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I have a hundred loaves to shape; bagels to boil; bialys to fill. I do, but I check my watch. My timer will go off in three minutes, then I will have to go back into the kitchen. Weber replies. His words sound as if he is biting them off a string: precise, clipped. My gaze locks on his. Certainly Mr. My grandma is always talking about how at her age, her friends are dropping like flies. I imagine for Mr. Weber, the same is true. From the kitchen comes the sound of the timer buzzing; it wakes up Eva, who begins to bark. Almost simultaneously there is a sweep of approaching lights through the glass windows of the bakery as the Advance Transit bus slows at its corner stop.
His face softens. Call me Josef. I notice that Mr. Weber — Josef — has left behind the little black book he is always writing in when he sits here. It is banded with elastic. I grab it and run into the storm. I step right into a gigantic puddle, which soaks my clog. I hold up the black book and walk toward him. He looks startled.
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This is just a place to keep all my thoughts. They get away from me, otherwise. The driver of the Advanced Transit bus honks twice. We both turn in the direction of the noise. In a town the size of Westerbrook, which was derived of Yankee Mayflower stock, being Jewish made my sisters and I anomalies, as different from our classmates as if our skin happened to be bright blue. I went to Hebrew school because my sisters did, but when the time came to be bat mitvahed, I begged to drop out.
I used to sit at Friday night services listening to the cantor sing in Hebrew and wondered why Jewish music was full of minor chords.
My parents did, however, fast on Yom Kippur and refused to have a Christmas tree. To me, it seemed they were following an abridged version of Judaism, so who were they to tell me how and what to believe? I said this to my parents when I was lobbying to not have a bat mitzvah. My father got very quiet. Then he sent me to my room without supper, which was truly shocking because in our household, we were encouraged to state our opinions, no matter how controversial. It was my mother who sneaked upstairs with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for me.
I have a problem going to Hebrew School. This was a seemingly random observation. She had been born in Poland and still had an accent that made it sound like she was always singing. And yes, Grandma Minka wore sweaters, even when it was ninety degrees out, but she also wore too much blush and leopard prints. It took me a moment to realize what my mother was telling me.
How had I made it to age twelve without knowing this? Why would my parents have hidden this information from me?
See a Problem?
We had studied the Holocaust in social studies class. It was hard to imagine the textbook pictures of living skeletons matching the plump woman who always smelled like lilacs, who never missed her weekly hair appointment, who kept brightly colored canes in every room of her house so that she always had easy access to one. She was not part of history. She was just my grandma.
Jodi Picoult · The Storyteller
But your father, he started going. I think it was his way of processing what happened to her. Here I was, trying desperately to shed my religion so I could blend in, and it turned out being Jewish was truly in my blood; that I was the descendant of a Holocaust survivor. Frustrated, angry, and selfish, I threw myself backward against my pillows. It has nothing to do with me. If she had been in a concentration camp during World War II, she must have been a completely different person at the time.
The picture book was of Cinderella, but she must have been thinking of something else, because her tale was about a dark forest and monsters; a trail of oats and grain. I kept reaching for it, pulling at her sweater. At one point, the wool rode up just far enough for me to be distracted by the faded blue numbers on her inner forearm. I had memorized my telephone number the previous year in preschool, so that if I got lost, the police could call home. The next day, when Josef Weber comes into the bakery at , I bring out a small bag of homemade dog biscuits for Eva, and a loaf of bread for him.
You can smell it, when an artisanal bread comes out of the oven: the earthy, dark scent, as if you are in the thick of the woods.
Truth to the Teller
I glance with pride at the variegated crumb. We chat — about the weather, about Eva, about my favorite recipes. We chat, as Mary closes up the bakery around us. We chat, even as I dart back and forth into the kitchen to answer the call of various timers. There are even moments during our conversation that when I forget to disguise the pitted side of my face by ducking my head or letting my hair fall in front of it.
But Josef, he is either too polite or too embarrassed to mention it. Or maybe, just maybe, there are other things about me he finds more interesting. His hand shakes as he reaches for his mug of coffee. The pocked drawstring of skin flapping the corner of my right eye. The silver hatchmarks cutting through my eyebrow. The way my mouth tugs upward, because of the way my cheekbone healed.
The bald notch at my scalp that no longer grows hair, that my bangs are brushed to carefully cover. The face of a monster. Maybe because loneliness is a mirror; and recognizes itself. My hand falls away, letting the curtain of my hair cover my scars again. I just wish it were that easy to camouflage the ones inside me.
To his credit, Josef does not gasp or recoil. Steadily, he meets my gaze. He lives at the end of small cul-de-sac, and I am parked at the curb trying to concoct a reason that I might be dropping by when he knocks on the window of my car. She dances around his feet in circles. I consider telling him that it is a coincidence, that I took a wrong turn. Or that I have a friend who lives nearby. But instead, I wind up speaking the truth.
His home is not decorated the way I would have expected. There are chintz couches with lace doilies on the back, photographs on top of a dusty mantel, a collection of Hummel figurines on a shelf. For fifty-one very good years and one not-so-good.
‘The Storyteller’ Reimagining In Works by Neil Gaiman, Jim Henson Co. & Fremantle
This must have been the reason he started coming to grief group, I realize. He takes the teabag from his mug and carefully wraps a noose around it on the bowl of the spoon. In fifty years, I never once forgot, but she never gave me the benefit of the doubt. Drove me crazy.
Now, I would give anything to hear her remind me again. I felt like the biggest loser on earth.
And now I realize how lucky I was. He shakes his head. My gaze lands on a chess set on a sideboard behind Josef. The pieces are all carefully carved: pawns shaped like tiny unicorns, rooks fashioned into centaurs, a set of Pegasus knights. I stare with even more admiration at the chessboard, with its seamless inlay of cherry and maple squares; at the tiny jeweled eyes of the mermaid. I pick up the vampire and run my finger over the smooth, slick skull of the creature.
Marta had no patience for the game. I look up at him. Josef becomes a regular at Our Daily Bread, and I spend hours at his house, learning chess. He teaches me to control the center of the board. To not give up any pieces unless absolutely necessary, and how to assign arbitrary point values to each knight and bishop and rook and pawn so that I can make those decisions.