Making good.

Author:Segal, Lore

FICTION - Short story


Dr. Samuel Rosen believed in the circle. They rearranged their chairs and Gretel, one of the Viennese visitors, volunteered to go first: "I am Gretel Mindel. You are Margot Groszbart. Dr. Samuel Rosen. Father Sebastian Gotthalt--" Here Dr. Rosen held up his hand to say, "How about just Gretel, Margot, Sam ...? It's hard to learn 19 new names." Father Sebastian had brought the six Viennese to New York to meet with the six Viennese-born New Yorkers whom Dr. Rosen had found--not without difficulty--for five intensive days of bridge building. Father Sebastian believed in bridges.

Gretel started over: "I am Gretel. You are Margot. Dr. Sam. Father Sebastian. Bob and Ruth. Erich. Steffi. And your name is--?"

"My name is Konrad," said the eldest of the Viennese--thin, elegant, and tremulous like a man after a heavy illness. Margot Groszbart, one of the New Yorkers, observed his high, narrow nose--an alp of a nose. Margot liked to say the one thing she missed was the mountains.

Konrad Hohenstauf's papery brown lips parted as if reluctantly: "Gretel. Margot. Sam. Father Sebastian. Bob. Ruth. Erich. Steffi. And you are?" He looked past--not at--Shoshannah Goldberg who sat next to him. If looking at Shoshannah was hard it was impossible not to look and try to figure what was wrong--beside the inward-turning left eye, the abbreviated leg, and frozen shoulder--with the way she was held together.

Shoshannah forgot the name of the forgettable Erich Radezki, a pink young Viennese with a round chin and soft round cheeks. Erich got as far as Jakob Kohn, a New Yorker with a Kaiser Franz Joseph mustache. Gretel, on her second turn, was first to remember everybody's name and close the circle.

Dr. Sam wanted input. "Questions? Suggestions? Anything anybody would like to share?"

"Yes, I," Gretel responded. "This morning I walked into this room and was surprised with myself that I believed that you all ... that all you in New York would know each other. I mean I felt surprised why I believed this." Gretel addressed herself to Margot Groszbart. During their first American breakfast of sugared donuts and bad coffee, Gretel had failed to get close enough to talk to the elderly pianist whom she had seen in performance from the back of a Vienna concert hall. Across the room, in New York, Margot Groszbart looked to have retained a lot of black in her hair. Her eyes had a snap; they had lighted briefly on Gretel Mindel before continuing to rove the room. Gretel understood that she had made no impression on the elderly Jewish musician.

Margot Groszbart was surprised at herself too. After not responding to Dr. Rosen's repeated and particular invitation that she join the workshop, she found herself on the phone postponing a visit to her daughter in Los Angeles in order to attend it. Rachel said, "Last time you were here, you told Jack's mother you were proposing to worry about current genocides. You weren't going to keep doing the Holocaust." "I know," Margot had said, 'I know, but it's so fascinating--six of us stuck in a room with six of them. And, unlike your Brooklyn-born mother-in-law, I do not walk around in a state of chronic Holocaust anger." "Why don't you?" Rachel asked her. "Don't know," Margot had answered. "I don't seem to have the chronic-anger gene." Rachel had refrained from questioning her mother's chronic anger toward her mother-in-law and said only, "Come the next week, then, and tell us how it went."

And so here, on this Monday morning, Mar got Groszbart sat on a bottom-chilling metal folding chair in the windowless basement meeting room that Dr. Rosen had rented from the local reform synagogue. The upright in the corner had the jolly, debauched look of a barroom piano. Here, for the next five days, she was going to build bridges with the children and children's children of the Hitler generation.

Dr. Sam, building on Gretel's input, said, "Isn't that what we have come together for? To tell each other what maybe we don't even know that we are thinking?

"What don't we know that we are thinking?" Ruth Schapiro said. Margot began to feel as if she had always known this old, pretty woman with her neat ankles, nice blue suit, hair nicely kept, the kind of red that gets redder with each passing year. Bob Schapiro looked toward his wife. She said, "We know what we are thinking."

"And will you share it with us?" Dr. Sam asked. Bob Schapiro looked at Dr. Sam. Ruth Schapiro said, "The six million."

Konrad Hohenstauf looked at the floor, lifted his pointed, tremulous fingers to cover his mouth and murmured, "Ach, what I have done...?"

To fill the ensuing pause, Margot said, "I have a question. How is it that all of you speak such efficient English?" The Austrians demurred. "Well, you seem to get said what you want to say." During breakfast Margot had given up the attempt to activate her rusty childhood German, first in conversation with the baby-faced Erich, then with Father Sebastian, a powerful, red-haired man who looked at Margot out of intelligent eyes. Neither of the two young men had been about to give up the opportunity of practicing his English. Margot said, "Why could I never get my American daughter to learn German?"

"You want her to learn German?" asked Ruth Schapiro.

Dr. Sam was master of his own Socratic method. When the input for which he had asked turned the conversation off course, he knew an exercise to fetch it home. He went around the circle and had them free-associate with their given names, which they did until a boy appeared with a great cardboard box of Cokes and brown paper bags of kosher lunches.

THE CIRCLE IS NOT a natural configuration for a roomful of strangers. The young...

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