When the War ended the remnants of European Jewry came to places like New York City to live out their life in some sweet haven that they hoped might give them succor and some relief from the hideous nightmare of the Shoah.
In an apartment window to the back of ours. I think it was 1947, the year of the Great Blizzard, a boy appeared. This boy played on a violin and did not go to school. He sat there in the mornings as I left with my younger sister to go to the public school we attended five streets away and silently greeted me on my return from school. He played mainly passages from Mendelsohn´s Violin Concerto and if he played anything else I would not have been able to recognize it. He might have been another Millstein or Heifitz for all I could discern about the playing. The few clear views of him made me think his age to be twelve or so but I had mistaken that by several years it turned out. He was fifteen.
In the afternoon stick ball game we made a holy racket arguing for many minutes over every action and no one was louder than I.
I had for much of the Wartime been of very little solace to my ever suffering mother and when the War ended and my father returned safely, appearing as a stranger in the house, I believe she kept many things hidden from him that I had done or said letting them out bit by bit.over the course of several years.
I wonder if she had ever related to him the spurious obituary I had concocted for the butcher´s wife, which soon spread across the block until it reached my dear mother, who with the stoic tenacity of her breeding began a beseeching series of calls to the War department until I, and I cannot recall the circumstances that provoked my confession, told her the truth.
My father returned unscathed except his beautiful nose had been bent a bit by a soldier’s helmet thrown across the close quarters of an U.S.. Navy light cruiser. My mother loved him unreservedly, which was so apparent that even I could tell. She loved me dearly as well but she was constantly vexed by my behavior although after time had passed each event became for her a droll amusement. Not so my father.
In the winter of 1949 he had decided to put cellotex tiles on the ceiling of our apartment kitchen and had gone to sleep full of pride in the skill of his work. I had received a gift around Chanukah of a chemistry set and in the wee small hours of the morning had set up my lab in the kitchen the better to catch any drips that might occur..I was cooking a blue fluid in a test tube over my bunsen burner. Suddenly the fluid exploded straight up to the ceiling. Since it sll stayed up there there were no drips to clean.
In the ensuing pandemonium of trying to deal with the blue ceiling my mother somehow got me to a aunt’s apartment, negotiated a deal for my return later and got back into the kitchen to help my father whose attention to the celotex had been partially eclipsed by the punishment he was dreaming up for me.My mother tried to mitigate the situation for me by pleading my curiosity, and their lack of wisdom in selecting such a volatile gift for so irresponsible boy.
I did not go to to school that day until late in the morning. When I returned home that afternoon my mother awaited me with my paternal grandmother standing allied with her. I sat at the table awaiting the start of my sentence. Mother in her calmest voice kept asking me how it had happened. I was a very laconic conversationalist with my family, terse in response, as a boy. I could tell my Mother sought some mitigating information to assuage my father’s anger but all I could do was repeat “It went up”
Still something in my Mother’s tone of voice compelled me to want to aid her, something pained in her posture stirred my wish to make it all make sense, but nothing came to me. All my Mother could do at last was to sit across from me and keep repeating how irresponsibly I behaved; why?; and how I made so much difficulty for the family.why?
I thought she might cry . The sight of a tear from her eye panicked me. She waved her hand toward the window and said more or less as sigh “Why can’t you be more like that boy, the boy with the violin.?” And I, for which I may be eternally judged said “ Mom, that boy is dead.” My mother reeled as if I had slapped her. She said, in a voice that trickled like acid over her larynx; “what happened?” I see her now on the kitchen chair, her body collapsed, tears washing her beautiful high cheekbones, a supplicant for an answer she did not want to hear. And I told her. “Georgie Ortleb’s father said he died of TB. Georgie said his father said what a damn, to survive the camps and to die here of the TB.”
In that same squeaking voice she suggested I go downstairs and outside onto the street. I did so quickly as I had seen more of a profound pain in her than ever before. Out on the street I listened carefully and no music floated over the rooftop.
The following morning and for several days after I would search the window in the house across the way and I never saw the boy again nor heard his violin.
Over time I heard the violin playing in places I had no idea existed and the boy, that sad, patient pale boy, plays on in my mind and will until I breathe no more.