Michal's Destiny, p.10Roberta Kagan
“I don’t know anything about tending bar. I’m a carpenter,” Taavi said, clearing his throat. She’d taken him by surprise.
“I can have someone come and teach you if you want to do it.”
“What kind of money are we talking about?”
“Plenty. More than you earn now; I’ll bet on that.”
Taavi took a sip of beer and a cigarette out of his pack. He lit it and looked around the room. Working here would not be dull, that was for certain. More money? He would try it. “Yes. I’d like to work for you,” he said.
“Good. Can you come in on Saturday afternoon to train with my other bartender?”
Saturday was the Sabbath. He’d never been religious, but even so, he’d never worked on the Sabbath. Taavi realized that this woman didn’t know he was Jewish. It was probably best that she didn’t know. If she found out he was a Jew, she might renege on her offer. If it was true and he could earn more money at this job than he did working for Rivesman, he could get a nicer apartment outside of the Jewish sector. “Saturday, what time?”
“Three o’clock? You can get settled in and start learning before it gets busy. Then you’ll sit on the sidelines and watch as the other bartender works the crowd on Saturday night. Within a week or so, I expect you to be ready to be working on your own. After all, I can’t afford to pay two bartenders for the same hours.”
“I’ll be here,” Taavi said.
“Good. Let me buy you both another round of drinks to celebrate.”
One round turned to two and then three…
Taavi arrived at home late that night to find the apartment dark and cold. Michal must be asleep he thought. He wanted to talk to her, to apologize, to tell her that he loved her. Quietly, he tiptoed into the bedroom and took off his coat. Then he walked closer to the bed to find it empty. Taavi rushed through the small apartment, turning on the lights, searching for his wife. What he found was a note, scratched in Michal’s swirling handwriting on a paper bag that was grease-stained from the bakery.
We have hurt each other enough. I don’t blame you entirely for what happened last night. I know in part it was my fault. But because of my past, I am unable to be a proper wife to you. Therefore, I am leaving. The thought of enduring another night like last night leaves me cold and, frankly, shattered. I wish you no harm, but I cannot stay here anymore.
He read the letter over twice, then sunk down into a chair. He shouldn’t have acted the way he did the night before. It was barbaric. However, he couldn’t bear to be in her presence for another moment without possessing her. He loved her; he wanted her. He’d always wanted her with a passion that was almost consuming. And now, she was gone. She’d left him and she was alone somewhere in this strange and often terrible city. Taavi was frightened for her. The only thing that kept him from feeling sheer panic was the effect of the alcohol that still lingered from earlier that night. Michal, how would a girl like her fare in a city like Berlin under the Weimar Republic? A chill shot down his spine. As a man, Taavi had been raised to feel responsible for the women in his life. And now the one he had come to care for the most was in danger, and he had no idea where to begin to look for her.
The room was dark. He lit a cigarette. His mind began racing. The things he’d seen in Berlin, the things that went on outside this small apartment. How would she support herself? Would she end up a prostitute like so many of the women who had lost their husbands in the war and were now alone? Michal, a prostitute? Good God, please not that he thought. Then he pinched the cigarette off and left it in the ashtray. After throwing his coat back on, Taavi headed out into the night to search for the woman he loved.
Taavi walked the entire Jewish quarter. The arctic wind bit his face, but he hardly noticed. He checked the homeless shelters. He navigated the icy walkways through the park. The sun began to rise. Soon Rivesman, his boss, would expect him to be at work. How could he concentrate on anything until he found Michal? Taavi longed to talk to her, but more importantly, he wanted to ensure her safety. If he could just find her, he would ask her to return to the apartment and promise that he would never shame her again. The chill stabbed through his coat and through his skin, burrowing into his insides; his hands were chapped and reddened against the bitter wind, his lips cracked, his eyes watered, leaving frozen tears on his eyelashes, but still he searched.
When Taavi arrived at work at eleven that morning, Rivesman fired him. It was not as if he hadn’t expected that to happen, but it still made him feel miserable. He’d hoped to keep the job at the shop until he was sure that everything would work out at the nightclub. But, now he was dependent for his living on a woman who he felt was a little crazy and rather wild. Worse, he had no idea if he would be able to learn everything he needed to know for this new job. He had no idea what would be expected of him. The only apprenticeship he’d ever had was in carpentry. He returned to his apartment and brewed a cup of what passed for coffee. Then he sat down on the used, lumpy sofa that he’d purchased from Rivesman. He had planned to make a new one as soon as he had had time. Now, there was no point. Without Michal, there was no point to any of it. His shoulders slumped and he put his head in his hands.
The house Gerta Fogelman occupied with her husband and a half dozen servants was the most magnificent place Michal had ever seen. The large wooden door to the house was painted deep burgundy and bore a heavy brass knocker that matched the knob. It opened into a world that appeared to Michal to be like a castle from a fairy tale. The foyer was a vast open road with white marble flooring veined with gold that divided into a fork. On one side lay the bedrooms, on the other a massive dining area and several sitting rooms. One of the sitting rooms served as an office, which belonged to Mr. Fogelman.
Gerta showed Michal to her room.
“It’s small, I know,” Gerta said, almost apologetically. “But you will only have to share a bathroom with Martha; she’s the downstairs maid. No one else will use your bathroom.”
“There is an upstairs?”
“Oh, yes, upstairs is the ballroom. We use it to entertain.”
To Michal, the room that Gerta had given her was not small. In fact, it was almost the size of the entire apartment she’d shared with Taavi.
“I want you to be happy here,” Gerta said. “I know this sounds rather odd, but I get terribly lonely. I mean, I have friends. If you can call them friends.” She smiled a sad, wry smile. “But I don’t have anyone I can really talk to … do you know what I mean?”
“I think so,” Michal said.
“You remind me of my little sister. She’s a few years younger than you. But when we were growing up we were always so close. She’s still in Nuremberg. Sometimes she comes to visit, but not often enough.”
“You miss her?”
“Very much. She’s so lively. The next time she comes, you’ll meet her. You’ll like her; I’m sure of it. Her name is Deborah, and she’s pretty like you.” Gerta smiled. “My Debby has long dark hair and big sparkling eyes. Hers are brown, not the color of yours. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone else with eyes the same color as yours. I’m sure people have told you that you have beautiful eyes.” Gerta smiled. “Anyway, you remind me so much of Debby. She is very active in a Jewish youth group. You know how these youth groups are springing up everywhere, most of them are not Jewish, but now the Jews are joining in and creating youth organizations of their own. Deb writes me long letters about how she and her group go hiking and singing in the woods.” Gerta giggled. “Sometimes I’m jealous. I sort of miss being single and free. Marriage is certainly not what I thought it would be.” Suddenly, Gerta’s mood changed. It was as if she had said too much. “Anyway, I shouldn’t be boring you with all of this. Why don’t you get settled? Later this evening, I’ll show you a picture of my sister.”
“I would like t
Gerta left and Michal was alone in her new room. Gerta was sweet, Michal thought, but she was consumed with herself. She’d never even asked how Michal’s husband had responded to Michal taking this job, moving out and leaving him alone during the week. Gerta didn’t even know that Michal had left Taavi. It seemed to Michal that Gerta thought of herself as the center of the world. Perhaps I’m just selfish; I’m just feeling so alone right now, she thought. (If only I could talk to someone who cared, someone who would help me cope.)
Over the next several months, Michal became comfortable in the Fogelman household. She didn’t leave on weekends and Gerta never asked why. Sammie was a handful. He kept Michal occupied when he was awake. It seemed as if his little legs and arms were constantly moving. Now that Michal had come to take care of her child, Gerta was free to join several women’s clubs. On Tuesdays, she played cards; on Fridays, she joined a book club. When Gerta had said that her husband was rarely home, she had been telling the truth. Michal observed that Richard Fogelman spent long days at his office and sometimes did not return in the evening. In the time that Michal had been staying with Gerta, she’d only seen Richard Fogelman a handful of times, and then only for a few minutes. Gerta confided that she hoped she was wrong, but she thought that her husband was having an affair.
“I should leave him, I know that. But I can’t. My parents would be devastated. They would say that I was ruining Sammie’s life. So, I’m stuck here.”
Michal rubbed her employer’s shoulder.
During the day, Michal was too busy with Sammie to think about Taavi, but at night she missed him. She missed having someone who understood her to talk with, someone who knew her past and had lived in the same little village in Siberia. But, more importantly, Michal had not had her menstrual period since the night Taavi had forced himself on her. When she was married to Avram, she had been sure that she was barren; now she knew that she was not. Michal felt small changes begin in her body and she had no doubt that a little life was forming within her womb. At night, as she lay in bed, she talked to the baby. A child was such a wonderful gift, and she was truly happy to be pregnant. But she was afraid that Gerta would let her go once she found out. And, once the baby was born, how could she continue working for the Fogelmans anyway? Sammie required all of her attention. The baby would take up a lot of her time. The only thing to do was to wait until her day off and then take a bus to the Jewish sector and talk to Taavi.
Michal was sure Taavi wondered where she’d gone. How could she face him? What would she say? And after what he’d done, could she really bear to live with him again? Well, she had no other options. This weekend she planned to go back to the apartment, talk to Taavi, and try to work things out.
Because Taavi no longer had the job at the furniture shop to fall back on, he knew that it was essential that he did a good job as a bartender and that he make Frieda happy she had hired him. When he came in on Saturday, Augie, Frieda’s other bartender was forced to train him. Although Augie tried to sabotage Taavi at every turn, showing him as little as possible, Taavi was smart and a fast learner. He stood back and watched quietly, so that once the bar got busy, Augie forgot that Taavi was there. That was when he learned the most. By the second week, Taavi was more proficient than his teacher had ever been. Frieda was impressed. Not only was Taavi handsome, but he was smart, quiet, and capable. The hours were long, but Taavi was young and did not tire easily. One night, as the staff was closing the cabaret, Frieda asked Taavi to join her for a drink. He poured them both a shot of whiskey and sat down beside her at the bar. Again, she was dressed like a man. Her black suit, white shirt, and matching tie had been tailored to fit her perfectly.
“You’re doing very well here, Taavi. It was a good decision on my part to hire you,” Frieda said, lighting a cigarette and offering one to Taavi. He accepted and lit both hers and his own.
“You’re earning nice money; the tips are good?”
She smiled. “You know, I am sometimes a very lonely woman. My husband died last year in the influenza epidemic. It was a terrible thing, that flu. The whole city was paralyzed with fear of contracting it. I caught it too. I was plenty sick, let me tell you, but I was younger and stronger than my husband. He fell so fast and was gone within a week. In fact, the poor man caught the influenza from me when he was trying to take care of me.” She looked away. It was the first time he’d ever seen even a trace of emotion on her face. But when Frieda looked back at Taavi, the hardness in her eyes had returned. “Anyway, this club was his, and when he died, he left it to me. He was a much older man, who was well set with plenty of money when I met him. It was a good head for business he had. If he had lived longer and seen the trends that are going on in Berlin right now, my assumption is that he would have expanded the club the same way I have started expanding. He was a good person, my husband was; he was my friend and my mentor. But as a lover, well … he lacked some important things, you understand?”
Taavi shrugged. Until now, he thought Frieda might be a lesbian, but as she sat beside him devouring him with her eyes, he wasn’t sure what she wanted.
“I’m not going to make small talk. I’m not a woman who wastes time with small talk. So, I’ll get right to the point. I like you. I would like you to move into the apartment in the back of the club. You will be my manager. I have a good feeling about you. I have a hunch I can trust you. Every day, you will be in charge of opening and closing the club. I will come and go. I will count on your good sense and honesty. You will handle everything for me. Of course, you will be paid even better than you are now. What do you say?”
“What is the price of rent to live in the apartment behind the club?”
“No rent. Free. You will live here free. There are plenty of good benefits to this position, but I expect loyalty, and if I ever catch you stealing from me, there will be hell to pay. Do you understand?”
What a strange woman Frieda was. She was nothing like the women he knew growing up in his little village. In fact, she was bold and confident like a man, and she looked at him like he was a woman. Almost like the roles had been reversed. Still, she was offering free rent and an excellent salary. He knew he would earn good tips. How could he refuse?
“I’d love to accept your offer,” Taavi said.
“Well, good. You will be responsible for seeing to it that the other employees do their work and that this place runs efficiently. I don’t have time for problems. See to it that I don’t have any.”
“I’m just curious. Why me?”
“Because, quite frankly, as I said before, I feel I can trust you. But, more importantly … I plan on making you my lover.”
Taavi was not a shy man, but he had never heard a woman speak so frankly about such an intimate matter. He felt his face go hot and he looked away.
Frieda barked a loud laugh. “I’m sorry to laugh at you, Taavi. But your naivety is so attractive. Especially here amongst all of these characters who have had far too much illicit sex, alcohol, and opium.”
She made him feel ashamed. Although he had no desire to take her to his bed, her offer was undeniably beneficial. The money he could save on rent would help him to build his own carpentry shop eventually.
“When can I move in?”
“As soon as you’d like.”
“My rent is due at the beginning of next month. How about I move in at the end of this month?”
“That would be perfect. Would you like to see your new place?”
“All right then, follow me.”
They walked through the back of the nightclub and found a door to a small office. They went through. On the right side of the office was another door; Frieda took a key out of her pants pocket and opened it. She flipped a light switch that lit the room with a soft pink glow. Taavi was surprised to see an entire apartment unfold behind the cabaret. A small
It was cleaner and warmer than the apartment where he was living, as his present landlord was not generous with the heat.
“You like it?” Frieda smiled at him.
He wished that she would wear a dress occasionally. Especially if she expected him to make love to her. Her short hair and manly ways did not appeal to him. When he thought of the perfect woman, he still thought of Michal. Michal, her beauty took his breath away with her dark curls and her slender waist. He should have been more understanding, gentler. After all, she’d been through so much, losing her husband, then being raped by that bear of man.
“Eh?” Frieda said loudly enough to shake him out of his thoughts.
“Yes. Of course I like it.”
“Good … Then start moving your things in as soon as possible.” She tossed him the key. He caught it. “I have another key in case you lose it.” She winked and smiled. “I’ll always have a key.” He nodded. “Now, enough wasting time, you’re on the clock. I’m paying you, so get back to work.”
He moved in at the end of the month. On the third night after his arrival, Frieda came to his apartment. She removed her clothing in a businesslike manner and got into Taavi’s bed. In the darkness, she was warm and female. He could feel her small breasts press against him and, in his mind, he could make believe that she was Michal. It was only through using his imagination that Taavi was able to achieve an erection. But, Frieda seemed satisfied. In the light of the sun, she looked old and hard. Her face was deeply lined and he could see that grey hair was growing in at the roots.
He was glad that she didn’t come to his bed every night. In fact, she only came every couple of weeks. But he saw her come into the club every night. She was always laughing and flirting with men and with women. Then Frieda would disappear for hours. Sometimes she would be gone the entire night; other times, Taavi would see that she’d returned to her regular bar stool.
Michal's Destiny by Roberta Kagan / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes