Photo: Broken Promises – User Incantation-en. Wikipedia
A short story by Morton Leibowitz
The day is as gray as the grime that coats the weary tenements and the aging apartment buildings. Trash cans, their lids askew, line the curbs. An occasional stray dog works his way down the street hydrant by hydrant. The streets are not completely deserted;at the entrances to the apartment buildings and on the stoops of the tenements sit the aging Jews, remnants of the previous generation. They gravitate to the occasional patch of warming sun and engage in soft exchanges. At the street corners and outside the bodegas and candy stores, congregate the noisy, flamboyant youthwho represent the change coming into this South Bronx neighborhood.
Rose Schwartz has occupied apartment2C at 300 Tremont Ave. for fifty-eight years. She came to the neighborhood as a young bride, she and her husband having succeeded in breaking away from the poverty-stricken and crowded Lower East Side. Forty years her husband, Hal, had traveled to the city, initially via the El and more recently via the subway. They had sent three children off to college from their small flat; three children raised, educated, and now currently living in upscale Westchester communities.
Fifty-one years she had shared her life with Harold. The days and years had passed and then suddenly it had happened. A heart attack on the subway and Rose was alone; alone with memories of places, events and the passage of time.
Her life remained simple; food from the corner grocer, an occasional visit to the doctor, weekly visits from her children, telephone conversations with her remaining friends. She was satisfied. It was working. It was all she ever wanted.
And then her universe started to change.
“Rose? This is Sarah, “did you hear? … Shirley passed away … They’re closing the kosher butcher shop….A fire in the Y, there’s nothing left… The rabbi is moving to Miami Beach… Hymie got mugged last week right on the Avenue…”
The calls from her children were persistent and insistent, “Mom, we would like you to move, move near us…. to Westchester…. There’s a really nice place for senior citizens. They call it assisted living. You have your own apartment and you can take meals in the dining room on the premises if you want.”
“No thanks, I have an apartment and I have my friends and everyone knows me and I don’t want to leave. I’m living in this neighborhood a long time.”
“I know Mom, but the area is changing. We’re worried. It’s not safe. Look what happened.”
“What happened, nothing happened. He had an accident. Accidents happen – even in Westchester. I’m not moving. I feel safe here. I know the neighborhood.”
Friday evening and Rose is making her way to the synagogue. It's dusk. She walks slowly. Two young Puerto Ricans are walking towards her. She lowers her head not to make eye contact and continues walking. They stand in her path.
“Hey bitch, where's your purse? Give us your money or you're going to get hurt.”
“I don't have money. It's the Sabbath. I don't carry money.”
They grab her arms and pat her pockets. “Jew bitch. Who ever heard of a Jew bitch without money! You hiding it, we'll kill you.”
“No, no, I have no money. It's Shabbes. Ask Mr.Gonzalez, the super, he knows me. Ask him!”With a slight push, they let her pass. She continues on her way shaking and breathless.
At the synagogue she sits to catch her breath. She notices the shrinking congregation, the dingy sanctuary and the subdued voices which,combined, struggle to carry the tunes. It only worsens her sad frame of mind. Night falls and the service ends. She is putting on her coat to make her way home and one of the elderly gentlemen, Chaim Rosen, approaches her.
“Rose,” he says, “let me walk you home. It’s not safe.”
“Not necessary,” she replies, “It’s my neighborhood, and I’ve lived here a long time.”
“Please Rose, let me walk with you. I’ll feel better.”
Rose lifts up her head and looks again at Chaim. His late wife, Hindi, had been ayente. Rose had despised her and maintained distance all those years. Chaim had been quiet and always seemed so reserved. Rose had never really spoken to him.
“Come Chaim. Thanks.”
They leave the synagogue and are wending their way home.
“So tell me Chaim, how are you managing. You’re feeling well?”
“Yes Rose, I manage, but it’s hard to go out of the house. I don’t really have any place to go and it’s lonely.”
Rose remembers. Chaim and Hindi had had one son who had died during WWII; such a tragedy. From then on, Hindi was a yente and Chaim was quiet; all those years. They’re walking slowly and twice Chaim reaches out and grasps Rose’s arm to steady her. It has been such a long and tiring day.
As they approach her building, a group of young hoodlums approach. They circle the elderly couple. Chaim tries to push his way through to the building entrance while holding Rose firmly by the arm. He is grabbed and thrown to the ground. Two young thugs are on him, beating him around the body and head as a third is going through his pockets. Rose is being roughly restrained and her mouth gagged by a fourth. She struggles uselessly. She cries silently beneath the smothering rag. It is over in seconds.
Rose drops to the ground sobbing and desperately checks that Chaim is still breathing. He lifts his head.
“Come Chaim, come upstairs; let me help you,” Rose says, helping him struggle to his feet.
They are in Rose's apartment. Rose is applying compresses to the abrasions and bruises on Chaim's face.
“Chaim, are you O.K.? Should I call an ambulance?”
“No, Rose, I'll be fine. It's only bruises. I've had worse.”
“Chaim,” Rose asks, “so many years we're neighbors and we never talk. You have friends? You have whom to talk to?”
“No Rose,” Chaim responds, "since Hindi died I very much keep to myself. I don't like to bother anyone.”
“Chaim, it's Friday night. You're here already. Food I have enough. You'll eat here by me and then we'll decide.”
“OK Rose, then we'll decide.”