Goldfarb was lying in our marital bed when my wife returned from work. The old man and I had a long, circular discussion about his “medisohn,” doctors, an ambulance, and a taxi ride to his apartment, and even Isaac Singer.
“You do believe me, don’t you, Mr. Zimmermann?” His voice was thin, like a piece of dried foolscap. His breath sounded wet, like the steam heat of a svitz.
“What is there not to believe, Mr. Goldfarb?” I answered. “If you say it is true, then it is true.”
“That story that Zinger told, and told again and again, like a skipping record, it was my story. He told it like it vas his own, but he knew it vas mine!”
“I hardly think it matters now, Mr. Goldfarb.”
“Oy, mir Got,” he groaned. “But it does. On this story, rests all my vork. I vas young and vas considered a pet by this voman twice my age – let’s call her Mrs. Silver, for even after all these years I vill not reveal her identity. Vat vas her motive, you ask? She saw herself as a patron of the arts. She saw my talent and vanted to foster it. She gave me money to live and gifts to enjoy. One day I was leaving and she said ‘Come back tomorrow, I have a special gift for you.” But vhen I returned the next day, Mrs. Silvedr was not there, but another married voman answered the door. She introduced herself only by her first name. It vas then vhan I realized vhat Mrs. Silver vas up to. I realized vhat this voman was here for to do. I made love to the voman while Mrs. Silver just vatched hidden. I came back the next day, and there was a different married voman in Mrs. Silver’s house. And the next day another, and another, they came, always different, to do such things vith me in front of Mrs. Silver.
"I did not know vhere she found these married vomen. They were all from good families, the cream of Varsaw Jewish society, all shapes, sizes and complexions. I kept returning to Mrs. Silver’s house everyday, expecting yet another lady. Then one day, I had my hand on the door knob, I no longer even knocked on that door. I vas about to copulate vith yet another strange married voman, all old enough to be my mother, vhen a shiver vent down my spine. They vere older vomen, but they still had hot blood. I could have impregnated any or all of them, and their husbands vould bring up my bastards. I shook vith the fear of the Almighty. Suddenly I realized vhy adultery vas a stoning offense in our Torah. I realized that the entire fabric of our society could be undermined by the duplicity of its vomen, that Mrs. Silver had brought me to the last door of the 49 Gates of Defilement…
“Mr. Goldfarb…” I tried to stop him, he had been speaking in English, laboriously, even when Yiddish was at hand.
“… I vowed to God, if there is a God, that I vould never again…”
“Mr. Goldfarb, I don’t need to hear….”
“But that vas not the my biggest sin, no… I told that gonif Zinger the story one night over a bottle of schnapps, and he told the story as if it vas his own for the rest of his life, vith his snake’s tongue…”
Then my wife entered the bedroom. There was a flash of gold as she threw back her wet hair, for rain was slanting down from a slate gray New York sky. For a moment, both Goldfarb and me froze, as if caught in some illicit activity, like mating with Mrs. Silver’s matrons.
“Who is this, Nate?” Sharon asked from the threshold of the bedroom, her umbrella still in her hand, her raincoat forming a puddle on the carpet. Goldfarb was up on his elbows, his wet eyes as wide as saucers.
“A shiksa, you married a shiksa,” and here, Goldfarb used Yiddish.
“No,” I answered in English, the knot of annoyance in my tone unraveling. “My wife is a Jew.”
“Is this man alright?” Sharon asked, and I told her an abbreviated version of the afternoon’s events. Sharon put down her umbrella and bag, and the look of subtle incredulity on her face was replaced by a softened version of shock, as if I had been remiss in the treatment of an injured kitten.
“But have you called an ambulance?” she asked, and then broadened the question: “A doctor? A hospital?”
“Dear Mrs. Zimmermann,” Goldfarb spoke. Since Sharon had entered the room, his eyes had not left the outline of her form, where his eyes roved with the subtle care of a practiced expert. “All I need is my medisohn. That is vat I need, and then I shall no longer infringe upon your hospitality.”
As he spoke to my wife, all traces of Goldfarb’s illness vanished, as if moist storm clouds had been whisked away by a stiff, dry breeze.
“But why haven’t you gotten his medicine, Nate?”
“Please, Mrs. Zimmermann,” Goldfarb spoke again, unspooling his courtly European manners from the bobbin of his character, all the while following the curves of my wife’s hips and waist and resting on the promise of her round breast. “My apartment is all the way up in Manhattan, as far as you can go vithout being in the vater. Your husband has been kind enough to let me lay here and get back my strength, for I am quite villing to go. Anyvay, vihtout that medisohn….”
“Well, you should go now Nate,” Sharon said, pulling some money from her purse. “You’d better hurry. They say this rain will turn to snow, and could be a blizzard. I can watch Mr. Goldfarb will you go get his medicine.”
“Yes,” Goldfarb beamed, like a child who had divided his parents in two and won. “And I can vatch your beautiful vife vhile she vathes me.”
On the way out of the apartment, my wife followed. She removed her heels at the open threshold, and appeared smaller, her young face like a girl on the verge of womanhood. She stood close to whisper to me.
“Don’t worry about me, Nate. He’s an old man. I’ll be fine.”
“Yes,” I said, pulling on my raincoat. “If I didn’t think so I wouldn’t go.” Her eyes narrowed.
“My question to you, though,” she said, leaning even closer, getting ready to land a kiss on my cheek, “is are you OK?” and then she closed the door.