[Leopold Gursky]
Who is Bruno? she asked.
I studied her face. I tried to think of the answer.
Talk about invisible, I said.
To her expression of fright and surprise was now added confusion.
But who is he?
He’s the friend i didn’t have.
She looked at me, waiting.
He’s the greatest character I ever wrote.
She said nothing. I was afraid she was going to get up and leave me. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. So i told her the truth.
He’s dead.
It hurt to say it. And yet. There was so much more.
He died on a July day in 1941.
I waited for her to stand and walk away. But. She remained there, unblinking.
I’d gone so far.
I thought, Why not a little farther?
And another thing.
I had her attention. It was a joy to behold. She waited, listening.
I had a son who never knew I existed.
A pigeon flapped up into the sky. I said,
His name was Isaac.
//////////
[Alma Singer]
And then i realized that I’d been searching for the wrong person.
I looked into the eyes of the oldest man in the world for a boy who fell in love when he was ten.
I said, “Were you in love with a girl named Alma?”
He was silent. His lips trembled. I thought he hadn’t understood, so i asked him again. “Were you ever in love with a girl named Alma Mereminski?”
He reached out his hand. He tapped me twice on the arm. I knew he was trying to tell me something, but I didn’t know what.
I said, “Were you ever in love with a girl named Alma Mereminski who left for America? ”
His eyes filled with tears, he tapped my arm twice, then twice again.
I said, “The son you think didn’t know you existed, was his name Isaac Moritz?”
//////////
[Leopold Gursky]
I felt my heart surge. I thought: I’ve lived this long. Please. A little longer won’t kill me. I wanted to say her name aloud, it would have given me joy to call, because i knew that in some small way it was my love that named her. And yet. I couldn’t speak. I was afraid I’d choose the wrong sentence. She said,  The son you think didn’t know – I tapped her twice. Then twice again. She reached for my hand. With my other I tapped her twice. She squeezed my fingers. I tapped her twice. She put my head on my shoulder. I tapped her twice. She put one arm around me. I tapped her twice. She put both arms around me and hugged me. I stopped tapping.
Alma, I said.
She said,  Yes.
Alma, I said again.
She said, Yes.
Alma, I said.
She tapped me twice.
///////////
//////////
THE DEATH LEOPOLD GURSKY
Leopold Gursky started dying on August 18, 1920.
He died learning to walk.
He died standing at the blackboard.
And once, also, carrying a heavy tray.
He died practicing a new way to sign his name.
Opening a window.
Washing his genitals in the bath.

He died alone, because he was too embarrassed to phone anyone.
Or he died thinking about Alma.
Or when he chose not to.

Really, there isn’t much to say.
He was a great writer.
He fell in love.
It was his life.

——————
These last pages filled my eyes with tears as i read and reread and reread them. They’re from “the history of love“ by Nicole Krauss. I had mistakenly thought the book was nonfiction but it turned out to be one of the best novels I’ve read in recent years. The story is told in multiple voices, and my favorite parts are Leopold Gursky’s, funny, self-deprecating, and heartbreaking. The pain and despair of living a life invisible, unnoticed, unrecognized. (And despite having a great talent, a great son, and a great love.) And the joy of finally knowing that your existence makes sense, of having it all acknowledged, even by just one person, a young girl who was named after his love. What purer joy could there be?

Advertisements