LAUGH THROUGH TEARS AGAINST HIS WILL
Brahm said to Sarah in the kitchen, “I’m arranging to have the piano returned to Miss Brundage.”
Sarah asked, “So quickly? Couldn’t we wait a little longer to see if Adolph changes his mind?”
Brahm replied, “Well, the piano lessons were nice, dear, but Adolph was never going to make a living at it, now was he? I’m more worried that Adolph doesn’t seem to be much interested in girls the way other boys are.”
Sarah rebutted, “Oh, Brahm, you can be so blind. Adolph has a torch for Shifra. You know, Shifra? Bruce Cohen’s daughter? She’s going to be married and my poor Adolph is just moping around.”
Brahm frowned, “Sarah, you are coddling him. He is too young to be ‘heartbroken’. He needs to be out having fun with other youngsters, sewing wild oats. Hmmph. Love is only making believe for a young man of his age.”
Sarah proclaimed, “He has a romantic soul.”
Brahm amended, “Sarah, what you mean is that Adolph is an idealist. But, now tell me, where you see any want ads for ‘idealists’ or ‘romantics’”?
Sarah answered, “Our shop was the work of two idealists, or don’t you remember?”
Brahm replied, “I remember working hard and wondering how we could build a life. A now, we have a successful business that runs on sweat and shrewdness, not fantasy, I promise you. And if it is to be Adolph’s one day, he will need to see clearly what is, not what he would like to see.”
Sarah persisted, saying, “All young people are idealists. They stop and smell the roses,” and then she said pointedly, “Only later do they grow old and hard-nosed.”
Brahm laughed and hugged Sarah and nuzzled her cheek, asking her in surrender, “Are you speaking of anyone that we might know, my little rose?”
Then there came the knock at the door. It was Shifra. She asked, “Is Adolph here?”
Sarah beamed, “He is upstairs.”
Shifra added, “I have sad news.”
Sarah asked quickly, “What sad news?”
Shifra looked down and said, “I didn’t want to but I was afraid that you hadn’t heard…”
Brahm asked, “What, dear, what is it?”
Shifra replied, “It’s Miss Brundage…”
Sarah asked in dread, “What, Shifra? What about Miss Brundage?”
Shifra finally said, “Miss Brundage had a stroke.”
Sarah gasped and Brahm said, “Oh my dear God.”
Shifra continued, saying, “Her left side is paralyzed.”
Sarah put her hands over her mouth.
Shifra lowered her head and began to weep, “It is so sad. So unfair. Miss Brundage can’t play the piano.”
Brahm said, “That is terrible, terrible! Oh, my dear God.”
Shifra looked up and tried on a brave smile which diverted her tears, saying, “But we got together, we pupils of hers agreed, agreed to continue to show up, show up for our lessons, except instead we could help her, help her around her apartment. Miss Brundage …,” Shifra could not continue.
Sarah perceived quickly and asked, “How can we help, Shifra?”
Shifra sniffed and said, “We asked, we asked and most of the parents don’t mind still giving to Miss Brundage the money for our lessons, for awhile, but Miss Brundage says she won’t accept it.”
Sarah rummaged her faith and rambled, “Well, can Miss Brundage still explain music, talk about her classical record collection…?”
Shifra interrupted, “She just sits in the dark! She needs help, Miss Meistermann. Miss Brundage has no one, no family except a sister somewhere.”
Brahm affirmed, “We will help. Don’t you worry, Shifra.”
Sarah put her hand on Shifra’s shoulder, “Dear, of course we will help.”
Adolph was coming downstairs and he saw Shifra illuminated in the doorway. For an instant he fantasized that she had come knocking back into his life. Then he heard the mournful tone of the conversation and he said stiffly, “Shifra. What’s up?”
Shifra sobbed, “Oh, poor Miss Brundage has had a stroke, she is paralyzed on her left side, I thought you should know.”
Adolph thought to himself in horror, “What do you mean, ‘I should know’?” Adolph felt the words clawing at his chest. In his mind he was back in Miss Brundage’s apartment, crying out in agony. He knew that he had taken his anger and poured it upon poor Miss Brundage like gasoline and that he had lighted the cruel flames with his self-pity. And now he just knew that Miss Brundage was as good as dead to herself and Adolph was sure that he was to blame, for a reason he suddenly understood.
Adolph couldn’t breathe and so he turned away and wove through the living room and then wobbled out the back door, barely realizing what he was doing. He pushed open the gate and started running down the alleyway toward Miss Brundage’s apartment. On the curb beneath her apartment window Adolph stumbled and he fell down onto his hands and knees and then he raised his face to that dark window and he opened his mouth in anguish, crying out in Hebrew, “Ani mitzta’er (I’m sorry)! Ana slach li (Please forgive me)!”
The winged creatures watching from upon the rooftop turned and fled away from him.
Bullets are ripping leaves and branches and spattering into the mud like hail, throwing mud all over me. I am just cowering here and shaking with every sound. I can’t move my legs. I’m pressing back into this boulder crevice as far as I can. I can’t feel my left side. Joshua is in front of me in the mud with his throat slit. Herman is to my right there on his back. He has stopped moving. Herman cried into the mud for Shifra when he was first hit. Then he cried for his mother and he rolled on his back and tried to gather up his intestines. My mother is probably at the shop back home right now. Mother always says that I’m a “sensitive boy”. She told them that I should not be drafted but they didn’t care if I was “sensitive” and they sneered at me. My father said that the Army would be good for me. I hate Herman and now he’s dead. Joshua is my friend and now he’s dead. Wait, the shooting has stopped! What now? I can’t stop shaking. Oh, God, please, no, they’ll hear me. They’ll blow my guts out like they did to Herman! I hear something. Someone is coming slowly, creeping around this boulder, to my left. The enemy is tip-toeing right past me. The enemy is peering down at Herman. I raise my rifle with my good right arm. The enemy whirls around in my direction. It is Shifra! She glares at me defiantly. I can blow her face off. Why haven’t I? I know why! That isn’t a pack on her shoulders; it’s a baby in a bundle. I hear a muffled cry. The baby’s face is hidden under a cloth. Shifra takes the bundle off of her shoulder and approaches me cautiously. She holds the baby bundle up in front of me. I say, “Stop it!” and I point the rifle at the baby. I lift the cloth from the baby’s face with the rifle barrel. He has my face!
The child explodes!
Adolph awoke with a gasp and he sat up in the bed and groaned. Shelly Kisherman was beside him and she was startled awake and she said, disoriented, “What is it?”
Adolph breathed fast and blinked his eyes and he was glad to recognize the room. Shelly pressed her warm naked body against him and the dream faded. Adolph had not dreamed about Shifra, or Herman, or Joshua, poor Joshua, for years.
Adolph whispered to Shelly, “I should get going anyway.”
Shelly frowned, “You never stay.”
Adolph kissed her nose, asking, “Well, I come back, don’t I?” as he threw the covers off of his side and over Shelly’s head.
Adolph found his clothes on the floor and pulled them on and then when he looked into the full length mirror on the closet door he saw Shelly pouting. This was the way Adolph liked it: he had the upper hand in the relationship and he certainly would not die if their relationship dissolved.
Shelly weakened and asked him, “Are you going to call me later?”
Adolph shrugged and replied, “If I have something to say.”
Shelly whined, “You never want to talk to me.”
Adolph suddenly turned and leaped back onto the bed and Shelly shrieked and Adolph said lasciviously, “We speak in tongues!” and he kissed her and she started to dissolve and then she hardened and she pushed him away, saying, “I’m going to find someone who wants to talk to me.”
Adolph bounced off of the bed saying, “Well, good luck with that! Better have a really good breakfast before you leave.”
Shelly threw a pillow at Adolph, saying bitterly, “You are so mean to me!”
Adolph went into the hallway. He was renting a bedroom in a house near campus while attending college at the Fallcreek School of Accounting. In the living room ahead Adolph heard the two other guys who lived in the house.
There was Billy Mello, a cook at the college dining hall, who now owned the house, his parents’ old house, and who lived there and rented out two of his bedrooms in order to afford to keep the house. Billy played amateur jazz trumpet and studied Zen meditation religiously.
There was the other renter, Zelmo Hurtz. Zelmo would let everyone know that “Zelmo” is the Hebrew variant of “Solomon”; itself derived from the word “shalom” (peace). Zelmo was a beatnik poet with a beard who earned his rent money by working on motorcycles. Zelmo opened and closed his doors of perception on a regular basis and he would invite along anyone who cared to journey “out of state” with him, as he would put it.
Billy Mello looked up at Adolph and grinned, teasing him, “I could hear you studying hard last night,” and then Billy blew a scale on his muted trumpet.
Zelmo offered the reefer he was smoking to Billy as he asked Adolph, “Who were you studying last night, man?”
Adolph sat down next to him and said, “Shelly.”
Billy teased, “You must give us your recipe for Cream of Adolph.”
Adolph changed the subject and pointed to the notepad on the coffee table in front of Zelmo and asked, “What are you working on?” and seeing the cup of coffee asked, “Any more java left?”
Zelmo held up his notepad with burlesque pride and announced oratorically, “I Remember Tomorrow,” and Billy began to play sinuous muted trumpet passages. Zelmo continued,
I, Zelmo Hurtz, howling in the alley,
Licked clean your dirty wishes,
Pondering, Kitten, mi Salvadora,
If you recalled if you recalled me,
Who, crouching by your car,
Miles away on the inside, shut out the radio of the Regime and listened to the barrio,
Who, watching minorities migrating between the clean corporate cathedrals,
Called to the voices caught in the coal tar creosote of the telephone pole,
Who, leaning up against the brick wall beside the sign Pussy Liquor,
With slow suspicion, rolled eyes over your black ’57 Chevy,
Who, opening your trunk and stowing my groceries,
Looked up for stars that might not exist anymore,…
Zelmo paused and Billy played a flourish on his muted trumpet. Zelmo said, “That’s all I’ve got so far. Hey, Billy-Boy, you are sounding like Miles Davis, himself, man.”
Billy made a face of comically exaggerated ecstasy and blatted on the trumpet a long note that sounded like an animal braying and then he said, “Now I sound like Adolph studying.”
Adolph grinned and said, “Fuck you,” and started to go into the kitchen for coffee. Shelly emerged from the hallway dressed but hair still a tangle and said in passing, “I’m leaving now. If you care.”
Billy and Zelmo nodded to her as she strode out the front door and let the screen door bang shut again but not before a long-haired cat bounced into the house.
Zelmo called out to the cat, “Hey, Scab-ette!”, a name they had given the neighborhood stray who was tough, scarred, and always had her long fur tangled in knots like scabs. The cat trotted to Zelmo and hopped upon the couch next to him and looked at him expectantly and began to vocalize a long throaty series of sounds that resembled a conversation heard through a wall.
Billy tried to mimic the “conversation” on his muted trumpet.
Zelmo shook his head and said, “No cat food here, chick.”
Zelmo then took a long drag on his reefer and blew the cloud of smoke onto Scabette. She pulled back and made a sour face and then she dived off of the couch and ran down the hallway vocalizing angrily.
Billy laughed, “It sounds like she’s saying ‘fuck you all’, man.”
Adolph shook his head, saying, “No wonder that cat always smells like reefer. Be careful, she must go to all the houses on this block,” and then Adolph poured himself some coffee and drained the cup in a series of croaking swallows, then he said, “Aaah. I’m gone, daddy-o.” Adolph headed out the front door but paused to catch the screen door with his heel and then let it close with a click.
Adolph got to the sidewalk when he remembered his amphetamines, “Shit,” and he turned and went back into the house.
Billy joked, “Long day?” as Adolph went past and headed back down the hallway to his bedroom. A few moments later Billy and Zelmo heard Adolph holler, “Shit!! Fuck!! Shelly!! Shit, fuck, shit, fuck, shit fuck!!”
Zelmo stood erect and raised aloft in his hand an imaginary sword and said, “Our capitalist friend is in trouble!”
Billy blew a be-bop cavalry charge and they both galloped down the hallway to Adolph’s bedroom. They saw Adolph standing catatonic and followed his trembling gaze to see Scabette dreamily defecating on a scattered pile of letters and envelopes pink and yellow and blue tissue-thin airmail posts crumpled and torn.
Zelmo asked, “What the fuck, man?”
Adolph bellowed, near tears, “My letters from Shifra!” and he fell to his knees and swung at Scabette who bounded away with a yowl.
Billy asked, “Shifra? I thought that was a long time ago.”
Adolph choked, “It was. It was,” and he gathered scattered fragments towards himself piteously, “She wrote to me for awhile from Germany after a few years. I kept the letters in a box, in my drawer. Shelly! Shelly! I’m going to kill you!!”
Billy tried to calm him, saying, “Easy, man, peace. You know this just a manifestation of fucked negative energy. Let it go. It’s done. Don’t be attached, man. Let it go.”
Adolph gritted his teeth and growled.
Zelmo knelt down, saying sternly, “Man, this is jive, you don’t want to be like this,” and he helped to gather together delicately the shredded pieces of Adolph’s feelings and then he said, “I think Scabette had the better idea,” and Adolph was compelled to laugh through tears against his will.
To be continued…
This is a section of my entry for Carl Reiner’s Writers’ Contest; to read Carl Reiner’s Chapter 1 go to: [http://carl-reiner.com/contest/?utm_campaign=]
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But, the most ancient scrolls are kept on: THE TABLE OF MALCONTENTS