Until We Meet Again
By Sharon Nadja Zajdman
One spring afternoon long ago I was walking with my dad. Clouds shifted, gathered, swelled with anger, and released a torrent of April showers. “Daddy? Where does the rain come from?” I asked. I was sure he would know.
Whimsically, my father responded, “De engels in de heaven are making a party. Dey are getting dronk and trowing down de extra . . .” Here, he hesitated, and then he chose “Coca Cola!” His celestial revelers must have sounded too raucous for a young audience, so Dad had decided to sanitize his version of the origins of rain by substituting Coke for vodka. Still, the story didn’t—ahh—hold water.
“If the angels are throwing down the extra Coke, then how come the rain isn’t black?!”
Nonplussed, Daddy halted in his tracks. He was stymied, and I knew it. “You can’t answer, eh?” I harrumphed in triumph. But my victory was short-lived. Dad quickly improvised. “Waaaalll, maybe it’s Seven-Up!” But whether it’s composed of vodka or soft drinks, I still enjoy walks in the spring rain.
In his mid-sixties, Dad died suddenly of a massive coronary. When we buried him, it started to rain. By the time we got home from the cemetery the heavens had cracked open. Thunder roared and lightning was splitting the sky. My mother stared out the window, shook her fist at the horizon, and began to laugh. “Abram! You just got there and you’re starting already?!”
Dad was a Polish Jew who survived the war years in the Soviet Union yet refused to identify himself as a Holocaust survivor, believing that others, especially my mother, had suffered far more. He believed in looking forward and discouraged dwelling on the past. He enjoyed good food, fine wine, and a superior cognac. His reading tastes ran to Soviet espionage memoirs because, I believe, they gave him a context for what he had endured during the war.
Dad disliked being cooped up indoors and often felt the need for “air.” This need for private time and space sent him on long, solitary walks, even during the deep freezes of the Canadian winter. In early spring, smiling his warm, sweet smile, he’d lift his head to the still-bare branches, welcoming the warbling birds that had returned from southern climes. He greeted the neighborhood dogs profusely, but nodded only perfunctorily to their owners.
Dad’s sense of fun was infectious. He turned teaching and learning, and even shopping for groceries into a game. “I like de yellow epples mit de red chicks! Let’s look for de yellow epples mit de red chicks!” To this day, I hunt for the rosiest-cheeked yellow apples I can find. And of course, broccoli looked like trees, and trees looked like broccoli.
Dad’s sense of fair play was fierce, and he could carry a grudge. In order to cope with his often-outraged sensibilities, he learned to laugh at everyone and everything. His laugh was infectious and it was loud. In the best eastern European tradition, Dad would often laugh in lieu of crying. “The world is a beautiful place,” he would insist. “It’s people who make it ugly.” When human nature’s ugly side turned its face to Dad, Dad turned to trees. He didn’t hug them, but he would lean against them, lie under them, and donate money to have them planted in Israel. “Making the desert bloom” was more than literal for Dad. It was also a metaphor.
With Dad, there was no warning. With Mum, thirty years later, there was too much. In the last weeks of her life I would lie beside her. Wordlessly, with waning strength, she would lift her arm and I curled under it, trembling and terrified, clinging to her like a baby bird snuggled under the wing of its mortally wounded mama. Each evening, after Mum drifted into a drugged sleep, I returned to my apartment to cry a lot, to sleep a little, if I could, to pull myself together and do it all again the next day.
And each evening I also noticed that there was a car parked in front of the entrance to my mother’s building. Its license plate read DAD (together with some numbers, which I can’t remember). It was not a novelty plate, they were illegal in Quebec then. Its motto, as with all license plates in Quebec, read Je me souviens (I remember). That car sat in front of my mother’s building every evening for three weeks. On November 27, 2013, on the first night of an exceptionally early Hannukah, I sat beside my mother, reading out loud. As the words fell from my mouth and the tears coursed down my cheeks Mum’s features softened and her labored breathing eased. She looked like an ill child listening to a bedtime story. Her soul escaped her tortured body like a bird flitting from a tree. I cannot tell the precise moment Mum passed away, though I was there. All I know is that there was a new and sudden stillness in the air. Even more sudden and stranger still, there was peace.
I kissed Mum lightly on the forehead and said, “Go be with Daddy now. I’ll see you both soon enough.”
Later that evening, as I stepped out of the building into a night illuminated by candle-lit menorahs in neighbors’ windows and by moist, doily-like falling snowflakes, the entranceway was clear. The car that had kept vigil during the rainy, black nights of November was no longer there.
Artwork & Photo credits by: “Rain” by Ghostlygoblin (Turkey) deviantart.com and “Rain” by Hanna Maozi (Sweden) deviantart.com
S. Nadja Zajdman is a Canadian author. Her first short story collection, Bent Branches, was published in 2012. Zajdman’s non-fiction, as well as her fiction, has been featured in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, and anthologies across North America, in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Zajdman has completed work on a second short story collection as well as a memoir of her mother, the pioneering Holocaust educator and activist Renata Skotnicka-Zajdman, who passed away near the end of 2013.