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‘On the Edge of Our City’: A Short Story for Yom Kippur by Aharon Appelfeld

A Holocaust survivor wrestles with the angel of history on the beach in Tel Aviv

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Chapter 9

When he appeared the day before yesterday, it seemed to me that he’d grown. I knew that at his age, people don’t grow, but still I said, stupidly, “You’re taller, aren’t you?”

He lowered his head without answering me.

We didn’t linger in the house but went to a café. After sipping the coffee, I expect him to make his requests. It’s not easy for him to ask, apparently. “Dad, I want to ask you for something,” is how he usually begins. The word, “Dad,” more than any other word, gives me the chills. This time I answered with restraint and said, “Just what?”

“I want to expand the mini-market,” he got straight to the point.

“How?”

“I can buy the cosmetics shop next door.”

“How much does it cost?”

He mentioned the sum.

Until now he hadn’t dared to ask for so much. “I have to think,” I said.

If it weren’t for his mother’s features, it would have been easier for me to talk with him, I assume. What can I do? Those features drive me out of my mind.

Emil is thirty now. Over the years we’ve developed mutual suspiciousness. I, in any event, have learned to use few words. Sometimes I sense the reason he won’t speak isn’t only that he has no words. He laid his eyes on me and then lowered them. It’s hard to get complete sentences out of his mouth. I, too, surprisingly, lose words with him. I speak brokenly, the order of the words in my mouth breaks down, and, to tell the truth, I’m perplexed. He would do better not to come. I greet him without joy and bend my attention to him.

Emil’s appearance is somewhat deceptive. He’s broad like his mother and sturdy, but not quick. His reactions are slow. Sometimes it seems to me that what I explain to him isn’t grasped, or it’s grasped very partially. Because of that feeling, I repeat my words two or three times. That, I assume, wearies him, but he’s patient, like his mother. It’s hard to upset him.

He’s been married for five years. He has no children. Why don’t they have children? I never asked. I don’t like people to meddle in my life, and I don’t meddle in other people’s lives. Once though he hinted to me that his wife was having trouble getting pregnant. I didn’t ask any more. At that time I would make him a cup of coffee, and we would sit in the living room and drink. After a while I learned: that closeness wasn’t good either for him or for me. It was better to sit in a café among strangers.

In time I understood that sitting in a café for a long time wasn’t desirable either. After the café, we go on to a restaurant. I remembered that he wanted to expand the mini-market, and I asked: “Is it your initiative?”

“Mine,” he said, and a childish smile rose to his lips.

“Did you ever think about opening a supermarket?” I resumed my old ways.

“No.”

“Big things expand a person’s horizons, don’t they?”

“True,” he said, but he immediately added, “if I buy the cosmetic shop next door, I’ll have a mini-market with a new shopping area, and it will be a real convenience store.”

“Is that all you want?”

“No need for more.”

I looked at him. There was compassion in my heart, but it wasn’t free of annoyance.

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‘On the Edge of Our City’: A Short Story for Yom Kippur by Aharon Appelfeld

A Holocaust survivor wrestles with the angel of history on the beach in Tel Aviv