When I came to America I knew hardly anyone, only a second cousin who was a locksmith, so I worked for him. If he had been a shoemaker I would have become a shoemaker; if he had shoveled shit I, too, would have shoveled. But. He was a locksmith. He taught me the trade, and that's what I became. We had a little business together, and then one year he got TB, they had to cut his liver out and he got a 106 temperature and died, so I took it over. I sent his wife half the profits, even after she got married to a doctor and moved to Bay Side. I stayed in the business for over fifty years. It's not what I would have imagined for myself. And yet. The truth is I came to like it. I helped those in who were locked out, others I helped keep out what couldn't be let in, so that they could sleep without nightmares.
Then one day I was looking out the window. Maybe I was contemplating the sky. Put even a fool in front of the window and you'll get a Spinoza. The afternoon passed, darkness sifted down. I reached for the chain on the bulb and suddenly it was as if an elephant had stepped on my heart. I fell to my knees. I thought: I didn't live forever. A minute passed. Another minute. Another. I clawed at the floor, pulling myself along toward the phone.
Twenty-five percent of my heart muscle died. It took time to recover and I never went back to work. A year went by. I was aware of time passing for the sake of itself. I stared out the window. I watched fall turn into winter. Winter into spring. Some days Bruno came downstairs to sit with me. We've known each other since we were boys; we went to school together. He was one of my closest friends, with thick glasses, reddish hair that he hated, and a voice that cracked when he was emotional. I didn't know he was still alive and then one day I was walking down East Broadway and I heard his voice. I turned around. His back was to me, he was standing in front of the grocer's asking for the price of some fruit. I thought: You're hearing things, you're such a dreamer, what is the likelihood your boyhood friend? I stood frozen on the sidewalk. He's in the ground, I told myself. Here you are in the United States of America, there's McDonald's, get a grip. I waited just to make sure. I wouldn't have recognized his face. But. The way he walked was unmistakable. He was about to pass me, I put my arm out. I didn't know what I was doing, maybe I was seeing things, I grabbed his sleeve. Bruno, I said. He stopped and turned. At first he seemed scared and then confused. Bruno. He looked at me, his eyes began to fill with tears. I grabbed his other hand, I had one sleeve and one hand. Bruno. He started to shake. He touched his hand to my cheek. We were in the middle of the sidewalk, people were hurrying past, it was a warm day in June. His hair was thin and white. He dropped the fruit. Bruno.
A couple of years later his wife died. It was too much to live in the apartment without her, everything reminded him, so when an apartment opened up in the floor above me he moved in. We often sit together at my kitchen table. The whole afternoon might go by without our saying a word. If we do talk, we never speak in Yiddish. The words of our childhood became strangers to uswe couldn't use them in the same way and so we chose not to use them at all. Life demanded a new language. Bruno, my old faithful. I haven't sufficiently described him. Is it enough to say he is indescribable? No. Better to try and fail than not to try at all. The soft down of your white hair lightly playing about your scalp like a half-blown dandelion. Many times, Bruno, I have been tempted to blow on your head and make a wish. Only a last scrap of decorum keeps me from it. Or perhaps I should begin with your height, which is very short. On a good day you barely reach my chest. Or shall I start with the eyeglasses you fished out of a box and claimed as your own, enormous round things that magnify your eyes so that your permanent response appears to be a 4.5 on the Richter? They're women's glasses, Bruno! I've never had the heart to tell you. Many times I've tried. And something else. When we were boys you were the greater writer. I had too much pride to tell you then. But. I knew. Believe me when I say, I knew it then as I know it now. It pains me to think how I never told you, and also to think of all you could have been. Forgive me, Bruno. My oldest friend. My best. I haven't done you justice. You have given me such company at the end of my life. You, especially you, who might have found the words for it all.
From The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Copyright Nicole Krauss 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the WW.Norton. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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