Published by Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick at Smashwords
Copyright 2010 by Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick
Cover copyright Serendipity Graphic Design by Kelly van der Staal (www.kellyvanderstaal.nl)
Images copyright Serendipity Graphic Design by Kelly van der Staal (www.kellyvanderstaal.nl)
Caraliza is portrayed by Maret Reutelingsperger
Dutch translations by Irma van der Staal
Book design by Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick
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This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real or historically accurate. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
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United States of America
New York, 1919
1. A secret desire and the camera
2. The questions and the dangers
3. The panic and the hiding
4. The loss too dear
New York, 1994
6. A waiting home
7. The Waterburys
8. The Clan war
9. Yousep’s plates
10. Disturbing the garden
11. The Lovers’ notebook
12. Under the stoop
13. Unceasing torments
14. The rise and fall of Shelly Reisman
15. Opening The Studio
New York, 1997
16. The closing
New York, 1919
17. A wish for Papa
She hated the sound of the rain on the crusted basement window above the rusted, tin kitchen sink. Rain in the slums did only two things on her street; it brought the smells of sewage and refuse right into the tenements, and it kept him home all day. To her the drops seemed as useless as petals tossed down upon a coffin.
The rain she remembered at home seemed always pleasant and fresh. It brought mud into the house as easily as the smell of sewage in the city, but it was a clean mud, just good soil. Mama would sweep it out when it dried and seemed never to be cross about it. Even if the pup came in wet from the brook, Mama would not complain about the mess.
Slum rain would make the already dank, dingy basement rooms smell worse no matter how she cleaned. If he was home, she had better be cleaning.
He could not get onto the roofs in the slums when it rained. Being a huge man, he could do such work; the materials were harsh and heavy. He would laugh at lesser men if they could not carry passed the third floor. He could carry as much as they, up to the ninth or tenth, before stopping to shift whatever load was his burden that day. However, he would work tomorrow and for several days after.
Rain brought leaks, and he fixed leaks.
Caraliza could bear the horrid smell of the rain today, because he would not be home tomorrow. She cleaned to forget the sound of it and hoped he would go out for a drink. It might mean nothing to eat, but cleaning would take her mind off any hunger. She learned to endure hunger; she wondered how long she could endure him.
The brute would not be going out.
Her home; it was real, but no longer felt real to her as he crushed her with his weight. It was harder to escape to home when she closed her eyes to block out the abuse; it was a long, sorrowful time ago, somewhere else, some time before he forced his way into her life. When she tried to think of home, he would always appear in her desperate thoughts.
Caraliza understood she had no real choice in leaving; there was a desperate ‘yes’ - or there was starvation. Leaving might save her sister, who was so hungry; there would be no way to know, and she kept breathing life into the waning desire to know if her family had lived. The Great War ravaged Europe, and the people there found any means they could to survive, what meager food there was, always had too many mouths needing to taste it.
Kind souls would come and help as they could, and take those they could, sometimes children; to save them, as their parents might plead. Yet, not all rescuing souls were good and did as well as they promised. Some, who broke those promises, ought not to have a soul at all.
An awful price was paid for Caraliza, by one who kept no promises. An awful payment, so her family could pay some debts and buy better food, hoping she at least was being rescued for them. They sold her, in hope it was not an ill event. She did not want to, but she agreed; a bad life - was life still.
Mother screamed, and wailed: such things were not done; sell the house; live in the street; sell yourself - not your child. Mother wept bitterly as the brute stood in the door, ignoring her, watching the sisters. For her little sister, Caraliza could endure this awful payment. She would try.
The goodbyes were terrible; grieving parents to clutch in vain, and dark, vacant eyes, hidden behind little sister’s limp hair, as she lay too weak to rise from bed to be embraced. Those weak eyes, they barely looked at Caraliza, as she placed her hand on little sister's head, and kissed her goodbye.
He thundered in to take her arm; she had taken too long.
She was as desperate to block this memory as she was to close her mind to the near daily abuse in his basement home.
She pulled her dress back down when he rolled away, and she rose painfully from his sagging bed. She could breathe again; he never cared he crushed her nearly to death before he finished. When he rolled over and closed his eyes to fall asleep, she gasped to soothe her pounding head. The smell of him was all over her now, and the rain only kept the air heavy, and putrid.
She wiped herself with a whimper at the basin, and threw out the water into the street, refusing to notice the lags, sitting on the stoop, who were spitting on umbrellas that passed. She turned without a glance and went back down the stairs to continue cleaning. There were footsteps behind her; they were hurried and careless. Someone she did not look at, raced to meet her at the doorway, and shoved her roughly against the wall; a dirty face leered against her shoulder, and rude, groping hands felt her.
“You stink!” But his eyes grew wide with understanding. “Don't you tell him! Don't you tell!”
The footsteps rushed back up the stairs and there was laughter among the lags.
Caraliza slipped cautiously inside to resume cleaning before the brute awoke. He never bothered to teach her English, so she did not know exactly what the dirty fellow hissed into her ear, but she could guess. She wished the brute had caught him in the basement stair, even if she were beaten again as well - the others would leave her alone for a while at least.
She did not know, across the street in a small photographer's shop, a young clerk saw her below the stoop. He watched her wince with pain as she chucked the basin, he saw the limp as she turned to go carefully back down the wet stairs, he cringed as the lag jump down with a filthy hope in his eyes. The clerk did not know her name, but he saw her below the stoop nearly every day.
She never passed beyond the curb, or the stoops on either side. Her entire existence seemed to be contained in the clerk’s widow, hidden behind those walls, down those stairs, deeper than the filthy street. The clerk also knew the shape of the man who lived down those desperate stairs, so the fifteen-year-old boy who looked out the shop window never crossed that street.
The rain was not letting up, the crusted window was beginning to seep the filth from the sidewalk. The lamps were merely fumes, which granted little light. Caraliza did not dare go back to the stair to get any sky or breath. The only thing that would help would be some clean water, coppery smelling, but cleaner than the sweat, or worse, the brute had left on her.
She softly closed the water closet door and tried to open the spout, quietly as she could. A trickle of water came, and as it cleared, she removed her dress, the only thing she wore. She did not cry at the bruises or the scrapes on her knees. She cried because the water was iced cold. She had forgotten a warm bath; those were impossible to have. The brute used the baths near the barbershop, sometimes, because the closet was too small for such a big man to wash himself, and because he was too cheap for a tub big enough to use in the kitchen.
Caraliza took the icy rag and tried to wipe herself softly where she could reach. It was painful to wipe between her legs; she would try there last. She stood in the cramped, dark room crying and wiped his smell from her breasts.
At that moment, across the street, the clerk stood looking at her small world through the shop window, as the coffin-petal rain fell, and the carriaged horses added to the filth. His daydreaming of learning her name would get him into trouble.
“You might want to waste your day spitting on umbrellas, Yousep, but you won't get paid for it. Finish those plates for Mrs. Hollsworth, she will be here tomorrow.”
Yousep turned to nod his head and went to get the darkroom apron from the hook. He picked up a new candle and stepped inside the closet to bathe the photographic plates in the developer. He could hear Mr. Reisman trying to sell another camera. They did not sell many, and each one was several months of Yousep's pay. The shop was desperate for sales of cameras.
Menashe Reisman, his employer, was well known and well loved as ‘Papa’ by entire neighborhood. Originally, this had been his portrait studio; it was not now, because a six-story tenement was pounded into place right next-door, blocking the morning light from the studio completely. Poor money and bad decisions meant the shop could not move to retain portrait clientele. They tried selling cameras instead. Years of dwindling business had worn Papa Reisman into an early old man. He took fewer portraits each year; the families, who once paid him handsomely, were forgetting him.
Yousep was fortunate to have the job at all. Except for the misunderstood daydreaming at the window, he was as good a clerk as Papa could hope to find; plus, Yousep was honest, which was impossible to find. His immigrant parents might try to keep him raised according to their traditional beliefs, but poverty often made thieves of even faithful men, after long enough in despair.
Yousep was unaffected yet by such despair. He even returned an extra dollar he accidentally received in his pay one week. His honesty might outlast his poverty. Such a lad was likely to escape the slums; if ever, God willing, that should occur - his brains would wisely keep him away forever. Papa Reisman felt fortunate Yousep remained at the meager job, even if the lad seemed in love with the window.
A whistle from the closet meant some of the image plates were ready to dry. Yousep waited until the door opened a slit, then he passed a dripping plate through just before it closed. This repeated four times and he was able to get back to the plates in the developer. They were almost ready for the fixer. He caught himself before he whistled a tune that was in his head; he was not ready to hand out more plates yet. He instead imagined walking across the street to those basement stairs.
Below that stoop, while Yousep thought again of the girl, Caraliza dropped her cloth into the basin and stood for a moment to dry her skin. She closed her eyes and tickled her fingers up one arm and down the other, barely touching until little bumps rose and she smiled. She tickled up her legs from her knees, passed her bruised thighs and lightly up her stomach to her breasts. She tickled softly until the bumps rose again and returned the smile to her lips. It was the only pleasurable sensation she could remember. It was time to clean her tender privates and it was more time than she dared take, but hurrying would make it unbearable. Her captor would pull her from the water closet if he awoke and thought she was hiding. If he found her naked….
She was back in the kitchen, scrubbing grime that would never be cleaner, when he awoke. Since he said nothing as he pulled up his dusty trousers, he must be leaving. His absence might mean peace, a drink and perhaps some food.
She stopped the wasted effort on the grime as he closed the door. Listening breathlessly to hear the lock, she sighed in disbelief; leaving the cloth where it was, she quickly slipped outside to the stairs. The dampness outside would be better than the dank air in the basement.
The rain stopped; there was a sliver of blue. She wished there had been a breeze, but she could not have that. Instead, there was a trickle of wetness on her inner thigh.
“Als je blieft niet WEER zo’n dag,” Please, not another of those days - she would silently pray, “Als je blieft NIET vandaag.” Please not today
She lifted her skirt above her hips to avoid soiling it, and stood there silently sobbing in the damp stair, just to have one more breath of blue. She cried as she pushed the door open again to hurry to the water closet before the trickle on her leg reached the floor.
Yousep was finished with the plates and was again at the window, pretending to dust the shelves, when Caraliza appeared under the stoop. He stared as she poured this next basin into the street. The bloody water repulsed him and he turned away, too young to understand; she was two years older, and barely understood herself.
Caraliza was putting wet wash things on the drying rack in the kitchen that evening when her tormentor returned. He stank of stout. Unexpectedly, he put three large sausages and a bag with potatoes in the sink, and walked back out. She knew he would expect her to cook them, before he returned, drunk this time. She left the wet clothing and lit the stove soon as he closed the door. She did not listen for the lock to be turned. She knew better than to be late with his dinner.
After washing the food and cutting it, she took one small slice of potato and one very small slice of the sausage and placed them together on her tongue, closing her lips very slowly. Her mouth did not water. The slices stayed dry and tasteless on her tongue.
She was starving. Her body did not know what to do with food.
Risking a beating, she grabbed two more slices and put them into her mouth with the others. As she began to chew, she closed her eyes and tried to imagine a cake. She stopped daydreaming when she was able to swallow.
The brute would not be much longer, and the pan was finally hot. She emptied everything into it, hoping he would be very drunk, and might not notice some leavings in the pan. She drank two large glasses of the coppery water as she watched his meal on the stove.
She was still standing there, stirring without thought, when the key in the door reminded her, she had forgotten to set a plate at the table. Quickly as she could, she pulled a plate from the shelf and spooned it full. He stumbled into the kitchen table and sat down as she placed the steaming plate in front of him. He held his bottle of stout close to his shoulder and filled his mouth with the hot food.
“Lift yur skirt!”
He pointed and flipped up the fork in her direction. Caraliza understood and lifted the dress to just below her breasts. He looked at her and indicated she should open her legs. When she did, he looked closer, filling his mouth again as he saw the stain inside her thigh. He leered and waved he was satisfied; she could cover herself again.
She did not know how he could tell it was that day. He was never wrong. He never did anything but look and sneer during that inspection, as she stood exposed. Taking another huge swallow of stout, he belched at her and growled.
“Yur too fuckin skinny.”
He poked his fork back into the middle of the plate and scraped back from the table with his bottle hurrying to his lips. When he staggered into the bedroom, she stood silently admiring the plate. He had eaten nothing of it and left it for her.
It was more food than she might be given in a week.
Drunk as he was, he would leave her alone tonight, even if he still crushed her with his unconscious bulk. She did not have to hurry. The third bite finally made her mouth water and she tried very hard to eat quietly.
She sat at the table for an hour, forcing herself to eat more slowly with each bite. It had been more than a month passed that the vile man left a plate like this, and she retched all of it up from eating so quickly. To lose it, was far worse than watching him eat everything, getting nothing at all.
She lifted each mouthful, and trembled.
When the kitchen was cleaned and put away, she walked into the bedroom to the sounds of his snores. There was not much room left in the bed, but she did not expect any; she removed her dress and laid it on the simple chair above his boots.
It was painful to lie down, holding herself onto the bed with one arm. She only hoped he would sleep through the night because of the drink. She hoped it did not rain tomorrow. The food in her belly was churning and she licked her lips wanting more of the taste of it; it was making her sleepy. The brute would not wake; she began to sing to herself, as she did so many nights.
“Slaap, kindje, slaap
daar buiten loopt een schaap.
Een schaap met witte voetjes
dat drinkt zijn melk zo zoetjes
Slaap, kindje, slaap
daar buiten loopt een schaap.”
Caraliza fell asleep in the bed she shared, naked, with the brute for almost two years. She missed dreams, but for her, it seemed there was nothing left to dream.
Hours into the oppressive night, the drain clogged in the street, and a putrid trickle found its way down the stairs, seeping under the basement door. When Caraliza noticed the smell, she hurried into her dress, and up the steps, out into the rain. She shivered as she felt at the drain in the familiar place and pulled a wad of paper and manure from the grate; she tossed it further down the street.
The foul trickle down the stair stopped, and she came back through the slime, to mop up at the door. Standing at the kitchen sink, wringing her dress so she could wash it, she suddenly realized, she had nothing to wear the next day. Her other dress was not in the day's wash and was far worse than the one she just wore in the rain to clear the sewer.
“Als je blieft laat de zon gaan schijnen morgen,” Please let there be sun tomorrow - she silently prayed again, “Als je blieft laat hem weggaan!” Please let him be gone
Both washed dresses were hanging on the drying rack as she walked naked back in to the bed. Caraliza was hoping that moment, the rain would stop, it was just another of the torments she could barely endure.
Yousep was closing the shop when the drunk came back to the basement stairs. Watching with a mixture of terror and curiosity, he wondered, could the dark brute be the girl’s father? She was fair under the grime; Yousep was sure. She was half the brute's size. She was too young it seemed to be married to the man. Yousep could not imagine her accepting a marriage, to a form like the one drunkenly trying to make it down into the basement.
He desperately hoped marriage did not cause them to share the dark world he viewed from the shop window; however, it left only one other option, if the others were not true. He supposed it unthinkable she was prisoner, to the frightening man disappearing into the darkness beneath the stoop.
She could only be his daughter; people divorced and remarried, she could be his daughter by marriage, though Yousep never knew any other person to descend those stairs or return from them. Yousep could not help desiring to know her name, but he was not stupid; he did not dare cross the street to that stair, even for desire.
He quietly walked the half-mile to his parent’s home. Still misting a bit of rain, the weather made the walk unpleasantly wet after such a distance. On very bad days, he would take a carriage, but it was so expensive for his meager pocket; his parents needed the money he shared, and he was glad to give most of it, saving very little for himself. They adored him and lived in dread of the day he found his way free of the slums. He was their only child and he had a respectable job - if not very prosperous; with his help, they afforded their rent and good food.
They would have worried, if they had known; a girl somehow stirred his youthful heart. From such things as love, harm could come. They would arrange his marriage one day, as was expected. That a young Jewish boy would constantly look across his shop street to stare after a girl? That was simply unthinkable.
As he walked in the door, his mother greeted him from the kitchen.
“We should have chicken for the Sabbath. Can you bring us a chicken?”
It was Thursday, and Yousep expected to answer, “Yes, Muter,” each day until the Sabbath. He took his place at the table, eager for the fish and greens she prepared for his supper. His father smiled and asked if he sold a camera today.
“No, Pape. I developed the plates for Mrs. Hollsworth.”
“Perhaps tomorrow, you will sell a camera?” his father replied.
Such was their discussion every night, until dinner was done. He rarely answered ‘yes’ to selling a camera.
Yousep rarely found the chance to make camera sales, only about four other times had he done such a thing. He knew the devices well; he heard Papa Reisman explain them so many times to customers in the shop. One thing he knew very well, it was important to ask the type of photography the customer expected the camera to produce. He should not sell a portrait camera for landscaping or casuals. It would be bad for the shop's reputation to have an unsatisfied customer.
His father sat reading the paper, repeating the news of the troubles in Europe; but it was home - they loved it and still felt pain at the strife others endured there. His parents were Polish Jews, who fled the political unrest and persecution in that country. They learned English, quickly, upon arriving in New York City. Something other immigrants struggled to do.
Yousep was determined to speak well.
He only spoke English now, to his parents’ amusement; they continued to speak Yiddish at home to him. They agreed, they must be Americans now, but God preferred Yiddish, they would say as they smiled.
The meal finished and the news shared, they would say a prayer and his father would start a lesson while his mother cleaned the kitchen. Yousep grew increasingly distracted by the sound of the continuing rain outside the window. His father said he hoped it would rain all night.
On the way to work the next morning, he happened upon a carriage load of college graduate students. They were frolicking on the carriage, taking impossible poses for the distracted photographer on the walk beside them. Nearly ten handsome young men pestered their fellow on the walk to get about his business and produce their photo, before the passing clouds hid the morning sun. They were causing nearly more commotion than the poor carriage could bear.
Yousep noticed the photographer was no novice; he had a second camera at his foot, an extravagance to be sure. Suddenly as the fellow shifted to adjust his tripod, he lost his footing. In his tumble to the walk, he fell against the extra camera and hurt himself. That would have been terrible enough an event in itself, however, the pain caused him to lash out his leg and his mounted camera was suddenly at Yousep's feet, the lens shattered and the plate ruined in the slide.
The outcry in the carriage was shocking. They laughed.
The poor hapless fellow had ruined an instrument worth nearly six months of Yousep's pay, and likely damaged himself to no small extent. Yousep mourned for the broken camera and said the first thing that came to mind.
“I don't like the looks of that lens now, but the slide is not badly harmed. We could change those lenses with a bit of patience. I bet we could fix it.”
The fellow on the walk was sitting up and trying to reach the bruise on his back. He looked up at Yousep with an odd expression.
“How would you know anything about that Waterbury?”
Yousep decided the fellow was not being rude, but merely in pain from the accident.
“We sell that model, and last year’s Putnam Plate camera in our shop, just three streets over. Those use the same lens, and we have those as well. I think I know on which shelf to find them right off.”
The fellows in the straining carriage scrutinized him, and one of them yelled that perhaps Yousep should catch the photograph himself, with the undamaged camera at his feet. The photographer on the ground shrugged his shoulders and waved his approval.
It was quite a notion - the shop boy taking over as the photographer, but Yousep quickly changed the damaged instrument off the tripod, and within moments, he was focusing on the overloaded carriage. The photographer on the ground was impressed with the skill and care which Yousep displayed, and was about to compliment the young fellow when Yousep turned to him with a wink.
“Never send a boy to do a man's job!” he smiled.
The carriage crew erupted into gales of laughter and merriment, caught completely off-guard. He tripped the shutter, and stood back smiling with satisfaction.
“That will do them nicely, Sir.”
Everyone watching was staggered. The injured photographer on the ground extended his hand to Yousep and smiled a tremendous smile.
“I could never have caught a better pose! It is impossible just getting them all still. Who the hell are you?”
“Yousep, Sir. Our shop…where I work, it is just three streets over. Reisman Portraits. Please stop by if convenient. We can help you with this, and it might save you the camera.”
“Tell you what, Yousep…that's Jewish, right? Well, tell you what, if this photograph is as good as I think it should be, I'll come by tomorrow right after class.”
He clapped his hand around Yousep’s shoulder and said with admiration in front of the carriaged louts, “Who would have thought it would take two men to catch an image of a team of little girls?”
Again, there was more activity in the carriage than it could hardly bear.
Yousep walked hurriedly to the shop, as he was probably late, and surprisingly, found himself suddenly on the basement side of the street, across from his shop, and halted his stride, petrified. He stood at the stoop wondering how he had forgotten to cross again.
Looking into the gloom under the stoop, he wished the mysterious girl would appear. Yet, he was so terrified the brute would come up those steps; he rushed almost headlong into a wagon before he came to his senses. He was still trembling at the shop door when Papa Reisman let him inside, wondering why Yousep should be cold on a perfectly beautiful May morning.
A delivery wagon occupied the curb outside the shop, and filled the window the entire morning. When the horses were each led away and the wagon remained, Yousep was glad of it. Eventually it was loaded, and when it finally went on its way Yousep shuddered, remembering with shame the terror he felt at the top of the basement stair.
He felt as he had, standing as a child, with his father at the open casket of his grandfather. He was afraid to stand next to the box, he could not see in but he knew the body was someone he loved, someone who could not hold him now.
The body lying in the box was a dread thing; he did not want to see it. He tore away in panic when his father reached to lift him at the casket side. He dreamed it would speak to him, not as a living thing, but as something appalling, for many months after. The stair across from the shop held something as dreadful as the casket in his nightmares, and, more horrible to him, it also held something he felt a growing longing to know.
So distracted, Yousep dropped an unexposed glass pane he was coating in the darkroom. Papa Reisman rushed in distress to the closet and asked if it were a portrait glass that had been ruined. Papa’s relieved exclamation was still awful for Yousep to bear. He would pay for the glass, and no customer would be lost for the want of an attentive clerk, but his day continued, shrouded in fear and shame, and the window did not lure him at all.
Still, he was missed.
Caraliza stole a moment at the basement door, after the brute had gone out to seek his day’s work. When a boy rushed to a teetering halt on the walk moments later, and seemed about to burst headlong into the stair, she pushed the door shut to a slit, more startled than he. She could see only the boy’s feet now, his shoes beneath his hemmed trousers. When he turned and disappeared, she waited several breaths, before daring to venture out of the door again.
So sure he nearly came to her door, she crept only to the level of the walk behind the rail, and looked in the direction the boy had turned. The only boy within view stood across the street; beautiful small boxes of wood and brass in the window of the shop behind him. She knew they were cameras, she remembered seeing them used as a child. That boy wore the shoes she had noticed above the stair. She looked again at them to be sure.
She looked at his face and was suddenly drawn to him because of it. He was let into the shop and the window stared out to the empty walk again. She looked to see him in the window because of what she saw on his face. She recognized his terror, and understood it.
Caraliza would look to see him again, each time she dared go out into the air.
The next day brought some luck to Yousep he did not know he had. The carriage photographer was outside the window, looking at the cameras in the display. Polished and warm, they showed the care Papa Reisman gave them each day; none looked as though they indeed waited perhaps even a year to be held and discussed.
Yousep was needed in the closet for some waiting plates, and could not say hello. He entirely forgot to mention the broken camera to Papa and now regretted it. So very anxious to chat, and perhaps get a chance to repair the broken lens, he closed the closet door reluctantly, but strained as he worked, to hear what discussions might transpire; he heard nothing.
Disappointed that perhaps the photographer had not been pleased with the displays in the window, he turned back to his waiting plates, and resigned himself to the work. Nearly finished, a gentle rap at the closet door surprised him.
“Yousep? Did you speak with a photographer yesterday about a broken lens?”
His heart raced and he eagerly answered, he had.
“Please come out when you have dried the plates. He wishes to speak to you again.”
It was more unexpected than the strange chance to make the photograph at the carriage! With a customer waiting, Papa Reisman would be cross if Yousep took longer than was polite, so he dried each plate carefully, and placed them between the heavy papers and into their box.
Papa was smiling broadly, the photographer at his elbow, when Yousep crept out. The broken camera was, sadly, nowhere to be seen. Quizzically, Yousep offered his hand to make a very polite introduction. The photographer, Martin Bryant, took his offered hand and shook it warmly.
“Your photograph was superb, Yousep!” he said with a clap to the boy’s shoulder. “A single exposed plate, and perfectly done! I wanted to thank you. You saved more than just a camera with that chance encounter.”
Menashe Reisman raised an eyebrow and beamed at his clerk.
“Did you bring the Waterbury, Sir? I should really like the chance to put it right for you. They are excellent instruments and it would be a shame for you to lose it.”
“It is already lost to me young fellow,” Martin replied. He noticed the disappointed look in Yousep’s face. “Wouldn’t you rather make a sale of a new one?”
The boy looked timidly at his employer and made a bold statement for a shop clerk who needed to sell cameras; he was about to discourage a good purchase.
“I truly regret the loss of such an expensive camera, wanting only for new lens. I would not assume your money was so easily spent, Sir,” he was quite afraid to look up at his employer, and was surprised when Papa chuckled at him and walked away.
“Today is a good day for us both, Mr. Yousep the Clerk,” Martin boasted. “I have need of another camera, whether the Waterbury is ruined or not. And -,” he said with a flourish, “-I have five fellows in my photographers class at University who will need instruments as well!”
He stuck out his hands and gathered Yousep’s into his, shaking it with some vigor. The clerk just stared in disbelief. Hoping to sell a single camera was bold enough; selling five other cameras because of it? He was incredulous! Menashe Reisman rejoined the two again, with a package wrapped and tied, which he handed to Martin with a wink.
“This Kodak Autographic is a fine pocket camera. We stock the films and will soon do the developing as well. For your beginners, such a camera would do nicely. Beginners can be so clumsy with plates.”
“Don’t I know that? Our darkroom lessons are often a disaster. Shards of ruined glass fly everywhere!” Martin said with a knowing smile. “But, Sir, this is a portrait shop, are you the portrait master? Where is your studio?” Mr. Reisman nodded, and gently shook his head immediately after.
“We were a portrait shop. When we lost the beautiful morning sun in our windows-,” he indicated towards the wall behind them; windows looking into a dark, brooding brick wall across the narrow alley outside, “-we were unable to make the room bright enough for good sittings. The studio is this way if you care to visit?”
Martin and Papa Reisman wandered back to the corner doorway behind the counter, and Yousep stood watching them, wondering what became of the Waterbury.
He was busy dusting the display cameras, and adjusting to fill the spot the little Kodak once occupied, when the two men returned, chatting excitedly, grasping hands. Martin walked to the clerk, shook his hand again for a warm goodbye, and promised to return the next afternoon with the student photographers in tow. Martin was walking passed the shop window with a smile, when Yousep saw the girl looking at him, from just below the rail on the basement stair.
It sent a shiver into his back and he suddenly felt either very hot, or very cold, but he silently rejoiced.
“Yousep! Lad, my very fine lad! Come here boy, come here!”
Papa was bouncing on his toes behind the counter, too anxious to stand still. Yousep stopped his cleaning and hurried to hear what might have put his employer in such high spirits.
“Outstanding work dear boy! That very young gentleman is actually the graduate assistant to the Professor of Photography at the University. They indeed have students who must purchase cameras to join the studies! He is going to instruct them to each purchase a different model, so they may learn the use of them all!” Papa beamed. “He is bringing them here directly, all at great thanks to you and your talents!”
Yousep smiled, and hoped it was not too prideful to do so.
Still, his employer had another surprise waiting.
“They are in need of good portrait instructions and have invited me to discuss my possible use for those lessons. I am to visit this very afternoon, and see how I might be of help.”
He stood next to Yousep, repeatedly clapping and holding the boys shoulders as he spoke, but he turned and stepped behind the counter curtain to the back shelves, continuing to explain as he disappeared.
“Our good Mr. Bryant has a gift for you, Yousep!”
He returned, with the injured Waterbury, held in his hand like a great prize. Only slightly chipped on the side of the case, its lens sleeve was dented on the edge; the plate slide looked crippled and useless.
“He tells me if you can fix this…it is yours, as a reward for your skill with the plate you made yesterday!”
He almost dared not touch the box. He never once dreamed to own such a camera, as the one in Menashe Reisman’s hands. The lens alone would be more than he received in a month’s pay.
To his employer’s endless mirth, they actually haggled about the gift.
“You are too honest by a year, dear boy! This is a genuine gift. Farschtein? And for the sale of the students’ tools and a few good sittings at the University, I will provide the lens as a gift as well.”
Menashe became very still with sudden emotion. He placed the Waterbury gently on the counter and grasped Yousep with both hands.
“You are a good clerk. You are helpful to me here in this shop, Yousep, and a blessing to your parents. Accept this and be happy. It is well earned. Well earned!”
Yousep completed his work with a smile on his face the remainder of the day. He would indeed have something important to share with his mother and father tonight at dinner. He had won a camera! his first; with no more than the luck of his step, and the courtesy they taught him to always show.
Papa Reisman said the camera was his; he earned it well. He would use it photograph his parents, in their finest clothes; the fee of a sitting they could not afford, but a plate would be only a few days’ pay, and they owned no such image since he was a child of but three. He would surprise them, perhaps on the Sabbath.
The idea warmed his heart.
He would have to work hard to find the time, but the Waterbury only needed a lens, and the slide repaired; it should take no longer than his usual lunchtime. Distracted as he was, with his new laid plans, he found enough time to look across that street, and wonder. Why was the girl looking across at him when Martin passed out of the shop, as if she sought him out? Did she want him to stop and speak? Might the courage to give her hello and hear back the sound of her voice, be forever impossible to find?
He was troubled and happy, terribly confused with the feelings in his heart, but could not wait to tell his parents about his good fortune - about the hello to the girl? He would wait a bit longer for that.
“Mir darfn a hindl oif scahbes,” His mother greeted him as he returned home that evening. “Dir wil ariberbrengn a hindl?”
“Yes, Muter, there will be a chicken,” he said with a kiss to her warm cheek. She looked up from her cooking, patted his chin with her floured hand, and smiled as he passed. He took his place at the table next to his father, and without waiting for the question, he softly said, “Yes.”
His father peeked around the corner of his newspaper and squinted in mock suspicion at Yousep.
“You know so much what I was going to ask?”
“Yes,” Yousep repeated, with his smile turning to a grin.
“So you just sit and tell me you farkoifn a fotografisher aparat? What if it is raining, should I ask that, what would you have said? Jo demolt oich?”
“No, not today. But tomorrow it will rain,” Yousep declared loud enough so his mother could hear the amusing conversation.
“And Moses was sure he could leave Egypt after only the first plague!” His father folded the paper and laid it beside his plate. “Do not be so sure of the heavens and their water!” he shook his finger into Yousep’s growing smile. “Now! Tell us of this camera you sold today!” he beamed at his son.
Caraliza prayed to see the boy in the window when she emptied the mop bucket into the gutter. He longed to see the girl on the stair when he stole a glance outside the shop window. They were determined their eyes should meet. They were approaching a point of distraction, which likely would cause more trouble than either could bear; she - the least of the two.
She dare not allow herself to be found idle on the stair, if the brute should return. It happened one time too many, when she was newly arrived at her ‘home’. She learned painfully, she should not be outside the basement, until the sewer needed filling, from the mop bucket or the basin. Yet, they were becoming desperate, she and that boy, and risking as much as they dared, for that first stolen glance.
Several days would pass before either caught more than a fleeting look of the other, too late to see eyes in sweet faces, which were merely daydream until then. It was one such pitiful day of disappointment; he suddenly spied the brute at the top of the stair, for more than a lingering moment. The huge man was lighting a cigar, and having no luck of it for the breeze that was putting out his flame. Papa Reisman was nearby, adjusting the display cameras, and Yousep decided to chance a question.
“That man, Mr. Reisman, across the street with the cigar. I have seen him sometimes at that stair. Who is he?”
His employer was not much distracted, and glanced up only a moment, for a look; yet, there was more terrible information in his answer than Yousep cared to know.
“Such a man as that one! I am glad of not knowing his name. He is a brawler by reputation, feared at the taverns by folk, and police the same. Though I’m not surprised you should recognize every soul and nag that crosses this window, as often as you gaze out of it.”
There seemed a very serious tone to this answer; too serious for Menashe to trouble himself and use again.
“Why do you spend so much time looking at a street? Perhaps it grows more beautiful because you look at it?” he gave Yousep a friendly poke at the shoulder. “What do you look to see, with so much longing?”
Yousep must have reacted in too interesting a manner, perhaps making it more interesting, because he immediately tried to hide whatever he had shown.
“Yousep, what do you look at so?”
“I have seen a girl across in the stair, where the man now stands.”
“You have seen no one. Whoever you have seen, put them out of your mind! Such things as you might see where that man lives, you should not be involved,” Menashe suddenly frightened his clerk.
“But, she is sometimes there at the curb-” he affirmed.
“You have seen nothing you should know of, Yousep!”
“What should I not know? How could meeting someone there, be so bad as you make it sound?”
“Ask those fools who sometimes sit and spit from that stoop! They lost one of their own to the very man lighting his cigar on that stair. They will tell you what trouble will come from looking into that hole!”
He paled, and weakened with sudden understanding. The chill on his spine returned as he looked across the street to the form at the curb. There were no lags on the stoop; in truth, he had not seen them there all week, for they had – all of them, vanished!
“Ask those fools why the police have found no body to charge the man with?”
The window was suddenly much too wide for Yousep to be standing in.
Yousep carried his fear home that night; he did not give a thought to hiding it. His parents sensed a profound change in the gentle smiling nature he had always shown them. Too young for most worldly concerns, they wondered what could trouble a boy with nothing more pressing on his mind than the chicken for the Sabbath.
During the evening meal, his father suddenly lowered his paper and asked if Yousep were feeling quite well these days? Yes, Yousep replied, he was quite well. Had there been bad luck with the repair of the treasured camera? Well, yes, Yousep explained; there had been no time to spend tinkering with the repair. It was waiting still, in the studio, for him to attempt the task.
His father asked again, had there been a disappointing outcome to the sale of the student cameras, or his employer’s hire as a portrait tutor? No, Yousep replied; those were still both blessings to rejoice. Another camera had been sold to a parent of one of the students, a thankful trend was beginning, and Mr. Reisman was more than pleased.
He once again took a chance on his own question.
“I have heard, a youth, perhaps my age, is missing from the neighborhood and shop street. I have only heard one mention, and but wondered.”
His mother and father exchanged glances; she left the table to dabble in the kitchen, not wanting to know of the incident his father seemed ready to mention to his son.
“One week now gone, across from your shop, blood there was found on a stoop. Street urchins blame a murderer of one of their own. The authorities cannot find the deceased one, or the murderer.” He looked at his son and could see, the news was distressing to him.
“We have been silent, not knowing the outcome. We trust Mr. Reisman to keep you safe. The police are diligent, you have probably seen. They should be always in the neighborhood these days.”
“Mr. Reisman is very concerned at what things I should know and not know,” Yousep said before he could catch himself, wishing he had not been so hasty to speak again.
“For such a good man, your Muter and I are thankful.”
He began to have vivid, disturbing dreams. The basement stair was a casket, the brute but the phantom inside it, speaking to him in his sleep. The girl would beckon him, to come and stand alongside her, and gaze into the darkness with her; her mouth cruelly tied with a dirty cloth.
More than once Yousep wet his bed in fright before he awoke. It embarrassed him; to admit to his mother that he had done such a thing. It was more embarrassing, to find his mattress drying on the porch, in the back of their house, those nights when he returned home from work.
The appearance of the girl, in his terrible dreams, sent different shivers to his spine. She would beckon, but would not speak. The fiend in the stair, it would speak but not beckon. Yousep could move no closer, yet his desire to touch her, and hear her voice, would pull him, and he could not escape; her dress would fall from her shoulders - she would reach to take his hand….
He would wake in sweat, painfully aroused. This unfamiliar reaction shamed him, and he would mention none of it to anyone; an incontinent bladder he could confess, an immoral heart - he could not.
His father said a prayer at dinner that Yousep would not be troubled, and he might find his peaceful rest again. They were certain he was more troubled by the suspected murder than they dared suppose; Yousep was growing ill of it.
Caraliza did not dream of anyone. Yet, the boy was constantly in her waking thoughts, and she planned; two minutes on the walk - each time she stepped out her door, until he passed the window. They were going to meet, each trembling with understanding; each thought they might die in the attempt.
Thunderstorms came; for two days it rained such that Yousep was sweeping the seep out of the store, every few minutes, before it soaked the floors. They found a near-disaster of a leak, in the stairway leading to the store stockrooms, over the studio. Papa Reisman was distraught, the paper stocks were sure to be ruined, if the moisture made it to the shelves. As no customers were about in such weather, Yousep was set to watching in the storeroom, all afternoon.
Twice, Caraliza was forced to strain at the sewer grate, and clear it of the filth that would stream down the stairs into the basement.
Twice, she stood drenched and trembling, her ragged dress but gauze around her form, looking across the darkened street to the darker shop, trying to see within, to the boy she wanted to know.
Twice, she almost ran to the shop.
Twice, she turned down the stair in tears, for want of some warmth, for want of some food, for want of some courage; tears for want of the brute out of the basement, instead of waiting on the bed.
The leak did not make it to the shelves either day, and Yousep never had the chance to see her beckon him come stand beside her. Prayers rose from both sides of the street, above it, and below it; pleading the rains should stop.
If sitting in an attic storeroom could have a benefit, it was to have one for Yousep at least; his Waterbury was finally repaired. Papa Reisman agreed the lad should not go blind staring at walls in hope of water; he could be diligent, and repair the camera as well as watch.
If two days torrential downpour could have a benefit, it was to have one for Caraliza at least; the brute would find a week’s steady work afterwards, at some distance from the basement hole.
If ever a deadly outcome could have drawn closer to them both, it would have been the brute employed on the roof of the Reisman’s Portrait studio. Desperate as it was to be repaired, Papa was unaware he was neighbor, for more than twenty years, to a man who could fix any roof in the city, and another such man had been sought through an acquaintance.
Yousep and his girl felt themselves slipping in the ropes that bound them to their lonely sides of the street. The camera wanted him out of the shop and into the air. The brute would leave her before dawn each morning, and would not return until near dark, the next week of impossible days.
The very day after the rain, once the shop was opened and all the shelves dusted, Papa suggested his clerk wash the window in the front, to clear it of the street splatter the two wet days brought. Yousep was suddenly on his curb, with a reason to be in view for half an hour. When Caraliza crept to the top of the stair for the first breath of air, she wept from spying him so suddenly, through the bottom bar of the rail.
It was not a glance - such a thing as she wanted so badly; this was a thirst being quenched - such a thing as she was dying to have.
Satisfied his task was perfect and complete, Yousep slapped his hands on his bucket, and turned to the gutter, to toss the water out - he dropped the pail to the bricks instead. Across the street, looking at him, with tears washing her cheeks, was Caraliza.
She saw him, and did not turn away. She did not realize - she climbed the last steps, and only her hand, holding tightly around the rail, kept her to her street side. She was at the top, in the sun, weeping at the sight of him.
Yousep was so terrified she might bolt into the street, he simply held up his hand as if to hold her back, and did not realize - he beckoned to her with the other. Only for a breath they stood there, for the fall of another tear; only long enough for Caraliza to reach both hands in want of him, and then she brought them to her mouth, to cover her sobs, and disappeared beneath the stoop.
Yousep bit his lip so that it bled.
He trembled, almost too much to gather the dropped pail. He certainly trembled so much at the door, Papa hurried to his aid, to open the accidentally locked door for the lad. The employer found the clerk in such a state he wondered if a doctor should be called. Yousep was agitated, and could not be seated. He was hot and pacing, refusing a drink, refusing a chair, and shouting he was perfectly calm, though such calm could not be calm at all. Yousep was in such a state, they nearly argued; a thing that never happened between them before.
Papa finally was allowed to soothe the boy, enough to ask what caused the commotion. The clerk was unable to say, he just staggered to the storeroom steps, and knelt at the bottom, to vomit up his breakfast onto his knees.
Papa walked him home that night still convinced the boy had taken sick. Yousep strangely recovered his wits, after losing his food, but set straight away to cleaning the mess; sadly, he trembled the entire day, so much, he was not allowed to handle the plates in the closet. He also stubbornly refused to go home when told it might be best.
Yousep was feeling deep shame all day, the result of which made him tremble as if fevered. He felt nothing but regret at having vomited on the stair; that could easily be cleaned. However, he had the disgraceful reaction of wetting himself, in a way he had never done, at being overwhelmed by the sight of the delicate hands beckoning in his direction; the girl across the street, weeping to be taken into his arms, begging him to hurry across.
His mother and father were alarmed at the description Papa Reisman gave of Yousep’s behavior. Not a hint gave him warning something might be the matter with the boy. His mood was normal, his work efficient; returning inside from washing the window - he was changed.
Papa described it as frightened, and frightening.
Yousep was sent to bed, his dinner would be broth and nothing more. They thanked Papa, and offered to feed him his dinner for his trouble, they wanted to know if it would cause inconvenience, should Yousep stay at home sick the next day. He declined the dinner, but took a roll, with many thanks, to tide him on his own trip home. The boy would cause no harm in staying home, to get well, if he needed it, and did not insist he felt better.
A prayer was said, and the employer was out into the darkening street to find his way home.
Yousep’s parents sat at the side of his bed, to discuss what matters with the boy. He found it would be quite easy to lie; he wanted to lie. Lying would keep him from distressing them, such behavior over a girl he has never, and perhaps should never meet. However, Yousep did not lie to his parents. He did not tell them the truth, to be sure, and it was a distinction trimmed more finely than the width of any of his hairs.
“I’m surprised Mr. Reisman did not tell you, I have seen the man suspected of the crime in the shop street. He lives in the basement under the stoop, across our window.”
Yousep’s mother clapped her hands in shock and prayed under her breath as he told them of asking about the man he saw on the curb.
“Mr. Reisman did not think it well to know such a man; he does not know the man’s name. But, he is only accused. It is not proper to decide what we do not know, is it?”
His father sat in thought, and did not speak quickly. It was his way when conversations were of deep, or troubling subjects. He often would sit silent, after reading an article in the news about the war, before he would comment with his opinions. His father was a man of many opinions; he just took very great care with them. When he spoke, it did not soothe either Yousep, or his mother.
“You are almost a man, Yousep Kogen. Sometimes the world is not a safe place for a child, and we must accept, the shop neighborhood is such an unsafe place. You cannot be a child any longer, on your walk, at your work, or-” He paused to look carefully at his son, “or on your way home. We cannot keep you from your work, though our care for you makes us wish we could. A man’s responsibilities are yours now. Trust your heart, judge as you need, to stay safe.”
Yousep looked at the fright in his mother’s eyes, and held out his hand to her. She did not say anything; it was not her place, her son was no longer a child to them.
He had just been told he was a man.
He would soon have received his kippah and tallit, so near to his coming of age; she had been saving them since his mitzvah, waiting for the day of his confirmation at the synagogue. The confirmation would have to come the Sabbath; he had just taken his new place in the family.
Father said a simple prayer, that his son be given a man’s judgment and courage. That he be safe as he traveled in an unsafe place, God protect him.
Yousep said a silent prayer of his own; no dreams that night - fright, shame, and longing, did not belong together, in anyone’s dreams. But he did not know, he already was given his dream, the one he was to have that night, and would have every night as well. Yousep had been given his dream, to have forever, when he prayed for the rain to stop, and their eyes to meet. He would see those eyes, and their tears, every night when he closed his own.
He lay in bed, long after the house quieted to sleep. The street outside his widow was quiet as well. He lay in his bed, with a bit of moonlight in his eyes, and he thought about what happened to him that day on the walk.
Why did he fear she might rush into the street? She had not moved to do so. Why did she weep, why did it stir him the way it did? Of all the ‘whys’ he could ask himself, the one that stirred him in the strangest way, making him restless to the point of leaving his bed; why was she looking to see him, exactly the way he looked to see her? That ‘why’, she, and only she, could answer for him. When he left the window and returned to bed, it was to finally sleep, but begin the dream.
A surprised shop owner greeted his clerk at the door the next morning. Yousep wore his kippah. There was a hint of the tzitzit tassels on his tallit under his coat as he entered. Here, into Papa Reisman’s shop, walked Yousep Kogen the young man. It seemed a strange outcome to the sudden fright of the morning before, but the look in Yousep’s eyes indicated he understood the changes to be very important.
He walked directly to the counter, and apologized for behaving like a frightened child the day before. Papa simply offered his hand to his clerk and said it was unimportant, there was good work to do, and it was a blessing Yousep, the young man, felt better that day. Yousep knew he did not indeed feel better; but different - that was exactly how he felt.
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