I read Isaac’s stories in the Forverts and thought they were good enough. Would you believe back then he was listed in the phone book? I called him. And just like that, he invited me here for coffee.
At this very table he fell in love with me. I never was a great beauty. But Isaac was a whore. You should have seen the way his blue eyes sparkled when I told him a story. Back then, the cafeteria was always filled with writers and actors, all speaking Yiddish. But when Isaac and I sat at this table together, nothing mattered to him more than my next word. I wasn’t surprised to see the stories I told him appear in the Forverts under his name.
It was a wonderful time.
One night I had a dream that would change everything. By then, things were falling apart because of Isaac. My husband was furious, my children were constipated. I nearly lost my job at the factory. But I didn’t care. Isaac was depending on me. We sat down together with our coffee and rice pudding and I told him my dream as if it had really happened. “I couldn’t sleep last night. I don’t know why. So I went out for a walk. When I passed by the cafeteria, I saw a light was on. I know you are not going to believe me. But what I tell you is true. When I looked in, I saw the most terrifying thing in the world. Hitler was there in our cafeteria with his henchmen. He looked up and our eyes met.” I scared myself, I'm such an actress. “And then I knew. He is planning to burn our cafeteria. Look at me shake, just thinking of it.” I never saw Isaac more enchanted. I knew then that he would never be able to leave me.
It wasn’t until after he moved to the Upper West Side that I read my Hitler story under his name. By then, I rarely saw him. Things were still in chaos at my apartment, but nothing disturbed Isaac. If only God would have let me be born a man, I would have no need for such chozzerai. But do I get a moment of quiet to myself to write down the thousand tales that crowd my mind? All I’ve known is children hanging from my breast and a husband kvetching about my cooking. Isaac had a son. Abandoned him in Poland with the mother. These are things a man can do, run with all kinds of women, making babies, breaking hearts, and still live in dignity and solitude.
After he won the prize, he came back. A wall of journalists, I tell you. And the women! Every Jewess in town and half the goy, kissing his hands declaring what a mench he is. You’ve never seen such people in the cafeteria, dripping with furs and jewels, wrinkling their noses at our food. When I finally pushed my way to him, he turned cold and apologized that he didn’t remember me. Does a man forget such nights?
Isaac doesn’t give a damn about the money. Even now, he wears the same shmattes he was wearing 20 years ago. For him, no matter. He has always lived this way. But me? My father was one of the most successful businessmen in Poland. We had every luxury. But Hitler stole everything. And then Isaac stole the rest. He made so many promises to me, you can not imagine. Everything was Yes Darling, Of Course Darling. We were supposed to be married. But then I come to learn that he promised to marry every woman in the cafeteria.
Fool that I am, I wait. I don’t eat. Who can eat such things? Everything has changed. The theatres are closed. The writers and actors have all died or moved away. No one speaks Yiddish anymore. I drink coffee and the boy comes around and wipes the table with a filthy rag, trying to force me out. I grab his wrist, and I glare at him, the way I learned from the Nazis. But this rat knows nothing of fear. He scowls back. On his forearm is a tattoo of a rose. I pull up my sleeve and show him my tattoo. “This is my story,” I hiss. “You would worship me for my stories.”
“Vieja loca,” the boy mutters and pulls away.
“Ask Isaac!” I cry. Believe me, any minute now, he will walk in that door and the whole world will know the truth, that he never stopped loving me, that he owes me more than any man can ever give a woman.