I began screening her phone calls in January. This
was a penance, one I devised for her in my tormented dreams. The phone rang, I
didn’t answer. Her voice on the answering machine was rasping, choked, the
voice of an old woman. Two days would pass, three. She would call again, more
desperate, even threatening. “I will pick you up at work. I will embarrass
you,” she often said.
But she never came. And I never returned the phone
calls. Instead, every two weeks, like clockwork, I sent out a messenger from my
office with handwritten details of the assignation. For example: Meet me at
Cafe Dante on Macdougal Street at 3:15, Wednesday. It became a ritual, and
there was solace in this. I marked the dates of the notes and the rendezvous in
my Filofax. Every encounter for the last four years of her life was parsed out
in this methodical way.
Even if I was early, she was waiting for me. How
long had she been there? She never said and I did not ask. In fact, I approached
her without a verbal greeting. Occasionally she would lurch forward or rise from
her chair as if to fold me into her chest. When she did this, I pulled back
until she settled again. Then I would sit, usually with my back to the door so
as not to be distracted. I would take off my jacket, remove my eyeglasses from
their case, and begin to examine the menu. When the waiter came, I would ask
about the specials. During the waiting period between the order and the food, I
would take out my notebook and begin the interrogation.
Matter begets matter, stories, stories, curiosity,
curiosities. She began to speak. When she asked why I was taking notes I
explained in a neutral voice, “I am attempting to close the ellipsis.”
“I have not given you permission,” she said.
“Please continue,” I said.
My pen was poised above the paper, my face empty of
expression. I wanted her to be aware of what I was doing but not to feel what I
“I am suffering,” she always said.
I did not respond except to repeat, “I am
attempting to close the ellipsis.”
She continued. “When I was a child ...”
The names of the characters in her stories were
Hungarian, German or Czech, and difficult to spell. I asked her to speak slowly.
This, also, was a penance. In the past, she would glance over names and
locations rapidly, like wind.
Then one day, my own childhood memories surfaced: I
am lying on a couch in a sunlit room as she is saying goodbye to me in her
heavily accented English. I am on my back, and she is leaning over me. She turns
away and recites instructions: Imelda will be looking after me for the entire
day. She will take me to the park and allow me to play in the sand if I promise
to take a bath when I return home. At 2 p.m. I must take a nap. At 6 p.m. I must
eat my supper. At 7 p.m. I must be in bed. She will see me tomorrow.
The dappled light from the Venetian blind creates
shadows on her sculpted cheeks. She is wearing bright red lipstick and long
white gloves though I do not as yet have words for these accouterments nor do I
understand what they represent—affluence, glamour. The war has been over for
several years. I am her American baby.
During the second year of the assignations (this is
now two years before she died) I was more courageous and began to ask direct
questions. For example, “Why did you never kiss me?”
“It was quite simple,” she said. “I was trying
to protect you.”
I wrote this down twice: She was trying to
protect me. She was trying to protect me.
The repetition failed to clarify. Therefore, I asked
her to proceed with an explanation.
“I did not want you to be disappointed,” she
I wrote this down also: She did not want me to be
The third year. We were sitting in a trattoria sipping wine when I asked her
about the camp. I wasn’t talking about summer camp. In summer camp, children
are delivered and picked up on a certain date. Afterwards, they continue with
their lives ...
“I met your father on the march out of the camp
The ellipsis was still there, a vertigo. I became a
reporter gathering details, pulling back the layers of the story.
“Where is my father?”
This is the German word for dead. I had not imagined
my father dead or alive until this moment. But the German word—tot—sounded
She showed me the death certificate. Therefore, I
was able to corroborate this assertion ...
In the fourth year, I met a man and was making love
to him on a regular basis. When there is good sex, there is no paralysis, no
inhibition. I told the man about the ellipsis. He suggested I answer my mother’s
phone calls but I refused.
The twice monthly assignations continued. I found
new locations away from my neighborhood, away from hers. I did not tell my lover
about any of them or allow him to have keys to my apartment. I did not want him
to have access to what remained of my ellipsis. It was the one thing I owned
that comforted me ... those three dots at the end of every sentence ... in the
middle of the story ... at the story’s end ...
©2000 Carol Bergman
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