Illustration by Paul Rogers

The Feuchtwanger clan, about to depart for America, would soon be vacating their apartment, which consisted of two cramped rooms in the same reeking hive of a tenement. Still, their flat had a window overlooking the courtyard, which, foul though it was, was at least a few yards removed from the blight of Zabludeve Street.

Among Basha Puah’s catalogue of grievances was the complaint that her daughter was working too hard and, while she bestowed her bounty on others, did nothing for herself. But for Jocheved the success of her labors was reward enough, and as for the absence of personal ornamentation, her beauty shone all the brighter in contrast to her drab apparel. It was a winsome beauty that seemed almost her own invention, since neither of her herring-gutted parents could have taken credit for it. They could never explain the luxuriant black curls with their auroral lights, or the skin like the clarified cream from her freezing pail, the satiny eyes that flickered with a lambent green flame. Sometimes, despite her modest attire, perspiration in the heat of the day revealed certain contours of her slender form; then the dovelike breasts beneath her coarse linen bodice looked as if they yearned for release. While the girl, in her industriousness, was only vaguely aware of her tantalizing appeal, this was far from the case among the ghetto lads, who fell over each other in their eagerness to purchase her frozen custards and sorbets. They flirted with her, the bold ones, inviting her to go for strolls along the river or accompany them to the cafés; but borrowing a text from her mother, albeit tempered with humor, she would admonish them not to waste her time, there were customers waiting. A couple of the more persistent had even tried to present themselves as bona fide suitors, assuring her that they expected no dowry and promising her a comfortable future. But while a husband and children did seem an inevitability, for the time being, clearly prospering without them, Jocheved only laughed at the young men for the nuisances they were.

Most accepted her chastening in the good-natured spirit with which it was given, though some of her more fervent admirers became bitter. Basha Puah, on whom little was lost, noted their truculent attitude and cautioned her daughter that looks such as hers could be more of a curse than a blessing.

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