Restoration

Harry Greenberg Reflects on a First Creative Project From His Early Teens

I have restored the family heirloom. It was handed down and went with the family wherever they went.

Some of them said, ‘For God’s sake, leave it behind, lose it in transit; who wants it? Who needs it?’

But it was never lost and never left behind. You might say it had a charmed life, though not all the family would agree. ‘Not even the dead ones,’ Aunty Minnie said. Grandfather Moishe, for starters, he would have been glad to see the back of it. The thought of it – if you have thoughts where he is now – would make him twist in his winding sheet. That, apparently, is what he was buried in, under terrible circumstances, talked about only in whispers, when I wasn’t there. If truly he was in his winding sheet, members of the family looked for him in vain. They said as they clustered, ‘That’s not him, never. Not in a million Yom Kippurs. Look at the nose, and the ears. Nothing like him.’

Anyway, there it was, the heirloom, hanging on the walls of different houses, sometimes exiled to the attic or the cellar in the hope that it might be forgotten or just disappear, then taken back again, dusted off and re-hung. It was sometimes placed in the front room where it couldn’t be ignored, but was usually consigned to one of the minor rooms, a guest bedroom or the study (where no one studied), a place half full of boxes, unread newspapers – all those things a family no longer requires but hopes to find a use for some day, and refuses to throw away or give to charity.

‘Give to charity!’ Aunt Minnie screamed. ‘We, we are charity! Give away what one day, God forbid, we might ourselves be in need of?’

Not that I judge. She wasn’t mean. It’s just that her past experience had denuded her of generosity.

You might say the heirloom was a kind of family history, though from time to time a family needs to forget, put aside, relegate, repress, exile its history. There are times when a history is like a bad smell. You can take only so much of it, before you have to leave the room.

There is, alternatively, another view: that when a nation, or a person even, forgets or refuses to remember its / his / her history, it / he / she goes on making the same mistakes. So is it with families. Individuals within a family, also. It could be that our family couldn’t make up its mind and that’s why the painting was sometimes in the dining room and at other times in the attic.

My Aunt Sadie, who was the only one in a family of fourteen to go for analysis, had strong views on remembering and forgetting. Dr Gruber, the analyst, who told her he had studied under Freud, but didn’t say where or when, also told her that we must all come to understand our past, in particular our personal past – if we are not be controlled by it and go on repeating our mistakes to the day we died. And even afterwards, God forbid, because some believed that death is not the end. You could come back as a stone, a vegetable, a flower. She said she would prefer a flower, a red rose, but not too sickly perfumed would be fine by her.

‘We shall have to see,’ said Dr Gruber. ‘It’s early days.’ That’s what Aunt Sadie said he said, anyway. But now I come to think of it she had lots of tales about what Dr Gruber, the analyst – as she always called him – had said or done. And as I now appreciate, recollections of patients are not always reliable. I won’t go so far as to say they tell lies or are schnorrers with the truth, but some go in for a fiction or two. Could be the practitioners are also a little guilty of shuffling the cards, but then what do I know?

Anyway, I didn’t mean to make such a diversion. It’s just that when I look back on those semi-halcyon days and wonder what was going on I think I must have been trying to understand something that drove me to look deep into the heirloom. For what purpose, who knows?

The painting was in a frame with scrolls and the kind of moulding you see usually on a ceiling, painted gold over a dry pasty stuff where it had broken away. It was discoloured from over- and even under-exposure. The layers of varnish I had to remove, you wouldn’t believe. In some places it looked as if generations of cats had stealthily pawed their tracks across it on their way to somewhere more interesting. There were cuts, where the glue hadn’t taken, curling at the edges like small wounds that hadn’t healed properly. Were they wounds collected on its travels and travails, inflicted by careless removals men, or premeditated stabbings by incognito (family?) assassins? The frame was ornate enough in its infinite scrolling but had been scored and chipped so that in places the plaster showed through. In others the gilt had tarnished to a curious brown.

Sometimes it was displayed in a good position where the light might fall in all the right places and show its best features to advantage. At others it got tucked away in the gloomiest possible position as if it reminded the family of something they preferred to forget, or at least not be reminded of too often – as I have mentioned above.

It was difficult to get the restoration started. I had permission from some members of the family. Others said yes, go ahead, but don’t tell anyone we said so. Yet others couldn’t or refused to make up their minds.

Aunt Sadie screwed up her lips into a purse with tight strings. ‘What you want to do that? It’s nice as it is. Let sleeping hyenas lie. Keep them far hence. Don’t dig up what’s best left interred. Who knows what lies hidden beneath those layers of varnish, what secrets are ensconced, what vast futility, what futile history? You willing to take responsibility for what you find? Not me, boychik. Count me out.’

Once she got going no one could hold a candle.

So I said to myself if you want to wait for permission from everyone you’ll wait a lifetime. By which time I might be in the heirloom myself and wish to take up a different position. So I counted my savings and took them in a bag to ‘Plinsky’s and Shpengler, Restorers and Investigations’.

‘You done this kind of work before?’ Mr Plinsky wanted to know.

‘You got experience?’ inquired Mr Shpengler.

‘I’ll learn as I go along,’ I told them.

‘What are you, a smart Shmuele?’ said Plinsky.

‘What’ll you do when you hang the skeletons in the closet out to dry?’ Shpengler demanded. ‘When in the interstices of the past you find something you least expect? What was thought to have been swept under the carpet? Screwed behind the skirting board? Taken in a plastic bag to a remote part of Hackney Marshes only to return limping next day? And bedraggled. Worse for wear.’

‘You can say that again,’ said Plinsky.

‘Worse for wear,’ said Shpengler.

‘Gentlemen,’ I said, ‘you have your agenda and I have mine. Give me the tools and I’ll finish the job.’

‘Agenda?’ Plinsky wanted to know.

‘Tools?’ inquired Shpengler.

I shrugged my shoulders. ‘You’re not the only investigators and restorers,’ I said. ‘I’ll go somewhere else.’

‘Hoity-toity,’ smiled Shpengler.

‘What vaulting ambition,’ remarked Plinsky.

In the end they gave me the information I required and wished me well, pointing out that their demurring was solely in my best interest.

‘It’s in your best interest,’ said Shpengler.

‘I second that, nihil obstat,’ agreed Plinsky.

When I got home I went straight to my room. Who should I encounter on the stairs but Auntie Estelle. She comes to call sometimes. She has a weak bladder and has to make frequent micturation visits. There’s only one toilet in the whole house. When Auntie Estelle visits no one else gets a look in.

‘What you got in that parcel?’ she wanted to know. ‘It smells,’ she sniffed, ‘suspicious.’

I might have been discovered in my endeavours had she not been on her way to relieve herself. By the time she had performed I was already in my room with the notice do not disturb: homework in progress, on the door.

I undid the string, opened the cardboard box and spread the contents on the bed. Anyone who knows anything about restoring knows how important it is to do the restoring yourself. There is some satisfaction to be had from taking a picture with the patina of many years from hanging in the cellar or resting on a joist in the attic: awash with coal dust and covered in small but virulent spores the flies leave behind. And giving it a good clean. By yourself.

You could leave it with the restorer who holds it at arm’s length and nods sagely and asks you to return in ten days. When you do, there it is. As good as new. Almost. What was brown has become yellow. A black cloak has been whisked away to reveal one of cerulean blue. Yellowing grass at high summer restored to the green of spring.

But to do it yourself, to bend over a canvas, discharge a pipette full of whatever it is and dab away until whatever lies beneath is exposed – it is as good as, perhaps better than delicately removing the ultimate intimate garments of someone you never expected to be able to see under her muddy mackintosh. An experience denied to me for several years but one for which restoration more than adequately prepared me. And compensated, you might say.

If Dr Gruber was alive today, and for all I know he may well be, he would like my comparison quite a lot. He would say I have hit the nail on the head. But in a different language of course.

I won’t bore you with details of what I mixed and how applied and how stood back to scrutinise and how inspected under a magnifying glass. If you want such technical instruction you know where to go, though I doubt you will find the premises occupied by Shpengler and Plinsky. Time being what it is, they are both probably restoring and investigating themselves and each other in premises far removed.

The instructions on the bottle advised me to spread thinly with a soft brush and wait until the shine had removed itself. It was a little more complex but I simplify for those of you who are uninterested in the technical side of things. If this account of restoration is read by anyone I imagine it will be by those who are more interested in the aesthetics of discovering rather than a chemical analysis.

So there I was, applying whatever it was to the heirloom, which I had rescued from the cellar and carried to my room during one of our interminable family funerals. My father was one of eleven children, my Aunty Minnie one of nine. Funerals were always occurring in those days due to the rifeness of various illnesses that had permeated Hackney and attacked mainly Jewish people (Aunt Estelle would have us believe). There I was, with the heirloom, waiting for it to stop being shiny.

But how did I get the heirloom from the cellar to my bedroom without being apprehended? Let me explain.

I had invented a phobia about cemeteries, about which I had been helped by my cousin Isher’s real phobia for playgrounds. Or so he said. Whatever it was he had, it enabled him to stay in the classroom and out of the playground where all sorts of pogroms took place daily. And as he explained, if it wasn’t a pogrom they would come at you with elbows, and strong boots fixed to even stronger legs for the most effective bruising and breaking of bones. So, it was better to forgo the pleasures of fresh air and exercise and have a phobia. That way, please God, you didn’t have to run away or live to fight another day.

‘Listen,’ Isher explained to me, ‘I’m fixed on accountancy, what do I want with elbows and kickings? While they’re out there with their pogroms I’m inside in the warm, adding, subtracting and above all multiplying as our only begetter suggested. And I’ve got this diagnosis to prove it.’ And he used to show anyone who looked a note which said ‘Please excuse Isher on account of fobia’. Now and again some of the kids got him to show them the note and then snatched it from him and tore it up. He would turn away with a little smile and say, ‘You think I can’t get plenty from where that came from? My uncle on my father’s side is in sikiatry.’ That was how he told it anyway.

So all I had to do was glean from him a few symptoms and rearrange them for cemeteries. All of which meant that when you accounted for the time preparing for a funeral, and the time it took to visit the cemetery, and what you did while at the cemetery, and add to that the recovery period on returning from the funeral, it could be two or three days before anyone noticed where I was or where I had been.

Now I had to smooth away the residue with a lint-free cloth a little area at a time. It soon became apparent, after several brushings and time spent waiting for whatever it was to dry that it was a portrait of several persons. I counted fourteen in all. Seven standing, seven sitting.

Of these I recognised three immediately from photographs I had seen in family albums. One was of an uncle who had eloped from his wife with someone else’s, a long time ago, in a shtetl long since erased from memory and geography. My grandmother had explained—

‘Such a turmoil, such a shtoonk you wouldn’t believe,’ Bube said. It turned out she was only half-Jewish and not on the mother’s side either. Although they didn’t know much about chromosomes and genetics in those faraway times, which gave the women an advantage. The men too probably. There’s also another explanation which I won’t bother you with.

Nah, why not? Why shouldn’t you be bothered? What happened was: a long time ago in a place a long way away some soldiers came to do their duty, and while they were doing it, or perhaps afterwards, they forced the women against their will. About nine months later, when the babies came mewling and screaming into the world, who was to tell which came from a soldier and which didn’t? Another theory is: it’s not such a big deal who the father is anyway, because he only has to do it, but the mother, she has to be with the baby while it’s in the womb and then for a long while afterwards.

So she is the major influence you might say. And if she herself is one hundred per cent kosher, all is well. I could be wrong about this but if I am I am sure there are enough of you smart Alexis out there to put me to rights.

Then there was another uncle, or might have been a cousin, who was supposed to be a prison warder in a prison where he lived. He left early in the morning and returned late at night. Bube explained how it all transpired. Whatever his crime had been, he was sentenced to hard labour, but accommodation was wanting and he came to an arrangement. He would report for his duties during the day but would sleep beneath his own roof. He was a very strong man and broke twice as many stones as other prisoners, and for this the authorities gave him payment. In this way he could provide for his family, not as well as before but sufficient to the day.

Until one Pesach when he celebrated the flight from Egypt with a little more wine than usual and was incapacitated for several days. During which time several warders came looking for him in their immediately recognisable uniforms. I asked Bube why he had had to go to prison in the first place.

‘You don’t want to know,’ she said.

‘But I do, I do,’ I assured her.

‘You don’t want to know,’ she insisted.

‘But I—’

We could have gone on like that for a long time. Had she not pointed out another long lost departed relative, Helga Siperbaum. Beautiful she was, in satin and lace, not fat, not thin, but nicely in between; such teeth she could have demolished a half-chicken in next to no time; and the bosoms on her I didn’t see anything like until I first saw Silvana Mangano. About her more later.

‘Helga Siperbaum,’ Bube sighed shaking her head.

Among other things she was a lady in a house of ill-fame. I was pretty sure I knew what that was but I wanted to hear Bube say it.

‘You don’t want to know,’ was all she said, and hastily closed the album.

I asked the question: ‘Are there, were there any good or famous people among our family ancestors? Rabbis, scholars, escape artistes, violin performers?’

Bube thought for a moment. ‘Not on our side of the family,’ she said. And then she leaned forward and took a large piece of my cheek between her finger and thumb. Perhaps you will be such a one, and laughed: heh, heh, heh.

Back in the heirloom there were at least five others who were trying to be included, but had only succeeded in inserting a half head, a shoulder, an arm, a foot or a few fingers. Of those already in the painting, some of them showed obvious irritation with those who were trying also to be. Those already seated clearly had no intention of giving up their seat. Those who were standing stood as if on board a ship and ready to repel any contraband boarders.

On the left a burly, bald-headed man with side whiskers had raised a fist to deter a young man in a waistcoat of cabala symbolism and white trousers with a thick dark vertical stripe. On the other side, another gentlemen advanced in years (I’ll spare you a description, which would impede the narrative flow), seemed anxious to persuade a young woman who was trying to enter the portrait, to sit on his knee, restrained as she was by someone outside the frame. Since there was no one sitting in front of him and he was so much larger than she, she could have been accommodated with little or no fuss or inconvenience to anyone.

But what struck me as remarkable about the portrait was that it could have been a photograph, taken at a time when there were real members of the family, or friends even, who were desperate to be included but found themselves repelled. Yet it was not a photograph. It was a painting.

As I was preparing for a final sweep with my lint-free cloth a thought occurred to me. What if the painter had intended to confuse the onlooker by presenting the painting as if it were a photograph? I had heard of paintings being photographed but had never seen a painting that aspired to the condition of photography. If there were such a thing could this be an early example of its kind? Might this be one of the first of its kind? And what if it was older than I supposed, painted before photography was invented?

I was pondering this possibility when the house suddenly filled with people and I could hear my mother shouting up the stairs that it had been such a splendid funeral, sad and uplifting at the same time, how the Rabbi had given such a moving eulogy and had discovered many traits of beatitude in the deceased that the family had overlooked and hardly suspected were there. And was I coming down to partake of the funereal bake meats? I hurriedly collected my brushes, my lint-free cloths, screwed tops to bottles and put everything including the heirloom beneath the bed and joined them downstairs.

I shook hands briefly with Uncle Avraham whose cousin had just been interred. His sniffing I took to be an expression of grief.

‘This boy smells of turpentine,’ he shouted. ‘Is he going to burn down the family home? Heh, heh, heh? You don’t believe, smell my hand,’ and he offered his hand to all and sundry.

No one stepped forward but my mother came up to me and gracefully inhaled. ‘You do have a curious odour about you,’ she said.

‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘It’s the new soap Aunt Rebekah brought back from the foreign parts.’

This was an aunt who suffered from a washing obsession. She took a bath each morning and paid a particular attention to different parts of her body. I forget quite how it went but something like head and neck on Mondays, knees on Tuesdays, elbows on Thursdays and there were other days or parts of days spoken about only in whispers. Aunt Rebekah was also a mighty traveller and covered great distances in pursuit of cleanliness. No spa was unknown to her; no thermae free from her inquisitions. She returned from these visits with gifts for everyone: soaps, shampoos, lotions and cleansing creams, made from curious herbs, essences that only Dame Nature knew the secret of. Combinations of leaf and petal whose intricate melding was known only to tribes obscured by lianas and curiously shaped leaves in the remote Amazonian jungle, or to those who lived in a permafrost somewhere in the taiga.

All of her gifts had a peculiar smell. One I remember fondly was a wax to relieve wrinkles, made from camel fat. When you washed with her soaps or anointed with her lotions you could decimate living rooms and find places in the theatre and cinema without booking.

And that is how I escaped further interrogation that day.

I had an arrangement with my parents that I would tidy my room and that they would be able to inspect it once weekly, a check on the requisite degree of order, and that I didn’t have any poster depictions of semi- or demi-naked ladies to give me, God forbid, lascivious thoughts or hardness of the musculature where it shouldn’t be, promptings that might lead to uncontrollable emissions. This my father had explained when he came uninvited and unannounced into my room one day and observed a representation of Silvana Mangano, in a film I was too young to see, called Bitter something. In my picture of her on the wall her buttocks were looking to escape from the very short shorts she was hardly wearing and her bosoms from her blouse likewise.

I knew the boy whose father stuck up the posters outside the picture house and had paid dearly for it, three sets of cards of famous footballers. Not that I cared about footballers: all that rushing about, you ran from one end of the field to the other and as soon as you got there they kicked the ball back again – who needs it? But then again you have to collect something, so why not footballers?

Also these posters were what the son of the poster sticker said were at a premium and his father had to collect another set on account of the mysterious disappearance of the first set, which his farshtinkener son had sold at triple prices and which reappeared on the walls of many bedrooms of young boys all over.

So my father comes in and takes one look, a long look I noticed, to appraise the various felicities and then stands back and goes nearer and then goes to the side, first one side and then the other. Then he gets serious.

‘A boy of your age must not have such a depiction of such a woman,’ he said. ‘It could give you ideas above your station.’

I stared at Silvana long and hard for what I knew would be almost the last time. Or not quite, for I had another smaller version under my pillow. At night she sometimes got unfolded and lay by my side. When she did this I always wore a sock. In case of an uncontrollable emission. My mother was one of those who before washing sheets searched them for signs of incipient manhood. For some reason when you are of a certain age such things are to be ashamed of.

‘And so,’ my father said, ‘she will have to go.’

Sometimes he snatched posters or photographs from my wall, and screwed or tore them up: exemplars of excess, political impropriety, anti-Semitism. I once had a photograph of T.S. Eliot about whom I knew very little apart from a poem about Macavity the mystery cat.

‘Get that anti-Semite off my wall,’ my father cried.

‘It’s my wall,’ I protested.

‘I don’t care whose wall,’ he shouted. ‘I won’t have him in the house.’

‘What’s anti-Semitic about cats?’ I wanted to know.

‘Don’t argue with me,’ my father shouted, ‘my decision is final.’

It never occurred to me that my father was different from any other father. He was all I knew as far as fathers went. This is why I have grown up as far as I have without too many psychological peculiarities. None of which I would tell you about anyway. Even if I knew what they were.

And so he removed Silvana, but carefully I noticed, and folded her carefully too. I sat on my pillow in case he decided to look there.

But, I didn’t mean to go into all this detail. All I wanted to say was that I kept my room tidy so there was not much chance of anyone coming in and discovering what I was doing with the family heirloom. I get carried away sometimes.

That year there were three more funerals, all around September and October. Which is also the time of the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, a very solemn day when you go to the synagogue all day and not a morsel passes your lips. Even your spit you’re not supposed to swallow, I was told.

I remember my mother saying, ‘Three funerals and two High Holy Days, we’ll end up religious maniacs!’

‘Not if I can help it,’ my father said grimly.

So, what with the funerals and my not being expected to stay and pray all day I had a goodly time with the heirloom. Which was coming on apace. In fact by staying up at night and rising early in the morning I had completed the restoration by the evening before Atonement Day.

On that evening you eat as much as possible to tide you over the following day. Except me, and, I suspected, others. Not everyone went to shul for the all-day service. Some of them came back to the house and you could hear eating noises sometimes and come across an aunt or an uncle, a cousin with jaws going like a beaver’s.

If you saw them they would leave the room where they were very quickly as if they had something very important to do.

Once I was wasting as much time as possible in Victoria Park before going back to the synagogue for even more praying. There I saw Auntie Rachel eating something alongside the boating lake. I went up behind her and made such a loud boo! she nearly jumped out of her dress, one with sequins. You could see she wasn’t very pleased. She stared at me and then at the sandwich in her hand and then she threw it as hard as she could into the lake. Ducks appeared from all points in a flurry of wings.

‘I’m feeding the animals,’ she said. ‘What’re you doing?’

By the time they all returned in the evening the restored heirloom was hanging on the wall above the mantelpiece. It replaced a sketch made of Grandfather Herschel by an artist on the pier at some place of watering. It was always an object of disagreement. Did he look like that or not? Look how the ears stick out, and the nose, how could such an anti-Semitic likeness be tolerated! A vote was taken. Eight for, eight against. Grandfather Herschel voted for himself and the picture hung above the mantelpiece from that day on.

I had even cleaned the frame and put the restoration in it.

Everybody was so busy filling the emptiness or in some cases the not-so-emptiness occasioned by the Great Fast that none of them seemed to notice the restored heirloom had replaced the ears and nose of Grandfather Herschel. And couldn’t have noticed the big piece of missing plaster behind the heirloom where I had knocked in the first nail.

I was proud of my work and the excitement was increased because I was not sure how long the nail would hold up the picture.

The first to notice was my mother who had been staring at it absentmindedly as she sipped her borscht. The spoon fell from her hand as she pointed and cried, ‘Where did that come from! Who put that there!’

The rest of the family did different things. One put a hand to a mouth. Another pressed both palms to the ears. Another forced a fist to a mouth so that she shouldn’t scream. Yet another pointed, convulsed in mirth. A fifth shook his head slowly from side to side. A sixth whispered into the ear of the seventh who nodded with vigour. And so it went on: the pulling of faces, the protuberance of eyes, the wringing of hands. Some got up to inspect, to view from the front, and the side.

‘I never seen it like this. You seen it like this?’

‘Who’s the one in the middle of the back row?’

‘The picture I remember there was only six, from where come the others!’

‘Are you sure it’s the right one, could be a falsification?’

‘Look at him on the end of the front row. Look at the bulge in the trousers.’

‘Bulge, what bulge?’

‘I thought it was destroyed.’

‘Consigned to obloquy.’

‘Never to see the light again.’

‘It just goes to—’

‘You never can tell.’

And then a cry, an ululation more like, from my mother: ‘Who did this! Who has dared to perpetrate such a…such a—’

She was so convincing I thought she was pretending and I stepped forward to give a simpering bow, bending the back and extending the left hand to the side as they did in the old-fashioned films I sometimes went to with Auntie Minnie in the Mile End Road picture house.

When alone in my room, with only a few spoons of borscht and dumpling, I soon realised she wasn’t pretending.

But I wasn’t there for long. In my absence a family meeting had taken place. I had been voted to return by nine to six. Auntie Minnie came to fetch me.

‘Of the six who voted against you,’ she said, ‘four are on your side but they didn’t want to upset your mother.’ She patted me on the head. ‘You know something,’ she said, ‘I think your father voted for you.’

In the end it all turned out sunbeams, as they say. My father poured a glass of wine and requested the others to do likewise. He rose to his feet and extended his glass to the portrait.

‘How can we reject,’ he said, ‘our forebears? Forebears you can’t chose, you come into the world and there they are already. With all their intransigencies, solecisms and I wot not what. Show me a family that does not have its fair share of golems and gonifs, schmucks and shmendriks.’ He stared around and almost everybody nodded. ‘To go with successes in the realms of business, academia, music and what-have-you. Rome wasn’t built in a day,’ he concluded. He raised his glass. ‘Next year in the Catskills.’ All the glasses were raised, including mine, in which there were granted a few teaspoons of wine.

‘Next year in the Catskills!’

I will not take up much more of your precious time to explain how I was feted and how my mother was eventually reconciled to her son the restorer, if not of the family fortunes. Or how I was called on to explain and demonstrate the ins and outs of my craft.

‘Craft?’ Uncle Moishe the presser objected. ‘It’s an art.’ Not all of us glimpsed this subtle distinction, but how could we disagree?

They brought me pictures from far and wide and such was the pressure for restoration that I had to develop a phobia to varnish that would, as far as they could know, last well into my teens.

I went to pay Shpengler and Plinsky a visit.

‘How did it go?’ they asked in unison.

‘I knew you had it in you,’ said Shpengler.

‘In my mind there was never any doubt,’ Plinsky agreed.

They paid a visit to make an inspection. They smiled and nodded at the picture and at each other. They agreed I had felicitously stumbled across one or two techniques that were not widely known beyond the purlieu of the profession. And would my parents consider a period of apprenticeship after which, and of course for a reduced fee, I might emerge as one of the Worshipful Masters of Restoration?

‘It would be the chance of lifetime,’ observed Plinsky.

‘Not to be sneezed at,’ added Shpengler.

‘Perhaps when he has recovered from his phobias,’ my mother said thoughtfully.

But I never did take advantage of their kind offer, despite a promise, a hint that they might leave their premises to me.

No. For even then, young as I was, I had plans of my own. What I would do I did not know. Who I was I had yet to find out. But such deeds I would perform, such discoveries I would make that would determine a place for me in a canvas of much larger proportions than the one I had restored in those far-off days. And who knows how many I might appear in, in which I would be the only occupant?

Thus are our dreams established and become a canvas towards which we stride and in which we sit or stand until the varnish of time deposits its patina on us. Heh, heh, heh.


Harry Greenberg was a counsellor to victims of torture, and spent many of his latter years writing and publishing stories, articles and witty asides on Jewish life and upbringing. His Letters to Kafka is published by CentreHouse Press and is available here at Amazon Kindle and on most other ebook platforms. There are plans to publish more from Harry’s backlist.