Lies My Father Told Me  

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Chapter VI

   Another Sunday.
   I lead Ferdeleh from the stable into the courtyard,
fondly chattering. "Cleo likes the way you smell, don't
you, Cleo?"
   Cleo, crouching, is watching her lazy, pregnant
dog, as always. She nods when her name is mentioned.
   "And so does Mr. Baumgarten, and Mrs. Bondy,
and Cleo's mother..."
   Cleo shakes her head, "no", at the mention of her
   I stand directly in front of Ferdeleh, petting the
end of his nose. ". . . everybody except Mrs. Tan-
nenbaum and my father." I lean up to whisper in herrrr?
ear, "And he's always telling lies."

   Up to the kitchen for breakfast.
   Harry is in the bedroom. He lies, pajamaed, on the
bed. The door is open. Morning light pours through
the window. He's feeling swell. Harry, the father, my
father, calls out, "We're going fishing," informing me
I'm not go go with Zaideh and Ferdeleh. I'm to jump
with joy at the announcement?
   "I don't like fishing!" I shout back at him, finishing
my meal hurriedly, hoping I can escape him,
    "We have to spend more time together," he says.
"We're going fishing."
    "But I don't want to go fishing!" I look imploring-
ly at my mother and my grandfather. She is busy bak-
ing and will not defend me. "Your father wants to
spend more time with you," she says.
   Why? Who wants it?
   "Don't we get fresh air in the lanes? Don't we get
fresh air on the mountain?"
   "But you'll be going to the country. The air is pure
there. It will do you good."
   "It will not do me good!" I insist.
   Harry yells from the bedroom, "Why don't you get
him a haircut?" Apropos of nothing. "He looks like a
   Annie stands still, surprised, and defiant. "I'm not
cutting his hair. Harry!" she shouts back. She sends me
a loving glance. But I feel she has betrayed me any-
   I whisper to Grandpa across the table, "But I don't
like fishing."
   He makes a soothing, dismissive gesture and rises.
I follow.
   "Don't go too far," says Mamma, "Papa will be
dressed soon, and you'll be going with him."
   I follow Grandpa downstairs. Help him hitch Fer-
   "You'll come with me next week."
   Despair. "It's not fair!"
   Grandpa mounts the wagon. Staring down from
the seat, he looks as wretched as I. "It won't be so
terrible. It'll be nice. A day in the country."
   I look at Ferdeleh. I hug him. Kiss him good-bye.
   The wagon rolls from the courtyard, through the
gates to the street.
   "It won't be bad," Grandpa repeats. "You'll come
next week."
   And I follow behind calling. Calling. "But I don't
want to go fishing! I don't like fishing!" Watching
Grandpa and Ferdeleh depart. Vanishing.

   My father and I walk down the stairs together, with
fishing rods, to the empty court, with Grandpa and
Ferdeleh gone.
    "Where are we going?" I ask.
   "First we're gonna go and get Uncle Benny."
   Maybe we'll go out in a boat. That, at least, will be

   In Panet Street, Edna is plying her trade, gently
coaxing a client into her parlor. I wave. Harry tenses;
the puritan bustles me along past this tender spot. He
disdains whores and horse shit, but his tense, prurient
interest in the former simmers, choking up his stom-
ach, mouth, and cheeks, keeping his brows moving
and alert. Is it to divert us both that he asks me, "Do
you know the story about the rabbi and the priest on
the train?"
   No. I'm embarrassed, and I don't want to hear, but
don't want him to know.
   "Well, there's this old rabbi, with a long white
beard, like Grandpa's, and this old priest, and they're
traveling together on a train, and after a long, long
time they get into conversation. And the priest leans
forward and asks the rabbi. Tell me, did you ever eat
pork?' and the rabbi turns red, and he confesses that
once, when he was very young, he had had a slice of
bacon round at a goyisha friend's house. They don't
talk for a while. Then the rabbi leans forward and
asks the priest. Tell me, did you ever go with a wom-
an?' and the priest turns red, and he confesses that
once when he was very young, before he entered the
church, he did go with a woman. And the rabbi leans
forward and says, 'It's better than pork, isn't it?'"
   I don't understand, but Harry seems very pleased
with himself. He asks me if I know any jokes. I know
the simple children's round of the countyard. "Why
did the chicken . . . ?" And I knew a few of Grand-
pa's riddles. Shyly I ask, "What's green, hangs on a
wall, and whistles?"
   "A herring," says Harry, killing the joke. "You can
paint it green, and hang it on a wall. So it doesn't
   I let it pass. Grandpa told me another good one
last week. Perkily I ask, "What does a wise man do
before he drinks tea?"
   "I don't know. What?" With no time allowed for
him to think. He doesn't even try.
   "He opens his mouth," I say. Harry half-smiles, not
listening, his mind on the next one he's going to ask.
   "What's one part horse, one part camel, and one
part chicken?"
   I can't guess.
   With a smile he answers, "Ferdeleh! Ferdeleh! You
should have guessed that . Anyone could guess
   I'm hurt, and sad, even though I know that that
really is a stupid joke. If Ferdeleh was one part any-
thing, he was one part human.
My father and I walk along the streets of my Mon-
treal. Going fishing.

   He has a telephone in one hand, the man who speaks
so quickly, the receiver to his ear, as I poke my head
around the door. "Ils convent an tournant et entrent
Ie deuxieme quart."
They're coming around the turn
into the second quarter.
   There are lots of faces. Bodies. The room is fog-
filled with cigar and cigarette smoke. "Beezlebub par
deux longueurs."
Beezlebub by two lengths. Shoes, legs
and trousers. "Lady Luck seconde, Hottentot troisieme
par deux longueurs."
Hottentot third by two lengths.
Everyone is listening to the man who talks so fast.
Les autres chevaux a quelques longueurs en arriere."
The other horses a few lengths behind. "Jockant pour
demeurer en position.
" Jockeying for position. All
listen tensely. "Et Martha's Pet la derniere. huit
longueurs en arriere.
" Martha's Pet running last, eight
lengths behind.
   Harry and Benny are listening with intense concen-
   "When are we going fishing?" I shout out.
   Mr. Solomon, the bookie, shouts back sharply,
"Harry! Get that kid out of here!"
   He's very annoyed. He doesn't want the door kept
open or, worse, a child to be seen on his premises.
   Harry comes over to the door. Controlling his im-
patience, he keeps his voice low. But it's sharp. "I
told you to wait here!"
   He closes the door in my face.
   I open the door. He's already turned his back, inch-
ing forward, toward the desk and the teller, the black-
board with its scribbled odds.
   "But you said we were going fishing!"
   Mr. Solomon gives Harry another dirty look.
   Resigned, he starts for the door. He pushes me
through. Back into the cigar store. "Now, come and
sit down...." Harry leads me by the hand, very im-
patiently, to a small table in the comer of the cigar
shop. He goes to the counter to buy some more ap-
   The teller's voice from the other room drones on
through the door softly: "Il est Beezlebub et Lady
." Beezlebub and Lady Luck.
   "Here's another chocolate ... and here's another
comic book . . . we'll go fishing next week. Uncle
Benny and me's got business here I have to attend to.
Read the comic book. You like comic books. I won't
be long."
   The fishing rods lean dejected against the wall by
the little round table. Click my heels. What's in this
book? Stupid funny pictures. I'm bored. And precious
   Uncle Benny now opens the door and runs excited-
ly toward Harry, holding a wad of bills in his hand. He
can hardly talk, he's so excited. "We won! We won!
You did it Harry!" Ecstasy. "The long shot came in!
Twenty to one. We won a hundred bucks! We won!
You did it, Harry. You did it."
   Harry's face relaxes. Beatitude. He splits the money
evenly, counting carefully and silently. Then he
speaks. "I knew it. I felt it." Harry is in a high. At
peace with himself. "Our first act as partners, Benny.
It's an omen." He hands Benny his half.
    Benny pulls the racing form from his pocket and
lays it out on the table. "What do you like in the next
race?" Benny bubbles.
   But Harry looks at the winnings in his hands and
then looks around the store. He gets up and goes to
the cigarette counter.
   Many drift about at the rear, bodies drifting
through the drifting slanted sunlight, dusty. "Mine
died at the post." "Mine shoulda died at the post." "I
had a hunch . . . but I didn't follow it." Tearing up
little bits of paper, hopes. Sad light bodies drifting.
   Harry buys a large box of chocolates ... and some
soda and more candy for Davie.
   "This is Annie's favorite chocolate."
   He comes back to the table. Now that the world is
fairer, he can give some care to me. He tries to in-
volve me. He needn't bother. He bends half over me,
pointing to the racing form. "Davie . . . you pick the
next one.... Here... pick a number...."
   I sigh and comply. "That one."
   Harry looks and smiles. "Number seven. Put a fin on
number seven, Benny. It's four to one."
   Benny, grinning, hurries to the rear.
   My happy father, happy Harry, stares at his win-
nings, looks at me. "My luck's changing. ... I knew
it. I solved the problem of the knee with a soft tape.
Benny's arranging for a bank loan. We won't need a
penny of the old miser's money. You're nothing in
this world without money, Davie...."
   "Are we going fishing? If we're not going fishing,
I'd like to go home."
   "We'll go home soon. Davie ... it's not right to lie
to your mother, but a little white lie isn't so bad. I'll
buy some fish, and we'll tell her we went fishing."
   "But we didn't go fishing. We came here."
   "I know. And it's a lie. And we shouldn't lie, but
I'll tell her after the baby is born. I don't want to up-
set her now. We're going to have a good life now.
   The cigar store in front, a blind for the illegal
bookie, is empty now of all but me and Harry and the
bored clerk behind the counter. Picking his nose. The
punters, with their gray fading faces and false hopes,
have vanished to the rear. Just me and my father.
Empty, endless room. Stagnant space. Again the
droning teller's voice flying faintly through. False
hopes. And Harry rambling on.
   "Now that the bank loan is coming through, we're
on our way. We're going to move out of that smelly
neighborhood into Outremont, maybe Westmount
My name will be in the papers - Harry Herman, the
inventor. Not just the creaseless trouser. That's only
the beginning. You'll go to college ... be whatever
you want to be. Come into the business, if you want
to. Maybe you'll study law. Whatever. Herman and
Son. We'll have a house in the country. I'll raise
horses, real thoroughbreds, not like that smelly old
nag of Zaideh's. We'll be respected in this city."
   Silence. Dead-fish pause.
   "Well be known and respected."
   Uncle Benny reappears, shaking his head. The
horse has lost
   Harry shrugs philosophically. "You can't win 'em
   "Ferdeleh does not smell!"
   Harry turns. Returning. Poised between dream and
here. Life hurries by. False hopes fading. Harry is out
of patience. "You just remember we went fishing!
Come on ... I better buy some fish before that store
   He grabs the fishing rods, and drags me after.
   Uncle Benny, pondering the racing form, looks up.
"I'll stick around for a few more races, Harry. I feel
lucky today." Eyes back to the form, he mumbles to
himself, "Annie Laurie ... now, that could be the one
in the next race." He shuffles toward the rear, as Harry,
in haste, pulls me out of the door.

Chapter VII