See Under: LOVE A Novel
By David Grossman
Picador Copyright © 2002 David Grossman
All right reserved. ISBN: 9780312420697
See Under: LoveMOMIK
IT WAS LIKE THIS, a few months after Grandma Henny was buried in her grave, Momik got a new grandfather. This grandfather arrived in the Hebrew month of Shebat in the year 5317 of the Creation, which is 1959 by the other calendar, not through the special radio program Greetings from New Immigrants
which Momik had to listen to every day at lunch between 1:20 and 1:30, keeping his ears open in case they called out one of the names on the list Papa wrote down for him on a piece of paper; no, Grandfather arrived in a blue Mogen David ambulance that pulled up in front of Bella Marcus's café-grocery store in the middle of a rainstorm, and this big fat man, dark but like us, not a shvartzer, stepped out and asked Bella if she knew anyone around here called Neuman, and Bella got scared and wiped her hands on her apron and said, Yes, yes, did something happen, God forbid? And the man said, Don't get excited, lady, nothing happened, what can happen. No, I bring them a relative, see, and he thumbed backward over his shoulder at the ambulance in the street which seemed empty and quiet, and Bella suddenly turned as white as this wall and everybody knows she isn't scared of anything, but she wouldn't go anywhere near the ambulance, she only edged closer to Momik, who was doing Bible homework at one of the little tables, and said, "Vay iz mir," a relative now? And the man said, "Nu, lady we don't got all day, so if you know these people maybe you can tell me where they are, because is nobody home." He talked broken Hebrew like that even though he didn't look so much like a newcomer, and Bella said to him, Sure, what did youexpect, sure nobody's home, because these people are not parasites, these people work plenty hard for their bread, morning to night they're working in the lottery booth two streets down, and this little boy here, he's theirs, so just you wait a minute, mister, I'm going to run get them. And she ran out with her apron still on and then the man winked at Momik, and when Momik didn't do anything because he knows how you're supposed to behave around strangers, the man shrugged his shoulders and started reading the newspaper Bella left there and he said to the air, Even with this rain we're having, seems like it's going to be a drought year, yeah, that's all we need. And Momik who is usually well-mannered didn't hang around for more but ran outside to the ambulance and climbed up on the back step, wiped the rain from the little round window, and peered inside where the oldest man in the world was swimming like maybe a fish in an aquarium. He wore blue-striped pajamas and was all wrinkled like Grandma before she died. His skin was yellowish-brown, like a turtle's, sagging down around his skinny neck and arms, his head was bald, and his eyes were blank and blue. He was swimming hard through the ambulance air, and Momik remembered the sad Swiss farmer from Aunt Idka and Uncle Shimmik in the little glass ball with the snowflakes which he had accidentally broken once, and he opened the door without a second thought, but then he jumped back when he heard the old man talking to himself in a weird voice that went up and down excitedly, and then sounded almost like crying, as if he were in some play or telling a tall tale, but at the same time, and this is what's so hard to understand, Momik was one thousand percent sure that this old man was Anshel, Grandma Henny's little brother, Mama's uncle, the one everybody said Momik looked like, especially around the chin and forehead and nose, the one who wrote children's stories for magazines in Europe, but didn't Anshel die by the Nazis, may-their-name-be-blotted-out, and this one is alive all right and Momik hoped his parents would agree to keep him in the house because after Grandma Henny died Mama said that all she wanted now was to live out her life in peace, and suddenly there was Mama with Bella hobbling after her on ailing legs, lucky break for Marilyn Monroe, and she yelled at Mama in Yiddish to calm down, you shouldn't upset the child, and behind them trudged the great giant his papa, panting and red in the face, and Momik thought it really must be serious for both of them to leave the booth together. Anyway, the ambulancedriver calmly folded the newspaper and asked if they were the Neumans, the family from the late Henny Wasserman, rest her soul, and Mama said, Yes she was my mother, what happened? and the fat driver smiled a big fat smile and said, Nothing happened, why are always people expecting something happened; no we came to deliver just the grandfather to you, a mazel tov. And they all went around to the back of the ambulance and the driver opened the door and climbed in and lifted the old man lightly in his arms and Mama cried, Oy, no, it can't be, it's Anshel, and first she sort of swayed and Bella ran to the café and brought a chair back just in time and the driver said, There, there, we didn't bring to you bad news, God forbid, and after setting the old man down on his feet he gave him a friendly slap on the back which was bony and crooked and he said, Nu, Mr. Wasserman, so here's the mishpocheh, and to Mama and Papa he said, Ten years he's been with us at the insane house in Bat Yam, and you never know what he's talking to himself like now, maybe praying or who knows, and he doesn't hear what you say like a deaf man nebuch, so here's the mishpocheh! he screamed in Grandfather's ear to prove to everyone that he really was deaf, ach, like a stone, who knows what they did to him there, may-their-name-be-blotted-out! and nu, we don't even know which camp he was by or what, there came out people in a worse condition, you should see, no, better you shouldn't see, but now one month ago he all of a sudden opens his mouth and says the names of people, like Mrs. Henny Mintz, and our boss, he made like a detective and so he found out that those names he says are the names of people dead, may-they-rest-in-peace, and the list shows Mrs. Mintz here in this house, but she's dead too now, may-she-rest-in-peace, so you are the only family left, and it doesn't look like Mr. Wasserman will be getting any healthier and he can cat by himself already and, you should pardon the expression, make his duty by himself, and this country nebuch isn't so rich, and the doctors say in his condition he can be looked after in the home, family is family right? So here are his clothes and his papers and things and his prescriptions too for medicines that he takes, he's a sweet old man, and quiet too, except for the noises and all the moving around, but not too bad, nothing serious, everybody likes him, they call him the Malevsky family, because he all the time sings, that's a joke, see, now say hello to the children! he shouted in the old man's car. Ach nothing, like a stone, here, Mr. Neuman, you sign here and here thatI bring him to you, maybe you got an ID or something with you? No? Never mind, I believe you anyway. Nu, shoin, well, a mazel tov, this is a happy day like a new baby coming to you, oh sure, you get used to him, so now we better be heading back to Bat Yam, plenty of work waiting there, so goodbye, Mr. Wasserman, don't forget us! And he smiled cheerfully in the old man's face, though Grandfather didn't seem to notice, and got into the ambulance and drove away, fast.Bella ran to fetch Mama a piece of lemon to give her some strength. Papa stood still and stared at the rain running into the empty gully where the city was supposed to have planted a pine tree. The rain trickled down Mama's face as she sat on the chair with her eyes shut. She was so short her feet didn't touch the ground. Momik took the old man by his bony hand and gently led him under the awning of Bella's grocery store. Momik and the old man were about the same height because the old man was all hunched over and had a little hump at the back of his neck. And then all of a sudden Momik noticed there was a number on the new grandfather's arm, like Papa's and Aunt Idka's and Bella's, although Momik could see right away it was a different kind of number and he tried to memorize it but Bella came back with the lemon meanwhile and started rubbing Mama's temples with it and the air smelled good but Momik kept waiting because he knew Mama wouldn't wake up so soon.And who should come walking down the street just then but Max and Moritz, whose real names were Ginzburg and Zeidman, though nobody remembers that anymore except for Momik who remembers everything. They were inseparable, those two. They lived together in the storeroom at Building Number 12, where they kept the rags and all the junk they collected. Once when city inspectors came to kick them out of the storeroom, Bella screamed so loud they beat it out of there. Max and Moritz never talked to anyone outside of each other. Ginzburg who was filthy and smelly always walked around saying, Who am I who am I, but that's because he lost his memories on account of those Nazis, may-their-name-be-blotted-out, and the small one, Zeidman, just smiled at everyone all the time and they said he was empty inside. They never went anywhere without each other, Ginzburg the dark one leading, Zeidman behind him carrying the old black briefcase you could smell a mile away, grinning at the air. Whenever Mama used to see them coming she would mutter, Oif alle poste palder, oif alle vistevalder, a calamity in the empty fields and the empty woods, and of course she told Momik never to go anywhere near the two of them, but he knew they were all right, because Bella didn't let the city inspectors kick them out of the storeroom, although she did call them funny names like Mupim and Chupim and Pat and Patashon, who were these cartoon characters back where they all came from.So it was pretty weird how this time the two of them walked slowly by and didn't seem to be afraid of anyone and they stepped right up to Grandfather and looked him over and as Momik watched Grandfather he noticed his nose twitching as though he could smell them, which doesn't mean a whole lot since Ginzburg you could smell even without a nose, but this was something else because all of a sudden Grandfather stopped singing his tune and stared at the two dodos, which is another name Mama called them, and Momik saw the three of them stiffening as if they all had the same feeling, and then the new grandfather suddenly swerved around like he was angry he'd wasted his time which he had no business wasting and he sang that stupid tune again as if he couldn't see anything and paddled through the air like he was swimming or talking to someone who wasn't there, and Max and Moritz stared at him, and the small one, Zeidman, started making noises and moving around the way Grandfather does, he's always copying people, and Ginzburg growled and started to walk away, with Zeidman following in his trail. And you also always see them together on the stamps Momik draws for the royal kingdom.So anyway, meanwhile Mama stood up white as this wall, all weak and wobbly and Bella braced her and said, Lean on me, Gisella, and Mama wouldn't even look at the new grandfather and she said to Bella, This will kill me, mark my words, why doesn't God just leave us in peace and let us live a little, and Bella said, Tfu, tfu, Gisella, what are you saying, this is not a cat, this is a live human being, you shouldn't talk that way, and Mama said, It's not enough I'm an orphan, not enough we had so much suffering from my mother, now this, now everything all over again, look at him, look how he looks, he's coming here to die, that's what, and Bella said, Sha sha, and held her hand and they huddled together next to Grandfather but Mama wouldn't look at him and then Papa coughed, Nu, why are you standing there, and he bravely put his hand on the old man's shoulder and looked at Momik with a shy expression and led the old man away, and Momik, whoalready knew he would call the old man Grandfather even though he wasn't his real grandfather, told himself that if the old man didn't die when Papa touched him, that must mean a person from Over There is safe from harm.The same day, Momik went to search in the cellar. He'd always been afraid to go down to the cellar because of the dark and the dirt, but this time he had to. There, together with the big brass beds and the mattresses with straw sticking out and the bundles of clothes and the piles of shoes was Grandma Henny's kifat, a kind of box you tie up, with all the clothes and stuff she brought from Over There and this book called a Teitsh Chumash
and also the Tzena u-Rena
, and the bread board Grandma Henny used there for making pastry dough and three bags full of goose feathers she had dragged halfway around the world in boats and trains braving terrible dangers just so she could make herself a feather quilt in Eretz Yisrael to keep her feet warm, but when she arrived it turned out that Aunt Idka and Uncle Shimmik, who got here first and quickly made a lot of money, had already bought a double feather quilt, so the feathers stayed in the cellar where pretty soon they caught mildew and other cholerias, but you don't throw out a thing like that around here. So anyway, the point is that at the bottom of the kifat was a notebook with Grandma's Yiddish notes, all her memories like from the days when she still had a memory, but then Momik remembered that a long time ago before he could even read, before he'd turned into an alter kopf, which means the head of a smart old man, Grandma showed him a page from an old, old magazine, and in it was a story by Grandma Henny's brother, this Anshel, written one hundred years ago, but Mama got mad at Grandma for upsetting the boy with things that are no more and shouldn't be mentioned, and sure enough the magazine page was still in the notebook but when Momik picked it up it started to crumble, so he carried it between the pages of the notebook with a fluttering heart and sat down on the kifat to tie it back up with the ropes but he was too light so he left it open because he wanted to get out fast but suddenly he had an idea that was so strange he just stood still and forgot what he wanted to do next, but his thingy knew and he made it out just in time to piss under the stairwell, which is what always happens to him when he goes down to the cellar.So anyway, he sneaked the notebook into the house without anyonenoticing, and ran to his room and opened it and saw that the page had crumbled a little more on the way and the top corner was torn off. The page was yellow and cracked like the earth after a long time without rain and Momik knew right away he'd have to copy what it said on another piece of paper, otherwise, kaput. He found his spy notebook under the mattress and, wild with excitement, he wrote out the story on the tom page, word for word.
THE CHILDREN OF THE HEART Rescue the Red Sk A story in fifty chapters by the popular auth Anshel Wasserman-Scheheraz Chapter the Twenty-seventh O Constant Reader! In our previous episode, we saw the Children of the Heart swiftly borne upon the wings of the "Leap in Time" machine: destination--the lesser luminary called the moon. This machine was the product of the craft and intelligence of the wise Sergei, whose mastery of technics and the currents of electricality in the case of the magnificent machine we did so fully elucidate in our foregoing chapter, whither we refer our Constant Reader for the sundry particulars effaced from memory. And so, aboard the machine, arm in arm with the Children of the Order, were Red Men of the Navajo tribe and their proud king, who rejoiced in the name: Red Slipper (mayhap our Amiable Reader knows of the Red Skin's predilection for suchlike names fantastical, though we may smile to bear them!). And together they fled the truculence of the martial men who would drive them from the land of their fathers, chief among these the sanguineous native of the country of England, John Lee Stewart. Thus they betook themselves to the moon for shelter and succor in their distress, in the hope likewise of turning a new leaf in the copybook of their wretched lives. Lo! The wondrous machine traverses the stars, and breaches the rings of Saturn, streaked with gossamer, swift as light! And on they venture while the amiable Otto Brig, first and foremost among the Children of the Heart, to soothe the spirits of the Red Skins (so lately delivered from the hands of their enemies, and whisked aloft in the chariot of fire) rehearsed for them the glorious deeds of the Children of the Heart, anent our Faithful Reader is informed to the last letter and with which we shall not tire him at this time. And Otto's young sister, blithe Paula of the golden hair, prepared a repast for the company to refresh their troubled minds and flagging spirits. And Albert Fried, the silent boy, was just then sitting privilyat the helm, nobly pondering whether humankind should ever set foot upon the moon, since as the Amiable Reader knows so well, Albert Fried was conversant with every sort of creature, from lice eggs to horned buffaloes, and likewise the language of each, as was King Solomon of yore, and he hastened to find his small copybook in which to record the scientific facts he would observe in short order, for our friend Albert Fried is a lover of order, and it well behooves the younger readers amongst us to follow his example in this and other matters. And as he was writing, the dulcet murmur of a flute fell upon his ears, and this so astonished him that he rose to his feet and approached the hall of passage. In the doorway he stood, bewildered by the sight which met his eyes: for there stood Harotian, the small Armenian fellow, a wizard skilled in every work of wonder and of sorcery, piping for the company, whilst the melody he played so nimbly upon his flute becalmed the anxious hearts of the Red Skins and allayed their fears. The piping was balm to them, and small wonder: for little Harotian himself had long ago been rescued by the Children of the Heart when the Turks of Turkestan plundered a village in the hills of Armenia, and Harotian alone was spared, as fully recounted in the adventuresome tale entitled "The Children of the Heart Rescue the People of Armenia," and the young Harotian was touched to the heart by the sadness of these voyagers. And meanwhile, as Sergei was standing watch on deck, a heavy cloud descended, for he grasped in his hand the horn of vision that magnifies two-hundred-fold, and screamed: "Woe is he who faces such calamity! Flee! To the moon!" And they beheld it, and were filled with horror. Otto their leader looked through the horn of vision, and his heart stopped, his face turned ashen, while Paula clasped his hand, screaming: "For God's sake, Otto, what is it that you saw?" But Otto's tongue was pinched and doughlike, and no reply could he make, though his face bore testimony to the evil which had befallen them all, and horror, perhaps Death, lurked at the window. Continued in next week's issue of
This was the story Momik found in the magazine, and as soon as he started copying it down in his spy notebook he knew it was the most exciting story ever written, and the paper smelled about a thousand years old and seemed to come out of a Bible with all those biblical-looking words Momik knew he would never understand no matter howmany thousands of times he read the page over, because to get the meaning of a story like this you need a commentary by Rashi or somebody because people don't talk that way anymore except maybe Grandfather Anshel, though even without understanding every word in it you could tell this story was the origin of every book and work of literature ever written, and the books that came later were merely imitations of this page Momik had been lucky enough to find like a hidden treasure, and he felt that once he knew this he would know just about everything, and then he wouldn't have to go to school anymore, so right away he started to memorize it because brains he's got, bless him, and it only took him a week to learn it all by heart, and he would recite while getting ready for bed: "Harotian, the small Armenian fellow, a wizard skilled in every work of wonder and of sorcery, piping for the company," etc., or on his way to school the next morning, till he got so caught up in the story he couldn't stop wondering what that awful thing they saw on the moon through the horn of vision was, and sometimes he would try to guess how the story ended, though he knew a real Bible ending was something only Grandfather Anshel could invent, but Grandfather Anshel hadn't.Mama and Papa decided Grandfather should have the small room Grandma Henny used to live in, but he wasn't anything like Grandma Henny. He couldn't sit still for one minute and even in his sleep he twitched and gabbled and flapped his arms around. Whenever they locked him in the house he would cry and make such a scene they had to let him out. In the morning after Mama and Papa left for the lottery booth and Momik had gone off to school, Grandfather Anshel would walk up and down the street till he was tired and then he would go sit on the green bench outside Bella's grocery-café and talk to himself. Grandfather stayed with Momik and his parents for a total of five months before he disappeared. The first week of his stay, Momik started drawing pictures of him on the imperial stamps, with the legend "Anshel Wasserman: Hebrew Writer Who Perished in the Holocaust." Bella brought a weak glass of tea out for Grandfather. She reminded him gently, "Mendarf pishen, Mr. Wasserman," and led him to her toilet like a child. Bella is a real angel from heaven. Her husband, Hezkel Marcus, died a very long time ago and left her all alone with Joshua, a difficult child and a bit meshuggeneh, and with these ten fingers here Bella made an army officer out of him and a college graduate too.Besides Joshua, Hezkel left her his own father, old Mr. Aaron Marcus--zal er zein gezunt und shtark, may he be healthy and strong--who was sick and weak and feebleminded and hardly ever left his bed anymore, and Bella, whom Hezkel used to treat like a real queen--and he wouldn't even let her move a glass from here to here--did not sit around the house with her feet up all day long after Hezkel died but went out to work in the little grocery store so as not to lose the regular customers at least, and she even expanded and brought in three more tables and a soda fountain and an espresso machine, and Bella was on her feet from dawn till dusk spitting blood, only her pillow knows how many tears she cried, but Joshua never went hungry, and nobody ever died of hard work.Bella's café served breakfast specials and home-cooked meals for people of taste. Momik remembered the words "people of taste" because he was the one who wrote the menus three times (for Bella's three tables), and decorated them with drawings of people looking all fat and smily after eating such a good meal at Bella's. And she served home-baked cookies too, fresher than Bella, as she would tell anyone who asked her, though not too many people asked these days, because hardly anyone ever came in besides the Moroccan construction workers from the new housing developments at Beit Mazmil who showed up around ten in the morning for a quart of milk, a loaf of bread, and a cup of yogurt, or the few neighborhood customers and then of course Momik. Only Momik didn't pay. The other regulars stopped shopping there when the new modern supermarket opened at the shopping center where they gave a free set of cork coasters for buying thirty pounds worth of groceries, as if people always had a glass of tea on a coaster with the princess, and now they rush over like maybe they're going to find gold there instead of smoked fish and radishes, and also because everyone gets to push a solid-steel shopping cart around, says Bella, not really angry, and whenever she mentions the supermarket, Momik blushes and looks the other way, because he goes there too sometimes to see the lights and all the stuff they sell and the cash registers that ring, and how they kill the carp in the fish tank, but she doesn't mind so much about her regular customers leaving (says Bella), or that rich she'll never be, tell me, does Rockefeller eat two dinners, docs Rothschild sleep on two beds, no, what bothers her most is the tedium, the boredom, and if things go on like this much longer she'll go out andscrub floors rather than sit around here all day, because to Hollywood she won't be going, not this year, because of her legs maybe, so Marilyn Monroe can relax with that new Jewish husband of hers. Bella sits at one of the empty tables all day long reading Woman's Own,
and Evening News
, smoking one Savyon cigarette after another. Bella isn't afraid of anything, and she always says exactly what she thinks, which is why when the city inspectors came to throw Max and Moritz out of the storeroom, she gave them such a piece of her mind they had a conscience for the rest of their lives, and she wasn't even afraid of Ben-Gurion and called him "The Little Dictator from Plonsk," but she didn't always talk that way, because don't forget that like all the grownups Momik knew Bella came from Over There, a place you weren't supposed to talk about too much, only think about in your heart and sigh with a drawn-out krechtz, oyyyy, the way they always do, but Bella is different from the others somehow and Momik heard some really important things from her about it, and even though she wasn't supposed to reveal any secrets, she did drop hints about her parents' home Over There, and it was from her that Momik first heard about the Nazi Beast.The truth is, in the beginning Momik thought Bella meant some imaginary monster or a huge dinosaur that once lived in the world which everyone was afraid of now. But he didn't dare ask anyone who or what. And then when the new grandfather showed up and Momik's mama and papa screamed and suffered at night worse than ever, and things were getting impossible, Momik decided to ask Bella again, and Bella snapped back that there are some things, thank God, a nine-year-old boy doesn't have to know yet, and she undid his collar button with a frown, saying it choked her just to see him buttoned up like that, but Momik decided to persist this time and he asked her straight out what kind of animal is the Nazi Beast (since he knew there weren't any imaginary animals in the world and surely no dinosaurs either), and Bella took a long puff on her cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray and gave a krechtz, and looked at him, and screwed her mouth up and didn't want to say, but she let it slip out that the Nazi Beast could come out of any kind of animal if it got the right care and nourishment, and then she quickly lit another cigarette, and her fingers shook a little, and Momik saw he wasn't going to get any more from her this time, and he went out to the street, thoughtfully dragging his schoolbag along the wet pavement, buttoning his collar absentmindedly, and thenhe stood contemplating that Grandfather Anshel of his, sitting on the green bench across the street as usual, lost in his own world, waving his hands while he argued with the invisible somebody who never gave him a moment's rest, but the interesting thing is that Grandfather wasn't alone on the bench anymore.It seems that in the past few days, without his noticing, Grandfather had started to collect all kinds of people around him. In fact they were these very old people nobody had noticed in the neighborhood before, or if anyone did notice them, they tried not to talk about them, people like Ginzburg and Zeidman for example, who'd walk up and stare in his face, and Zeidman would start making signs like Grandfather right away, because he always does what other people do, and then came Yedidya Munin who sleeps in the empty synagogue with all the martyred saints. Yedidya Munin is the one who walks bowlegged because of his hernia, and wears two pairs of glasses one on top of the other, one for the sun and the other not, and children are absolutely forbidden to go anywhere near him because he's obscene, but Momik knows Munin is really a good person, that all he wants in life is to love someone from a fine, distinguished family, and to make children with her in his own special way, which is why every Friday Momik secretly takes Bella's newspapers and clips out the personal ads of the famous Mrs. Esther Levine, modern matchmaker and leading expert in arranging contacts with visitors from overseas, but no one is allowed to know this, God forbid. And then came Mr. Aaron Marcus, father of Bella's Hezkel, whom nobody had seen for ten years and all the neighbors said Kaddish over him already, and here he was, alive, looking nice and all dressed up (well, Bella wasn't about to let him go out to the street looking like a shlumper), only his face, God help him, was twitching and cracking into a thousand and one faces you wouldn't want to see. And then came Mrs. Hannah Zeitrin, whose husband the tailor deserted her, may-his-name-be-blotted-out, and now she is a living widow, that's what she's always hollering and screaming and it was lucky the compensation money came in, because otherwise she would have died of starvation, God forbid, because the tailor, pshakrev, didn't even leave her the dirt under his fingernails, everything he took with him choleria, and Mrs. Zeitrin is a very good woman, but she's also a whore and she mates with shvartzers, a shvartz yar oif ir, a black year on her, as Mama says whenever she walks by, and Mrs. Zeitrin really docs do that withSasson Sasson, a fullback on the Jerusalem Ha Poel soccer team, and with Victor Arussi, who's a taxi driver, and also with Azura, the butcher from the shopping center whose hair is full of feathers, and who looks like a nice guy actually, the kind that wouldn't mate, but everyone knows he does. At first Momik hated Hannah with a black hatred, and he swore he would only marry somebody from a fine, distinguished family, like the women in the ads of Esther Levine the matchmaker, somebody who would love him for his handsomeness and intelligence and shyness, and who would never mate with others, but once when he said something about Hannah Zeitrin to Bella, Bella got angry with him and said what a poor woman Hannah Zeitrin is, and you should pity her, the way you should pity everyone, and you don't know everything about what happened to Hannah Over There, she never dreamed when she was born that this is how she would end up, sure everyone has hopes and dreams in the beginning, that's what Bella said, so then Momik started to understand Hannah a little differently, and he saw that she was very beautiful kind of, with her big blond wig like Marilyn Monroe, and her big red face with the nice little mustache, and her swollen legs all bandaged up; she's pretty in a way, only she hates her body and she scratches herself with her fingernails, and calls her body my furnace, my tragedy, and it was Munin who explained to him that she screams like that because she needs to mate all the time, because otherwise she'll go out somewhere or something, and that's the reason the tailor ran away from her, because he isn't made of steel you know, and also he had some kind of problem with horns, and that was something Momik would have to find out about from Bella, and these stories began to worry him a little, because what if someday none of her maters showed up and she happened to see Momik walking up the street? But thank God it didn't happen, and another thing is that Mrs. Zeitrin is also angry with God, and she shakes her fists at Him and makes all kinds of not-so-nice gestures, and she screams and curses at Him in Polish, which is bad enough, but then she starts swearing in Yiddish too, which you can be sure He understands. And all she wants is for Him to dare show His face, just once, to a simple woman from Dinov, but anyway, He hasn't dared so far, and every time she starts screaming that way and running up and down the street Momik dashes to the window for a view of the meeting, because how long will God be able to control Himself with all her insults, and everyone listening yet; what,is He made of steel? And now Mrs. Zeitrin has also been turning up at the bench and sitting next to Grandfather, but nicely, like a good little girl, still scratching herself all over, but quietly, without screaming or fighting with anyone, because even she could see that, deep inside, Grandfather is a very gentle man.Momik is too shy to walk up to them, so instead he kind of moseys by, dragging his schoolbag along the sidewalk, till all of a sudden there he is, casually standing beside the bench where he can hear what they're saying in Yiddish, which is a slightly different Yiddish from the kind Mama and Papa speak, though in fact he understands every word: Our rabbi, whispers little Zeidman, was such a smart man even the top doctors declared he had two brains! And Yedidya Munin says, Eht! (a noise they all make). Our rebbeleh in Neustadt, the "yanukeh," they called him, he met his end There too, nebuch, he didn't want to write his commentaries in a book, nu, sure, the greatest Hasidim didn't always want to, so what happens? I tell you what happens: three things the little rebbe of blessed memory had to realize were signs from Above! You hear me, Mr. Wasserman? From Above! And in Dinov, says Mrs. Zeitrin to no one in particular, in Dinov where I come from, Jagiello's monument in the square was fifty meters high maybe and all marble! Imported marble!Momik is so excited he forgets to shut his mouth! Because they're talking freely about Over There! It's almost dangerous the way they let themselves talk about it, but he has to make the most of this opportunity and remember everything, everything, and then run home and write it down in his notebook, and draw pictures too, because some things it's better to draw. So that when they talk about certain places Over There, for instance, he can sketch them in the secret atlas he's preparing. Like that mountain Mr. Marcus talks about, he can draw it in now, that huge mountain the goyim Over There call Jew Mountain, which is a magic mountain, so help us both, Mr. Wasserman, if you happened to find something up there, it disappeared before you got it home, a terrible sight! Schrecklich!
And wood you gathered on the mountain, it wouldn't catch fire! It burned but was not consumed! That's what Mr. Marcus said, changing faces at incredible speed, God help us, but Mr. Munin tugs Grandfather's coat sleeve like a child and says, Another thing, Mr. Wasserman, in Neustadt where I come from there was a man called Weintraub, Shaya Weintraub, they called him. A young fellow. A boy.But such a genius! Even in Warsaw they heard of him! He received a special award from the Minister of Education himself! Imagine that, the Pole gave him an award! Now listen to this, says Mr. Munin, digging deeper than usual in his pocket (searching for a treasure any beggar can find, says Bella), this Weintraub, if you asked him in the month of Tammuz, Tammuz shall we say, Please, Shaya, tell me how many minutes to go, God willing, before next Passover, you hear that, minutes, not days, not weeks, and then, just like that, may we both live to see our children married, Mr. Wasserman, he gives you the exact answer, like a regular robot. And Mrs. Hannah Zeitrin stops scratching and hitching her skirt up to scratch the top of her legs, and she looks at Munin and asks with a sneer, Would this Weintraub be the one with a head like an ear of corn by any chance, God forbid, the one that moved to Krakov? And Mr. Munin who seems kind of annoyed suddenly says in a quieter voice, Yes, that's the fellow, a genius like no other ... and Hannah Zeitrin throws her head back, with a screechy-sounding laugh and says, And what became of him? Shaya Weintraub played the stock market and sank down down down. A genius, ha!And they talk on and on this way, never stopping or listening to each other, to a singsong Momik has heard before somewhere, though he can't remember where exactly, speaking the language of Over There, the top-secret codes and passwords, recklessly, brashly saying: District of Lubov, Bzjozov Province, and the old cattle market, the big fire at the Klauiz, army work, protection, apostate out of spite, Red Feige Lea and Black Feige Lea, and the Goldeneh Bergel, the golden hill outside Zeidman's town where the King of Sweden buried caskets filled with gold when he fled the Russian Army, ach, and Momik swallows hard and remembers it all, for this kind of thing he has an excellent mind, a real alter kopf head, okay, so a Shaya Weintraub, a regular robot, he isn't yet, but Momik too can tell you on the spot how many gym classes to go before summer vacation, and how many hours of school (minutes too), not to mention some of the other things he knows, like his prophecies, because Momik is practically a prophet, a kind of Merlin the Magician, why he can guess when the next surprise quiz in arithmetic is going to be, and Miss Aliza, the teacher, actually did walk in and say, Please put away your notebooks, boys and girls, and take out paper and pencil. And the children stared at Momik in amazement, but that prophecy was a cinch because three months earlierwhen Papa went to have his heart checked at Bikkur Cholim Hospital they had a quiz, and Momik gets a bit nervous whenever Papa goes for his heart checkup, which is why he remembered, and next time Papa went they had another surprise quiz, so after that Momik guessed that four weeks from Monday Miss Aliza would give another quiz, but the other children don't understand this type of thing, for them four weeks is too long a time to measure, so they think Momik is a magician, but anyone who has a spy notebook and writes down everything that happens can tell that things that happen once will happen again, so Momik drives the children crazy with his accurate, spylike prediction about the tank column crossing the Malcha road once every twenty-one days at ten o'clock in the morning, and he can also tell (it spooks him too) the next time those ugly pimples are going to pop out all over Netta the science teacher's face, but these are silly prophecies, hocus-pocus stuff to make the kids respect him and stop teasing him, because the really big prophecies are for Momik alone, there's no one he can tell them to, like spying on his parents, and all the spy work to put together the vanished land of Over There like a jigsaw puzzle, there's still a lot of work left on this, and he's the only one in the whole wide world who can do it, because who else can save Mama and Papa from their fears and silences and krechtzes, and the curse, which was even worse after Grandfather Anshel turned up and made them remember all the things they were trying so hard to forget and not tell anyone.Momik intends to rescue Grandfather Anshel too of course, only he doesn't quite know how yet. He's tried one or two methods already, but so far, nothing works. First, when Momik used to sit with Grandfather and give him his lunch, he would accidentally knock on the table sometimes the way Raphael Blitz and Nachman Farkash the convicts did when they were planning their prison break. He couldn't tell whether the knocking meant anything or not, but he had this hunch, this hope actually, that someone inside Grandfather would knock back. But nothing happened. Then Momik tried to figure out the secret code on Grandfather's arm. He'd tried this before with Papa's and Bella's and Aunt Idka's code numbers, but he didn't get anywhere that time either. The numbers drove him crazy because they weren't written in ink and they couldn't be washed off with water or spit. Momik tried everything to wash Grandfather's arm, but the number stayed fixed,which gave Momik an idea that maybe the number wasn't written from the outside but from the inside, and that convinced him more than ever that there was somebody there inside Grandfather, and the others too maybe, which is how they call out for help, and Momik racked his brains to understand what it could be, and he wrote down Grandfather's number in his spy notebook next to Papa's and Bella's and Idka's, and did all kinds of calculations, and then luckily in school they learned about gematria and the numerical values of the alphabet which naturally Momik was the first in his class to understand, and when he got home he tried to turn the numbers into letters in different ways, but all he got was a bunch of strange words he didn't understand, and still Momik would not give up, and once in the middle of the night he had an Einsteiny idea, he remembered there are things called safes where rich people hide their money and diamonds, and these safe things will only open if you turn seven dials in a certain secret way, and you can bet Momik spent half the night experimenting, and the next day, as soon as he picked Grandfather up at the bench on his way home from school and gave him his lunch and sat down across the table from him, he called out various combinations of the numbers from Grandfather's arm in a slow, solemn voice. He sounded kind of like the guy on the radio who announces the numbers that won the thirty-thousand-pound prize in the lottery, and he had a peculiar feeling that any minute now his grandfather would split down the middle like a yellow string bean, and a smily little chick of a grandfather who loves children would pop out, only it didn't happen, and suddenly Momik felt strangely sad, and he got up and went over to old Grandfather, and hugged him tight, and felt how warm he was, like an oven, and Grandfather stopped talking to himself, and for maybe half a minute he was quiet, and kept his face and hands still, and sort of listened to what was going on inside, but he could never stop talking for very long.Then Momik used his systematic approach, the kind he's really good at. Whenever he and Grandfather were left alone in the house together, Momik would start following him around with a notebook and pen, recording Grandfather's gibberish in Hebrew letters. Okay, he didn't write down every single word he said, not every single word, that would be too dumb, but he did write down what he thought were the most important sounds Grandfather made, and it only took a couple of days for Momik to notice that what Grandfather was saying wasn't all gibberish,in fact he was telling somebody a story, just as Momik had thought all along. Momik tried hard to remember what Grandma Henny used to tell him about Anshel (that was a long, long time ago, before Momik understood things like an alter kopf, before he ever heard about Over There), but all he could remember was that she said Grandfather wrote poems for grownups too, and that he had a wife and daughter who were killed Over There, and he also tried to find hints in the story from the old magazine, but he didn't come up with anything. Then Momik went to the school library and asked Mrs. Govrin the librarian if she had any books by a writer called Anshel Wasserman, and Mrs. Govrin peered at him over her glasses and said she never heard of him, and she knows everyone. Okay, so Momik didn't say anything, he just smiled to himself inside.He went over to Bella's to share his discovery (that Grandfather was telling a story), but she only looked at him with that expression he doesn't like, pitying him and shaking her head from side to side and unbuttoning his top button, and she said, Sport, yingaleh, you're going to have to start pulling yourself together now, you're pale and scrawny, a real little fertel, how will they ever take you into the army, tell me, but Momik was stubborn and he explained that Grandfather Anshel was telling a story. Grandma Henny also used to like to tell stories when she still had her mind, and Momik remembered her special story voice and the way she stretched the words out and how her stomach filled with the words, and the peculiar way his palms would start sweating and the back of his knees, which is just how it felt when Grandfather talked now. And then he explained to Bella that he understood now that his poor grandfather was locked up in the story like the farmer with the sad face and the mouth open to scream that Aunt Idka and Uncle Shimmik brought from Switzerland, and this farmer lived his whole life in a glass ball where the snow fell if you shook it, and Mama and Papa put it on the living-room buffet, and Momik couldn't stand that mouth so one day he accidentally broke the glass and freed the farmer, and meanwhile Momik continues to record Grandfather's gibberish in the spy notebook slyly labeled Geography
, and little by little he makes out a word here and there like Herrneigel, for instance, or Scheherazade, for instance, which he doesn't find in the Hebrew Encyclopedia
, so he asks Bella for no particular reason what does Scheherazade mean, and Bella's just glad to hear he's stopped thinking about OverThere, and she says she'll ask her son Joshua, the major, and two days later she answers Momik that Scheherazade was an Arab princess who lived in Baghdad, which is a little strange since if you read the papers you know there isn't any princess in Baghdad, there's a prince, Prince Kassem, pshakrev, who hates us like all the goyim, may-their-memory-be-blotted-out, but Momik doesn't know the meaning of the word "surrender," he has the patience of an elephant, and he understands that a thing may seem mysterious and scary and confused today, but it will clear up by tomorrow, because it's just a question of logic, there's always an explanation, that's how it is in arithmetic, and that's how it is in everything else, but till the truth comes out, you just do things normally as if nothing happened, you go to school every morning and sit there for hours, and you don't let it hurt your feelings when the children say you walk like a camel, the way you slouch, oh, what do they know, and you don't feel bad when they call you Helen Keller because you wear glasses and have braces which is why he tries not to talk, and you don't give in when they try to butter you up so you'll tell them when the next surprise quiz in arithmetic will be, and on top of this Momik has to worry about the deal he made with Laizer the Crook who swipes his sandwich every morning and then there's the distance home from school every day which you use arithmetic to figure out, seven hundred and seventy-seven steps, no more, no less, from the school gate to the lottery booth where Mama and Papa sit squeezed together all day long not saying one word, and they see him turn the corner, all the way up the street, for this they possess animal instincts, and when he gets there Mama comes out with the house keys. Mama is very squatty, and looks something like a kilo bag of flour, and she wets her fingers with spit to comb the hair of Motl Ben Paisee the Chazzan, he should look tidy, and she wipes a speck of dirt off his cheek and his sleeve too, though Momik knows very well there isn't any dirt there, she just likes to touch him, and he, poor orphan, patiently faces her fingernails, gazing anxiously into her eyes, because if there's anything wrong with her eyes they won't grant us papers to get into America, and Mama, who doesn't know she's Motl's mother just now, says quickly under her breath, Your papa is becoming impossible, and she can't stand those krechtzes one more minute, like an old man ninety years old he sounds, and she swings around to look at Papa who just stares up in the air like there's nothing there and doesn't budge, andMama tells Momik Papa hasn't washed in a week, it's the way he stinks that keeps the customers away, no one's stopped at the booth for two days now except the three regulars, why should the lottery people let us keep the booth with no customers and where are we supposed to get money to eat I'd like to know, and the only reason she stays here with him all day long like a sardine is because you can't trust him with money, he might go off and sell the tickets at a discount, or he could get a heart attack from the hooligans, God forbid, why is God punishing me like this, let Him kill me right now instead of a little at a time, she says, and her face falls exhausted, but then she suddenly gazes at him, and for just a minute her eyes are pretty and young-looking, not frightened or angry, the opposite, you might say she seems to be trying out some new chendelach on Momik to make him smile, to make him special to her, and her eyes light up, but it only lasts about a half a minute and she changes back into the way she was before, and Momik sees her eyes change, and Mod whispers softly to her, in the voice of My Brother Elijah, Hush, nu, hush, Mama, weep no more, the doctor said it isn't good for you to cry, please, Mama, for our sake, and Momik makes a vow, tfu, may he die in Hitler's black tomb unless he finds a green stone that cures diseases of the eye and other cholerias, and this is what Momik is thinking so hard to help him not hear the seventh-grade hooligans shouting a safe distance away from big fat Papa: "Lottery little, lottery big, turns a pauper into a pig," a kind of ditty they made up, but Momik and Mama hear nothing, and Momik sees Papa, the sad giant of an Emperor, staring down at his enormous hands, no, all three of them are deaf to the hooligans, because they hear only their own secret language which is Yiddish, which soon the beautiful Marilyn Monroe will understand because she married Mr. Miller, a Jew, and every day she learns three new words, and these hooligans, let them drop dead, amen, and Mama touches Momik here and there while he says the magic word "Chaimova" seven times to himself, which is what you're supposed to say to infidels at the border tavern in the Motl Ben Paisee book, because when you say "Chaimova," they drop everything and obey you, especially if you ask them to help you cross the border to America, not to mention a simpler thing like handling a gang of seventh-graders whom Momik will only refrain from throwing to the infidels out of the goodness of his heart."There's a drumstick in the refrigerator for you and one for him,"says Mama, "and be careful with the small bones, you shouldn't swallow any, God forbid, and he shouldn't either. Be careful." "Okay." "And be careful with the gas too, Shleimeleh, and blow the match out right away, so there won't be a fire, God forbid." "Okay." "And don't forget to make sure you turn off the gas knob when you're done, and the little tap behind the stove too. The one behind is the most important." "Yes." "And don't drink soda water out of the refrigerator. Yesterday I noticed at least one glass less in the bottle. You drank it, and it's winter now. And as soon as you're inside lock the door twice. The top lock and the bottom lock. Just once is no good." "Okay." "And make sure he goes to sleep as soon as lunch is over. Don't let him go out like a shlumper." "Okay." She carries on talking to herself a little longer, making sure with her tongue that there are no words left over, because if she's left out a single word, then everything she said will be wasted, but it's all right, there's nothing left out, nothing bad will happen to Momik, God forbid, so Mama can make her last speech, like this: "Don't open the door to anyone. We're not expecting company. And Papa and I will be home at seven as usual, don't worry. Do your homework. Don't turn the heater on even if it gets cold. You can play after you do your homework, but no wildness, and don't read too much, you'll ruin your eyes. And don't get into any fights. If anyone hits you, you come here to us right away." Her voice sounded weaker and farther away. "Goodbye, Shleimeleh, say goodbye to Papa. Goodbye, Shleimeleh. You be careful."This must be how she bade him goodbye when he was a baby in the royal nursery. His father, who was still the Emperor and a commando fighter in those days, summoned the royal hunter and, with tear-choked voice, ordered him to take this infant deep into the forest and leave him there, prey to the birds of the sky, as they say. It was a kind of curse on children they had in those days. Momik didn't quite understand it yet. But anyway, luckily the royal hunter took pity on him and raised him secretly as his own, and many years later Momik returned to the castle as an unknown youth and became secret advisor to the Emperor and Empress, and that way, unbeknownst to anyone, he protected the poor Emperor and Empress who had banished him from their kingdom, and of course this is all imaginary, Momik is a truly scientific, arithmetically gifted boy, there's no one like him in fourth grade, but meanwhile, till the truth will out, Momik has to use imaginary things andhints and hunches and the talking that stops the minute he walks into the room, that's how it was when Mama and Papa sat talking with Idka and Shimmik about the compensation money from Germany, and Papa said angrily, Take a man like me, for instance, who lost a child Over There, which is why Momik isn't so sure it's only imaginary, and sometimes when he's really feeling low, it makes him so happy just to think how glad they'll be the day he can finally tell Mama and Papa that he's the boy they gave away to the hunter, it will be exactly like Joseph and his brothers. But sometimes he imagines it a different way, that he's the boy who lost his twin brother, because Momik has this feeling that he used to have a Siamese twin, and when they were born, they were cut in two like in Believe It or Not
: "300 astonishing cases that shook the world," and maybe someday they'll meet and be joined together again (if they want).And from the lottery booth he makes his way home at a precise and scientific pace, they call it the camel walk because they don't understand that he's directing his footsteps through the secret passages and shortcuts only he knows, and there are some trees you have to brush against accidentally, because he has this feeling maybe there's somebody inside and you have to show him he hasn't been forgotten, and then he crosses the dump behind the deserted synagogue where old Munin lives all by himself and you have to hurry past on account of Munin but also on account of the saintly martyrs waiting there impatiently for someone to release them from holy extermination, and from here it's just ten steps to the gate of Momik's yard, and you can see the house already, a kind of concrete block perched on four wobbly legs, under which is a small cellar, they should have gotten only one apartment in the house actually, not two, but they signed Grandma Henny up as a separate family, like Uncle Shimmik told them to, and that's how they got the whole building to themselves, so even though nobody lives in the other half of the house or ever goes in there, it's theirs, they suffered enough Over There, and it's a mitzvah to cheat this government, choleria, and in the yard there's a big old pine tree that keeps out the sun and twice Papa went out with an ax to chop it down, but he scared himself each time and came back quietly, and Mama stormed at him because he had mercy on a tree but not on this child who was going to grow up in the dark without the vitamins you get from the sun, and Momik has a room all to himself, with a portrait of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurionand a picture of Vultures with their wings spread like steel birds boldly defending our nation's skies, and it's too bad Mama and Papa won't let him hang any more pictures on the wall because it ruins the plaster, but except for the pictures, which really do ruin the plaster a little, his room is neat and tidy, everything in its place, and this room could definitely be a model for other children, if they would ever come over, that is.It's a very quiet street, more like a lane really. There are only six houses on it, and it's always quiet, except when Hannah Zeitrin insults Our Lord. Momik's house is pretty quiet too. His mama and papa don't have many friends. In fact they don't have any friends at all except for Bella naturally, whom Mama goes to see on Saturday afternoons when Papa sits by the window in his undershirt and stares out, and except for Aunt Idka and Uncle Shimmik, who come twice a year for a whole week, and then everything changes. They're different from Mama and Papa. More like Bella really. And even though Idka has a number on her arm, they go to restaurants and to the theater and to Gigan and Schumacher, the comedians, and they laugh so hard, Mama glances sideways and kisses her fingertips and touches her forehead, and Idka says, What harm is there in a little laughter, Gisella, and Mama smiles a foolish smile like she's been caught and says, Don't mind me, laugh, laugh, there's no harm, I do it just to be safe. Idka and Shimmik play cards too and go to the seashore, and Shimmik even knows how to swim. Once they sailed on a luxury ship, The Jerusalem
, for a whole month because Shimmik owns a big garage in Natanya, and also he knows how to cheat on his income tax really well, pshakrev, and there's only one small problem, which is that they don't have any children, because Idka did all sorts of scientific experiments Over There.Momik's mama and papa never go away on trips, not even out of town, except once a year, a few days after Passover when they spend three days at a small pensione in Tiberias. This is sort of strange because they even take Momik out of school for the three days. In Tiberias they're different. Not so different, but a little different somehow. For instance, they sit at a café and order sodas and cake for three. One morning of the vacation they all go to the beach and sit under Mama's yellow umbrella which you could call a parasol, with everybody dressed very lightly. Then they rub Vaseline on their legs so they won't burn, and on their noses all three of them wear little white plastic shades.Momik doesn't have a swimming suit, because it'd be silly to spend all that money on something you use only once a year and shorts are good enough. They allow him to run on the beach then as far as the water, and you can bet he knows things like the exact depth, length, and breadth of the Sea of Galilee, and what kinds of fish live in it better than any of those hooligans swimming out there. In the past when Momik and his parents went to Tiberias, Aunt Idka would come up to Jerusalem alone to take care of Grandma Henny. She always brought a stack of Polish newspapers with her from Natanya which she left with Bella when she went home. Momik used to clip out pictures of Polish soccer players from the newspapers (especially Pshegelond
) like Shimko-viak, the fantastic goalkeeper with the catlike leaps, but the year Grandfather Anshel arrived, Idka didn't want to stay with him on her own because he's so difficult, so Mama and Papa went by themselves, and Momik stayed with his aunt and with Grandfather, because only Momik knows how to handle him.That was the year he discovered his parents were running away from home and the city on account of Holocaust Day. He was already nine and a quarter by then. Bella used to call him the neighborhood mizinik, but actually he was the only kid around. It had been that way since the day he arrived in his baby carriage, and the neighborhood women leaned over him and cooed, "Oy, Mrs. Neuman, vas far ein mieskeit," what an ugly thing, and the ones who knew better looked away and spat three times to save him from what they carry inside them like a disease, and for nine and a quarter years after that, every time he walked down the street he heard the same greeting and spitting, and Momik is always nice and well-mannered, because he knows what they think of the other children in the neighborhood, they're rude and wild and shvartzers, all of them, so you can see Momik has a lot of responsibility for the grownups on the street. Continues...
Excerpted from See Under: LOVE by David Grossman Copyright © 2002 by David Grossman. Excerpted by permission.
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