EASY ESSAYS
EASY ESSAYS
Syndic Literary Journal

AA~ The Advenures of Henrietta Fine ~ Chapter Six

The Adventures of Henrietta Fine

Chapter Six

Written by Paul Levitt

Narrated by Elizabeth Mansfield

Published by LeRoy Chatfield

            John Barleycorn, whom Ben called J.B., looked like a bent nail.  From years of toil in all kinds of weather, arthritis had twisted his back; and yet he lifted two-hundred-pound kegs with ease.  His pale blue eyes radiated fatigue and his face, as tough and tawny as leather, bespoke all the years he’d spent laboring outdoors.  A porkpie hat never left his head.  Ben, having once worked at Pennsgrove for DuPont, knew a lot about boilers.  With this experience, he had helped J.B. put together his new still.  They had remained friendly because the two liked to make music, J.B. on the banjo and Ben on the mandolin.  Sitting in J.B.’s kitchen, I learned of Ben’s interest in folk songs—and his skill on a musical instrument.  I suppose he was shy about his ability or ashamed to play hillbilly tunes in the presence of Mr. Schneiderman, who listened only to the masters.

            Like so many Americans, J.B. lived far from the American dream.  His house was no more than a shanty and his clothes roughly handmade.  All his furniture tottered, a broken leg here, a lost crossbar there; he had hardly a chair that wasn’t missing a spindle.  The tattered curtains hung over sooty windows.  The so-called rug was old towels sewn together.  Everything in the house said:  Where is money?  Worse, his wife and only son had both died from TB.  Their losses were still much on his mind.

            “I can’t figure out why it should’ve been them.  I’ve always been God-fearin’, except for the makin’ of whiskey.  And to tell ya the truth, I’m willin’ to bet that ole Jesus Hisself took a nip once or twice in his life, what with all them Romans snappin’ away at his heels.”

            Trying to fit in, I remarked that the making of whiskey didn’t look easy.  But it was the wrong thing to say, because it started him stewing and speechifying.

            “It’s not a life of sunshine.  No picnic, I’ll tell ya.  It’s nothin’ but hard work and the very hardest.  You stay outside and take all kinds of exposure.  If you ain’t got a shed over you—and I ain’t—and it rains, you stand right there and take it.  If it snows, you stand right there and take it.  If you got no way to ride the stuff out of the woods, like me, you just got to walk it out.  Ain’t no lazy man gonna make no whiskey.  I hear a lotta people say ‘so-and-so too lazy to work, all they do is make whiskey.’  They oughta try it sometime if they think it’s a snap.  Carry the sugar into the woods and the ground is wet and slippy and you’re fallin’ and a stumblin’ and you gotta chop wood and it wet and you’re tryin’ to get a fire and run that stuff and don’t know whether you’re agonna bump into the revenue or not and have to pack that stuff back out of them woods.  It’s a Luciferian job. . . .”

            Ben told J.B. that Claire had worked for the U.S. Army in France.  J.B., a stars-and-stripes patriot, judging from the slogans, like “America for Americans,” and the plaster statuary of national monuments that cluttered the house, said he was prepared to risk his neck for any woman who had been willing to risk hers for the good old U.S. of A.   

            From outside, he fetched a pole, hammer, and nail.  “Take that piece of torn cardboard behind the rockin’ chair,” he said to Claire, “and with this charcoal write in large block letters ‘Repent in Dust and Ashes.'”  Giving Claire a big wink, he hammered the sign to the pole and told us we’d better get moving.  We were now well into Tuesday.

            J.B. led us down little-used trails and across numerous creeks, as we tramped through the vast stillness, broken only by our singing of the Methodist hymn “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” which J.B. insisted we learn. 

            “Whenever you’re in a tight spot, just start singin’.  Works like a charm.”

            At last we could hear off in the distance the sound of a river.  J.B. led us to the spot we requested, where we had last left the raft.  Lying high and dry on the bank, it looked hardy enough to stand a journey through snapping turtles and snakes and the inky black waters of Lupkin’s pond south to Millville and the Delaware Bay.  We thanked J.B. for his help.  Ben and I shook his hand; Claire planted a kiss on his cheek. 

            “Twasn’t nothin’,” sputtered J.B., pawing the ground with his foot, just like a kid.

            Once on the raft, we drifted slowly downstream through country that Indians had previously canoed.  Claire remarked that the quiet on the river reminded her of the privacy and peace she sought as a child. “I wanted to write and had no room of my own.  So I fixed a board in the branches of a maple tree and, sitting on an adjacent limb, used the board as my desk.  My mother wanted to cut down the tree.”  Claire paused and looked rueful.  “But I’ll say this for that loveless woman:  The pleasantest memory of my childhood is of her reading to me in the evening.”

            As we rode the dark river toward Union Lake, the sun began spilling through gaps in the trees.  Ahead lay Tumbling Dam and the city of Millville.  We hugged the east bank, even though we’d be passing a crowded amusement park.  To the west, the road ran to Carmel.  Displaying our sign, we soberly greeted a few canoeists listlessly paddling and some fishermen in row boats sitting motionless, holding fishing lines attached to colorful bobbers.  We saw a few cottages on stilts at the shoreline, and passed the carcass of the Millville Furnace Foundry, where in earlier times they used to make cast iron pipes.  Near the shore, the sun-dappled water shone bronze and the pebbles glistened like gems.  Pretty soon, we drifted opposite Union Lake Park, where the young roller coaster riders howled with delight, while the Ferris wheel patrons, a good deal older, sat sedately.  At the merry-go-round, parents stood sentinel as children clung to the poles of their rising and falling horses.  Along the boardwalk, couples walked arm in arm, and on the pier revelers hailed us as we passed just a few feet away.

            In front of us lay Tumbling Dam.  I could hear the Bridgeton-Millville Trolley steaming through the woods toward the lake.  Hissing and rattling, it ran across the top of the dam and stopped at the wooden footbridge to discharge passengers on Sharp Street, the dirt road that lay just south of the dam.  A number of strollers enjoying a view of the lake leaned over the rail and called to us as we slid toward a path that provided good portage.  Several people pitched in, helping us lift the raft from the water, down the incline, and across Sharp Street, where we reentered the river and continued downstream to the city center.  The Wednesday morning market was in progress and the town crawling with farmers.  People ran to the bridge and to the banks to watch our approach.  Claire stood and held aloft the sign, while Ben and I sang “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”  The good men of Millville must have been touched, because when we pulled over to dock, a number of them came forward to assist us.  Moments later, Ben and I embraced Claire, as she prepared to continue her trip to the Delaware.  Waiting till she drifted out of sight, we headed back to Carmel.

            When we reached the farm, we learned that during our time in the swamp—before Mom and the Princess returned—nothing was taken, except for some of Mr. Schneiderman’s pamphlets with speeches of Eugene Debs.  The Prof, though, had been arrested and taken to Vineland, where he languished in jail for several days before the Princess, who seemed in no rush, secured his release.

            The three of us immediately set to work in preparation for the great outdoor séance two days hence.  My part required that I show up at the actual event wearing a hoop skirt, cut extra-large so I could store a birdcage and concertina underneath. 

            As the Princess scissored and sewed, and the Prof twisted

wires, I was let in on the secret of the make-believe arms.  I’d always wondered how the Princess could keep her arms on the table and yet have them free to do tricks.  Harry had told me about “controls”—those people sitting on either side of the medium assigned to control her arms and legs—who were easily tricked or corrupted.  But in this case the answer was simple.  She had a pair of false arms.  Hollowed out and strapped to her shoulders, they allowed the Princess to remove her real arms as soon as the lights were turned off.  Although artfully crafted and colored, the bogus limbs probably escaped notice because once the Princess appeared, the sitters’ eyes were fixed on her bosom.  With her hands free, she could reach under the table and grab all sorts of props.  But I was still mystified as to how she could store props under the table when the Prof always invited sitters to look.

            As the outdoor séance approached, the Prof went off to lecture at one of the churches in Vineland on the truths of spiritualism.  He’d been angling for weeks to land an invitation.  Finally, Pastor Bunson, known for his burning speeches against Bolshevism, had thrown him a line.  The Prof was delighted.  You could tell from the way he introduced the Princess’s séances that he relished an audience.  So I knew that playing second fiddle to his wife’s popularity must have chafed.  He felt that as the better educated of the two, he deserved to hold center stage.  Mr. Schneiderman guessed his motives were commercial:  to drum up interest in the forthcoming séance.  Frankly, I don’t care a hoot for motives.  They may matter to policemen and pastors, but I say judge the man by his acts.  Motives, they’re not worth a bucket of warm spit. 

            Pastor Bunson picked up the Prof in an old jalopy and, with the Princess pleading fatigue, the two of them drove off to glory.  A few minutes later, Malcolm Bird showed up.  Hearing raised voices surprised me, because usually they were tangled in amorous nets, not in argument.

Running upstairs to listen, I came in on the line, “Not a chance, Birdie.”

            “What’s so awful?” he plaintively asked.

            “Just forget it!”

            “I naturally assumed this is what we both wanted.”

            “Not another word,” the Princess insisted.

            “Just because I want to tell my wife I’ve met someone I care for very much—”

The Princess anxiously interrupted.  “On the basis of a few stolen moments, you intend to break up your marriage—and mine?”

            “You make it sound cheap.”

            “It’s the cost, all right.  I’m not about to give up my mission so that I can live in a clapboard house in Vineland on a reporter’s salary!”

            “But all those times,” said Mr. Bird disbelieving, “what were we doing?”

            “Entertaining ourselves, to get through the long hot summer.”

            “Was it nothing then but a game?”

            “Everything’s a game, Birdie.  What matters is how you play.” 

            “But you have nothing in common with the Prof.”

            The Princess broke into a laugh.  “Birdie, why spoil the good feelings between us by falling in love?”

            “Since when does falling in love spoil love?”

            “When it means living on twelve dollars a week in a burg.  Besides, in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m hollowed out like a Christmas turkey.  Now you know.”

            “But why?  He’s your husband!”

            “I needed a bag for my tricks.  A hiding place.”

            “You can’t be serious?”

            “Shh,” she said, placing a finger on his lips.  “A few days from now, we’ll talk again.”

            Little did they know that the next day would divide them forever.

            The night of the séance, the Princess and Prof could be seen in Narovlansky’s field, just outside Carmel, rigging up a table with a row of candles around it and, off to one side, a frame with a curtain, which looked like an outdoor shower stall.  Now that I knew the source of her props (it all sounded ghoulish to me), I could understand why, on a bright summer’s eve, with the area lit by candles and torches, she performed behind a curtain. That night the field was just about full.  The Prof had roped off a large area and at several points posted parishioners, enlisted from the church where he’d spoken, to collect five cents a head.  Eight people, counting me, were seated at the table. The Princess waited inside the stall while the Prof gave a speech about the afterworld, praising his wife for “those incomparable gifts that empower her to cross over.”  He bragged to beat the band about his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the poet William Butler Yeats, who both believed in the spirits.  “I enjoy their company,” he said, “whenever the Princess and I return to Europe to visit her Russian relatives and to perform before royalty, kings, dukes, and dauphins.”  At last, when he’d got everyone’s expectations sky-high, he signaled to me.  Reaching through side slits in my skirt, I played a few notes on the concertina, causing quite a stir. 

The Prof explained that the spirits had selected one of the sitters as the conduit for their celestial music.  That was the cue for the Princess to appear.  Wearing a red robe, which she slowly let fall, she turned full circle to display her physical charms, dressed only in her gossamer gown.  Well, talk about grand entrances.  All these god-fearing folk let out such groanings and sighs that you would’ve thought it was the hour of the Rapture.

            The Princess seated herself and a minute later, as usual, fell into a trance.  Walter talked about the war and the dead and said some pretty nasty things about Huns.  You had to hand it to the Princess.  In those days of anti-German sentiment, Walter knew just what to say.  Trading on Claire’s ideas, she spoke of workers’ and women’s rights.

            “Somewhere among us,” rang out the gravelly voice, “there is a man who suffers from the worker’s disease.  You have been warned not to embrace your young daughter, lest she contract your disease.  Yet you can’t keep yourself from kissing your daughter.  But every time you do, you feel more pain than the consumption, because you know you are infecting your innocent child.”

            To my surprise this story fit a number of men who loudly swore to the truth of it.  The Princess had won over their hearts and had them believing—until Walter spoke of equal rights in marriage.  “I see a man who treats his wife no better than a lady of pleasure.  Whenever the animal that growls in his groin wants feeding, she complies or else suffers his fists!  They have numerous children, all of them hungry.  The poor woman can hardly stand on her feet.  She’s expected to take care of the family, take in sewing, and take pains to honor her husband.  Well, in heaven we have a different view of marriage.  In paradise, a woman is free to choose the size of her family, free to express an opinion, free to divorce her husband without losing her children.  If you want paradise on earth, it will not come about until women enjoy the same liberties as men.”

            The fickle crowd, composed mostly of men, grew terribly surly, shouting their disapproval, cussing, spitting, and accusing her of being a fraud.  Not far off, I could see Malcolm Bird madly scribbling away on a pad.  The next day’s headlines danced through my head:  “Medium Says Divorce O.K. in Heaven.”  The Prof’s Adam’s apple was going up and down like a pump.  He looked so distressed I was afraid he’d pop out of his collar.  Trying to quiet the crowd, he announced that the Princess would now awake from her trance, bringing forth proof that the spirit world lives.  That meant the magic show was about to begin.  The Princess opened her eyes and acted as if she had no idea of what Walter had said.  Pointing out to lascivious smiles that she hid no tricks on her person, she retired to her own curtained stall.  Ectoplasm in the form of a hand rose into the air.  A harmonica trilled like a bird, my signal to release the caged dove hidden under my skirt.  Taking flight, the bird flapped its wings over our heads and, as if by direction, circled once, rose, and disappeared into the night.  I felt mighty relieved to be rid of that bird, which I had been feeding seed to prevent it from chirping.  The hicks liked this sort of entertainment.  I suppose it accorded with their view of heaven.

            When the Prof announced that the Princess would miraculously summon forth the sound of the Archangel Gabriel’s trumpet, the men started hooting and hollering.  Having had musical training, the Princess could play all sorts of instruments.  The surprise was that, even though it was small, she could make a miniature trumpet fit into her storehouse.  She tooted away, playing scales, “Amazing Grace,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”  The rumpus immediately quieted down, the men having forgotten their angers.  But when she put away the instrument, some snoopy kid poked his head under the curtain and wailed,

            “She’s a-playin’ herself.”

            The crowd, misunderstanding, took it to mean something dirty.  “It’s a sacrilege,” someone cried, “mixing seraphim and sex.”  That was all the others needed to hear.  They pulled down the curtained stall, discovering the Princess in a shocking position.  Before you could say “Presto,” the crowd had led the Princess and Prof off to a wagon, on which they were ordered to stand.  Someone produced a keg of molasses and an old feather mattress.  A toothless man drowned the half-naked Princess and the elegantly dressed Prof in syrup, and a no-neck hick opened the mattress, letting loose upon them a cascade of feathers.  The Princess and Prof looked unlike anything human.  It made me sick to see it.  Led off to the Vineland station, they were made to buy two tickets for Philly.  For all their sins, they had easily brought more pleasure to people than pain; and they were no greater charlatans than any of the other cuckoos running around.  Human beings can be awfully cruel. 

            When I got home, I told Mom that the Princess and Prof would not be returning.  I didn’t say why. 

Her only response was:  “One of the birds died this evening.  Jimmy-Jimmy found it.”

Scary dreams kept me up most of the night.  In the morning I had no appetite for breakfast.  I just kept looking at the empty rooms of the Princess and Prof—and the ominous birdcage.  Shortly before noon, I opened the door to greet Legs Diamond.  He politely said that A.R. had asked him to stop by on his way back to New York from Cape May.  He had come bearing good news.  All charges against me had been dropped. 

Although a puny guy with droopy eyes and big ears, he was strangely handsome. Fidgeting with the keys to his car and moving his neck around as if his tie were too tight, he made me think of an unsheathed electrical wire.  Everything about him seemed to crackle.  After I thanked Legs for the news, a light bulb went on in my head.   Not wishing to tip my hand, I nonchalantly replied, “Cape May?  Never been.  I suppose A.R.’s running booze out of there.”

            “Nice place.  Pretty beaches.”

            “Good for smuggling.”

            “For a kid, you’re in the know.”

Growing more relaxed, Legs grew more effusive.  During the course of the evening I learned that he relished his role as                                                                                                         A.R.’s most dependable collector, bragging about pistol whipping or shooting deadbeats or intimidating backsliders.

            “There’s a guy used to work for us.  A little sheenie.”  He caught himself.  “I don’t mean nothin’ by it.  After all, A.R. and me—we’re partners, you might say.”  Fortunately, Legs and I were alone, otherwise his language would have earned him the old heave-ho.  “Well anyway, this guy used to work for us.  Now he’s hooked up with some other people.  A.R. don’t like competition.  So he told me to pay him a visit.”

            My attention now wholly arrested, I coaxed Legs to give me further details.

            “He pays some sailor in the Coast Guard to tell him which days and times it’s safe to bring in the booze.  Then the Yid passes along the info on a sandwich board down at the beach.  Speedboats come in close enough to read the numbers through their binocs and know when to land the stuff.  Clever little Yid.”

            “Pray tell, what can he put on the board?  You can’t go around saying, ‘Bring in the whiskey at two in the morning.’”

            “Well, let say he’s sellin’ silk slips, which in fact he does.  He also sells flags, banners, and bunting.  But anyway, the board reads, ‘Silk Slips, $2.49 Monday.’  That tells us to land the stuff on Monday at precisely two forty-nine a.m.”

            “He’s got a place called Petticoat Lane, right?”

            Yeah, a plush joint with fancy mirrors and rugs, around the corner from the Chalfonte Hotel.  But how’d you know?”

            “I did business with him in New York.  He’s a pipsqueak.”

            Having said that, I could hardly ask the man’s name.  However, I no longer had any need to.

            “New York,” said Legs, “I can’t get back fast enough.  Except maybe for Albany, there ain’t nothin’ like it.”

            I’d never been to the state capital, but I couldn’t imagine how it could compare with the white lights of Manhattan.  Just thinking about the shows and the vaudes and the museums and the movies made me long for the city.

            Mom insisted that Legs stay for dinner after I told her that A.R. had sent him with the news that Fallon had gotten me off.  To celebrate, I asked Mom to sing one of my favorite Yiddish songs.  In happier times, she’d embellish it with a quaint little jig.  But no sooner had I made my request than I realized her embarrassment.  Sung to the tune of ‘ta ra boom de ay,’ the song was called the Schneiderman Song.

            Mom blushed, but Mr. Schneiderman jovially laughed and begged for a demonstration.  Reluctantly moving to the center of the dining room, she slowly began to dance and in a thin but steady voice sang:

            Wir seimen schone Madelach

            (We are pretty little girls)

            Wir traggen kurze Keadalach

            (We wear pretty little dresses)

            Wir tragen shich und Zeckerlach

            (We wear shoes and stockings)

            Wir farben doch die Beckerlach

            (We rouge our cheeks)

            As Mom inhaled and readied herself for the second verse, I leapt ahead and silently translated, knowing the embarrassment she’d feel at the end.

            I won’t wed a doctor

            I won’t wed a sailor

            I won’t wed a farmer

            But rather a tailor—a schneiderman.

            When she had finished, nobody spoke.  Mr. Schneiderman, his face wet with tears, had a faraway look.  I ducked into the kitchen, blew my nose a good blast, and made tea for the guests.

            Later that evening, Legs left.  The next day, Ben rattled up to the house in an old Model T borrowed from a friend.  I said goodbye to Mom and the others and set out with Ben for a baseball game.

                                                                        ******

I had agreed to play right field in a game between Norma and Carmel.  In sandlot baseball, since most hitters are righties who usually hit flies into left, you put your worst player in right.  Five or six times a summer, the two towns locked horns on the grass field behind the one-room Carmel schoolhouse, where they fiercely contested every hit, run, and out.  Unlike our ragtag team of pickup players, Norma had a regular nine who passionately believed baseball was more than the National Game; it was a religion.  They normally beat the tar out of us. Their pitchers played chin music with our batters, trying to bully us by occasionally aiming at our chins.

            Ben and I had often played catch, with two old fielders’ gloves that belonged in a museum.  Most girls don’t know how to throw a ball; they kind of push it.  But I knew how to wind up and sling the old apple.  I also knew how to judge a fly ball, as Ben discovered when he skyed a few and I positioned myself just right to catch them.  Persuaded that I was as good as some of the rummies who’d played for Carmel before, he asked me to take part.  My only trouble with baseball is that the short periods of action are followed by long spells of boredom.  So I can never keep my mind on the game.  Most games are so dull that I’d rather be watching a spelling bee.  Frankly, I can’t understand why the clergy want to ban baseball on Sundays.  After you see one guy whiff, a second pop out, a third walk, and a fourth ground out, a rousing sermon seems truckloads more fun.          Play began at three-thirty.  By the seventh inning, we were behind four to two, and the only balls that had come my way were grounders that had passed through the infield and presented no problem.  I just scooped them up and made the relay to second base.  The top of the eighth, Norma put two men on base in scoring position, at second and third, with one away.  The next batter hit a lazy fly to short right.  The can of corn seemed to hang for hours, giving me time to get underneath.  As I looked up, I saw not only the ball outlined against the blue sky but also a street scene.  Amid rumbling traffic, some eastside kids were in wild abandon because one of them, standing over an iron manhole-cover for home plate, had lifted a fly over the outfielder’s head.  Dashing from the first sewer grating to the second, the batter darted among clanging trolley cars to reach all the bases, while the fielder chased the ball under the noses of draft horses.  For love of the game, those kids risked their lives.  They more so than I deserved this playing field, where I reached toward the sun and trapped in my mitt the easy fly ball.

            The man on third, thinking he’d have no trouble scoring with a girl in right field, broke for the plate.  I uncorked a throw that nailed him three feet from home.  In the bottom of the eighth we scored one run, to make it four to three.  In the last of the ninth, we had a man on third with only one out.  It was my turn at bat.  I had already struck out three times in a row.  Ben wanted me to swing away; but I suggested a bunt to squeeze home the runner.  Squaring off at the plate, I met the ball out in front.  But instead of it rolling down the first base line as I intended, it took off for a bloop single over second, scoring the runner.  The game now tied, the next batter hit a ground ball to short, forcing me out at second.  The throw to first for the double-play was too late.  With a runner at first and Jack Skilowitz, our leadoff batter, at the plate, I just felt that here was our chance.  Jack had sculpted arms and the strength of a weight lifter.  The first pitch he fouled off over the schoolhouse.  The second was a ball.  They say three is a charm.  Well, the third pitch he lifted clear into the woods.  The centerfielder is probably still looking for the ball to this day.  We won the game five to four. 

            That night, never happier, Ben and I made love.  I knew we would.  Wanting to feel loved in a physical way—to give and receive—I believed “going all the way” would be a beautiful sharing.  When I let Ben touch me above the waist, I felt a little guilty—and really guilty when I let him cross the magic line below the waist.  Had I not been so excited and intoxicated by my own recklessness, I would have waited.  At the very least, I should have insisted he use “something” but was afraid it would sound like I knew all about sex.  Though Mom never said anything specific, I understood exactly what was acceptable to her and what wasn’t.  You had to be married to have sex.  The girls at school had said that the worst thing you could do was “plan on it,” because that meant you knew you were going to do it and you didn’t try to stop yourself.

            It was July 8, my seventeenth birthday.

                                                                        ******

            The next day proved fateful.  A.R. rang the farmhouse to say that Masseria was on the warpath.  He had discovered that one of the jewels was glass.  Masseria swore that unless it turned up, I was mincemeat.  A.R. said I had to return to New York, his turf, where he could guarantee my safety.  In the country, I was a sitting duck.  At first I thought it was one of his tricks, a way to get me to into his clutches.  But when he said, “Listen, kid, I don’t want your death on my head,” I chose not to gamble.

“I’ve got to leave,” I told Ben, explaining the danger I was in.  When he said he wanted to share it with me, I adamantly refused, and told him that he wasn’t to whisper a word to my mom.  “I’ll be back . . . for the hayrides and the horseshoes and the wrestling.”   

            “Your absence is going to kill her, you know.”

            “No, it’s not.”

            “Well, it’s going to kill me.”   

            I squeezed his hand.  As he walked away, I cried bitterly—for him and for me.  Ours had been a quiet engagement of two caring people.  We shared more in silence than in words, literally growing in each other’s eyes.  Some things, as the poet says, we hold apart, like certain matters of the heart, but in everything else we made ourselves vulnerable to the other.

            Ben was the first man who didn’t look through me.  To him, I was actually visible.  And he must have seen something he liked, because he wasn’t put off by my blemishes.  In his company, I never felt the need to pretend to be what I wasn’t.  My fears of being ugly and stupid disappeared.  He made me feel attractive and praised my ideas.  Like Mom and Pop, he took pleasure in my silly humor and didn’t think I was a squirt.  I suppose that’s why I gave myself to him, carelessly I admit, but also wonderfully.  If the test of loving another human being is how much we enable that person to change for the better, then Ben won the golden ring.  He kissed Henny the frog and Henrietta the young woman was born. 

            At breakfast, I found a letter waiting for me.  According to Mr. Schneiderman, who had awakened at four, Ben had dropped it off before dawn.  To this day, I treasure his words.

Dear Henny,

Since it is too painful for me to mention your leaving, I write of only fond memories.  If you hold remembrance dear, I know you’ll never forget our pitching horseshoes on golden mornings, when the grass was wet with dew, and our wrestling in the tall grass, which would turn brittle in the afternoon sun and scratch our behinds.  God, weren’t those the timeless days?  And I know you’ll never forget how we worked side by side in the fields, churning up a great sweat, and how we cut across Narovlansky’s tomato fields, into the birch and cedar fringing the woods, swinging our arms and jumping round like wild Indians to keep off the mosquitoes, as we made our way down the old Indian trails, through the pines and the wild laurel, to Maurice River.  Cripes, that water was sweet—and cold!  We would drink right from the river, except maybe when the dye company was coloring nurses’ uniforms, and then we’d come out looking like Indians.  Blue all over.  The arrowheads, Henny!  I know you’ll always remember the arrowheads.  We’d find them along the trails and wonder what brought the Indians to live in these woods.  God, Henny, those were hours crowded with glorious life.  I’ll never forget them—or you. 

Love,

Ben

 

 

Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
History of Syndic
Write Letter / Contact Publisher
© all photos/text
Return to leroychatfield.us

Current issue:
Syndic No. 43
September 2021
Previous issues: No. 42 | No. 41 | No. 40 | No. 39 | No. 38 | No. 37 | No. 36 | No. 35
Full Archive of Issues