Трепет. Сергей Малицкий

Читать онлайн книгу.

Трепет - Сергей Малицкий

Скачать книгу
men's costume jewellery - the studs, cravat pins and cufflinks that the nobs needed to set off their 'soup 'n' fish' - dinner suits. Later, as the Depression bit deep, he went door-to-door buying scrap gold. But in this earlier, present occupation he was at one with the commercial travelling fraternity, the selfstyled knights of the road who met in the bar of the Commercial Travellers' Club to swap stories about the sales-ladies in the shops they called on.

      My mother stood behind the brassedged counter of a high-class jewellers in Park Street, Sydney. Her specialty was cut glass, the dressing-table sets comprising tasselled perfume bottles, powder bowls, imitation ivory-backed hand mirrors and a stemrose vase. On another counter, at a rightangle to hers, was a rosewood cabinet containing gentlemen's toiletries in tortoiseshell or ebony. It was here that my father opened his sample case and rolled out a black velvet cloth. On it, he laid out his range of shirt studs, tiepins and cufflinks. My father watched her while his hands and mouth went through the patter.

      'It's Alva, isn't it? Ma Davis's daughter? You're the youngest sister.' He had done his homework. He already knew as much as he needed to know about this 26yearold goodlooker: that she was single still, living at home, fatherless, penniless, that she was the pick of the sisters - the eldest was already married to a Gallipoli veteran, trying to buy a cottage with his war money. Alva Phoebe Davis was the 'quiet one', unlike the middle sister, Enid, who had good looks aplenty but a tongue that could lash. Sampson Collins's commercial traveller's dossier was up-to-date. In his monastic cell at the club, he pored over his girlie list like a bookie with his odds chart.

      'How's Ma?'

      My mother moved her chamois languidly over the counter, wiping away invisible fingerprints. She wore a clinging black dress buttoned to the neck and set off with a crisp white Peter Pan collar. Of all the men who came into the shop, he was easily the handsomest. Not even his prominent nose lessened his flamboyant appearance.

      'How y' sisters? All well, I hope.'

      And so it went, each knowing damn well that in the tightknit Jewish community, privacy was bought and sold on a barter basis. Gossip was a tradeable commodity, and a flat with a widow and her daughters in it was a clearing house for the small change of hearsay and the heavier currency of slander. Alva Davis knew why Sampson Collins's first marriage had ended up in the rabbinical divorce court. The rabbi's wife shopped where Alva's mother shopped. Ever the soul of discretion, she talked in Yiddish of both of them 'peeing in other people's pots', and said that when the kosher butcher left after delivering the chickens he had a new spring in his step. Second-hand goods Sampson Collins might be, but he was still under 40 - well, maybe 45 - and a goodlooker. Hanging on his arm would turn heads.

      My father shot his cuffs so the gold links showed, fingered the pearl stick-pin in his tie and put a ringed hand on the counter in front of Alva. The rich voice purred like an eight-cylinder Packard.

      'Alva, sweetheart, you know darn well Rachel and me are not together any more. Haven't been for more than a year but, official like, it's, er, a bit over six months.' His fingers crawled across to hers and held her hand ever so lightly. 'Got a few more calls to make in George Street, Alva, but how about you and me walking out this Satdee?'

      She would have given quids to have the strength to withdraw it. The featherlight touch was as strong as a vice. Her other hand dabbed at her forehead with a balled-up hanky. In a moment, Sam imprisoned this one, too. He drew her to him across the counter and kissed her on the cheek. It was no more than the slightest brushing of his lips, yet she trembled, dropped her head and nodded.

      'Is that a yes, Alva?'

      She nodded again and finally answered him with a whispered yes. He let her hand go and was immediately brusque. 'Satdee, two o'clock and we'll go over to Manly if the weather's good. If not, tea and scones at your place. Better let Mum and the sisters know. With any luck, they might go out for the arvo.'

      The sheer effrontery of this suggestion brought her down hard. She started to put him in his place, then put her hand to her cheek where he had kissed her. The reprimand died. 'I like Manly better,' she said, but Sam had already swept up his sample case, put on his hat and was almost out the door. He turned and gave an exaggerated bow, then was swallowed up in the lunchtime crowd.

      That was Sampson Collins, my father-to-be, courting and catching my mothertobe.

      They were married in the big synagogue in Elizabeth Street, Sydney, the one with the stars painted on the vaulted ceiling. My mother went under the marriage canopy on the arm of her boss while my father was attended by his brother, Mark, the furniture dealer. When my father died some thirty years later, I went through his few possessions and found a pile of negatives which yielded up pictures of their fleeting time together. They were fun snaps: Sam leaning on the tourer car, his fingers hooked in his vest, bowler hat at a rakish angle; Alva in flapper dress, cloche hat and a shapely leg extended. There they were at Luna Park, cuddling on the mock-up platform of the Melbourne Express, and numerous snaps of the two of them on the promenade at Bondi Beach. I looked at them, bitterly begrudging the unrestrained enjoyment they portrayed. They had filled every waking moment with a greedy happiness, perhaps against the day when she would die and he would be alone once more, burdened with a young child, a hindrance and one of the causes of the disintegration of his fourth and final marriage.

      It took less than an hour for my mother to die. It took only marginally longer for my father to come to a decision that, by any yardstick, would be for me a monumental blunder. Angry and torn with grief, he turned on my mother's family and refused all offers of nurturing, notwithstanding that my mother's married sister, Beryl, offered to rear me together with her own two small sons. The dormant dislike and suspicion that the Davis household had held for Sampson Collins, the ever-so sharp commercial traveller, now rose to the surface like fat on a cooling pot of chicken soup. Like the fat, I was skimmed off and discarded.

      The house in Bellevue Hill, it turned out, was rented; the fine furniture from Bebarfalds had been acquired on the 'never-never', the time-payment system. In his heart Sampson Collins, the itinerant, footloose commercial traveller, never really believed he needed anything more in life than a good car, a suitcase and a comfy hotel room with the occasional bit of skirt. The big men who had delivered the flash furniture were the same ones who came and took it all away, offering, simultaneously, condolences and smirks at the Jew they reckoned was too bloody big for his boots anyway.

      But what to do with a hungry baby? The midwife, dear woman, was hanging her breasts out to dry when I came along. The last of her infants was being weaned onto a Nestle's formula called Vi-Lactogen. So, straight after Kevin Fingal O'Donohue took to the bottle, his mum plumped up her tits once more and offered them to me. For the next seven days she suckled me, leaving me only once and that was to follow at a distance my mother's pitifully small cortege that wended its way from the Jewish Burial Society's dingy parlours in Chippendale to the clay hole in the ground at Rookwood. Custom was followed: the mourners filled in the grave and the rabbi hurried through the prayers with an eye on the threatening clouds. As people dispersed, he took a wooden marker from under his long coat and stuck it in the mound. In thin black painted letters it read: Alva Phoebe Collins. He took my father by the elbow.

      'Sam, it seems not so long since you stood under the chuppah with our late Alva. Now you are left with a child. Listen, you know that next week the babe is eight days old.'He turned to face my father. 'Y'know what I'm saying, Sammy? F'shteyst?". Sampson Collins recalled the few Yiddish words he had heard from his parents. Yes, he understood what the rabbi was not hinting at but telling him as a command written in the Torah.

      'The infant must have a bris, Sammy. You gotta have him circumcised. Soon will be already eight days. Can't wait. The child is well? So . . . I can do it, or maybe you want for a doctor to do it and I'll say the prayers. OK? So bring the babe to my house in Bondi Road next to the shul.' The two of them moved back down the path to the cars. My father's whitewall-tyred Ford tourer was the only other vehicle apart from the hearse; Mrs O'Donohue returned to the car and sat in the passenger seat with me on her lap.

      In a prim but firm voice she ordered my father to drive her home. 'The little one is hungry - again,' she emphasised and crushed me to her breast. My father stared hard at me through the open car window and at that wonderfully bountiful

Скачать книгу