right behind you.â I reached one hand behind my head, hoping heâd grab it, but he didnât. âHold on to the bars,â he instructed. âItâs safer.â
I gripped the metal bars on each side of the car so tightly that my fingers went numb. I knew the next fall could be coming any secondâno way to prepare, yet no way to pretend it wasnât coming. I tensed my body and held my breath, darkness all around me, wishing my new watch had a stopwatch so I could count the seconds until this ride ended and I could breathe again.
âThat was awesome,â a kid behind me told his friend as we stepped out onto the platform. âLetâs go on again.â
I looked at my father. He was a bit unsteady on his feet, looking pale, sweating. He looked like he could barf.
âI need to sit down for a minute,â he said to me, heading for a bench by the exit. âDonât go where I canât see you.â
I turned around and saw Mickey Mouse standing by the doors, Japanese tourists taking his photo. When they dispersed, he spotted me, perhaps remembering me from an earlier hour. He spread his arms, both his hands open. I looked back at my father, mopping his forehead with a handkerchief; he wasnât watching. I turned around and ran toward Mickey, putting my numb hands in his white-gloved paws for a moment. He squeezed my hands; I felt it. Then I threw my arms around Mickey and pushed my head against his stomach, hugging him tight. And he put his hands on my shoulders and hugged me back.
The following day the rabbi didnât come to work. I didnât realize it until the end of the day, when Mrs. Goldfarb knocked on my door as she passed on her way to her car.
âYouâve got the car to yourself today, Benjamin,â she said. âRabbi Zuckerman stayed home.â
âIs he sick?â I asked. I wondered if heâd caught a cold from the previous dayâs downpour. Had I covered him enough with my umbrella?
âHe didnât sound too bad when he called this morning, maybe just a little under the weather,â she said. âI wouldnât worry. Itâs probably better for him to take a day off now and then anyway, at his age. I can run the store just fine without him.â
Mrs. Goldfarb might not have been concerned about him, but I was. I drove up to his house alone and parked in the driveway. I walked up to the door and rang the bell.
He opened the front door, dressed not in a bathrobe or pajamas, but in the exact same clothes he usually wore to work. Including the hard shoes.
âBenji? What are you doing here?â he asked through the screen door.
âMrs. Goldfarb told me you were home sick and I wanted to stop by and make sure you were all right.â
He opened the screen door and ushered me in. âYou were worried about me?â he asked, perhaps hopeful, perhaps incredulous.
âI thought maybe you might need something from the store, some medicine or some food, if youâre sick,â I said. Then, simply: âYes, I was worried about you.â
He offered me the wingback chair again and the same dish of old nuts. I accepted this time. âIâll get you a glass of water,â he said, excusing himself to go to the kitchen for what must have been his automatic response to houseguests.
He returned with two glasses and sat on the sofa across from me.
âSo are you sick?â I asked.
âYes and no,â he said.
I looked at him quizzically.
âMy body is fine, old and feeble, but fine,â he said, looking down at his glass. âItâs my heart that is sick. Iâve just been thinking about my Sophie.â
Sure, I thought, ever since yesterdayâs awkward visit. But here was my second chance.
âWhat was she like?â I asked.
He brushed me off. âYou donât want to hear about her.â
âYes,â I said. âI do.â
He lifted his
Lynn Picknett, Clive Prince