car."
I get in the car. He turned around and he says —"Lock the door. We
are going to Montreal."
I say —"Montreal? I don't have anybody—"
He says —"You don't have anybody? You don't have anybody here;
you don't have anybody there. You have nothing to do anymore," with
those words. "Come to Montreal."
I said — "Look, my clothes — "
He says —"Look, don't think nothing. Come to Montreal."
And he took me to Montreal. That's it. And when he left I remained
in Montreal. No special reason.
But I love —I love Montreal.
PRISM: You worked for many years as a house painter and now you
own your own paint store in Montreal. Would you care to talk about
any of that?
ARY: My son is with me in the business. He is very honest, very decent.
As honest as you can be in business. You can do business and be honest,
to the surprise of a lot of people who think different. That you don't
have to lie. You don't have to tell the truth —you can't. But you don't
70 have to lie. You avoid lying. We don't mistreat customers. We don't
mistreat people. And therefore, a lot of our customers are our friends,
really. It's okay. And they come in, we help them. And when I see a
customer in trouble, lost money, whatever, I really care. I really care
about it. And people feel it. I don't do it because —I do it because I feel
like that. And that's all.
And at the same time I am very hard on people should they abuse me
or insult me. I don't just keep quiet and say, thank you. I don't turn the
other cheek as some people do, or as it was preached by Jesus. I don't hit
anybody. I don't give anybody any trouble. As much as I can avoid it.
And I don't want anybody should give me trouble. And sometimes I get
trouble. But that's the world. I can't change that.
And later on I'll probably write about the store. It's a unique store. A
lot of people think it's unique. There's always politics being discussed
and other things. And about Israel and the P.L.O. and about
everything.
PRISM: Perhaps you would like to tell us a bit more about your family.
You have four children? And your wife is a well-known Montreal artist is
she not?
ARY: I have six grandchildren, and soon I will have another one. Four
children, all nice people, all good people. Intelligent young people.
And the grandchildren, what they'll be like we'll see later. My wife is an
artist, well-known in Montreal. A good artist, and I think a terrific
portrait painter. And we have a very, very happy life.
We have two daughters. My first daughter was married to half-Jew/
half-Swede and now she is about to marry a Spanish-French man with
some black blood in his veins. So he's a mixture of Spanish, French,
American, Black or negroe — whatever you want to call it. To me it's the
same thing. It's a human being and that's all. My second daughter was
married to a Dutchman and then she divorced. We are friends with
him, the ex-son-in-law. His name is Peter Van Toorn. He's a poet, a
Canadian poet. And now that daughter is married to a Danish-French
American. And the son, one of the sons is married to an English
Canadian. I don't care what nationality my children marry. I want all
nationalities should live in peace. Hating or making those hateful talk
about it — that's not my cup of tea, as the English say.
PRISM: Would you like to tell us any more about your own family
background?
ARY: My mother is Grandmother Slova's daughter, gentle people,
quiet people, Chassidim, religious. And the main thing —very, very
nice. Very gentle. My father's family were the tough, tough people. My
father used to fight, my father used to hit, my father used to be a leader
71 in business in certain things —in certain circles. They were market
people. They used to sell fish —fish merchants. You had to be tough. If
you were not tough you would be squashed down.
And that's the background. My father was religious —he prayed three
times a day. He wasn't a very learned man —he wasn't. But that's about
it. The rest I write. And from the writing there's a bit about it.
PRISM: Have you had the opportunity to revisit Europe at all since
you left in 1930?
ARY: Yes, I revisited, a little bit of Europe. A little bit in England. I
didn't go to Poland and the other countries. Because my vacations,
when I used to take vacations, they were all in the winter time. When it's
slow in the painting trade or the painting business —then I can go on
vacation. So to go in the winter time to Poland or the other European
countries, it's very cold. And you can't see very much. So me and my
wife didn't go. We went to other places —to Ethiopia, and Israel and to
Greece, Italy and Spain and Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. And people
ask me why I go there?
So —I go there because I want to see other people than I see in
Montreal. And other ways of life which interest me. So that's why we
went there and we had a wonderful time. In Greece, India, all of those
places. Very, very interesting.
PRISM: About your writing again. How does your family feel about
your writing? Are they supportive of what you are doing? And how did
they react when you first began to write? Were they at all surprised?
ARY: Sure, they are very excited. And surprised. They just love it. It's
a big thing to them —as it is to me. It's nice. And they react a positive
way —very nice.
PRISM: You say that you've become aware of many different things
about yourself through your writing. Perhaps you could talk about that.
Has your writing changed your way of looking at the things around you
and the way you perceive your past? Has it changed you at all as a
person?
ARY: When I say that I found out things about myself through my
writing, you see, the memories become alive —and I look. I never looked
at my grandmother or the family from the two sides. I lived with them
and that's all. I didn't look at them psychologically or from any other
view. I used to get up and eat and drink and play with the boys and went
to school. I knew that there was a grandmother that I liked and another
I didn't like and so on and so forth. But I didn't make any calculations.
And I didn't know why. And when I started to write all those things
became alive to me.
72 And then I saw two different families and I saw that I'm a product of
both. Because I have a hot temper. I'm built quite husky. And at the
same time, I feel —I think. And people tell me that I'm nice. And I feel
for people. I went and I travelled. And this is the other side of the
family. The nicer side. I have both sides. And I'll die with it. And that's
the combination. It's not that I chose. I have it because that's the way I
grew up.
And you ask if through my writing I've changed. No. No. I didn't
change. At least, I think I don't want to change. I am happy the way I
am. I am happy with the surroundings. I am happy with the way I live.
I'm not unhappy with the people around me. (LAUGHS) So? So, why
should I change? Change into what?
PRISM: You say that both sides of your family were religious people. Is
religion a very important part of your life today?
ARY: A delicate problem. Religion. What religion? Jewish religion?
Any other religion? From the religions that I've read about, discussed,
heard about —
My son is a Buddhist. And he spoke to me about the Buddhist
religion. So many different Buddhist groups, but the one he cares for,
the one he is in, is very liberal, very logical, very nice, very comfortable.
So I like it.
But I'm not a Buddhist. I am not a Catholic as far as religion. I am
Jewish by nationality. I don't go to synagogue. Because I think all
religions has a lot to do with business. Not just plain business —with
mistreating people and then cleansing themselves in the church or
synagogue. And that's not my taste. That's probably why I'm not in
synagogue. Why I don't belong in synagogue.
So you figure it out. I don't know if I'm religious. I would like to be
religious. I believe in people. But I don't know. As I said, my son's
Buddhism, I think that would be the most natural thing for people.
PRISM: About the tales that you are writing now —are they strictly
autobiographical or do you fictionalize as you write?
ARY: These stories are true. I have to add some things. Because some
stories are interesting but they are so short, so I broaden them a little bit
here and there. Let's say a scene I saw in some synagogue at one time,
which had no story to it, I bring it into the story. And I connect it.
The names are not correct —that's not the right names. Some of the
physical characteristics are not the same. Because some I remember
well —some I don't.
But I don't put in lies. I exaggerate sometimes, a little bit here and
there. But the stories are true stories that I know, that I was involved
personally. I don't try to fictionalize. I write as I saw it, as a child or
73 * 0 ftl* <3 Q m „ U
whatever. That's the way / saw it. Maybe not the way the world exactly
is —but how I saw it. It's my truth. That's all. The people that come
from Bialystok, they might find it wasn't so for instance. Maybe they
didn't see it the same. I don't know. I don't care. I saw it this way, I felt
this way. And I feel this way now. So I write it this way. So I don't find it
necessary to fictionalize.
I write it the way it comes and I —sometimes I choke up while I write.
I guess, to go through old emotions. And sometimes it's very, very hard.
And sometimes I enjoy it very much. In the end I enjoy it, naturally.
But I'll tell you another thing. If I would know at the beginning what
you go through — the sleepless nights and the writing and the rewriting
and rewriting and rewriting. I would never have started it. I wouldn't.
But now when I do it, I think I don't want to stop. So —that's it. I don't
know how other people do it —if it happens the same way with other
people. With me it's like that. And I have no regrets.
PRISM: How closely do you work with your daughter and Mr.
Bercovitch on the translations of the stories? Do you check over all of
their work personally?
ARY:  As I said, I sent them to my daughter first to be translated by
74 her. And Bercovitch later puts them in better English, because he knows
better English. And then he sends it to me. And my wife reads it to me. I
don't read them myself. My wife reads them to me because I read very,
very slow English. And when she reads it to me, I see that something is
missing. That's not exactly what I wanted here and there.
So then I telephone him or write him that I am sorry, although he
thinks it's finished, this and that part I don't like, and here he missed
out on the main thing I wanted to tell and so on.
And he says —"It's okay, it's okay, you're the boss. You tell me. You
don't want this, you like this better. If that's what you think, if that's
your feeling, okay. You write exactly what you want in those places and
I will translate it."
And that's the way we do it.
PRISM: How do you feel about your stories when you hear them in
English? Are they the same stories for you then?
ARY: When they're written in English, I'll tell you the truth, I don't
feel what I feel when I write them in Jewish. So English people read it,
cultural people, some writers, poets, friends of ours. And when they
read it I look at their face. And I see that they smile. I see that they
enjoy it. Then I know that it's good. And that's it. That's the way it's
done.
PRISM: Are there any writers whose work you particularly admire?
And what sort of writing do you read as a rule.
ARY: There's very few writers I read. In Yiddish I admire a few of
them. A poet by the name of Itzik Manger. I think he's the greatest poet
that was around. He died a few years ago. He was our friend. I admire
him, his writing, his poetry, his special way of writing. Yes, I admired
him. There a man by the name of H. Grade. I admire his writing. And
there are a couple more that I admire. And a lot of those that died.
Jewish writers. And English too, some of them. But I don't know many
of them.
I read very, very little English. I read Irving Howe's book about the
immigrants. It took me practically a year to read it. So I just don't read
much. Somebody brings me an article or a story in a magazine and they
say it's very good, so I read it, slowly. But I do very little reading because
there's very, very little written in Yiddish. And I feel sad about that, and
that's also the reason I don't read. With some of the Jewish writers I feel
sad that everything is down, down practically to a minimum. And I
don't feel good about that. So I shy away from that. I used to read more
in my young days. I did read a lot of Jewish books.
PRISM: To go back to your writing one more time —What are your
plans in terms of writing? Will these tales you are working on form the
75 part of a larger work? And did you start writing with an eye to having
your work published, or simply for your own enjoyment?
ARY: Oh no —not for my own enjoyment. I started to write —I wrote
the first couple stories and I sent them to Mr. Bercovitch. My sister-in-
law praised them, my wife, everybody here praised them. Except Mr.
Bercovitch. So I waited for his answer. Then in a couple weeks later He
telephoned me and he says —"Ary, these stories you sent me, the first
two stories are very interesting and they need some corrections, but they
are very good."
So I told him —"Listen Sacvan, I'm not going to write stories and then
they should lie around, only to throw them in the garbage. Or going
around begging—'Please make me a book.' And then people shouldn't
want the book. Listen, I don't want none of it. Listen, plain, if you are
going to translate it that will prove to me that it's good, and then I'll
write and later on, I don't know, in six months, in a year (I was very
naive about that year —it takes years), yes, I would like it should be
printed, and later on have a book. But you tell me. If you hesitate, if
you think they are not good, I will not be insulted. I will have nothing
against you. Just tell me the truth what you think and if they're not
good, you're not going to translate it, so those are the last words that I
wrote and I'll never write again."
So I didn't hear anything. He was silent, quiet, and I kept the receiver
up and listened and waited. And then he said, I hear his voice come
over, says —"Well, the stories are good. You keep writing. And try to
write everything better. And I will translate them."
So I said, okay, that's it. Now I will write.
And that's it.
And my aim is, sure, to have a book. I don't want it to lie around
somewhere. What for? You write —you want people should enjoy and
you get the response. You enjoy it. And it's a very great thing. It's a
colossel thing for a person.
PRISM: A couple of your stories have been published in Yiddish in the
New York Forward and the J. I. A. 's News. Have you had any response
from readers on those pieces?
ARY: Yes, I was published in the Forward and the/./.^4.'5, as you
know. I had response. Some people telephoned. They felt that it had an
aim and a moral end to it. And they like it. But I didn't have many
people phone. Our friends, which count maybe about a hundred young
people read it. They think that it's good.
PRISM: Where do you think your writing will go from here? Do you
see a development in your work? And does the writing of these tales
trigger off other things that you would like to write about as well?
76 ARY: Well, I told you my aim. I would like that it should be printed in
a book. But those stories. I don't imagine —it doesn't trigger me to write
other things. Well, I don't know. I told my sister-in-law, Mr.
Bercovitch's wife, that when I finish telling the stories, I won't write
anymore.
She said —"Well, you just finish —and we'll see then. You will
probably write."
But I can't see myself sitting and writing novels or searching,
philosophical stories. I don't know. I can't see myself. I can't. But if it
will come, it will come. As I said at the beginning, nobody chooses,
really. If it's come, if I will write, it'll be okay. So it will be printed. If
not, it means I cannot write those things. That I can only write those
things which I witnessed.
PRISM: Is there anything at all about your writing or your life in
general that you would like to say to sum up this interview?
ARY: In short I could just read the two words under your questions on
the paper, where you say, "Thank you". That could sum it up.
But —It's wonderful, when I write. I forget about business. I forget
about every, every thing. I get in that mood, or that story, and it brings
me back in that situation. And as I told you, somewheres in the
beginning. Sometimes I laugh, sometime I —it brings tears to my eyes.
And —in general it's wonderful.
It's like, you may have all kinds of troubles, some things that happen,
that in business or—And you start to write and every thing, all those
things disappear.
And writing —It makes you feel good. Makes you feel wonderful. And
when finally the thing is finished you feel that you have accomplished a
wonderful thing. It's wonderful. And now again, those two
words — Thank you.
77 Ian A. Spence
Certified Desirable
ELLEN PICKET DEAD AT 24
Funeral services were held Friday, September 22 in the
Primrose United Church for
Ellen Picket, 24, of Primrose.
Reverend A.J. Beame officiated.
Interment followed at the Primrose Hills Cemetery.
Ellen died Monday, September
18, in a single car accident on
Highway 58, three miles east of
Primrose.
Ellen is survived by her two-
year-old son, Toby, by her
parents Marlene Picket of
Edmonton and Gabriel of East
Aspen, by her brothers Mickey
of Orillia and James of Toronto,
and by her sister Janice (Mrs.
H.E. Blaird) of Regina.
Ellen was born and raised in
Primrose. She completed Grade
Twelve at David Thompson High
School in 1966, and until her
death she worked at the Rosemont
Credit Union in Primrose.
I wrote that. I write most of the obituaries printed in the Primrose
News-Herald. I also edit the community news, which means that I chop
the weekly reports from the Ladies' Auxiliaries or the various churches
and fraternal lodges down to a few paragraphs and put them under the
rubric "Goings-On", which is a very popular page twelve feature.
78 Half of page twelve is regularly taken up by the Mitner's Jewellery ad:
"Diamonds Are Forevery Day!" The other half of page twelve is divided
between "Goings-On" and "Engaged Girls".
Mr. and Mrs. Helmut Olvagar-
ddson of East Aspen are pleased
(goddam thrilled) to announce the
engagement of their daughter
Shirley Beth to Mr. Benedict M.
Ross of Lake Snowden, Alberta.
(Shirley Beth is fifteen. Benedict
M. is thirty-eight. Pending charges
of statutory rape were dropped
when Shirley Beth hinted and
Benedict M. conceded that they
might be in love.)
Because the Mitner's Jewellery ad is a contract ad, it definitely takes
precedence over the "news". Any ad takes precedence, actually. And
"Engaged Girls" has to appear on the same page; that's part of the
contract. The "Goings-On" column is longer or shorter depending on
the number of "Engaged Girls". Sometimes I only have enough room to
mention the organization and the names of those who attended the
meeting. The names are the important thing, anyway.
People don't buy the News-Herald for the news. They buy it for the
names we print. Seeing the names of someone they know lends a
dimension of significance to their lives.
The News-Herald hasn't taken a public stand on a controversial issue
for years. We can't afford to offend anyone; everyone either owns a local
business or is related to someone who does. If the local businesses don't
advertise, the paper folds.
It used to bother me.
But once you've accepted the fact that Primrose is a tight little town
and intends to stay that way, it's okay. Tight little towns have a lot going
for them. Stability, for instance. More than that, serenity, but not really
in an idyllic sense. Serenity in the sense of an aged Queen:
'I'm old and paunchy, my tits sag, my bowels rumble incessantly and I belch helplessly at Dinners of State. But the Empire is
calm, my legacy to my sons is secure, and I will continue to pace
these corridors of power with whatever grace and dignity my body
permits, as long as my body permits.'
The legacy is secure. Old men can live with their hairless legs and
withered haunches and caved-in chests. They can pull the bedclothes up
over tumour-hard stomachs and get a good night's sleep.
79 Ellen Picket was always a little on the ugly side of plain. Actually, she
resembled a chicken: thin legs, dumpling body, hard little nose, small
eyes, winged glasses. And she always seemed to be a bit dusty.
When she graduated from high school (in the business program) she
moved off her parents' farm and into town. She took a job as teller at
the Credit Union and continued to live, more or less anonymously, in
her home town. Once she was on her own, she lost a few pounds, bought
contact lenses and good clothes, tried out different hair styles and
became on the whole less idiosyncratic in her appearance. That's all.
She didn't effect a transformation. She was still Ellen Picket, only less
so.
Primrose is a small town. No one is really anonymous here. People
know each other's names and to a fair extent they know each other's
business, too. But when you met Ellen Picket on the street or in the
Leland coffee shop, it was always a bit of a surprise. You hadn't actually
forgotten that she existed; with a bit of prodding you could recall her
name and make polite conversation, ask her how her Mom and Dad
were.
Ellen's parents were weird, frankly. Her father was, anyway. Miserly.
The rumour was that he had thousands of dollars in savings accounts in
the city (where he took his cattle for auction), but his wife did without a
proper winter coat, his kids never had overshoes, the farm house never
had curtains or so much as a coat of paint. A penny earned was a penny
compulsively saved. Her mother, a tall stoop-shouldered woman who
always wore several sweaters, the number varying according to the
season, stayed around just long enough to see Ellen graduated from
high school.
After the graduation ceremony she came up to Ellen and said:
"Honey, you got something nobody can take away from
you — education. I'm proud of you."
Mr. Picket didn't go to the ceremony. And Mrs. Picket didn't stay
afterwards to have tea with the other parents. She drove the truck down
to the bus depot and boarded the 9:15 local for Edmonton.
I didn't really know Ellen until she moved in downstairs. The house is
divided into suites; I live in the groundfloor suite, she lived in the
basement.
We got along well enough. I didn't bother her. Once we got used to
each other, she liked me. She came upstairs almost daily for tea.
Sometimes, as we sat in our easy chairs, separated by the coffee table
with its litter of tea things, digestive biscuits, chocolate fingers, I would
feel uneasy, wondering if Ellen was waiting for me to capitulate. She
was looking for a man.
She tried things out on me. Wigs, make-up, new clothes.
"What do you think of this, Georgie? Does it bring out the animal, or
no?"
80 "Well. . . maybe it just takes getting used to. . ."
"You've grown accustomed to MY face?"
"There's nothing wrong with your face, Ellen."
"The most positive thing that can be said for this face is that it doesn't
usually scare children."
"Ellen. . ."
"Georgie, I don't know why I bought this. The lady at the New You
Shoppe, you know her, Mrs. Skillings, it was all she could do to keep a
straight face when I boinged out of the changing room in this little
number. . . Tm not entirely sure that it's you, dear,' she said. She pissed
me off, Georgie. So I bought it. 'Have you thought of cosmetic surgery,
dear, a complete overhaul?' "
"She didn't say that."
"No, but she might as well have."
"Mrs. Skillings would never say something like that."
"No, she's very correct. The people in this town. . ." Ellen snarled.
"Correctness is beginning to kill me. I'm beginning to think it would be
a great relief if someone came up to me and said: 'God, you're ugly.
How DO you survive?"
"Marilyn Monroe didn't survive," I said poignantly.
Ellen snorted. "Marilyn Monroe and I have precisely the same
problem, of course."
"Oh yes?"
"Yes. We both have too much sensitivity and intelligence for the
bodies we've been stuck with."
ELLEN PICKET: On Being an Engaged Girl
"You know, Georgie, I could probably get married tomorrow. I could
probably coerce some goon. . . Wilbur Badinoff at the Esso station, for
instance. . ."
"You have to be kidding."
"I had lunch at the Leland cafe today. He was there. In the next
booth. He had a cheeseburger and chips and gravy. I had the cottage
cheese plate, of course. The lettuce was older than I am, I'm telling you.
You know how he has no teeth in the front? Sucking french fries in
through the gap. . . I thought I was going to be sick. Snotty old Wilbur
Badinoff. Then I found myself thinking he was sort of endearing,
maybe even sexy."
"Sexy?"
"Maybe I had to think that to be able to finish my lunch, I don't
know. Anyway, it was scary. You say 'Hello' to Wilbur and he gets
confused. I thought to myself: 'Ellen, get yourself out of this town before
you give in to something like that.' And then I thought: 'Ellen, Wilbur
Badinoff is not knocking your door down, WHOM are you trying to
kid?' I felt so desolate I wanted to scream. So I ordered dessert instead.
81 "Sometimes, Georgie, I think I should just make up a man. Send in a
little announcement to the News-Herald: 'Mr. and Mrs. Gabriel Picket
are pleased to announce the engagement of their daughter Ellen Anne
to Mr. P. Charmant of Howard's End, Alaska. The wedding will take
place in Howard's End, where the happy couple will live in blissful
seclusion, forever.'
"And then I would just disappear, hope chest under my arm, leaving
town as a success story."
"Ellen," I would say, "what makes you think you're not a success
story? You're ahead of the game financially, you're not in debt, you're
independent. . ."
"Hold it Georgie. There is that subtle difference between being
independent because you want to be and not being dependent because
no one will let you be."
"Ellen, you've told me yourself, you could get married tomorrow."
"It has to be right, Georgie. The right man. When I break into the
Engaged Girl column, I want it to mean: Ellen Picket has been certified
as desirable. Not, Ellen Picket had to make do. Not, Ellen Picket finally
resigned herself to. . . Georgie, I couldn't give a man anything if I felt
like I was giving in."
Ellen and I always remained, sensibly, friends. On Friday nights she
would emerge from the basement dressed in a kimono, curlers in her
hair, a bowl of popcorn under her arm, a bottle of wine under the
other, and she would ask if I wanted to watch the Three Star Movie on
television.
Then we would sit at either end of the sofa and watch Cary Grant or
Doris Day fumble their way through misunderstanding to happy-ever-
after. Misunderstanding was all that ever stood in their way.
When the national news came on, Ellen would gather up her popcorn
bowl and wine bottle, sometimes without saying a word, and go back
downstairs. She always saved her wine bottles, lining them up on the
window sills of her apartment, like trophies.
ELLEN PICKET'S PREGNANCY
Curious thing, that. Myself, I couldn't say how it happened.
It may as well have been immaculate conception. A father never
presented himself. And Ellen refused to discuss the matter. Actually she
didn't refuse. She didn't volunteer any information, and I managed to
take the hint and not back her into a corner.
The rumours, Ellen Picket is pregnant, preceded the evidence by a
couple of months. I didn't believe them. Simply by making an
appearance in the waiting room of the Rosemont County Health Clinic,
a woman runs the risk of rumours. Either she is pregnant or she has
breast cancer. It is generally good policy to announce your reason for
82 having a doctor's appointment. It saves everyone a lot of worry. The
worry is genuine enough; it's not simply that people in Primrose are
malicious. They're kind enough.
In Ellen's case, the rumours of her pregnancy foundered badly shortly
after they began. Ellen had never been seen in the company of a man,
or at least not one that anybody could take seriously as a candidate for
paternity. Everyone was a bit surprised when the rumours were actually
confirmed, though when she did start showing someone started a
counter-rumour to the effect that it was really only a cyst.
It was not a cyst. It was a boy. Born slightly prematurely, four pounds
six and a half ounces at birth. Ellen named the boy Toby, a bit cute as
names go, but a safe choice which implicated no one.
At first I was wildly curious about the "who" of Ellen's pregnancy.
But she pointedly never volunteered the information, and as well as
whatever respect I had for her feelings there was the gnawing
presentiment that there are certain things it is simply better not to know
that kept me from asking her directly.
After a while, I became quite attached to "Not Knowing". It was like
fasting, or going without cigarettes; each instance of denial had its little
prig of virtue. But it was getting to me, not knowing. It started in my
dreams first, little vignettes of what it must have been like, who it might
have been. Then into my daydreams, any moment when I wasn't
actually concentrating on something else. It didn't bother me much, the
fact that I was fuelling my fantasies with Ellen's misery. We all exploit
one another's misery for our own amusement. And I liked to think that
my fantasies were some sort of evidence for a concern that I felt for
Ellen. Anyway, they were there.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF ELLEN'S IMPREGNATION
As Fantasized by George Matlock
(A) The Hitch Hiker
It is raining. Heavily. Hiss-pissing rain. But somehow sunlight is
streaming down, steaming gold. August cloudburst.
Ellen Picket alone in her dank '49 Dodge, blinded by rain and sun,
rubbing circles on foggy windshield, peering out, inching along the
highway, lights on, hoping to be seen, avoided.
Drenched cowboy. On the side of the road. Hips cocked. Thumbs
hooked into belt loops. Smiling. In no particular hurry now. Soaked to
the skin.
Ellen brakes.
"Thanks. Appreciate it."
"Where you going?"
"City."
"I'm not actually going anywhere. I was just out for a drive, but I can
take you as far as the next town, anyway."
83 "Great. . . I'm soaking your upholstery, you got any newspaper or
anything I could sit on?"
Ellen smirks. "Don't worry about it. I knew what I was getting when I
picked you up."
Cowboy laughs. "Did you now? Did you now? . . . Hey, lady, I don't
want to complain, but you're hugging the shoulder. . . hell, you're
driving half in the ditch."
"Yeh. I can't see too well. Rain glare."
"Yeh."
"Maybe I should pull over and sit it out, what do you think?"
"Okay by me. I'm in no particular hurry. There's a turn-off onto a
little sideroad coming up. . ."
'49 Dodge bumps and grinds off onto the sideroad. They play the
radio and smoke cigarettes. Cowboy has a mickey of whiskey in his
duffle bag. Also (dum dee dum dum) dry clothes.
"So go ahead. Why not? I could avert my gaze if you're shy."
"Well then. . ." Ellen is smiling, teeth clenched. "Maybe it's me who's
shy. . ."
Cowboy is sly now. "I don't think so."
The radio (this fantasy has its gummy moments) moans; "third grade
romance, low-rent rendez-vous. . ." Ellen folds her hands into her lap.
Manages not to switch stations.
Making It in a car turns out not to be impossible, but more
improbable than Ellen had anticipated. Too many elbows. Too many
knees.
As well as being ungainly, it hurts. Incredibly. Ellen is surprised and
then remembers. This has never happened to her before, physically.
Where has she been, this past half hour? The pain infuriates her. She
digs her nails in. She bucks. She wants to throw him off her. He laughs.
The laugh comes to Ellen like an echo down many flights of stairs.
"Holy Christ," says cowboy, rubbing his jaw with the heel of his hand,
when he understands.
"It's all right." Each word is its own tight little sentence, punctuated
with short sucking breath.
"Lady, why didn't you. . . how could I know?"
Ellen gets out of the car and stands in the rain which has softened to a
drizzle. She shivers. She has her back to him and wonders what she must
look like, flabby white, blue with cold.
He is beside her. Naked too. Thin, knotted creature, furry little
paunch, like a boil on his leanness; black black hair makes him
nauseatingly white, paste or porcelain, except his arms and neck, a V
bronzed on his collar bone.
He wipes the neck of the mickey with his palm, hands the bottle to
her. He is shivering.
Ellen says, "You're cold."
84 He shrugs, finally, and goes back into the car, little hams jiggling
with each step of retreat.
The rain grazes Ellen. She would like to melt, recede like ice, give in.
I have pretty well decided that the insemination of Ellen Picket took
place in her car.
Ellen accused me of being jealous of her car; it broke our routine.
After she bought the Dodge, she started going out on Friday nights
leaving me to watch the Three Star Movie by myself. But I didn't mind
particularly, one way or the other. I didn't make demands on Ellen's
time. Time being money, if you expect people to spend their time on
you then you have to be prepared to give them their money's worth.
Anyway, to say that Ellen went out on Friday nights (regularly,
perhaps compulsively) is not to say that she went out with anyone. Not
even dutch treat. She started out alone.
(B) THE COUNTRY DANCE
Dance to Gene and the Gents
Friday night
Viceroy Community Hall
(8 miles north —Hwy 51 — 3 miles
east of Primrose)
Ladies — $1
Men - $2
Licensed bar.
The hall is brightly lit, the shadows are very hard. Gene and the
Gents have just sawed their way through a butterfly set. To dance the
butterfly people form threesomes. At regular intervals, the person in the
middle of the trio is thrown back and forth and whirled and twirled by
the other two until the person in the middle is sick.
Ellen is standing by her chair, leaning on it for support. Her chest is
heaving; she butterflew with two rather young and brutish farm boys.
They thought it was great fun when she cried "Stop, you're killing me!"
They laughed.
Resentment and gratitude are chasing each other through Ellen's
brain; she is glad that someone at last asked her to dance, but she
suspects that she has been victimized. Of course it's partly her own fault,
she smokes too much generally and tonight she has also managed to
drink too much. Five glasses of beer from the keg in the cloakroom.
Ellen is still nervous at dances. She likes to look busy, to not look as if
she's petulantly waiting for someone, anyone. So she drinks and smokes
too much. An alternative would be to bring her knitting.
The dynamic duo have split up. The heavyset blond with the applefat
cheeks is sidling through the crowd back toward the bar. The gangler is
85 still standing beside Ellen, beaming at her, sifting his chances with his
eyes.
Ellen wonders how it was settled; with a wink and a nod after the
dance, or had it been discussed and decided before they approached
her?
Anyway, whatever. She raises her head and looks the redhead full in
the eyes. He has a square, beefy face, a trail of freckles over his nose, a
rash of pimples along his jaw, and tiny eyes, green and hard.
"I think," says Ellen sullenly, "I'd feel better if I went outside for a
breath of air."
"Good idea. I got some beer out in my car."
"Oh, good," says Ellen. She puts her sweater over her shoulders and
slices through the crowd, matching her pace with her still racing heart.
She's not worried about losing him in the crowd. To lose him, what she
should really do is stay inside, ask him to buy her drinks and dance with
her, time after time in front of all these people.
Out on the porch, she looks at him again. He can't be more than
eighteen. But he's probably as old as he will ever get. A fuck is a fuck is a
fuck. Once you've come to that, you don't age, you simply accumulate.
Ellen takes the cold air in. Probably freeze tonight. She considers
turning around and going back into the hall, dismissing Prince
Charolais with a shrug and a "thanks for the dance." But his hands are
already on her shoulders, heavy as sandbags, "guiding" her down the
stairs.
His car is a '57 Ford, fins and chrome. He pulls a case of beer out of
the trunk and snaps the caps off a couple, using the cap of a third for
leverage. He opens the front door of the car, but only to throw the
opened case into the front seat. Then he opens the back door and stands
aside, affecting a gallant little bow.
Ellen would like to trill and clasp her hands to her breast, but she
doesn't bother. She gets in. She's not worried. She can stop the action
anytime, simply by cooing, "Does this mean you want to marry me?"
He begins by sucking noisily on her neck. "Goddamn it," says Ellen.
"Don't do that."
"Whatsamatter?"
"My only turtleneck sweater has a coffee stain on it."
"Yeh. . .?"
"So quit with the hickies."
He laughs. He actually laughs. Ellen is surprised, vaguely pleased.
He takes a long pull of beer and puts the bottle back down between
his thighs which leaves both hands free. "Awlright," he croons, "moving
right along. . ." He starts undoing the buttons of Ellen's blouse.
Foreplay seems to run on a tight schedule. Nip, nip at each breast,
then "moving right along. . ."
86 Ellen fumbles in her purse, brings out a cigarette. She taps it on his
head before lighting it.
"Excuse me," she says. He is squeezing a hand under the waistband of
her skirt, having given up on the hook-and-eye and the zipper.
"Pardon me," says Ellen.
"Hey?"
"Uh. . . there's a lot of people around. . . you know. . . lot of cars,
busy place. . ."
He sits upright, looks around.
"Maybe we could go someplace a little less public?"
"Well," he says, "I don't know. Unless you want to walk out into a
field or something. . . I don't have the keys to the car. . . Alex has
them."
Out into a field. Ellen takes his hand and puts it in his own lap. "It's a
bit chilly for a fieldtrip, I think. Plus it could get gritty, or worse."
"Yeh," he says.
Ellen plays the silence out for a full two minutes. He doesn't move. He
has sensed that she hasn't turned him down yet, and he's interested
enough or polite enough to wait for a definite yes, definite no.
"Your friend. . . Alex. . . he's got the keys?"
"Yeh."
"It's his car, then?"
"Yeh."
Ellen lets another pause stretch. "Tell you what," she says, finally. "I
have a car."
"You do?"
"So why don't you let me drive you home?"
"Sure. . . I'll just go in and tell Alex where I'm. . ."
"No deal," says Ellen, flexing her fingers.
"What?"
"No deal." She knows she is pressing things. However. She wonders if
she would soften her terms with an explanation if she had one. Doubt it.
"Look, he's going to wonder where I am."
"He's your chaperone, or what?"
Silence.
Ellen leans over and mutters throatily into his ear. "Look, baby, there
is no use telling anybody where we're going, because nobody's ever been
there before."
He doesn't laugh. He seems to consider this, seriously. Ellen throws
her hands into the air. "Oh well," she says, and wrenches the door open.
He watches her straightening her clothes. "Should I bring the beer
along?" he asks.
Ellen shrugs. "Sure, if it's yours."
They drive down dark country roads. Ellen is waiting for some Likely
87 Spot, some moonlit vista, someplace special. If nothing else, the scenery
should be special.
After a quarter of an hour she abandons the quest and pulls the car
over onto the grassy shoulder.
Switches off the ignition. Pulse, pulse, pulse, the silence. But from
somewhere not too distant, sound of dog barking: ruff, riff, raff.
"Shit," says Ellen. "Must be a farm house close."
"That's Blackness."
"Pardon?"
"The dog. Name is Blackness."
"You live here?"
"No, it's my grandmother's place."
"Well, then, this is also definitely the wrong place."
"Naw, it's okay, she's half deaf."
"But still. . . it's your grandmother."
But he has her buttons undone, again. Fondle, nip. . . moving right
along.
Ellen resigns herself against the driver's door, closes her eyes, opens
them. It seems to be over.
Ellen looks at him, looks down at herself. "Oh," she says, "hello."
"You want a beer?"
She shakes her head.
At the gate to his parents' farm he says, "I guess I should ask for your
telephone number."
She says, "No. You don't have to."
The presupposition in fantasy B is that Ellen wasn't a virgin, that she
didn't become pregnant as a result of her first time ever. Maybe she had
dozens of men. Maybe there was too much room for doubt to assign
paternity to any one man. Maybe she kept going back to sex as if it were
an obscure textbook; she had been led to believe there was an answer in
there somewhere.
PICKET'S LAW: (a) to experience sex, it is not necessary to have a
good body; (b) to experience romance, at least with someone in whom
you are interested, it is helpful to have a good body; (c) to experience
love, bodies are beside the point.
The problem with Picket's Law, for Ellen, was that romance was
closed to her. Love? Her mother probably loved her. Maybe even I loved
her, in my own way. So what? Love is God; too subtle to have much
effect on living every day.
Romance, that's the thing. It's tangible, with its contracts, vows of
fidelity, its heartache and hopes, its definitions, distinctions, divine
distractions. The heart is as tangible as real estate; it can be bought,
sold, subdivided, conquered, and wasted.
88 Ellen was depressed when she brought the baby home. Toby was very
demanding. When he wasn't asleep or being fed or being held, he was
wailing. Picking him up and holding him would shut him up
immediately, but sometimes Ellen would decline. She would sit in a far
corner of the room and watch him, not able to do anything else, but
refusing to do the only thing that needed to be done.
"He's got to learn. Besides," she'd say, "if he's too well adjusted he
won't have a sense of humour."
Maybe it wasn't somebody she saw just that one time and never saw
again. But it must have been fairly impersonal, otherwise his name
would have crept into her conversation sometime. Maybe it was
someone she saw almost every day, but the sex thing happened once, an
unlikely accident. So unlikely that afterwards it would require conscious
effort to remember that it had happened.
It could have been someone like Mr. Barsak, her boss at the Credit
Union. Rodney Barsak (F.U.P.C.). To say that Primrose is a tight little
town is not to say that Fine Upstanding Pillars of the Community like
Mr. Barsak are angels, i.e. sexless. Oh, no. Everyone in Primrose fucks
everyone else.
Hypocrisy? No, somehow the word doesn't apply to Primrose. I've
wondered how people can stand themselves, knowing that the image
they've perpetrated publicly are false. And finally I've had to conclude
that for these people, the image functions as reality. To be moral is to
maintain the image of morality; you are moral if you've fulfilled the
moral obligation of representing yourself as moral. If everyone affirms a
myth, it is true.
Anyway, Rodney Barsak. Hairy little man, reddish-blond. Hair
sprouting from his collar, from his shirt cuffs, from his socks. Eyebrows,
you have never seen the like. He looks like a scarecrow whose stuffing is
worrying through the seams.
He's a very sporty little person, goes big game hunting every fall. The
News-Herald will occasionally run pictures of him dwarfed by his latest
victim. He curls, he coaches a midget hockey team, he bowls.
His wife, Marian, usually stays at home because she is usually
pregnant. Ten pregnancies so far, eight completed successfully. (Joke:
Marian Barsak refuses to sue for divorce because she is afraid she will get
custody of the children.)
Rodney also has served three terms as alderman on the town council
and will inevitably be mayor, because that's how it works. The Empire is
secure, politics has been civilized into custom, and the mayoralty goes to
the most senior downtown businessman who has not yet held the office.
Rodney is next.
So Ellen made it with the future mayor. Maybe. If so, she seems to
have been suitably grateful; Toby is not an anagram for Rodney.
89 (C) CREDITABLE UNION
It's almost six. The other tellers went home over an hour ago. Ellen's
till doesn't balance and she is shuffling one last time through the
cheques and counter-slips, hoping to turn up the shortage.
Mr. Barsak is in his office. He can't go home or try for another trophy
until Ellen has cashed out.
Ellen is sitting at her desk, considering the counter-slip in her hand.
Should that zero be a six? She is completely unaware of Mr. Barsak, who
has come out of his office and is standing now behind her.
"Did you find it yet?" he asks.
Ellen screams.
"Jeezuz!" yelps Rodney.
Ellen sits hunched over in her chair.
"Are you all right?" he asks.
After a moment, Ellen stands up, turns to Mr. Barsak, blinks
pleasantly. "You startled me, that's all. I think I'll get a glass of water."
"Surely. . . Do, uh, . . . what would you say to a little whiskey in your
water?"
Ellen pauses in mid-step, considers him.
"Calms the nerves," he says.
"Do you have some whiskey, Mr. Barsak?"
"Yeh. I keep it locked up in my desk. You know, for clients or for
special occasions."
"Well," says Ellen, "I've never thought of myself as a special occasion."
Mr. Barsak laughs appreciatively. "That's very witty."
"I wouldn't mind a little shot. Will you be joining me?"
"In a glass of water, you mean?" He grins widely before he says it:
"Well, I'd like to, but I don't think there would be enough room."
"That's very witty," says Ellen, somehow.
"Thank you."
When Ellen returns with the glasses of water, Mr. Barsak is there with
the rye.
"How long have you been working for us, Ellen?"
"Four years."
"Four. . .? It can't be four years!"
"I started in September of sixty-six."
"Yup. That would make it four, all right. Think of it. Four years in
the same office and I don't feel I know much about you."
"There's not very much to know."
"Oh, don't say that. I'm sure you're a very interesting person."
"Sure," says Ellen, "scintillating."
"Are you married, Ellen?"
After a pause, brittle: "No."
"Oh. Well, that's too. . . that's very interesting."
"How about you?"
90 "Pardon?"
"Are you married?"
Mr. Barsak straightens his spine. "Have I offended you or
something?"
"No," says Ellen, "it's all right. I've been an old maid since I was
twelve, I should be getting used to it by now."
Mr. Barsak puts a fatherly hand on her daughterly shoulder. "I don't
think you will have to get used to it, Ellen. Part of it must be that you're
very quiet, not very outgoing. . . I mean, four years and, well. . ." He
smiles. "But you know what they say, it's the quiet ones you have to
watch. . ."
Ellen snorts. She considers pressing her face to his and ramming her
tongue into his mouth, just for effect. Instead, she puts down her glass
and says, "Well, I really do have to find that shortage. . ." and she
winks, "but if you want to watch, it's okay."
Mr. Barsak laughs appreciatively. Ellen closes her eyes, wincing,
hoping he won't say, "That's very witty." When she opens her eyes, she
discovers that Mr. Barsak's face is about an inch away from her own.
"Something wrong?" he asks.
Ellen runs her tongue over her teeth. "Watch closely," she says. She
presses forward, he responds. Ellen is surprised, but doesn't know why
she should be. She's not entirely sure if she's happy; he's responding, but
to whom, to what?
After a soul-searching kiss, or reasonable facsimile, he takes her by
the hand and they retire discreetly to his office. It happens on his desk,
which at the end of the day is always cleared of papers. She lies, he
stands. Ellen has never seen so much hair.
In this fantasy, Ellen's virginity is optional, but events tend to run
more smoothly without it. If Ellen were a virgin, Mr. Barsak
would probably have been shocked, having never encountered one
before. Also, there is the danger that Mr. Barsak would attach some
romantic significance to the surrender of Ellen's maidenhead. He might
feel obliged to prolong things, have an extended affair with her, or buy
her off with a coat or a bracelet.
But I don't remember any unusual additions to Ellen's wardrobe.
Perhaps he gave her money and told her to buy herself something
special and she frittered it away on pantihose. But I don't think so;
giving money is a little blatant, even for Mr. Barsak. And her Christmas
bonus that year was the usual twenty-five dollars plus turkey.
Ellen's death was an accident. Perhaps she fell asleep at the wheel.
Anyway, her car drifted off the road, sheared a power pole, rebounded,
crossed the highway, and landed on its roof in the opposite ditch.
She had gone out that night, leaving me to babysit Toby. I would like
91 to be able to say that I urged her to go out and have a good time for a
change, that she hadn't gone out since Toby was born. But that's not
true.
Before Toby was three months old, Ellen went back to work at the
Credit Union. Welfare was the other option. And about the same time,
she started going out again, leaving the baby with me or with Mrs.
Schantz, the daycare lady.
Sometimes she just went out for a drive. "That car," she said, "is the
only thing that keeps me sane."
Other times, when she came home at three in the morning, I would
greet her with, "How goes the hunt?"
"Well," she'd sigh, "I'm game." And sometimes she would laugh. But
not always.
And then I would wonder if I should leap up and crush her to my
breast as a Cary Grant would have. No, someone less urbane. Clark
Gable. Someone with more of an aura of mastery about him.
But I never did. And the room turned aluminum cold. And white.
And I watched her writhe, innocent as a rat in a laboratory.
I went through a strange time after her death.
Her mother came down from Edmonton and took over all the
arrangements for the funeral.
Her older sister came from Regina and took Toby. Had I just
forgotten that Ellen had an older sister, or had I never known? I don't
know. The older sister has a husband who will be a father for Toby.
When they buried Ellen, I was there. As they filled in the grave I
became more and more relieved. I knew I could walk around town
again, talk to people, go back to work. Before she was buried I thought
if I went out I would kill someone.
Writing her obituary was a cleansing, too. Ellen rendered into a list of
family connections and accomplishments. A very brief list.
There were only two men at the funeral, myself and the United
Church minister. Her father, who is still living on the farm south of
town, didn't attend, was too ill. And her brothers in Ontario couldn't
make the trip, couldn't afford it, I don't know. Some of the girls from
the Credit Union were there, but not the manager.
In a way, I felt that I shouldn't have gone, either. Not that I felt
anyone wanted me excluded. But those women should have been left
alone in that cool September church with their priest.
Women in black. And they should have buried Ellen in white. But
they didn't. Blue.
92 Patrick Worth Gray
LINES FOR MY FATHER
Last Christmas, Father,
You were almost dead. You sat
In your concrete-block house
Above the Nowata and fought
The cancer; you lost weight,
Your clothes hung upon you
Like sacks. I heard you rustle
In your bed like dry cornsilks
After midnight. On Highway Fourteen,
The motorcycles spluttered like children
Tossed into a pool.
"They should muffle those things," you said,
"A man can't hear himself pray."
Father, now your eyes
Are closed; bluejays divebomb
Meadowlarks, and cats kill
Mice that squeak like the gates
Of hell; on the neighbor's farm,
His Saturday night son
Blasts with a shotgun everything
That moves on his lawn, just
For the hell of it, and I try
To pray amidst the noise.
The bluejays fall in triumph,
Their crests tousled by the fight,
Like your unruly hair.
93 Daniel P. Stokes / One-Act Verse Play
Tis Said He Comes From Elam
Cast:
LOT
lot's wife
first daughter
second daughter
first son {married to 1st Dgtr)
second son (married to 2nd Dgtr)
a messenger
A VOICE
THE leader
Note: 'Tis Said He Comes From Elam was first performed at the Dublin
Theatre Festival by the Dublin Shakespeare Society in 1973 and was
later produced in Dublin by Play Circle. The play also won an award in
an all-Ireland play writing competition. The author was unable to
provide a castlist for the first production.
Curtain: A black stage. As the Voice proceeds the lights come up very
slowly, showing the characters on stage as a still picture. At the moment
the voice is finished, the lights have reached full height and the picture
comes alive.
On stage Lot, his wife, his two daughters and their husbands.
Voice: {Off Stage) And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham
that thing which I do;
Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and
mighty nation and all the nations of the earth shall be
blessed in him.
And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great and because their sin is very grievious;
I will go down now and see whether they have done
94 altogether to the cry of it, which is come unto me;
and if not, I will know.
1st Dgtr:     How are we to deal with situations
Where alternatives are shame or death?
2nd Son:      Judge by durability, my dear.
Death lasts longer.
2nd Dgtr:    But shame grips life like a fist with dirty nails
And wrings out pleasure.
Lot: Shame is no alternative,
It's a consequence of conscience cowed
Or harried to a sullen corner
To watch the senses squander.
1st Son:        But surely shame's imposed by others,
And we've enough to think of
1st Dgtr:     No. Shame's weighed in the balance of the soul.
Men merely issue censure.
2nd Son:      Then to escape this "shame"
Do you suggest
We beat our breasts and cry
"Hack out my heart" to those
To whom a murder's pastime?
1st Son:       Remember too that life is sacred
One can't practice virtue if he's dead.
Mtr: Now, now there's no need to take these things
Too much to heart,
We can still nod perhaps in greeting,
Bargain over prices,
And yet not let ourselves be tainted by the town.
We must simply wait for the time to pass;
Even violence in time wears out itself and needs to rest.
2nd Son:       And while we wait?
Lot: Blind faith, obedience, my wife, my children, to the will
of God.
The awful will that thwarts ambition, scoffs at princely
power, that tempts with illicit pleasure, punishes with
eternal teeth of pain.
{Kneels) Most mighty father, guide us through this land
where all is wrong,
Where truth is inconvenient, murder rife, hatred deeply
bedded in the minds of all.
95 All:
Amen.
Lot and Wife Exeunt.
1st Son:
Our father dreams of a wrongless world.
2nd Son:
A world where no one lives,
Where bad is seldom heard of, never seen.
1st Son:
If age had brought him wisdom, he would know that right
is what you get away with.
2nd Son:
Perhaps he tried so little in his youth
He saddens to see any get away with more.
1st Dgtr:
But he may have ever cast his sights so high
He looked only on the tops of things,
And failed to see the mind behind their deeds.
1st Son:
He would answer "deeds are deeds"
"Thoughts are not a crime, although they may be sin"
2nd Son:
You have him well.
2nd Dgtr:
But perhaps he's right.
Each day the city vomits up more stinking acts.
1st Dgtr:
Nor are we safe ourselves.
Last week our walls were chalked with obscene threats,
Today on my home, an urchin,
Eyes as dull as degradation, followed
Singing curses:
When I turned to reprimand him
A drunken heathen stopped and spat at me,
Muttered some vague malediction,
And then slouched on.
1st Son:
Yet Lot provokes them, though we fain would live
at peace;
Calls them misbelievers, sons of satan, damned forever.
2nd Dgtr:
He too would live in peace if he were let.
But all around he sees and sickens at
Disgusting deeds he has no power to stop
And bellows in frustration
Execrations he does not mean.
1st Son:
You mock, or wrong him deeply.
He prays to change, to save time.
2nd Dgtr:
So he does, his rage is only tongue spun,
Pity pervades his marrow.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^H
96 1st Dgtr:     But who, who can save them?
'Tis not the laws of Lord and Land alone they break,
They violate the laws of harmony,
Rend the social pact distilled from common sense,
Insuring fearlessness.
Look around!
Disorder and corruption are the spoils
Of passion followed to the extreme of every whim.
1st Son:        Hush, our mother comes,
Closed in her world of colour schemes,
And kitchen ware, and gowns to deck her daughters.
Mother enters agitated
Mother:      This is insufferable.
I sought old Jacob at the market to buy his wine
Your father praised it highly,
Drank immoderately, was in such good spirits
I wished he would stay drunk
Now Jacob has no wine to sell.
For two louts approached him yesterday,
Stuck a cup within the cask, and drank
Then spit into the barrel.
When Jacob protested, they shoved his head in
Till his lungs near burst.
Then they slapped him, for it was
Disgrace, they said, to sell publically such filthy wine.
He pleaded poverty and age; they laughed
And asked him his religion;
Broke his nose with one quick smack
And overturned his last remaining cask.
Today the path was one dark stain.
And all in all, I cannot get your father's wine.
1st Dgtr:      Mother, he'll not mind.
Mother:
2nd Dgtr:
Oh, I know.
But I hoped to crack his gloomy visage,
And make a little star shine on his face.
Don't worry Mother.
We'll go later through the town and see what
We can buy.
Mother exits.
1st Son:
She sees this as a nuisance
Someone's schemed to plague her
97 And rob her of the comfort of her age.
1st Dgtr:
And well she might.
She's built her world within,
Carefully nourished it with comfort,
Her family locked with love inside its borders,
And still it stands.
But everything around has overturned
So, outside all she sees is upside down.
2nd Dgtr:
And through her mind's the dread,
The toppling town will crush her structure,
Leave her strange and broken.
2nd Son:
Well, she should know the sun of change
Creeps through the chinks
However hard you close the shutters.
2nd Dgtr:
Yes. But should what's good and pleasant
Be encroached upon and swallowed by the mouth of Time.
1st Son:
Perhaps not, but that's the way things are.
"AUGHT" and "IS" are rarely hand in hand
2nd Dgtr:
Then the world's at fault and not our mother.
Knocking outside.
1st Son:
Who's that now?
1st Dgtr:
Something's wrong when we blanch at every unexpected
visit.
More knocking. All listen but no one moves.
2nd Son:
(Mockingly) Perhaps it is a demon, bringing doom,
Or a messenger from heaven.
More knocking.
2nd Son:
Open. Put an end to wonder.
Pauses. Still no one answers. So 2nd Son opens the door himself.
Messenger
I bring Lot greetings from his brother, Abram.
2nd Son:
Welcome. Our father rests, but will soon come down.
1st Dgtr:
Sit down. You must be tired from travelling.
I'd offer wine, except that we have none.
2nd Dgtr:
What there was now seeps through the flesh of mother
earth.
Messenger
Yes. I am heavy and should be glad to drink a cup of water.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^M
98 2nd Son pours water from a jug into a cup.
2nd Son:       I'm sure that we will manage better later on.  (Hands
Messenger the cup.)
2nd Son:       Tell us of your journey.
Was it hard?
Messenger: Not really. The weather mild I slept outdoors,
And bandits gave no trouble.
I guessed my provisions right
And had plenty of food without much weight.
I was content and carefree 'till I reached your city gates.
Here I was stopped and cursed at, questioned inordinately,
My accent laughed at, my buttocks pinched, and camel
beaten,
All accompanied by a general high pitched jeer.
Every window watched me as I sought your house.
Some yelled curses.
And even as I knocked a small crowd formed.
2nd Dgtr:    It's the times. The lousy fetid times.
The city's corrupt and crumbling,
Like a rotten woodwormed log.
Messenger: And what's the cause?
They seem prosperous, have reason for content.
1st Dgtr:     They have indeed.
They've dug furrows through the land and washed the
desert's face;
They've penned and fattened cattle ripe for slaughter;
Torn metal, like teeth, from caverns of the earth.
They've plenty.
2nd Dgtr:    They've conquered land and beasts
So now they turn their greed inside,
And nothing will do until they beat each other down.
Another's retrogression shoves them one place up the scale,
And sweet ambition calls for all beneath their feet.
1st Son:       The cause? who can tell the cause?
What started it, no longer keeps it going,
But routine hate, historical distrust,
The pernicious friction festering in the air
Subsume the forgotten cause, making it irrelevant.
Messenger: What about the city's leaders?
Can't they keep control?
99 1st Son:        There are no leaders.
There's a mob of ruffians, bored and vicious, stirring
animosities.
These are Power and Law, when Power bends
And Laws are stretched to suit them.
Lot enters.
2nd Son:       We have a visitor father,
Who brings you word from Abram.
Lot: You are most welcome.
Come, sit back down.
My Daughters, go tell your mother,
Prepare a special meal in our guest's honour.
Daughters exit.
Lot: Impatience bucks me like a stallion.
If not too way-worn
Tell us how old Abram is.
Messenger: Your uncle is in all things fine but his concern for you.
Lot: What do you mean?
Messenger: At first we heard tales of your city's decadence
And at the rumours all ears buzzed
And every thoughtful head was shock in wonder.
But gradually came eye reports in superfluity
And such a plethora of documented proof
That the wonder ceased and most men yawned.
That evil was the order of the day in a far country
Was no longer strange
And the most horrid whispers could not shock us;
It became no longer a point of conversation, but a
place to miss,
A vicious town with foreign ways.
But your brother,
Knowing your uprightness, is in anguish for your safety,
And bids you and your family to come to him.
1st Son:        Well he may offer,
But it is not easy to accept such kindness,
His magnanimity does more for his self-esteem
Than for our good.
2nd Son:      Our livelihood is here.
I did not work to be an obsequious kept relation,
A tolerated tumbleweed about the tents of Abram.
100 1st Son:        Or do you think us cringing cowards that occasional
threats and insults should uproot us,
And plant us sapless in an alien land?
Lot: Abram, I know means well,
But my sons are right. One's home is home;
Abram and I parted because our servants skewered each
other over grazing land,
And we refused to quarrel.
I chose the town, an equal,
And will not creep back like a luckless slave to beg my
brother's kindness.
Messenger: Now's no time to think of pride or comfort.
Your family's in danger.
Lot: What danger?
Is there not more risk in chucking our livelihood aside,
Mutilating, in one blunt twist, our means and self-respect.
Messenger: Don't underestimate the danger to your souls.
Evil's a vile contamination; with frequent contact all succumb.
But more immediate the danger to your life.
Lot: What do you mean?
Messenger: In their eyes you are a heretic.
Bad enough.
'Tis known you speak your mind.
That's worse.
But worst of all, you refuse to warp, to fit in place.
From what I've seen, their tolerance is at breaking point.
(The crowd that gathered did not merely hurl abuse at
me). Let one thing frighten them and all of you may be
their scapegoats.
Lot: I'll trust in God.
Messenger: And not yourself;
Yes, refuse to make your own decision,
Levy the responsibility elsewhere.
For God's sake make a move before it's too late.
Outside crowd noises. Then insistent knocking.
Messenger: Perhaps it's too late.
Lot: Nonsense. {To a Son-in-law) Open the door.
1st Son:       Stay father. What could they want?
101 Lot: Open and find out.
More knocking.
2nd Son:      Wait. It may be best if you're alone.
They're apt to be braver 'fore a group
Than to their better.
But talk gently to them, father.
They seem violent.
(To the messenger) Come sir, let's hide.
The Messenger and 2 Sons-in-Law go off. Lot opens the lock and sits
down.
Lot: (Very loudly) Enter.
A greater murmuring is heard off stage when the door is opened. The
mob leader comes in surprised to find the door unlocked. Alone he
seems rather abashed, realises this and to try to cover becomes over-
truculent.
Leader:       You had a visitor today.
Where is he?
Lot: What right have you to question me?
This is my house.
I'll not be treated like a school boy or servant.
Leader:       The right of each man to protect himself from enemies.
Now where is he?
Lot: Enemy? What do you want the stranger for?
He's not harmed you.
He's just arrived.
Leader:       'Tis said he comes from Elam, which bears us nothing less
than hate.
Taps our town for weakness, sojourns with the Hebrew
isolate,
And lingers to subvert the state.
Lot: Don't be foolish. He is an honest messenger
Bringing greetings from my uncle.
Leader:       And we think differently.
We've trifled long enough.
Bring him here.
Lot: You'll not have him.
He's my guest.
My home protects him.
Leader:       Your home protects him.
102 You'll not have home to shelter him or you.
If he's not surrendered by tonight.
Leader storms off. Messenger re-enters.
Lot: Now is the time to beg your Father to protect his family in
their need.
Messenger: Pray for courage rather to protect yourself.
Lot: God's will be done.
Messenger: But be done by whom?
Are these half savage like to do the will of God?
Surely God wills his family to be prudent for their safety.
When you were enslaved and carried out of Sodom
Mild Abram, like a father packed his asses,
Left his tents and women on the plain of Mamre,
Sought alliance, pursued you through the land of Dan,
And at darkfall, near Hobah, attacked and slew four kings.
For you.
And now you will not mind your self.
Lot: What can we do but sit and wait?
Eyes guard the house at every angle,
The city gates will soon be shut 'till sunrise,
I'm old and trapped and must prepare to meet my fate.
Messenger: Your Father surely has not saved you from captivity
To be murdered by a ruthless gang,
No martyr, but a dot in a roll of turpitude.
We are only trapped when imagination ceases,
And mine's not dead.
Consider their violence due to fear and ignorance:
In this lies our danger and escape.
If we can provoke them to burst all levels
And founder in the depths beyond excess, we're safe.
Lot: You'll need elucidate. I'm lost.
Messenger: Find me first a shell of safety
Where I can be invisible, womb-safe,
And then we'll work a plan.
Lot: I built this house an age ago
But never hoped to use the hollow wall
I took some pains to make;
But Come.
Curtain: On stage Messenger and First and Second Sons-in-Law.
1st Son:       Now you've brewed up a barrelful of trouble.
103 Messenger: One must not be deluded by a lull,
Would you build your house beside a still volcano,
Hushed, but throbbing underneath its craggy flesh with
bubbling rock and fire?
Or dispose with pending worry by moving off?
1st Son:        I'd slaughter fear by forgetting what may not happen
And profit happily if the land was rich.
2nd Son:      And so would I,
We can't refuse the present, good or bad;
We must make the most of what we have.
Messenger: And so you'd choose to work
Side by side with those who stand for hate and ruthlessness.
1st Son:        I'd not become involved.
I'm no system maker or breaker.
I can't set things right,
And try to do my best the way things are.
2nd Son:       We wish only to be undisturbed.
Other men's wickedness is God's problem.
We have enough to do to mind ourselves and family.
Messenger: But you are involved, make no mistake,
Your families are threatened.
And furthermore {solemnly and confidentially)
I prophesize the city's doom.
2nd Son:       We can put up with threats and rash alarms
We've often suffered more.
1st Son:       And after all it's you they're after.
I prophesize when you're gone
Their anger will abate
And the whole affair will be forgotten.
Messenger: Or else they'll slit each sinew and slice your back like
cheese,
For conspiring to conceal me.
1st Son:       We'll plead ignorance.
Messenger: And they'll not listen.
But even if they did, what about your father, Lot.
2nd Son:      He's brought this trouble on
And must bear the brunt.
Messenger: {nearly exasperated)
At least, for God's sake save yourself.
104 Go with me to where a hint of civil order,
An imperfect pact of peace prevails.
I st Son :        We've made our minds up.
Further talk won't weaken our decision.
Messenger: And if the rest prefer to go?
2nd Son:       Well then they must.
But we'll still stay and mind Lot's business.
And welcome all back when the trouble passes.
Goodbye.
Messenger: Well then, Goodbye.
Messenger shakes hands with two Sons. Exit Sons-in-Law.
Messenger: Well now I've stirred the waters
And I'm sure that I'm right.
But that doesn't seem enough
Is right worth more than comfort?
I've always thought that destiny plots a finer course without our interference.
Yet here there's been no change,
No movement to a climax;
No end in sight but in escape,
No escape but to destroy.
Strange how our judgment sometimes turns full circle.
I, who have pleaded life at all costs, advocate mass murder;
Who've always felt that things work out when left alone,
Now insist that doing wrong surpasses doing nothing.
Enter Lot and his Daughters.
Lot: I've said what must be done, and they'll obey.
Messenger: Good.  Now listen.  Go quietly through the streets and
marketplace
And if you're questioned testily reply
The quarrel's not your making
And you mean not to suffer for it.
Smile seductively and say the old
have forgotten youth's pleasure
Or exchanged them all for moral quirks,
Their surety beyond the grave.
Anyway, your father seeks your safety
And so you visit friends.
When you've reached the outskirts of the town
Wait (it should not be long) for darkfall,
105 Light your torches, walk in opposite ways towards the city
gates,
Setting fire to sunbleached straw and timber,
Houses that will blaze
Discard your torches before you are detected,
Lurk inside the city's gates and wait for us.
We'll come firing all we can behind us,
So they'll be held, a smoking hub between the spokes of
flame.
The rest is in God's hands.
1st Dgtr:     But must the city die?
Not all are steeped in hatred, blood, deceit;
Not all are guilty.
Messenger: Are not those who condone by being passive guilty?
Virtue is activity and truth.
2nd Dgtr:    Surely we must be more merciful
And show our moral strength by being kind.
Messenger: When infections can't be cleansed with water,
They must be purified by fire
Or else they seep, corrode the neighbouring organs.
2nd Dgtr:    But Father. . . .
Lot: He's right, my children. There's no way else.
Indecision is fate's cudgel;
While we wait for the inevitable
It sets an ambush for us called death.
Go and God protect you.
Exeunt first and second Daughters.
Lot: Now we wait.
Messenger: Prepare to reproach him like a father
Whose child ignored advice.
And now must suffer for it.
Lot: I'll try. It's funny but I can't feel sorry for them.
It's like splattering flies, who wallow
All their lives in filth and excrement,
Infest your house i summer,
Retching on your food and spreading sickness
Yet, heretofore, I've always hoped that Mercy assuage
Justice.
Messenger: I don't think it's possible to forgive
The dome of fear you've lived in, the horrors that you've
106 Tolerated only 'cause you're rich and useful,
And powerless to disturb them.
(Knocking)
Now you must be cunning to preserve your innocence,
Plot murder to protect your life.
Exit Messenger into house, Lot opens door. Enter Leader.
Leader:       Well, where is he? Your time is up.
I'll hold back the crowd no longer.
Lot: Where he came from.
Leader:       What absurd fable are you concocting?
He never left this house.
Lot: And yet he's gone.
Leader:        Be warned, I'll tear the house apart to find him,
And then it'll go worse with both of you.
Lot: You'll have to rip the sheet of sky
And clamber through the tear to find him.
Are you so dense, so locked in flesh
That you couldn't recognize his immortality?
Did he not smell of heaven, though in human form?
How did you fail to see the lustre in the eyes that looked on
God?
His bearing supernatural?
Leader:       'Tis said he was a spy.
I did not see him. I simply do what I am told.
But this is nonsense, a cunning hebrew trick,
He must be in the house.
Leader looks around, goes offstage to look upstairs. Lot looks out the
window.
Lot: Just dark. It's nearly time.
The earth should light the sky,
And let the tired sun rest.
Leader re-enters.
Lot: You waste your time and mine.
Spirits can't be forced to show themselves.
Leader:       I vow you'll pay for his escape.
You'll need a miracle from Yahweh now to save you.
Lot: It's not I, but you, who've cause to fear.
It's not wise to provoke our God,
107 Mistreat his emissaries.
Mark me well, he shall show his wrath
With some deadly revenge.
Leader:       Ha, Now it shows. You take the offensive to protect.
But you mark me! We'll find him
If we have to tear the sky to shreds
And then return for you.
We've watched you long enough, aloof and different,
Praying to an alien God, and nourishing revenge,
Obsessed with seditious thoughts and revolution.
But now your time is up.
Exit Leader.
Lot: Like a mirror they see their vice in me
And fail to recognize themselves.
Enter Mother and Messenger.
Mother:      What's this? I won't be moved like baggage.
Uncomplaining, unconsulted.
Shifted without reason or excuse.
There's care and preparation needed
To gather all we want and worked for.
Lot: There's no time. Put on your shawl and come.
Messenger looks out window.
Messenger: No flames yet. But there's smoke in the wind.
Mother:      Time must be found.
I'll not scurry like a chicken from a rat.
Not for a colony of ruffians.
I'll not discard my dignity and self-respect.
Lot: Stay and we'll lose our lives,
And share the indignity of death.
This is deadly serious.
This unruled city caught a spark
That none can smother 'till it's all burned out.
To go is hard, to stay is to suffer with the rest.
Messenger: The spark is lit indeed,
Globs of flame leap like spit into the air.
The sun has seen the city like a scab.
Go by it for the final time.
Tomorrow  a smouldering plain will  exhale  death  and
brimstone.
And mark the loss of everything you hate.
108 Mother:      (quietly) And everything we're used to.
Lot: You'll be left.
Your children are already gone and wait us.
Messenger: Start settling again away from here.
Home is where your family is,
Not made of chairs and trinkets and a set routine.
Follow where the Father guides and he will stay with you.
Mother:      Thanks for your advice.
{to Lot) Your daughters' husbands?
Where are they.
Lot: They'll not come, not leave their friends and parents
To eke a living tending herds round Mamre's sun-stripped
hills.
They'll stay and fight the blaze.
Messenger: They'll not contain this fire.
This is no pestilence that leaves a city weak and sickly.
This is a surgeon's knife that slices off gangrenous limbs,
A cauterizing poker that burns the infectious stump
And saves the body.
Mother:      Do our daughters know?
Lot: They know and grieve but will be ruled.
Mother:      Oh God, must we be so severe?
Lot: Perhaps there's some last hope
To save the ones not evil, but are led by evil.
Mother:      (warming to the hope) Yes, sort the really rotten,
Punish them.
Example gone, the Father's light will lead the rest to law.
Messenger: Yes, Sort and save them. How?
Will the evil kindly follow me.
I tell you, the cancer's sunk its teeth
In everything that's close and left its poison.
We must take action before it leaves its mark on us.
Lot: So. There is no other way?
Messenger: None, unless you accept, become what you abhor.
Enough of reasons. Come.
Mother:      Alright. But give me time to gather a few goods together.
There are things one needs to start again with
After an upheaval that links us to the past.
One's drinking cup may help make
109 The sourest change more palatable;
A favourite broach may twist,
Untrap a glint of joy.
Messenger: I have no time to give.
Flames already lick the roof.
And sniff: The air is laden with the reek of charring flesh,
You must come now.
Mother:      I'll follow presently.
Meet our daughters. Tell them not to worry.
I'll only pack the very basics.
Lot: Don't be foolish.
We have all we need.
Mother:      I'll just have another look around,
Ensure nothing's forgotten.
Lot: There's no time to rummage
And fire thundering all around,
Can't you see we risk our lives;
With every further breath we take;
Come right now.
Mother:      I'll leave only when I'm ready.
Exit Mother upstairs.
Lot: What's wrong with her? I've never seen her thus.
Messenger: My intrusions make her headstrong;
Sees me as an usurper in the house's hierarchy.
Lot: I don't understand.
Messenger: She feels her authority undermined by me;
Who's ruled through love and compromise,
Hears me, a stranger, noted, feels neglected,
Blames me for destruction of her old domain.
Lot: Wait. I cannot leave her here.
Messenger: Can you leave your daughters fatherless out there
To face alone a life you've chosen for them?
Your top's already filled with fire.
Soon there'll be no way out.
Lot: But my wife, her flesh will melt to salt up there.
I must bring her down.
Messenger: She'll not come by telling.
She's already braved both you and bars of flame.
110 If there's a way she'll find it by herself.
If not, the two of you will die if you go back.
Come on.
Lot: I must get her down from there.
Lot makes to go off but stops as a crash is heard of yielding timbers and
crumbling brick. Smoke forces Lot away from upstairs exit.
Messenger: Now there's no way back for either of you.
A sudden spasm in the great God's eye
Has snapped the link of kinship,
Split the hands that joined two spirits
Stuffed her sense with silence,
Left you with a running wound of pain.
She's dead and you must face a term of greyest mourning,
when colours lose their gloss,
Foods their taste, smiles their meaning,
And each desire becomes a mottled patch of guilt.
But you have chosen, Become a fate;
And now must build a city blessed with understanding;
A people conscious terror's double-edged  and peace is
pleasant;
Who love themselves enough to tolerate their neighbours,
Expecting like return, weaving cushions for all minds.
You are the seed,
The ground is scorched of choking vines and ragweed.
When your hood of sorrow lightens
Plant the germ of concord;
Let it bloom and spread and scatter
'Cross the world a blanket of green peace.
Black out except for the flickering of flames. Lot and the Messenger are
still and picture-like.
Voice: (offstage) "The sun was risen upon the earth
When Lot entered Zoar.
Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah
brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;
And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain
and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which
grew upon the ground.
And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place
where he stood before the Lord;
And he looked towards Sodom and Gomorrah, and
towards all the land of the plain, and beheld, and lo, the
smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.
Ill And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of
the plain that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot
out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the
cities in the which Lot dwelt."
112 Ron Charach / Four Poems
From More Bones for the Red Man
1) CRATERS IN THE SNOW
Quite a shoot-out
at Moccasin Square Gardens
the other day;
a big Breed with a poolcue
gave What-For to two European guys
who wouldn't pay his sister for their kicks;
fists were flying, and the blood
ate little craters in the snow;
by the time they finished messing it up
they were all down to undershirts
and less; that's a lot of skin
for a winter day in Winnipeg,
at thirty-five below.
113 2) BEGINNING THE THAW
'Little Eddie's feet were so damn cold
he couldn't hardly feel them
when they drove him to the hospital.
Little bugger —who can keep an eye
on a kid like that,
he's into everything; how'd I know
he left without no rubbers on?
It's enough I got homework t'do,
fourth time in grade three
and they all call me dumb-dumb; not so dumb
like Eddie, though;
I know how cold it gets out there.
Doc at the Children's said Eddie's toes
might have t'come off;
maybe on one foot, maybe both;
they turned blue and now they're black.
Eddie di'n't seem to care;
just laughin' and cryin' all the way down,
at the way them toes were ticklin' him
when they begin to thaw.
114 3) COME UP TO THE CRIB
Wizened little men come to see
the blue-red babe;
fresh off the burn ward
their faces like washed leather,
scowling like little Frankensteins.
Baby closes out the sight of them;
somewhere else, escapes
through her scalp holes
and up the tubes like Alice.
What colour are the bugs in an Indian lung.
In the blue-tiled room
little zombies come up to the crib
to find the untouchable doll.
115 4) LOOKING FOR EXTRA HANDS
They wear long black mats of bloodied hair
bluejean jackets under the soaked-through gowns;
they have a thick fruity smell
and come in tied to stretchers,
their faces puffy at 4 a. m.
At least Johnny Wapamoose
screaming for the Doc,
his restraints growing thinner;
Nothing near weighs more than the water tap;
I try to smile, and look for extra hands
Tomorrow, sober,
he'll lie still enough on the ward,
his first good meal in months.
116 Tony Cosier
Ensemble
They were all there, the whole ensemble. Strom led the pace drawing
the weight back. He pulled by heartbeats, a pull and a pull and a pull
and a pull. A muffled grunt went with each pull.
Black and Alsgard handled the weight with care, as if it had been a
basket of eggs. They emerged at the same time with a solemn, careful
mincing into the mush.
Mitchell soaked his foot in a puddle. It figured. Mitchell was bitchy,
muttering he'd rather be elsewhere, cursing whoever had thought of the
harebrained scheme.
Satchel followed the load out of the van. He turned the heavy end
even as he dropped. He slid and made the sliding seem part of the turn.
They hit the tangled whipping of scrub. Scrub spurted tentacles to
scratch at the canvas. Scrub hissed with needle and leaf, cracked and
huffed.
The path dropped to a smoothness like ice. And the piano was heavy.
The sliver of moon came out briefly only to tease, to mock them with a
gleaming ribbon of downward path. It started to drizzle, thin, cold,
sleety.
Black and Alsgard steadied from either side, nudging heels into roots,
wedging knees against rock and bark, jamming elbows. They shuffled
flat to the ground to avoid being tripped, echoing Hold it, Hold it so
often they seemed alternate ends of a stage routine.
Mitchell scrambled on hands and knees like a desperate monkey. He
swept furiously with his arms straight out. He nattered into the gloom,
nattered and nattered and nattered.
Then the whole load went. They wedged their weight in and evened
out the crushing. Satchel coiled from the end under and heaved back
into the uncoiling. The piano tilted toward Mitchell then, until he had
the pinning tip bucking in his lap and only a knee braced. He slid right
under. When everything settled, he was locked beneath.
Strom had the rope. He had an idea. In a way, they were in luck.
They had tripped on a great rocky gap. The fall had gotten them almost
over it. With Mitchell's knee for a fulcrum, they could swing it right
117 over. All they needed was to hook the rope about the lowest corner
under the case and hoist it from where the path widened below. All they
needed to hook the rope was someone small enough to get down under
because the canvas had wedged against the rock with only a sliver of
crawling space.
That was where I came in, I was small. And when I dropped on my
knees to look under Black's unwavering arm past the knot of canvas that
had bunched up in the fall, thinner than when I had started. The rock
was wet. Chips came out of it like blades. The canvas was tight against
it, caught perhaps in its teeth. And if those teeth decided to jaw the
canvas deeper, the way a dog draws back a bone? I descended into the
mouth of the hound with care. There was no arm for security, no knee
for comfort. Even breathing was out. It was cold against the stone. I was
dropping down from what little light there was. Then the trees a long
way up started sighing. They sounded like aspens, all leafy quivering
and fast to the wind. I feared the wind would drop a finger down, flick
the piano and crush me under. But there was nowhere to go, only down.
I slid as I squeezed. I squeezed until with one hand out and the fingers
stretched I could just press the rope over the corner I wanted. I was close
to Mitchell's head. He tried to wink at me I think. One eye closed and
stayed that way for a time. He tapped his fingers for me on the stone
too, lightly, softly. He was in a worse spot than I was. I would be out of
there when the weight started shifting. He tapped on the canvas as I
abandoned him, and again it was lightly, softly, a scratchy caress more
than a tap.
When I came up, the moon was out, a sickle of a moon. A solemn
ghostly crew pulled on my rope. The piano came up smoothly, all at one
heave, sliding down the good trail on its way again before Mitchell had
even cleared the hole.
Satchel mumbled something. "Not so far as all that," I thought it
was. Then I knew for sure. "It's not as far as all that," Black chimed.
When he got to "far", Alsgard started, going a bit faster so they finished
about the same time.
"I'm not so sure." Mitchell was back, tapping with his fingers on the
piano. He helped lift, gingerly, favouring a knee. No one asked if he was
all right. He didn't say he was hurt.
It was a wasteland, a bog. Dead logs were everywhere, punky and
crumbled. Arms extended thornlike, humped like posts. Wires came up
supple tangles and barbs. Rocks heaved and the rain made them
slippery. There were pits and cracks and hollows. There were puddles
and patches of ooze.
They sank in mud to the ankles. It seemed they would never get out,
they would have to drop the whole weight, let it sink with a soggy wheeze
into oblivion. Strom at the front wasn't sure at all. Mitchell near the
118 back gave a high pitched whine. Alsgard and Black said they could
balance it.
Balance it they did. Satchel at the rear and Strom took the weight
and slopped. Black and Alsgard put palms to the outside and bounced
it up first on one side then up very slightly on the other and back and
forth again and again. They pushed and eased and pushed again so
quickly in sequence it seemed they were doing another routine, a parody
of Mitchell's tapping this time. They almost whispered into the canvas
to give it confidence. They even breathed in balanced time. When the
moon went out like a snuffed candle, they both looked up at once.
When it shone again, still like a sickle through the trees, they both
looked up once more.
Strom hit good ground and yelped. Not too loudly. It was dark, really
dark, spooky. Who could tell what was next, what lurked in the trees so
dark they bristled only at the top, solid pitchy gloom everywhere else.
What weasel or hog or griffin tooth and claw waited in the path? What
Sasquatch from the old time? What spider with its poison nip? What
snake?
They came to the stream. They actually put the piano down, dropped
it on the ground. The path over the stream was one railway tie, that was
all.
Mitchell whined a high pitched beauty. He really had the full agony
this time. But Satchel just looked at him. He spat into his hands and
rubbed. Without even saying it, he made each and every one of them
hear his voice, his irresistible oozy drawl, "Man I been borned in worse
than this."
Strom took the front. Someone at the back, that was all they could
count on. Satchel underneath in the middle took the whole weight on
his back, did it without cracking his spine. He made it look easy, so easy
it even looked funny, like a bullfrog truckin' down below and curled like
a hooped snake up top right under the piano, so easy he went over with
a suppressed laugh like a choochoo chuffing, prompting even wit. He
should stick to jazz. He made it look so easy they couldn't wait to get
their hands under and whoosh on the blast of inspiration.
What a run that was. A run, no less. Totally enchanted in the moon
over flat white rock. They made wiry beech trees the wind was waving
twist a little more, just to scurry them on. They scared sleeping birds,
fluffily feathered, loud, like pheasants, the wrong way out to sea. They
made the foamcaps toss a little higher and had the coils of seaweed, long
and stringy coils, stirring like so much dust. They ran recklessly. They
ran as if they didn't believe that one of them could trip, that if one of
them tripped, the whole works would vault and smash in a thousand
chunks, scattering the keys like the stray fingers of a skeleton. There
would be no smashing,  they knew.  Theirs was a burden of air,  a
119 laughable sack of helium. They ran 'till they saw a point of light way
up the beach and kept running, ran 'till the point of light took on a
windowframe and a surrounding smudge, 'till the rays from the window
touched the outline of a small boat bobbing at an edge of pier.
They ran to where a boardwalk met the pier and dropped the load
with care. The piano thumped from its belly in discord, rang in a high-
pitched hum. A laugh would have done if they had had the breath.
Smiles and gritty rubbings had to do. They looked at the shack. It was
built on logs to keep the sea from rotting out the bottom. It had a light.
It had a little shower of sparks dancing over the roof. It could have had
smoke if there had been more moon. The walls leaned inward only
slightly at the top and the top had a little sag. It didn't look bad. It
would weather the smaller storms, no doubt.
They went to the door as a group, five of them rapping at once. Some
were louder than others. Some were stronger. Some had plainly rapped
more doors.
Axel opened the door. His wife was half a step behind him. She was
pale, worn around the eyes, she had some grey in her hair, mostly grey
when you looked harder. But she looked better than Axel. Axel was a
snow of white hair. His eyes were set in black rings.
They pulled the canvas off and brought it in showing. It was none the
worse for wear. It was even shiny. You could see all five at one time lined
up in it with their heads all nicely out of shape and arms ten feet long,
each a caricature, Mitchell a potato, Strom a pear, Black and Alsgard
poodle bookends. Satchel was just huge nostrils and a head wider than it
was tall. The wife was smiling, blinking at them all. Alsgard said wasn't
it funny the whole ensemble here without their instruments. They
couldn't even make it a jam. Axel turned around, right around so they
couldn't see him. I could see him. His face was all twisted and he was
crying. He coughed as though that were the problem, so shameful
goodness is.
120 Susan Fromberg Schaeffer/ Two Poems
TEETHING
The child does not visit its mother.
An ordinary enough situation.
The mother complains of her lot.
This is understood.
As the years pass,
The child brings home her old clothes
Which get smaller and smaller.
These the mother dismembers
For zippers and buttons.
She knows she is plundering the living.
At night, the child opens her purse
Sees her quarters
Have turned back into milk teeth
Roots stained, blood
Rusty-red.
The mother flies out through
The wall ribs, a neon blue skeleton
Her dress stitched down with quarters.
In the full moon, they gleam like cold sequins.
In the morning, the child wakes up poor.
121 LANDSCAPE
The mountains are bluing, and the rain will fall.
So many shades and layers of blue,
And now the rain and its mercury-silvers,
And the constant water sound,
As a mountain creek fleeing down stones.
Will it never stop, we ask,
Although it just started,
But we turn perverse as the bats
At the first blaze of the sun,
Longing for that lost coolness,
That safe restlessness, that cool stir,
The damp curtains, the filled ashtrays,
And in the corner,
The inevitable, pitiful pack of worn cards.
122 Mir Tamim Ansary
Crimes of Passion
"What a trip!" somebody exulted — twelve thousand of us floating
downriver on logs! It must have looked like a current of wood from
shore. Somewhere up ahead, people began to sing. The water carried us
mile after mile. The banks were covered with grey pebbles and acacia
trees in bloom. A river gull dove into the water once, so close to me that
I felt the spray. Then it soared out, holding a crimson fish. Drops of
water fell from its beak as it flew away, breaking the white light into
colors. At noon the sun cracked like an egg and the light poured out. It
turned everything yellow.
We pulled ashore to eat and rest. Logs lined the river banks in both
directions as far as the eye could see. A girl named Lilac lay down on the
hot sand near me. She murmured something but I couldn't quite catch
the words. I watched the sunlight butter her brown limbs. Suddenly, in
a flush of warmth, I realized she was naked. By then, it was time to go. I
made a shy offer to help her up and she accepted. But I didn't know
how to go about it. Should I just try to lift her like a sack of potatoes?
With this in mind, I got behind her, put my hands in her armpits —they
were wet and aromatic.
"I sweat perfume," she admitted awkwardly.
"It's no disgrace," I stammered.
My foot slipped in the river and the Whitewater dragged me off. I
crashed from boulder to boulder. It was five miles before I managed to
grab onto something— a dead tree lodged in the river bottom. I clung to
it desperately amid the uproar. The water-logged wood felt as soft as
flesh. In fact, it wriggled in my grip. Then it started crying out for air,
and I stumbled back —I was clutching Lilac, not a dead branch.
She stood up, half turning to me. The wet fabric of her red bikini clung
to her body. "Are you afraid?" she laughed.
I shook my head. The water was only knee-deep, after all, and warm.
"But shouldn't we get a hotel room soon? It's getting dark," I said.
"A hotel room? But we haven't been introduced yet."
She was teasing me, perhaps. I couldn't tell. When she walked away,
123 I  followed.   At  last  we  found  ourselves  under  an  enormous  tree.
Mushrooms as big as kitchen stools grew in its shade.
"Stop," she breathed. "Let me look at you." She touched my face.
A bird whistled among the blue leaves.
"Are you. . . afraid?"
"No." Her breath came quicker, louder. The forest stopped like a
watch.
"It's getting dark."
"Mmm."
Then in one rush she came forward, and I held her close. Her breasts
swelled against my body as she breathed. I touched her trembling legs.
We broke apart and sat down on a mushroom, giving each other
frightened glances.
"What'd you say?"
"It wasn't me."
I heard it again: a low groan. "My neck's killing me," said a slow deep
voice. "Can't you find someplace else to sit?" I looked at Lilac, puzzled
for a moment; then the amazement hit us both. It was the mushroom
groaning and grumbling.
Screaming with laughter and delight we fell to the soft earth together,
intertwined, and my fingers found their way into something slippery
and wet. But just then Lilac pulled away, her face radiant with
inspiration. "I just thought of something. Wouldn't a three-legged stool
make a fabulous pet?" she exclaimed. "You'd never have to feed it!"
*        *        *
"Do you want to play Families!" Lilac asked me.
"Families!" My heart began to patter. I nodded eagerly. "But how is
it played? Is it anything like Monopoly!"
"Oh, a lot like that —you go round and round, acquiring property —
but let's go across the bridge. The old people own the game, you see."
"The board, you mean?"
"The board, the hotels, the community chest —everything. But you'll
see. Come on."
We drove to an abandoned railway station. The benches were
covered with dust, and all the concessions were shuttered up. The only
light in the huge room came from one tiny ticket window, where some
twenty or thirty people stood in line.
The last of them, a man wearing cowboy boots and a jade ring,
smiled at Lilac mysteriously, bent over, and whispered something in her
ear. It made her blush.
"Boy!" she exclaimed, looking half-pleased. "He must really want a
girlfriend bad!"
"No!" I insisted. "He says that to all the girls, the son of a bitch!" I had
never seen this man before.
124 Our business took us to a little room behind a closed door. This room
was filled with old women, having a party. There was big-band music
from the thirties playing on the phonograph. Lilac introduced me all
around. Some of the guests were bolding drinks, and many were drunk.
Every few minutes one of them tried to put her arms around me. I
shrank back from the touch of the aging flesh. I wanted badly to go
back to the hotel and start playing Families with Lilac. What could be
holding us up?
Then I noticed it. Lilac was missing.
"Where is she?"
"Oh, we had to let her out —under-age, you see: she couldn't drink,"
said one old woman in a sly tone. She was lying, I could tell. An old hag
like this might well be jealous. Dread gripped me. The situation had
turned unexpectedly serious.
"Where is she?" I grabbed the nearest old woman by the sleeve. She
dropped a whole tray of drinks but turned to me easily, with a smile.
"Dearie," she cackled to one of her friends, "I do so want just a little
bite of his cheek." She had me by the shoulders now. I struggled to get
free but she possessed incredible strength. She drew me closer and I
noticed what she was wearing: an ancient wedding dress, covered with
stains and smelling of mildew.
"No!" Lashing out with my fist, I struck her on the cheek, knocked
her down; unlocked the door and rushed into the empty hall. The ticket
window was closed and the vast place was noiseless. The lights were out.
The last train had pulled out long ago.
Behind me, voices chattered in argument. One rose slightly above the
others with the phrase, "Oh, he thinks so, does he?"
Then I saw the old woman standing in the only exit. She too was
wearing a moth-eaten wedding gown, yellow silk, yellow lace. She held a
long pair of scissors in her hand. My breath somersaulted. I felt a desire
to weep, for I knew then that I would never be allowed to leave this
place again.
* * *
Night fell at the honeymoon resort, so Lilac and I went indoors. The
plum-colored sheets in our room were made of silk. One entire wall was
composed of little windows, some of which were open, letting in a fresh
breeze, a salt smell, and the sound of a porcelain ocean.
Lilac softly breathed. I wanted to touch her smooth flesh but
something held me back.
She turned over to face the wall. She wept. I asked her what the
matter was. She would not speak.
Later she sat up in bed. She held the sheets over her breasts and
smoked a cigarette. Her nipples raised bumps in the purple fabric. She
would not speak.
125 I stood beside the window, staring down. The street was eight lanes
wide and paved with cobblestones. Darkness poured out of the
alleyways, diluting the moonlight. A bicycle went by, followed by a
midget. Then another bicycle. Then two more midgets. Soon the street
was choked with a torrent of bicycles and midgets.
"Hey, Lilac," I said. "Look what's going on out here." But she
wouldn't come look at it. She was busy pouring alcohol into a pair of
panties. "Never mind that," she muttered.
We lay down on the bed.
Lilac said, "I'm cold."
I went to close the windows. A man with a green ring and cowboy
boots stood on the street, under our room. Three or four nasty-looking
boys stood in a clump near him. They threw pebbles up, which
ricocheted off the windows. I did not know what to do. The man with
the green ring held up a photograph of Lilac and grinned. He had
fluorescent teeth. Suddenly a cloud muffled the moon. Down on the
street, a ghostly leer floated disembodied in the air.
"I'm cold," Lilac said again.
I closed all the windows.
"It's dark out there," she whispered.
We both shivered, and stared at each other across the long silence of
the room.
I wrenched myself awake but stifled the cry. It had only been a
dream. Lilac was still lying beside me, quietly asleep. Then I heard the
sound that had been in the nightmare: metal scraping on metal.
Someone was trying to pry a screwdriver into the keyhole.
"Lilac!" I hissed. The keyhole looked impossibly huge in this
darkness. "Lilac!"
But she turned over without waking up, her dishevelled nightgown
riding halfway up her thighs.
The scraping had got louder. Suddenly there was a heavy clunk and a
muttered curse. The screwdriver had fallen through to our side! I
jumped out of bed and peered through the keyhole. A man with a green
ring stood out there, and further back, in a silent clump, a pack of nasty
boys, their zippers undone and beer splashed all over their T-shirts.
Halfway down the steps an old woman with a pair of scissors crouched
against the wall.
I had to scare them away before Lilac woke up — they must never be
allowed to see her this way. But how could I frighten them? The sweat
chilled on my body. They would fear me only if I was a maniac, really
deranged —capable of anything. I'll have to pretend, I thought. /'//
have to pretend to lose control.
126 I picked up the screwdriver and lunged, to pound and kick the door,
to shriek and stab and gouge. Lilac would admire this bold maneuver
later on. I couldn't stop. I tore at the door with my bare fingers, then
knocked a hole in it with my fist, the wood exploding into splinters
under the impact. Now I recognized where my evil nightmare had come
from, but it was too late. Insanity gives one the strength of ten.
Grasping the remains, I ripped the entire door off its hinges and started
for the man in the shadows —but there was no man; there were no
shadows.
The door led to a room, not a hallway. I was in the hallway.
There was a woman in the room, sitting up in bed, the covers
clutched up under her chin, and her eyes wide. It was Lilac. "You — "
she began.
But just then the cheer went up and the pack of nasty boys knocked
me aside. "Lilac!" I cried, grabbing the last of them, but he flung me
back like a rag.
I slid down a few steps. The old woman scurried up to meet me. She
started removing my buttons with her scissors. From Lilac's room,
mingled cries filtered down through the house. Cries of pleasure.
In a cavernous room, it was our last night together. Cobwebs
shrouded the ceiling. It was cold and the light was very poor.
Lilac spent the entire evening reading a book. I drank coffee and
studied my reflection in a cup. Lilac brushed her own hair, staring at
her face in a mirror. I couldn't bear to watch.
The room, I noticed with a faint uneasiness, was filled with long
wooden boxes. Some rested on shelves. Others were chained to the floor
by cobwebs. "Where are we?" I wondered, but said nothing aloud —so
as not to alarm my darling Lilac.
At last, Lilac put away her brush and rubbed her eyes. Since there
was no bed, we had to lie on the floor, raising dust that made us sneeze.
"Come inside me now," Lilac said. "But please don't touch me —your
skin is so cold, you know." She made a face and smiled.
We began to make love. I closed my eyes, and then my eyelids turned
to glass, so that I could still see her, see her mouth distort suddenly as if
seen through a green bottle. She began to shriek, "Stop!"
I pulled back. What was wrong? Her thighs were covered with blood.
"I'm hemorrhaging!" she shouted. "Help me!"
"What —what can I do?" I stammered, anxious to help but flustered.
Her face was wet. Lines of blood streaked her lip in four places where
she had bitten through it. "MY INSIDES ARE ALL TORN APART!"
she sobbed.
I had to act quickly. I found an empty box and opened the lid. She
127 was just the right size to fit inside. "I'm sorry," I whispered, as I shut
down the heavy top.
Sitting on a bench at the airport, I lifted my head. Just that simple
motion took at least two years to complete. The whole time I heard a
ripping sound, and felt it. Lilac's plane crossed mountains, rivers,
deserts, cities and oceans unseen. Countless sunsets like ribbons of blood
sank into the ground. Soft explosions roared in my vicinity without
pause. I saw my knuckles turning white on the rails.
The roaring stopped dead. I turned around. This time it only took
seconds. The plane was still on the runway, inching forward now, a
monstrous slug of silver. Plumes of fire flared silently from each of its
turbines. All its windows and doors were open. The fuselage and the
people inside had gone partially transparent.
"Lilac!" I cried but the silence swallowed my voice. Dispassionate
Lilac, with an ice-pale face and a scarlet ribbon in her hair, was staring
at the ground.
Even across that vast distance, I heard the drizzle of clear, tiny notes.
They rained against my ears like infinitesimal hailstones. It was the
sound of the cobwebs still clinging to her hair, cobwebs which had
turned to glass, and now stirred in the breeze like a million delicate
chimes.
128 Snezhina Slavova/ Three Poems
STRANDJA MOUNTAIN
Wind
I was offered to you in sacrifice,
vowed to you — wayfarer
with a thousand feet,
a thousand hands a thousand mouths —
tumultuous
jealous one.
Do you know which window you thrash
which door you force?
Pity the mountain rivers
the strawberry patches.
Find me when the soil is being turned
around the blackberry-bushes.
Find me in the hours when
the magic women dance.
I will come then under the drowsy leaves,
through the leaves hissing like embers. . .
If you are a man, you will discover —
in my hands men cry. . .
If you are newborn you will first know speech -
in my breasts there is milk to suck.
If you are a mother
you will sing —
in my heart there is a child falling asleep.
If you are an old man
you will lament —
for my forehead is an eternal wound.
129 PLOVDIV*
With my head thrown back
hair pulled back
forehead tightened by the wind
I tear out from the huge sun-clock face
a tiny shadow.
I throw it like a knife
into your leaden silence
Plovdiv.
The Maritsa river whitens
under the steady falling rain
and birch lichens whiten
on minarets
on cobble-stones on stockades.
Rows of windows of houses and churchtowers
sink into themselves deep as
the eyes of saints of icons.
They reflect
the deep long light of
the ritual dance of Pulpudeva
the torch feast of Trimontium
the wild burning of Philipopolis
the pascal candles of Philibe.
*An ancient city in Bulgaria and one of the capitals of Philip the Great, at different
periods of its history it was known also as Philipopolis, Pulpudeva, Trimontium and
Philibe.
130 The pounding of my heart grows
grows so heavy — all the memory is lost.
A woman very like my mother
sobbing
seizes the knife from my hand.
Trains arrive thumping
greedy
monstrous.
An enormous moon-strip yawns there —
I am shot into the clouds.
The rising smoke of the villages of Thrace
steam like hoof-prints.
I am brought close to falling comets
to dying suns to silent nebulae
by the swaying flame of the womb
holding the earthy smell
of the sheaves of wheat.
131 MILK
In the moment of the evening
when the sky loses itself
like the aroma of the swaying flowers,
when the purple of the mountain
dies out,
I quietly descend the steep path —
a torrential brook, a lowing cow,
a white horse grazing—
and the white-washed house of Slava.
From her pail the milk flows quietly, gently
toward my hand.
The beads swing from her breast
in the way they also do.
So long as Slava pours the milk
I shall understand all mystery.
I am bewildered that I have cried at times
and I believe things are good and lasting.
But the large white pan grows heavy,
my hand draws it back.
A white horse.
A lowing cow.
A torrent.
The steep ascent begins.
— Translated from the Bulgarian
by Yuri Vidov Karageorge
132 Frances Hall
Double-Arched Prosceniums
When next you go to Rome, stay at the old Victoria, just outside the
Borghese gardens. Ask for the breakfast boy named Mario; and after
you've let him move through his deferential ritual a time or so, talk to
him. He has good taste, that Mario. "Espressivo", "gentillissimo" he'll
say of whatever he tells you about, and it will be, too.
He can put you onto things, like the "Traviata" being done at Teatro
Dell' Opera. When his pale eyes start shining in his Sicilian face and his
hands begin making gestures, you listen to him. You can know Rome a
lot better if you get acquainted with Mario.
Take his word about this "Traviata" at the Teatro Dell' Opera, for
instance. Get yourself seats on the left aisle, with the place packed with
other people who've also heard how good the performance is. Except
that the two seats in front of you are still unfilled when the house lights
dim and the conductor has lifted his baton. How lucky can you get,
you think, to be able to see the stage without any dizzy scalloping of
heads that bob around or lean together at crucial moments. But it
doesn't happen that way.
In comes this couple, just as the curtain rises. They blot out your first
look at Violetta welcoming her guests and that long romantic silence as
she meets Alfredo. They take their time, these latecomers, settling
themselves, shifting, accommodating to their space; and for the rest of
the first act, they are the ones you have to be aware of.
For they had lunch in the paesano trattoria across the street, before
the matinee, just as you did. (Mario told you to.) They had the chicken
cooked in olive oil, with the herbs and garlic and tiny green olives,
which you had. The same insalata mista. The light Sicilian wine that
cost you fourteen tourist dollars per bottle, though you suspect the local
customers got it a lot cheaper, by the way they drank it.
These people took a bit longer than you did to eat because they had
additional matters on their minds. At least the men had—just as he has
now during the first act of "Traviata." It's this girl, gorgeously tall and
young, her hair glowing between gold and red, as the hair of a Milanese
girl does when she's lucky enough to inherit the Botticelli look. The way
133 she holds back, acting aloof, her mind not made up yet, is becoming to
her style.
But the man isn't thinking about style at the moment, though his
plumpness is elegantly tailored, and his dark hair is neat over his bald
spot. His hands aren't used to being as nervous as they are right now,
and generally he's the one accustomed to making the decisions.
Well, they are the reason you don't see too much of act one of
"Traviata". Not that you don't try, but he has his head over against hers
most of the time; he explains the plot, indicates the fine points, shares
what he knows —which is considerable, you judge.
She doesn't answer, but she isn't listening to the music, either. You
can tell when people aren't truly engrossed in a performance. For her,
it's just a holding operation. Something to sit through while she makes
up her mind.
You might as well sit tight, too. Let the music flow over you. The
voices opulent, the orchestra expansive. It's a short act anyway, and
people in this couple's situation are likely to leave early.
They don't go out to the foyer during intermission, but you wouldn't
expect them to — a man away from his office on a lunch hour that is to
take the entire afternoon. Nor is he quite ready yet to mill about with
this girl on his arm during the interval. And she isn't so interested in
showing him off at this moment, either. Better sit and play their
preliminary game.
Though right now the game doesn't seem to be getting anywhere.
You feel like telling him, "Man, don't try so hard. Don't lean that
way—your hand tight on the seat in front of you, your other hand
against her shoulder. Your body making a private world against the
largeness of the half-empty auditorium. Can't you see, man, how she
backs away from you, bracing against the arm of the seat next to her.
Aren't you getting the signals?
"Excuse yourself. Go out and leave her alone for a while. Say you have
to phone your home, your office, your children's school. Let her know
there are other importances in your life. Start building the kind of
boundaries you are going to need later if she decides to take you on.
Cut out all this fortissimo."
Act two is what most of us go to "Traviata" for. That room in the
country with the long windows at the back. The blue plates on the
buffet at the left. The tiled stove on the right. The glow of secret
happiness on tables, on chairs. An introductory orchestral passage
warning —lente, lente. And outside the windows, back-lighted, an
autumnal tree's brown leaves fall, circle slowly downward. You see the
leaning tree, the leaves floating, and you sense the tempo of renunciation. Sorrow, nobly motivated, impends, and you dissolve into it as
Germont sings to Violetta.
And in this production, it turns out that Germont —the father —is the
134 great one. His voice has the right break in it when he sings about his
lovely daughter, about his wayward Alfredo. You never heard parental
devotion, paternal sorrow, better done. The tenderness comes through
to ache in your bones. The guilty tenderness of being both the one in
love and the father mourning. Being both Violette and Germont.
Having her yearning and his grief inside yourself.
After Violetta has written her parting letter and Alfredo has made his
heartbroken cry in his deserted house, after the curtain calls have given
a decent space for the wiping of eyes and the blowing of noses, the lights
come on.
The girl in front of you is still the unruffled northern beauty, with not
a hint about her that she has been touched by the operatic sorrows of a
Verdi matinee. She has taken out her purse mirror and her lipstick
because she sees other women doing it, though she really has no need to
refresh her makeup. She looks into the miniature glass with the kind of
satisfaction that says she already knows what she will see there.
But the man, now —he's really been into the second act of "Traviata."
He's played all the parts, including that of the faithful servant. Cried
over the girl who can't get married because of her profligate brother.
Helped to write the pitiful, deceiving letter. Held the top note in the
final sob of the abandoned Alfredo. This man's face is wet, his front
wrinkled. His shoulders sag with the effort of it all.
And he is far from pleased to find his companion so pristine at the
conclusion of such sadness. He surveys her, swiftly but analytically,
head to toe. He is offended by the mirror, the dampened finger
smoothing a perfect eyebrow, the tongue run moistly along satisfied
lips, the assurance of the beautiful body simply waiting out the
performance.
Madre di Dio, but he has had a narrow escape. What he might have
got himself into! An alliance with a woman not merely of no taste but of
no heart. A man of his sensitivity to be in the clutches of such a
creature. He must act quickly, with the accustomed decisiveness of his
position.
"Come. We leave now," he is surely saying. "At once. Get your things
together. I have much business waiting."
She looks up, catches instantly the change in tone. She sits taut a
moment, prizing what is no longer hers. She assesses options. A sudden
display of enthusiasm? Devotion? A bit of captiousness, perhaps?
But she has lost whatever shred of initiative she might have had in
that moment of hesitation. He is already charging up the aisle, leaving
her to come at her own pace behind him. He'll have a taxi waiting, the
driver already tipped and instructed. He'll close the door of it quickly
and get himself a second one. He can still put in a couple of hours at the
office. Visit his daughter's school on the way home. Buy his wife a
present. Return thankfully to his own style.
135 When Mario serves your breakfast tomorrow morning, be sure to tell
him how great you thought the baritone was.
In the old days in Hollywood, George Arliss was big in the costume
biographies that were so popular —"Disraeli", "Richelieu", "Hamilton",
movies like that. (If you made a historical drama, you had to have him.)
Even though his check-in time for makeup was very early, he and his
wife liked to go to plays evenings. Possibly it was his favorite role —a
quiet old codger who didn't hear too well sitting in the third or fourth
row center with this gentle white-haired lady with the strings of a cut
velvet bag looped around her wrist. Inside the bag, she always had a
paper sack, red and green striped, designed to hold a dime's worth of
candy; they shared the lozenges it contained throughout the evening.
When you sat behind the Arlisses, whatever the play, the performance
was flavored with peppermint.
And when John Barrymore and Elaine Barrie lived on the West Coast
while he was making pictures, they went often to "cultural offerings" in
the old philharmonic hall at Fifth and Olive —diagonally across
Pershing Square from the Biltmore. It was Elaine's doing that
Barrymore was there, some said —by hook or crook. But however
accomplished, there he was. On time. Listening.
One night in the midst of something trivial, long forgotten, he needed
to cough, but he simply would not let himself. You could see him doing
all the tricks to prevent it. Swallowing. Letting all the air out of his
lungs slowly, with his mouth open. Finally, holding his breath. His face
getting dark. The cords in his neck standing out, the blue vein in his
forehead. He could have burst a blood vessel. He could have had an
aneurism. But he made it to the end of the number.
Finally, there's this woman. She could be quietly reading her
program in the dress circle at Covent Gardens. Or in the egalitarian
elegance of the new opera house at Hamburg. Think of her there,
sitting about a third of the way back, main floor center. Or in Dublin,
white gloves above the elbow, applauding a concert of the orchestra of
Radio Eireann. Right now, though, she has more need than she realizes
to be here, where her children live, where she has family, in Los
Angeles.
So on a mild Thursday evening in October, come out of the
underground garage at the Music Center, turn left to the Pavilion, past
the Lipchitz fountain, past the street musicians with their instrument
cases open at their feet, hoping for your quarters and your folding
money. Give in your tickets for the philharmonic and buy a
program — grumbling that you have to pay these days for even such
136 repositories of advertising. Stroll in the foyer under the crystal
chandeliers, for this lady you're to sit behind knows how to be on time
without ever being early.
Here she is, and here you are. You ought to study your program, for
most of the orchestra is on stage. But the concert master is not in his
chair yet, and you have a moment for observation. Isn't she elegant?
Her hair high, her chin, too —the presence of a woman who has been
educated in a tradition that gives emphasis to posture and graceful
walking. Graceful manners, as well. The dress is more formal than
many now bother with. The dark mink coat is taken off at first but is
drawn back again around her shoulders as if she found the Pavilion
cool.
People know her. Somebody moves past her along the row and stoops
to kiss her cheek. She nods to another three rows ahead. The young girl
who is with her has to call her attention to somebody farther off, who
waves, and you realize your lady isn't seeing quite so well tonight.
This girl with her, a daughter surely, with the same gentleness of
manner, though she's in casual clothing. Small and dark-eyed, without
her mother's distinction and charm, but beginning to emerge into a
style of her own. People speak to her, independently of speaking to her
mother. In time she will have presence, too.
The concertmaster comes, and some clap for him. He takes care of
last-minute tuning and sits. The silence that awaits the conductor's
entrance occurs.
In this silence, you hear the sound, the catch of roughness in this
woman's breathing. Not like the whisper of bronchitis or asthma. Not
like a cold or a raspy throat. It's down in the bottom of her lungs, like a
bubble that plops and then is gone. The girl looks up, uneasy but not
yet knowing.
The conductor comes and receives his beginning-of-the-season
welcome. He opens with Berlioz' "Harold in Italy" — a lively
introduction to the year, but you still hold in your mind that instant of
tragic breath in a beautiful stranger. Maybe you just imagine things.
The concert progresses to the Brahms, and the lady with the fur coat
coughs a couple of times, not loudly, but deep down. The girl leans
close and whispers something. The woman smiles reassuringly and
shakes her head. No, she does not wish to leave. She is comfortable. She
is fine. She spreads her coat wide in an evocation of past evenings when
she has sat thus relaxed and beautiful hearing Beethoven, Bartok,
Prokoviev, breathing softly in an ambience of well being.
But the breathing catches again. The coat is pulled close a second
time. The cough comes back. A white-haired woman immediately
ahead lifts an irritable shoulder. The lady with the cough notices, and a
muscle jumps in her cheek, giving back irritation in return.
A littler boy with early need of the men's room ratchets along the row,
137 ahead of the listening people. He lays his hand in apology on this
woman's knee, for he has had her greeting in the past and thinks of her
as a friend. She makes no sign to say she is aware of him, sits huddled.
He draws his hand back, embarrassed, stumbles over his feet, makes a
humiliating exit. The place rustles with annoyance at distractions.
You can see the lady take shallow breaths at the top of her lungs so
she'll not have to cough again. She isn't hearing the music, and neither
is the girl beside her. The white-haired woman in front turns and takes
a long look at both of them.
She makes it to the intermission, the way John Barrymore made it to
the moment when he could cough a couple of generations ago, and
you think surely she is hurrying down in the parking elevator, the keys to
her Chrysler Imperial ready in her hand, so that she may move quickly
onto the freeway, seeking the comforts of home —giving her promise to
the anxious girl beside her that she will phone for her medical checkup
first thing in the morning.
But it doesn't work out like that. After the intermission, she is back
again, with the flush of seeing old friends flaring richly across her
cheekbones. She has laughed a lot, heard much good talk during the
past twenty minutes, perhaps has had a glass of champagne at the foyer
bar. She is thinking about things other than the strange new sound at
the bottom of her lungs.
Besides, she has had a change in partners. The dark-eyed girl sits
somewhere else in the darkened auditorium. In her place is a big man
with a disciplined expression, as if he had learned to listen a lot and ask
the right questions without committing himself. His presence is
authoritative and comforting, as though something has been confided
to him in the intermission, as though he is to give the assurances that all
will be well.
You get into the Mahler, and it has the same magic for you as always.
The woodwinds hold their dialogs. The strings answer. There is the
incredible opulence of all hundred and more players performing at the
same instant. You can see the chandeliers move in the dramatic sound
waves of it. You can share the conductor's excitement — feel how he
balances on his toes, his baton high above his head for joy. The harps
throb and the drums make the same comment. The melodies pile over
one another, extravagant as an avenue of chestnut blossoms in
springtime. You go with the music into the myths of Vienna, into the
streets and the bell towers, into the heights beyond the city.
For nearly an hour the tremendous passages move over you, around
you. It is as though you are swept along with a concourse of people all
shouting for the same reason. Finally it ends. The audience stands,
cheering. The conductor bows damply, his hair matted to his forehead.
You stand too. Your hands tingle from the clapping. Suddenly, in the
skip of a heart-beat, you realize the two seats in front of you are empty.
138 She is gone, this lovely lady, without your noticing. Without your even
being aware.
You may sit in that seat again, as often as you choose, but you will not
see her further. You can tell yourself, if you like, she must be in the
concertgebow in Amsterdam or in Festival Hall in London. You can
make up what fancy story you please — You'll never really believe it.
There remains the memory of Nat King Cole in the last November of
his life, sitting in this same audience —almost this very seat —and then
moving out slowly, thinly, his wife's protecting hand inside his arm, as
he hoarded his diminished breath for the journey to the closest exit,
where his car waited at the curb. There is the knowledge of how a blood
vessel at the edge of the nostril, just where the flare of the nose joins the
flatness of the face, flashes blue and visible for its lack of oxygen. You
hope Shirley Verrett knows what precious breath Nat King Cole used to
hear her sing the Verdi Requiem a decade ago in the Pavilion.
Be glad the philharmonic has played the Mahler so grandly and tell
yourself that the fragile lady was probably able to stay for it, almost all
the way to the end.
139 BIBLIOGRAPHIES ON CONTRIBUTORS
ANSARY, MIRTAMIM:
Tamim Ansary is a freelance journalist in California. His articles have appeared in the
Los Angeles Times, Asia Magazine, Berkeley Barb, etc. "Crimes of Passion" is his first
literary publication.
ARY, SOLOMON:
see: "Introducing Solomon Ary" section.
BERCOVITCH, SACVAN:
THE AMERICAN   PURITAN   IMAGINATION:   Essays  in  Revaluation.   (London  &
N.Y., Cambridge University Press, 1974).
THE PURITAN ORIGINS OF THE AMERICAN SELF. (New Haven & London, Yale
University Press, 2nd printing 1976 —paperback 1977).
THE AMERICAN JEREMIAD (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1978).
Itzik Manger, "The Golden Peacock", translation from the Yiddish, (with commentary),
Hadassah Magazine, XLVIII, 1966, p. 6-7 & 15.
Jacob Zipper, "The True Image", translation from the Yiddish, Prism International, Vol.
12 no. 1, 1973, pp. 88-96; reprinted in Yiddish I, 1975, pp. 65-74.
CHARACH, RON:
"For a Nice Guy Who Just Came Down With M.S." (poem), CV II, Vol.2 no.3, August
1976, p. 9 (Winnipeg, Manitoba).
FORTHCOMING:
"Wearing the Terror", "Words With the Mariana Trench", "The Ganges", "The Face in
the Mirror", "The Man Who Cheats the Company" & "The Three-Piece Man in a Serious
Suit" (six poems), Nebula, Fall 1979 (North Bay, Ontario).
"Peter Idfield's Apology", "The Woolworth Store at Midnight" & "The Greatest Lover on
the Stage and Screen" (three poems), Intrinsic, Fall 1979 (Toronto).
"Misconceptions About Graveyards" & "Assault on the Firstborn —for Pasolini" (two
poems), Quarry, Fall 1979 (Kingston, Ontario).
"You May Despise" (poem), Descant, Fall 1979 (Toronto).
COSIER, TONY:
"The Lantern Setter", "I Pay the Old Man a Visit" & "Hugh Campbell" (three poems),
Huerfano, Vol.7 no.l, Spring 1979, pp.10-12 (Tucson, Arizona).
"I Hear Him Barking" (poem), The Tower, June 1979, p.9 (Dundas, Ontario).
"Puzzle" & "Channels" (two poems), Origins, Vol.9 no.2, June 1979, p.13 (Hamilton,
Ontario).
WITH THE SUN AND MOON, (poems) (Published by the author, July 1979).
140 GRAY, PATRICK WORTH:
"Leaving" & "Juniper" (two poems), Poetry Australia, No. 66 pp. 31-33 (Five Dock,
Australia).
"Visit to An Ex-Wife" & "I Come Home Late at Night", (two poems), Landfall,
Vol.XXXI no.4, pp.313-314 (Christchurch, New Zealand).
"Near the Washita" (poem), Iron, No.25, p.22 (Northumberland, England).
"The Woman and the Snow" & "Birth" (two poems), Poetry Australia, No.69, pp.53-54
(Five Dock, Australia).
HALL, FRANCES:
"To Make an Ending" (story), San Jose Studies, Vol.5 no.2, pp.57-65 (San Jose State
University).
"Money of Sorrow" (story), Pulp, Vol.2 no.3, Winter 1978, pp.16-20 (Rhode Island).
"Breaking Bad News" & "Fragments" (two poems). Event, Spring 1978, p.65 (New
Westminster, B.C.).
"Time of Departure" (poem), Western Poetry, Vol.3 no.2, Spring 1976, p.3 (Laguna
Hills, CA)
"Ghazals for a Thin Sunlight" (poem), Bitterroot, XVII no.65-66, Autumn/Winter 1978-
79, p. 13 (Brooklyn, N.Y.).
KARAGEORGE, YURI VIDOV:
"Flammes" (poem), Waves, Vol.3 no.2, Winter 1975, p. 18 (York University, Toronto).
"The Philipopolis Hill" (story) Quarry, No.6, Fall 1975 (Indiana University).
"Midsummer Lights" (story), PRISM international, Vol.15 nos.2&3, Summer & Fall
1976, pp.97-108.
"Perspectives on Post-War Bulgarian Cinema" (essay), Films in Review, Vol.XXIX no.7,
Aug.-Sept. 1978, pp.410-421 & 425 (New York).
"John Robert Colombo, Nikola Roussanoff, eds. The Balkan Range: A Bulgarian
Reader" (review), World Literature Today, Spring 1977, p.300 (University of Oklahoma).
MALMO.UIST, Ms. R.
There is no bibliography for Ms.  R.   Malmquist.  She co-translated the Solomon Ary
stories, along with Sacvan Bercovitch.
MANGER, ITZIK:
THE BOOK OF PARADISE; THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURES OF
SHMUEL-ABA ABERVO, translated from the Yiddish by Leonard Wolf. (N.Y., Hill &
Wang, 1965).
Anthologized in THE GOLDEN PEACOCK: A TREASURY OF YIDDISH POETRY.
(N.Y. Thomas Yoselofs, 1961) pp. 120-170.
"Eight Ballads" translated from the Yiddish by Sacvan Bercovitch, Moment, III, 1978,
pp. 48-52; and reprinted in Russian, mfewish Survey, I, 1979, pp. 14-16.
"Eight Ballads" translated from the Yiddish by Sacvan Bercovitch (with commentary),
Versus, No. 4, 1978, pp. 18-26 (Montreal).
PURDY, JAMES:
DON'T CALL  ME  BY  MY  RIGHT  NAME AND  OTHER STORIES.   (New York,
William Frederick Press, 1956).
141 63:  DREAM PALACE.  (New York,  William Frederick Press,   1956);  as 63:  DREAM
PALACE: A NOVELLA AND NINE STORIES. (London, Gollanz, 1957).
COLOR   OF   DARKNESS:   11   STORIES   AND   A   NOVELLA.   (New   York,   New
Directions, 1957; London, Seeker and Warburg, 1961).
MALCOLM,  (novel) (New York,  Farrar Straus,  and London,  Seeker and Warburg,
1960).
THE NEPHEW, (novel) (New York, Farrar Straus, and London, Seeker and Warburg,
1961).
CHILDREN IS ALL. (10 stories and 2 plays) (New York, New Directions, 1962; London,
Seeker and Warburg, 1963).
CABOT WRIGHT BEGINS, (novel) (New York, Farrar Straus, 1964; London, Seeker
and Warburg, 1965).
AN OYSTER IS A WEALTHY BEAST (story and poems) (Los Angeles, Black Sparrow
Press, 1967).
EUSTACE CHISHOLM AND THE WORKS, (novel) (New York, Farrar Straus, 1967;
London, Cape, 1968).
MR. EVENING: A STORY AND NINE POEMS. (Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press,
1968).
ON THE REBOUND: A STORY AND NINE POEMS. (Los Angeles, Black Sparrow
Press, 1970).
JEREMY'S VERSION: Part One of Sleepers in Moon-Crowned Valleys, (novel) (New
York, Doubleday, 1970; London, Cape, 1971).
THE RUNNING SUN. (poems) (New York, Paul Waner Press, 1971).
I AM ELIJAH THRUSH, (novel) (New York, Doubleday, 1972; London, Cape, 1972).
THE HOUSE OF THE SOLITARY MAGGOT: Part Two of Sleepers in Moon-Crowned
Valleys, (novel) (New York, Doubleday, 1974).
IN A SHALLOW GRAVE, (novel) (New York, Arbor House, 1976).
NARROW ROOMS, (novel) (New York, Arbor House, 1978).
A DAY AFTER THE FAIR: A Collection of Plays and Short Stories. (New York, Note of
Hand Publishers, 1976).
ROOKE, LEON:
LAST ONE HOME SLEEPS IN THE YELLOW BED. (stories) (Baton Rouge, Louisiana
State University Press, 1968).
THE BROAD BACK OF THE ANGEL, (stories) (New York, Fiction Collective, 1978).
VAULT, (novella) (New Hampshire, Lillabulero Press, 1973).
THE LOVE PARLOUR, (stories) (Ottawa, Oberon, 1978).
"Friendship & Property" (story), BEST CANADIAN STORIES 1979, edited by John
Metcalf & Clark Blaise (Ottawa, Oberon, 1979) pp.
"Adolpo Has Disappeared & We Haven't a Clue Where He Is" (story), Malahat Review,
No. 50, Spring 1979, pp. 193-213 (University of Victoria, B.C.)
"Mama Tuddi" (story), Descant XXV-XXVI, 1979, pp. 7-40 (Toronto).
142 SCHAEFFER, SUSAN FROMBERG:
FALLING, (novel) (New York, Macmillan, 1973).
ANYA. (novel) (New York, Macmillan, 1974).
GRANITE LADY, (poetry) (New York, Macmillan, 1974).
ALPHABET FOR THE LOST YEARS, (poetry) (Washington, D.C., Gallimaufry, 1976).
"The Day in its Parts" (poem), Antioch Review, Spring 1979 (Yellow Springs, Ohio).
SLAVOVA, SNEZHINA:
Yuri Vidov Karageorge, who translated the three poems in this issue, has been unable to
obtain any detailed bibliographic information on Ms. Slavova's work. The three poems
are from a collection of her poetry entitled DUZDOVETE MOITE PRIJATELI (THE
RAIN MY FRIEND) which was published in Bulgaria in 1968.
Two others poems "Cosmos" and "And You Man of the Sea" from the same collection and
translated by Karageorge appeared in Mundus Artium, Vol. IX no. 2, 1976 (University of
Texas at Dallas).
SPENCE, IAN A.:
"Nada" (story),   Vancouver Writer's Free Press, Vol.  1 no.  1, Spring 1975, pp.  1  & 7
(Vancouver).
"Chasers" (story), Revue, Vol. 1 no. 4, June 1975, pp. 8, 9 & 20 (Vancouver).
"Rosary" (story), Revue, Vol. 1 no. 6, August 1975, p. 16 (Vancouver).
"For Laughs" (story), Popular Illusion, No. 3, January 1978 (Vancouver).
"Time Off (story), CANADIAN SHORT FICTION ANTHOLOGY, ed. by Cathy Ford,
(Vancouver, Intermedia, 1976), pp. 175-187.
STOKES, DANIEL P.:
Detailed bibliographic information was not available on Mr. Stokes. His poetry has been
published in Ariel (Canada), The Atlantic Review (U.S.), The Journal of Irish Literature
(U.S.) and New Poetry, Cyphers, Poetry and Audience, The Irish Times, The Cork
Examiner, Envoi, Intak, Studies Chapman, Iron & Weyfarers and others.
Some of Mr. Stokes' work will be published in book form this year by Keepsake Press,
London.
URQUHART, JANE:
Jane Urquhart's poems in this issue are amongst her First published. Others have been
accepted for publication in The Fiddlehead, Quarry and The Antigonish Review.
"Mr. Bloombury" & "Paul" (two poems), The Fiddlehead, No. 121, Spring 1979, pp. 49-
50 (University of New Brunswick).
143 NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
Mir Tamim Ansary is an Afghan-American, born and raised in
Afghanistan. He is a freelance journalist now living in California. His
story in this issue is his first fiction publication.
Solomon Ary lives in Montreal. His stories in this issue are his first
publication in English.
Sacvan Bercovitch lives in New York and is a professor in the Dept. of
English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
Ron Charach, MD, is a Winnipeg born poet, currently living in New
York, doing work in child psychiatry at the New York-Cornell Medical
Center. His first book of poems, TOOLS TO FACE THE NIGHT
WITH, should be published some time this year.
Tony Cosier was born in 1945 in Vancouver. He teaches English at
Confederation High School in Ottawa. His writing has appeared in a
number of magazines including Germination, The Antigonish Review
and Portico. His first book of poetry, WITH THE SUN AND MOON,
will be published some time this year.
Patrick Worth Gray teaches at the University of Nebraska in Omaha.
He has other poetry forthcoming in the Malahat Review, Ariel,
University of Windsor Review and Samphire.
Frances Hall also does writing and editing in the education field under
her married name, Frances Adams. Her "private" writing consists of
poetry and prose and has appeared in a number of publications
including the Southwest Review, The Fiddlehead and Wascana Review.
She lives in Glendale, California.
Yuri Vidov Karageorge was born in Bulgaria and currently teaches
comparative literature and film at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Karageorge has published poetry translations from Bulgarian and
Russian, poetry, fiction and literary and film criticism.
144 R. Malmquist co-translated the Solomon Ary stories with Sacvan
Bercovitch. She is an artist and currently a student at Pitzer College,
Claremont, California. She is Mr. Ary's daughter.
Itzik Manger was born in Rumania in 1901. After the rise of Nazism,
he fled Eastern Europe, spent most of World War II in London and
Paris, and then migrated to Montreal. From 1952-1968 he lived in New
York. The four ballads translated in this issue are from a large
collection of Manger's, Songs and Ballads (1952). Manger was
internationally known for his poetry. He received many honours and
awards, among them the Lamed prize, as the finest Yiddish poet of his
generation. His work appears in virtually every anthology of Yiddish
literature in English translation. He died on a visit to Israel in 1969.
James Purdy was born July 14, 1923 near Fremont, Ohio. He has
published nine novels, four collections of stories and plays, and several
other books (SEE BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR COMPLETE LISTING). His
most recent novel is entitled NARROW ROOMS. He lives in Brooklyn,
N.Y. and is currently at work on a new novel. His other plays have been
performed in New York at the Writer's Stage, The Westbeth Theater
Center and Ensemble Studio Theatre.
Leon Rooke lives in Victoria, B.C. A new collection of stories, CRY
EVIL, will be published by Oberon Press in the spring of 1980. He has
just completed a novel.
Susan Fromberg Schaeffer is a Brooklyn, N.Y. writer. She is best
known for her novel FALLING. Two new books, THE BIBLE OF THE
BEASTS OF THE LITTLE FIELD (poetry) and THE QUEEN OF
EGYPT (short fiction) will be published by E.P. Dutton in January of
1980.
Snezhina Slavova was born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in 1942. She has
worked as a librarian, a business woman and a teacher. She has
published poems in a variety of literary and popular journals.
DUZDOVETTE MOITE PRIVJATELI (THE RAIN MY FRIEND), a
collection of poems appeared in Bulgaria in 1968. The poems translated
in this issue are from that collection.
Ian A. Spence is a Vancouver writer.
Daniel P. Stokes lives in Dublin. His poetry has appeared in such
magazines as The Atlantic Review, The fournal of Irish Literature,
New Poetry and Envoi. His verse play in this issue won an award in an
145 all-Ireland play writing competition. Another play Fly After Night was
produced in 1976 in the Little Theatre Club in London and at the
Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Jane Urquhart writes from Waterloo, Ontario. She says —"Though I
have been writing poetry for several years, it's only in the last six to eight
months that I have finally gathered the courage to send it anywhere. So
far The Fiddlehead, Quarry and The Antigonish Review have each
accepted two poems." PRISM is pleased to be one of the first to publish
her work.
146    Inside this issue:
Solomon Ary: Special section on a new Yiddish writer from
Montreal
DRAMA:
JAMES PURDY
DANIEL P. STOKES
FICTION:
LEON ROOKE
IAN A. SPENCE
TAMIM ANSARY
POETRY:
SUSAN FROMBERG SCHAEFFER
JANE URQUHART
SNEZHINA SLAVOVA
$4.00 ISSN 0032-8790

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