The ProsenPeople

Counting the Ways: How I Learned to Mourn for My Mother

Monday, September 25, 2017 | Permalink

Méira Cook is the author of the recently published novel Once More With Feeling. She will be blogging here all week as part of Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

Many of the characters in my novel Once More With Feeling are haunted. They are haunted by the living and the dead, and by all the usual apparitions: memory, ghosts, forgetfulness, weather, good deeds, and bad decisions. I can relate to these characters as I, too, have felt haunted all my life, but never more so than when my mother died.

This year is the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death. Her yahrzeit is the day after Shavuot, which sometimes falls in late May and sometimes falls in early June. My mother did not believe that a daughter could say kaddish for her parents because in the orthodox tradition in which she was raised, only men were counted as members of a quorum of ten mourners. Women don’t count, she said.

Counting is of some significance nevertheless because Shavuot is calculated by counting off exactly seven weeks from the second night of Passover. Passover, the holiday that celebrates the emancipation of slavery, is linked to Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah, in this way establishing a connection between physical and spiritual freedom. The forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuot are known as the "counting of the Omer," a time of semi-mourning and a strict accounting of days. 

My mother fell ill shortly before Passover and died the day after Shavuot.

Because of the moon-skewered Hebrew calendar, Shavuot occurs in late May some years and early June in others. And this is true in the country where I was born, South Africa, as well as the country where I now live, Canada. Although it’s fall in one place and spring in the other, both are restless seasons of turning or budding leaves, of early or late rains, of the dying or the greening year.

What counts is time, however it is added or subtracted. What counts are the days that accumulated before she died, which were forty-nine, and all the days to follow which, I grew to understand, would be incalculable.

Even writing about my mother feels like a transgression. She kept her own counsel, was fiercely private, and did not believe in self-expression. The modern idea that feelings are dangerous when repressed, as uncomfortable and potentially explosive as wind on the stomach of a colicky baby, would never have occurred to her.

She was neither heartbroken nor heartless. But neither was she openhearted, and her most characteristic gesture was to tap her wrist, smile at me, and then slowly turn over her hand so that she could tap the inside of her wrist. The message—to me, her daughter, the divining rod of her remote moods—was clear: show the outside, conceal the inside.

She was the most dignified person I’ve ever known, dignity the spinal column that kept her upright, and secrecy what ran through her as marrow through bone. When I left her, not as daughters usually leave their mothers—which is to say when they grow up—but before I was quite grown, and for a wild adventure and a fierce man and another country—which is to say forever—she was stoic, a Spartan mother. 

But I knew what to expect; she had taught me the lesson of the turned wrist: how to transform pain into a graceful gesture, how to show only what I was willing to display, how not to break down in airports.

Dignity has a price, of course. For years I didn’t believe that I counted, either as a Jew or as a daughter. It was too painful to live within the narrow mathematical calculations of these double negatives which, since they didn’t cancel each other, seemed to cancel me.

But when she died I realized that, whatever she said, my mother had always counted to me, and that I too counted because the pain I felt was more convincing than any prohibition against expressing it. 

And so I have attended synagogue on the last six anniversaries of my mother’s death and recited kaddish in her memory. It’s my way of remembering her and I hope it counts, counting being a matter of memory work in this case, and not mental arithmetic.

But counting, I have learned, is not always chronological and, except for Genesis, words rarely create the world. Sometimes it is necessary to count forward as when a mother recounts stories to waylay death, and sometimes it is necessary to count backward as when a daughter encounters these stories, these creative and wholly fruitful truths. Remembrance flows in both directions at once, like a mythic river, and like that old Greek river, cannot be the same river even once.

Every year my children accompany me to synagogue in late May or early June. Although there is no obligation to say kaddish for a grandparent, my daughter and sons stand up with me and chant the Mourner’s Kaddish. Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba. We sit together, amongst a congregation of men and women who are equal. I look at my children and hope that I am teaching them to mourn. It is, after all, a way of counting, of adding your number to a necessary quorum of mourners. It is a way of being counted upon.

Méira Cook was born in Johannesburg and worked as a journalist in South Africa. Since coming to Canada, she has published widely as a poet and fiction writer. She has won the CBC Literary Award for poetry, the Walrus Prize for poetry, and the McNally Robinson Manitoba Book of the Year Award. Cook lives in Winnipeg.

Madonna in a Fur Coat

Friday, September 22, 2017 | Permalink
Posted by Natalie Aflalo

It's officially fall. Season of crisp apples, good sweaters, and warm outerwear, like the plush (hopefully faux) fur the mysterious woman below is wearing. While I do take issue with the cover photo's inconsistency — the model is wearing what looks like a capelet or wrap, rather than the titular coat — I am a fan of the broad's style, and wish I could get a better look at that smoky eye. 

I was really excited to learn about this book, a Turkish classic first published in 1943 and available in English for the first time this November from Other Press. The story takes place in vibrant, interwar Berlin, where a young Turkish man meets a half-Jewish artist who "transforms him forever." (Do we have a magical Jewess on our hands?) The synopsis says the book is about new beginnings, which helpfully ties into the autumnal theme of this post, and the recent Jewish New Year — Shana Tova to all! 

I’ll Have The Burger, Hold The Exposition: On Research for Fiction Writers

Thursday, September 21, 2017 | Permalink

Allan Appel is the author of The Book of Norman, out September 26th from Mandel Vilar Press. Earlier this week, he wrote about the careful balance fiction writers must strike between truth and story. He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "Interior, Mormon Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Utah"

A friend of mine, a high school history teacher old enough to have learned to drive in the stick shift era, once described his preparation for teaching a course as something akin to gunning the engine and then pulling back on the choke.

By that, he meant his approach was to learn everything he could about the subject, stuffing himself with wonderful and interesting information. However, when, at the first session, the students looked up at him glassy-eyed, he started to back up; he slowed down; he offered salient points and context and sine qua nons of all the knowledge he had obtained. In other words, he refrained from, as editors warn reporters, dumping the whole notebook.

Novel writing, and specifically my experience in researching The Book of Norman, very much followed that kind of arc of erudition. When my characters began to lead me to their growing concerns about the afterlife, both the Jewish and Mormon versions, my first stop was the Mormons and I began with biographies of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the group’s history.

I think some not-so-latent prejudice was at work in that I didn’t want to pick up a book devoted to straight Mormon theology. Why? Having in the course of a normal life cruised by Mormon visitor centers in New York and elsewhere, having looked in the window at their mannequin-evocations of the Angel Moroni and other celestial figures, I concluded there was not much here of intellectual richness.

Wrong! That was my point of view. Not the characters’.

My characters were deeply interested in the stuff, and if they were, I had to be. I found Mormonism for Dummies (yes, that yellow-and-black cover series from Wiley Publishing Company that—please don’t titter—is really immensely helpful). My Jonathan character, the younger of my two brothers, would be going, as an enthusiastic potential convert, to classes where he learned Mormonism 101, and so would I.

So I learned the distinctions between celestial, telestial, and other levels of Mormonism’s elaborate heavenly architecture. I learned that Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father propagate souls on a distant planet called Kolob. Mormonism for Dummies itself is a little embarrassed about these interplanetary, science-fiction origins and it comes through in the little jokes the authors seem to make about such aspects of Mormon theophanies.

But there it was. I gathered the kinds of Mormon afterlife information I needed to be conversant in, and then not snobbery but ignorance kicked in when it came time for me to learn something of Jewish beliefs about the afterlife.

My experience growing up in a Conservative Jewish community in L.A. was such that the afterlife hadn’t played much of a part in our education or concerns. When it came down to it, I knew very little. My Norman, who was to become a reluctant defender of the faith against his brother’s increasingly sophisticated queries on Jewish afterlife beliefs, drove me to the Jewish library this time. 

I read Abba Hillel Silver’s Where Judaism Differs; I re-read Milton Steinberg’s As A Driven Leaf. I was studying with a Chasidic rabbi in Brooklyn at the time, DovBer Pinson, and I read his book on the afterlife as well as several by Conservative-trained rabbis. I got much better stuff about dybbuks and ibburs and other emanations of the Jewish soul, lots of folk beliefs, from DovBer than from the superstition-cleaned theology presented by the more “respectable” seminary trained writers. My old 1919 Kaufman Kohler-edited Jewish encyclopedia had extensive articles on Jewish angelology; who knew such things existed even where I grew up, in the City of the Angels?

So now I knew stuff and I could stuff my stuff into my characters to prove that they knew it too. Novel writers, heed the warning! Mistake. After having thrown out a first draft because I knew I was too close to the origins of the story and it went emotionally all wrong, I wrote another draft or two that were emotionally much closer to the truth, but they were obscured because I had too many Planet Kolobs and/or one too many references to how the rabbis told us to distinguish an angel—they apparently have no Adam’s apple.

My erudition was necessary but not sufficient to make the characters real. In the early drafts, they were in too many places talking heads for the author, and so I edited away and edited away. I lost interchanges that included many witty moments of intellectual dueling between nascent Mormon Jonathan and seminary dropout Norman. As the playwriting teacher tells the student, "You must learn to throw away your babies."

In short, knowledge and information are critical, but beware of using too much of it. This becomes a particular danger if you yourself grow interested in the material, as I did. I’m old enough to be thinking about the afterlife, if there is one, far more than I did when I wrote my first novels decades ago. So to the same extent that you attach to the material, you have to find it in yourself to detach in order for it to be there for the characters.

If you don’t let the research become exposition, it turns into a kind of energy that fuels the novel and it becomes a resource so the novel can slow down, or accelerate, to get back to our initial motor vehicle metaphor, or sputter, and then, with a jolt of surprise, take off. Just like life itself.

Born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles, Allan Appel is a novelist, poet, and playwright whose books include Club Revelation, High Holiday Sutra, and The Rabbi of Casino Boulevard, a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. 

New Reviews September 22, 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017 | Permalink

Too Close for (Fictional) Comfort

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 | Permalink

Allan Appel is the author of The Book of Norman, out September 26th from Mandel Vilar Press. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

Like so many of the dusty, venerable clichés about writing, one of the most stalwart, “To write what you know,” is sharply double-edged when it comes to fiction.

Here’s the problem: If all you write is a transcription of what you know, however moving or harrowing, you’re not going to come up with something that has verve or magic or that extra boost that is the sine qua non of fiction and that separates it from creative nonfiction, or even heartfelt journalism.

However, if in fear of staying too close to the nonfiction reportage, as it were, of what you know and experiencedif you filter or transform or invent too muchthere’s a danger of creating something that loses the emotional heart of your story.

In writing The Book of Norman I found this a particularly nettlesome problem to negotiate. In my first of what have to have been seven drafts of the novel, which I began writing that many years ago, I have two brothers and their families gathered at a house they are jointly renting on Cape Cod for a week in the summer. There one evening, shortly after the families watch a Masterpiece Theater version of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda on TV, out comes one brother, the Mormon convert, brandishing a piece of paper and asks the still-Jewish brother to look it over. The paper turns out to be an ordinance, an important Mormon document usually requiring a blood relative’s signature or okay to initiate the proxy baptism of the dead.

Well, that interchange pretty much happened in our real lives together in that summer house. I remember, writing that first draft, I was still seething with emotion. I was (am) the Jewish brother, and my Mormon older brother who had converted in our twenties, several decades before, was the presenter of the ordinance.

We had a huge blowup, our children had to restrain voices, and, like a kid having a tantrum, I had to have my daughter and wife sit beside me in the bedroom where I felt my heart beating double-time as I raged for hours. All that entered the draft as well, powerful for me to write at the time because it was raw.

After fifty pages of my first draft, a story too close to the actual events except for silly name changes, I knew I was in trouble. It didn’t feel quite right, but I thought I could write my way out. So I kept writing for another twenty or thirty pages. At close to a hundred pages I ran out of gas. After I had more or less transcribed the events, my characters had nothing else to do. I had created them, or rather non-created them, so close to the bone of what actually had occurred, they did not have sufficient life to make choices, to go in directions that I could not anticipate. Another old writing saw became true again: Follow the characters, back off, let them lead.

Here's the thing: If you don’t create characters with sufficient life of their own, they are going to die on the page. One of the harder things to learn is to recognize they are dying and let them go, take a deep breath, have a beer, meditate, wait some time, and go at it again.

When I did, some months later, I resolved to keep the struggle over a dead father, the emotional heart of the story, but I now knew I should insert some changes that by their nature would force true fictionalization. In my first draft, the two characters were in age just like me and my brother, I younger and he older. This time I rendered myself older, and allegedly wiser, and this made the character begin to operate more independently.

A second critical change was that I yanked the events out of the present of the actual incident and catapulted them way back into the past, in the late 1960s, roughly around the time of my brother’s conversion. That of necessity also prompted fictionalization; because I remembered little, I had to invent much.

I also deliberately created a fantasy mother. My real mom was a shy, self-effacing temple lady who went to the oneg Shabbats and swiped a lot of the brownies and danishes and other goodies to bring home to us. She rarely wore makeup. She was sweet but frowsy, very far from the independent, witty, film noir-esque deli waitress I made her in the novel. Like a true character, she started to do things that I never planned, like organize one of my favorite scenes in the novel, the Sabbath dinner.

When the characters surprise, you are on the right track, but you’re there because you’ve deliberately inserted devices to remove the story from its factual origin while retaining the emotional heart. That’s one of the true magic tricks of fiction. It doesn’t guarantee a great story, but it does guarantee story, which is the fundamental job of a fiction writer to create. It also is important, in such delicate matters as religion, conversion, and love, to have this distance if you’re sensitive to those whose encounters with you are the source of the material.

At this writing I have not yet heard how my brother or other members of his family, all still devout Mormons, responded to The Book of Norman. I hope they’ll like it and tell me so. Even better, I hope my brother will say he likes the story and add “But that didn’t happen.”

Born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles, Allan Appel is a novelist, poet, and playwright whose books include Club Revelation, High Holiday Sutra, and The Rabbi of Casino Boulevard, a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. 


New Reviews September 15, 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017 | Permalink

         

Book Cover of the Week: The Female Persuasion

Monday, September 18, 2017 | Permalink

Posted by Natalie Aflalo

While Meg Wolitzer's newest novel won't be out until next spring, the cover of Female Persuasion has already sucked me in like some sort of psychedelic vortex. The book has been described as "electric" and "multilayered," just like its jacket's seventies-inspired graphic. According to early write-ups, the concept of desire is central to the story. I think the cover really captures the obsessive, addictive quality of desire in its repetition and dizzying brightness.

Also: Is it just me or do the triangles remind anyone else of the Illuminati symbol? The book is supposed to be about power, ambition, and influence. Hmm...

Naomi Alderman's "Disobedience" is Now a Film

Friday, September 15, 2017 | Permalink

Mazel tov to Naomi Alderman! Her novel Disobedience, which was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction, has been adapted into a film directed by Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio and starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. The story is about a young woman who leaves behind her ultra-Orthodox upbringing – and the distinguished rabbinical family she was part of – to seek happiness and fulfillment elsewhere. The movie just premiered last weekend at the Toronto Film Festival, but critics have already praised it as "a beautiful, fraught, and emotionally nuanced drama" and a "respectful and immersive..portrait...of the many forms love can take."

The Rohr judges on why they loved the book: Many novels of disobedience in Jewish literature, from the beginning of the modern period on, paint the world left behind in largely or entirely unsympathetic terms; when the main character is forced, by circumstance, to return to that world, one of Alderman’s achievements is to complicate that picture by rendering it in subtle shades and its inhabitants as real people, not caricatures. Alderman’s abilities are by no means limited to ethnography, though; through a series of surprising developments, she explores how and whether change can come to a world that prides itself on holding fast against change; and how her characters’ various disobediences are themselves, if not necessary, seemingly inevitable.


The Dignity of an Empty Parking Lot

Friday, September 15, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Minna Zallman Proctor, taking inspiration from Virginia Woolf's short stories, wrote about the blog post as literary form and imagined the interior lives of two strangers in a coffee shop. Today, in her last post, she ruminates on bodies, and the struggle to align our outer selves with our inner selves. She has been blogging here all week as part of Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.


For beyond the difficulty of communicating oneself, there is the supreme difficulty of being oneself. This soul or life within us, by no means agrees with the life outside of us.
—Virginia Woolf, “Montaigne”

I love when we watch TV shows I’ve already seen because I can fall asleep with impunity, awkwardly arranged on our crummy couch. It’s better than shifting miserably for ninety minutes trying to find an adequate arrangement of throw pillows to relieve the hot throbbing at the base of my skull. So much easier to just pass out. It’s after eleven anyway.

I was brilliant and energetic last night. Between Foyle’s War and bed, I thought to take three ibuprofen and also to ice my neck. I slept better than I have in weeks and didn’t need to move cautiously in the morning, lest my head roll off my body.

I dreamed that I was doing cartwheels across a sun-drenched lawn, every part of my body arching muscularly against the vortex. Every time I inverted, diving down like a superhero toward the grass, my left arm gave way, over and over again.

My friend Diane and I took the kids to a park in central New Jersey for a hike last week. It was a promising morning, the sunlight dappled and clean, the blue air freshly washed from three days of rain. It was a bit of a drive to get out of the city and we all gasped dramatically as we turned off the highway onto a country lane dotted with pretty stone farmhouses and geese ponds. We hadn’t had a GPS signal for miles by that point, and made our way by feel to the park entrance. 

Just as we turned in, the skies opened up. “It’s just a summer storm,” we said merrily to the children. “It’ll clear up.” “They said it wasn’t going to rain until four,” Diane reassured me. “Who knew it was going to rain at all?” I protested, and then laughed because the drops kept coming down faster and harder. We pulled the car into a good spot, under a tree, near the trail maps, and then watched through the sheets of rain as drenched families emerged from the park, shirts wet to transparency, hair plastered to forehead, soft sneakers extruding little puddles around each footfall. “I cannot believe our timing,” I repeated absurdly. “It’ll pass,” offered my daughter fantastically.

The children ate their sandwiches and then decided that the best way to wait out the storm would be to change into their bathing suits (an elaborate process that involved arguing about who goes first, shouting loudly, diving over the seat into the way back, kicking the car roof on the way, exacting solemn oaths of not looking, and then shouting some more because it was all taking too long), and play in the rain. Nature’s sprinkler! It was a grand idea.

I sat in the driver’s seat, gnawing without pleasure on a gluten-free meal bar. It had been a long August. I had slept too much and too little, hadn’t worked as much as I needed to, and only had sporadically satisfying solutions for quality family time. I was frequently irritable, icing my neck, or distant, engaged in endless conversation with my imaginary friend, Mandy Patinkin.

The night before I’d barely slept, nor had I slept much the night before that. I was exhausted but cheered by how beautiful it was even in the downpour. Diane ate shortbread cookies and pressed cool water bottles to her forehead, trying to ward off a migraine. We watched the children frolic in the parking lot. We were proud of their resilience and antics. I tried to calculate how much extra energy I would need to just get out of the car and join them.

“Why aren’t you going out?” I asked my son, who of the three children had resolutely decided to stay in the car and just watch. “They’re having so much fun,” said Diane. “I have my dignity,” he answered unsurely.

I’ve been working for the last five years with my godmother on a book about her life in twentieth century music. Last spring, soon after we’d sent the completed manuscript off to the publishers, she took a spill in her garden. She’s in her nineties now, outlived all her siblings and all but one of the great musicians we gossip about in her memoir. Pierre Boulez and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies both managed to die within months of each other and just as we wrote the final chapters. There were many instances over the course of our project when she would lash out at me for my leisurely pace. “Minna,” she would email me, “I’m going to die before we finish this and that will be on you.”

“Minna,” she emailed me, “I fell in the garden. It was scary.”

Later she described to me how she’d been picking beetles off the roses and just tripped. She described the event as if it happened silently and in slow motion, as it must have been on the soft carpet of her lawn that sunny morning. She is so small and round, I imagine that from inclining over a rose petal to the ground must not have been a great distance. She told me that she stayed there where she fell, flat on her back among her flowers, staring up at the blue sky. First, trying to figure out if she’d died, then just to see the sky and feel her body against the ground. Hours passed. And then she got up again. Nothing broken, just some bruises.

I love to dance—if that’s what you can call what I do. It feels more like thrashing into entropy, swinging my limbs fast and high, releasing myself from the horizon line. Barking at the volume and heavy beats. Leaping into shapes, stomping, landing hard with my bare feet. I’m here, my feet insist to the ground. Feel me as I feel you. It’s not dignified in the least. I danced this summer at a university event, out in the formal garden. There was a split second, a reckless movement, and I tossed my head too fast, too suddenly. I caught sight of the full moon out of the corner of my eye, in an instant felt my neck crack, the sound splitting up between my ears and the gleaming moon exploded into so many dizzying flashes of pain. Keep dancing, I told myself. If I didn’t stop, it would mean that nothing had happened.

I regret, though the moment is now long gone, not getting out of the car in the rainstorm. Regret not grabbing my son by the hand and making him run with me in the rain. No one would have seen. What’s the cost of sheer sensation? It was only a few minutes, after all, before the wet clouds blew away and the golden light of a late summer afternoon flooded our eyes.

Minna Zallman Proctor is a writer, critic, and translator who currently teaches creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she is also editor in chief of The Literary Review. Her most recent book is Landslide: True Stories. She is also the author of Do You Hear What I Hear? An Unreligious Writer Investigates Religious Calling and has translated eight books from Italian, including Fleur Jaeggy’s These Possible Lives. She lives in Brooklyn.

On Why You Must Never Depend on One Coffee Shop

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Minna Zallman Proctor wrote about Virginia Woolf's short stories and the blog post as literary form. Today, taking inspiration from the narrator in Woolf's "Street Haunting" who attempts to inhabit the minds of the people she passes on London's streets, Minna imagines the interior lives of a couple in a coffee shop. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.


But, after all, we are only gliding smoothly on the surface. The eye is not a miner, not a diver, not a seeker after buried treasure. It floats us smoothly down a stream; resting, pausing, the brain sleeps perhaps as it looks.
Virginia Woolf, “Street Haunting”

There is a couple in the coffee shop where I'm working today who are talking about running away together. I’m trying hard not to eavesdrop, forcing their perfectly audible conversation to muddle itself in my ears, the way you can make your vision blur by relaxing your eyes. But the mutter and rhythms of their conversation is just as revealing as specific words would be. Sometimes they stop talking entirely, reach across the small table to hold hands and stare deeply at each other, at a length that only belongs to the besotted. The prolonged gaze that would make a friend look away or bore a spouse. Between these two, the looking feels like a hungry tattoo, imprinting this stolen time. Because neither one has actually abandoned their real lives. This is stolen time in a crude and absurd coffee shop—forged bohemian in a neighborhood of immigrants, pensioners, taxi drivers, and substitute public school teachers—with amber light bulbs, putty colored walls, a series of seventeen provisionally framed sketches by a local artist hung in a distressingly uneven horizontal line…

He’s older than she is by some years. Bald and white grey, in a short sleeve chambray button-down that fits loosely, timeless casual, over khakis. He’s wearing socks under his sandals. She’s in jeans and an expensive, form fitting fleece. Clogs. Her curly hair is pulled back into a ponytail and held off her face with a brightly colored headband. She has her back to me but I can see from this angle that she has beautiful cheekbones and practical glasses. Her earrings are from a museum gift shop.

It’s pouring out and still early morning. Even though I’m only catching snatches of conversation, I know they are talking about how to make big decisions. Talking about the way people in their lives, a son maybe or sister, are resilient. Anticipating consequence. At one point, he tells her the story of a great betrayal. I don’t mean to listen—but up look up accidentally from my book and catch him wiping tears when he says, “He was the best friend I’ve ever had.”

Tall, grown men crying breaks my heart. Nothing else makes me want to solve everything in the world that can’t be solved more than a crying man, not even when my own children weep (children always weep). “I either want to come back to Brooklyn,” she says suddenly, “or Boston.” I understand, I think. “But do you have another offer in Boston?” he answers and there’s more silence before she answers with a long discourse on failings that I can’t hear but think would sound too familiar if I did. Boring to hear one’s own endless neuroses rehearsed once that first shock of recognition has evaporated.

They stand to leave. They embrace with great affection and sadness, for letting each other go, for having to let each other go. Affection so chaste and enduring. The physical contact of a lifetime. I see now as he turns from her and walks out the door, upright and bravely inclined as tall people are, before he even hits the street, against the rain. Leaving her standing behind, phone already in hand, preparing for the next moment of her day. I see now what’s been grotesquely evident all along, they are not lovers, they are father and daughter.

Minna Zallman Proctor is a writer, critic, and translator who currently teaches creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she is also editor in chief of The Literary Review. Her most recent book is Landslide: True Stories. She is also the author of Do You Hear What I Hear? An Unreligious Writer Investigates Religious Calling and has translated eight books from Italian, including Fleur Jaeggy’s These Possible Lives. She lives in Brooklyn.