image © 2011 courtesy of www.Hellokids.com
By Elaine Rosenberg Miller
I heard a tap at the door.
I slid the metal lid covering the keyhole, upwards and looked out.
It was Mrs. Fogel, our neighbor.
I opened the lock.
Mrs. Fogel always dressed in close-fitting dark sheath dresses. Her shoes were made of expensive Italian leather.
Her hair was piled atop her head. A small gold pin sat on her shoulder.
She looked like someone in a fashion magazine
Her manner was tentative.
She turned around. “Please?” she asked, looking coquettishly over her shoulder at me.
Her accent was unlike my parents’ Polish and Romanian inflections. Her tone was clipped. It had a driving rhythmic Hungarian cadence.
I had always noticed the studied manners of Mrs. Fogel and her husband.
He was courtly. She was charming.
“Gelibte. Teier,” they called each other.
“Bitte,” they said.
He wore well tailored suits. His hair was brushed back from his crown. I had heard that he worked in “insurance” an unusual profession among the post-Holocaust tailors and entrepreneurs I knew.
They had no children, also an oddity among survivors who commonly sought to reproduce after the war, whether or not they had a parental nature.
Our apartment building was filled with children. My cousins and I lived in five different apartments.
But Mrs. Fogel and her husband had their rooms to themselves.
“Please,” she asked, again.
The back of her dress was open, the zipper undone.
“Of course,” I said, fastening the closure.
“Danke schoen,” she said, bending slightly.
“Why does she continue to speak German?” I thought to myself. German was the language that had herded my grandparents onto the ramps of Auschwitz and into the gas chambers to their deaths.
“You are welcome,” I responded.
She walked away, down the hall towards her apartment.
“Where could she be going all dressed up in the middle of the day?” I wondered.
I noticed a slight hump to her once regal bearing. Her hair, dyed a chestnut brown, seemed static and fixed in place by unguent or pins.
“Mom,” I told my mother later that night, “Mrs. Fogel was here today. She asked me to close her dress.”
“Poor woman,” my mother said.
“What do you mean?”
My mother busied herself peeling a potato.
“What are you making?” I asked.
“What did you mean ‘poor woman’”?
She lowered her voice.
“Cancer. She has breast cancer.”
“When are you going back to college?” she asked.
I picked a carrot slice out of the salad she had prepared.
“When is Dad coming home?”
“He’s on his way.”
“I have some reading to do.”
“So, go do it.”
“How come Mrs. Fogel never had any children?”
My mother looked up.
“Why would you ask such a thing?”
“I don’t know. I was just wondering. They seem so devoted to each other.”
“He’s a good man.”
“Did you know them before you came to America?”
“Where they in camp?”
“I don’t know.”
“Were they married before the war?”
My mother shrugged her shoulders.
I sat down at the kitchen table.
She looked at me warily.
“What do you think of Leah’s boyfriend?” I asked.
“He’s a good catch. He’s in medical school.”
“Oh, mom. Money isn’t everything.”
“Your sister likes rich things.”
“They are going out Saturday night.”
“His aunt. She’s having a birthday party. They sure spend a lot of time together.”
“First, your sister, then you.”
“First, your sister.”
I stood up, enraged and resentful.
“There’s more to life than getting married!”
“You know what your father’s mother used to say? ‘Ah glet und ah kish, bleibt nist kan flek.’”
“No, I don’t.”
“A boy. He just leaves. A girl has to be smart.”
“She said it to her daughters, daddy’s sisters.”
“I know what I am talking about.”
“What about Mrs. Fogel? Is she going to be all right?”
“It’s in God’s hands.”
“She seems lonely. I wonder why she never had any children.”
“After the war, ‘sie ot sich gekalike gemacht’”.
My mother’s words numbed me.
She had “crippled" herself, my mother said.
Pregnant, maybe in dire straits, maybe not, maybe unwilling to bear life so soon after so many had lost theirs, maybe not willing to share her life with anyone other than her husband, she had had a ruinous abortion.
We moved away the next year, losing contact with Mrs. Fogel and our other neighbors.
Later, I heard that Mrs. Fogel died and that her dignified, attentive and loving husband had remarried.
from the October 2013 Edition of the
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