Instead of replying she turned to a silver card-holder on the buffet. And drew out and handed me her trump: Cora Lasher Lowenstein, Importer of Fine Objects.
"Antiques," she said as she walked me back toward the front of the shop, "make some people feel more grounded, Mr.-?"
"Professor. Tristan Martens."
"Dr. Martens, is there something else I can show you today?"
"Oh, well. I..."
I pretended to examine another chair, this one with a stiff, harp-like back. I traced its weave blindly with my thumb. Until my watch beeped at the end of my arm, startling me.
"You'll have to excuse me."
But just before taking Mrs. Lowenstein's hand and saying our polite good-byes, I couldn't help but turn, blinking, toward the back of the store. I even agreed with this Mrs. Cora Lowenstein that yes, yes, the little table's message spoke volumes, that indeed, of course, it was worth sharing, worth making public, at least like this, in some small, intimate way. But I knew, as we shook hands, and after I'd turned my back, hurriedly, and escaped her showroom, I knew, as only I could know, and this Mrs. Lowenstein could not, that we had not even been able to name the very different volumes of which we had, separately, been speaking. Or ventured to suggest what very different compulsions it might be that drove some people to touch their hearts and then open their wallets, to buy something beautiful, to hurry and take something precious away from close contact with that dark table.
It was then I knew that this couldn't be allowed to continue. A crime was being perpetrated on West Twenty-fifth Street. A counterfeit.
Yet the table wasn't for sale.
How, then, to steal it from her?
And then I remembered, suddenly, what it was like to be small, just a very small boy, crouching and curling with something forbidden in my bed. Longing for something that I had been told I couldn't have; longing to erase the longing by possessing the wished-for thing; and then, when this couldn't be done, when it was impossible, longing for a longing to replace the first longing, by wishing for something more powerful, for a wish that could drown the drowned wish.
This is perhaps how it is with many of us. The children of Nazis. The children of Jews. We seek to supplant what can't be. We structure our lives around a hole; we pretend, not that it isn't there, for that would be ridiculous, but that with enough effort and determination it can be overcome. And so we survive.
But all I could think to myself, as I started down the street again, hurrying, lightheaded, disbelieving, my sinuses sore and my heart racing, was this very strange thought, which unnerved me, and hurt my chest, and which was perhaps what turned me down the next street, and the next, and the next, and the next, for the following year, until this very moment, walking beside me always like a ghost prodding me with a stick behind my knees: that history left to itself, untended, orphaned, strayed, finally returns and sets up shop as best it can; for every event doesn't necessarily end with the one who makes it, but can float upon the sea, or wing through the air, fluttering, untethered, hovering above the nets at our very backs-until it is caught up again afresh, and brought to light, anew. But with untold and twisted and often unpredictable results, which in this case might be expressed thus, for the moment uselessly, troublingly, senselessly:
My family's skeleton is still doing business.
From The Deadwood Beetle, by Mylene Dressler. (c) September 2001, G. P. Putnam & Sons, used by permission.
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