The Country of Silence


My father would come home from work and treat his eye.
It was private work, bedroom work and involved some kind of salve and heat.
When he emerged he sometimes told stories about work, URO
where he did casework for Holocaust
survivors, prying restitution from Germany.
Like Frau Katz, who came to him about her widow's pension.
"Herr Doctor," she said, "I have a man now and I want to be
with him, but if I marry I lose my pension, no?"
"That's true," my father said, "So why not live with him and continue to collect?"
"I couldn't just lie and say I'm single still?"
"Frau Katz, I cannot advise you to commit perjury."
"Ach," she said, "I asked the Rabbi. He says that fornication
is a great sin, but to cheat the goyim is no sin at all."
A few days later Mrs. Katz popped her head into my father's office.
"Herr Doctor," she said. "I wanted to let you know, I choose fornication."

One day he comes out from treating the eye.
It's a little red, and still tearing badly. I'm sixteen, watching Hullaballoo on t.v.
It's maybe 1965.
There are go-go girls and a band: lead guitar, rhythm, bass
and drums, what passed for long hair then, doing a Dylan
medley, awful pop versions of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright."
My father sits down next to me.
He watches the Hullabaloo Dancers frug. "Ok Dad," I'm thinking . . .
Then he stands and announces out loud, quite ceremoniously
as if he's making a speech at the B'nai Brith
"Ich verstehe die welt nicht mere.
I understand the world no more.
From 1906 to 1939 I understood the world
but I understand the world no more"
and he waded out across the wide gulf of that room, across the border
into the country of silence.

by Steve Klepetar


© 1998 Kaleidoscope

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Last update: 1 July 1998

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