For years I was saying to myself—Just so you will act when you meet him. Just so you will stand. So will you look on him. These words you will say to him.
I wanted to show him that what he had done to me could not down me; that his leaving me the way he left me, that his breaking my heart the way he broke it, didn’t crush me; that his grand life and my pinched-in life, his having learning and my not having learning—that the difference didn’t count so much like it seemed; that on the bottom I was the same like him.
But he came upon me so sudden, all my plannings for years smashed to the wall. The sight of him was like an earthquake shaking me to pieces.
I can’t yet see nothing in front of me and can’t get my head together to anything, so torn up I am from the shock.
It was at Yetta Solomon’s wedding I met him again. She was after me for weeks I should only come.
“How can I come to such a swell hall?” I told her. “You know I ain’t got nothing decent to wear.”
“Like you are without no dressing-up, I want you to come. You are the kind what people look in your eyes and not on what you got on. Ain’t you yourself the one what helped me with my love troubles? And now, when everything is turning out happy, you mean to tell me that you ain’t going to be there?”
She gave me a grab over and kissed me in a way that I couldn’t say “No” to her.
So I shined myself up in the best I had and went to the wedding.
I was in the middle from giving my congratulations to Yetta and her new husband, when—Gott! Gott im Himmel! The sky is falling to the earth! I see him—him, and his wife leaning on his arm, coming over.
I gave a fall back, like something sharp hit me. My head got dizzy, and my eyes got blind.
I wanted to run away from him, but, ach! everything in me rushed to him.
I was feeling like struck deaf, dumb, and blind all in one.
He must have said something to me, and I must have answered back something to him, but how? What? I only remember like in a dream my getting to the cloakroom. Such a tearing, grinding pain was dragging me down to the floor that I had to hold on to the wall not to fall.
All of a sudden I feel a pull on my arm. It was the janitor with the broom in his hand.
“Lady, are you sick? The wedding people is all gone, and I swept up already.”
But I couldn’t wake up from myself.
“Lady, the lights is going out,” he says, looking on me queer.
“I think I ain’t well,” I said. And I went out.
Ach, I see again the time when we was lovers! How beautiful the world was then!
“Maybe there never was such love like ours, and never will be,” we was always telling one another.
When we was together there was like a light shining around us, the light from his heart on mine, and from my heart on his. People began to look happy just looking on us.
When we was walking we didn’t feel we was touching the earth but flying high up through the air. We looked on the rest of the people with pity, because it was seeming to us that we was the only two persons awake, and all the rest was hurrying and pushing and slaving and crowding one on the other without the splendidness of feeling for what it was all for, like we was feeling it.
David was learning for a doctor. Daytimes he went to college, and nights he was in a drug-store. I was working in a factory on shirt-waists. We was poor. But we didn’t feel poor. The waists I was sewing flyed like white birds through my fingers, because his face was shining out of everything I touched.
David was always trying to learn me how to make myself over for an American. Sometimes he would spend out fifteen cents to buy me the “Ladies’ Home Journal” to read about American life, and my whole head was put away on how to look neat and be up-to-date like the American girls. Till long hours in the night I used to stay up brushing and pressing my plain blue suit with the white collar what David liked, and washing my waists, and fixing up my hat like the pattern magazines show you.
On holidays he took me out for a dinner by a restaurant, to learn me how the Americans eat, with napkins, and use up so many plates—the butter by itself, and the bread by itself, and the meat by itself, and the potatoes by itself.
Always when the six o’clock whistle blowed, he was waiting for me on the corner from the shop to take me home.
“Ut, there waits Sara’s doctor feller,” the girls were nudging one to the other, as we went out from the shop. “Ain’t she the lucky one!”
All the way as we walked along he was learning me how to throw off my greenhorn talk, and say out the words in the American.
He used to stop me in the middle of the pavement and laugh from me, shaking me: “No t’ink or t’ank or t’ought, now. You’re an American,” he would say to me. And then he would fix my tongue and teeth together and make me say after him: “th-think, th-thank, th-thought; this, that, there.” And if I said the words right, he kissed me in the hall when we got home. And if I said them wrong, he kissed me anyhow.
He moved next door to us, so we shouldn’t lose the sweetness from one little minute that we could be together. There was only the thin wall between our kitchen and his room, and the first thing in the morning, we would knock in one to the other to begin the day together.
“See what I got for you, Hertzele,” he said to me one day, holding up a grand printed card.
I gave a read. It was the ticket invitation for his graduation from college. I gave it a touch, with pride melting over in my heart.
“Only one week more, and you’ll be a doctor for the world!”
“And then, heart of mine,” he said, drawing me over to him and kissing me on the lips, “when I get my office fixed up, you will marry me?”
“Ach, such a happiness,” I answered, “to be together all the time, and wait on you and cook for you, and do everything for you, like if I was your mother!”
“Uncle Rosenberg is coming special from Boston for my graduation.”
“The one what helped out your chance for college?” I asked.
“Yes, and he’s going to start me up the doctor’s office, he says. Like his son he looks on me, because he only got daughters in his family.”
“Ach, the good heart! He’ll yet have joy and good luck from us! What is he saying about me?” I ask.
“I want him to see you first, darling. You can’t help going to his heart, when he’ll only give a look on you.”
“Think only, Mammele—David is graduating for a doctor in a week!” I gave a hurry in to my mother that night. “And his Uncle Rosenberg is coming special from Boston and says he’ll start him up in his doctor’s office.”
“Oi weh, the uncle is going to give a come, you say? Look how the house looks! And the children in rags and no shoes on their feet!”
The whole week before the uncle came, my mother and I was busy nights buying and fixing up, and painting the chairs, and nailing together solid the table, and hanging up calendar pictures to cover up the broken plaster on the wall, and fixing the springs from the sleeping lounge so it didn’t sink in, and scrubbing up everything, and even washing the windows, like before Passover.
I stopped away from the shop, on the day David was graduating. Everything in the house was like for a holiday. The children shined up like rich people’s children, with their faces washed clean and their hair brushed and new shoes on their feet. I made my father put away his black shirt and dress up in an American white shirt and starched collar. I fixed out my mother in a new white waist and a blue checked apron, and I blowed myself to dress up the baby in everything new, like a doll in a window. Her round, laughing face lighted up the house, so beautiful she was.
By the time we got finished the rush to fix ourselves out, the children’s cheeks was red with excitement and our eyes was bulging bright, like ready to start for a picnic.
When David came in with his uncle, my father and mother and all the children gave a stand up.
But the “Boruch Chabo” and the hot words of welcome, what was rushing from us to say, froze up on our lips by the stiff look the uncle throwed on us.
David’s uncle didn’t look like David. He had a thick neck and a red face and the breathing of a man what eats plenty.—But his eyes looked smart like David’s.
He wouldn’t take no seat and didn’t seem to want to let go from the door.
David laughed and talked fast, and moved around nervous, trying to cover up the ice. But he didn’t get no answers from nobody. And he didn’t look in my eyes, and I was feeling myself ashamed, like I did something wrong which I didn’t understand.
My father started up to say something to the uncle—“Our David—” But I quick pulled him by the sleeve to stop. And nobody after that could say nothing, nobody except David.
I couldn’t get up the heart to ask them to give a taste from the cake and the wine what we made ready special for them on the table.
The baby started crying for a cake, and I quick went over to take her up, because I wanted to hide myself with being busy with her. But only the crying and nothing else happening made my heart give a shiver, like bad luck was in the air.
And right away the uncle and him said good-bye and walked out.
When the door was shut the children gave a rush for the cakes, and then burst out in the street.
“Come, Schmuel,” said my mother, “I got to say something with you.” And she gave my father a pull in the other room and closed the door.
I felt they was trying not to look on me, and was shrinking away from the shame that was throwed on me.
“Och, what’s the matter with me! Nothing can come between David and me. His uncle ain’t everything,” I said, trying to pull up my head.
I sat myself down by the table to cool down my nervousness. “Brace yourself up,” I said to myself, jumping up from the chair and beginning to walk around again. “Nothing has happened. Stop off nagging yourself.”
Just then I hear loud voices through the wall. I go nearer. Ut, it’s his uncle!
The plaster from the wall was broken on our side by the door. “Lay your ear in this crack, and you can hear plain the words,” I say to myself.
“What’s getting over you? You ain’t that kind to do such a thing,” I say. But still I do it.
Oi weh, I hear the uncle plainly! “What’s all this mean, these neighbors? Who’s the pretty girl what made such eyes on you?”
“Ain’t she beautiful? Do you like her?” I hear David.
“What? What’s that matter to you?”
“I’ll marry myself to her,” says David.
“Marry! Marry yourself into that beggar house! Are you crazy?”
“A man could get to anywhere with such a beautiful girl.”
“Koosh! Pretty faces is cheap like dirt. What has she got to bring you in for your future? An empty pocketbook? A starving family to hang over your neck?”
“You don’t know nothing about her. You don’t know what you’re saying. She comes from fine people in Russia. You can see her father is a learned man.”
“Ach! You make me a disgust with your calf talk! Poverty winking from every corner of the house! Hunger hollering from all their starved faces! I got too much sense to waste my love on beggars. And all the time I was planning for you an American family, people which are somebodies in this world, which could help you work up a practice! For why did I waste my good dollars on you?”
“Gott! Ain’t David answering?” my heart cries out. “Why don’t he throw him out of the house?”
“Perhaps I can’t hear him,” I think, and with my finger-nails I pick thinner the broken plaster.
I push myself back to get away and not to do it. But it did itself with my hands. “Don’t let me hear nothing,” I pray, and yet I strain more to hear.
The uncle was still hollering. And David wasn’t saying nothing for me.
“Gazlen! You want to sink your life in a family of beggars?”
“But I love her. We’re so happy together. Don’t that count for something? I can’t live without her.”
“Koosh! Love her! Do you want to plan your future with your heart or with your head? Take for your wife an ignorant shopgirl without a cent! Can two dead people start up a dance together?”
“So you mean not to help me with the office?”
“Yah-yah-yah! I’ll run on all fours to do it! The impudence from such penniless nobodies wanting to pull in a young man with a future for a doctor! Nobody but such a yok like you would be such an easy mark.”
“Well, I got to live my own life, and I love her.”
“That’s all I got to say.—Where’s my hat? Throw yourself away on the pretty face, make yourself to shame and to laughter with a ragged Melamid for a father-in-law, and I wash my hands from you for the rest of your life.”
A change came over David from that day. For the first time we was no more one person together. We couldn’t no more laugh and talk like we used to. When I tried to look him in the eyes, he gave them a turn away from me.
I used to lie awake nights turning over in my head David’s looks, David’s words, and it made me frightened like something black rising over me and pushing me out from David’s heart. I could feel he was blaming me for something I couldn’t understand.
Once David asked me, “Don’t you love me no more?”
I tried to tell him that there wasn’t no change in my love, but I couldn’t no more talk out to him what was in my mind, like I used.
“I didn’t want to worry you before with my worries,” he said to me at last.
“Worry me, David! What am I here for?”
“My uncle is acting like a stingy grouch,” he answered me, “and I can’t stand no more his bossing me.”
“Why didn’t you speak yourself out to me what was on your mind, David?” I asked him.
“You don’t know how my plans is smashed to pieces,” he said, with a worried look on his face. “I don’t see how I’ll ever be able to open my doctor’s office. And how can we get married with your people hanging on for your wages?”
“Ah, David, don’t you no longer feel that love can find a way out?”
He looked on me, down and up, and up and down, till I drawed myself back, frightened.
But he grabbed me back to him. “I love you. I love you, heart of mine,” he said, kissing me on the neck, on my hair and my eyes. “And nothing else matters, does it, does it?” and he kissed me again and again, as if he wanted to swallow me up.
Next day I go out from the shop and down the steps to meet him, like on every day.
I give a look around.
“Gott! Where is he? He wasn’t never late before,” gave a knock my heart.
I waited out till all the girls was gone, and the streets was getting empty, but David didn’t come yet.
“Maybe an accident happened to him, and I standing round here like a dummy,” and I gave a quick hurry home.
But nobody had heard nothing.
“He’s coming! He must come!” I fighted back my fear. But by evening he hadn’t come yet.
I sent in my brother next door to see if he could find him.
“He moved to-day,” comes in my brother to tell me.
“My God! David left me? It ain’t possible!”
I walk around the house, waiting and listening. “Don’t let nobody see your nervousness. Don’t let yourself out. Don’t break down.”
It got late and everybody was gone to bed.
I couldn’t take my clothes off. Any minute he’ll come up the steps or knock on the wall. Any minute a telegram will come.
It’s twelve o’clock. It’s one. Two!
Every time I hear footsteps in the empty street, I am by the window—“Maybe it’s him.”
It’s beginning the day.
The sun is rising. Oi weh, how can the sun rise and he not here?
Mein Gott! He ain’t coming!
I sit myself down on the floor by the window with my head on the sill.
Everybody is sleeping. I can’t sleep. And I’m so tired.
Next day I go, like pushed on, to the shop, glad to be swallowed up by my work.
The noise of the knocking machines is like a sleeping-medicine to the cryings inside of me. All day I watched my hands push the waists up and down the machine. I wasn’t with my hands. It was like my breathing stopped and I was sitting inside of myself, waiting for David.
The six o’clock whistle blowed. I go out from the shop.
I can’t help it—I look for him.
“Oi, Gott! Do something for me once! Send him only!”
I hold on to the iron fence of the shop, because I feel my heart bleeding away.
I can’t go away. The girls all come out from the shops, and the streets get empty and still. But at the end of the block once in a while somebody crosses and goes out from sight.
I watch them. I begin counting, “One, two, three—”
Underneath my mind is saying, “Maybe it’s him. Maybe the next one!”
My eyes shut themselves. I feel the end from everything.
“Ah, David! David! Gott! Mein Gott!”
I fall on the steps and clinch the stones with the twistings of my body. A terrible cry breaks out from me—“David! David!” My soul is tearing itself out from my body. It is gone.
Next day I got news—David opened a doctor’s office uptown.
Nothing could hurt me no more. I didn’t hope for nothing. Even if he wanted me back, I couldn’t go to him no more. I was like something dying what wants to be left alone in darkness.
But still something inside of me wanted to see for itself how all is dead between us, and I write him:
“David Novak: You killed me. You killed my love. Why did you leave me yet living? Why must I yet drag on the deadness from me?”
I don’t know why I wrote him. I just wanted to give a look on him. I wanted to fill up my eyes with him before I turned them away forever.
I was sitting by the table in the kitchen, wanting to sew, but my hands was lying dead on the table, when the door back of me burst open.
“O God! What have I done? Your face is like ashes! You look like you are dying!” David gave a rush in.
His hair wasn’t combed, his face wasn’t shaved, his clothes was all wrinkled. My letter he was holding crushed in his hand.
“I killed you! I left you! But I didn’t rest a minute since I went away! Heart of mine, forgive me!”
He gave a take my hand, and fell down kneeling by me.
“Sarale, speak to me!”
“False dog! Coward!” cried my father, breaking in on us. “Get up! Get out! Don’t dare touch my child again! May your name and memory be blotted out!”
David covered up his head with his arm and fell back to the wall like my father had hit him.
“You yet listen to him?” cried my father, grabbing me by the arm and shaking me. “Didn’t I tell you he’s a Meshumid, a denier of God?”
“Have pity! Speak to me! Give me only a word!” David begged me.
I wanted to speak to him, to stretch out my hands to him and call him over, but I couldn’t move my body. No voice came from my lips no more than if I was locked in my grave.
I was dead, and the David I loved was dead.
I married Sam because he came along and wanted me, and I didn’t care about nothing no more.
But for long after, even when the children began coming, my head was still far away in the dream of the time when love was. Before my eyes was always his face, drawing me on. In my ears was always his voice, but thin, like from far away.
I was like a person following after something in the dark.
For years when I went out into the street or got into a car, it gave a knock my heart—“Maybe I’ll see him yet to-day.”
When I heard he got himself engaged, I hunted up where she lived, and with Sammy in the carriage and the three other children hanging on to my skirts, I stayed around for hours to look up at the grand stone house where she lived, just to take a minute’s look on her.
When I seen her go by, it stabbed awake in me the old days.
It ain’t that I still love him, but nothing don’t seem real to me no more. For the little while when we was lovers I breathed the air from the high places where love comes from, and I can’t no more come down.