But these questions, rather than overwhelm her, seemed to pose a merely abstract problem, just as in her uncustomary attire the girl felt the weight of her grief reduced to an almost hypothetical burden. What was more, beyond the lightening of her leaden heart, her masquerade offered obvious practical advantages. For one thing, it would be easier to deal with the perils of travel as a man . . . as, say, Max Feinshmeker. She pulled the name out of thin air and immediately warmed to it, how its jaunty consonants mocked her own somber aspect, lifting her spirits. If not quite a perfect fit, it was a name that, like her new suit of clothes, she would eventually grow into. She would be Max Feinshmeker, nephew of the deceased Frostbissen couple on the family’s distaff side, a young man for whom the complications of the journey to the Golden Land would constitute a great adventure. Jocheved felt the slightest twinge of excitement at the prospect.
Of course, one could argue there were any number of favors that might be more easily obtained by a woman—a notion that turned Max Feinshmeker’s stomach and filled him with disgust. This early evidence of her dual disposition prompted a fluttering in Jocheved’s breast: She was Max, a skeptical, forward-thinking youth, a staunch adherent of Haskalah, the Jewish enlightenment movement, and disdainful of the outdated tradition the girl had been raised in; though that tradition, like the persistence of the girl herself, still cramped his modern attitudes and worried his bones. Jocheved’s thoughts then returned ruefully to the matter of capital, to the documents that might have to be forged, the unfriendly world that must be navigated between her ramshackle ghetto street and America. With all this in mind she rose from the chair and propped the stiff-crowned derby at a gallant angle on her handsome cropped head. Then she set off in the direction of Pisgat’s icehouse without a clue as to how she would proceed but with a lightness of step that the defeated daughter of Salo Frostbissen would never have been capable of.
She rapped at the wire-glass window in the door of Zalman Pisgat’s disordered office, while behind her porters in leather aprons shouldered sides of beef like wounded comrades and wheeled trolleys stacked with leaky produce crates.
On being admitted Jocheved announced tentatively, “I’m Max Feinshmeker,” and inspirited by her own declaration, “a near relation of the Frostbissen clan on the maternal side. I’ve come to relieve the proprietor of this establishment of the casket and its contents abandoned by my Uncle Salo at his demise.” It was the speech she’d rehearsed all the way from Zabludeve Street.
The ice mensch scratched the prickly pear of his jaw. Like everyone else he’d heard the tale of Salo’s bloody quietus; he’d even been questioned by the police concerning his employee of some twenty-odd years, though as long as Jewish crime didn’t spill beyond the confines of the ghetto, such investigations remained largely a formality. Salo’s death had reminded Pisgat, first, of the existence of the watchman, a timeworn fixture who barely earned his keep, and then of a long-forgotten item stored on his premises; he’d been half-expecting that someone might turn up to reclaim it. Old goat that he was, he had hoped it might be the girl, the story of whose fall had also reached his ears, and he was visibly disappointed that another representative of the family had come in her stead. Turning up the flaps of his plush cap to release his jug ears, he wondered aloud what had become of Jocheved.
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