Michal's Destiny, p.11Roberta Kagan
When Frieda was in the club, she acted as if Taavi was just another employee. She never made any reference to their affair.
Taavi hated the way Frieda made him feel. Yet, he’d never earned so much money, and earned it so easily. The other businesses in town were suffering. However, the cabarets were booming. Every night, people filled the club, drinking to excess. Sometimes there were heated political arguments that exploded into violence, forcing Taavi to intervene. He didn’t mind. He was young, strong, and agile. He easily jumped over the bar and broke up the fights. Although Taavi had only been working as a bartender for six months, the police had questioned him twice concerning two murders of different women. They had both been patrons at the bar. The police wanted to know everything about them. Their faces were slightly familiar, but he couldn’t remember who they’d left with. There were so many people coming and going every night. And when he mentioned the police questioning him to Frieda, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “There are so many murders in Berlin every night that I’ve stopped counting. You can expect the police to come in fairly often, asking if you have any information. Many of the murders are sex crimes. Who knows? Things go too far with one of the prostitutes, or maybe crimes of passion. Ehh. The police question every bartender, hoping somebody can give them something to go on. Don’t let it get to you.”
Taavi had begun drinking excessively. His customers were always buying him shots and his tips depended upon his acceptance of their generosity.
As she’d promised, Frieda had expanded; she’d begun hiring entertainers. All kinds of entertainers, singers who sang provocative songs filled with sarcasm about the government, comedians who told jokes and kept the audience entertained with their political rhetoric, psychics that called up members of the crowd and told them their future, and hypnotists that brought women in the audience to orgasm through hypnosis. The patrons enjoyed the entertainment, and they loved Taavi, the sexy and mysterious bartender who spoke perfect German with a Russian accent. But, most importantly, Frieda was fortunate because her cabaret attracted a foreign audience of mostly British and Americans. The mark was not worth nearly as much as the pound or the dollar. And because their money was worth so much in Berlin, Taavi’s tip jar overflowed. He worked every night, seven nights a week. Every day at noon, Taavi received his salary from Frieda for the night before. Because of the inflation, the prices of and availability of everything were constantly changing, and everyone in Berlin was paid daily. Food was scarce, and people lined up to purchase anything that they thought might be worth trading later. However, through the nightclub, Taavi had made friends in the black market and he used his tips that were often in foreign currency to buy anything his heart desired. He ate well and had more money than he’d ever seen in his life. Frieda bought him gifts of handsome suits and diamond cufflinks. But Taavi felt he had more in common with the prostitutes on the street than he did with the man he knew was still inside of him. Frieda knew no limits when it came to excess of any kind. One night, she brought a woman into their bed. Taavi had never imagined such things. But he’d managed to make love to both women. With Frieda, Taavi had begun to drink to excess. He’d allowed morphine to soothe his angst, and then he’d snort cocaine to keep him awake through the wee hours of the night. He used these substances to help him forget that he was living a life that was against everything he believed. Frieda had introduced him to a world where ordinary lovemaking was only the doorway into her strange sexual appetites. For a while, he endured, even enjoyed some of the overindulgence. But when he awakened in an opium den, surrounded by naked men and women laying sprawled in sexual positions on the floor, Taavi was sickened by the sight of himself. He got dressed and tripped over one of the nameless bodies on the floor as he raced out into the air. It was fall and the trees had sprinkled the sidewalks of Berlin with an array of deep vivid color. Birds of all kinds sang in the trees. He passed the zoo and the Tiergarten. What had he become? He’d done things that no man should ever experience. Rounding a corner, he passed two gangs having fistfights on the street. By their uniforms, he could see that they were the socialists and the communists. Battling again, he thought, pushing one of the men out of his way. The groups were shouting at each other. Taavi walked until he was far enough away to stop and light a cigarette. A girl with long braided hair and high boots with black laces came up and whispered in his ear.
“I can get a child, a boy or a girl who will do anything you want. I mean anything. It will be a child as young as you want, who will look like any film star you fancy. Here, take this number; call and place an order. They’ll bring the child right to your flat.” She smiled. “Not too expensive either. Although, with that suit, you look like you could afford a good time.”
Taavi pushed the girl away from him. He felt like he might vomit in her face. Black boot laces meant something. He’d forgotten what they meant. Frieda had told him once. Different colors meant that the prostitute was willing to engage in different perversions. Taavi was sick of all of the degenerates. He wished he could talk to Michal. He wished he could look into her eyes, which were normally so bright, but the last time he’d seen her they were as dark as charcoal. That was an indication of just how angry she was. How he wished he could tell her that he understood why she was so reluctant and that he would have waited forever. She was worth waiting for if that was what he had to do to prove his love for her.
Taavi went back to his apartment behind the nightclub and locked the door. He didn’t go to work that night, and later when Frieda knocked, he didn’t answer.
Every weekend, Michal planned to go and talk to Taavi, and every time she got ready to go, she changed her mind. She was too proud to face him, and so she kept putting it off.
When Michal’s pregnancy began to show, she’d had to tell Gerta the truth about everything, that she was pregnant, that she was estranged from her husband, and most of all that she was at Gerta’s mercy. Michal was afraid that Gerta would fire her, and Michal couldn’t blame her. After all, why would she want another child in the house? Michal fell to her knees and took Gerta’s hands in hers, begging for help. She cried as she promised Gerta that she would never neglect her duties with Samuel. “Please, I beg you, don’t put me out into the street,” Michal had said. And Gerta had surprised her. Michal was still holding Gerta’s hands. Gerta raised her up until both women were eye to eye. Then Gerta smiled and told Michal how excited she was that a new baby was coming into the house.
“I’m not going to fire you. Sammie loves you and so do I. You’ll stay here and have the baby.”
“But what about Mr. Fogelman?” Michal asked.
“He won’t even know the difference. He’s hardly ever here. And when he is, all he cares about is his food and comfort. It will be a long time before he even realizes that there is another child in the house. Just keep the baby in this wing when Richard is at home. The house is so big that he’ll never hear him when he cries.”
“God bless you,” Michal said, kissing Gerta’s hands. “Thank you. I don’t know what I would have done, where I would have gone.” She was crying.
“Stop crying, please,” Gerta said, smiling. Michal had never really noticed how pretty Gerta’s dancing blue eyes were. “Everything is going to be just fine. In fact, the children will grow up together.”
Michal was grateful, very grateful. She kept her promise and even when she was afflicted with the horrible effects of morning sickness, she dragged herself out of bed to make sure that Sammie had his breakfast. In turn, Gerta was very good to Michal. When Gerta saw that Michal was ill, she insisted that Michal go back to bed while she attend to her son.
Michal went into labor early on a Saturday morning in October. Gerta had her driver take Michal to the local hospital, where Michal labored for fourteen hours. On October 22, at 7:30 in the evening, Alina Margolis was born. She was bald and as red as a ripe apple, but Michal thought that she was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. As th
As she looked into the tiny wrinkled face and marveled at the balled up fists, she thought of her own mother. What had her mother felt when she was born? Had she felt the same strong love that Michal felt now? It was so strange how only two days ago she had not even seen this child, yet now, she would easily have given her life to protect this little girl. For some reason, she thought of Avram. Poor, dear Avram. He’d been such a good person, and he would have been so happy had he been the father of this little girl. But fate had not been kind to him. He’d died such a terrible death. It had been a long time since Michal had allowed herself to think about Avram. But the baby was bringing back so many emotions that she’d buried deep inside of her. And then, most of all, as she looked into the little face, she saw traces of Taavi. The way the baby wrinkled her nose even as she slept, the child’s full lips. She couldn’t tell what color the baby’s hair would be yet, and she’d heard that all babies were born with blue eyes. But she wondered if and when the color changed, would it match hers or Taavi’s? She missed Taavi. She didn’t miss the night he’d hurt her, but in a strange way, she was glad for it. Because if he had not forced himself upon her, she would not have this child lying within her arms. What a strange way of thinking, Michal thought. Her grandmother had once told her that in every curse, there was a blessing and in every blessing there was a curse. Taavi’s taking her against her will had been a curse and at the time she’d hated him for it, yet, now, as she held her own child in her arms, she realized that it had also been a blessing. Gently, she leaned down to kiss the top of her daughter’s soft head, then turned to glance out the window. The tall buildings surrounding the hospital seemed to engulf her and she wondered where her husband might be in this big frightening city called Berlin.
Although Sammie had always been an active little boy, he took to the baby immediately. Although he was constantly in motion when he was around Alina, he was surprisingly gentle. Both Gerta and Michal had been worried that he would be jealous when the new baby came, but instead, he wanted to hold Alina as soon as he saw her. Michal held the baby in Sammie’s arms, supporting her infant, but letting Sammie know at the same time that he would always be a very important part of her life. Gerta became more helpful now that Michal had two children to care for. She and Michal had become more like friends than employer and employee.
One afternoon, Gerta realized that Richard had left some paperwork he’d been working on all night on the kitchen table. She assumed he’d forgotten it and asked Michal to take it to him at the factory. She was being kind, wanting to give Michal a short break from the children.
“He must have put this down as he was getting ready to leave and forgotten to take it. Would you mind please running it over to him? He never leaves his paperwork around the house. It’s always in his office. He will probably need it at work today.”
Gerta couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen Michal take even as little as a half hour for herself. Gerta appreciated how hard Michal worked and how much love she gave both to her own child and to Gerta’s son. So, Gerta decided she would watch both children. It would be good for Michal to have some peace.
“Of course I’ll take it,” Michal said.
“Do you know where the factory is?”
“Yes, you showed me once. I remember.”
Gerta handed Michal the papers.
“What about the children? Would you like me to take them with me?”
“No, I’ll watch them until you return.”
It was a lovely fifteen-minute walk from the house to the factory, through tree-lined streets with large two story houses and well-manicured lawns. Michal tried to put the children out of her mind and just enjoy being outside and having some time alone. But she couldn’t, her mind kept drifting back to Alina and Sammie. This was the first time she’d been separated from her daughter.
The factory was a massive place that had poor ventilation. From the arguments Michal had heard between Richard Fogelman and one of his advisers, she’d learned that Fogelman did not provide much heat in the winter and the summers were stifling. She’d been outside Mr. Fogelman’s home office, chasing after Sammie, when she’d overheard Fogelman’s advisor warn that the communists were trying to form unions in the big factories. The workers were unhappy and planning to ban together against the owners. If they were successful in organizing at the Fogelman factory, Richard Fogelman would suffer great financial losses. Michal had not understood much of what she was hearing until today when she visited the factory. This was the first time she’d been there, and now the things the advisor was saying became clearer. As soon as Michal walked into the factory, she began coughing, and her nose felt clogged. She knew from what Gerta had said that the workers worked twelve-hour days without any breaks. And now, as she walked through the endless rows of sewing machines towards Mr. Fogelman’s office, she heard the foreman barking orders at the employees. His voice was loud and constant over the thunderous roar of machines. He was demanding that they work faster … faster. Richard Fogelman’s office was on the second floor, and very different from the rest of the factory. She knocked on the door and a pretty young blond with curly bobbed hair answered the door.
“I’m here to see Mr. Fogelman,” Michal said.
“Please, sit down. May I tell him who has come to call?”
“Yes, just tell him that his son Sammie’s nanny is here.” Michal noticed that the office was larger than the apartment she’d once shared with Taavi. Taavi, she allowed herself a moment to indulge in memories of Taavi. Since Alina’s birth, she’d been thinking of him more often. Perhaps it was because sometimes Alina reminded her so much of Taavi. When she thought of Taavi, her first thoughts were of the sound of his laughter. He had such contagious laughter with a warm and compelling pitch. Alina had the same contagious giggle, even as a baby. And his eyes, he not only laughed with his voice, but he laughed with his eyes. Taavi. He had a way of making her believe that nothing could harm her. That somehow, some way, even with her world falling apart, he and he alone could find a way to make things right. But … then … there had been that night. That night, for the first time Taavi had frightened her. Michal had seen another side of her husband, a side consumed by lust. Before that night, he had always been so kind, loving, patient … Damn life, damn her own body for being so repulsed by the touch of a man just because of a few minutes of torture by a horrible savage. Damn that Cossack to hell, she thought. Then she looked up as Richard Fogelman walked in. They had never been face to face before.
“You forgot these papers, sir. Mrs. Fogelman asked that I bring them to you.”
He didn’t answer her. Instead, he allowed his eyes to roam her body slowly. Since she’d given birth, her breasts were fuller, larger. She thought that once she’d stopped nursing they would go back to their original size, but it hadn’t happened. Her hips were rounded and womanly. And now, Richard Fogelman’s eyes were glued to them.
Michal cleared her throat. “Sir,” she said, her voice as firm as possible, “I brought these for you.” She handed him the papers. As she did, he licked his lips, and Michal saw a smile come over his face. It was a smile that made the skin on the back of her neck feel as if spiders were crawling up into her hair. Michal’s hand instinctively went to the back of her head. She ran her fingers through her hair to shake off the feeling.
He took the papers, but as he took them from her, his hand brushed hers and held it. Michal knew that he had taken hold o
He laughed a little. “Thank you for bringing these to me. And, by the way, what is your name?”
“Michal. I’ve been working for you for a year.”
“Well, how could I have ever missed such a pretty face?”
Michal didn’t answer. She left the office and raced through the factory and out into the street. Her heart pounded and she was breathless. All the way back to the house, she thought about Gerta. From the way Richard had looked at her, Michal felt certain that he had been unfaithful to his wife many times. Poor Gerta. Michal began to put the puzzle pieces together. Richard was hardly ever home. Her heart broke for her friend. Gerta had been kind to her, she was a good person; she didn’t deserve to be treated so callously. Michal decided to make a special effort to be as invisible as possible when Richard Fogelman was in the house. No matter what happened, even if it cost her the job that she held so dear, she would not betray Gerta. Let Richard be a cad if that was his choice, but she would never be a party to it.
Nights in the bar drinking too much, days when he forgot to come to work because he was lying in opium dens, and waking up beside women whose names he couldn’t remember was taking its toll on Taavi. He was tired most of the time, and deep wrinkles were carved into the skin around his eyes. His once-healthy sun-kissed body was now pasty from lack of exposure to the outside. He’d met famous artists, poets, and writers. Many times, his new friends spoke to him in words that were too advanced for his vocabulary. Taavi never told them; he just nodded and let them talk. But he hated being ignorant, so he made a mental note of the word and searched the dictionary as soon as he was alone to find out its meaning. His lack of formal education embarrassed him. He’d had some schooling, but not enough to fit in with the group of intellectuals who had taken him into their crowd. Taavi didn’t usually ask many questions of his customers. They came to the nightclub as an escape from their lives, and Taavi had learned to respect their privacy. This was the most crucial part of his job. People learned that they could be comfortable telling him things they would not divulge to anyone else. He never gossiped or shared anyone’s secrets and, through his discretion, he earned their trust. Often, they were married and having affairs or involved in some illegal or shameful activity. One of his customers claimed to have had a wild sexual affair with the famous Anita Berber. He even promised to give Taavi tickets to one of Berber’s infamous nude performances. But he never came through with his promise. Taavi just assumed that the man was inventing stories to make himself look important, and Taavi never mentioned the promise. Instead, he allowed the customers to be whoever and whatever they chose to be when they entered his bar. That was why he made more money in tips than most of the bartenders in the local clubs.
Michal's Destiny by Roberta Kagan / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes