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Summer Job: Chapter 39

Dov Haller

She’d been crying. She’d actually stopped here hoping for a good cry, the empty gravel parking lot alongside what was now a Quickway

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A heavy man in a faded plaid shirt walked by the car, obscuring the row of trees off behind the small convenience store. He seemed out of breath, exhaling heavily as he sat down at the curb near the old phone booth, now empty.

Had everyone changed? Rivky remembered once looking at the locals here with a certain kind of awe. At home in Brooklyn, she and her sisters were sure that the men who lived in the Catskills all year were the strongest, toughest men on earth. In so many imaginary tales and skits, “Tatty’s friend, Mike” was the hero, driving away the bad guys with one blow, called upon to kill a lion or drive a tank. As a child, these men had all appeared to her as muscular and robust, faces bursting with good health, eyes crinkling with cheer.

Now she looked over at the group of men sitting on the grass — gaunt, pockmarked faces, sagging shoulders and vacant eyes — and felt a new wave of sadness engulf her.

She’d been crying. She’d actually stopped here hoping for a good cry, the empty gravel parking lot alongside what was now a Quickway but had once been called Charlie’s. There was a time when she and her sisters would come here for black cherry soda, one of those exotic drinks they could never find in Brooklyn. They would cradle the small glass bottles and proclaim more enthusiasm for its taste than any of them really felt.

She’d been hoping to find some sort of comfort next to the old wooden building. The porch where the original Charlie had sat on a creaky rocking chair and smoked his foul-smelling pipe was screened in now, filled with cases of beer. Charlie had a small, sickly dog, Bobo, and he would let Rivky and her sisters come close and pet the small animal. They would offer a finger or two then squeal in happy terror and jump back. Brief contact was enough for them to go back home at summer’s end and rhapsodize to their Brooklyn friends about “cute little Bobo.” Charlie, who had a thick white beard and the largest hands she’d ever seen, called them “the rabbi’s daughters” and would always tease them about finding the holy kosher symbol on the potato chips or soda.

She couldn’t cry, not with the skinny men spread out at the curb just a few feet away.

She sighed and pulled out of the parking lot, back onto Route 17, trying hard to banish the image of the husband she’d just left behind.

She remembered taking one of the younger children, she thought it was Ahuva, to a new kindergarten. Rivky had a doctor’s appointment she couldn’t miss, and for the first time in her life, she left a sobbing child behind. The morah, probably new to the job, had seemed equally perplexed, and she too had stood there looking at Rivky accusingly. Rivky remembered Ahuva sticking her face between the slats of the fence, following her to the car with her eyes.

That’s what Chaim had reminded her of.

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