A Visit From The Old Neighborhood



Jerome Turken

“Eric, will you stop twisting around?” Libby buttoned the last few buttons on Eric’s shirt, then gave Mel, who appeared to be still asleep, a nudge.

“What time is it?” he said.

“After eight.”

“Oh shit!”  He opened his eyes.  “I have a nine‑thirty meeting.”

Libby took Eric’s hand and walked him to Elly’s room and knocked on her door. There was no response, so she opened it.

“Elly, it’s ten after eight,” she said.

“Ten after eight!” Elly yelled, throwing her blanket aside and springing up.  “The alarm just rang!”

Libby picked Eric up and carried him downstairs and put him in his

high chair. Bebe was sitting at the kitchen table reading the funnies while

eating her cereal.

“You better get ready to leave too, Bebe,” Libby said.  “or you’ll miss you bus again.”

“Just let me finish Peanuts. Bebe said.

“Keep an eye on Eric a minute,” Libby said.  “I’m going down to put a load in the washing machine.”

“All right,” Bebe said.

When Libby came back upstairs Bebe went up to get her books.

Just as Libby put a pot of water to heat for Eric’s cereal Elly came hurrying downstairs carrying her book bag and started toward the door.

“Eat your breakfast!” Libby said.

“I’ll be late!” Elly said.

“Drink your cocoa at least.”

Elly came to the table and took up her cup and emptied it in one series of gulps.

“And take a banana with you,” Libby said.  She pulled one off a bunch and wrapped it in a napkin.

“Oh, all right!” Elly put the banana into her bag and ran out.

The kitchen took on a bit of his fragrance as Mel came in.  “Where does she get that temperament from?” he said.  He was fully dressed with  tie and suit jacket.  “Doesn’t she say goodbye anymore?  I don’t know about these kids nowadays.  Listen, Lib, I don’t have time for breakfast. I don’t want to keep the accountants waiting too long. I’ll just pick up something on the way.”

Libby was at the stove mixing Eric’s cereal.  He took her shoulders from behind and gave her a quick peck of a kiss below her ear, then went down to the garage.

Bebe came back down with her book bag already buckled.  “Bye, mom.”  She approached Libby for a kiss, then left.

Just as Libby began to feed Eric the screen door whined and Bebe

came hurrying back into the kitchen.

“What did you forget?” Libby said.

“I didn’t forget anything,” Bebe said.  “An old lady just came on our lawn and sat down on it.  She looks crazy.”

Libby picked Eric up and went out to the porch.  The woman was sitting in the middle of the lawn with her legs angled straight out.  From between them she was snatching snippets of grass, which she was carefully inspecting before dropping into a brown paper bag lying open beside her.  Look at her, sitting there like a little girl counting jacks.

“Ma, I have to go or I’ll miss the bus,” Bebe said, staring at the woman as she proceeded up the walk.  “I’ll see you after school.  Let me know what happened.”

It was a beautiful morning.  The sky was clear blue with a few small fluffs of clouds here and there, and a soft breeze brought with it the leafy smell of the trees tinged with the sweetness of flowers.  Libby approached the woman and kneeled in front of her.  The woman shied, yet somehow managed to give an impression of ignoring her.  With frail fingers she was separating the newly picked snippets in the palm of her hand, discarding those she apparently thought unacceptable and dropping the rest into the bag.

“Hello,” Libby said.

The woman did not look up.  “Hallaw,” she said, and mumbled something in Yiddish that sounded like some kind of sneer or dismissal, as if Libby’s presence were an unavoidable nuisance.  She had on a threadbare old house dress, its print obscured with fading, its frayed hem half way up her thighs, revealing a pair of veiny, arthritic legs.  Her wispy gray hair was held back haphazardly with bobby pins, one of which was dangling below her ear on a loose lock.  In the wrinkles of her face and neck were webs of days‑old dirt.

“What are you doing?” Libby said.

The woman looked at Libby with narrow-eyed suspicion, as if trying to determine what she was up to.  She answered something in Yiddish.

Libby delicately took her by the elbow, trying to nudge her up, and she immediately began to whimper.  She released her and went inside and looked up The Jewish Family Service in the phone book.  A Mrs. Greenberg answered the call.

“A confused old Jewish woman is roaming around my neighborhood,” Libby said.  “She appears lost.”

‘Where is she now?” Mrs. Greenberg said.

“Well, right now she’s not wandering,” Libby said. “She’s sitting here on my lawn.”

“Well how can we help you?”

“How can you help me?” Libby said.   “Excuse me, I thought that’s what you do, help people.”

“Well, can you bring her here?”

“Listen, I have three kids.  I can’t—”

“All right,” Mrs. Greenberg said.  “I’ll see what I can do.”

“You’ll see what you can do isn’t good enough,” Libby said.  “You have to come here to get her.  You can’t let her keep roaming the streets.  You have to find out where she belongs.”

“Where do you live?” the Mrs. Greenberg said.

“Great Neck.”

“How on earth did she get to Great Neck?” Mrs. Greenberg said.  “All

right, we have access to a station wagon.  But you’ll have to wait until later this afternoon, about three, four o’clock.  Right now we’re all jammed up.  Give me your address and phone number.  I’ll call you before we leave.”

With Eric in hand Libby went back out to the porch and stood there a while watching the woman busy with her grass picking.  The poor thing.  She approached her again and pointed to the bag, searching her memory for some Yiddish words.  “Vus is in der … der … bag?”

Chav,” the woman said, inspecting a palmful of snippets.

“Ah, chav,” Libby said.  “Vus is dein …dein … nummen?” she ventured.

“Fanny,” the woman said.

“Where … “  Libby jogged her mind. “Ver is dein hoiz, Fanny?”

“Bottlet Strit,” the woman said.

“Bartlett Street?” Libby said.  “In Williamsburgh?”

Fanny looked up now.  “Williamsburgh,”  she said, then bent her head into the grass snippets again.

“No kidding,” Libby said.  “I used to live two blocks away on Ellery Street.”  She gently put her hand on Fanny’s shoulder and again tried to nudge her up.  Fanny jerked herself free in startled recoil, her eyes running and shifting, as if Libby’s touch forewarned of some hidden danger in the surroundings.  But she didn’t whimper this time.  “Come, Fanny. Come to the back and you can sit down in a comfortable chair and rest.  Come.”  She felt taut resistance, which slowly softened as Fanny rose. “Come.”

As they proceeded up the walk to the back of the house Fanny

suddenly halted and looked at Libby.  “You think I don’t know who you are?” she said.

Talking English all of a sudden.  “Who am I?” Libby said.

“You’re Gitty Abelowitz from Tompkins Avenue.”  Fanny’s eyes shifted away then back and she slowly shook her head.  “Such a bad girl you turned out.”

“Oh, Fanny, I’m not Gitty Abelowitz,” Libby said.

“You certainly are,” Fanny said.  “You think you can fool me?  You must of come back.”

“I came back?” Libby said.  “Where did I go?”

“Where?” Fanny said, nodding knowingly.  “Hm‑hm‑hm‑hm.  The whole neighborhood knows.”

“So tell me,” Libby said.  “I want to see if the whole neighborhood is


“You went away to have a baby in New Jersey and you weren’t even married,” Fanny said.  “Such a disgrace.”

Ran away to New Jersey to have a baby.  Libby’s chest fluttered.  Fanny was looking at her with pinched, knowing eyes.  She has me all figured out.  A psychic of past possibilities.  A seer of what ifs.  New Jersey to have a baby.  The words stirred up the anguish of an old nightmare.

“You ought to shame yourself.  Such a nice girl you used to be, all the time reading books and the newspaper, with college and everything.  And then a thing like that all of a sudden.  What happened to you?  Don’t you

care about your mother?  Such a nice person with such a terrible daughter.

She’s home crying.”

“Well, I have a happy ending,” Libby said.  “I got married to a big shot executive in New Jersey and came back to New York and bought a house and had a couple of more kids and I’m living happily ever after.  See how things turn out all for the best sometimes?”

Could have been a Gitty Abelowitz, after that episode with Mario Cangelosi.  An offer to take me for a ride in his Cadillac.  Parks in the factory shadows on Gerry Street.  Kisses, feeling, heavy breathing and all of a sudden his hand up my skirt, my thighs apart and I’m in a battle to save my hymen.  Is there such a thing as half rape?  Didn’t even know if he got inside.  She felt her stomach churn and her head lighten with the recollection.

“Maybe you’d like something to drink,” she said.  “You must be

thirsty.  Come, I’ll give you some orange juice and you can sit and rest a while.”  She led Fanny to the stairs to the kitchen deck.  When she put Eric down he immediately took hold of her thigh, all the while staring at Fanny. She extended a hand to help Fanny up the stairs.

“Here, hold my bag for me.” Fanny said.  “I can go myself.”  She struggled herself up to the deck a step at a time leaning heavily on the banister.

A sixteen year old pisher getting into a car with an old neighborhood Lothario.  All I knew was, he was tall, dark and handsome.  He had sex appeal. Then I’m the main character in a nightmare, a pregnant tramp running away from home.

Libby, holding Eric’s hand, followed close behind. “Careful, Fanny,” she said.

“Don’t worry,” Fanny said.  “I’m not a cripple.”

I ran to Bernice’s house, where else?  And Bernice said, What are you talking about, running away?  Will you stop babbling and tell us what happened?  What the fuck happened?

He just forced my legs apart and before I knew it he … he …

He what?  Did he get it in?

I don’t know.

Did you bleed?


That fuck.  So what are you going to do?

I don’t know.

That lousy fuck.

When Fanny reached the top step she turned and took her bag from Libby’s hand, then stood there looking around with an expression of bemusement, as if asking herself what she was doing there.  Libby beckoned her to sit in one of the chairs at the table.  Fanny looked at Libby suspiciously. Wondering what’s behind all this hospitality.

“Why don’t you sit down, Fanny?” Libby said.

Fanny sat down and looked around, her eyes running and shifting again.  She was sitting on the very edge of the chair, as if either awaiting permission to lean back or getting ready to spring off again.

Libby went into the kitchen with Eric tagging along clenching her

skirt, looking back at Fanny, still looking even after she was out of his sight.

And Sally said, Your head must be screwed on backwards.  You had no business getting into that car.

And Bernice: That’s very helpful, Sally.  The question is, what is she going to do now?

And Sally said, we’re going to my house and she’s going to douche, that’s what she going to do now.

Looks from Bernice and me.

No one’s home, Sally said.

And then the three of us in Sally’s bathroom and me on the toilet seat afraid even to put the nozzle in, sobbing.

Do it, Sally said.  Close your eyes and hold your breath and just do it. Give it to me!  I’ll do it!  Hold still, will you!

She poured a glass of orange juice and, with Eric still holding on to her skirt like an appendage, came back out placed it on the table in front of Fanny.  Fanny didn’t pick it up.  Is she waiting for permission to drink?  Maybe she thinks it’s poison, or something.  She was sitting there with her head bent, like she was asleep with her eyes open.  Looks something like that old gypsy who used to sit on a soda box outside her store next to Weiner’s Dry Goods like she was in a trance until someone passed, and then put out her hand and said, Hey you girl, fortune for nickel, what you say?

And that wait afterward.  Those ten days of torture.  What if I’m pregnant?  Please, God, don’t let me be pregnant.  Please, please, let my period come.  Lost my appetite, nausea, ringing in my ears,  Couldn’t look in a mirror.  A complete collapse of self‑respect.  Ten days later it came, right on the dot.  But those ten days.  And Bernice: See?  I told you.  You don’t get pregnant so fast.  And Sally: And don’t get into cars so fast either from now on, crazyhead.

Eric wouldn’t release her skirt.  From his toy drum she selected some vehicles, a few stuffed animals and his Chime-Along and put them on the floor of the deck just outside the door for him to play with.  She squatted at the Chime-Along and tapped out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and he soon got interested and took the mallet from her hand and started to do his own tapping.  Fanny stirred and looked at Eric with a dreamy expression, her head tilted almost to her shoulder.  She still hadn’t touched the orange juice.         “Why don’t you drink your orange juice?” Libby said.  She picked up the glass and held it out to Fanny.  Fanny took it and started to sip slowly, all the while looking at Libby with a strange smile, almost a smirk.  You’re wise to something more in me, lady? So I went to New Jersey and had a baby.  What else?  Strange, like the old neighborhood showed up to pay me a visit.   She set the clip on the pull of the screen door to keep it open so that she could keep Eric in sight and went inside to do the breakfast dishes.

The old neighborhood.  Walking the two blocks to Bernice’s house, the smell of supper still in the vestibule; her bell with the loose button, how many times did I ring it?  And then Sally showing up.  The Williamsburgh literary mob, three dizzy lizzies giggling our way through Brooklyn College. We were notorious and universally admired by a crowd made up of ourselves.  Our detractors?  We laughed them down.  There they go, the three high and mighty bookhags, with their big words and snotty noses.  That one?  Look under her skirt and you’ll find a dictionary. And Sally: Look under my skirt and I’ll piss in your eye.

Walking across the Williamsburgh Bridge every few weeks to see what’s doing on the Lower East Side.  Here comes the literary crowd.  Buying sour pickles on Rivington Street.  Knishes with a thick layer of mustard at Levy’s.

       We are the delicatessen girls

                From Hopkins Street and Ellery

                Don’t be fooled by our pretty curls

                They’re really made of celery.

Trying to out‑do each other with our operatic screeches and crazy vibratos.  And Sally Cohen’s lexicon of words that look Greek, sound

Yiddish and mean nothing.  Example: mamalechus.  As in: The mamalechus

of Division Street.

When Libby came back out Fanny was looking at her as if she saw something on her face and was wondering what it was doing there.

“What is it?” Libby said, putting her hand to her face.

“You know?” Fanny said.  “You look just like me when I was young.”

“No kidding,” Libby said.

“Almost exactly.”

“I’d like to see a picture of you when you were young.”

Fanny’s eyes livened with almost girlish delight.  “Don’t worry, I used to take plenty of pictures,” she said. “There was one I’m standing under a tree in Prospect Park.  You should see how nice I looked.  I was wearing a new dress from Kleins with red and white flowers and I had my silk stockings on.  You should see me.  Make believe I didn’t have a figure too, something like you, except I was skinnier.”  Her eyes brightened then slowly dimmed.  “But my husband threw out all my pictures after he died.”

“After he died?” Libby said.  “Really?  How did he manage to do that?”

“He came back home in the middle of the night when I was sleeping and he took them from the drawer and went and threw them out in the garbage,” Fanny said.

“Why would he throw your pictures in the garbage?” Libby said.

“So no one should see them,” Fanny said.  “He was such a jealous person.  I never saw someone so jealous.  Always watching me.  He watched who I talk to, he watched who I look at, he watched who looked at me, who passed me, even who was looking out the window he watched.  He watched and watched, you wouldn’t believe it.  He used to take me to the movies every Sunday and hold my arm like I was a prisoner in Sing Sing.  Then after when we’d go and eat in the cafeteria he had to hide me in the corner because he couldn’t stand anyone should look on me.  He always thought someone was trying to look under my dress.”  She was sitting there bent with aged posture, looking at the ground with drooping, unseeing eyes, but her face was altogether transformed now, as if it had softened and magically slipped into its girlish aspect, her mouth shaping a hint of a reminiscing smile.  “I was so beautiful.  Everybody said so.”

“I believe it,” Libby said.  “You must be hungry.  You like tuna salad?”

“Of course I like tuna salad,” Fanny said.

“I’ll be right back,” Libby said.  “Stay here and play your Chime-Along a while, Eric.”

We are the delicatessen girls,

                  We eat instead of marrying.

                           No matter how we seem to bulge

                  None of us is carrying.


Then walking up West Houston Street and running around Greenwich Village, playing games with those old lechers sitting around the coffee shops masquerading as writers, artists, philosophers, intellectuals, anarchists and whatnot, with their beards and berets and their copies of Das Kapital, itching to get their tentacles on young stuff like us.  Sitting there with lascivious smiles while we entertained them, excited them.  How we put on the innocence!  Sally with her nervy kibitzing and Bernice with her googoo eyes and me with my stage curiosity.  Oh, look, Bernice, he’s reading The Magic Mountain.  Would you mind if I took a quick look at it?  Can I borrow it?

She made up the tuna salad and dished out two portions along with a small portion for Eric.  Let’s see if he’ll eat it this time.  She put Eric’s portion on his little deck table and the other two on the one at which Fanny was sitting.

“Come on, Eric, let’s have some lunch,” Libby said.  She went back inside to get some paper napkins. There were none in the napkin holder on the table so she got a new pack from the storage cabinet.  When she got back outside Fanny was feeding Eric mouthfuls of the tuna while he was tapping the table with his mallet.

“He’s eating it?” Libby said.

“Of course he’s eating it,” Fanny said.  “What do you think.”

“You must have magic powers,” Libby said, seating herself at the table.  “Look at that, he finished all of it.  Come, now sit down and eat your own lunch.”

Eric went to his toys and started to push around his dump truck.  Fanny came over and sat down at the table.  She took a mouthful of the tuna and seemed to stare into space while chewing it.

Where are you going, Sally?  She’s going in, Bernice.

She’s crazy.

But we followed her in.  The look on that guy’s face, with his meticulously trimmed mustache and his Colgate toothpaste smile.  Like, what are you three destitute little snotnoses doing in here, you probably don’t have a dollar between you. He knew we were goofing around but he had that go‑along smile on his face because our snotnoses were attached to pretty faces above stacked bodies in short skirts with plenty of leg showing.

Can I help you, ladies?

We’re looking at Sally.  A face full of Williamsburgh haughtiness.  I’d like to see that string of pearls you have displayed in your window.

Raised eyebrows.  I suppose you saw the price tag?

Of course.  They seem a bit overpriced at $1200, but —

Oh, you are mistaken.  They are not overpriced at all, not at all.  In fact we dropped the price ten percent this week.

Are they genuine?

Genuine?  They are expertly selected and perfectly matched natural pearls from Bahrain oysters.

Bahrain oysters?  Really!  Can I examine them?

A long look from her face to the hem of her skirt and back up to her face.  Of course.  He opens the back of the window with a key and selects the pearls and puts them on the counter. Do you notice the rare iridescence?  Take a close look.  You won’t see that in synthetic pearls.  Oh no, these pearls are genuine, I can assure you.  Look at the color, how perfectly they

are sized.  It took thousands of oysters to make up the 72 pearls on this


Thousands of oysters!  Really!  Can I try them on?

Another long look.  A smile.

You don’t think I’m serious?  You don’t think I have money, or something?

Do you have twelve hundred dollars?

Well, no, I do not have twelve hundred dollars.  But I barter quite liberally.

Barter?  Snigger.  What would you have to barter with?

Myself.  She pinched the hem of skirt at both sides and did a curtsy.  I can offer myself with all my female delights for one night.

Raised eyebrows again.  Searching his wits for an answer. Female

delights, eh?  One night.  Let’s see.  I would say one night of your female delights is worth about … let’s see … I’d say about a five dollar wrist watch.

She raised her skirt an inch.  How about a two‑hundred dollar bracelet?

His smile took on a pained quality.  He couldn’t handle her, he knew it.  I think it’s time for you to leave, little girl.  Goodbye.  Well?  Didn’t you hear me?  I said goodbye.  Come on, out!  The three of you!  Out!  Out!

Hey, take your filthy hands off me, you lousy oyster killer.  And Bernice and I already out the door.

Bernice and Sally, what days.  Bernice a psychologist, Sally an editor at Prince and Bowles.  And my category?  Housewife.  That’s not a thing of naught.  Let’s be a little more professional.  Let’s call it home administrator.  A creative life of grand undertakings and noble pursuits:  Put a dish under that container, can’t you see it has a leak?  This refrigerator isn’t working right for a change.  Let’s see … lamb chops today?  There’s more than one way to slice an onion.  Those peaches are over the hill, doesn’t anyone eat fruit around here?  Always a spoon under the table and peanut butter can find its way anywhere.  The sink cleaned, the floor swept.  What’s next?  I already put a load in the washing machine. Maybe I’ll shingle the roof today.  One of these days I’m going to defrost the toilet bowl and pee in the refrigerator.

Fanny had finished eating and was now sitting there with unfocused eyes in some sort of blue mood.  She noticed Libby looking at her.

“I think I’m going to die soon, if you ask me,” Fanny said.

“Die?” Libby said.  “What makes you say that?”

“I got a feeling I’m going to die soon, that’s all,” Fanny said.  “I keep hearing someone behind me telling me all the time.”


“I don’t know,” Fanny said.  “I never see his face.  Every time I turn around he hides.  He says sooon.  Sooon, like that.  Soooon.  Maybe it’s my husband.  He always said I’m going to die when it’s nice and sunny out, just to spoil the day.  Something tells me he’s right.”

“Oh Fanny, you’re not going to die so soon,” Libby said.  “You have a lot more years ahead of you.”

“Sure, a lot more years,” Fanny said.  She stood up holding her empty dish, looking around for what to do with it.

“That’s all right, Fanny, just leave it,” Libby said. “I’ll take care of it.”

Eric had his Chime-Along upside-down and was pushing it like a toy vehicle.

“Eric, you’ll break it,” Libby said.  She went over and righted it.  “Wait, I’ll bring out your truck to push.”  She collected the dishes and took them into the kitchen and put them into the dishwasher.

Die soon.  I was once going to die soon.  When Life Is Over by Libby Blumenthal.  Mrs. Garfinkle comments: What a dark side you have, Libby.  The subject of this composition is Life, not when life is over.  Why are you so concerned about death right now?  There must be something about life that a pretty twelve year old girl finds exciting.  And regarding your quote from “that fine English poet”, we also owe God a life.  Please hand in another composition next Friday, and stick to the subject this time, which is LIFE!!!  P.S. I think great is a more appropriate adjective for the English poet you quoted.

A jangling crash.  The Chime-Along!  What did she do!  One of the chimes kept sounding, sustained.  She glanced through the screen door.  Where’s Eric!  She …  She felt her heart throbbing.  She ran out to the deck.  Thank—  Eric was in a corner grasping the wooden rail, his head poked through two slats, looking down.  A wave of relief flowed through her body, then immediately reversed to panic again.  Oh God, Fanny!  Where is she?  She hurried to the rail.  Fanny was lying on the ground below the deck, prone.  “Fanny!  Are you all right, Fanny!”

“It fell all the way under here,” came Fanny’s voice. She was straining to reach under a hedge for the Chime-Along.  My God, why did I think she threw him off?

“Throwing things again?”  She bent to face Eric. “What a bad boy you are.”

Fanny came back up and placed the Chime-Along on the deck at the top of the stairs and sat down next to it.  Eric immediately picked it up and was about to throw it over the rail again.  Libby took hold of it and gave him a little slap on his tush and his little face crimped with child hurt.  She felt an immediate pang of remorse, and just as he broke into his soft wail with tears flowing she swept him into her arms and caressed him in an overwhelming burst of love.

“What’s the matter with you?” Fanny said.  “What’s so terrible you have to hit him like that?  You had him in New Jersey and now you’re hitting him?  He’s just a little boy.  You ought to shame yourself.  Didn’t they teach you something in your college?”

What’s the matter with you.  A poor deranged old lady telling you what’s what.  I ought to shame myself.  Just a little boy.  She caressed and stroked Eric’s head and lied back with him in a deck chair, his chest active with little endcrying sobs.  With a finger under his chin she gently raised his head and looked into a teary little face, its little mouth all downturned, and with trembling fingers brushed aside the tears under his eyes. “Why do you have to keep throwing things Eric?”  She drew him to her again and dabbed his wet face with a tissue.  “Throwing things like that.”

Fanny was sitting there watching them.  A monitor keeping an eye on me.  Eric got active again.  He climbed off Libby and took her hand and pulled her to his drum of toys just inside the living room.  Rummaging around, he grasped a mesh bag that contained his toy soldiers.

“You want to make a parade?” Libby said.  As soon as she lifted them out he took her hand and pulled her to the top of the deck stairs where Fanny was still sitting, as if waiting for him.

Libby stood watching him a moment.  Just a little boy.  She looked at Fanny.  Keeps staring at me, wondering. “Oh, it’s all right, Fanny,” she said.

Eric began taking his soldiers out of the bag in handfuls, watching Fanny place them not in a parade but in little groups according to some organization she had in mind.  My son found himself a playmate.  Funny, how they took to each other.  Look at him, a little human being getting a  kick out of playing soldiers with a new gramma.  She moved her chair closer to the screen door to be able to hear the phone and placed the deck umbrella for shade and lied back.  She perceived a dimming through her closed lids and opened her eyes.  The sky was still clear blue and the clouds puffy white, but a heavy grayness was approaching from the west.  Going to rain?

Eh! eh! eh! eh!” came from Eric.

“What are you doing, Eric?” Libby said.

He was trying to wake Fanny.  She was sitting on the top step leaning against the railing with her eyes closed, and with each eh Eric was tapping her lap.  Is she asleep?  Her head was thrown so far back that her chin pointed straight up, the crest of a taut, graceful arc of unwrinkled neck sloping below it.  Her lips were parted slightly.  What a serene expression, almost like a death mask.  Why doesn’t she wake up?

“Eric, stop that,” Libby said.  Going to die soon!  She got up to take a closer look.  Is she still breathing?  Libby gave her shoulder nudge.

Fanny opened her eyes with a start and blinked herself awake.  “I fell asleep?” she said.

“That’s all right, Fanny,” Libby said.  “Go ahead, sleep.  You must be tired.  Eric, must be tired too.  Come on, bigboy, time for your nap.”  She took Eric by the hand and tried to take him with her.  He made a tight‑lipped face and stood his ground, trying to pull his hand away.

“Why don’t you leave him alone,” Fanny said.  “It’s a crime to enjoy


Libby released Eric’s hand and lied down again.  Instructions from a deranged old lady.  Let him stay, he’s enjoying himself.  All right, let him stay.

The sky was completely overcast now.  Going to rain, definitely.  Hope it holds off until this Mrs. Greenberg gets here.  All I need is to be left with a Fanny on my hands.  A glowing bar of rosy gold burst eerily through the sky some distance away.  Where did it reach the ground?  She had a whimsical urge to get up and walk towards it.  But then the gray overcast closed the sky again.

She went into the kitchen and took some steak from the freezer to defrost for supper.  Outside again Fanny and Eric had the toy soldiers lined


“We’re making a parade,” Fanny said.

Libby lied back in her chair.

Elly came up the walk.  Fanny, sitting at the top of the deck stairs with Eric, moved so close to the railing to get out of Elly’s way that she seemed to be wedged against it.  Elly stepped up and carefully placed her foot in an empty space between the soldiers and took a little dancing side leap over them.

“Hi, Elly,” Libby said.

“Who’s that?” said Elly’s voiceless mouth.

“Oh an old disoriented woman who somehow lost her way,” Libby said.

“What is she doing here?”

“Waiting for someone to come and get her.”

Elly went in and came hurrying back out five minutes later in shorts.

“Where are you going?” Libby said.

“To the Little League field with Madeleine.”

“Did you have a glass of milk?”

“I’m going to have milk and cake at Madeleins’s house, ma,” Elly said.

“Do you have much homework?”

“The usual,” Elly said.  “I’ll do it when I get home.  It’s easy.”

As she went out Bebe came home and they passed each other Bebe asked her where she was going.  Elly didn’t answer.  Coming up the deck steps she performed the same maneuver as Elly, carefully stepping up and leaping across the little soldiers.  She approached Libby looking back at Fanny, and turned to her with an expression of puzzlement.

“What is she doing here?” she said.

“She’s staying here until someone comes to pick her up.”

“When are they coming?”

“Soon, I hope.”

“What do you mean you hope?  You’re not sure?”

“Don’t use that tone with me.”

“I was just wondering what we’d do with her if they didn’t come, that’s all,” Bebe said.  She bent to kiss Libby.  “I bet that was Elly telling you that she’s going to watch the baseball game.”

“How did you know?”

“Because the A & P Butchers are playing today and Benjamin Weintraub is the shortstop.”

“Boy, are you a busy little girl.”

“You don’t have to be so busy to know that,” Bebe said.  She opened the screen door, then turned before going in.  “All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open.”

She has a Benjamin Weintraub.  When I was her age I had a Harold Plamjack, the smartest kid in the class.  A’s in all his compositions, 100’s in all his tests.  My lover without him having the slightest inkling of his status.  Go try starting a conversation with someone who never talked nonsense.  Impress him with words.  How disconsolate Tanya looks drinking her milk.  Don’t you think our homework is exorbitant and preposterous?  Static in his ears.  When I read my composition on Madame Curie to the class his eyes were glued to the picture of George Washington on the side wall.  Graduation.  Autograph books.  I wrote in his: For you my heart is full of admiration — dot dot dot — and more.  He wrote in mine: Best wishes in your future endeavors.  The last day of school.  Before us a July and August of summerplay. Coney Island.  Volley ball in the schoolyard.  Excitement, fun, joy.  Except for me.  Oh, Harold Plamjack.  Take one more look at him to last me forever.  Where is he?  Disappeared.  So, home — forlorn, miserable, devastated.  As I turned the corner into my block, a miracle.  He stepped out of the doorway of an empty store and walked directly toward me, my Harold Plamjack.  Organ music.  A supreme effort he was making.  My heart raced. My knees buckled.  When he reached me words burst out of my mouth: It’s too late!  I already have a boyfriend! and in the next instant I wanted to scoop them out of the air and stuff them right back into my mouth and swallow them.  He shrunk to half his size and curled up into a ball and rolled away.  Poor Harold Plamjack.  Poor me. What an injustice was done.  Where are you now, dear, dear Harold Plamjack?  What are you up to?  How about a cup of coffee one of these days?

“You have such lovely daughters,” Fanny said.  She and Eric were arranging the formation of a parade.

“Thank you,” Libby said.

“They both look just like you,” Fanny said.  “But they have different faces. The younger one looks just like you when you’re busy and the older

one looks just like you when you’re worried.”

“When I’m worried?” Libby said.  “How do you know how I look when I’m worried?”

“Maybe I don’t see so good, but I’m not blind altogether,” Fanny said.  “I got plenty experience with looking worried.”

Bebe came back out.  “I’m going to Nancy’s house.”

“What are you going to do at Nancy’s house?” Libby said.

“Her uncle gave her a Grand Canyon jigsaw puzzle we’re going to do.”

Always going to someone’s house.  Never saw either one play any of the street games we used to play: jump rope, jacks, rubberband balls.  One, two, three O’Leary, four five six … Why? No streets in the old sense.  The streets were our playground.  What days. Who bought anything?  A piece of old clothes line for jump-rope, chalk from a chunk of old plaster to make a hopscotch course. We developed a whole route of rubberband savers for our rubberband balls.  Challenging other streets. When? This Friday right after school on Stockton Street, neutral grounds. Oh no!  Oh no!  You are challenging us.  It has to be on Ellery Street.  Why?  Those are the neighborhood rules.  Neighborhood rules?  What neighborhood?  This neighborhood.  Yeah?  We live in this neighborhood, how come we never heard of them?  Maybe you’re deaf, dumb and blind. In a minute we’ll give you a deaf, dumb and blind you’ll need an ambulance for.  Fighting it out, negotiating, making compromises, respecting skill.  Too much supervision nowadays. The kids don’t make rules; the towns make ordinances.  There may not be many sidewalks in Great Neck, but defacing them with chalk is strictly forbidden.  And will be strictly enforced.  Everything in Great Neck is strictly.

The front door chimes.

Libby went to the front of the house where an old station wagon was parked in front of the driveway with its motor still running.  A black man at the wheel was looking out his window at the woman, who was waiting at the front door for someone to open it.

The woman turned to her.  “Mrs. Sandler?” she said.  “I’m Mrs. Greenberg from The Jewish Family Service.”  She was wearing a loose white blouse with its sleeves rolled up, a longish dark‑patterned skirt and flats.  She offered her hand.

“Fanny is sitting on the deck behind the house,” Libby said.  “That’s her name.”

“Fanny Zelman is her full name,” Mrs. Greenberg said.  “We made some inquiries.  She’s been missing from the Mount Carmel Convalescent Home for three days.”  She waved to the driver and he pulled into the driveway.

Libby ushered Mrs. Greenberg along the walk to the deck.  Fanny was standing on the steps staring at them as they approached, cringing to the railing, her paper bag clutched in her hand, her eyes running and shifting again.  Eric was sitting there looking up at her as if wondering why she had stood up.

“Fanny, this is Mrs. Greenberg,” Libby said.  “She’s—”

Mrs. Greenberg interrupted.  “Let me do the talking,” she whispered.

Eric was watching Mrs. Greenberg, his little face filled with apprehension.  Libby went up the steps and took his hand.  He sidled close to her and stood there watching with his thumb in his mouth.

Mrs. Greenberg approached Fanny, who had lowered her head but was keeping her in sight from under her brow. “Hello, Fanny,” she said.  She went to the steps and sat down.  “My name is Mrs. Greenberg.”

Fanny didn’t answer.  She was now staring at the ground like a schoolgirl who had done something bad being confronted by her teacher.

“How are you Fanny?” Mrs. Greenberg said.

Fanny looked up without answering then dropped her eyes again.

“You know, you can’t stay here, Fanny,” Mrs. Greenberg said.  “We

have to get you back to Mount Carmel.  They’re all wondering what happened to you.”

Fanny mumbled something in Yiddish.

Libby was about to tell Mrs. Greenberg that Fanny could speak English when Mrs. Greenberg answered her in Yiddish and got a conversation going.  After a few minutes Mrs. Greenberg rose.

“All right, she’ll come along with us.  She said she had nothing with her.”

“Just what she’s wearing and the paper bag of grass that she was picking this morning,” Libby said.  “She thinks it’s chav.”

Mrs. Greenberg rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Well, I have to get back,” she said.  She put a hand gently on Fanny’s back.  “Come, Fanny.” They walked slowly to the driveway in front.

Libby followed with Eric.  He had been watching with his mouth hung open and his eyes agape and was now skittish.  Libby could feel the agitation in his little body as he made little shifts and pulls towards the steps.  He pointed to Fanny and broke into fretting sound.  “Eh, eh, eh.”  Otis got out of the station wagon and opened the back door and stood there waiting for Fanny to get in.  Eric, pointing at Fanny, tried to free himself from Libby’s grasp.  He started to whine, then bellow and finally burst into screaming tears.

“Oh, my,” Mrs. Greenberg said.

“He got attached to her,” Libby said.

“What’s his name?”


“Don’t you want to say goodbye to Eric, Fanny?” Mrs. Greenberg said. She repeated it in Yiddish.

Fanny looked back at Eric and raised a hand and barely waved.  Otis held his hand out to help Fanny in.

“I can get in by myself,” Fanny said.  She took hold of the back of the front seat and took a step in, but was having trouble getting the other foot in. Otis was standing behind her, his arms extended to support her, but not yet touching her.  After watching her struggle a while he finally took hold of her arm, which she immediately freed with a yank, the momentum of which catapulted her to the floor inside.  Otis helped her up to the seat, with her

yelling: “Leave me alone, I can get up myself!  Will you go away and leave

me alone!”

Mrs. Greenberg waved as she got into the station wagon, and again as they backed out.

Eric was screaming blue murder.  Such anguish, such tears.  Such a taut, heavy brow.  Libby picked him up and caressed him.  “It’s all right, it’s all right, baby.  Twice in one day.  It’s not fair.”  She dabbed his wet eyes and face with a tissue.  “Poor little Eric.  So desperate, and mommy can’t help.  What a big bad mommy.”  She put her head to his.  After a while he stopped screaming and settled in to a wet‑faced, sobbing drone and in a few minutes his eyes started to close.  She carried him up to the bathroom and cleaned him up and put him in a nightgown, with all the while him emitting

a humming drone.  “Mimimim.”  He’s on automatic.  He put his thumb into

his mouth and five seconds after she put him into his crib his eyes closed.

She took a lukewarm shower and put on slacks and a sweatshirt and looked in on Eric.  Fast asleep.  She stood over the crib looking at his face.  What happened to his hurt, did it pass or is it still swarming around in his little head?  Poor little Eric.  Throws his whole routine over for a woman.

She went out to the deck again.  It had started to rain.  She seated herself under the umbrella and leaned back and watched the rain and listened to its steady patter.  The smell of wet leaves.  It was a nice, steady rain with almost no wind.

The patter of the rain on the umbrella got louder suddenly.  The wind had picked up a bit, making it quiver and shift in sudden starts.  She could now hear the drops splashing in puddles that had formed on the lawn and driveway and feel the refreshing cool spray on her face from the rain spatter on the deck. But then it slackened again just as suddenly and settled back into its soft, steady patter.

She lied back in the chair again.  Rain smells.  Rain sounds.  The soft patter, the purls and murmurs and trickles of little rivulets.  She closed her eyes and compressed her shoulders in the snug comfort of her sweatshirt.

The sky lightened suddenly.  Below the table top at the juncture of the leg next to her the fine glint of filaments in a cobweb caught her eye.  Movement amongst three or four carcasses of houseflies; the spider busy, busy darting from place to place through the filaments.  What is it doing, weaving?  It intercepted a small moving speck near the outer filaments and with active legs forced it toward the interior, then moved to another one and repeated the maneuver, then to still another.  What are they?  What is it doing?  She kneeled to get a closer look.  The moving specks had tiny legs.  They were her babies.  She was herding her wandering babies back to the interior someplace. As Libby watched they disappeared one by one into a corner, then so did the mother.  All safe.  Mothers.  Watch them, protect them, keep them in your orbit.

Grand undertakings and noble pursuits.  I wonder if those steaks are defrosted yet.