Mira Reubentov lives with her aunts family in NYC, 1916....
|New York City, 1916|
I liked to sit down on the old steps outside, just to see the city rise with the sun.
The city itself never sleeps. It's always buzzing with life; people always traveling through its veins, driven by some unknown force that I imagine some would consider to be the heart.
As soon as the sun shares the stars light, stargazers and drunks alike begin to disappear. By the time the windows light up with dim lamps or candles, only stragglers of the drunken crowd are left, and the working crowd pulses through the streets.
The aroma of fresh bread from the bakery mixes with fish and other meats from the butcher's and collides with smoke curling up from cigars. I loved all of it; the chaos of the morning.
I glanced up. From the window of a neighboring building, a thick Russian woman stared me down.
"Good morning, Mrs. Katz!" I yelled back.
"Mira, you tell your Aunt Raisel to come to my home today, yes? I have news to give to her! You will do that for me, yes?"
"Of course, Mrs. Katz!" I exclaimed, to which she thanked me and ducked back inside, closing the window down behind her.
"Always yelling out the window, that woman is," I heard a passing voice mutter. Before I had time to react, another voice, closer this time, said, "Morning, Ms. Reubentov."
I smiled, turning to face the speaker. "Well, aren't we sophisticated this morning?"
"Me? Well, I will have you know that I am always the most sophisticated man on this side of town. In all of New York City, in fact."
Shaking my head, a little laughter escaped my throat. "Oh, Uri, what has gotten into your ego this morning?"
His eyes, an icy blue, widened in fake surprise. "You don't believe me? Mira, have you not seen the latest styles of sophistication?"
"I suppose I'll have to check the latest 'styles of sophistication'. Anyways, what news have you got there?"
Uri Stein was one of the paper boys of our street. It was a funny thing, because while Uri spread the news of the world, his mother spread the local news by gossip. Mrs. Stein was the one who, whether you wanted to hear it or not, gave you details of every person within a 50 mile radius. Some would say her gossip spread faster than news from any paper.
"It's mostly about the election," Uri said, "but it has a bit about the war, too. Interested?"
"I suspect my uncle will be. How much?"
"Just a penny."
I pulled a small handkerchief from my pocket. Untying the band that barely kept it folded, I fished a single penny out and exchanged it for the paper.
"Say, how much d'you got there?"
"I've got enough to get by," I said, half-honestly.
"I'll see you later," Uri smiled, nodding as he went on his way.
Bubbie had always told me I'd never marry. My opinion was too voiced, my voice was too loud, and my imagination was just getting out of hand.
"It's your fault!" Bubbie would tell Aunt Raisel in her thick Russian accent.
"Yes, Mama, and when the clouds turn dark it's God giving me a sign," she would sigh in response.
"It's your fault because you dream so! You make these crazy things in your head, and what happens when reality comes?"
"Mama, maybe it is a good thing."
"Oh, come now. It is better than sulking in the harsh reality."
"I don't sulk in reality. I live in it!"
To spite my Bubbie, I pretended not to care in the least, which almost became my true feelings. Until Uri Stein came along. I didn't want to love him, in fact I tried to convince myself that I couldn't love him. But the fact of the matter was, I loved Uri, and there really was nothing more I could do about it.
"Morning, Mira," Uncle Shmuel greeted when I returned to the small place we called home.
"Good morning, Uncle Shmuel," I replied, "Here's the paper for today."
"Ah, thank you. We can read it tonight."
Uncle Shmuel couldn't read. He could read in Yiddish until he was 15, and he was suddenly (as he tells it) struck blind.
"Or somewhat blind," Aunt Raisel always would correct him.
Neither Bubbie nor Aunt Raisel knew how to read, so every evening, after supper, we would gather around with our coffee and us kids would read it aloud. It was one of the few luxuries we had grown accustomed to.