Sweet Like Sugar
right behind you.” I reached one hand behind my head, hoping he’d grab it, but he didn’t. “Hold on to the bars,” he instructed. “It’s safer.”
    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 second—no way to prepare, yet no way to pretend it wasn’t 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.
    â€œThat was awesome,” a kid behind me told his friend as we stepped out onto the platform. “Let’s go on again.”
    I looked at my father. He was a bit unsteady on his feet, looking pale, sweating. He looked like he could barf.
    â€œI need to sit down for a minute,” he said to me, heading for a bench by the exit. “Don’t go where I can’t see you.”
    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 wasn’t 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.
    Â 
    The following day the rabbi didn’t come to work. I didn’t realize it until the end of the day, when Mrs. Goldfarb knocked on my door as she passed on her way to her car.
    â€œYou’ve got the car to yourself today, Benjamin,” she said. “Rabbi Zuckerman stayed home.”
    â€œIs he sick?” I asked. I wondered if he’d caught a cold from the previous day’s downpour. Had I covered him enough with my umbrella?
    â€œHe didn’t sound too bad when he called this morning, maybe just a little under the weather,” she said. “I wouldn’t worry. It’s 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.”
    She left.
    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.
    â€œBenji? What are you doing here?” he asked through the screen door.
    â€œMrs. Goldfarb told me you were home sick and I wanted to stop by and make sure you were all right.”
    He opened the screen door and ushered me in. “You were worried about me?” he asked, perhaps hopeful, perhaps incredulous.
    â€œI thought maybe you might need something from the store, some medicine or some food, if you’re sick,” I said. Then, simply: “Yes, I was worried about you.”
    He offered me the wingback chair again and the same dish of old nuts. I accepted this time. “I’ll get you a glass of water,” 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.
    â€œSo are you sick?” I asked.
    â€œYes and no,” he said.
    I looked at him quizzically.
    â€œMy body is fine, old and feeble, but fine,” he said, looking down at his glass. “It’s my heart that is sick. I’ve just been thinking about my Sophie.”
    Sure, I thought, ever since yesterday’s awkward visit. But here was my second chance.
    â€œWhat was she like?” I asked.
    He brushed me off. “You don’t want to hear about her.”
    â€œYes,” I said. “I do.”
    He lifted his

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