Remember Grant, Remember Lee



Jerome Turken

Miss McKenzie stood erect behind her desk with the pointer already in her hand, her lips pursed and her nose pointed at the ceiling.  The instant the late bell rang she gave her desk three sharp raps and closed her eyes to listen for silence.  When she opened them again they were focused on Angelo’s empty seat, then they leaped across the room and landed on me.

“Mark will substitute for Angelo today,” she said, and something sprang in my chest and left my whole body tingling. Because Marilyn Chernoff was the other eraser monitor.

“Unglue yourself, young man!” she said.  “Unglue yourself!”  And there were giggles and guffaws.  I got up and went to the front of the room where Marilyn was already standing, waiting for me.

Mrs. McKenzie’s eyes bulged.  “Jacket, please!  Jacket!”

It was too warm for a jacket, one of those days in early April that takes you by surprise, when there isn’t a cloud in the sky and you notice the trees are green and you hear the birds and smell the freshness in the air and you can hardly wait for three o’clock to get back out there.  But Miss McKenzie eyes looked as though all you had to do was tap the back of her head and they’d pop right out.  So I went to the wardrobe and got my mackinaw.

Marilyn had already arranged the erasers neatly in two stacks of six each and was holding one of them with both hands.  I picked up the other one and together we set out for the coop, the roof above the auditorium, which was used by the lower grades for recreation and was completely enclosed with a domed mesh framework that was high enough for a decent fly ball not to hit the top.

Marilyn wasn’t the most popular girl in the class.  She wasn’t in any of the three or four cliques of girls, and she wasn’t one of those doll faces that all the boys went for.  But I did.  As soon as she was transferred to our class in September I started to get a feeling about her, and only two weeks later I was already waking up in the morning thinking of her and going to sleep at night still thinking of her, and I don’t know how much time I spent thinking of her in between.  Her teeth were slightly buck and when she smiled her lips took a certain set against them that knocked me out.  By the time we started the 6B in February just about everything about her was pure magic: her fine brown hair cut a little above the shoulders, the two barrettes she almost always wore to keep it off her cheeks and the few wisps that always managed to get loose; the light cotton sweaters she wore, the pink mottled skin of her legs, her white knee socks and her straight‑toed walk.  How many times she caught me shifting my eyes away from her!  Yet for the six or seven months she’d been in our class I never once had a decent conversation with her.  All I did was imagine she was my girlfriend and daydream about going to the movies together or take long walks holding hands or have ice cream sodas at Luken’s or just plain laugh over nothing at all.  Walking to the coop with her now, I was so nervous I somehow got it into my head to break all records for speed.

“You’re walking too fast,” she said, so I slowed down. When we got there I held the door for her.

“Be careful with this step,” she said.  She meant the high threshold stone that kept water from running into the hallway when it rained.  I must have stepped over that thing a couple of hundred times, but she took a little girlish leap over it to demonstrate how high it was.  In the open air, there was that smell again, that early hint of summer, and alone with Marilyn now I had the feeling I was in paradise.  I followed her across the red tile floor, which the morning sun gave a soft, cross‑hatched quality through the wire mesh.

“You can put the erasers right there,” she said, pointing to a place on top of the brick ledge.

I put the erasers down and took my mackinaw off and put it on the ledge near them.

“Miss McKenzie is very strict about coats,” she said.

“How’s she going to know?” I said. “Unless you tell her.”

Marilyn wrinkled her nose and made a funny face.  “I won’t tell her.  But don’t act like a big shot.  It’s not that warm out.  You want to catch pneumonia?”

“It’s too warm to catch pneumonia,” I said.

“It’s never too warm for pneumonia,” Marilyn said.  “I know a girl who caught pneumonia in July.”

“She must have been wearing a mackinaw.”

“Ha‑ha‑ha,” Marilyn said with that smile I liked, rocking her head from side to side like a pendulum with each ha.  Her light brown hair swishing across her dimpled cheeks made me notice that she wasn’t wearing her barrettes today.  She seemed to be part of the freshness of the air.

I picked up one of the erasers and rapped it on the mesh.  “Is this what you do?  Just keep hitting it until all the chalk comes out?”

Smiling, she took the eraser out of my hand.  “I hope you’re less awkward at playing the violin than you are at cleaning erasers,” she said.  My heart thrilled that she noticed that.  Sometimes Schneider, my violin teacher, would ask me to get to my lesson as early as possible because he had an appointment to make, and I’d bring my violin to school to avoid having to go home to get it.  “All you have to do is tap it hard enough to get the chalk out,” she was saying.  “See?  You don’t have to annihilate it.”

I just couldn’t do the job good enough to suit her.  As I got done with each eraser she’d take it from me and tap it lightly on the mesh herself, then inspect it to make sure that every last speck of chalk was out.

“Do you like monopoly?” she said.  The suddenness of that made something leap inside of me and balled me up.  My head felt as light as a balloon, like it was rising right off my shoulders and floating away.  She appeared to be concentrating hard on the eraser she was tapping but there was something playful in her face, waiting for an answer.

“That’s a boring game,” I said.  “Do you play chess?”  And as soon as those words got out of my mouth I wanted to grab them out of the air and stuff them right back in again.  Marilyn’s playfulness vanished and her eyes hardened.

“No, I don’t,” she said.  “And I don’t play an instrument either.  But I go to Hebrew school, and I’ll tell you one thing.  No one in the bible ever played chess. And they didn’t play the violin either.”

I didn’t expect her to blow up at me like that.  I defended myself.  “That’s because they were all busy playing monopoly and cleaning erasers, I suppose,” I said, and then I could have killed myself.  Marilyn’s face retreated altogether.  It was like I wasn’t there anymore.  I wanted to say something, tell her how much I liked her, but I couldn’t get my voice going.

We finished the erasers without another word.  Walking back it was Marilyn who was breaking all speed records.  The rest of the day she wouldn’t even look in my direction.  When the lunch bell rang I wanted to go over to her and apologize, but it was like the air between us was too thick to walk through.  The same thing happened when we were let out at three.

With any other girl in the class it would have been as if nothing happened after a day or two.  But not with her.  She completely ignored me.  When I was called on by Miss McKenzie she looked down at her desk dead eyes.  I waited two whole weeks for her to cool off, then it took me another week to work up enough nerve to approach her.  When she saw me coming she turned and went to another part of the room.

Time was against me.  If I was going to get something started it would have to be before the end of the term, because in September she’d be going to JHS 108 and I was zoned for 65.  I was thinking about taking a walk around her block and sort of running into her by accident and then maybe getting a conversation going.  She lived somewhere around Keap Street on the other side of Broadway but I didn’t know exactly where.  The he best way to find out was to follow her home, but after school every day I’d stand there in front of the schoolyard like I was glued to the sidewalk, watching her walk up Division Avenue until she turned on Keap Street.  I began to hate that corner. It was like a boundary marker separating us.

One Friday after she turned that corner the urge to keep her in sight was so strong that I hurried up to Keap Street to take one more look at her to last me over the weekend.  I went into a daze watching her cross Broadway, then something in me took over and I followed, ducking into doorways or behind parked cars like a sneak.  I just couldn’t take my eyes off her.  I followed her all the way home like that.  She lived in an apartment house opposite the Keap Street playground where all the religious Jews hung out.  I watched her walk up the three steps of her stoop and push open the heavy ornamental iron door with her whole body.  How I envied that door.  When it swung closed behind her it was like it got dark in the middle of the day.  I found myself walking right up the stoop and leaning into it at the same place as she had, and then I was in the vestibule, looking for her bell.  It was under B. Chernoff, apartment 3B.  If I pressed that button and she’d hear the ring.  I went across the street and waited in the playground until supper time, but she didn’t come down again.

The whole day Saturday I felt all empty inside.  On Sunday I took another walk there.  She was in the playground with a bunch of girls jumping rope.  I stood watching from behind a parked car across the street.  When it was her turn I went into a trance over those quick, rhythmic steps of hers, little strands of her light brown hair working loose from her barrettes and brushing across her moist, toothy smile.  Afterward she and a chubby girl called Goldie, who seemed to be the big organizer, came out of the playground together and stood in front of Marilyn’s house chatting.  After a while Goldie walked up the block and Marilyn went upstairs.  I almost couldn’t stand losing sight of her.  I somehow got it into my head that I wanted to see the door of her apartment.  I went into her building and up to the landing between the third and fourth floors and just stood there staring down at that door marked 3B.  I dared myself: go ahead, go over and knock. Just do it.  I would have given anything to see what her apartment looked like, where she lived, slept, ate, listened to the radio, where she did her homework and went to the bathroom.  What did it smell like?

I went downstairs.  Going through the vestibule I got another idea.  I took a look at the bells to see who lived in apartment 2B, the one directly below Marilyn’s.  I. Horowitz.  I went up to the second floor and knocked on that door.

“Who’s there?” a woman said.

“Melvin,” I said.

“Who?” the woman said.

“Melvin Cohen,” I said.

“Izzy, there’s a Melvin Cohen,” the woman said.

I heard the chain being unlatched and the door opened.  A small, flabby man in his undershirt was looking at me over a pair of old‑fashioned metal‑rimmed reading glasses, using a finger to hold his place in a newspaper. “Yes?” he said.

“Is Marty home?” I said.

“I think you have the wrong place,” the man said.  “We don’t have a Marty.  Marty who?”

“Marty Horowitz,” I said.  “He’s in my class.”  I kept glancing inside.  It was a small apartment that opened directly into the living room.  Toward the rear the refrigerator and part of the gas range were visible in the kitchen. Through an open pair of French doors, I could see a small bedroom with an even smaller one right next to it.  Was that where Marilyn slept, directly above?  Her bedroom!  I was wondering where the bathroom was.  “I came to do my homework with him,” I said.  “Doesn’t he live here anymore?”  I imagined Marilyn opening the refrigerator, stooping to get something, her hair spilling down her cheeks.

“Any more?” the man said.  “You mean he used to live here?”

The woman shoved her way in front of her husband.  She had a huge, bulbous nose and a terrible complexion, like she once had a bad case of smallpox.  “You won’t find a Marty in here in a million years, stupid!” she yelled.  “Come on, Izzy, can’t you see he’s looking in?  Close the door!”  Which her husband was about to do.

“Can I use your bathroom?” I blurted out.

That threw them completely off kilter.  For five seconds they just stood there looking at me with dropped jaws and popped eyes, like I was some kind of nut.  Finally, the woman yelled: “What do you think this is, a public toilet! You’re crazy!” and she slammed the door in my face.

Running down the stairs I heard the door open again.

“Hey, Melvin,” the man called down, “number one or two?”

I already lost my nerve.  I don’t know where I got enough of it to do what I did in the first place.

So I found out where Marilyn lived and where she hung around, but I just couldn’t get myself to go over and try to get a conversation going.  Because the way I felt about her, if she ever ignored me I don’t think I could ever have recovered.  A few times a week I’d watch her from across the street, working myself just up to the verge of walking up to her and saying … what?  Hello?  What a nice day?  And my mind would go blank.  I’d stay on the verge like that for over an hour sometimes, until I’d finally chicken out and go home with that empty feeling in the pit of my stomach, vowing to go through with it the next time.  It was even worse in school.  Every answer I gave when called on, every word I wrote on the blackboard, every step I took was for her benefit, and she was never even looking at me.

Time was passing and I was getting nowhere with Marilyn.  As the weather warmed up I started playing a lot of ball, or chess or pinochle in the schoolyard, or walking around the neighborhood with the Zephyrs looking for girls to fool around with.  I went around Marilyn’s block less and less, until I finally stopped and the thought of losing out on her … well, it was no longer driving me nuts altogether.  Then in the middle of May something happened. During recreation period one morning I was playing some box ball and Marilyn was playing volleyball with the girls on the other side of the schoolyard.  At one point the volleyball got away from them and came rolling in my direction with Marilyn chasing after it.  I ran over and picked it up and held on to it.  About fifteen feet from me she stopped and waited for me to toss it to her.

“I hope you’re not angry with me anymore,” I said.

She didn’t answer, but she didn’t appear unfriendly either.  She may even have been smiling a little with that fake impatience girls put on when someone they like holds something from them.  I gently tossed the ball back to her on a bounce.

“Thank you,” she said.  Before turning to go back to her court she hesitated just long enough with a half smile on her face to make me float on air.  Did that have any meaning?  Or was it just an overflow of her having fun playing volleyball?

That Saturday after a softball game the Zephyrs were going to meet at Miller’s and go to the movies, but I had something else in mind.  I went home, took a shower. put on some clean clothes and took a walk to the Keap Street playground.  I was determined to walk right over to Marilyn this time; that half-smile of hers gave me some confidence.  But when I got there she was nowhere in sight.  I must have walked around that playground ten times, waiting for her to show up.  Just as I was about to leave she and Goldie came walking through the South Second Street entrance in a group of three girls and four boys who were wearing fancy embroidered yarmulkes.  Two of the boys were bantering with Goldie and the other girl; the other two were on either side of Marilyn.  One was short and fat, but the other was one of these handsome dudes who you could tell by the smug look on his face thought Hollywood was his next stop.  He looked about two years older than me, maybe fourteen.  He was doing all the talking and Marilyn was listening with that smile I liked.  I was jealous, but something in me felt angry at Marilyn too for the way she was listening to that guy talk, like pearls of wisdom were pouring out of his mouth, like he was her big hero.  I watched them walk through the playground and out the other side past Keap Street, then I hurried back to Miller’s on the chance that the Zephyrs hadn’t yet left for the movies.

On Sundays the three good handball courts in the schoolyard were taken by a bunch of semi‑pros who came from all over Williamsburgh to play black ball for big money.  I was playing Archie Rosenberg on the other one.  The whole court sloped steeply down to a drain right in the middle, but it was the only one available for everyone else, so it was always taken too.

Archie was winning 17‑9 and he was whooping it up like a fool.  I was practically giving him the game, playing some lefty and trying for hard corner shots and killers.  When he got nineteen points I started playing serious to see how many points I could rack up before he got those last two.  That’s when I caught sight of Marilyn and Goldie walking along the fence outside.  I thought they were just passing by, but when they reached the gate they walked in.  They came over to the courts and stood there looking disappointed that all of them were taken.

For two weeks now I’d been walking around like I was in mourning.  I got it into my head that that guy was Marilyn’s boyfriend, and that I had about as much chance with her as I had with Olivia de Haviland.  I hadn’t gone around her block once since that Saturday.  In school I didn’t exactly avoid her, but I didn’t go out of my way to talk to her either.  I started fooling around with Adele Baumgarten, like throwing paper balls at her and twisting her arm knowing she’d come running after me, all the while hoping Marilyn was noticing.  And now there she was, not more than twenty feet from me, jiggling a ball in her hand, looking for a handball court.  It was almost as if a miracle had just taken place.  Bearing down on Archie I pretended not to notice her, but my flesh was humming with electricity.  They were standing right off the foul line, looking as though they were waiting for our game to end to challenge for the court.  I was on the verge of asking them outright if they wanted to use our court, but I knew I’d get hassled by Archie.

I played as hard as I could but Archie beat me 21‑17, and then that nut went crazy on me with his Donald Duck voice.

“Quack‑quack!  That’s it!  Gamy cockamamie!  Wooo‑wooo! Truuue taaalent wiiins!  I wins, you loses!”  He was loping around the court like a gorilla imitating Donald Duck.

Marilyn and Goldie walked onto the court.  “We challenge for the court,” Marilyn said, holding her ball out.

Archie stopped his gorilla‑duck performance .  “No girls allowed on this court,” he said.

“Who said so?” Marilyn said.

“I said so,” Archie said.

“Since when is there a law that girls aren’t allowed to play handball on city property?” Marilyn said.

“Since now,” Archie said.  “I just made it.”

Then all three of them were looking at me like I was supposed to make the final decision.  I noticed that Marilyn’s hand, the one holding the ball, was shaking, and for some reason a wave of confidence flowed right into my bones.

“They can challenge for the court if they want,” I said.

Archie executed his other specialty: eye enlargement.  “What did you say?”

“You heard me,” I said.

“You talk as if it’s your court,” Archie said.  “I just beat you.  Therefore the court is mine, not yours.”

“But it’s my ball,” I said.

“So what?” Archie said.  “Who says you have to have a ball for it to be your court?”

“If you don’t have a ball what are you going to do with the court?” I said.

“Sleep on it,” Archie said, and he got flat on his back and lay spread‑eagle right on the short line.

Both Marilyn and Goldie were looking at me to see what I would do now.

“Don’t be stupid, Archie,” I said.  “Get up.”

Archie closed his eyes and started to snore.  So I took hold of both his ankles and pulled him off the court like a wheelbarrow, with him walking on his hands to keep his ass from dragging on the ground.  He got up and snatched his sweater off the fence and left the schoolyard in a fake huff.

“You must be pulling your dingy too much!” he yelled, and took off like a race horse out of the gate.

“Don’t pay any attention to him,” I said, embarrassed as all hell.

“What a schmutzige kop,” Goldie said in a shrill, yenty voice.  I imagined she and Marilyn were thinking that I was some kind of dirty extension of Archie.

“Well, anyway, we challenge for the court,” Marilyn said, holding her ball out.   Her hand was still shaking.

“All right,” I said.

“Goldie and I always play together,” Marilyn said. “So you’ll have to get yourself a partner.

“I’ll play both of you myself,” I said.

They looked at each other until their eyes came to an agreement.

“Well, it’s up to you,” Marilyn said.

“You want to warm up?” I said.   I wanted to watch her move around the court a while.

She and Goldie looked at each other again.

“It’s a good idea to get used to this court,” I said. “It’s kind of tricky when the ball bounces near that drain.”  I sat down against the fence as they started.  Their ball bounced like it had petrified in some cellar for fifty years, like you could break your hand on it.

“Here, use my ball,” I said, tossing it to Marilyn on a bounce.

“Ours is good enough,” Marilyn said, but she caught mine with one hand and looked around for some place to put hers.

“I’ll hold it for you,” I said.  She tossed it to me underhand.

Warming up, Marilyn was hitting the ball with that stiff‑armed girl swing, using her whole body instead of just her arm; running on her toes with those quick girl steps, reaching and leaping for the ball, giving it an all‑out girl effort.  I could have watched her doing that all day.

“We’re ready,” she said finally.

I wanted it to be a good long game, so I kept lobbing the ball right back to them, giving them points by missing killers or hitting the ball out on purpose, trying not to make it appear too obvious.  After the game they were all perspired and out of breath.  They sat down on a bench beside the court.

“You want to have another one?” I said.

“We have to go home,” Marilyn said.

“It’s still early,” I said.  “It’s not even four o’clock.”

“We have things to do,” Goldie said.

I walked with them as they started up Division Avenue.

“I have to see my friend, Milty, about something,” I said.  “He lives down past the Keap Street playground.  Are you going that way?”

“I live right across the street from the playground,” Marilyn said.

“Do you mind if I walk with you?” I said.

“Don’t you have to practice your violin?” Marilyn said.

“I already practiced today,” I said.

“You play violin?” Goldie said, with a sour face. “All you can do with a violin is play that boring classical music.”

“You can play anything,” I said.

“Do you know A Stranger In Paradise?” Goldie asked.

“No,” I said.

“How about Tonight We Love?”

“I don’t know that either.”

Then she went through all of music appreciation. Calm?  Dawn?  Finale?  To A Water Lily by MacDowell?  To A  Wild Rose by MacDowell?  Lieberstraum?  March Slav?  The  Sorcerer’s Apprentice?  Well, what do you know?”

“Right now I’m working on a movement from a violin sonata by Mozart,” I said.

“Mozzart!” Goldie cackled.  “How can you stand that dinky music?  You should take up trumpet or saxophone.  Accordion is all right too.  I know this boy, Yankel Meltzer, who’s playing accordion only two months and he knows Always already.”

A block before Marilyn’s house Goldie said: “I’ll see you after supper near the swings,” and went up South Third Street.  Marilyn and I walked another block to her house in silence.

“This is where I live,” she said.  “Well, I enjoyed the handball game.  I have to go upstairs.”

“Maybe you’d like to have another game some time,” I said.

“Maybe I would.  Well, I have to go upstairs.”

“What do you have to do, eat supper, or something?”

“Who eats supper at four o’clock?”

“I was wondering if you still play monopoly.”

“Yes, I do still play monopoly.”

“I seem to be interested in monopoly lately.”

“That interesting.  I thought all you play is chess.”

“Well, I do play chess.  But I seem to be getting interested in monopoly lately too.”

“I thought you said it was boring.”

“Well, lately I’ve been finding it very interesting.”

“Sometimes Goldie and I play monopoly in the afternoon in my back yard,” Marilyn said.  “Goldie thinks if we had another player it would be more interesting.  But you have to practice in the afternoon, don’t you?”

“Sometimes.  Sometimes I practice after supper.  It’s all according.”

“When do you do your homework?”

“Sometimes I leave that for after supper too,” I said. “What time in the afternoon did you say you play monopoly?”

“I didn’t say.  But usually at about four o’clock.”

“Four o’clock sounds convenient.  What day?”

“On Friday we usually play until shabbes.”

“Friday until shabbes, eh?  That sounds convenient.”

“All right,” Marilyn said.  “Three is more interesting.  We usually meet right here in front of my house.”

Walking home I could hardly keep from breaking out in a run.  I realized that I still had Marilyn’s ball in my pocket.  I took it out and smelled it, then gave it a kiss.

In school I didn’t want it to get into the news that Marilyn and I were having anything to do with each other.  I wanted it to be private, something special just between her and me.  And I couldn’t get myself to just go over and talk to her normally like I would with any other girl in the class.  There was something, I don’t know, something not right about it, something not enough.  I think I would have stood there paralyzed.  I kept glancing at her, trying to catch her eye, but she never seemed to be looking in my direction.  Except once, when I caught her dropping her eyes off me.  So she must have felt the same way.  That made me feel closer to her, the idea that there was something secret between us. Still, when Friday came around I would liked to have gotten some kind of sign from her about me coming over her house later.

I got there a quarter to four and went into the playground and sat down on a bench behind a big oak tree facing Marilyn’s stoop.  I practically watched my watch tick off the fifteen minutes second by second.  She didn’t show up four.  At ten after I walked over to her stoop and waited.  The iron door was held open by a door stop and kids kept coming out to play, but not her.  I waited in front of the house another ten minutes, then I thought maybe she came down before I got there.  Maybe she’s in the playground jumping rope, or something, waiting for me.  I walked through the playground, but she wasn’t there either, so I went back to her house.  At four‑thirty I knew I was waiting out a lost cause, but I couldn’t get myself to leave.  Men were already coming home from work to get ready for shabbes.  What if she was sick, how was I supposed to find that out?  The only thing to do was to ring her bell and ask for her.  In the vestibule it took almost a minute to get my finger to press that little button.  Listening to the ring upstairs I felt almost numb.

“Who is it?” her mother called down.

“Is Marilyn home?” I said.

“Who are you?”

“Mark Ellenbogen,”

“What do you want?”

“I was supposed to play monopoly with Marilyn,” I said.  “Is she home?”

Then some kind of discussion started up in whispers.  Finally Marilyn’s mother called down: “I’m sorry, Marilyn can’t play now.”

So she stood me up.  I crossed the street to the playground and sat down on the same bench behind the oak tree to wait for her to come down‑‑I knew she’d be going to shul.  I waited almost two hours.  There were still soft orange patches of the setting sun hitting the ground through the trees, and the sky was still blue and the air already had that particular smell you get when the sun starts going down in late spring, but it was like I was seeing and smelling everything from inside a dungeon.  The playground was almost empty now.  People were starting to come out of their houses on their way to shul.

She came down with her parents and a kid sister, all dressed for shabbes.  She was wearing a yellow dress and white knee socks that looked whiter and fresher than I’d ever seen them in school.  I was trying to dope out the expression on her face; wasn’t she feeling anything about me, any remorse at all about standing me up like that?  But she looked neutral, like nothing at all was on her mind.  They didn’t start out right away.  They stood in front of the building waiting for someone.  After a few minutes they greeted a family walking down the block with two sons.  The younger had on an embroidered yarmulke like most of the other kids, but the older one wearing a light gray fedora exactly like his father’s.  As they approached Marilyn’s stoop I was wondering what business a kid that age had wearing a hat like that.  Then I recognized him.  It was handsome, the guy Marilyn was walking with that Saturday.  He looked like a reduced copy of his father.  They had the same walk, leaning slightly backward like they were bellying some invisible obstacle forward.  With every step they took their feet came down on the pavement so hard that they must have worn out a pair of heels a month each.  Both had the kind of body that looked as though, if they ever fell into a lake they’d sink straight to the bottom like two rocks.

The men shook hands and for a while the four parents stood there talking, with the handsome guy’s father doing most of it.  His voice sounded out like a tuba.  Sitting there a hundred feet away I could hear him bellow out one word over and over: absolutely.  He must have used it fifteen times.  After a while all eight of them started walking in the direction of the Talmud Torah, the two men in front, with the women following close enough to be part of the conversation.  Then came Marilyn and her sister, and behind them handsome and his kid brother.

There was something nervous about Marilyn.  Her head was lowered and she was walking in an unusual way, as if trying to avoid the cracks in the sidewalk.  Before they got to the corner the boys and girls somehow rearranged themselves so that the younger boy and girl were walking behind the two women, and Marilyn and handsome behind them, talking.  No, Marilyn wasn’t talking; she was listening, with the same attitude she took when she listened to Miss McKenzie.  I sat there watching her recede.  It was already dusk, but the yellow of her dress and the white of her socks seemed to stand out all the more.  She reminded me of a daisy.  When they turned the corner at Rodney Street it seemed to get a shade darker suddenly.

That night after supper I took Marilyn’s dead ball out with me and flung it up the block.  Then I spent fifteen minutes looking for it, and finally found it in the middle of a puddle of dirty water between two parked cars.  I wiped it with a piece of old newspaper and went back upstairs and washed it with soap and water and put it back into my drawer.

In school on Monday I was hoping Marilyn would give me some sort of explanation, but she kept avoiding my eyes.  At three o’clock I followed her to the exit door.  Just before she reached it I stepped in front of her and held it open for her.  She hesitated a second before walking through, then kept right on going without saying a word, without even nodding.

“Why didn’t you come down Friday?” I said.

She stopped and looked at me for a moment, about to say something, then changed her mind.  But before walking ten feet she turned abruptly.

“Because it would have been a sin,” she said.

“A sin?” I said.  “What do you mean, a sin?  Why?”

“Because you’re not a real Jew,” she said.  “My mother said it’s a sin to associate with someone who’s not religious.”

“How does she know I’m not religious?” I said.

“You don’t go to Hebrew school and you don’t go to shul and you don’t wear a yarmulke,” she said.  “You probably don’t even believe in God.”

“I do believe in God,” I said.

Her lips closed tight and her chin started to quiver slightly.  She turned and took a few running steps as if to get out of my vicinity as quickly as she could, and then I watched her recede again.

For the last two weeks of school I don’t think she looked at me once.  Thursday, the day before the last, was when we were going to pass our autograph books around.  What was I going to write in hers?  I was going crazy thinking about it.  I wanted to tell her how I felt about her, how important she was to me.  Should I just write, I love you?  But the whole class would see it.  But how else could I put it?  On Thursday, looking at each book as it was passed to me, I was shaking like a leaf.  When I got hers I froze.  Others were being passed to my desk and I was holding on to hers too long and my hand was shaking.  Until my pen started writing I didn’t know what the hell was going to come out of it.  And then I couldn’t stand what I wrote:

To Marilyn               Dated Forever

Remember Grant, remember Lee,

           But most of all remember me.


I felt like ripping the page right out.  When I got my autograph book back that afternoon the first thing I did was look through it to see if she signed it.  This is what she wrote:

To Mark                    Dated Forever

It’s never too late to change.

           God is patient.

Your sis grad‑U‑8


She chose a white page.  Her handwriting was perfect; she could have written the penmanship cards displayed in the front of the room.  I must have stared at that page for five minutes before looking at the others.  This is what Angelo and Adele wrote:

To Mark                    Dated Forever

Be on your guard and strive and pray

           To keep all evil thoughts away.

A good friend


To Mark                    Dated Forever

I wish you luck

           I wish you joy

           I wish you get a headache

           In that old dump 65

Your sis grad‑U‑8


There was one smart‑ass entry signed Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

If Mark was an Indian

           And Marilyn his squaw

           Papooses in a wigwam

           In Arkansas!

That Saturday morning I searched around some factories until I found a small cardboard box that was just the right size and clean enough.  I went to Woolworth and bought some yellow and white wrapping paper.  I made the package as neat as I could and addressed it and went to the South Fourth Street post office to mail it.  The clerk weighed it then shook the box near his ear.

“What’s in here?” he said.

“A ball,” I said.

“A ball?” the clerk said.  “A regular rubber ball?”


“And you want to send it first class?”

“That’s right.”

“The postage’ll be more than the ball’s worth,” the clerk said.

“It’s a special regular ball,” I said.

“For seventeen cents postage and the trouble you’re going through to mail it only four blocks away it must be special,” the clerk said.  He looked at the label again.  “So must Marilyn Chernoff.”