by Anthony Dobranski
(Just catching up? Find chapters 1-7 here.)
The nice thing about a uniform was that it could go everywhere, from laboratory to holiday dinner. Enos cleaned himself up in a Bureau bathroom. He found a limp but colorful bouquet at the Safeway store across from the security gate.
Dorothy lived south of the Bureau in Tilden Gardens, a complex of new brick buildings that kept the same old wooded feel as the Bureau campus. He knocked on the apartment door at ten after six. A man in glasses hurried him in.
“You’re just in time. I’m Leo,” the man said, shaking Enos’s hand. Enos recognized him as the man who had looked over the fence for his assailant, last week at the Sanders’s.
“Enos. Thanks.” In the living room, people stood and faced the windows, where the boy Benny read Hebrew from a sheet of paper. From the far corner of the room, Dorothy gave Enos a little wave. Next to her, with an apron over an ivy-green dress, stood a pregnant woman, by age and resemblance Dorothy’s sister. Enos had seen her at the Sanders house. Another blonde woman, turned out in white mohair with a crisply pleated dress, stood watching Benny with glistening eyes. She was much older than the sisters, but one had to look hard to see it.
Benny finished his first recital, and they all said “Amen.” Benny looked peaked. While his family congratulated him, the pregnant woman gave Benny a small jar with wine splashed in the bottom. She glanced at Enos.
“He won’t drink it, but it’s for the blessing,” she said. “We never really met last time. I’m Shirley.”
Enos offered her the flowers. “Aren’t you sweet?” she said. “Benny’s reading the kiddush now. It’s a blessing we offer to God for leading us from Egypt. You can say Amen with us. Wine?” The square bottle had a Star of David molded in the sides.
“Thanks, no.” He decided to be honest. “I don’t drink.”
“Oh, that’s fine. Neither does Benny,” she said. “And the doctor says not much for me. I’ll get you some cider.”
Benny held up the glass and began to read again. After a minute, he grew flustered. His parents sat with him to finish the recital, while the youngish older woman passed around plates of sliced apple and honey.
“It’s our traditional New Year’s dish,” the woman said in a husky New York accent. “Even this terrible time, we start a new year with sweet hopes. I’m Benny’s grandmother Rachel. Such an honor to have a soldier in our home.”
“Enos Olsen, ma’am. Very kind of you to welcome me. What year is it?”
“5703,” Leo said, bringing Enos a glass of cider. “Sorry to rush you in. The first prayer has to be done before sunset. We couldn’t wait.”
“Sorry to be late. This is a swell apartment.”
“Isn’t it though? Brand new and with so much light. We were lucky to find it. Mom, this is Corporal Enos Olsen. He chased off a prowler last week, outside our friends’ house.”
“How awful! Tell me everything,” Rachel said.
Enos had only gotten to the chase before Benny’s antics called Rachel away. He joined Dorothy, clinking his cider glass with her wine.
“You sleep here in the living room?” he asked. “Does the sofa fold out?”
“The mattress is tucked away in Benny’s room,” Dorothy said. “I’m actually starting to like it. Beds take up an awful lot of space and you only use them when you’re asleep. When I go back to teacher’s school I may get rid of my bedframe and stand the mattress in the corner.”
“What about Rachel?”
“She says she’s fine with the sofa. It’s cramped, but lots of people have it worse. Four girls to a bedroom, some places, and no noise after nine o’clock. I’m sitting pretty here.”
“I like your optimism,” Enos said. “It’s hard to come by lately.”
Shirley called them to table. Dinner was hearty and festive, tender beef brisket with carrots and onions, potatoes and thick slices of bread. Between them, Dorothy’s family went through some wine, enough so that “Enos and Benny excepted” started to get laughs, Enos and Benny excepted.
Over a dessert of apple pie, Enos took a lesson in Hebrew writing from Leo and Benny. In turn Enos showed them the Deseret alphabet, a 19th-century Mormon effort to simplify English spelling by adding more letters. Enos and Benny wrote each other’s names in different scripts:
Before Benny’s bedtime, Leo took out his violin. He played soft Bach sonatas from scores for about twenty minutes. Rachel and Dorothy took Benny to bed while Shirley stayed off her feet.
“You’re very good,” Enos told Leo. “My sister plays. She’s all right, but she’s young. You must have done it a lot.”
“In school, my friends and I played together. I was better then. But I want Benny to learn, some kind of music anyway, and violin’s good for apartments. When he was born, I picked it up again.” He refilled his wine. “That’s what amazes me about what’s going on this war. Half the music I play is by Germans. They have a wonderful culture. I know they were bitter about the last war, but to follow this madman? There’s stories of mass killings. They’re saying the Nazis plan to kill every Jew in Europe. It’s madness. But there’s nothing in the news. Have you heard anything?”
“Not a lot. Maybe they’re waiting for proof. Pictures or something.”
Leo grunted. “I’m not sure I can give them such credit.”
“We Mormons had our own battles, in the early days. I understand your difficulty.”
Shirley suddenly burst into tears, her face both sad and surprised. She closed her lips tight and tried to wave it away.
Dorothy came out to see Shirley in a state. “What’s wrong?” She sat to comfort her sister.
“She just started crying,” Leo said. “We were talking about Europe.”
“Oh it’s not that. Gosh, you’ll think I’m the silliest goose,” Shirley said. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s the wine,” Dorothy said.
“Yes, I suppose. It’s nothing, not like Europe. Oh, all right. Last June, Leo had forgotten his lunch, again. It was about a month after we got here and it was darned hot. But I trudged on over. They left word I was to wait in the courtyard. A fellow was there alone eating a sandwich. We got to talking. Well, he flirted with me.”
Leo’s eyes swam. “What?”
“Nothing crude. He just told me I was pretty.”
Dorothy giggled into her hand.
“What, a man can’t flirt with me?”
“Of course, my dear,” Leo said. “All men can flirt with you.” He started laughing.
“I asked if he was Jewish. Yes, he said. So I said, ‘I’m married. But I have a sister. I’ll introduce you, maybe. If you can be a nice boy and not flirt with me any more.’ Well he came up and gave me a business card. ‘Any sister of yours I’d love to meet,’ he said.”
“And where is this flirty young man?” Dorothy asked coolly.
“Craziest thing – he died. Isn’t that some bum luck.” She sat up straighter, knees together and feet splayed out. “Heatstroke at a dance. Maybe he was 4-F or something. I don’t know what made me think about it. I just, I thought of all things, to die at a playground.”
A scent of prunes filled the air. Leo had opened a can of tobacco and was packing it into a curved pipe. With his large glasses, Enos thought Leo looked like a German figurine used for burning incense.
“You’re smoking,” Shirley hissed.
“You’re lamenting your dead lovers.”
“Oh, you awful man. Go stand by the window.”
“Did you keep the card?” Enos asked. “Do you remember his name?”
“I added the card to the paper drive, but, yes. His name was Clement Harding.”
“I heard about that fellow,” Leo said. “Bureau scientist. Young fellow. Heatstroke? Poor fellow.”
“With a name like that, he was Jewish?” Dorothy asked.
“That’s what he said. Why lie about it?”
“To seduce a lovely war widow. Enos, help me out.”
Enos felt the story of Harding’s murder jumping inside him, but he kept it lighthearted. “Men will say lots to a pretty lady.”
“Does my husband say I’m pretty? No. ” She started laughing too. “I’m so sorry, Dottie. I’m a terrible shadchan.”
Rachel came out from the bedroom to shush them for being too loud. They served the rest of the pie again, with liqueur and coffee, and lemon-water for Enos. The mention of Harding distracted Enos from the conversation. The man murdered by the man in black tried brazenly to get to know a woman at the Sanders’s dinner. He worried at the idea in his head, but it didn’t seem enough of a connection.
Leo brought out a deck of cards, but they were one too many for bridge. Enos took it as a good time to leave, with protestations and a brown bag with a dish of leftovers.
Dorothy walked him out to the building exit. Her shoes clacked loudly in the hallway.
“Quite an evening,” she said. “My sister’s secret life. For the tabloids.”
“It was real nice, making friends with you all. By the way, what’s a ‘shadchan’?”
“A professional matchmaker. Clearly my sister thinks I need fixing up,” Dorothy said. “Now, you and I – can’t date. Right? There’s just no point in starting it. It’s foolish.”
“Yes,” Enos said.
“But you like me.”
Enos nodded. “I do.”
She cocked her head sideways, curly dark hair swaying across her shoulder. “You think other boys might like me? Jewish boys, out there in the big world? Maybe if you meet someone I could go to temple with, and if you can stand five minutes with him, introduce me. I’ll do the same for you, because I like you.”
“You meet a lot of Mormon gals, out in the world?”
“I meet a lot of gals, Enos, every day. Love to put in a good word for you if I meet someone. And otherwise we can just be friends. Do Mormons dance?”
“Sure. Do Jews?”
“Mostly in circles.” Dorothy laughed at her own joke. “But if this Glen Echo place is enough to kill my sister’s lover, it sounds like a good time.”
“You know you say everything like a dare?” Enos said. “All right. How much does it cost?”
“You’re broke too, huh? There’s an arcade, and refreshment stands. If you’re content with water fountains, not much at all. Plus a token for the trolley ride.”
“Meet you at the trolley stop tomorrow at seven?”
“See you there.” She closed the door behind him.
Gray city-lit clouds spread above the wide expanse of Connecticut Avenue. The wind had picked up, and in the wet air he felt cold. He hurried south down Connecticut, looking ahead for a pay phone to report the news about Harding to Major Farmer.
NEXT WEEK: A dance at Glen Echo Park!
© 2015 Anthony Dobranski