THE MAN OF BERDICHEV
(Courtesy: David Weinberg)
At night, the u-boats came, carried him back to Berdichev where he swam beneath the pier and hooked the ladies bathing gowns to stray nails, and woke, eyes filled with loneliness.
But daylight was fine. He flicked the whip, the horse pulled and the sleigh slid. The air bit crisp in his nostrils. The wind carried the scent of fish from Lake Superior. Men waved and called the new name. Jack. Jack. Showing off one day, he held two men over his head. Now they remembered.
Up and down the town's hill, he delivered the parcels, wrapped in twine and butcher paper. He grasped hands and shoulders. He laughed, pointed, spoke to men who spoke his language and to the others. Their language was coming too. The names of things were coming with the laughter.
Dusk was falling, when he saw the rebbe. The rebbe's whiskers almost touched the ground. And the boys, the boys. Pulling on the whiskers.
Jack spit. Disgusting. Six feet tall, an old man sure, but big, big enough to chase a gang of boys. This wouldn't happen to the men of Berdichev. When the goyim came, the men of Berdichev grabbed the tools of their trade, his papa the meat cleaver, another man an axe, another a pitchfork, another a shovel, and they waited. The goyim turned away. Always.
Jack pulled the sleigh alongside the boys and the rebbe. He laughed. Shoo. Shoo. The boys laughed. Shoo. They ignored him.
The boys pulled the whiskers. They called names. They spit at the rebbe.
Jack stopped laughing.
Jack pulled up on the reins. He climbed down from the sleigh. He kept hold of the whip.