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Summer Job: Chapter 28

Dov Haller

Dovi Gelber wants Chaim back

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Bookbinder had been their name. And for a few months, Chaim had been one of them. They weren’t his real family of course, more of an imaginary one, but deep down they’d belonged to him.

In real life, the Bookbinders came to New Haven when Chaim was about 11 years old. The father was a dermatologist, which meant that he got to dress in a white coat and everyone admired him, but he rarely had emergencies and was home at five-thirty every day for supper. Moshe, the Bookbinder son, was in Chaim’s class and the two boys became close friends. Deep down, Chaim knew that he liked Moshe’s family even more than he liked Moshe.

He would find reasons to visit after school and would happily accept the Bookbinders’ firm invitations to stay for supper. Chaim liked to stay — not for the food, but for the feeling. Here was a jovial, lighthearted father who would ask each child about his day, always including Chaim as well. He would tease his wife, but then go dry the dishes with her as they chatted softly. Mrs. Bookbinder laughed out loud and was free with compliments — but they never felt trite or empty.

She noticed Chaim’s new cap before anyone else did, commenting on how it made him look like Mickey Mantle. Her husband had laughed and pulled on the bill, causing the cap to cover Chaim’s eyes. Chaim wished he could stay that way, in happy darkness, forever.

When he came home from the Bookbinders, his mother would grill him. What was for supper? Why did he prefer the macaroni made by Mrs. Bookbinder — who spoke like she’d just come off the boat by the way — when at home there had been delicious fish? What was so exciting at that messy little house anyway? Once, he told his parents — his quiet, peace-loving father and his contemptuous mother — that he thought the Bookbinder home was a fun place to be. His father sighed and nodded and Chaim could see that he understood, that he also sometimes wished he had a fun place to relax after supper with the newspaper and his pipe. His mother had pounced.

“So you wish you were a Bookbinder, then? Is that it?”

Something in his face had given him away.

“Is it?”

There was no way she could know that at night, in bed, he imagined being a Bookbinder, the father ruffling his hair, the mother rushing to hang his math test on the refrigerator. She couldn’t have seen the inside of his mind, where he dreamed about accepting Moshe’s invitation to join them on their summer trips to a bungalow. There, Moshe would tell him, he ran around with other kids all day, finding frogs and fishing in a small lake. His father had helped him build a club-house, and, some nights, all the kids slept in it. You really have to come with us, Moshe would say. My parents won’t care. They’d be happy to take you along!

If Chaim had immediately denied his mother’s charge, maybe nothing would have changed. But his guilty silence was enough. “You wish you were one of them,” she hissed, and it was clear that “them” was a bad thing. Bookbinder was the new enemy.

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