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Never Too Old

The centenarian hero of the forthcoming novel Liebestod enjoys a ménage à six with a rabbi’s wife, a Brazilian bombshell, and a three-legged cat

Leslie Epstein
February 08, 2012
(Based on a 1919 woodcut by Frans Masereel)
(Based on a 1919 woodcut by Frans Masereel)

Friends! Leib Goldkorn speaking. Though I can hardly believe myself the miraculous events I am about to relate. They took place on the night of my 104th birthday, in my birthplace of Iglau—now, in the Czech Republic, the town of Jihlava. Yes, in my old boyhood home, in my bedroom, and on the tafetta-covered bed of my youth. Also sleeping within the walls of Number 5 Lindenstrasse, the following personages:

—Three of my cousins, Zipporah, the rebbetzin, that is, wife to a rabbi; Josefina, the Brazilian Bombshell, no more than age 30; and Abdi, the rabbi’s son, a muscular mesomorph with the defect of a lisp.

—Also: “Miss” Iveta Crumsovatna, Deputy Mayor, town of Jihlava, for Culture, Entertainments, and Sports. On the thin side. Jasmine perfume.

—Last: my feline friend, Hymena, a three-legged cat, green-eyed and red, with the general appearance of a brush that is used to clean bottles.

Let us return to the midnight hour. I had been asleep and dreaming, as is the wont of old men, of pretty little pigtailed things. I was awakened by a rustle and the creak of my door. I in my nightdress sat up: pushing through the crack, a slippered foot and the five plump fingers of a hand. Zipporah! The rebbetzin! Tip-toeing into my chamber. As the full figure drew closer, I calmly addressed her: “Begone, Madam. You are but a dream, a fig leaf of fancy.”

She did not vanish. She came toward me, speaking thus: “Oh, dear man, look at you! Such a nightcap! With a ball at the end.”

Still I resisted. “Madam, Leib Goldkorn cannot be fooled by such a wool-of-the wisp. Be off! To horse!”

But she did not go off. Instead, in her tent-like caftan, she drew closer. “Permission, if you please, to sit?” She pointed to a corner of my feather-filled mattress. I nodded. “Cousin Goldkorn, I have for you certain feelings. Look, I will show them to you.” And with that she pulled both halves of her robe aside.

Like many a youth, I took much interest in the operations of the Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG, particularly the LZ-4, which I once saw sailing over the Bohemian-Moravian Heights, and the LZ-11, the Viktoria Luise, named for the Duchess of Brunswick, who with her high waist and hair in a bun was for the lads of Iglau a hot ticket. What the spouse of Rabbi Yitzhak ben Kaspar did when she offered to show me her feelings was to release from the hanger of her opened caftan two such Zeppelins, which, in this windless atmosphere, hung motionless before my gaping eyes.

It was on this very bed and on that very spot that my mother, Falma, had perched when reading to her only male child a Silesian fairy tale; or rocking him in times of illness; or, on more than one occasion, shedding with him a tear as she complained of the attentions shown to our housemaid by my putative père. Herr Doktor Freud, of nearby Vienna, might say that this was the reason I in the grip of a primitive instinct threw off my nightshirt and lurched forward on all fours, taking the leftward mam in my mouth and suckling there a full moment before changing objects and beginning to nurse at the mam on the right. And in the dark continent? Stirrings.

Suddenly, a crash! a bang! And the door flew wide. The Bombshell!

Meu Leib! With another amante!”

“Ho, ho. It is not what you think. Nourishment only. Water, water everywhere. You know. And not a drop to drink.”


Uttering that cry, Josefina dashed to the non-Sealy and began to climb aboard. “Not her. Me! I know what Leibie like. Eh? He like the sapatos. Sapatos com salto. With heels.”

By this she meant not any old McAn but her own five-inchers, red with black, shiny stilettos. But the Brazilian did not allow me the pleasure of examining the buckles, the straps, or the ankle knobs trapped inside them; instead, in an athletic maneuver, she leaped to my back, upon whose spine she began to trod.

“Ha, ha. I have hirsute shoulders. This has been from childhood an embarrassment.”

Olha que coisa mais linda—” The Bombshell was singing the lyrics to “The Girl From Impanema,” while doing a samba across the short ribs.

Now occurred a moment that was even harder to believe. Through the open door strode the Deputy Mayor for Culture, Entertainments, and Sports.

“Leibie, Milácky, it is I, your Iveta.”

Not only that, she was barefoot. Barefoot, comrades! And through the loosened top of her waistcoat the pink eye of each modest mam came a-winking and a-peeking. Was it at that sight, or her smell of gardenia, that my Jewish-style member decided to explore the world outside its S. Klein drawers?

What happened next was the sort of event one finds in the rearmost pages of R.F. von Krafft-Ebing. There one might read of the man who drank his own urine, or of another man, of the upper-classes, who achieved transports with a rope. Prepare yourselves, friends: The Crumsovatna joined the jamboree. Without hesitation she began to slide across the mattress on her back to where I remained on my hands and knees; with skill she maneuvered downward and still further downward, until she lay with her head beneath my sirloins. Then, opening her mouth, she took all eighty centimeters of Pan Johnson inside it. Never in my lifetime, and almost certainly not in yours, has such a thing occurred. My feelings were mixed. On the one hand, there were in proximity teeth, molars and bicuspids, which caused a certain alarm; on the other there was a feeling of warmth, and a hominess, such as a snail might experience in the safety of its shell. Glücksgefühl is what we call this sentiment in German.

Ela, menina, que vem e que passa
Num doce balanço, a caminho do mar

Thus sang the Brazilian beauty, while continuing to trod with heels points up and down my backside. March on! March on, missy! Le jour de gloire est arrivé!


That was the Crumsovatna, who with tongue and glottis was creating a sensation by humming the Act Two aria from The Bartered Bride.

Picture in your minds Leib Goldkorn, centurian: a damsel in front, a damsel on top, and a damsel below. Might it not be said that, suckling and being suckled, while the armies of Napoleon crossed and recrossed the dorsal plain, I had accomplished what many men dream of but few achieve: the ménage à quatre?

Pashas amidst their harems, Musselmen with their virgins, Mormons and their many wives: none could match in their fantasias what I had grasped in the flesh. Was this the pinnacle? Could man aspire, in the sphere of the carnals, any higher? Nein! Or so I thought until I heard the door to my bedroom open once again.

Who was the eager visitor? A pleasant thought: Miss Esther Williams, my former handmaid and star of Pagan Love Song, had decided to join me across the sea. Better late, Madam, than never!

Come with me where moonbeams
Light Tahitian skies
And the starlit waters
Linger in your eyes.

Or—did I dare dream?—was it Inatukak, the Esquimaux Queen? Heavens! I tried to call her name, but my mouth, as described above, was full. I tried to search out her Inuit form in the dim-lit room: but the lighter-than-air ships blocked my view. I felt the goose feathers of the non-Sealy sink by the foot of the bed. Welcome aboard, stranger! I could sense the mystery woman approach from behind. Something brushed against the crupper. Ooooh. A fumbling at the rectals. Oho, so that’s your game, is it? Tomfoolery? Bring it on! Just then I heard a voice, one that was not unfamiliar, declare, “Hold thtil. Pleathe. Hold thtil!” Abdi! My cousin! The mesomorph!

On the horizon, ladies and gentlemen, the storm of an expostulation was gathering. In the atmosphere there rose a mist of perspirations, oak moss, gardenia, and, from the gentleman at my rear, “Shocking,” by Schiapperelli. Within my own body elasticized cords, growing tighter and tighter, pulled at each joint and limb. Peppercorns were hopping on the griddle. And a spicy sauce, like a mole poblano, poured over my skin. Yet one thing was missing before that storm could break. Above, below, fore, and aft, every inch of my body was receiving pleasure except—yes, you have guessed it, the bottoms of my feet. And no sooner did this vacuum become apparent than, with warm, soft motions against my insoles, and the sandpaper swipes of a tongue, it was filled. Hymena! She had joined the hymenals.

Ekstase. From the convections in the Southern Hemisphere it was clear that Pan Johnson had grown to what I believe was a personal best. The elastics were at the breaking point. The spermary at the boil. See! But see! The top of my head, with its hair-horseshoe, has flown off. Oh, Moses! Oh, Abraham! Sh’ma Yisroel!

Excerpted from Liebestod: Opera Buffa With Leib Goldkorn by Leslie Epstein. Copyright © 2012 by Leslie Epstein. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Leslie Epstein teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Boston University, which he directed for 36 years. He is the author of King of the Jews and ten other books of fiction.

Leslie Epstein teaches creative writing at Boston University. His three Leib Goldkorn books were recently published as The Goldkorn Variations: A Trilorgy (no typo). His play King of the Jews runs from Oct. 28 to Nov. 18 at the HERE Theater.