Ice Fire Water: A Leib Goldkorn Cocktail

Ice Fire Water: A Leib Goldkorn Cocktail

by Leslie Epstein


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"At once a travel tale, a historical meditation, a Holocaust revenge fantasy, and a bedroom farce."—D. T. Max, New York Times Book Review

Leib Goldkorn, aged musician, first appeared almost a quarter-century ago in The Steinway Quintet. Now Leib has replaced his magic flute with his phallus: it is love, longing, and the quest for sexual fulfillment that must stave off both his own death and the imminent destruction of the Jews. In Ice he rescues the celebrated skater Sonja Henie from Hitler's clutches. In Fire his paramour is Carmen Miranda. And in Water he engages in a South Sea Island intrigue with a famous swimming star of the 1940s. Meanwhile, in the present, Leib seeks consummation with three other inamoratas: Clara, his wife; Hustler model Miss Crystal Knight; and the critic Michiko Kakutani (causing a real-life literary scandal). In this "wickedly funny" (Elle) and no less heartbreaking novel, Leib Goldkorn emerges as one of American literature's most enduring, and endearing, creations. A New York Times Notable Book; a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393320909
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 11/17/2000
Series: Leib Goldkorn Series
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Leslie Epstein has written eight books of fiction including King of the Jews, San Remo Drive, and Pandemonium and won an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Distinguished Achievement in Literature for his creation of Leib Goldkorn. The director of the Creative Writing Program at Boston University, he lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday, Leib Goldkorn! The words to this famous melody I sing in my basso profundo. Happy Birthday to you! Music has charms, so speaks the poet, to calm the savage beast—and there lies the boxer dog, once so fierce, with a smile on his liverish lips. Such an animal has been known to eat small children and tear the seat from the postman's pants. There once was a time when to appease this hellish hound I had to perform a complete Tannhäuser overture, with multiple selections from Der fliegende Holländer. A Wagnerite, this watchdog. But victory is mine. I have outlived him! Not in the literal meaning of the word, since, behold, the stump of his tail still wigwags: but if I am this day turned ninety-four, poor Bowser is now—here we must multiply by seven the number of years, fifteen, since he was a pup—one hundred and five. No teeth. No eyes. No problem. There he lies, under the spell of this folkish tune, in what Americans call a dog's daze.

    Therefore the way to the cabinetto is clear. I speak of the public necessary just down the hallway from the door of my own apartment, 5-D. Hello? Hello? Anyone there? Madam Schnabel? Mr. Fingerhut, fils? Empty! Inside, the small bulb casts no more light than that of a Frigidaire. Nor is this closet any larger than the inside of such a machine. Nor warmer! A chill breeze—we are now in the month of November—blows through the crack in the window and under the crack in the door. Heavens! There is a frozen film upon the water of the johnny!Overhead, on the wall, the tank for water has frozen into a solid cube of ice. Not even Scott, not Admiral Peary, would in such conditions have dropped their pantaloons. Time now for the first of my birthday treats, permitted on an annual basis by Dr. Goloshes. TWA bottle of potato vodka. Salud, Akademie Graduate Goldkorn! Ninety-four years young. Ah, in my throat such a burning, like the man in the Roumanian Circus who swallows fire.

    Have we reached the moment for the second treat? No, no, a treatment, prescribed, like the schnapps, as a tonic for the system. Here it is, the happy holiday issue, behind the clouded cellophane. How was I to obtain it? This was the thought I faced upon waking this morning at dawn.

Waking? I had not once through the long night of anticipation closed my eyes. I heard, from my corner of the Posturepedic, the snores of my wife. In a glass, formerly containing seedless jelly, her dentures lay like a mollusk under inches of water. On the pillow, her wig. From her nightdress a breast protruded. This was reminiscent of the Zeppelin IV I had seen in my youth: length 140 meters, filled with inflammable gas. Even if this exposure had provoked in me a modicum of libertinism, the fact that Clara and I had not exchanged any but the most essential of words—insulin, sweetheart? A potty perhaps?—since the debacle with Father Fingerhut, would have driven from my mind any entertainment of erotics.

    I knew that the newsstand of the Broadway local opened at 5:30, ante meridiem. I also knew that the gay holiday issues, in their semi-transparent sanitary jackets, did not go on display until eight or nine, during the hour of the morning rush. Nothing to do but lie under the bedclothes: see how the four walls about me slowly turn from black to gray to a fly-specked white, much like the screen of our Admiral TV; hear the coo-cooing of the pigeons upon the sill. On the Avenue Columbus the traffic unceasingly flows, like the thoughts of a neurasthenic patient. From the flat on the left the gargling of Fingerhut, fils. And on the right Madam Schnabel, a hefty coloratura, utters her runs and trills. At last: the laughter, the high-pitched cries of children on their way to the public Schule.

    That was my signal to, as Americans say, rise und shine. Clara was still in the land of nod. Stealthily I moved about, stepping into trousers, shirt, and red and black lumberman's jacket. Also Thom McAns. At the kitchen sink, ablutions. Facial rub with unsinkable Ivory-brand soap. Into the depths of the same receptacle, with its faucet drip, I emptied the contents of my bladder. This took seven minutes. No need for at least four more days to think of number 2. Time for departure. I doffed the Panama-style hat that old Fingerhut had left on the bedpost and walked to the window.

    The window? Why not, good friends, the door? Here, in a nut's shell, the answer: books. And more books. Stacked here, stacked there, they formed a blockade against exit or entry. In the middle of the room these paper pillars stretched from floor to ceiling, like the columns that, as Professor Pergam taught his younglings at the Akademie, held up the temple of the Philistines. And if some modern Samson should pull them asunder, it is not unlikely that the whole rooftop of 130 W. 80th Street might collapse upon our nightgowned Delilah as, with her wig, her whiskers, she calls out one last time in spite of expense for Campbell's corn chowder and jerky made by Slim Jim.

    You have without doubt guessed the secret: these are the thousands of volumes of my memoirs that, at 88 cents a copy, I saved from the machines that threatened to reduce them to illegible pulp. This venture I financed by depositing my instrument, a Rudall & Rose-model flute, bestowed upon me by the Emperor Franz Joseph himself, into the Glickman Brothers shop of prawns. I thought that by selling each book for two dollars and sixty-four cents a copy, a tripling of my original investment, I would thus secure my golden years. How could I fail? Was not my building filled with bespectacled Jews? What of the postman, the gas man, the brown-clothed messenger from UPS? Think of the hungry masses that crowd Herr Greengrass the Sturgeon King and Williams Bar-B-Que chicken. Friends! Acquaintances! Neighbors! All of them subscribers to Book-of-the-Month.

    Not only that, the Goldkorn Tales possessed a cover design by the modernist Picasso, on which an unclothed woman is serenaded upon the flute by an unclothed man. Visible display of the privates. Above all, had I not an excellent review by Miss Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times, in which she speaks of the author's "artistry and ambition." End Quotation. No question, ladies and gentlemen: Goldkorn was sitting upon a gold mine.

    Kakutani? Kakutani? Michiko? What kind of name is that? Javanese? Japanese? Like the place mat weaver, Marimekko, perhaps a Finn? A person with such insight is not likely American born. Naturally I wrote a brief note of appreciation, suggesting a small luncheon, an hour of pleasantries, the exchange of photographs. Yes, a blond-headed Finn! There was no reply. Even worse: the prawn ticket from Mr. Ernie and Mr. Randy Glickman remains hidden inside one of these innumerable books, of which through all these years I have sold not a single copy.

Bulova watch time: 9:07. Ante meridiem. There can be no further delay. Presto! Prestissimo! And so, with a smart shoulder shrug, I slip off my braces. If there is in this city of eight million souls a single loyal reader, he will recall that my trousers belonged at one time to the late Vivian Stutchkoff, a man who weighed nearly three hundred pounds. That is why this garment drops so easily from my waist zone, forming about my ankles a lake of gabardine. S. Klein drawers soon follow. Immediately the goose flesh erupts upon my gale-swept flanks. There, awaiting, is what the poet calls the wooden O. The liquid within has frozen as firm as the winter waters of the Bodensee. In these few weak watts the oval ring seems to float like a life preserver over the hidden depths. Sinking upon it, I stifle the cry of dismay that rises to my lips: both bums have adhered to the chilled surface, the way, in ferocious February, a boy's tongue will become glued to the metal bars of a fence he has unwisely licked. Thus seated I am able with more comfort to view my prize. What do I see, in a blur behind the cocoon of cellophane? An open mouth. Red-painted lips. A tongue tip that licks—what do Americans call it? A peppermint pole?—ein Pfefferminzstück.

Through the window, onto the fire escape. A chilly November morning. Wind gusts threatened to remove the Panama hat. Overhead the clouds played tag me, a schoolyard game. I am not at present as agile as I was in my eighties. Down the ladder, eyes averted from the window glass of Madam Schnabel, lest I see unawares the bozom zone and bustier of the unclothed contralto. Goloshes, M.D., has warned of the consequences of just such unattainable provokements. Already we have seen the difficulty in making peepee. The gland of the prostate is now the size of an apple from Washington State. My birthday has come not a day too soon.

    Terrible the things that occur when we catch heedless sight of others. Once, in a jungle-hot summer, I descended this same ladder from the rooftop to our window and surprised Father Frank Fingerhut in the very act. Mein Gott! The pinkness of his backside. The size of that shlong. And Clara? No sign of dropsy as she performed the scissors and somersault. Do not think this was an hallucination. Or a false interpretation. Leib Goldkorn is not, in the matter of abandoned morals, a mere rubbernecker. On at least one occasion I have achieved a definite penetration. New York City. November, 1942. The dressing room of the Tivoli Jewish Art Theater. Clara, the youthful stage star. Her athletic chests. The smell from her, like paste of anchovies. Unmentionables. Garter trolleys. In my mind, there played a scene from Schnitzler. In my body, sauciness surged. Miss Litwack! Honey! Thus my voice as I approached the climactic: Tivoli! This is in reverse I lov it! A swoon of pleasure, a blankness. There is no doubt of a congress because in the June month, in what had become the Tivoli Cine Palace, our dear little mistress, the blue-faced Martha, was delivered by young Dr. Goloshes.

    Onward! Downward! The last little leap to the ground. Hurry. I had to hurry. First, the Avenue Amsterdam. Then Broadway. Then the block between 80th and 79th. So much, on this morning, to accomplish. I had to make my purchase, retrace my steps, and climb the inner stairs, five flights to the cabinetto. There I would sing the canon to the canine. My goal was to achieve a paroxysm in time to administer the noon hour injection to my wife. Did you, at that early hour, see the elderly gentleman at the trot? Note how, from his nostrils, the breath poured visibly onto the winterish air? Or hear the coin hoard as it jingled within his copious pockets? At last: the entrance to the chasm of the former IRT.

From as far back as memory takes me I have been upon the johnny a reader: tales of Old Shatterhand, for example, in the works of the author Karl May; ofttime stories by the Brothers Grimm; in my teen years the account of Peary and other Arctic explorers, or the novels of romance that my sister Minkche kept furtively under her pillow; also the newspapers that my father brought back from Prague, Vienna, Berlin. This early exposure to the literary life has led to consequences unforeseen: first, I cannot now enter a library or a book emporium without, after but a moment of perusal, a telltale pinch in the zone of the bowels; second, I have learned that if I should in forgetfulness step into a water closet without a supply of relaxing reading materials, I cannot hope to experience from my labor the fruits.

    Mistake not: I have not purchased this holiday issue as a digestive aid. It is other organs that must achieve on doctor's orders an evacuation. I can delay no longer the examination of this birthday boon. Time to discard the frosty cellophane. Why this hesitation? The task is no more difficult than removing a raincoat. One, two, and three: off we whisk the wrap. Here are the bright Christmas colors: Santa suit red, mistletoe green. Now we see clearly the feminine lips, the feminine tongue, a hint of incisors in mother-of-pearl. Healthy pink gums. A syrup of saliva. And into this inviting cavern there is introduced the what-do-you-call-it? White as a bratwurst, with, like a barber's pole, red ribbon stripes. Ah! Ah! The word yet escapes me. Am I suffering from the disease that Goloshes calls Uncle Al? A sugar stick? Nein! For this Fraulein and her friends I have paid the Indian gentleman five American dollars and ninety-nine cents.

"Birthday fund," I explained. "One year of savings."

    It took some minutes for the Sufi or Sikh—note the turban and the lips stained with betel—to sort through the quarters, pennies, nickels, dimes. I stood in mortification as the impatient crowd of travelers pressed close behind me. A train, the New Lots Avenue Express, came hurtling along the interior rails of our local station. In such a tantarara I could not at first hear what the dealer of news cried out. Then the linked wagons went rocking away into the distance. In the ensuing silence his words echoed across both the platform for the north and that for the south.

    Hindoo: "Hustler, huh?"

November 9, 1901, the day on which, in the empire of the late Franz Joseph, in the town of Iglau, L. Goldkorn was born. Happy birthday to you! Will this day be remembered like February 12, the birth date of A. Lincoln, who walked miles through the snow to pay the one penny fine on a book; or like February 22, the nativity of G. Washington, who hurled a larger coin across the Potomac? We cannot yet say. Perhaps if the score of my Esther should, at the Metropolitan Opera, receive a premiere. Then might the musical world recall a ninth of November the way they do a twenty-seventh of May or a fifth of September, the birthdays of Halévy and Meyerbeer.

    Let us turn our gaze from the gazette cover to its rear. Here we see a full female form, platinum-haired, in a dickey too small to contain the mams. With one hand she holds the base of a telephone, with the other she presses the receiver to her ear. So that we might know her thoughts, we see the printed words I'm Waiting for You and the following number: 1-800-666-HOTT. I was not, as they say, born overnight. If one accepted this toll-free proposal, one could engage in frank discussions. Alas, I have been by the Bell Company for many years non-connected.

    Of course November 9th is well known as the day of the abdication of Wilhelm II and the founding of the Weimar Republic. Also for the anniversary of one of those days so infamous that—as with the assassinations of President "Jack" Kennedy and the Archduke Ferdinand—one can never forget precisely where one was or what one was doing.

11/9/38. Where was, on that fateful date, the birthday boy? In Iglau, with its bending river and its factory for Trabucco tobacco? In Vienna, upon the Türkenshanzplatz, at the Akademie für Musik, Philosophie, und darstellende Kunst; or at the Wiener Staatsoper, in whose ranks Goldkorn had played the glockenspiel? No, no. No, no. I was that November night on the banks of a different river, the Seine, in the City of Light. There was, over my head, no rooftop. With my shepherd's panpipe I had not been able to earn a single sou. For warmth the score of my Esther was tied with string bits about my body. On what then did I live? On air, on water, on the pale yellow sunshine of Paris. Not like a person, like a plant. Not living! Dying. Oh, how seductive the Seine! How enticing its susurration, like the soft smack of a lady's lips. With the lap-lap of its waves and wavelets, it called to me: Venez! Venez, Monsieur Goldkorn! Come to my embrace!

Tempus, as Professor Pergam would say toward the end of each class at the Akademie, fugit. Why, then, do I continue procrastinations? Open, sir, the rotogravure! Ah, but what if the object I seek, my own dear Venus, should be marked absent? I speak of the maiden whose acquaintance I first made in these pages, decades before. The hair on her pubes had hardly sprung. This Crystal is sweet, petite, such was the printed message, and ready to eat! Exclamation. Yes, she was then, my missy, no more than thirty, or at most thirty-five. Hands clasped to the rear. No lip rouge. No kohl for the eyes. Upon her brisket her bosoms resembled the two complimentary Makronen—macaroons, yes? Almond delights?—upon the plates at Demel's. Each with its adorable maraschino. But what caused in my nether zone a certain peppery feeling was the glimpse of Miss Crystal's feet. One was unshod, but the other, her left one, was encased in a boot of red leather. Heel like a stiletto. Toe like a trowel. This foot was raised in my estimation some ten inches from the ground. Printer's legend: This Tramp Will Walk over You! Exclamation.

Question: why was Leib Goldkorn celebrating his birthday in La Belle France? Answer: because Herr Hitler was now in Vienna. At that thought I reached up to the lump of silver, Yakhne's medallion, that lay on my breast. A similar lump formed in my throat. My poor family! Their fate awaited every Jew. Mutter; Vater; sister Minkche, the minx; the aforementioned sister Yakhne: all, together with 150 musical Hebrews—of the Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper, the Wiener Philharmonic, Die kleine Wienerwaldphilharmonie the crème de la crème—had embarked immediately after the Anschluss upon a barge, the Kalliope, named for the mother of Orpheus. That craft was to drift eastward, with the Donau current, some forty-five kilometers, to the safety of the border with the Czechs. This was an arrangement I had made with Hans Maltz, former Akademie classmate, and now, in his brown shirt and brown pants, a natty Nazi. I paid the Goldkorns' ransom by placing into that Gauleiter's hands my Rudall & Rose. Farewell, Papa! Farewell, Minkche! Chins up! Surely all would be well: had they not pickled cucumbers? And tins of liver pâté? Instead, a trick! A hoax by the Huns! The engines roared. Smoke came out of the smokestack. Huffing, puffing, the barge sailed westward, against the current, into the land of the beast: from blue Donau—in English blue Danube—to gray Isar, from the Isar to the Amper, all the way to Dachau. This was a hillside village, well known for ceramics and textiles and picturesque views. But judging from what one heard from those aboard her—silence, only silence—the good ship Kalliope might have sailed off the ends of the earth.

Do I not sense, now, at the memory of the youthful Crystal, a definite titillation? In order to view my zone of reproduction it is necessary to overcome two obstacles. Primo, the barrier posed by the growth of my abdomen. By expelling oxygen from the lungs and contracting the ventral muscles, this obstacle may be temporarily overcome. The second difficulty is not so easily dealt with. Those who have read my earlier memoir will recall that I do not possess a religious nature. Even so, the teachings of the fathers present a psychic barrier no less formidable than that posed by the flesh. Forbidden to look. And to touch, heaven forfend! It is true that in Iglau Rabbi Goldiamond had made an exception for married men, who during urination were permitted to hold the organs from below. Piffle! We are now only five years from the twenty-first century. My Philco-brand radio is a non-starter, but I have heard on the audible portion of the Admiral that Jupiter is about to reveal the secret of her moons. At the public Schule the young boys and girls are taught through practical demonstrations how to engage in harmless fornication. Away with the cobwebs of the past! So: an exhalation. So: flexion of the musculature. Voilà!

    Here is a disappointment. The sac of the scrotum has in my golden years tended to surrender to gravitational forces, so that my spheres hang at this moment no more than an inch above the frozen surface of the johnny. The masculine member, however, is nowhere in view. It is almost as if there were at work here the principle of the fulcrum: the weight of the stones descend, the organ of generation retracts. Also, cool breezes, like those that now blow through the cabinetto, cause fickleness in this part—just as, at the icy blast, the hedgehog and woodchuck, the bear and the beetle, will return to their hollows and dens. But my putz, pardon this folkish expression, has been in hibernation an entire year! Wake up, Mr. Winkle! Alas, the little birdy has—a constant shock, the whiteness of the nether hair, as if, protected from the elements, it should have retained its sable luster, along with its youthful abundance—fled the nest. To work! To work, friends! We must now, in the pages of this carnal cornucopia, seek out my inamorata.

Yes, from Dachau a deathly silence, until one night—I am speaking of the end of the month of April in the year 1938—a rock flew through the window of what had been the Goldkorn Vienna estate, Rennweg 30, smashing the panes to smithereens. I sat up—not in bed, since all our dear Biedermeiers had been sold at bargain prices, but from my spot on the floor. All about me lay jagged fragments of glass, like knives surrounding the female target in the Roumanian Circus. In moonlight they glistened. Yet one piece among the shrapnel glittered more brightly than all the rest. Across the sharp shards I picked my way with caution, until I came to what appeared to be a silver schilling: no, this was larger than any coin, thicker, and with more heft. What were the words printed upon it?


    Yakhne! It was Yakhne! Her olympische medal! Instantly I dashed across the glass bits as heedless as a Hindoo upon his bed of nails. I leaned from the window. On the street all was quiet, all was still. Only then did I note the half-open scrap of paper that must have been wrapped around the silver disk. I seized it. Those same beams of moonlight were more than sufficient to make out the familiar hand:

Leib, Mein Liebchen:

All hope for us must be abandoned. Here we have nothing but torture. Mama is no more. Soon Papa will follow. Minkche is used for the pleasure of the men. We must beat each other. We must bury each other to make a joke. My first wish is to kill myself. My second wish is that you flee. I beg you, brother. Run! By the time this reaches you—brought by a guard whom Minkche has bewitched—the winner of the silver medallion will have reached her goal.

    Run? I ran. Across the still-frozen Bodensee and, after many adventures, to Paris. Gay Paree!

Page one. Page two. Page three. Here are visions indeed. I will not, of this harem, in detail describe the inhabitants. This is not from shyness. During my student years Professor Pergam sought, in our illustrated texts, to cover with small silver stars the enthusiasm of the satyrs, half men, half goats. The rascal Pepi Pechler peeled these paper undies away. Crystal? Where is my Crystal? Not among these sporting ladies, who are from their posture apparently followers of Sappho. Let us turn a new page. And yet another. As I wander, like Orpheus, through the underground of this colorful journal, the sight of these contortionists and hermaphrodites and gymnasts with double joints reminds me of nothing so much as the poor creatures—two-headed men, ladies with whiskers, or the pitiable fellow with the hands and feet of a seal—of the Roumanian Circus. Eurydice! Eurydice! Oh, my Crystal! Speak! Answer me! Can you be here?

    If only I had in my hand my Rudall & Rose. The Glickman boys, Ernie and Randy, are good-hearted chaps. Perhaps they would have lent me the instrument for my jubilee. Then might I accompany myself, as did Orpheus on his lyre, during this journey through Hades. Look! Do not look! Males and females amok. Ah, if I cannot have my flute then I wish I could be accompanied by my most loyal of readers. No need to fear maidenly shyness. Surely Madam Kakutani has from childhood peered through the steam bath vapors to see the beet-red Finns strike their unclothed bodies with branches and twigs. Here, Miss Michiko, take my hand.

    Eurydice! Eurydice! Squinting, squatting, we hurry past activities that I have not experienced even in the pages of R. von Krafft-Ebing. Eurydice! Answer your Orpheus! Now I see why the first of musicians was forbidden by Pluto to look at his underground kingdom. Goloshes, M.D., has given me a similar warning. For reasons of hygiene it is necessary to empty annually the prostate of its contents. However, these glandular hydraulics present a certain risk. Stimulation of the organ that is not followed by a purge might aggravate the very condition it was meant to heal—just as, by voyeurism, the act of looking, Orpheus lost his paramour forever. Soon, for number 1, I will have to rise from my bed six, ten, fifteen times times in a night! Now we understand why the rabbis have ruled that when making water a Jew must look always upward, in the direction of heaven; and that Jewesses, so as not to draw our lively glances, must avoid cosmetics and Chanel and furthermore shave their heads until they are hairless.

    Do the popes and vicars require that female Christians shave similarly the zone of reproduction? Is this a covenant, like the loss of foreskin I underwent as a child? The majority of the ladies before me seem to have undergone such a ritual. This does not produce in my body the effect of peppercorns. Au contraire, instead of spiciness and warmth I feel a chill foreboding: only four pages remain. No Venus, no Eurydice—in short, no Crystal. Only the portraits of concubines: Cherry Tarte, June Bugger, Diva Evian. Also Amber Waiff. Turn the page. Here are more comely Misses: Syd Chemisse, Lucy de Quiff, Blossom Wydde. One with an Afrikaner, one with a horse. Such unseemliness! The penultimate page. Here are the Fone Fancies: Miss Anatola Boudoir, Miss Bitch Adder, Miss Trixie Cox. Only a single page left. Alas! Nothing but the announcement of a new vacuum tube—not the kind now defunct in my Philco, but one that guarantees virility in the organ of procreation, with augmentation in height and width or your money back. Accept no substitutes! Exclamation. The end. Happy birthday, Leib Goldkorn! Ha! Ha! Ha! Five dollars and ninety-nine cents! No Crystal. No teenage temptress. Outrage! Swindle! The despair!

Sans Espoir. I removed my laceless shoes. Also stockings. Into the syrupy Seine went my toes, my ankles, my fleshless calves. Dark, dark the water, broken only by the reflection, like glowing butterscotch balls, of the lights on the Pont Alexandre. About my torso I felt the pages of my opera, like the grip of a life preserver. Esther: A Jewish Girl at the Persian Court. It would be sung by a chorus of minnows! Thus I stood, one hand raised, the other clutching my nostrils. Farewell, Paris! La vie! Farewell!

Wait. Wait. Hold on to horses. Either I am in error or that was in my manly parts a feeling of epicureanism. There! Again! Is the sleepy hedgehog about to peek from his hedgehog hole? What is the cause of such lustiness? Let me, like poor Orpheus, look backward to Madam Boudoir, Madam Adder, and the other Fone Fancies. Ah, ha! Who is this woman at the lower left? Could it be? But where is the waif of yesteryear? That nubile nymph? The faun of forty. Where have flown the Makronen, those delicate cherries of spring? Now, on the bust zone, are bolsters in the Biedermeier style. Is this, too, the result of a vacuum appliance? Painted eyes, painted lips, and on the cheeks a painted blush. Paint on the nails of the right-hand toes. Where is the artlessness? The schoolgirl's virginal charm? It is true that from year to year, one holiday issue to another, I could not help but note that my little spindleshanks was putting on avoirdupois. But this representative of the weaker sex is, not to mince meat, quite strapping. Clever birdy! It had recognized her with its one eye before Leib Goldkorn had with his two. This is she! One thing that could not be disguised, or altered by time, is my lady's eyes—or eye, since one of them, rimmed in black and with mascara on the lashes, is screwed up in the act of nictitation. A wink for Mr. Winkle. But the other, a watery blue, stares unchanged into my soul. My Venus! My Valentine! Look: in her hands, a cat-o'-nine. Around her hips, a system of straps, prettily strewn with metal studs, of the sort favored by motorcyclists' associations. Also chains of steel, of iron. Let us be thankful that her single boot has not changed. It is as red as her glossy lips. Red as the Titian tones of her hair. And the heel is as sharp as a knife blade. As is the custom, we are allowed to read her hidden thoughts: You'll Be My Prisoner. 1-800-525-POON. Now I grasp the meaning of the wanton wink. The lip curled in a beckoning smile. In response my machinery of fruitfulness begins an extension. Above my darling, the following legend: EXPECT NO MERCY FROM CRYSTAL KNIGHT! Capitals. Exclamation.

"Figaro! Figaro! Demandez Le Figaro!" What was that cry? A newsboy! A French newsboy! "Pluie de verre dans les rues de Berlin! Une mer de cristal! Dernières nouvelles! Les Allemands en guerre contre leurs Juifs! La vérité vraie! La grande synagogue de Berlin en flammes!" What was he saying? Ah: in the capital of the German Reich it was now raining glass.

    This was the night, the dread ninth, the November navity, that all the world still recalls. One hundred Jews murdered. Thousands sent off to the camps. Two hundred synagogues burned to the ground. How many businesses destroyed? Seventy-five hundred. The broken glass! Equivalent to half the output from Belgium for an entire year. Believe it, says Ripley, or not. The cost: five million marks. And who would bear this expense? The insurance companies of the Reich? The brown-shirted perpetrators? Do not force me to laugh. The answer is—and here we see, in the master race, diabolical cleverness—the victims themselves! For creating a public disturbance. Special tax: one billion marks. The Jews would pay for their own pogrom! Kristallnacht!

    Of all the inhabitants of Paris only one at that moment was filled with joy. It was Leib Goldkorn. At once I pulled my wrinkled feet from the river's watery embrace. I danced on the embankment, to the accompaniment of my penny panpipe, a Scottish-style jig. Why such callousness of feeling? It was because I realized that at long last the world would be forced to listen. All these Frenchmen, and Frenchwomen too, with their berets and baguettes, and on their lips cynical cigarettes: they all would have to admit that this wretch, in rags, possessed the truth. My Esther would make the pariah a prophet. Aux armes citoyens! Or, in the words of "A Loud and Bitter Cry," the solo of Mordecai from Act One:

I throw off my sackcloth!
I wipe off my ashes!
I must speak in spite of ten thousand lashes!

Then, as the Hebrews press closer, so as to hear:

In each man's life there comes a moment to choose.
For him in the heavens there shines but one star.
—On the thirteenth day of the month of Adar,
—Haman will cause to perish all of the Jews.

Strings; trumpets; celesta; the beat of the drum.

    For one giddy moment I forgot that I had not, in my pockets, even the point of a pencil with which to finish my musical score. What did it matter? Was I not, like Mordecai himself, a stranger in a strange land? Would not my rags, like his sackcloth, be replaced with royal apparel of blue and white, and with, as it is written, a garment of fine linen and purple? A triumph at L'Opèra! Esther, my masterpiece, A Jewish Girl at the Persian Court, might yet change history's course. Surely the subtle French, so wise in the ways of the world, would understand the association of Haman with Hitler. Both begin with the letter H. Formez vos bataillons!

    I put on my stockings. I put on my shoes. I climbed to the upper embankment and made my way down the Quai des Tuileries and the Quai du Louvre. The United States embassy was then on the Boulevard Bourbon, in the shadow of the Bastille. By the time I arrived the sun had risen high enough to cast, over the expanse of the boulevard, the swath of open lawn, and the steps of the building itself, a dark shadow. I blinked. I looked again. Not a shadow: a crowd, in black coats and black trousers, with black hats on their heads. Jews! Hundreds of Jews! Enough for three Philharmonics. Or for my chorus, the multitude of the City of Shushan:


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